Starting An Online Business: The Ultimate Guide for 2020
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto
Originally Posted On: https://www.hustlr.com/start-an-online-business/
How do I start making money online with little to no money in my bank account?
That’s a good question!
A question that you’ve probably asked yourself a dozen times over yet never found a convincing enough answer.
Let me tell you a secret…
A blunt piece of truth that probably no other biz guru or “self-made” internet entrepreneur trying to get you to opt into their email list will mention…
Yep, you heard that right. You can’t start a profitable online business when you’re dead-ass broke. Not unless you #hustle, anyway.
The good news is that hustle doesn’t cost money to develop. And with enough hustle, it’s indeed possible to make an income online. A lot of it!
After all, some of the biggest entrepreneurs in the world right now- think Richard Branson, Gary Vee, had humble beginnings.
Even I started being broke as a joke. But what I lacked in funds, I made up in passion and willingness to put knowledge above all.
I’ll be frank and tell you that your options are limited if you have absolutely no money to invest in an online business. However, is it possible to start from nothing, and some of the business models that I will mention in this guide costs almost next to nothing to start.
You can start off by freelancing, a great option for those of you that simply have no capital to invest in an online business.
With that being said, just a few hundred dollars goes a long way in starting up an online business.
If you’re serious about making real money online; money that can you can live on, you definitely need some upfront capital to jumpstart your online business, which I’ll mention later in this guide.
An online business that’s executed well at the right time could change your financial forever, just like it changed mine.
A few years ago, I scraped together everything I had to launch a new online business after several failed attempts. My morale was low from the failures of my previous businesses, and I knew that if this new venture failed, it will be the end of me.
Needless to say, when my business first broke 6 figures in monthly sales, I was really ecstatic, but this came at the expense of many sleepless nights with constant anxiety.
As I’m writing this, that business has generated a cumulative revenue well in excess of $2 million USD.
This is possibly thanks to the scalability with building a business online, where you can reach a huge audience with minimal startup capital.
For something that can change your life forever, would you agree that it’ll be worth it to some time and a few hundred dollars to give it a try?
You can take the time to get started, fail, start again, and fail again and get started again. When you eventually attain true success, and the rewards are so extraordinary that you only have to get it right ONCE.
My name is Jeremy, and in this guide, I’ll go over the 5 business models that you can build a business online with.
I’ve put together this guide based on my personal experience in building an online business from the ground up, and how I scaled it to what it is today. Before we begin, lets first explore The Lean Startup principle, a key concept that you need to grasp to avoid costly mistakes.
WARNING : It’s going to be a long one to finish in one sitting, so make sure you bookmark this page and get back to it later.
The Lean Startup Principle and How It Helped Me
As soon as I conceived the idea of writing this guide, I realized that most people reading this would be broke. Or have very little to invest.
And that’s fine!
I was lucky enough to have $250 in my bank account when starting my first online business, but I made every penny count.
First and foremost, you have to figure out which type of business would suit you the most. No, this shouldn’t involve looking more into your passion than being calculated and logical.
In my experience, passion doesn’t pay the bills. A business model that’s in demand and a scalable does.
To determine which business model to pursue, I use the Ramit Sethi Matrix.
According to the self-made millionaire, one should never jump into a business without evaluating their ideas first. “Would they pay for it?” is the question you should be asking yourself before starting.
Ramit Sethi’s Demand Matrix consists of four quadrants:
Your goal is to avoid the “Labor of Love” trap by all means and figure out which of the remaining three quadrants your startup would fall into.
If this is the first time you’re reading about how to start a business, you’re probably still scratching your head, wondering how you would start a business when you haven’t even gotten an idea in the first place.
Again, don’t worry; this guide is all about that.
The five business models I’m about to tell you are scalable and can reap you great profits!
These are some business models that have given “the new rich” an abundance of time, money, and fame to do whatever they want at any given time.
And the best part?
You can start all of these businesses from home, with 0 to $ 100 in your bank account.
All you need is an Internet connection, and an unquenchable thirst for learning, and willingness to hustle 80 hours a week if need be.
These businesses have varying difficulties, passivity and its unique hurdles, and none of them are the ‘definitive’ business for everyone. After all, starting an online business is extremely personal, and you’ve got to choose the right one that fits you the best.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into each of these businesses and explore all of their nuances in detail.
Affiliate Marketing Through Your Very Own Content Platform
Ever wondered how bloggers, vloggers, and YouTube stars make money?
Affiliate marketing would be the answer, among other things. Although this is an intermediate level business model, it can be an incredible source of continuous passive income.
All you have to do is figure out how to bring warm traffic to your site and keep earning those sweet commission dollars.
No need to worry about holding your own inventory, fulfilling orders, or dealing directly with customers. Make sales on behalf of companies and get your share in commissions. Simple!
But should you try your hand at affiliate marketing?
Absolutely! I’ll explain why.
Potential: $1 million+ per year
Making a seven-figure income from affiliate marketing may not be easy, but it is indeed possible with enough hustle and grind. With just a pinch of luck!
Difficulty level: Intermediate
I say that affiliate marketing is not the easiest business model to pursue because it takes time to build up a following. You can’t just launch a YouTube channel and expect subscribers to pour in. Similarly, you can’t just start a blog and see traffic or sales.
It takes time and a lot of effort to build a steady stream of visitors and subscribers no matter what you’re doing – blogging, YouTube, Kindle publishing, or podcasting.
Once you learn how to grab eyeballs, affiliate marketing becomes so much easier.
Passivity: Very passive
Affiliate marketing is generally considered an incredible source of passive income. That’s because it has the potential to make you money long after you’ve stopped working on a particular revenue stream.
Amazon affiliate marketing is perhaps the most popular platform in the world (though I hate their negligible commission rates) and is incredible for monetization when you have traffic.
With that being said, content on the internet has a relatively fast half-life; the content you produce today might be out of date sooner that you’d think, even if it’s supposedly evergreen. You’d need to keep your content fresh by either by updating it regularly or have a steady stream of new content that is published regularly.
Startup cost: 0 to $100
I’m not going to lie; the more money you have to invest in your affiliate marketing venture, the better your chances to succeed.
Besides, money works as a growth accelerator. Without it, you may need to work significantly harder to reach your goals.
But, it is indeed possible to start with nothing. The best way I can think of is start a YouTube channel (doesn’t cost a dime) and start putting out good content regularly. Oh! And don’t forget the affiliate links.
If you’ve got a hundred dollars to invest, the initial expenses would likely be on domain name and hosting, logo, and simple branding.
Average timeframe: 6 months to 1 year
Some gurus like to preach how anyone can make money online and get rich overnight if they had “this one thing.” Don’t believe them. They’re selling you dreams that don’t exist.
There is no magic bullet that will make you rich overnight, unless you win the lottery, of course. So, buckle up and get ready to work hard for at least six months before expecting to see a decent income.
Again, having money to invest might make things a bit easier, but you still gotta put in a lot of work.
Now that you’re familiar with how affiliate marketing with content works, let’s explore some platforms where you can publish your content and build a following on.
Best Content Platforms for Beginners
1. Blogging (WordPress)
Blogging is undoubtedly one of the most cost-effective and newbie-friendly ways to get started with affiliate marketing. If you have money to pay for domain and hosting and you can write, then you have yourself a blog.
