Let's get a few things clear right off the bat...

Starting an online business successfully isn’t about luck. It’s not about starting with a ton of money or "funding" and then "buying success." Every online business I've started, I've bootstrapped.

It’s also not about scheming and scamming. This isn't about "getting rich quickly" or "making money online." It's about serving people, making an impact, and getting rewarded handsomely for your efforts.

If you want to start an online business with a purpose, that aligns with your values, and that gives you the ultimate freedom in life (location freedom, time freedom, and financial freedom), you're in the right place.

The process I'm going to teach you is a process that I’ve used to go from scratch to six figures (in income, not revenue) three separate times in three separate niches in less than 6 years and that my clients and students have used to launch wildly successful online businesses of their own.

It's literally a step-by-step blueprint of the most fundamental online business principles and I'm holding nothing back.

Ready? Let's go...


Table of Contents

How to Start an Online Business

Before you take action on this article you’ll want to download my 1-Page Freedom Plan so you can start forming a concrete plan for your online business.


How to Start an Online Business

Step #1: Find Your Big Idea

Ok, here we go. First things first, you need a big idea to start your online business around.

You'll notice, if you have the 1-Page Freedom Plan in front of you, that the big idea is not part of The 1-Page Plan.

The Freedom Plan assumes that you have a big idea so I'm going to go the extra mile here and help you get your big idea (or if you already have an idea, help you make sure it fits the right preliminary criteria).

What are you passionate about?

"Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you." – Oprah Winfrey

What do you love to do?

I want you to make a list of everything that you love to do – things that engage you and fulfill you. And here's the key part to this: before you consider your list to be complete I want you to ask two or three people who are close to you, "What are some things you'd say I'm passionate about?"

This is very important because when you sit down to make your own list you're going to do that with blinders on. You're going to do that through a very limited lens.

You don't know yourself as well as you think you do. So when you do this exercise you'll list five or six things – the obvious things, the big things – but then when you ask a couple of people who are close to you, those people will rattle off other things that you never would have listed otherwise.

You need the most comprehensive list possible to make sure that this all works out for you. Ask some other people what you're passionate about and see what they echo back to you.

What are you proficient in?

"I really believe that everyone has a talent, ability, or skill that he can mine to support himself and to succeed in life." – Dean Koontz

The next thing you're going to do is list your proficiencies.

I want you to make a list next to your list of passions. In this list, you're going to list everything that you're good at.

I want you to keep in mind that you don't have to be an expert at this stuff. I said "good at." I didn't say "expert at." I didn't say "the best at."

Again, before you consider your list complete, I want you to ask two or three people, "Yo, what are some things you think I'm good at?" Because again, you're doing this with blinders on.

Plus, there's a psychological block that occurs when you're good at something. The block is this: you don't realize how many other people are not really good at that thing.

You don't realize how many people struggle with that thing. So you end up not listing certain things because you're like, "Well, everybody is good at that!" But they're not!

You need a third party to tell you, "You know what you're really good at?" because they're going to list off half a dozen things that you never would have listed. All of that stuff needs to be on your list.

Where is the intersection?

"When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece." – John Ruskin

The next thing we need to do is find the intersection between your two lists.

You have your passions, you have proficiencies – now you need to find the overlap.

How to Start an Online Business [Ultimate Guide] 1

You see what's happening here, right?

Now, you inevitably might arrive at the question, "What if there's no overlap?"

If that's the case, don't choose something that you are just proficient in. I want you to choose a passion and then I'm going to show you how to work with that even if you're not proficient in it yet.

This is important. If you were just focused on the short term – maybe chasing a build & sell type strategy – then I would tell you to just choose something you're proficient in. Passion doesn't matter in that case because you don't need to sustain an effort for a long time.

When you're talking about a sustainable online lifestyle business that feeds you and your family for years and years to come, there has to be passion though. Without passion you're going to hate your life and I don't want you to fall into that trap.

Passion & Proficiency Have to Overlap with Profitability

It's not just about passion and proficiency. It has to be about profitability, too. And, unfortunately, not all ideas have profit potential.

Take a look at this diagram to see why this is so critical...

venn diagram of passion, proficiency, and profitability for starting an online business

If you start an online business at the intersection of passion and proficiency – without profitability – then you'll make an impact, love what you do, and...still live paycheck to paycheck.

If you start an online business at the intersection of passion and profitability – without proficiency – then you're going to love what you do but you're going to be frustrated that you don't have what it takes to take advantage of the market's potential.

