5 Steps to Start an Online Business and Living a Much Better Life

As you’re reading this, customers all over the world are spending millions of dollars online. It’s estimated that 2.5 billion people log onto the Internet every day. We live in the Information Age, which has created new opportunities to start or build a business using the power and reach of the Internet.

While the opportunity is there, so is the competition. You can Google any topic and find at least a few entrepreneurs who are serving the market related to that topic. Whether you are growing an existing business through the Internet or starting an online business, you will have to stand out to thrive.

The Internet offers you the opportunity to create a business you love around the lifestyle you want. Operating a business that generates income from anywhere in the world no longer a fantasy. In fact, I’m writing this article on a flight from Maui to Panama. My business is making money as I fly. Here are five steps to create a profitable and successful online business.

1. Pick a profitable topic.

Choosing a topic is a hard enough task on its own. Making sure it’s profitable is where some entrepreneurs sabotage their chances. To create a business your customers have to be able to afford what you offer. Do your research on the profitability of a topic by seeing who serves that audience and how they’re doing.

Online entrepreneurship is generally a harmonious community. Entrepreneurs are likely to answer a few of your questions. If you can’t get any answers, Google always has a few. Make sure the earning potential is there before trying to generate revenue from that topic and audience.

Related: How to Make Money Online: The Basics

2. Create a strong foundation.

Your foundation online consists of your website, email list and social media following. There are many micro-aspects of an online business, but those are at the core. Your website needs to be simple and clean. You have a short window to capture someone’s attention. If your website is confusing, people will click off. Have the fewest pages possible. Have an “About” page that’s personal and connects the reader to your message and you as the entrepreneur.

Social media has billions of users, but the organic reach is next to nothing. You have to pay to reach your audience. Email marketing is still the best way to convert a lead to a customer. Build your email list by offering a small digital freebie to entice people to sign up. Create a presence on every social media platform, but don’t get caught up in the hype behind social media marketing. Use it only as one part of your overall strategy.

3. Build an engaged audience.

If your website and social media presence are a ghost town, you won’t draw people in and convert them into customers. Your goal is to build raving fans and followers that will tell everyone they know about you and your business.

You create that engagement by NOT delivering fluff-filled content. When you provide actionable value, people will become engaged and respond. Don’t buy fans or followers—it never creates engagement. Focus on connecting with an engaged group instead of trying to get big numbers. All of us have seen the entrepreneurs who have 30,000 Twitter followers but only get one retweet when they post.

Related: 5 Tools to Help Your Online Business Realize Its Full Potential

4. Create premium offerings.

A business means you have things to sell, and it’s no different in an online business. One of the nice features of an online business is that what you sell is digital. You can create books, guides, and courses. They can be offerings you create one time, and the work is done—you would then update from time to time. Create different types of programs and courses that help your audience, and use your email list to sell them. Make them actionable and packed full of valuable content.

5. Test and scale.

One of the best ways to know what works best for your business is to test what’s working and what isn’t. Be willing to change your strategy if you see it’s not effective. Don’t blindly follow popular advice just because someone got a certain result in THEIR business—it probably won’t work the same for you. When you have the right combination, scale your business.

Life is short. It’s too short to spend it creating a business that doesn’t give you the kind of lifestyle you want to live. Use the Internet and social media to grow or create a business that gives you freedom. The ability to generate income from your knowledge and through digital offerings is incredible.

There are many voices shouting for attention online. You stand out when you do things differently. Build a loyal and engaged following through authenticity. Deliver value that helps them solve their problems and struggles. It won’t take long for you loyal following to draw others in and your business to grow.

 

Have a Burning Business Question Ask Our Branding Expert Laura Ries

Branding is what differentiates a company from the rest of the pack. From the logo design to the message and marketing tactics, companies need to create an identity that attracts customers and gives them visibility within their market. But coming up with a branding strategy isn’t easy.  Fortunately, we have Laura Ries to provide some insight.

Ries is a leading marketing strategist, bestselling author and television personality, frequently appearing on shows including O’Reilly Factor and Squawk Box. The books she has authored, or co-authored, include The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, The Origin of Brand, Visual Hammer and her latest, Battlecry, which outlines five tactics for increasing the effectiveness of a company’s logo or tagline.

For her day-to-day work, she, along with her father Al, are the co-founders of Atlanta-based focus-consultancy firm Ries & Ries, where they help brands find and define their focus. The duo have worked with companies across industries, including Microsoft, Ford, Disney and Frito-Lay, among others.