The real challenge, however, is figuring out how to drive traffic and eventually converting them into customers. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources that will be able to guide you.
I’ve earned a lot of passive income through blogging by following a simple step-by-step formula:
Niche down to identify your audience’s problems and offer them solutions
Focus on getting relevant traffic to your blog
Pick a monetization method (Amazon affiliate, Clickbank, or private programs)
Build and nurture an email list
Sell to your audience
Analyze what’s working, tweak what’s not, and repeat
While building an email list is not 100% necessary if you’re monetizing through Amazon, I highly recommend you do it. That way, you’ll not only be building up a list of contacts but the opportunity to sell to them again and again.
“The money is in the list” as they say.
This is my second favorite platform for affiliate marketing, though I’ve yet to try it myself. I love YouTube because I spend a considerable amount of time watching videos – from entertainment to educational. HUSTLR produces some YouTube videos but we have not monetized it yet.
And creating an account on YouTube doesn’t cost any money, so all you folks out there with nothing to invest- this is your chance to shine!
Hang on; I’m not done talking yet.
Making it big or even noticeable isn’t easy either. Believe it or not, approximately 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and almost 5 billion videos are watched every single day.
You can monetize videos pretty much the same way as blogs – through Amazon for physical products and Clickbank for digital – by placing an affiliate link in the description.
Here are some quick tips for building your YouTube channel:
And the most important tip of all: Don’t lose hope if you’re not getting attention right away. Good things come to those who wait.
The podcast + affiliate marketing combo may raise some eyebrows even among veteran marketing circles but let me tell you that it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
I first stumbled upon this idea when listening to Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income.
Of course, I didn’t know at that time who Pat Flynn was or what were his accomplishments, but the way he spoke about online marketing in general really got me hooked. Pat Flynn’s podcast has also inspired me to start the HUSTLR podcast.
Podcasting is also an insanely powerful tool for building your network, as you are able to expose yourself to the big names via your podcast.
This can be a great way to meet like-minded individuals in your niche, and give a tremendous boost to your credibility. Making acquaintances this way also has an incredible network effect, as your credibility builds up onto itself with each podcast. For example, imagine how much easier would it be to pitch to interview someone when someone they know has already been on your podcast.
Once you’ve built up a solid following on your podcast, you can then utilize your audience for affiliate marketing.
Here are the 2 key areas for you to monetize your podcast as an affiliate:
Selling sponsorships is one of the best ways to monetize a podcast. Once you hit a certain number of downloads per episode (say 3000-4000), you can sell your ad space to bidding sponsors. This usually comes in the form of host-read ads, which means that the host reads the ad as a segway in the podcast itself, offering native context for the ad sponsor.
SELL PRODUCTS AS AN AFFILIATE
There are quite a few ways you can sell products on your podcast and earn commissions by being an affiliate. Audible, for instance, has a partnership program where they pay $15 for every registration to their free trial account. If your podcast is about eCommerce, you would promote products like Shopify to do so. You get the drift.
Naysayers will naysay, but email newsletters still remain an incredibly effective tool for affiliate marketing. Sure, they may say blogging and social media are the only way forward, but I’d doubt “they” know any better.
Newsletters give you a forum to showcase a product, tell a story on how it came to be, how to use it, and what other customers are saying about it.
In other words, you can use a newsletter to inform, educate, equip, motivate, and so much more depending on your business goals.
I use newsletters extensively for my eComm business and affiliate marketing blogs… and guess what, they work wonders in fetching new and repeated sales.
But it was not always this way.
I didn’t learn how to write effective newsletters in a day, and neither will you. It takes a considerable amount of effort in split testing, honing writing and researching skills to nail the message right down to the very dot.
And only by failing you will know what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve got some advice on newsletter topics to help you get started in the right way.
USE HYPE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
If a certain topic in your niche has been garnering a lot of attention lately, don’t miss the chance to cash in on the buzz. For example, if you’re in the consumer electronics niche, you’d better not miss out on writing a newsletter on the latest fad (such as rumors of the next gen Playstation or Xbox) the moment it was announced – this requires you to be ready when major news hits to get the first drop on it, but this is a super valuable way to establish yourself as an authority over your niche.
PRODUCT ORIGIN STORY
“People buy with emotion and justify it with logic”
How many times have you heard that before?
If your answer is “never,” then you’ve just learned something new today.
Here’s a quick exercise: Think exactly how many times did you buy something and later discovered you never needed it?
Now think about why you bought it.
It’s probably because your emotions got the better of you. And that’s okay! You can use this very human trait to your advantage by learning how to write product origin stories that put prospective customers in your shoes and walk around in them.
The point is, facts tell, stories sell.
How is the product you’re selling manufactured? Why was it invented? What are the obstacles the people behind the product had to overcome to get in front of the audience? Where does the product stand now?
These are all questions you can answer to generate more leads and customers. You see, people are suckers for good stories and they often try to relate themselves to it.
Implement this in your newsletters whenever you’re affiliating a product to give rich context on the product you are promoting, as this goes a long way in building trust with your audience.
PRODUCT OR INDUSTRY-RELATED NEWS
Affiliate marketing isn’t just about doing the seller’s bidding; it is about caring for your audience as well. So, if the product you’re selling has undergone any changes recently, it’s your duty as an affiliate to let everyone know.
As an affiliate marketer, it is also your job to keep your list informed about the changes they should expect in the future.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
A FAQ section in your newsletter can tremendously help clear up any doubts potential customers may have about the product.
Most people tend to buy stuff only after knowing as much as they can, so the more comprehensive your FAQ is, the better the chances of getting more customers.
IMPORTANT: The primary function of a newsletter is to educate and inform, so don’t try any sleazy or aggressive sales tactics. That’s the quickest way to get people to opt out from your mailing list. Always strive to provide value first in your newsletters, and don’t saturate your newsletter with sales emails too often. A good rule of thumb would be a 70/30 breakdown of value-adding and sales content.
Private Label eCommerce
Private labeling other people’s products are your best bet when it comes to making money when you don’t have a product of your own.
However, you’ve really hit the jackpot if you have a product that you know will sell.
Setting up a company and manufacturing your own products is a significant drag on your time and money. And if you’re like me, just to set up all of that is going to sap all your energy.
Even if you don’t have any innovative or creative ideas in mind, you can always re-sell some of the most popular items that people buy on the internet.
The best way to do this sustainably is to find a manufacturer of these products and put your own brand name on it.
This will protect your business in the long term because people will start associating this product to your brand – think Tupperware (plastic containers) or Google (search engines).
Potential: $1 million+ per year
Depending on how popular your product is, you can make multiple millions of dollars as fast as a year.
That’s, however, a one-in-a-million deal though. True story!
In my first online eCommerce venture where I was selling vaping products, I was churning out about $2,500 per month.
About a year later, I found out much to my surprise that my white labeled products were a lot more popular in the Middle East. That’s when I took my total monthly revenue up to $25,000.
The potential is definitely there, but it really depends on your products. The bulk revenue driver would definitely come from B2B customers, rather than direct consumer sales.
Difficulty level: Intermediate
The whole point of private label eCommerce is to establish a brand for your products.
You get them manufactured somewhere else, and then you put your name and label on those products and sell them as your own.
