Few things create a flood of new online business seekers like economic uncertainty, but the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly exceptional for one reason: remote work. Now that people have cut commutes and are getting more time at home, that side hustle that’s been shelved for so many years has become significantly more approachable.
Unfortunately, there’s an abundance of website owners masquerading as “experienced professionals” who don’t have up-to-date experience and whose sole income comes from selling training products to aspiring internet entrepreneurs. They make starting an online business sound easy because the easier it appears to outsiders, the easier it is to sell people their products.
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If you’re considering starting an online business, here are seven things you should know that will actually set you up for long-term success:
- Recognize that an online business is still a business: Online businesses offer many advantages, such as keeping startup costs low, but they still require significant planning, skill acquisition, hard work and maintenance if they’re to stand any chance of succeeding. Exercise caution with anyone who tries to convince you otherwise (more on that later).
- Go where you’re needed most: One of the best predictors of a business’s monetary worth is how much value it brings to its target audience. That makes the standard advice of “choose something you’re passionate about” for people trying to pinpoint a niche or target audience a potential step in the wrong direction. Passion or interest can be a good component, but what will set you up for the most success is where you bring the most value: past certifications, professional experience, fields of study, etc.
- Set weekly goals and stick to them: We’re creatures of habit, and we’ve all struggled with forming a new one, such as diet or exercise. Showing up for your fledgling online business consistently is no exception. The best way to ensure working on your business becomes habitual is to form a routine and to stick with it, ideally dedicating a minimum of 10 hours of attention to your online business per week.
- Focus on what matters: When you create an online business, there never seem to be enough hours in the day. You’re not alone. Everyone feels that way in the beginning because, if we’re being realistic, there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you need to do. That makes focusing on what matters most critically important. Just because you’re able to keep busy doesn’t mean you’re working efficiently or productively. Make sure everything you do for your site, day-to-day, actually “moves the needle” toward the next milestone.
- Stay in your lane: Keeping an eye on the competition is healthy. It can inspire ideas and make you aware of blind spots that are flying under the radar. But be very careful about comparing yourself to idols or competitors in other industries who have been building authority for years longer than you have. Having the flashiest website, best brand messaging, or largest email list aren’t realistic expectations for your business right now. It’ll take time, but you’ll get to that point if you focus on what actually matters at this stage (providing value to your audience and getting your initial “tribe” of followers).
- Don’t expect fast results: You’re going to go through a lot over the coming weeks and months as you get up and running, and progress will likely be slow. As individual bloggers and website owners, we often have to make up for a lack of startup capital with elbow grease. These days are numbered, though, and as long as you’re making progress day by day, week by week, then you’re on the right track to achieving your goals. Trying to rush the process will only result in distractions, derailment and oftentimes, failure.
- Practice a little self-compassion: You’re going to make a lot of mistakes — embrace them. On this journey, you will learn significantly more from your mistakes than your successes. Be patient with yourself and recognize that as overused as this metaphor is, it truly is a marathon, not a sprint. Obstacles will happen, but as long as you’re persistent, you’ll overcome them and be better poised for long-term success as a result.
This article wouldn’t be complete without a few tips and recommendations. Whether you realize it or not, by building an online business, you’re entering shark-infested waters. There are any number of predators lying in wait, notorious for convincing people to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars (sometimes even their life savings) on “coaching” and “systems” that are doomed for failure before they ever even purchase them.
None of that’s necessary at this stage, so here’s the bait to avoid:
- Don’t trust anyone who promises shortcuts or quick riches: Shortcuts should be avoided at all costs. I’ve been in this industry for over 16 years, so if any quick fixes worked, believe me, I’d be shouting it from the rooftops (and so would many others). Experienced marketers, like myself, who advise people to prepare for a long road aren’t doing so because they’re sadists or “ignorant to a better way.” We share this advice because its what successful online businesses require. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise wants to lower the barrier to you purchasing their product.
- Only buy the tools and resources you truly need: Even non-gurus are guilty of recommending far more tools and expenses to early-stage online business owners than is actually needed. Why? Because every time you purchase their recommendation, they make a commission. A handful of expenses are necessary for starting your online business — web hosting, a domain name, maybe a good research tool or two — but not everything under the sun. All in all, expenses can be kept to under $100 for the first year pretty easily. Things like landing page software and email marketer subscriptions should only be invested in once there is enough traffic to actually reap additional ROI with those tools (rather than gushing money for an unnecessary expense).
- Don’t invest in multi-thousand-dollar mentors or coaches: Be sure to filter whom you trust in this industry. Seeking a mentor at this stage of your business, especially in this particular industry, is like wandering into a shooting range wearing a bullseye. Mentors and coaches can be helpful for later-stage businesses, just like consultants in the corporate world can be, but until you have an online business with significant traction (consistent traffic and revenue), there’s likely little or nothing they can do for you at this stage. That won’t stop most “mentors” in this industry from unethically taking your money, though, so be wary.
Launching a new online business is simultaneously thrilling and paralyzing. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other while soaking up every lesson the road teaches you along the way. Everything outlined above is deceptively simple advice, but I can tell you with complete confidence: if you set these tips as your “compass” in this industry and keep moving forward, you will become successful. It’s only a matter of time.