This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a guy about how I’ve built my online business. I’m naturally a systems thinker, so I immediately put the ideas into an easy-to-understand business model that I believe anyone can benefit from.
To start, I want to give some background about the problem at hand. The guy wanted to know how he could become a successful online entrepreneur.
He wanted to understand how I’ve used social media, SEO, and blogging to build a personal brand and leverage this into an online business. Notice I said, “online business” and not “passive income”–there’s nothing passive about what I or anyone else does to make money online.
He felt stuck at his level of progress and wanted to know some new business ideas to build a successful online business.
A warning about my online business advice
I’ve always been reluctant to call myself an internet entrepreneur.
I’m not an expert at e-commerce and dropshipping. I just know personal branding, but that hardly qualifies me as a master of online entrepreneurship. What I am is a guy who has learned enough about this space to earn a healthy six-figure income.
Whether you’re trying to:
- Build a “personal brand”
- Do web design
- Get into e-commerce
- Become a freelancer
- Start affiliate marketing
- Design online courses
- Perform digital marketing for other business owners
The following dialogue and the explanations that follow will be extremely helpful. Whichever way you go with building your own online business, you’ll find something here that will help you make strides.
Furthermore, each of these ideas can help you in life outside of business. I know this because all of life is a series of business transactions.
On being a blogger and web design
Generally, the appearance doesn’t matter as much at first. The content and authenticity are more important. At the end of the day, people are buying who you are. Your authenticity, in that sense, is how you stand out.
Authenticity is a bit overused, so let’s call it transparency. What combination of personal skills and abilities are good at that makes you interesting. Business, athletics, experience, position, knowledge, etc.
My ugly website worked for a long time because it’s just a discussion of what I do and how I learn from it.
It’s very difficult to not build a profitable business online based on your own skills and experiences if you do this. Just make sure your web design is functional and not too clunky. If you’re saying good things and making a great offer, you’ll do fine.
Long time followers will remember my original website. It was not nearly as streamlined and beautiful as it is today, but it had great content and it was authentic. Most importantly, it was representative of me.
A beautiful website and a slick web design are great, but if the product it represents isn’t quality, then it doesn’t matter.
I love my website design now and wouldn’t change a thing, but too many people get caught up in the appearance of their site. If you (or the product you’re representing) isn’t high quality, then it doesn’t matter. If you have a great front but a poor product, you’ll fool a small amount of people for a short amount of time. But the internet is fast and forever. The web will eventually pull your card and expose you. The last thing you want to do is have a quick google search of your name undo years of hard work.
You know my first week looking crazy due to high demand / ‘Cause people don’t buy music in this day and age, they buy the brand.
—Logic, 44 Bars
On what makes a profitable online business
I had a tweet up for a while that discussed this idea. It’s one of my favorites. A business is simple. Product, Marketing, Selling, and Networking (or distribution). That was a random order, so I will now place them in an instructive order: Product, Networking, Marketing, Selling.
The rest of this post is dedicated to breaking down each of these components. Here’s a brief explanation of each point, as it was as a tweet
Product: The value you offer— Ed Latimore (@EdLatimore) January 8, 2019
Marketing: How you let people know that you have something valuable to offer
Sales: Getting people to give you money for that value
Networking: A force multiplier, clout, and proof of your value all in one
Product: The lifeblood of an online business
The product is you: It doesn’t matter what you are, but it has to be something uniquely appealing. Preferably something that most people can’t do or view as difficult. For example, Damien got rich at 19, Cortes is a masculine ballet dancer, Victor Pride built a writing foundation backed by a physique that sold his book like crazy, I box and study physics.
If you look at any brand, there is this unique element. This, in and of itself, does not sell (that’s selling), but it provides people with a reason to follow you. Or as I always like to say, ‘There’s nothing new and unique to say. It’s the person saying it that matters’.
If you want to sell something, it has to be sellable. If you’re selling a product, then it needs to solve a problem. If you’re building a following, you need to demonstrate why you’re worthy of being followed. Save for the Kardashians of the world, you can’t get famous for being famous. You can’t become a leader because you’re studying leadership.
You need skin in the game. You need to show people why you’re a person worth following.
What have you done in the real world to make you stand out amongst the crowd? What are you working on, learning, or becoming to make you stand out? Even anonymous accounts who have huge brands managed to build them because they deliver such consistent and original value that it’s damn near impossible to fake.
I know it’s impossible to fake because I know great content, lessons, and insights come from life. If you have no experience struggling, there’s nothing you can teach. If there’s nothing you can teach, don’t expect anyone to listen to you.
You are the product. You are built through the blood, sweat, and tears of skill acquisition and surviving the hard knocks of life.
Networking: The fastest way to grow your online business opportunities
Networking is easy once you have a viable product, but you gotta remember exactly what networking is.
Networking is simply the leveraging of a comparative advantage. Or, if you haven’t taken economics, it’s a unique skill that allows you to have access to other people with unique skills.
Some of these people have bigger networks. Some have smaller. Some are more valuable than meets the eye. The point is that without the product–the unique skill–you can’t network.