This will help you build a long term relationship between your brand and your customers, instead of selling something commonly available in the marketplace.
This requires some amount of knowledge in online marketing. Even mediocre products can be made insanely popular with the right type of marketing as the right message can convince your audience that they absolutely need your product.
The better you are at marketing your brand, your website or your product line in Amazon’s feed, the easier your job is going to be.
If you’re starting an eCommerce business, you can’t afford to slack. Well, you can, but you can’t just hop on a plane and go on a month long vacation when you’re just starting out.
First, you need to set up your product feed in Amazon and then set up the transaction process. This is a one-time job though, and once you get it up and running, it’s mostly automated.
Not to forget, you also need to keep track of your finances because you need to pay all these people.
However, the most tiring and time-consuming part of the job is the launch. Setting up your own brand be it on Amazon and Shopify takes a lot of effort – come up with a brand logo, a tagline, design the look and feel of your products.
Startup cost: $2000
When I first got started with my vaping business, I had exactly $300 with me. That was barely enough to set up my Shopify store.
If you want to use Amazon’s warehouses for shipping, then you need to put in at least $1000. Then, of course, you have to build up your inventory and buy all the products you want to sell to your customers.
Remember though that it’s not as simple as the more money you invest, the more products you can get manufactured and the more money you will make.
Even with a modest startup cost, you can get your business started and then reinvest the profits.
Average timeframe: 6 months
If everything goes well, you can start seeing profits from the second month onwards. You might find a particular product that sells well or a specific audience that is really into your product.
With a little bit of luck, you can start reaping significant profits as soon as you find your niche.
So let’s start with the basics.
What is Private Labeling?
In the simplest of terms, a private label product is made by a third-party manufacturer, but the product is sold under your brand name (i.e., the retailers).
As a retailer, you have complete authority over what the product contains, how the packaging looks like, what logo you put on top of it, and the kind of marketing you do with it.
In short, it’s your product that’s just made by someone else. Neat, right?
You pay the manufacturing company to have your product made and then shipped wholesale to your store. Let’s take examples to make it clearer.
Suppose you own a hair and spa salon and you sell beauty products. Of course, you have the most popular brands like L’oreal and TRESemme in inventory, but you also have shampoos and conditioners named after your own salon.
These shampoos and other beauty products were made by a soap and shampoo manufacturer somewhere else, but you put your own ‘private label’ on these products and are selling them as your own.
So What Are The Advantages and Disadvantages of Private Labeling?
What Kind Of Products Sell The Most?
Kudos if you’ve got a brilliant idea which is sure to take the market by storm! But for the rest of us, we need to figure out which products can sell the most, ship quickly and won’t be returned by the customers.
These are the factors that you should look for:
- Products which will have recurring demand
- Are exclusive to your store
- Not too expensive
- Compact and lightweight
Plenty of products fit the bill when it comes to these 4 factors, and they should all sell decently. However, the trick is to find a product which has high demand but low competition.
A great way to get inspiration for high demand, low competition products is on the Amazon Marketplace. Amazon’s sheer scale makes it a good indicator on the demand of a certain product, and you can extract ideas from Amazon with the following methods:
1. AMAZON BEST SELLER RANK
This is a score on Amazon which ranks which products are the most popular and sell the most.
Amazon assigns the BSR score to a product’s sales velocity, and the lower the number is, the higher the sales volume (a BSR of 1 means that the item is the #1 best seller in that category).
However, do remember that the most sold products, like mobile phones, also have the highest competition and the smallest profit margins.
Your goal here is to find a high demand product that’s low in competition and product cost.
Find out products that are ranked in between 2000-10000 in their BSR score. This range is the sweet spot that gives you the perfect balance of search queries, sales, and profit margins. You can find the BSR score for each item listed on Amazon at the bottom of the listing.
2. AMAZON BEST SELLERS
Go into Amazon’s Best Sellers Site. This site lists out all the best selling products in every category – be it electronics, clothing, household products, etc.
Thus if you want to see the kind of competition you’re up against in the industry and niche you’ve selected, this is the place to go. Carefully study the top-selling products and learn from the best.
So, how do you find a manufacturer for your product?
When it comes to finding a third-party manufacturer, you have quite a few options.
You can source it locally, from somewhere like wholesalecentral.com or you can even do a simple google search of something like “private label clothing manufacturers.”
The closer the manufacturers are to you, the more you save on shipping costs.
Our Pick: Alibaba
If you want the largest profit margin, you should get it manufactured in a country where production costs are low. No country beats China, at least for now.
And you get absolutely no points for guessing that the country with the lowest production costs is in China, which also happens to be the home of internet eCommerce giant – Alibaba.
Alibaba makes more sales than Amazon and eBay combined and has literally, millions of third-party manufacturers. Don’t worry about production costs as if you ship in bulk; then you only have to pay shipping costs once.
Alibaba Pros And Cons
The cons being what they may, if you’re looking to get the most ROI out of your products, Alibaba is a no brainer. They have a vast number of suppliers who only make private label products for third-party retailers.
Don’t worry about reliability. You can always order a small test quantity to see what the supplier is like.
Selling Your Products – Two Main Platforms
Now that you’ve got your products manufactured and ready, it’s time to get selling and rake in the f**cking money. Not so fast, though!
You need to figure out where to sell the products so that they get the most traction. You have two main choices – Amazon or Shopify.
Or if you can spare the cash, you can even do both and I highly suggest you do so, especially if you have a branded product.
Amazon needs no introduction whatsoever and if you want to know the kind of competition you’re up against, just do an Amazon search of the product you’re selling.
All you have to do is set up an account in Amazon and put up your product line. Make sure you take stylish photos of your products and also create an attractive logo for yourself.
Let’s take a look at why Amazon might be the right choice for you.
Ease Of Use
All you need to do is set up your Amazon account and put in your product details. After that, they’ll show up on Amazon’s product feed just like any other brand.
The best thing about Amazon is their FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) feature. If you sign up for this, Amazon takes care of storage, packaging and shipping for you.
I know from experience, getting employees and arranging for all of these can be a massive logistical nightmare.
Amazon, however, charges you for this convenience and takes a cut from your sales to account for their FBA fees. This is on top of their referral fee, which can range between 10-15% depending on your product category.
If you ignore the first few results and keep scrolling on Amazon, you’ll see a load of companies which have products which are cheap but you just wouldn’t feel like buying them.
They either don’t have clear, attractive pictures, or they have very substandard sales copy and most of all, you just won’t get to know much about the product from the descriptions.
The market is saturated with suppliers just trying to make a quick buck, and you can make your product stand heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition by simply putting in the effort to make your product look attractive.
People don’t only buy based on need, they buy a product when they have a good feeling about it and that’s your job to make your product stand out from the rest of the pack. Remember guys, emotions drive sales way better than logic.
Customer Data And Tools
Amazon does not let you access customer data as they treat it like their own. While that can be a major drag, if and only if you sign up for FBA, you will not have sales data to analyze.
With that, you can evaluate sales rank fluctuations, estimated sales velocity, and sales trends over different periods of time.
However, because of the sheer number of sellers on Amazon, third-party tools like Jungle Scout offer a pretty compelling analysis of customer segments.
Be aware though; marketing to customers is a strict breach of Amazon’s Policy and will get you banned from the platform.