That second outcome isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means it's going to take longer. This is not something I would say, "No, don't do that," but it's definitely going to take longer.

If you start an online business at the intersection of profitability and proficiency – without passion – then you're going to make amazing money but you're going to end up hating your life because the passion is not there.

This is an option that so many people get sucked into. You want to avoid this trap for sure. It's Hell on Earth.

The middle – where everything overlaps – is the sweet spot for starting your online business. It has the passion component, it has the proficiency component and it has the profitability component.

When your business lives here you've got a sustainable idea that you can rock out for a very, very long time.

Remember also that this all boils down to making an impact. Passion drives the desire to make an impact a lot of times. That's a very important component. If you're here just to make money, well, that's not what I'm about and it's not what my students are about.

We're focused 100% on making an impact and doing something that's meaningful.

Once you're satisfied with your business idea and you've validated that it lives at the intersection of passion, proficiency, and profitability, it's time to start laying the foundation.

If you're not sure about the profitability piece, the rest of this process will help validate that.

How to Start an Online Business

Step #2: Narrow Your Niche

Narrowing your niche is the hardest part for many people. I'm going to ask you to get more specific with who you're going to do business with and that inevitably reduces the number of prospects you'll be able to go after.

Reducing the number of prospects sounds like a bad thing but it's actually a good thing. It's counterintuitive, I know. Don't worry, I'll use specific examples to convince you of why this is so important.

First, Identify Your Core Market

Alright, you've got your big idea but what core market does your idea fit into best?

There are three "standard" core markets. There's health, there's wealth, and there's relationships. Your idea will almost always fall into one of these three core markets.

It might fit into more than one. There might some overlap. That's okay. It's not a problem. Choose the angle you want to approach it from as the primary.

For this article, we'll use "Relationships" as the example core market.

Inject yourself into this example so you can really understand what's going on here. If you're going to focus on relationship, you can't just tell people, "I'm a relationships coach."

People do this all the time, though. "I'm a relationship's coach." They'll literally tell that to you. I'm sure you've experienced this. So my follow up question is always, "Okay, so what do you do?"

I ask that because their first description doesn't tell anyone anything. All it does it beg more questions.

So you can't stop there. You have to go into more detail...

Identify Your Submarket

The way you get more specific with your online business is by identifying a submarket.

A submarket is a more specific part of the core market. For relationships, the submarkets might look like this...

  • Marriage
  • Dating
  • Intimacy
  • Communication
  • Parenting
  • Etc.

If you're doing marriage, that's a submarket. If you're doing dating, you're doing intimacy, you're doing communication, you're doing parenting, these are all part of the relationships market.

That list goes on and on and on. It's not just those.

Now, let's choose a submarket. Let's say we're going to do parenting, okay? So we're in the core market of relationships and we're going to target parenting as our submarket.

But again, there's a specificity problem. You can't just say, "Hey, I'm a parenting coach."

There are a lot of parenting coaches. There are a lot of ways to be a parenting coach – so much that you could choose to focus on.

"Parenting coach" isn't specific enough. Once again, it creates more questions than answers. It doesn't tell people what they need to know so we have to get more specific.

The way you get more specific is by identifying a niche.

Identify Your Niche

A niche is a specific segment of a submarket.

Now this could be based on numerous factors. Usually it starts to boil down to certain attributes. You can target things like age, status, preference, income level, experience level, etc. The list goes on and on and on.

Using our parenting example we could niche down to the attribute of "children with ADHD." So now we're targeting specific types of children and specific types of parents.

Now you might say, "Why? Where did you come up with the idea of targeting parents of kids with ADHD?" Well, that might happen to be where my passion and proficiency intersects, going back to Step #1 now.

When you do the Big Idea thing the right way it starts to help you arrive at the specificity that's required here. If you haven't done the Big Idea thing the right way, you need to go back to that first step and do it again.

All right, so most people who achieve this level of specificity stop...

"Whoa, I found it! I found my thing! I'm a parenting coach for parents of kids with ADHD. That's finally what I am!"

That's a big mistake. You still have to develop your concept further. There is more work to be done.

Thankfully, since you're rolling with Big Kev, you're not going to stop here and squash your opportunity to really stand out and creating something meaningful – and insanely profitable.

How to Start an Online Business

Step #3: Find the Itch in the Niche

Now it's time to get to the money.

