How to start an online business in 2019: Complete step-by-step guide
So You want to start an online business - wahoooooo!
I’m truly stoked to hear that and cannot wait to help you along the way! Just a few years ago, almost 5 to be exact, I was in your place, dreaming (and questioning TBH) if I really could built a legit online business.
I’m happy to report, this completely remote online business is now my full-time job and I LOVE running it.
It makes great income (reports to prove it are here), and enables me to live a life of total freedom.
I live in Europe most of the year and travel a lot from here. (Especially in winter time. Rain and cold? Nah, not my jam.) I’m in full control of what I work on every day and how I work. (Couch? Yes, now that’s my kind of workspace!)
My favorite thing to do these days is to show others exactly how this is done, so they can have the same in their life. If you’re a go-getter who’s ready to ditch your 9-5 and get on with living your best life, served by an online business, then you’re in exactly the right place!
I’ve learned a thing, or 3, from my time building a successful online business and observing peers over the years. I’ve been pretty diligent about noting what’s consistent with all the other online businesses I follow which have made it over the years.
So what I’m sharing with you today is both what I’ve found to work in my own business and the businesses of friends who are killing it too.
Okay, enough chit chat. Let’s talk online business strategy!
The 7 vital steps to starting a successful online business in 2019:
These are the vital 7 steps, basically the bits you REALLY need to make sure you hit.
I’m going to go MUCH more in depth in each step below, but first I want to give you a high lever overview.
Pick your business idea
Get the tech set up (domain name, website & email list)
Create a killer opt-in gift
Make a content creation game plan
Publish content consistently, invite conversations & speak with your audience about their struggles
Create and launch a product or service to serve them and solve their biggest problem
Now, as I’ve listed it above is the optimal order I’d suggest you complete the steps in. In the order above you’re basically:
Picking your idea
Getting your business all prepared
Executing a marketing strategy to build your audience/email list
Learning the real struggles from your audience
Creating and launching a product/service to serve them
Granted, there are a couple valid reasons for switching that order up.
If you’re sitting there all-knowing of your audience’s pain points and struggles exactly (maybe you literally were your ideal customer), you could switch the order so the original Step 7 becomes Step 2, like so:
Pick your business idea
Create product or service to serve your future audience and solve their biggest problem
Get the tech set up (domain name, website & email list)
Create a killer opt-in gift
Make a content creation game plan
Publish content consistently and make calls to action to sell your product/service
I would argue though that the first order would be more beneficial because you’re getting your customers struggles/pain points directly from their mouths which makes for fabulous marketing copy!
And you’ll have built some amount of an audience to sell to right from the moment your product/service is ready to go.
AND, if you’re building a product, that takes time, and it’ll be best for you to build up your marketing and audience in the time you’re building your product.
Now, if you’re like “nah Paige, I know my product/service perfectly and I want to launch with it ready to be bought,” then cool beans, you can go with the 2nd order.
Whichever you prefer, make a decision on which order you like best and then dive into the details on the steps below!
Step 1: Pick your business idea
This one is a biggie, you really won’t get far without it.
But I know it can feel SO HARD to pick just one thing as your business idea.
I’m going to give you the overview here, but do know that if you’re struggling with this part, I do have a 30 minute Online Business Matchmaker video training where I go more in-depth on this topic. (And yes, it’s free!)
In order to find your perfect online business idea, you need to identify 3 essential ingredients that go into any online business cocktail!
(Yes, we’re talking cocktail recipes - get stoked!)
The Online business cocktail recipe:
Ingredient 1: The talents and skills you already possess
Ingredient 2: The perfect, ideal customer you’d LOVE to serve
Ingredient 3: A revenue model
Here’s more details on each of those, and how to find them.
Finding your talents & skills:
Yes, I know this can feel a bit self-absorbed and awkward, but your future fabulous online business requires it of you, so you’ve just gotta do it.
I want you to start by listing out all the things you’re really good at/have more-than-normal knowledge on.
(Yes, even if the things you’re good at or have knowledge on are reallyyy random and don’t seem like they could ever become a business!)
Maybe you’re a badass at organizing your pantry, or using Adobe Illustrator, or training dogs.
Maybe you moved abroad to Southern Spain and know the place like the back of your hand, or you paid off a heck of a lot of credit card debt in record time, or you have a strangely extensive knowledge of etiquette, or you are the most stylish person you know and can put together an outfit perfect for any occasion.