Getting customers on autopilot is where Amazon truly stands out! You can even steal traffic from Amazon to drive traffic to your Shopify store.
In the US, Amazon has over 150 million visitors per month, and most of them spend a considerable amount of time window shopping.
You don’t even need to do digital marketing for your brand as people don’t need to search for your brand on Google. They will just come into Amazon looking for the product and stumble on your product.
Then, of course, there’s Amazon Prime – these are people who’ve purchased a subscription to Amazon simply because they do most of their shopping on Amazon. These are people who are here to buy, not browse.
51% of US households are Prime customers and some of them buy something almost daily. Nowhere else on the web will you find such a huge number of dedicated customers who keep coming back.
Shopify is another eCommerce platform which powers over 600,000 businesses and is one of the leading platforms of eCommerce worldwide.
The primary difference between Shopify and Amazon is that Shopify lets you customize your brand, build a website, and even make your own apps for business.
These features let you customize the look and feel of your business to strike the right chord with your audience. Apart from that, Shopify has a ton of tools and accessories which will make your job so much easier.
Let’s look at the benefits of Shopify in more detail.
Ease Of Use
If you think building your own website is going to take a lot of technical know-how and is a lot of work, you’d be right. But that is precisely why people use Shopify because it makes the process so much easier!
Shopify has tons of designs, super easy navigation and also loads of help pages.
When it comes to ease of use, it might not be as straightforward as Amazon, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll be just as easy.
This is why people use Shopify so that you have complete control over your brand image. Ensure that you never again lose a potential customer because of ugly design.
Shopify offers 10 free themes and 60 premium ones. While that’s not much, you can customize and modify these themes so that they exactly match the image in your head.
If you want to create a unique and memorable brand image for your products, then you should definitely choose Shopify over Amazon.
Customer Data And Tools
Shopify has a wide array of tools that help you customize your business, including a slogan maker, logo maker, etc. Its purpose is to let everyone become a business owner if they want to.
As a business owner, you also get complete details of every customer and visitor to your site, what products they looked at, what they left in their carts, etc. Adding new features to your Shopify store is also as easy as installing a few Shopify apps.
You also get to generate tax invoice, terms and conditions papers and other paperwork directly through the Shopify interface.
How Shopify differs from Amazon is that you need to bring visitors to your website. What this means, is that a person needs to search for your brand name to be guided to your site.
Thus, to get visitors to your website, you have to employ all manners of digital marketing – social media, Google paid marketing, emails, ads and of course, the dreaded SEO.
I’m not going to lie. Doing all that is hard and immensely time-consuming!
The good news is that Shopify has a ton of apps on their app store which deals exactly with all these and can make your job a lot easier.
Also, it’s only really hard in the beginning. Once you know what to do and have established a name for yourself, it gets easier.
So Which One Is The Best Choice For Me?
Think of Amazon and Shopify in terms of this analogy.
Amazon is a world-renowned marketplace where everyone brings their wares and products and showcases them to the vast number of people browsing through the market. Thus, you are just one salesman in a crowd. Amazon also has a reputation for eating up smaller businesses if they find that you are in a profitable segment.
Shopify, on the other hand, is like renting a shop or an apartment where you can sell your products. You won’t attract nearly as much people as the marketplace, but the ones who are there are looking for you only, allowing you to build a long term relationship with your customers.
Thus, if you have a small number of products and you want to start your business up as fast as possible, Amazon is the best choice for you.
However, if you want complete autonomy over your business and you’re in it for the long haul, Shopify is the best choice. That’s because you get to build a brand, which means you can build relationships and not just a product in a sea of other products.
Private labeling has got a lot going for it, but you need to get many things right at the same time to even begin! You have to find a manufacturer, give them time to get your product made, work on branding, logistics, and so much more. And all that before even making the first sale!
If the product doesn’t work out, you’re left with a large number of now useless things stashed at a warehouse somewhere you don’t know what to do with.
I can attest to this, as I failed one of my first online business ventures where I printed 30,000 pieces of t-shirts – I ended up only selling 10 over a year.
On top of that, I had to deal with a gaping hole in my bank account. Learn from my mistakes.
It’s not the end of the world, but a pretty sticky situation. Something I wouldn’t want to get stuck in – again. So I hope that this sheds some light for those of you who are just starting out.
Dropshipping, on the other hand, ties you up directly to a manufacturer and the products are shipped by the manufacturing company directly to the customer as and when they make an order.
I know, this has been done to death by so-called internet “gurus”, but it is a tried and tested business model that I know works, so it definitely deserves a spot in this guide.
Potential: $500,000 per year
The earning potential of dropshipping isn’t as much as selling private label products as technically you don’t own the products yourself.
You buy the product from the manufacturer when the customer makes an order and then it’s sent to them. Thus, you don’t have total autonomy over the profit margins and the fulfillment process.
But the real benefit with dropshipping is that, even if the earning potential isn’t exactly stellar, your loss potential is meager.
I’ll explain this more in detail later.
Difficulty level: Very easy
Anyone can set up a dropshipping business. All you need to do is find a dropshipping company, and there are plenty of resources for that online.
Next, you just have to wait until a customer places an order and when they do, you get in touch with the manufacturer, and they send the product over directly.
Passivity: Very passive
If this is your first venture into an online business or you have very little time on your hands, then this is an excellent option for you.
Dropshipping is very light on resources and time, and you can get it up and running as quickly as one day. I built my first ever dropshipping site in a matter of 3 hours.
In many ways, it is even more passive than affiliate marketing as you don’t need to continually write blog posts or anything if you’re good with paid advertising. However, I still highly recommend that you blog.
Startup cost: $500
The startup cost is lower than other businesses as you are not buying anything en masse nor are you renting out a warehouse. You do need to have a small advertising and marketing budget to start off with.
However, you will need to have the money to pay your dropship supplier whenever a customer places an order. Now the order could be pretty expensive, so you always need to have at least some working capital at hand to fulfill orders before the payment from your customer hits your bank account.
Average timeframe: At least 12 months
You will begin to get a steady amount of money only once you put in enough effort into marketing whatever you’re selling. You’d be able to achieve some short term results in the beginning, but you have to be a good marketer.
While running the business, I strongly suggest you pick up Facebook or Instagram paid advertising and influencer marketing.
Unfortunately when it comes to traditional dropshipping, there’s no way you can customize your product, and thus there’s no way to build your brand.
One modern alternative to dropshipping is print on demand – where you can create designs for printables like T-shirts, mugs or pillows to brand it. You probably need some design skills for this to work though.
So What is Dropshipping?
Dropshipping means that the retailer of the products does not keep the products in his stock or inventory. The retailer does not own a factory nor does he have a warehouse. Instead, whenever the retailer gets an order from a customer, the supplier ships the product directly to the customer, without physically going through the retailer.
There are tons of automated dropshipping apps out there that automatically syncs the order with your supplier so make sure you use these apps, to reduce your time commitment.
The retailer does not see nor handle the product. They simply convey the order from the customer to the wholesaler, and then wholesaler ships it to the customer from the warehouse directly.
Why Should You Get into Dropshipping
Dropshipping Pros And Cons
How To Find The Right Wholesaler?
To get started, you need to work with a reputable and dependable wholesaler who will dropship the products of your chosen niche.
