It’s been three years since I first pressed publish on my first blog post. And it’s been a topsy turvy ride of online business ever since.
So many things have changed in the online business landscape. Tech trends change the moment they become trends, social media gets ruined by marketers the day they become the ‘next big thing’ and all of a sudden, every woman and her cat wants a blog.
There’s no doubt about it: it’s freakin’ crowded.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that what may have worked a few years ago, doesn’t necessarily work today. So this is what I would do if I had to start my business from scratch today:
1. Understand my biz zone of genius
Before I’d even launch into a website or anything technical, I’d be discovering exactly what my zone of genius is.
But not just that – where my passion lies too.
Most people create businesses on a whim. They see something they like and figure they can turn a profit with it. Which is all good and gold until you find that when shit hits the fan, you don’t have the passion to battle through with it.
You have to genuinely love what you do. And you have to be damn good at it. Get this right first and you’ll be creating a business that can last.
So, how do you do this? Start by creating two lists. In List One, list all the things that interest you. Just the ones that you can talk about for hours on end. In List Two, list all the things you are good at. Look for common themes or patterns between the two lists: what’s on both?
Once you’ve started to narrow down your zone of genius, start dreaming about it. No, I’m serious. Start thinking about what it would be like to actually do that every single day. Day in and day out. Does it still excite you? Would you still do it even if you weren’t getting paid? If yes, then that’s your ZOG.
2. Put together a rough biz model
Once I figured out what my zone of genius is, I’d be thinking about how I would actually deliver it.
Products? Services? A combination?
I would list all the possible products and services I could offer and then choose 2-3 that really resonates with me. But I would initially start with a service before creating any virtual product.
Why? Because starting with an ecourse or ebook will be a waste of my time and money. Most people think this is a great place to start but unfortunately, it’s not. It never works. Never. For fucks sake, just don’t do it.
The virtual, leveraged product has to come later once you’ve built a solid foundation.
At this stage, I’d also be thinking about how much money I’d be willing to invest in the initial phases of my business and how to test my product/service idea quickly.
3. Invest in a mentor
There’s stacks of online courses and books covering all topics of business out there. Some great, most crap. I love me a good course – I sure have invested in quite a few.
But a mentor? Unbeatable.
I’d be hiring a mentor – probably someone who has their own online business or is part life, part business coach. Sometimes it helps to have your shit sorted before you launch into the crazy, intoxicating world of small business.
4. Set up a low-cost, customizable website.
My resident SEO guru raves about Wix as a great start for your website. I’d personally recommend going straight onto WordPress and choosing a simple template that allows you to customise to your hearts content.
I use 123Host for my online hosting and I have zero complaints.
Now I’d go test my idea. Firstly I’d be clear on what problem I was solving (a functional problem – not an emotional one). It’d be ok if I didn’t quite understand or have a clear picture on WHO becuase I know that by addressing the problem first, the WHO will become clear.
Here’s how I’d start testing my idea:
- Tell every single person I know and ask for feedback and referrals.
- Set up social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram and start providing free advice, helping people solve the problem.
- Run a free event at a shop or place where I know my target market would be. For example, if I wanted to launch a nutritionist business, I would contact my local wholefoods store or yoga studio and offer a free series of workshops or consultations.
- Run a free online event
And how would I know if it’s working? If I got 3 clients, I know I was onto something.
Because, the first one may be a family member or a friend feeling sorry for me.
The second one may be a total fluke.
But the third implies that I really have a product/service worth selling.
6. Build my list
First up, I’d set up an account on Active Campaign, NOT MailChimp. MailChimp may be cheap and easy to begin with, but Active Campaign is just as cost-effective and better full stop. I talk more about it in this post here.
I’d create something quick and simple as an opt-in – something that I know would be incredibly valuable to my audience – to entice people onto my list. I wouldn’t be thinking about a ‘newsletter’ yet, until I was generating enough content to correspond with my list. Instead, I would create an automated email sequence (with about 7-10 emails) to welcome my new subscribers and give them some really great information.
7. Seek feedback
With so much trial and error, I’d want to be sure I’m keeping a record of what’s working and what’s not. Some of it is stats based and rather easy. Things like website visitors, social media numbers, the ingoings and outgoings of my money.
But the really good stuff is in the anecdotes. The words sprouted from my audience. That’s where the gold mine lays. This is one reason why starting with a few free events in person is so valuable. It’s such a great opportunity to meet your market in person and have a conversation with them.
Online, I’d be sending out surveys to my list and inviting people on my social media hangouts too. Here are some Example Questions to Ask Your Customers in a Feedback Survey.
But ultimately, I’d be focused on exactly what I’m still focused on right now: having conversations with my audience. Treat them like the people they are – not simple stats or numbers. But real people with real thoughts, real opinions and real problems. Seek conversation everywhere!
8. Build my business brain.
Lastly, I’d work on my business smarts. If you’re in it for the long run, smarten up. Learn how to run a real business – not a hobby business. Here are a two courses I have invested in and would do so again:
- Bright Eyed and Blog Hearted by Rachel MacDonald: A great course that covers the basics of blogging with a rad community to boot.
- Webinars That Convert by Amy Porterfield: hands down the greatest course I’ve done. Ever.
There’s a lot more out there – in fact, freakin’ thousands of them. Marie Forleo’s B School is huge and though I personally didn’t use it, I’d probably be thinking about it if I was starting today. That said, I’d be investing in a mentor first!
….and that’s how I’d do it. To add to your business smarts, check out Online Simplified: The Solopreneur’s Guide to a Thriving Online Business. It covers the foundations that you need to get started.