What do you know better than the average person?
(No you don’t need to be listed on Wikipedia as the expert on this topic, you just need to know more than your neighbor basically.)
If the ideas aren’t already flooding to you, think back to the last time a friend or family member asked you for help with something. What did they ask for help with?
I know there’s something you’re good at.
That just comes naturally to you.
That you’re genuinely really interested in.
That maybe you do as a hobby just because you like it.
THOSE are the things you need to be writing down!
If you’re still starting at a blank page ATM, you’re going to have to go the awkward route about this one. Yep, that means you’re going to have to ask people.
(Just being a little bit self-absorbed would actually come in handy in this case, but if that’s not the case you can go the asking people way.)
Ask people who know you. Ask them what they think you’re talented or skilled at, what you’re really well informed on.
… K, you’ve got your list of talents/skills/knowledge? Yes?
Sweet, moving on to…
Creating your ideal customer avatar
Your ideal customer avatar is a made-up description of a person.
(Yep, you’re going to create them, they’re not actually a real, living, walking, talking, Instagramming person.)
You don’t need to know this person and they don’t need to actually exist. If they exist in your mind, that’s perfect! Basically, this is the one situation where having an imaginary friend is a good thing.
Now we’ve got to get that person from your mind onto a piece of paper (digital or physical, I’ll let you decide.)
I want to write down a description of the person you’d be over the moon stoked about to get to help.
Who this person is will definitely depend on your talents/skills.
Maybe you struggled with acne in your mid 20’s and finally cured it! And therefore the thing you’re skilled at is curing adult acne, and therefore your ideal customer would be a 20 year old with acne.
Or maybe you worked in corporate doing copywriting and if you had to write copy to promote another boring law firm you’d poke your eyes out. But you do love to write copy, you’d just like to do it for a type of business you’re more interested in. Like a shoe company. Or an organic farm. Or a creative entrepreneur. Then your ideal customer would be some sort of small business owner (not corporate) who needs help with their copywriting.
You’ll want to get clear on the following about your ideal customer avatar:
The essentials: Name, age, gender, location, living situation, occupation, annual income, religious views, world view, political view, etc.
The bits related to your business: The problem they’re struggling with (which you can help with!), their fears about that problem, the thoughts running through their mind about that problem, their desires and dream solution to that problem, etc.
Picking your revenue model:
The last ingredient in this business-idea-picking-cocktail is your revenue model. (Fancy term for: how you make money.)
Here’s some real talk you need to hear…
Businesses make money. If your ‘business’ doesn’t make money, it’s just an expensive hobby.
If you want an online hobby, cool beans, you do you. But the rest of this post will not be for you. If you want a business, you’re going to need a revenue model, or a way in which your business brings in income.
There are a LOT of revenue models, but I’ll list out a few common examples few here:
Service-based revenue model: 1:1 done-for-you-services, 1:1 coaching/consulting, group coaching programs, etc.
Product-based revenue model: physical products, books/eBooks, video tutorials, online courses, spreadsheets, process checklists, templates, etc.
Influencer-based revenue model: brand sponsorships, affiliate partnerships, brand ambassadorships, etc.
There’s pros and cons to each of these types of revenue models. If you want more details or advice on which model might be good for you, feel free to hop inside my Online Business Matchmaker video training!
Or if there’s one of these revenue models which is just calling out to you, feel free to select it and then move on!
Okie, it’s time to mix that cocktail together! Once you have combined your talents/skills/knowledge with your ideal customer and chosen revenue model, you’re ready to move on to step 2!
Step 2: Get the tech set up
I know tech can be scary, but I promise you it’s really not rocket science and tech systems have come a LONG way in just a couple years, meaning this is actually a lot easier than before.
When it comes to tech, I’ve found people’s biggest struggle is straight up just the overwhelm of a lot of new info and not knowing which tech systems to choose.
So I hope to go through that with you a little bit here.
There’s 4 essential pieces of tech you’re going to need for ANY online business.
A domain name
A way to take payments online
An email list
I’ll go through each with you and also share what I use as well as why I chose/recommend each.
Website Recommendation: Squarespace
I spent weeks testing alllllll the website building platforms back in the day. WordPress, Blogger, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, ShowIt. I even used Dreamweaver in high school so had some familiarity with it too.
Bottom line, I chose Squarespace (affiliate link!) years ago and have been very happy with that decision!