There are plenty of tools available online to help you find a dropshipper. While you don’t necessarily need a tool to find a dropshipper, it does make the job a lot easier.
Here are some of the best and most popular tools in the market for dropshipping.
Oberlo is the most popular choice for everybody with dropshipping businesses on Shopify. It is available as an embedded Shopify App and is very tightly integrated with the Shopify interface.
The best feature of Oberlo is that you can import directly from AliExpress. AliExpress is the largest online directory of dropshipping suppliers, and most dropshippers use AliExpress to source their products.
Oberlo directly gives you access to thousands of sellers on AliExpress, and you also get product images, details and product prices in a friendly interface.
There’s also a premium feature called Oberlo Supply. Oberlo Supply hand picks exceptionally trustworthy suppliers to minimize risks related to dropshipping.
They also offer extra features like the ability to bulk ship, that is you can place a large number of orders at a time and fast shipping.
Oberlo Pros And Cons
Spocket doesn’t have the variety and huge inventory of Oberlo, but most of their suppliers are based out of the US or Europe. Therefore, shipping is much faster to customers in these areas, and on average, the suppliers on Spocket are a lot more reliable and responsive to problems.
Spocket’s integration with Shopify means that organizing inventory, tracking your order and ensuring that it gets fulfilled is done much more efficiently. As such, you’re spending less time dealing with these low-value tasks; allowing you to spend more time on the stuff that matters.
Spocket also recently launched a print-on-demand collection for t-shirts, coffee mugs, mousepads and the like. So if you ever want to expand your product catalog, this is a good way to do so.
Spocket Pros And Cons
Doba is my favorite tool because not only does it provide you a list of manufacturers and wholesalers, it also lets you get products without requiring you to tie up with a dropshipper.
That is because Doba does the job for you!
All you have to do is list out the product you want to sell and then process your orders with Doba. They will contact the dropshipper themselves and then send the package to your customer.
The reason I like Doba so much is that it makes the process of dropshipping so much simpler. I don’t have to partner up with many dropshippers nor do I have to stay in touch with my suppliers continually.
If you’re not too enthusiastic about the process of contacting suppliers, this is the right choice for you.
Doba Pros And Cons
What are the Best Locations to Find Wholesalers?
Since you’ll most likely sell the products in the US, you should decide on whether to get your products shipped from wholesalers within the country itself or from other countries like China.
Ask yourself, is price more important or is fast shipping more important to your customers?
It’s also important to know where you will be marketing these products so that you can plan out your supplier strategy as well.
Here’s a comparison for sourcing your products from China compared to sourcing it from the USA.
Wholesalers from China – Pros And Cons
While the cons of sourcing from China might seem daunting at first, you’ll see that once you’ve found a reliable supplier who you know is not going to rip you off, there really aren’t any more problems.
You might have to pay shipping costs, but they’re nothing when weighed against how cheap manufacturing is in China.
Wholesalers from the USA – Pros And Cons
If you’re in the business not to make a quick buck, but to lay the groundwork for a stable and scalable business, then consider US suppliers.
The profit margins will be low initially and you won’t make a lot of money. But once you scale up, you’ll have a better reputation among customers for your higher quality products.
What Kind of Products Should I Sell?
Plenty of people set out building a business to promote or sell products they are personally interested and invested in. I started out with a vaping industry because I was very into it.
However, you need to remember that getting into business following your interest or passion is not always a wise idea.
Your goal is to make money. So, you should put personal preferences aside and sell products that convert.
Here are a few tips on deciding what to dropship:
SELL MODERATELY PRICED PRODUCTS
A customer is much more likely to buy a $100 product than a $2000 product without talking to someone on the phone. Hence, moderately priced products make for the most amount of sales with the least amount of effort. I find that a good price point for dropshipping products is around $49 – $99.
SELL PRODUCTS WHICH HAVE ACCESSORIES
Accessories can bump up your sales by a large degree through upselling, so make sure you sell products which can be complemented with accessories.
This is because a customer will check multiple websites to find the lowest price of an item like a phone but in all likelihood not think twice before buying a phone cover or a pair of headphones along with the phone at the same store.
For example, you can implement a loss leader strategy to attract customers by setting a low price tag for the main product and then increase the profit margin by marking up the selling price for the accessories.
SELL PRODUCTS TO HOBBYISTS
A hobbyist doesn’t care much about the price tag. In fact, a mountain bike enthusiast can spend more on a mountain bike than a car. These are the best niches because people can be super enthusiastic over their hobby.
As a result, if you tailor your products to a specific audience set like hobbyists, you can expect higher conversion rates and bigger average cart value even though you’re targeting a smaller audience.
SELL PRINT-ON-DEMAND PRODUCTS
Printed products like t-shirts, mugs, mousepads and coasters seem to be tailor-made for dropshipping. You don’t ever need to hold an inventory of any of these products, yet you can sell all of them, whenever the customer places an order. There are plenty of suppliers out there who do print-on-demand of various products.
These suppliers don’t always hold the products themselves either, and they also get it from a wholesaler whenever there is an order. So make sure you do your research on their fulfillment process. My suggestion is to look for suppliers who hold inventory themselves.
Thus if you’re looking for a small start and have some design skills, print-on-demand is the way to go.
Consumable products = repeat customers.
If someone has finished consuming your product, they’d probably have to purchase it again. Makes sense?
Selling consumables will allow you to build a long term relationship around your dropshipping business because they are most likely to buy from you again if the buyer was happy with their initial purchase.
Selling consumables will ensure that your customer lifetime value with your business will be high, and it’s always easier to sell to existing customers than to new customers.
Get into Freelancing / Become an Agency Owner
Freelancing is one of the very few quickest ways to generate money online and I absolutely stand by when I say it is perfect for newbies with a good existing skill set.
I dealt with many freelancers as a marketer and I know how much skilled freelancers earn. Some of them make up to $15,000 per month.
I love the idea of freelancing as it allows anyone to get paid for something that actually helps people solve a problem. Freelancing is also an excellent way to get your foot in the door of a niche you’re interested in.
You can be a writer, designer, web developer, WordPress developer, translator, Facebook ads specialists, SEO expert, Instagram marketer, voice-over artist, digital content creator, and so much more.
Heck, you can even be a professional freelance prankster! Don’t believe me? Check out the bizarre section on Fiverr, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
But here’s the catch – freelancing is NOT passive. You don’t work, you don’t get paid.
Not at least you graduate to becoming an agency owner anyway where you can count on your employees or your own freelancers.
Is freelancing the right way forward for you? Keep on reading to learn more.
Potential: $120,000 per year (humble estimation)
You can make a living with freelancing depending on your skills, including marketing. It is said that every good freelancer is also a good marketer because it is sales that keeps their career going.
You can be the very best in a certain skill, but what’s the use if nobody finds you?
Luckily, platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, BHW, Legiit, PeoplePerHour, Freelancer.com exist to give freelancers a chance to get noticed.
The more people you serve, the more money you make. That’s “scaling” in freelancing summed up for you.
Difficulty level: Intermediate
There is absolutely no barrier to entry when it comes to freelancing. The most important thing you need is a skill that the market needs.
The good news is that you can get started right now; the bad is that you probably have to overcome a lot of confusion and hardship in landing your first client or getting paid.