One other simple way to see this: If there’s a group of cool kids hanging out, why should they let you hang out with them? Are you a jock? Are you the lead in a musical? Is your family rich? Do you have the weed hook up? What do you bring to the table?
There is no such thing as networking. All of those happy hour networking events you’ve ever been to are trash because they’re trying to create something that does not exist.
Perhaps saying that networking doesn’t exist isn’t entirely accurate. Rather, there is no event of “networking”. There is merely an exchange of value between parties who can help each other.
This is the basis of trade.
One party can do a thing that the other can’t, so they figure out a way to exchange value and solve each other’s needs. In doing so, a reputation is built for the quality of work done by said parties. This reputation reverberates through the contacts of the helped party so that if anyone needs a similar service, this person is the first who gets thought of.
Or, at the very least, people come to know what they’re good at and they get on the list.
Nearly every podcast, speech, and show I’ve done has been by invitation. All I’ve done is demonstrate that I’m a valuable “product”. Networking is simple once you have a skill or resource that gives you a comparative advantage–even better if the skill gives you an absolute advantage.
The next time someone suggests going to a networking event–or suggests networking in general–instead focus on building a skill set. When you’re talented or have access to things that others don’t, it’s amazing how big your network naturally grows.
As a bit of a side note to this point, some of you may feel like you lack talent or capacity for a skill. Well, this is nonsense. Everyone has the ability to be above-average at something. The ability to work hard requires no special talent at all. You can go far in life if you’re willing to suffer longer than most people.
Marketing: Successful entrepreneurs put a lot of time into this
“Now marketing is the part I think you’re stuck on. And by stuck, I mean you’re trying to start there without anything built (a product) to actually market.
The solution is to go back to R&D (research and development). What skill or talent can you build a comparative advantage in? What gives you legitimacy for people to listen?
Here’s a not so big secret about me:
My speaking gigs, podcasting opportunities, and appearances on shows–every single one of them reached out to me. My chance to be an exclusive affiliate for great products that convert and pay well all came to me. I don’t say this to brag but to make a point. With the product and the networking accomplished, marketing is HANDS DOWN the easiest part. This is actually a notable difference from a corporate brand, as I understand it.
In that situation, the marketing is the most difficult part (hence why marketing firms, even digital agencies, can command a ridiculous price). With a personal brand, it’s the opposite. You’re stuck here because you haven’t found a way to stand out from the noise of the internet.
Networking–in and of itself–can’t be a way to stand out because, by definition, anyone with a bigger following (a following which they got from a unique ability) can do it.
Even the kids James Holt and Nate Schmidt are building fast because they learned dropshipping and are teaching it. It’s a unique skill that allows the kid to live and travel in Europe.
Looking over this part of the conversation, I realized that it may not be exactly clear what marketing is.
Marketing is simply the art of letting the world know that you have something for sale and positioning it in an attractive manner. It’s not actually making the sale (that’s selling). Rather, marketing is the advertising you do for what you’re worth and what you bring to the table.
The wonderful thing about marketing a personal brand is that it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
Each time you successfully market, you let another group know how much value you have and they want to link up with you. This, in turn, increases your exposure. Assuming you’ve got the product developed and you’ve leveraged your market correctly, then you’re going to be in an excellent position.
Here’s an easy sign to tell if you need to do more work on who or what you wish to represent: do people want to talk to you? Do people want to listen to what you have to say? This is handled in the product development stage, but if you’re ever stuck wondering why you aren’t moving forward, this is likely why.
I’ll state it again so it’s clear: If you’ve built your abilities and talents up, you won’t need help here.
This is the part that is actually going to make a difference in your success anyway. You can’t skip ahead to this part. I actually don’t think you can do much to get here other than developing a “product” and building a network based on the skills you bring to the table.
Selling: The only path to being your own boss
The last part is selling. That’s just making something and exchanging money for it. If you take care of the other 3 parts, then this is the most simple. For example, my affiliate sales, Patreon, book sales, and consulting deals do me 5k a month-ish (give or take 1k depending on things).
This is what everyone wants. They want to sell things. I’m only speaking from a personal branding experience, but I also believe that what I’m about to say applies to products as well.
If you have everything else taken care of (the other steps mentioned), selling shouldn’t be too difficult. It won’t be as easy as getting quality marketing, but that’s simply due to the nature of the medium. Getting people to hand over money is slightly (but only slightly) more difficult than getting them to hand over time and attention.
However, if you’ve created quality, leveraged that quality, and got many hearts excited about that quality, this will be very simple. Of course, there are tons of “secret” sales techniques, but it really all boils down to this. If you get each step before this right, you won’t have to learn much about selling. However, if you get these things wrong, then your fate is doomed.
A recap of the basic bro guide to online entrepreneurship
- A functional web design is all you need
- Products are the lifeblood of a successful business
- Networking is the fastest way to grow your online business
- Online marketing gets people to know what you’re offering
- Selling is how the money is made
This was a very basic, meta-overview of how I run my operation. Each topic could be drilled down further in-depth, but this is the general mindset with which I build.
Until next time, the rest is up to you.