Squarespace makes building a website easy peasy - and to me, that’s what I’m after.
I want to spent exactly 0 minutes of my day fixing complicated coding and tech issues, I don’t want to have to pay for a zillion different pieces of software and spend nights figuring out how to make them all play nice together, and I just want my website to straight up work.
With Squarespace, that’s what I get.
It’s all in one. It’s secure. It’s easy to use. It’s simple. It’s powerful.
I think that last one surprises people a bit. People often assume that with a system like Squarespace, your site will look just like the template.
And my response to them is… if that’s the case, you’re doing it wrong.
Here’s a side-by-side screenshot of my original template’s home page and my current website’s home page. Look alike? Nope!
My site’s original Squarespace template
My customized Squarespace site
Pretty different, right? Right.
Squarespace can be crazyyy customizable, you just need to know how to actually work the system properly and learn the hidden hacks and secrets of the platform.
Which brings me to… My online business model? I sell online courses.
One of those courses is called Square Secrets and it teaches you how to build a killer, nothing-like-the-template Squarespace (affiliate link!) site. You can get the details on Square Secrets here if you’re interested.
Last thing on Squarespace. If you do choose to use Squarespace, you can get 10% off your Squarespace plan by using the code PAIGE10 at checkout. (Write that down somewhere handy so you can use it when you launch your site!)
Domain name: Squarespace
Remember how I said Squarespace was all-in-one? You can also buy domains through Squarespace.
You could connect a domain bought elsewhere to your Squarespace site, but I like the simplicity of how easy it is to connect up a Squarespace domain to a Squarespace site (literally takes 1 click of a button that says ‘connect domain’ - it doesn’t get easier than that.)
And I like having all my website stuff and website bills in one place, so I buy my domains through Squarespace too.
PAyment processing: Stripe + Squarespace
How you take payments will depend a little bit on your revenue model, so I’ll break down the way I’d suggest you take payments depending on your chosen revenue model.
Before we get into that though, I need to explain the kinda front-end and back-end of actually processing payments on the internet and the money landing in your bank account.
There’s a back-end payments system: This is a system which your customer has no idea exists, but it’s what actually takes their credit card info, chats with the bank to make sure there’s money in the account/room on their credit card, takes said money from said account/credit card, moves it over to you and then eventually sends it directly to your bank account.
For a back-end payments system the 2 major options are PayPal and Stripe. I cannot, cannot, cannot recommend you use Stripe over PayPal enough!
Legit, I don’t take payments through PayPal anymore because I’ve had issues and a half with it (and it’s more expensive than Stripe because PayPal works in a lot of hidden fees.) So for a backend payments system, sign up for Stripe.
There’s a front-end payments system: This is the thing which your customer sees, types their credit card details into and hit’s ‘Buy’. It’s an online system which shows what products/services are available and allows them actually put in their details to purchase whatever the thing is they want.
Depending on what you’re selling/your revenue model, here’s what I’d recommend:
Service-based business: If you sell services (say you’re a Facebook Ads manager, or a graphic designer, or a copywriter, etc.) and clients book in for a service with you, just use Squarespace’s built-in e-commerce system.
Again, it’s super simple cause it’s literally built in to your website, meaning customers can easily purchase online on your site. It takes all of 2 minutes to set up a service to be purchased with Squarespace’s e-commerce system, so again, it’s really freakin’ easy and all-in-one!
Now what about if you offer the type service of that has set appointment times? So say if you’re a life coach, or a therapist and you want your customers to be able to see your appointment availability online, and then book and pay for sessions all at once?
Inside Squarespace there’s something called Acuity (affiliate link!). Acuity is an appointment booking system. You can sell packages of your service, offer group sessions, set up discounts, all of that jazz, within Acuity which is within Squarespace . . . if that makes sense, haha.
I used Acuity so my customers could schedule and pay for website audits with me. So yeah, if you want your customers to be able to book appointments with you and pay for said appointments, Acuity (affiliate link!) which is within Squarespace is great!
Product-based business: Again, Squarespace. The set up for a product in Squarespace’s e-commerce system is simple to do and can be done in 2 mins.
You can sell either physical or digital products through Squarepsace’s e-commerce.
For physical products, Squarespace will take your customers shipping details, and add shipping pricing to the order automatically.
For digital products, your customer will get an immediate email with the digital goods inside it!
(Again, if you’re going to join me and go with Squarespace, you can use the code PAIGE10 to get 10% off your first year of Squarespace!)