While almost every niche is highly saturated, there are a few which are still easy to break into. Niches like sales copywriting, paid advertising, website design, graphic design come to mind.
Passivity: Not passive
Like I said before, freelancing is not a passive source of income and it takes a lot of hustle and grind to get to your first $2,000 – $3,000 monthly revenue.
Expect to work on weekends, reply to clients at odd hours of the day, and miss out on many house parties for the next few months.
Things do get easier once you’ve got the ball rolling though. The first step is always the hardest because even though momentum builds on itself, the initial momentum is what keeps people from even starting.
Startup cost: 0 to $100
There is little to no startup cost in freelancing due to the abundance of free platforms. All you need is a marketable skill and platform to show them off.
However, if you’ve got $100 to spare, I highly suggest building a website in your name to showcase your portfolio. All you have to do is pay for domain, hosting and logo.
Set up a basic WordPress site using a free theme and you’re all set to redirect prospective clients to the website. I stand by building WordPress sites no matter what you do because of its ease of use.
Average timeframe: 1 day to 1 month
I should probably not say this out loud, but luck plays a tremendous role if you’re starting out as a broke freelancer. You never know where the next lead is going to come from and when.
You will need to put in the effort to ensure that your listing on freelancing sites gets ranked well, along with providing a compelling offer to potential clients.
Offer Your Services on Freelancing Sites
You can get started today as a freelancer by posting your services on freelancing platforms. Although they’re the same in many aspects, there are certain idiosyncrasies that separate one from the other.
It goes without saying that you should post your offer in as many platforms as you can manage to give yourself the most amount of exposure as potential clients tend to compare offerings across different sites, and your post might show up higher on one site compared to another.
Let’s dive in to the 6 freelancing sites that can easily get you your first gig in no time.
We’ve all heard of Fiverr, the place where you go to get stuff done for $5.
But there’s more to it than people realize. Fiverr got its name on account of its design and USP: every job starts at five dollars. It sounds cheap and incredibly attractive to potential buyers, but sellers can set tiers above the $5 base option.
The platform is decently designed and optimized to be newbie friendly and greets you with a bar to search for services you might be interested in.
To register as a seller, follow the process mentioned below:
On the upper right side, click on “Become a Seller”
Choose your skill set among the given choices or add a new one
Click on “Start Selling”
Create an account by registering through your email or logging in using Facebook
I could get more in-depth on launching your first gig, but that’s a guide for another day. But don’t let me keep you on hold; go ahead and explore the site.
See what it offers, get to know about top sellers and their offerings, and decide on your Unique Value Proposition (USP).
Some Tips to Succeed
Fiverr is an incredibly competitive platform, having hundreds and thousands of freelancers from all around the world. At first glance, it may look like a race to the bottom in terms of pricing but believe me, you can and do deserve better.
To get more exposure and sales, I suggest you do the following:
Is Fiverr.com worth it?
Absolutely! Being one of the world’s largest freelancing platforms, it offers an almost unlimited amount of ways you could succeed.
But be prepared to undercut yourself and bend a few rules to reach where you want to be.
You may then not make enough money initially to pay the bills since you’re competing with people from around the world, including developing countries.
Since the value of $5 currency is much higher in developing countries such as the Philippines, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan than USA or Canada, you’ll have to work extra hard to find your place. However, if your service is good and you keep at it, you’ll be able to stand out from the crowd and improve your gigs’ conversion rates.
Upwork is yet another popular platform where you can sell your services. But unlike Fiverr, the application process here is more stringent. And so are the clients!
You can sign up as a freelancer in many categories such as design, web development, mobile development, writing, customer service, marketing, etc.
Once you’ve managed to enlist your services, expect to earn more from every gig than what you would expect from Fiverr, since Upwork usually caters for higher quality and better paying gigs.
Freelancer is very similar to Upwork and Fiverr in the sense that you can offer your services as listings, but this website also has a unique contest section where a client can host a contest for the work they need (eg. website design) and freelancers would bid with their offers to get the job.
Depending on the contest, you might be able to score high paying gigs if you manage to stand out from the crowd and win the contest.
Here are a few tips for you to maximize your chances of winning such contests:
Contrary to what the name suggests, BlackHatWorld (BHW) is not a place for hackers, spammers, and scammers to meet and discuss their next plan for world domination.
Not gonna lie; that’s what I thought as well the first time I landed on the site. The truth is that BHW got its name from the concept of “Black Hat” SEO, which means not abiding by search engine guidelines of ranking keywords.
Among many other things, BHW can be an excellent place for you to sell your services. There is a Marketplace section where you can offer anything, ranging from content and copywriting SEO-link building packages.
The catch is that you need a Junior VIP account which costs $97 and $30 to open a Marketplace thread.
You’ll also need to offer your highest priced package to one of the moderators for free in charge of reviewing your service.
If all goes well, you have a new, powerful source of income ready!
Yep, Facebook! You read that right.
Facebook is probably the world’s largest unannounced and underutilized freelancing platform.
And I’m pretty sure you have an account there already.
I would definitely say that Facebook is an underutilized freelancing platform because so very few people are using it to grow their freelancing business.
And the best part is that unlike the other four platforms I mentioned above, the lack of competition means that you don’t have to worry about competing on pricing as much.
My favorite strategy of finding new clients is to join relevant Facebook groups and regularly produce posts packed with value.
No sales fluff. No pitching. No unsolicited DMs.
By providing value, you earn goodwill from everyone who’s consumed your posts, which gets you credibility and a good reputation. Once you’ve got that, you can then subsequently offer your services for anyone that’s interested. Getting clients through Facebook is my absolute favorite because people get to know who exactly I am before choosing to work with me. And I get to do the same.
And since I’m not competing on prices, I can quote whatever I think would fit a particular task.
LinkedIn has emerged as a powerhouse in terms of providing business opportunities.
The challenge here is that you’d have to connect with a ton of people on LinkedIn, and then post very frequently about what you do and make sure you have your freelance service stated on your LinkedIn.
Start by engaging with people that require your service but definitely do not spam DMs on LinkedIn because that’s an outdated lead generation strategy, and it’s f**king annoying.
To put things into perspective, the best freelancers I hired were all on LinkedIn and I was just searching for people with titles like “freelance content writer” to connect and reach out to.
5 Ways to Earn More Money as a Freelancer
Okay, now that we are done talking about the best freelancing platforms, I’m gonna explain some strategies which you will be able to take your earnings to the next level.
This portion of the guide will help freelancers who have just started, those who have yet to begin or have been freelancing with decent success for some time.
So, pay attention and listen close!
1. Try to build a brand around yourself through YouTube, Blogging, or Podcasting
In my experience, the best customers always turn out to be those who find me, instead of me approaching them. You can do the same by building a brand around yourself and what you do.
Building a brand either through personal blogging, podcasting, or releasing videos on YouTube will help you reach a broader audience. It will also help you earn loyal subscribers/followers who wouldn’t think twice to hire you.
Growing a following is one of the best ways to keep your pipeline full and gives you room to grow from a freelancer to running a full-time agency.
Building a following is something most people aren’t accustomed to, but believe me when I say that the key to progress lies in continually pushing your boundaries. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable and you’ll be well on your path to success as an online HUSTLR.