Because of her achievements, Ries has received a number of accolades including the Atlanta Business Chronicle giving her a spot on its “40 Under 40” list, and in 2009, readers of Advertising Age named her book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding the third most important marketing book. (Her father’s book, Positioning, was number one.)

 

We are thrilled to have Ries as our expert for the month of February. As an entrepreneur, Ries understands the struggles other face when it comes to branding and is thrilled to offer up advice. She is looking to take your questions on an array of branding topics, including marketing strategies, design, advertising, taglines and positioning.

Submit your questions by tweeting us, using the hashtag #ENTexpert. One topic will be selected by the editors of Entrepreneur and addressed by Ries in a weekly writeup.

7 Marketing Mistakes That Could Sink Your Business

I once knew a marketing guy who always thought he could shape-shift the numbers and make them look good. That guy got fired from his job and cost his company hundreds of thousands of dollars. I once knew a company who was afraid to try anything new. Well, that company’s competition blew them out of the water over the next three years with a series of creative campaigns. They had to lay off half their staff.

Businesses live and die by their marketing strategies. Here are seven core marketing mistakes that could put your company six feet under.

Related: 9 Marketing Mistakes That Cost Your Business Money

1. Not taking the time to hear what’s new

The marketing landscape is always changing, part of the job of a good marketer is to stay on the cutting edge of new industry trends. While it might be easier to simply stay focused on what you already know and disregard the latest research and tools, that’s not a recipe for success. Simply put, part of your job is to innovate.

First, make sure you begin each quarter with fresh competitive analysis. What are your competitors doing successfully that you’re not? Do your competitors have a superior content marketing program? Has native advertising on Facebook been their ticket to success? Know your competitors and leverage the channels that are working for them to your advantage.

Next, talk to your vendors. I recommend holding a marketing day at least two times a year. Invite all your current vendors and the vendors who have been reaching out to you to do a 30-minute pitch on what’s new. In addition, make sure to set up meetings with the marketing colleges you respect — whether they are in your industry or not.

Finally, do some research. Make it a habit to visit marketing sites frequently, and digest the information they provide.

Through this process, you will gather a massive list of new ideas. Make sure to allocate at least some of your budget to trying new marketing services each year. For me, I like 10 percent.

2. Not trying at least one innovative growth hack

A good growth hack can easily propel your business to the next level. Growth hacking, simply put, is a creative use of technology to build your brand. If executed correctly, the right strategy can transform your business from a struggling startup to a household name. Unfortunately, many marketers don’t even try it.

The issue often comes down to time and creativity. You might be so busy going over your analytics, looking at your marketing channels and evaluating your latest campaign you think you just don’t have time to sit back and dream up of a creative way that you can use technology for marketing purposes.

Make the time. Close your office door, turn your PC away from you and think about different ways that you can reach people in your target market with the aid of modern technology. If that doesn’t yield anything for you, consider a brainstorming session with some of your favorite geeks on staff who might have insight about technical solutions that you can use.

3. Pulling programs too early

Unfortunately, good marketing costs money and takes time. That’s why you need to be prepared to invest plenty of both if you want to make a sound determination about whether or not a particular campaign is successful.

Search engine optimization (SEO), for example, will take a while. Give your SEO efforts a period of four months before you even look for results. With competition increasing all throughout Google, you cannot simply expect to sign up and be ranked number one. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) also takes time. It can be a few months before you have actually executed a new conversion strategy based on the tests you have conducted.

Regardless of the service, make sure to get a clear understanding of the timeframe from the sales rep before you sign up and stick to it. I have a client who we made an additional one million dollars in profit this year. He has been an SEO client for three years, and every year, we have made him money.

But the first six months he signed up, we had our heads down cleaning up a penalty and fixing his website. If he would have pulled the program in those first six months, he would be much less wealthy. However, he understood the program would take time, and he is now reaping the benefits.

4. Getting talked into a bad service by a slick sales guy

We’re all subject to the power of persuasion. Some of us, more than others, are known to fall prey to the clever tactics of (sometimes unscrupulous) sales reps. Make your decisions about new purchases based on your own analysis as opposed to the wily efforts of commission-paid smooth-talkers who approach you. A simple Google search can provide you with plenty of information about most services that have been around for a while.

Check the reviews, especially the bad ones. Don’t just read the social proof that you’ll inevitably find on the company website. Instead, validate the social proof by contacting the people mentioned. Look for concrete numbers that demonstrate how the service can benefit your organization. Finally, look at the competitors of the service that you’re considering and go through the same review process. You might find that a great service presented to you by a sales rep is offered by another company with a superior reputation of customer support.