Finding your niche isn't enough. Profitability is achieved by "finding the itch in the niche."

When I say itch here's what I mean: it's two very, very specific things – a deep pain or a deep desire.

The itch creates the potential for the greatest profitability and the greatest impact. Here's how this works...

How to Start an Online Business [Ultimate Guide] 2

This is a very unscientific scale, okay? But it illustrates the point.

If you have a deep pain and deep desire that you're targeting, that's going to make for excellent profitability. Thumbs up!

Mild pain and mild desire, this is struggle zone.

No clear pain and no clear desire, you're dead in the water.

If you're in the business of maximum profitability and maximum impact, you need deep pain and deep desire. That's primarily what people pay for.

Think about it. If your leg has an infection and it's about to fall off, the doctor doesn't need this big sales pitch and this intricate marketing brochure and a sales funnel to make the antibiotics sale does he? You're just like, "Give me the fucking meds, doc!"

That's an example of targeting a deep pain. You can contrast this with something like a vitamin.

If you're selling a a vitamin you have to put a lot of effort into the sales pitch because you're basically saying, "You might feel a little better over the next few weeks."

That's not a deep pain. That's not a deep desire. So that takes a lot of marketing. That takes a lot of sales training. That takes a lot of convincing. There's a lot of work to do there.

If you find deep pain and deep desire, it solves a lot of these marketing and sales problems for you. Find mild pain and mild desire and you're going to need to get better at marketing and sales.

"Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself and thus make yourself indispensable."

You need to put a lot of work into this deep pain / deep desire thing because this is work that your competitors likely haven't done and it's what's going to make you indispensable for the niche that you're starting your business in.

It's obvious that you don't want to be like everybody else. You don't want to be the second option. You don't want to be the third option.

You want to be the only option and that's only going to be possible when you understand the deep pains and deep desires of the people in your market better than your competitors.

This is critical. It's almost the entire game aside from execution.

So how do we find the deep pain and the deep desire? You do what most businesses don't do. You talk to people. You talk to lots of people. This is why on the Freedom Plan you'll see it says, "I've talked to at least 10 people in my target market."

When I say "talk to at least 10 people" I don't mean that you messaged 10 people or you Facebooked 10 people. You're going to Facebook and message lots of people during this process but when I say "talk to" I mean full-fledged conversations.

I mean on the phone or in person. Like 30 minutes in their ear, diving deep.

What do you ask? Things like...

  • Why are interested in X?
  • How did you come to be interested in X?
  • What attracted you to X?
  • How often do you think about things related to X?
  • What's something about X that's been a huge challenge for you?
  • What do you always wanted to achieve or have in relationship to X that you've never been able to get or have or experience?
  • Do you know other people who share the same pain and same desire?
  • Where do you find these other people? Where do they hang out?
  • How much money do you spend on X every week, every month, every year?
  • How much money do you think these other people that you know spend on X?
  • Do they spend the same as you or do they spend more than or are you the average?
  • What do you wish you did differently when you first got involved with X?
  • If someone could snap their fingers and instantly make your life easier with X, what would they change?

Now, obviously these questions have to be tailored to your niche but they're an absolute gold mine.

If I interviewed ADHD parents I'd start out with, "So tell me what it was like when your child was diagnosed with ADHD."

I want to hear that story. I want to hear that story from 25 different people because I want to see how the story changes.

"What are the best words to describe the feelings that you had at that point?"

I want to know how it felt, you know why? Because when I craft marketing materials all those emotions that they're feeding me are going to go into the copy because that's how you connect with people.

That's a copywriting secret. You just use the words your market uses in conversations with you.

Here are the questions created from the questions template...

  • "How often do you think about your child's ADHD?" Is that on your mind all the time or just like some of the time?"
  • "What's been the hardest part of all this?"
  • "How many people do you know with kids who have ADHD?"
  • "Do you try to meet other parents of kids with ADHD? Where do you find them? Where do you guys hang out?"
  • "How much would say you spend on dealing with this issue?"
  • "Is there anything you wish you had done differently in the beginning?"
  • "Are there any mistakes that you made?"
  • "What do you fear most about having a child with ADHD?"
  • "If someone could snap their fingers and instantly make your life easier with this, what would they change?"

You start to see where we're going with this, right?

Now sometimes you have to read between the lines. Sometimes you have to decipher their answers. They're not always going to be able to communicate exactly what they want or exactly what they need so your job is to start boiling down the information to find patterns in the answers.