Email list: Convertkit
If you’re completely new to this whole online business thing, you might not know this business-success-knowledge-bomb I’m about to drop. If you’ve been researching online business a little while, let this be a reminder.
The money is in the list.
(That means your email list!)
Without a doubt, your email list is the most valuable thing you have in your business.
An email list is the direct contact you have to the people who are interested in your topic, free from interference from an algorithm. Unlike your followers or page likes which Zuckerberg owns, you own your email list.
Having direct contact to your people and a way to get back in touch is super, super, super, super freakin’ vital.
If you listen to any successful entrepreneur admit their biggest business mistake, 95% of the time it’s that they wished they started an email list sooner.
Why does an email list matter? Email drives sales like crazy.
I can predict creepily accurately how much money we’re going to make with an upcoming course launch. There’s 3 numbers I need to know in order to do so.
My email list size
The average of past course launch conversion rates
The price of my course
I don’t need to know how many people visit a sales page or how many Instagram followers I have or how many people joined a webinar or anything else.
Give me those 3 numbers and I’ll tell you how much we’ll make in a launch.
Bottom line: Email converts to sales.
So you NEED an email list in your online business… Alright… I think I’ve beaten that horse dead twice over now. I really, really hope you get how important an email list is.
Literally, the success of your online business depends on your email list!
Okay. So, you know you need an email list, now I know you’re asking, what tech system do I recommend?
I use ConvertKit (affiliate link!) for my email list and am a darn happy camper with them.
I’ve used other email list systems, all of which I found confusing, overly technical and straight up annoying to use. ConvertKit was the first email marketing system I found which I genuinely got and loved using.
As my online business grows, ConvertKit is still able to keep up with me and do everything I need it to.
My email marketing system started out simple (a weekly newsletter), but with time it’s gotten a lot more specific and tailored. Email subscribers are constantly getting sent automatic emails and series of emails depending on what they tell me they’re interested in.
So basically, you need an email list and ConvertKit (affiliate link!) is what I use and I give it my highest recommendation to you.
Step 3. Create a killer opt-in gift
So you know how I just went on and on about the importance of your email list? I hope you took me seriously, because the next thing you need to focus on - which will make or break the success of your online business - is building your email list.
And how do you build your email list?
You and I both know that signing up for a ‘newsletter’ is not an enticing offer.
You need to give away a killer something which your people are over the moon stoked to exchange their email for!
What is this killer something you ask?
It’s called an opt-in gift.
An opt-in gift is a free something (gift) that you give away in exchange for an email.
There are MANY formats of opt-in gifts, here’s a few ideas to get you going:
PDF (Could be a 'workbook' 'checklist' 'toolkit' 'printable' or 'guide')
Copy & paste scripts
You can choose any format you’d like really! More important than format however is the content.
Here’s 2 options for creating an opt-in gift that your people are lining up around the blog to subscribe for:
OPTION 1: CREATE A GIFT THAT SOLVES THE BIGGEST PROBLEM THEY'RE CURRENTLY FACING
How do you determine the biggest problem your people are currently facing?
Here's a few ideas.
Pick up the phone and chat with some of your people. I do this by emailing my subscribers once a year, inviting them to schedule a time via my appointment scheduler, Acuity, to chat with me.
Survey your audience (here's some posts to help you with that)
Check out what's been searched a lot in your search bar
Go into a Facebook group full of your ideal clients and search through to see the most common questions and struggles they're having
An opt-in gift should help a person solve one specific problem, instead of trying to solve 10. So whatever their biggest struggle is, that's what we want to help with.
To do: Write down their biggest struggle and outline how the gift will help solve that problem.
OPTION 2: CREATE A GIFT THAT HELPS THEM DO THE PRE-WORK BEFORE BUYING ONE OF YOUR PRODUCTS OR SERVICES.
Ask yourself, when someone hires you for a service or buys one of your products, what do they need to do and have ready in order to even get started working with you?
For example, if you're a Facebook Ads manager you need your clients product details, sale page links, brand and copywriting guidelines, photos, videos, etc.
You could write down a list of things your client needs to prepare in order to work with you and then create a preparation guide for them as an opt-in gift.
Your gift would then help them work through that client pre-homework so they can hire you and be fully ready to get started.
Once you create said opt-in gift, pop it into your email marketing system and stick it in all the places your website! (That means, home page, footer, announcement bar, popup, cover page, sidebar, etc.)