Either way, take your time to really vet your new vendors.

Related: Five Signs You Need a Marketing Makeover

5. Dancing around bad numbers

Avoid seeing only what you want to see. Some of your great ideas aren’t going to work. Sometimes, the marketing campaign you thought would take your company to the next level just doesn’t pan out.

Be willing to evaluate your analytics without a bias. If the numbers are showing that the plan isn’t working, then be willing to pull the plug on it, even if it was your brain child. For example, if you’re investing $20,000 in a new ad network, but you’re not seeing the revenue that you think you should, then make it clear to everyone it is not working, and you are going to move on. This is a much better option than trying to highlight metrics that don’t matter.

Bottom line: Embrace bad news instead of trying to make the bad situation look good when everyone can see it is not. It will help you reallocate your resources appropriately so that, in the long run, you stand to benefit.

6. Not creating a clear marketing plan and presenting it to executives

You need to create a marketing plan and make sure it is well organized. You can find a variety of templates online through a Google search, but here is some general top-level insight.

  • Your plan should include a timeline and calendar of events. Why? Because that sets expectations that your plan will not gain immediate results and will keep you focused on major promotions. You’ll need to convince executives that it will take some time before your efforts will be noticeable.
  • You need to segment out each marketing initiative, project the return on investment (ROI) and show the growth over time. It is a good idea to show low, medium and high projections.
  • Include a contingency plan. Sometimes, the best plans go awry. There might be an unforeseen circumstance that derails your campaign effort, so have a Plan B in place in the event that you need it.

If you don’t create the plan and present proper expectations, it could mean your job. But worse than that, it will mean your business is not fully prepared, nor has the strategic planning been done that is necessary to take it to the next level. Do not fly by the seat of your pants — make a plan.

7. Not taking the time to know your core business model

For starters, any marketer needs to know items such as:

  • What is your average customer value?
  • What is the average lifetime of the customer?
  • What is your profit per customer?
  • What is your target cost to acquire a new customer? What is your leeway here?
  • When are your busy and slow seasons?
  • What are your growth goals?
  • What is your budget? What flexibility do you have with this budget?
  • What is a good customer and what is a bad customer?
  • What are all your marketing channels, what is the cost per channel and the return per channel?

Before you can properly craft a marketing strategy for a particular brand, you need to understand its core business model. By this I mainly mean the numbers, but also the subtleties of the business. Otherwise, you cannot make the most intelligent decisions for the marketing channels you are selecting.

Before any strategy is even put to the drawing board, you should understand these core items. In addition, it is also a good idea to learn general marketing information such as what is your business’ personality? What are its values? What are your main customer personas? What are the features that set the brand apart from competitors? What’s the unique selling proposition (USP)?

Arm yourself with that information and design a marketing strategy in line with the overall business model. That way, you can maximize creative potential and revenue. Many businesses I deal with do not know these core numbers. Without knowing these numbers, you cannot spend marketing dollars effectively, and that hurts a business’ bottom-line.

Marketing mistakes are easy to make. The good news is that you don’t have to make them. With some proper planning, due diligence and creative problem solving, you can be well on your way to launching a series of error-free digital marketing campaigns. Just make sure that you’re always keeping up with the latest trends, you know your numbers and you plan and stay honest.

How 8 Mompreneurs Succeeded at Small Business Without Sacrificing Family

Entrepreneurship involves a lot of planning, writing, calculating, paper-filing, marketing and more. Each of these eight moms did it all — with a kid on her hip.

But how did they do it? Caring for family is a major and time-consuming commitment that leaves little physical and emotional energy behind for business ventures. What’s more, most of these mompreneurs had full-time jobs when they began considering starting a business, compelling them to make major life decisions that couldn’t have been easy on the mind or the heart.

Related: 10 Single Mom Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Business Advice

Against all odds, however, all eight mastered the art of balancing business, family and self — and in a way that, from the outside, looks totally effortless. Here’s how they did it.

By recognizing opportunity

Doctor Shannon Davis PT, DPT understood the need for a carpet-, tile-, and wood flooring-compatible balance device that would allow children to move independently one night when she noticed her baby struggling to chase a family pet around the house. After a slew of prototype tests and instances of trial and error, Shannon devised the perfect product: the Little Balance Box, which safely helps babies and toddlers sit, stand and walk without assistance from an adult.