You want to find overlap. The more overlap you find, the more patterns you find, the more you'll uncover the deep pain and the deep desire. Remember, it can't be a deep pain that one person has. It has to be a deep pain that the niche has, so you've got to find the overlap across a lot of people.

How to Start an Online Business

Step #4: Stir Up Your Special Sauce

You have all the background information you need now. You have the data. So it's time to start stirring up your special sauce.

Let's go back to the ADHD parenting example. There are still a lot of experts and authorities and influencers who focus on helping parents who have kids with ADHD. That's still not a unique idea so it's time to incorporate the deep pain and the deep desire research.

Here's an example of deep pain that you would perhaps see overlap across many different people...

"I'm tired of feeling like my child has a disability that needs to be fixed. I'm tired of feeling like my child needs to be changed into something else."

If you're a parent and this is the general feeling that you get, not just from society but also from the people who are supposed "experts," then you'd be receptive to the first person who treats you differently, right?

What about a deep desire?

"I want proactive strategies for channeling my child's ADHD into something positive if that's possible."

Again, this would be an example of a pattern you might see in the answers. That's gold.

Then we can get into even more specific attributes. Let's say that your discussions saw huge overlap among parents saying, "There's so many resources out there for boys with ADHD but there's not much at all for girls."

If that's the case, that's a potential area where you can niche down even harder. It's not always a good idea – you need to assess this a little more – but sometimes it's an absolute gold mine.

How do you know? You ask yourself more questions. One of my favorites is, "Does focusing on this specific attribute reveal new/specific needs?"

In our example, it does. ADHD happens to show up differently in girls than in boys and it needs to be addressed differently. This creates more opportunities and different opportunities so niching down is [potentially] a great idea.

You can also ask, "Does focusing on this specific attribute amplify the pain or the desire in some way?"

In this case, the desire to find help is amplified in the parents of girls due to the current lack of resources. That's another bonus for our example.

The bottom line is that your special sauce is starting to brew here...

  • 1 part passion
  • 1 part proficiency
  • 1 part deep pain antidote
  • 1 part deep desire fuel
  • 1 part your unique personality (a default ingredient)
  • All concocted for a specific type of person

Now you have to start assembling this. You have to start packaging this up nicely in a way that people can understand in less than 30 seconds...

How to Start an Online Business

Step #5: Develop Your Hook

When somebody goes to your website, finds you on social media, or even bumps into you in real life, they have to know instantly – within 20 second – what you do and whether or not you're a good fit for them.

They can't be confused about what you do and they can't be stuck on the fence wondering if you're a good fit for them or not a good fit for them.

If they're confused or on the fence, you haven't done your job. You have to make them know instantly, "Yes, you're for me," or, "No, you're not for me."

And it's okay if it's a "No." You can't be for everybody. Figure that out as soon as possible. Yes or no, that's what you're shooting for.

So how is this accomplished?

With a great hook.

You craft a hook that speaks directly to your target market. It's one to two sentences long and it typically incorporates – in some fashion – all the work you've done up to this point with identifying your market, deep pain and deep desire, your special sauce, etc.

Keep in mind that your hook can evolve over time. You don't have to create one now and cement it as your hook forever. The more you do business, the more you learn about your market, and the more you pivot, the more you'll need to adapt and refine your hook.

I'll work my way to a hook that I might craft for our ADHD parenting example so you can get a better idea for how this works.

Let's revisit the deep pain:

"I'm tired of feeling like my child has a disability that needs to be fixed. I'm tired of feeling like my child needs to be changed into something else."

Let's revisit the deep desire:

"I want proactive strategies for channeling my child's ADHD into something positive."

Then we got additional feedback:

"There's so much out there for boys. There's nothing for girls who happen to experience ADHD very, very differently."

This kind of insight into your target market is gold. This is the exact kind of stuff that needs to be woven into your hook because when your prospects hear it they immediately feel like you know exactly what they want and need.

So you take all of that and you boil it down into a compelling hook. Something like this:

"I teach parents how to channel their daughter's ADHD into a superpower."

Now if you were sitting in that niche as a parent, you had those pains and you had those desires, and you came across a hook like this – how do you feel?

It's pretty clear, right?

Here's how the hook speaks to these parents:

How to Start an Online Business [Ultimate Guide] 3

That's the kind of reaction you want to get.

If they're not a parent, guess what? It's a no. You're not for them.