Step 4. Make a content creation game plan
I put the growth and success of this online business down to 2 primary actions:
I spilt all the beans and shared all I knew in the form of free, uber-valuable content (like this post you’re reading RN!)
I shared consistently… consistently… consistently!
Your mom will go to your website because it's your website and she wants to support you. The rest of the world? No chance!
Site owners and bloggers look at the statistics of their site glumly wondering why there's tumbleweeds blowing by and start frantically trying to figure out 'how do I get traffic?'
Here's the thing.
People will come to your website and bring traffic in droves when you provide valuable content!
Why are you on this website right now? Because you think I'm fab and just like hanging out here? No. You're here because I'm promising to help you through this post with building a successful online business. Why else would you be here?
So why will people visit your site and bring your traffic? Because you solve their problems! Because you help educate visitors on a specific topic. Because you give free, quality content and information away.
That's how you get people to your website!
Now what the heck qualifies as 'content?' Blogs. Podcasts. Videos. That type of thing.
Those are all just formats of content. The format you choose really doesn't matter all too much, the thing that does matter is that you frame your content in a way that it's helpful to others.
I always give the same example for this one.
Say you took a trip to Paris. How lovely!
Then you write a blog post titled 'My day in Paris.'
Who's going to read that blog post? Your mom and no one else. Why? Because it's not useful or valuable to anyone else. Now, say you wrapped up your trip to Paris and then wrote up '10 most Instagramable cafes in Paris' or a 'Weekend guide to Paris for couples' posts.
Useful? Valuable? Yes! Jackpot.
Create content that adds value to people's lives and they will come to your website!
Now, there's one vital piece we haven't covered here. You need to create content that relates to your niche.
I met a girl in Bali who wanted to be a videographer for travel destinations. So she started a daily vlog showcasing her adventure travels and backpacking around Asia. Daily vlogging is no joke, it's a massive amount of work, but she got NO business from it and was in a bit of a crisis as money was getting tight.
So what was the problem? She was pouring all of her time and effort into her daily vlog which then attracted people who wanted to backpack around Asia and people interested in adventure travel.
She needed to attract the attention of travel business owners and tourism destination boards. But she was creating the wrong content.
If you want to attract people who own a hotel in Hawaii to hire you to film their place, you create content that helps those business owners, not content that helps people backpack around Asia.
While yes, her content was in the realm of video and travel, it was still off the mark in terms of getting the exact type of people she needed to hire her onto her website.
So now you know that you want to create content that helps the people you want to sell to, I know your next obvious question is 'if I create free content around my topic, why would anyone buy from me?'
Good question. Someone emailed me that one and I wrote this post to answer it. If you're wondering the same thing, be sure to go give it a read.
Okay, so now you know you need to create valuable content that helps your potential ideal customer, you need to make a content game plan.
Remember how I mentioned that consistency … consistency … consistency was key to the success of my business? That’s going to be true for you too! And in order to consistently publish, you’ve got to have a game plan.
When it comes to content, a game plan is called an editorial calendar. (Yes, you’re going to be fancy just like the magazine editors with an editorial calendar too!)
how to prepare your editorial calendar:
Step 1: Decide on the frequency with which you’ll publish content
Step 2: Write a list of potential content ideas
Step 3: Place those ideas onto a calendar
Step 4: Create the content on the days you’re scheduled to and then schedule the content to publish on your set publishing dates
Step 5: Repeat steps 1-4
If you want to see my editorial calendar, I show you how I create and manage it in this video.
(Asana is the tech system I use to organize my editorial calendar, and honestly the entire rest of my online business.)
Some content consistency advice:
One of the best pieces of content I’ve read on the internet to date is ConvertKit's State of the Blogging Industry report. In it I noticed something which was massively valuable. Here’s what the post said:
"In every case, the average number of posts published for all respondents was less than the intended number of posts published... Everyone struggles to meet their publishing goals, including the pros...
Of the respondents, 52% of bloggers write either the day before or on the same day as they plan to publish. No wonder there’s such a large discrepancy between how often bloggers plan to publish and how often they actually publish!
This data shows us very clearly that bloggers could unlock an entirely new level of consistency by increasing the gap between when they write and when they publish."
Write your posts further in advance, schedule them and then when life happens (which it always will) your blog will stay consistent.
I write 1.5 weeks in advance, my goal is to always have 3 posts scheduled and ready to go.