2. Use paid ads to get more leads
If you’ve been freelancing for a while now and have money coming in regularly, it wouldn’t hurt to try your hand at paid ads.
Reinvesting into your business or career is something you’ll get better at with time.
If you decide to run ads on Facebook, I suggest setting away a small portion of your income every month for ad spend. This way, you can measure and track the spending and how many leads it generates.
3. Reach out to local business owners
I know, I know, this guide is about growing your business ONLINE, but hear me out for a second.
Just because you’re trying to grow a business online, doesn’t mean all your leads have to come from online platforms, does it?
Reaching out to local business owners can be especially beneficial if you’re starting out as a freelancer and need some credibility to show off.
I’m a fan of connecting with local business owners mainly for two reasons:
- I can sit with them personally and get to know their problems, fears, and objections
- I don’t have to spend money on ads or time on chasing cold leads
This helps me focus more on solutions rather than going back and forth in the communication. The relationships you’ll build over time are priceless!
Again, this advice may appear to be too intimidating for someone with no experience or as an introvert but give it a try! For starters, try asking your friends or relatives to introduce you to someone who would appreciate your help.
4. Get more testimonials!
If you’re good at what you do, don’t be afraid to flaunt it!
Showing testimonials is a great way to demonstrate value and earn the trust of your potential clients.
So, after the successful completion of the project, don’t be afraid to ask your client to write you a written testimonial or record a quick video of them talking about their experience working with you.
Post these testimonials on your website, more specifically on the sales page to reinforce trust within potential buyers.
Getting regular testimonials will also motivate you to get better at your craft, which in turn will lead to better and high-paying clients.
5. Serve returning customers first
One mistake I see both freelancers and businesses make very often is that they get caught up in the new. What do I mean by that?
While it’s great to have new leads and customers coming in, you must never put returning customers in second place.
Meaning, you must never think that you can deal with them when you’re done serving new customers first. Nothing is permanent, and your negligence may drive clients who would have otherwise been loyal.
The true hallmark of a successful business lies in the number of repeat customers they get. Repeat customers are the ones that are the easiest to impress since they’re familiar with you, and will naturally vouch for your service if you deliver an outstanding performance.
Make it a priority to impress your repeat customers.
That’s all I have to say for now about freelancing. Let’s move onto the next segment, shall we?
Online courses are all the rage nowadays! It’s one of the best online businesses you can start, as courses will allow you to deliver your knowledge at scale with insane profit margins!
Have you ever thought, “Wow, I’m really good at this! I could probably make a lot of money teaching people this skill?” Well, you’re not the only one.
If you’re good at something and you think you have a knack for teaching other people that skill, you really owe it to yourself to create your own online course.
The internet is full of online courses nowadays and literally anyone with knowledge and experience in a subject can make a killing selling their own course.
These days, you can create a course for just about any topic as long as there’s an audience that can benefit from it. Some of the more common course topics I’ve seen are paid advertising, SEO, fitness, photography, graphic design, and copywriting.
I wholeheartedly believe that almost everyone has a certain skillset or knowledge that can benefit others, and creating an online course is the best way to impart that knowledge at scale.
The beauty about creating your online course is that the amount of content in it is entirely up to you. There are no rules on what you can make a course about, as the sheer scale of the internet means that even if what you’re teaching only applies to a small niche, you’d be able to serve that audience if your course is up to snuff.
With all that said, let’s go through on the nuances on creating an online course as an online business.
Depending on the popularity and usability of your online course, you can stand to make a lot of money.
I’ve put in $500k as the potential but it could go way beyond that if you launch multiple courses and have a strong audience base.
You can also significantly further increase your income by upselling or downselling additional content to cater to your customer’s needs better via funnels. Setting up a funnel is perfectly doable for most people with some effort and time, and can easily multiply your earning potential from your online course exponentially.
Also, don’t be discouraged if you feel that the topic you want to cover appears to have a small niche.
You’d be surprised on the success for more niche-specific, nuanced courses. I’m talking about courses on fringe niches like getting better at gaming, nailing auditions, and even courses about downsizing to a tiny house.
A really powerful example would be Jordan Gilbert’s course on playing the video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Counter Strike is one of the world’s most popular first-person shooter games. Jordan, being a professional at the game, has capitalized on this by making a course on how to get better at this game.
The result? More than 8,000 students paid for his $149 course, netting him north of $1.2 million dollars. Don’t believe me? Check out the course itself here.
Difficulty level: Moderately hard
Creating the content for your online course can be hard or easy, depending on your planning skills. The bulk of the work is done upfront, the course planning, the recording process and worksheet designs.
However, there are plenty of tools available online which will make this task a lot easier.
Fundamentally, designing a course isn’t that different from writing blogs or setting up YouTube channels. You just need to compile all of your information in one highly presentable package to help your students achieve what you promise them.
The real difficulty here is to first master the subject that you want to make a course about, and determine the insights or skills that you think will be helpful to your audience.
Once you’ve got that down, all that’s left to do is to deliver what you know in a consumable package, usually in video form.
Passivity: Very passive after you’ve set up
Creating course as an online business is not entirely passive income once you’ve set the course up because you’d still have to market it on the internet and maintain the course.
However, the hardest part is done once you finish organizing the course content. Selling online courses definitely beats constantly tracking inventory or contacting suppliers and manufacturers, like you would have to if you were selling physical products.
The only non-passive aspects about the online course business model would be to update your course with new content and engage with students, and maintaining your landing page/funnels to optimize the conversion rate for your course.
Startup cost: Very low
Startup costs are super low because you don’t need to stock up on any inventory. All you need is a decent computer, recording equipment and a platform to host your course.
If your online course needs videos, you also need to invest in a decent camera and mic.
While the run of the mill webcam would do fine when you’re just starting out, you can get really great quality equipment with a relatively small budget.
For cameras, a budget mirrorless DSLR such as the Sony a6000 would do wonders for your video quality if you’re willing to splurge a little.
Since you would probably be recording yourself talking a lot, a microphone would also be a great investment. A decent USB powered mic can be had for about $30; a great investment to ensure your voice sounds crystal clear to your students.
Average timeframe: 6-12 months
If you’re a newcomer and people haven’t heard of you, it’s going to take some time to establish yourself. So, make sure you invest as much as you can into marketing to get the ball rolling.
I also suggest that you pre-sell your course with webinars or online workshops. Check out Russell Brunson’s Perfect Webinar Series to help you get started.
So, What Exactly is an Online Course?
An online course is an educational or informational content delivered on the internet. The course can be as long or as short as you wish, and priced accordingly. Admissions are offered on a rolling basis or during a certain time period.
These days, the best online courses are usually delivered in video format, with the video being a recording of yourself or a screen capture of your computer. I found that video is the best format to produce a high quality course, and as I’ve alluded to before, you can get a great video recording setup with a relatively small budget.
Before we dive in on how to actually get your first online course up and selling, let’s first go through the pros and cons of selling online courses as a business model, as you’d need to know this beforehand to have certain expectations in mind.
Pros and Cons of Selling an Online Course
How To Get Started With Your First Online Course
1. Decide on an Idea
Figuring out what you’re going to teach and what you stand for is the first step in deciding what content you’re going to produce for your course.