If they don't have a daughter, guess what? It's a no. You're not for them.

If their kid doesn't have ADHD, if their daughter doesn't have ADHD, it's a no. You're not the parenting coach for them.

You want to get rid of all confusion. You want to make the people who aren't a great fit say "No." And when you do this right, the people who say "Yes" won't be wishy washy either. They're in 1000%.

This is critically important stuff. Showing up in a unique way, crafting a hook like this, getting to this level, building a business that looks like this – it's not magic.

You might look at some people who have done this and say, "Damn, how did they come up with that?"

It's not from "brainstorming." It's not about clicking your heels together or making three wishes. There is a data-driven approach to this stuff.

This is what happens when you do your homework. And yeah, it helps to have experience or to align yourself with people who have experience to help you. But there is a formula for doing this stuff. It's not a random guess.

This kind of thing is how the great [proverbial] poker players end up at the final table over and over again.

And it's not just about sounding good. Doing this kind of work on the front end solves sooo many problems for you. I outlined most of the benefits in this article on finding a profitable niche but I'll bullet out the main benefits here...

  • You'll have less competition.
  • It makes it easier to become an expert.
  • It makes it easier to become recognized as an expert.
  • It makes it easier to find clients.
  • It makes it easier to get people to buy into your tribe and your mission.
  • It makes it easier get word of mouth referrals.
  • It makes your marketing life easier.
  • It makes your sales life easier.

Alright, let's continue...

How to Start an Online Business

Step #6: Scope Out Your Competition

Let me say this: people worry too much about competition.

People will often look at the niche they've chosen and say, "But there are competitors! There's already a few people doing that sort of thing. Why should I even try?"

What do they do next, in response to seeing competition? They go back to the idea phase and they try to find some other idea.

That, my friend, is a huge mistake.

If nobody else is doing what you're trying to do then you are taking a huge risk. If there are no other competitors or there are just a couple people and they're totally broke, that's a huge problem. That's a big red flag.

It means one of two things:

  1. You're a pioneer.
  2. You're walking into a trap.

Now look at that word, "pioneer."

I say that word and people are like, "Hey, that sounds great! That's damn sexy. I want to be a pioneer," because in your history book everybody is like, "Pioneer? That's the best thing to be."

Not really. Being a pioneer, especially in business, is a good way to end up bankrupt. You end up with a figurative back full of arrows.

Pioneers arrive on the scene way too soon. They're "ahead of their time." They have to spend tons of time and money educating their market. They have to spend tons of time and money innovating everything about what they're trying to do because nobody has done it yet.

That's expensive, time consuming, and frustrating. And the minute you start to gain traction it's like a dog whistle for competitors who are going to leverage all the work you've done forging a path, to steamroll you.

Or maybe there's just no market there. Maybe it's not a pioneer issue. Maybe a bunch of other people got the same idea, tried it, and failed over and over and over again.

Well, you're not special. You're probably not better than them. It's possible that you are but that's a huge risk you're about to take.

If there is no competition then take a step back. Competition is a great thing. If there are profitable competitors in your niche it's proof positive that a real market exists and that there's money to be made.

Remember back to the beginning when I talked about passion, proficiency, and profitability? This is one of the ways you validate profitability before you start – you find and list the top 3 competitors and you start scoping them out.

If you can't list three profitable competitors, go back to the drawing board.

What About beating the competition?

Don't worry about "beating" the competition. While it's possible that you can beat the competition, it's not necessary.

There are 7.5 billion people on this planet. If you're following my philosophy, you don't need to build a gigantic business. You're not building the next Apple or Google. You're building a lifestyle business that serves you and your family with the ultimate freedom.

You don't need to "beat" your competition to achieve that. That's the beauty of it.

Also, and this is really important, it's possible to beat your competition in one small area that matters instead of beating them in full. In fact, I'd argue that this is what you're really trying to do.

So the game isn't about building a *bigger* business than them or "burying" them by stealing all their clients, it's about clearly standing apart from them in a meaningful way so that the people who you can serve better than them come to you and the people you can't serve better than them don't.

How to Start an Online Business

Step #7: Map Out Your Distribution Channels

Now that you've built a solid foundation for who you want to target, you have to map out how you're going to reach them.

And not reach them once but reach them day after day after day.

Once you know who you want to work with it's all about getting the attention of their eyeballs and eardrums. This requires a solid online marketing strategy.