And let me tell you, this has saved me on multiple occasions.
One day my MacBook gave me the black screen of death and it was off getting repaired at the Apple store for 10 days.
I was a web designer, online business owner and blogger without a laptop for a week... Nightmare.
My top priority is always my client work. I hit up every friend and family member around, hopping on their computers any minute they weren't using them to ensure I met my deadlines for clients.
The blog is always of secondary importance to my client work, so in those 10 days I didn't blog once, and used up all 3 posts that were scheduled. The second I got my Mac back, I was right back at it whipping up a few posts to get back on schedule.
So yes, life has happened on many occasions and if it weren’t for my pre-written and scheduled posts, the blog wouldn’t have been consistent.
Instead of doing what most content creators do though, I gave myself a buffer and planned for the unexpected, and I highly suggest you do too if your goal is to stay consistent! (Which btw, that really should be your goal!)
Step 5. LAUNCH!
Here’s what I’d suggest you actually need to have in place to launch (it’s less than you might think!)
A minimum viable website with domain name connected
Your opt-in gift created and showcased in multiple places on said website
Your email list connected up to said opt-in gift
3 pieces of content published
2 more pieces of content completed & scheduled
People seriouslyyy overcomplicate launching.
They put 95 little things between them and launch.
Why do they put those things there?
Because of fear.
They’re afraid of what their friends and family and high school acquaintances and coworkers and neighbors and tennis partners might think of them and their new online thing.
So they add to the to do list again and again and again with a bunch of stuff that honestly doesn’t matter and which doesn’t move the needle.
No you don’t need perfect branding, and professionally written copy and fancily taken headshots.
You just need to get the thing out into the world. (And tell fear to eff off in the process!)
If you’re using Squarespace for your site, it takes all of 0.5 seconds to update a photo or your logo.
When you use a website building platform that doesn’t require a rocket science degree to figure out how to update it, you can update your website (and therefore everything related to your online business) as frequently as you please!
The website you launch at first is not the website you’re going to have forever. It’s not set in stone.
I heard this from the founder of LinkedIn regarding start ups, and I think it’s reallyyy applicable to your online business as well.
“If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” - Reid Hoffman
Replace the word ‘product’ with ‘website’ and you’ve got it.
Work on launching those 5 things mentioned above and then, pick your Squarespace (affiliate link!) plan and LAUNCH already!
(And don’t forget that PAIGE10 at checkout to get 10% off your Squarespace plan! 😉)
Then pat yourself on the back because I know launching your online business baby to the world is really, really terrifying.
So honestly, great work, I’m proud of you!
Step 6. Publish consistently, invite convos & speak with your audience about their struggles
Because you know that consistency is a massive predictor of success, I’d suggest taking a quick moment to make a decision and a promise to yourself that you’ll publish on whatever frequency you chose, come hell or high water.
We’ve covered consistency a bit, so I won’t go into it more, just know that it’s vital in order for the rest of all of this to work.
Your blog/podcast/YouTube channel will slowly but surely begin to bring in the website visitors as you publish on your topic consistently. And when you begin to get visitors, you’ve got a very important job to do!
Engage with them. Speak to them. Learn everything about them!
When it comes to nailing down your perfect business idea, the best idea is going to come directly from your audience.
We often assume that we know what our audience wants, a logical next step after our content, but often times there’s hidden gems that our audience is harboring in their heart.
An example for you.
After I fully booked out my Squarespace web design services (thanks to consistently … consistently … consistently publishing helpful Squarespace articles on this blog), I needed a more scaleable offering. One where I could help more people, because clearly the demand for 1:1 web design services exceeded my ability to supply them.
I decided to create an online course, my course Square Secrets.
I figured an online course was the logical next step, and I did indeed speak to my audience and learned that they were into online courses and had taken many in the past.
Now, Square Secrets was indeed successful from the start. We had a good conversion rate, students genuinely raved about the course and created truly knock-out websites.
But the idea which really took off was my course Square Secrets Business. A course I legitimately had NO intentions of creating.
Here’s how the idea for Square Secrets Business came about - my course students literally asked for it! (So it really wasn’t my genius at all, it was theirs.)
Students finished up their own fabulous Squarespace site after taking Square Secrets and then started finding that all their family and friends came out of the woodwork wanting a website too. Students consistently said that their family and friends were shocked at seeing their new website and learning that the student created it themself.