Instead of settling for inadequate stability devices like seated and wheeled walkers, Shannon took advantage of the issue she and her baby were experiencing — after all, others had to be dealing with the same problem.

Special Agent Heather Ryan has a bit of a different story. During much of her time working with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Heather regretted being unable to spend sufficient time with her family. When her son graduated kindergarten, Heather could only watch via Skype from eight states away. It was that day she vowed to make a change.

Because Heather had extensive experience investigating major crimes like child abuse, sexual assault and homicide, she thought she could provide insight to the criminal mind that could benefit individuals and families seeking methods of self-defense. By analyzing the information she’d gathered from the most dangerous of “bad guys” over the years, Heather began Safe in the City, a practical safety class aimed toward women and families.

By realizing neither priority (family or business ownership) had to come over the other

Flesché Hesch, branded “the business advisor for moms,” originally wanted to combine family time with that spent on advancing her career. Though she could have returned from maternity leave to a full-time job she enjoyed, Flesché thought she could go one step further by combining her marriage and family counseling expertise with self-employment — specifically, by starting her own business coaching company for moms.

By being 100 percent in control of her own schedule, Flesché was able to make time for family when and how she wanted. To maintain a healthy balance, Flesché says, “No working during family time!” Separating work time from family time allows one to be more mentally and emotionally present during each.

April Perry, founder of Learn.Do.Become, helps others “architect lives worth living” between time spent with her family. While her four children are at school or finishing up homework, April builds her business. When everyone in the family is free, they work together to complete housework, yardwork, cooking and other chores before having fun.

“Running a business from home with four active children definitely requires a lot of patience and creativity!” April says. “It’s definitely a team effort, and there are many days I wonder what we were thinking, but overall, it works for us and we enjoy being able to spend so much time with each other and with our children.”

Nicole Rogers didn’t exclude her kid from any part of the entrepreneurial process — at least, not at the beginning. Nicole founded Agriprocity, a company that fosters long-term, direct relationships between farmers and food processors. Before and during startup, Nicole travelled around the world conducting research for her business, attending conferences and meetings that each took her one step closer to opening. She did it all with her baby boy.

“Taking a baby across the ocean from Dubai to Canada made the journeys challenging,” Nicole says of the process. “Now, our son attends nursery in our office building so we can have flex time with him.” The absence of physical distance between Nicole’s family and her business makes it much easier to remain close with her husband and son.

By capitalizing on their own motherhood

Though some may view parenting as business setback, mompreneurs like Flesche, who teaches other moms how to start their own companies, and Heather, who helps other families stay safe through Get Safe Academy, view it as a major advantage. Sarah Jagger, founder of Domestic Objects, knows she can appeal her products (gorgeous, handmade play tents) to other parents, because they were originally made for her own kids. She also knows her tents are a great way of encouraging imaginative play without the use of technology.

“My customers are almost always moms who are looking for ways to keep their kids active, off electronics, and engaged,” Sarah says. “Today, iPads and other electronics are embedded in children’s lives, and I wanted to find ways to get them using their imagination, playing with each other, being active and having fun. From the marketing side, I think my story helps me sell.”

By owning it

Unfortunately, it’s all too common for working women to receive hurtful comments and questions regarding their abilities to raise happy families while advancing their careers. Mompreneurs experience this tenfold. Rachel Olsen, founder of Best Mom Products and author of the book Shark Tank Mompreneurs Take a Bite Out of Publicity, says she followed the entrepreneurial path to demonstrate female leadership to her daughters, which only strengthens her ability to deflect negative comments from others.

“It’s not for everybody, and it doesn’t need to be,” Rachel says of parenthood and business ownership. “We all have our own path to follow, and when someone discounts my choices in anything, I look at it as a reflection of what they internally have going on — issues they haven’t resolved in their own life. I don’t take it personally.”

Kalika Yap, founder of Luxe Link, The Waxing Co., Citrus Studios, and many others knows as a serial entrepreneur that her unique business lifestyle is right for her and her family. “I don’t feel guilty at all. I know what I do [for] myself or my family is for all of us. I also work very hard and try my best in both work and family life. I’m ‘all in,’” Kalika says.

Kalika is on track to starting a brand new company with her children called Conscious Kids, which will focus on ethical leadership in school-age children. By involving her kids directly in business ownership, Kalika is both a positive role model and a more interactive mother.

It certainly wasn’t easy, but these eight mompreneurs managed to master business ownership without sacrificing family. What will you do with your entrepreneurial career, now that you know anything is possible?