Understand this clearly: people won't come just because you built something. There are gazillions of websites out there that they could go to and millions of people they could listen to. You're a needle in a haystack.

So how are you going to get eyeballs on your online business? How are you going to get it into people's eardrums? How are you going to spread your message?

In my article on how to how to make real money online I talked about three primary ways to get people's attention online. That's the 30,000 foot view.

The goal when you're first starting out is to understand the big picture, understand the specifics about each channel that are available to you, and then map out a strategy that:

  1. Aligns with your target market.
  2. Is practical and doesn't spread your resources too thin.

The reason I make those two points is because they counter the two biggest mistakes that most new online business owners make.

Online Marketing Mistake #1

People choose channels *they* prefer instead of choosing channels their audience prefer.

For example, it doesn't matter how much you love Pinterest – if you're targeting middle aged business men, Pinterest probably isn't the best channel to direct your efforts towards.

Online Marketing Mistake #2

People try to use every channel that's available to them.

The end result of that play is that they show up everywhere but at very low quality and they constantly feel overwhelmed and distressed.

So here's what I want you to do:

  1. Choose TWO content channels that you're going to be prolific on.
  2. Choose TWO social channels that you're going to be prolific on.

You pick two channels from each category. That's it.

Content Channels

There are tons of content channels available to you. I'm not going to try to give you an exhaustive list in this article but I'll give you some primary examples:

Again, that list can keep going and going. Unless you have a big team with professional content creators, there's no way to tackle every platform with unique content or to show up consistently in a meaningful way on every channel.

Choose two channels to dominate and stay focused on those.

Social Channels

There are even more social channels than there are content channels. And each social channel has a unique type of audience and a unique way of interacting and showing up.

Beginners tend to think that they need to establish a presence on every social channel. That's not the case. As is true with dominating content channels, you want to choose two social channels and own them.

Feel free to secure your brand name on other social channels just so you have them, but don't try to actively build them all at once.

The major social channels right now are:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Reddit
  • LinkedIn

If you want more on how to best use these social channels, Gary Vaynerchuck has a fantastic book on exactly that: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.

How to Start an Online Business

Step #8: Map Out Your Email List Building Strategy

Inbound marketing equals traffic. It does not equal sales.

In other words, you can get lots of traffic and make no money.

If you want to make sales – which is kind of required for an online business – then you have to capture people so that you can continue having a conversation with them.

Conversations in the sales world are gold. It's how you control the sales process.

Out of a hundred people that come to your website, only one of those 100 people is going to buy on their first visit on average. That's if you're selling higher ticket items and you're good at what you do.

So what about the 99 other people?

Just because they don't buy on the first visit doesn't mean they're never going to buy. In fact, most people who buy won't buy on the first visit. They'll only buy if you capture them somehow and continue engaging with them over the course of days, weeks, and months.

I have had so many people come to me and say, "Kevin, I found you 11 months ago and I've been on your email list this entire time. I've been listening to your podcast (Shameless plug: The Digital Ambition Podcast) and I finally came to the realization that I need what you offer."

People have to warm up to your stuff! This is especially true if you're doing higher ticket sales.

There's a bigger decision – a bigger commitment that has to be made. They don't really know you yet. They don't like you yet. They don't trust you yet. It's a process that doesn't happen overnight, especially online.

So you need a list of people who you're going to communicate with consistently week-in and week-out. And you need a means of doing that.

Email happens to be the best means of doing that right now. There are certainly other options like chatbots, Facebook groups, social media connections, and so on, but email far outperforms all of them at the moment if you're decent at email marketing.

People tell me all the time, "Kevin, I don't know what to do! I'm not getting any sales!"

So I ask, "Do you have an email list?" And of course they reply, "No, no, I didn't do that part yet." Or they say, "Yes but I don't really send many emails."

Well, there's your problem. You've got to do email. And you can look at the studies if you don't believe me. The return on investment for email marketing is like $38 for every dollar spent. That's insane.

When you have a strong email marketing game you basically have an ATM machine. You send out emails, you get dollars in return, and it just keeps happening over and over again.

How to Build Your Email List - The Lifeblood of Your Online Business

All right, so how do you get people on your email list? You've got a bunch of options here.

  • You can put general opt-in forms on your website.
  • You can put "content upgrades" on your articles.
  • You can use SMS opt-ins if you have a podcast (like I can tell my listeners to text the word GRINDING to 444999).
  • You can run webinars that people have to register for.
  • You can do a joint venture promotion that people have to opt-in for.
  • You can use niche-specific "lead magnets" (freebies) that people have to opt-in for.
  • You can drive opt-ins from social media.
  • You can run contests and giveaways that people have to sign up for.