So students started getting ideas. “I wonder if I could make this a side-hustle? I really enjoy creating websites, I wonder if I could bring in some extra income this way?”
And so they started asking me ALL of the questions about working with clients.
“When you build a site for a client, do you use your Squarespace account or theirs?”
“How do you get content from your clients on time?”
“Should I have a contract with my clients?”
“And most importantly, how do I market myself to actually get clients?!”
It became clear to me from all of these questions that students wanted me to take their hand and walk them through the process of setting up a web design business for success too.
So I created my course Square Secrets Business which did exactly that.
And what happened on the first launch?
Within minutes of opening the cart (I think it was 8 minutes to be exact), the first sale came in. And then a few minutes later the second, and third, and fourth!
I was sitting at my computer watching the sales roll in and just thinking …. “These sales seem to be coming a lot faster than normal…”
In the early bird sale of the Square Secrets Business course alone, we did over $42,000 in sales.
That blew our past sales numbers out of the water.
(Fun fact: Having that kind of success during a launch is something course creators dream of, but then when it happens I’ll be honest, it’s terrifying. I was having a proper anxiety attack all weekend long as the sales kept coming and coming, and coming.)
So what’s the moral of the story?
Pay attention to your audience’s questions. Do they have a theme?
Go make a conscious effort to talk to your audience. What are they dreaming of right now? What do they want to do, but are struggling to figure out on their own? What would be their dream solution to their issue?
You can do this a number of ways. Surveying is effective for a bigger audience that you couldn’t hope to speak to all individually.
Or, even better, talk directly to your people. I do subscriber chats where I legit get on the phone with email subscribers and get them to tell me all about their life, their struggles, their dreams, etc.
You could have chats in Instagram DM’s or invite people to contact you by email.
So to complete step 6, be sure to publish consistently and then keep your ears perked up. Figure out what your audience wants and what they’re consistently asking for. Then, you can move on to step 7 where we create that something for them!
Step 7: Create & launch a product or service to serve them and solve their biggest problem
YAY! On to serving your people in a way that helps them solve problems and brings in income for you! Win-Win.
After talking to your people, you should get a fair idea of how you can best help them.
Maybe your revenue model will change based on their feedback, or maybe the revenue model stays the same but you just got laser focused on exactly what goes into said product/service from your conversations and their feedback.
In terms of creating said thing, it reallyyy varies depending on what you’re actually creating.
Service-based business: If you’re creating a service, it’s just a matter of outlining what the service entails, setting your pricing, defining your process, creating a sales page, setting up a way people can make a payment and possibly e-sign a contract too.
(I bought my website design contract from Shop Creative Law . She has a bunch of different contracts depending on what service you’re offering, so be sure to browse through the shop. Btw, you can use PAIGE10 at checkout to get 10% off there too!)
Digital product-based business: First off, you’ve gotta create said thing. Depending on what you’re creating, this can be super time-intensive or honestly pretty quick and easy.
Writing an e-book involves whipping out Adobe InDesign and dropping your genius onto the page. Or maybe you’re creating some sort of template or scripts you’re selling. Potentially you could go the course route, though do know that creating a course involves recording a lot of videos, editing them, creating accompanying resources, uploading it all to your course host, possibly setting up a Facebook community, and anything else you might want to go into your course. Course creation is definitely a bit of a giant, I spent 3 months more-than-full-time creating mine. (Weekend work was definitely a thing at that point.)
Whatever it is, create that thing and then again, set up your sales page along with a way people can make a payment, and definitely equip yourself with proper terms & conditions and get those on your site before you start making sales.
(I’ve bought my terms and conditions of online course sales and general site terms and conditions from the Creative Law Shop. If you’re selling a digital good that isn’t a course, you’ll want the terms and conditions of online sale. Reminder, you can use PAIGE10 at checkout to get 10% off there.)
Physical-product based business: Most people who are attracted to an online business are so because they want location freedom, so I’m going to assume if you’re planning to run an online business, but are selling physical products that you’re not actually going to be fulfilling orders yourself. (It’d be a little hard to travel around with suitcases full of your product after all.)
So the first thing you’ve gotta do is find a place that will do fulfillment for you. I had a friend use Printful and he liked it, but it’s definitely worth first investigating which fulfillment company you’ll go with and comparing the options to ensure your customer has a great experience with whatever products they create and ship.