But again, you probably shouldn't pursue all the possibilities. To get started, I recommend choosing three solid list building strategies.

Now, I consider a few of these to be combinable because they don't take a lot of extra effort or time or attention. For example, general opt-in forms on your website is just a default. Once it's done it's done. So don't consider that as taking up one of your strategies.

SMS kinda falls into the same boat if you're a podcaster or a public speaker or something. Once it's setup all you have to do is mention it from time to time.

For DigitalAmbition.co I primarily use the following strategies that take ongoing time and attention:

  • Content Upgrades
  • Webinars
  • Lead Magnets

Just keep this in mind: everything you do needs to start with the list in mind.

Want to grow your Facebook group using your website traffic? No problem. Get them to opt-in to your email list to get the Facebook group invite.

Want people to follow you on Instagram? No problem. Get them to opt-in to your email list and then point them to your Instagram after they're an email subscriber.

I see so many people bleeding out their list building opportunities. They've got cute little social media buttons all over their site that send traffic somewhere else. They're direct linking to freebies with no opt-in. Their articles have no companion guides. It's a mess.

Build your list. Build your list. Build your list.

How to Start an Online Business

Step #9: Create a Basic Monetization Plan

Now it's time to talk about how you're going to monetize your online business.

There's two basic situations you probably find yourself in:

  1. You already know exactly what you're going to offer, you just have to flesh out the details.
  2. You don't know exactly what you're going to offer but you have an idea for what method of monetization you're going to pursue.

Either one is fine, just keep in mind that business building almost always involves pivots. You might be super confident with your product idea and still face the need to pivot at some point.

If you're in position #2 you can still map out a monetization strategy. Just focus on nailing down product types instead of specific product ideas.

Based on what you know about your niche, is a digital product going to solve your market's problem? Is it a physical product that's going to solve their problem? Is it you, as a consultant, that's going to solve their problem?

If you're not sure, is there a solid affiliate play available to you while you continue to work on your own offering for this niche?

And what about multiple streams of revenue?

Ideally, you want to map out a primary monetization strategy, a secondary monetization strategy, and a tertiary monetization strategy. So it can look like this...

  1. Digital products
  2. Coaching
  3. Affiliate Marketing

At the advanced stage, you'll also want to map out a value ladder but that comes once you're more established and clear on exactly what your target market wants and needs.

Of course, you'll end up with more than 3 monetization strategies as your business grows but it's a good idea to start with two to three.

What are my monetization options?

There are tons of ways to monetize a website and even though you're starting an online business per this guide, you can still incorporate some traditional monetization strategies.

Here's a solid list of options for monetizing. It's not a complete list by any means but it's a suitable starting point:

  • Digital products (guides, courses, workshops, e-books, etc.)
  • Physical products
  • Affiliate marketing (selling other people's products and services for a commission)
  • 1-1 coaching and consulting
  • Group coaching and consulting
  • Online masterminds
  • Retreats
  • Offline workshops
  • Online summits
  • Physical books
  • Public speaking
  • Paid advertising

Again, survey what's available to you and then choose up to three monetization channels to dominate in the early stages.

How to Start an Online Business

Step #10: Create a Sales Strategy

This might come as a shock to you but...your products ain't going to sell themselves.

You might think, "Well, duh!" but this is such a common misconception.

People think like this all the time: "I'll put my content out there and I'll put my videos on YouTube and I'll get my email list going and people will come to my site. And when they get to my site they'll see my products and make a purchase."

It's not going to go down like that. Maybe for like, a half of a percent of your traffic that might happen. If you're in straight e-commerce it'll be more but for products that require a relationship and know/like/trust it's not going to happen.

So understanding that your products aren't going to sell themselves, how are you going to sell them?

You need a funnel. You need a mapped out series of steps and touch points that are going to occur for every visitor and you need to figure out which sales channels work best for your products and your market.

For some people it might be webinars. Maybe that's your thing. But someone else might go with old fashioned phone sales. Another person might be able to sell with straight up email automation.

Maybe you figure out that you're not great at sales and selling. Maybe you decide that you're going to recruit a ton of high-powered affiliates and let them sell your stuff for you. That's certainly an option as well.

This is what you need to figure out. What are your main sales channels going to be?

Don't choose willy nilly. Turn this into a science. If you're converting OK on phone sales but killing it on webinars, double down on webinars. If you're doing a webinar a month, try doing a webinar a week.

Maybe your thing is Facebook Live. I have a student in my membership community who murders the game on Facebook Live. She needs to focus more on that while it's working.

Mapping out this strategy is between you and your market. The bottom line is that you have to know how you are going to sell because your products ain't going to sell themselves.

Pick two sales channels and dominate with them.

How to Start an Online Business

Step #11: Throw Gas on the Fire

Now we're getting to the territory where you have all the right pieces of the puzzle in place.

So now what?

Well, what you shouldn't do – even though it seems to be a foolishly popular strategy – is sit around a wait.

Patience is a great thing to have in business but you also need to know when to be impatient. You have to know when it's time to force the issue and put the pedal to the medal.

The best business people – and the best team members by the way – proactively find people and grab them by the collar and pull them into your business. They take certain parts of the business and amplify them.

How do you accelerate your success? There's a few accelerants that you can use to make things happen sooner rather than later.

If you've done all other homework, you get out your wallet, you go into the Facebook Ads dashboard, you put up your ad, you do your targeting, and traffic starts to come tomorrow morning.

Then you have another option like joint ventures (JV). That's where you find other people to partner with. They promote you, you promote them, and you both win sooner rather than later.

You also have hand-to-hand combat at your disposal any time you want to use it. Every single day of the week you can go into a Facebook group full of people in your niche and interact as much as possible.

Go post by post. Answer people's questions. Be super helpful. Get your name showing up in front of people over and over and over again.

You have a link to your online business in your profile that says what you do, right? People are going to say, "Who is this guy/girl being so helpful?" They'll click on your bio and see, "Whoa, she has a website. Oh my God, look at that hook! What an amazing hook! All right, I'm in."

Now they're on your email list.

You're proactively going out and interacting with people. And because you've done your homework, it works. That's hand-to-hand combat. That's basic networking.

Then you have another option like guest posting. Instead of sitting around publishing articles on your own site for your mom and your best friend to read, because that's the only people reading in the early stages, why don't you publish an article on somebody else's site? Preferably someone that gets lots and lots of traffic?

That's an accelerant.

Affiliates are an accelerant, too. If you have something to sell and you recruit a bunch of affiliates, you know what they're going to do, right? They're going to go out and tell everybody about you because they want to make that commission. That's an accelerant.

You need at least one accelerant in the beginning. In fact, sticking to just one is a pretty good idea. Accelerants aren't easy to manage and you can spread yourself too thin if you get overzealous.

Think about it. You're going to be guest posting amazing articles, running Facebook ads like an expert, setting up JV deals, managing affiliates, and all this other stuff? Not gonna happen. Choose one and dominate it.

Wrap Up

The process of starting your online business and growing your online business into something meaningful, impactful, and substantial can be overwhelming.

Don't let the overwhelm freeze you up, though. Just think of this process like as a puzzle. There's a lot of pieces, right? So where do you start?

You start by dumping them on the table. That's kind of what we've done here. I've thrown everything at you.

So go back and find the first piece. Connect it to another piece. And another piece.

The thing about puzzles is that with every piece you put into place, the puzzle gets easier and easier to put together. You start to see a clearer picture of what you're building.

After a while you get to a place where you're like, "Oh, I need a specific piece that looks like this." And so you go find that new piece and you pop it into place.

It's really hard to find the first two pieces that go together but then it starts getting easier and easier and easier. You just have to get over that first hump.

And keep in mind that there are going to be points where you have to pivot. All these strategies aren't going to play out exactly like you hope they'll play out. You've gotta get really good at failing. You've gotta get really good at managing frustration. You've gotta get really good at being tenacious.

Most importantly, get help. Surround yourself with the people and the resources who will make you successful. Freedom Business Hive is a perfect place, for example.

Why? Because starting an online business is hard enough. Growing it is even harder. And trying to do it all yourself is unbelievably difficult. So much so that I'd suggest it's downright stupid. It's not a smart business play.

Smart business owners – and wealthy people in general – surround themselves with the people and resources who can elevate them because they know that's the best growth accelerant of all time.

And with that, all that's left to say is, "Good luck!" because luck is a real component in business. It's not the biggest component by any means. It's not even a "large" component in many cases. But luck certainly helps.

Now, go build something awesome.