Then it’s time to create an account with said fulfillment company and complete any details they need from you, create your mockups, designs, etc. to the fulfillment company’s specifications, and then of course, set up your sales page and get some terms and conditions on that bad boy.
(Again, Creative Law Shop is my go-to.)
Now, that’s creating your product, but the work doesn’t end there!
I think a massive mistake most people make is to kill themselves creating the most fabulous product/service possible and they’re completely burnt out by the time they go to launch it.
If you create the most fabulous thing in the world, and you have no one lined up to sell it to, guess how many sales you’ll get? Nada.
This is a recipe for a lot of heartbreak and leads to a lot of discouragement.
If you’ve done this, know that it doesn’t mean there’s an issue with the thing you created. You don’t need to go revamp your product or rewrite your services page and add prettier graphics, you need to do some serious marketing.
What’s the most effective form of marketing I’ve found yet?
Super good news, it’s really easy to do!
You email your people… A lot.
In a course launch I send between 12 - 15 emails in a week and a half.
In the future, yes, it’s great to get fancier with your launches by adding social media posts and lives, hosting webinars, running ads or collaborating with others to help promote your thing, but at first, a well thought out and genuinely helpful set of emails will do the trick.
(How many sales can you expect from your emails? This post explains that down to the last nitty gritty detail.)
So I know your next question is likely… “What do you write in my emails? Hi I have this thing. Buy it!”
… No, not that, haha.
Sales emails aren’t just ‘buy my thing, buy my thing, buy my thing.” Sales emails are honestly pretty similar to your regular emails you’d send your list consistently.
First, they’ve got to provide value. Meaning you’re educating as well as sharing experience and knowledge.
The way that they’re different than your normal emails? Well for one, they’re a lot more frequent. Second, they’re hyper-focused on the topic of your product/service. If you talk about a few different things in your business (like I do, and honestly, like most businesses do), these emails won’t be all over the map, they’ll be specific.
During my launch of my Square Secrets Business course (the one which teaches students how to build successful Squarespace web design businesses), I don’t talk about general online business or how to build a Squarespace site, I’m focused and ONLY talking about being a web designer, running a web design business, marketing a web design business and getting clients, mistakes people make when trying to be web designers, you get the point.
So, here’s a few specific topics and ideas on what to talk about in your launch emails:
Your story related to your product/service - How did you learn it or learn you needed said thing yourself? If you are your ideal client, what was your journey like? Tell it all, yes, including the embarrassing ugly bits. Your story shouldn’t be perfect. People don’t like perfect. People relate to authentic. So share that story authentically.
Why now is the moment someone needs to take action - Why is your product or service vital right now? What are people going to miss out on if they don’t get your thing? Think about the problem your product/service solves, and what is going to happen in their lives if they don’t take action right now?
Someone else’s story - Have you helped someone else who had the same problem your ideal client has? What was their story like? Did they have any unique challenges? (Eg. They wanted to start a workout regiment, but they were a full-time mom and didn’t have the ability to go to the gym without kids?) Share how someone else did it with your help, what specific challenges and fears they had before, how they broke through the problem and were successful on the other side
Common mistakes - You’re the expert on your topic and you’ve probably seen people try to take on the issue you help people solve with disappointing results. What were they doing wrong? What are the common mistakes and traps people fall into when trying to do what your product/service helps them solve?
I hope those ideas help you get started!
Now, of course, your sales emails need to provide info on your thing.
Basically, write about the topic of your email (see above) and then tie it into your product/service.
For example, in the your story email you’d say “I WISH this thing existed at the time but instead I had to do it all myself and made a lot of mistakes along the way. Now I’ve created exactly what I would have wanted.”
And then move into talking about what your thing is and put in repeating Calls To Action to your product/services/sales page.
Bam! Sales email complete.
Okay friend, there you have it, 7 steps to starting an online business! I have LOTS more articles on this site related to helping you build an online business. I’ll link a few I think you’ll especially like below.
And of course remember, if you’re still a little stuck on nailing your perfect business idea or are a little fuzzy on your idea still, you’re going to really want to get into my free Online Business Matchmaker training.
After the 30 minutes training you’ll walk away with a perfect, complete business idea that’s ready to be created and brought into the world!
And a last bit of encouragement for you, your ideal clients are out literally pulling out their hair right now wishing they had the solution to their problem, and you’ve got that solution within you.
So tell fear to get the eff out of your way and go create your business already! I’m cheering you on friend!