It’s imperative that you have enough knowledge and experience in that subject matter, so that you can offer sound advice and actionable tips that can drive results for your students.
You should also be proactive in continuously improving your competence in what you’re trying to teach; if you’re course is about SEO, you should always be on the lookout for the latest techniques and updates that might affect SEO strategies.
When choosing your niche, settle on a target audience first. Your target audience could be a stay-at-home mom looking for a side gig or a recent graduate hunting for the first job.
However, I’d personally look for an audience who have a set of characteristics and goals which you can relate with so that you can help them achieve their goals as effectively as possible.
LET ME GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE:
Let’s say you’re creating a course about video editing, but you’ve just picked up this skill not too long ago, and your editing workflow is using a more beginner friendly tool instead of the fully fledged Adobe suite.
If you’ve targeted advanced video editors for your course, they would probably scoff at it as they’ve already mastered more advanced video editing techniques.
However, the silver lining here is that your course would be perfect for newbies, as they would totally be overwhelmed by courses teaching advanced workflows. Chances are, advanced users probably would’ve lost touch with what it’s like to learn video editing for the first time, since they’ve started so long ago.
You’d be able to relate to first-time video editors so much better, and offer specific, beginner-friendly tips on getting started with video editing for the first time.
The key here is to offer your unique perspective in your subject, and target the right audience that you can relate with. Sure, you’d still need to be competent in what you’re teaching, but you can relate with audiences at varying skill levels and experience.
Write down a list of problems and then write down a list of solutions you can provide for your specific target audience. These would be the ideas for your potential online courses. The next step is figuring out which of these ideas will actually work.
2. Validate that Idea
Don’t make assumptions that people will be interested in what you’re selling. In order to be absolutely sure that people will be interested, you need to pre-sell or pre-launch your course to gauge interest.
Pre-selling will only give you a list of people who might be interested when you launch, but most importantly you’ll have proof that your course will generate much-needed revenue for you.
Here are a few ways you can pre-sell your product:
1. CREATE A TYPEFORM SURVEY
In this survey, ask people questions like, “What’s the biggest professional challenge you’re facing right now?” Then follow up with questions like age, sex, demographic, etc.
This allows you to form a picture of an ideal audience set. You can even be blunt and ask them straight up, “Would you be willing to pay $500 to sign up for a course that solves this problem?”.
2. PROMOTE A PILOT COURSE
A pilot course, in industry terms, is a minimum viable product (MVP). In other words, it’s a teaser for your final product. If you used to write blogs, the pilot course can be a few of your best-performing blogs.
Similarly, if you’re a yoga teacher or a dance teacher, just shoot a small video explaining how to do one form of dance or yoga and that becomes your MVP.
You can offer this pilot course for free to your audience set or even just release it in relevant Facebook, LinkedIn groups as a lead magnet. Then you can analyze the visitors on this page.
If the visitors interact with the page in a positive way, as in they express interest in the final product, you know for certain, that the course will sell.
3. PRE-LAUNCH WITH A WEBINAR SERIES
This is one of my favorite methods to pre-launch a course. It is also the method I used to launch the eCommerce Freedom Masterclass. What I did was I launched a free webinar, drove some paid Facebook traffic to it and then hosted the webinar on the stipulated date. During the webinar, I measured how many people signed up for the course – which was presented as an early bird offer at the end of the webinar.
At this point, the course wasn’t even ready yet. I then measured the conversion rate to see if it was an offer that people wanted. I wanted to gauge the potential market size of my product. If it didn’t fly and I thought it wasn’t worth it – I would just refund all the payments that were made and recognized my losses (Facebook ad budget and some time). Lucky for me, the course flew and I proceeded to create my own course.
3. Create Your Course Content
Now, it’s time to create your course content. This is the hardest part, the “make or break” point in your journey. Be sure to budget at least a month or two to do so. Make sure you manage your customers’ expectations, especially if you’re pre-launching your course. You don’t want to deliver something half baked.
What Is A Course Made Of?
Most online courses are just a sequence of videos. You can even have images, sound bites (really helpful if you’re teaching a foreign language), and PDFs (summaries which the user can download). To make things interesting, you can also add in quizzes and exam modules.
In these videos, you’ll explain the subject you’re teaching in a detailed step-by-step manner. It can be talking to the viewer from in front of a camera, or you can record and share your computer screen and talk over your actions. Again, you’ll need some recording equipment for this, but a budget mirrorless DSLR such as the Sony a6000 and a USB microphone would more than suffice in terms of quality.
So How Do I Make My Course Curriculum?
First, you need to figure out the general outline of how the course will progress. This involves creating a syllabus or course curriculum.
I highly suggest working backwards. Start from the end (the goal you promised and want your students to achieve) and then work backwards from there. Keep going back until you naturally reach a starting position.
Now, divide the course curriculum into modules and lessons.
Divide the curriculum into modules first and then divide the modules into lessons. You can also think of it as small steps and then big milestones.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself while making these steps:
Once you’ve got an idea what to make, you can begin production for your course. It helps to have set production days scheduled ahead of time, where you allocate certain days to churn out course content.
Depending on the length of your course, this can be a painstaking process that takes a month or two to complete, as you would not only have to record the content, but edit it to include smooth transitions, text overlays, and intro/outros. This process should not be rushed as you want to produce high quality content to command a premium price for your course.
4. Host Your Course Online
I strongly recommend self-hosting your course instead of going to a course marketplace, as you wouldn’t be competing on pricing as much and gain much more control on your content.
When it comes to self-hosting, there are two main options for you to consider:
1. WORDPRESS + TEACHABLE / THINKIFIC
In this option, you create your own website where you have complete autonomy on the look and feel of your blog, testimonials and any other content you produce. You would also have a sales page in your site, which will link to your course platform of choice (Thinkific or Teachable) where your course is hosted.
Since you have your own website, this option allows you to customize and implement any strategy as you see fit for your website, like driving paid ads, creating your own funnels, implementing SEO strategies.
This option can be a little challenging if you have no web design experience whatsoever, but it has the advantage of unlimited customization and much cheaper subscription fees compared to ClickFunnels.
Utilizing different platforms for hosting your website and course also means that each of those platforms have superior functionality; WordPress is built for great website design and SEO, whereas Teachable/Thinkific offers a clean and reliable experience for consuming courses.
ClickFunnels is one of the best tools out there for creating marketing funnels, it’s an end-to-end solution to host everything you need for your course, which means that the landing page, funnel, and course content is all accessible in the same software.
If you lack web design expertise and don’t want to spend time creating your own funnels, this would be the better option for you, as ClickFunnels dumbs down the funnel-creation process to make it extremely simple.
The downside here is that since ClickFunnels covers everything, it’s a jack of all trades and master of none. For website design, ClickFunnels offer only limited customization, and I’ve personally found it harder to implement SEO strategies with a site built on ClickFunnels.
As for accessing the course content, I’ve also found ClickFunnels’ interface inferior to purpose-built course platforms such as Teachable/Thinkific.
ClickFunnels is also costlier compared to the WordPress + Teachable/Thinkific combo. However, it can be worth its price if you really want to spend more time on creating your course instead of building your site.
There’s no right or wrong option here, and your decision boils down to which option offers a better fit for your needs. If you’re strapped for cash and don’t mind spending some time to design your site, I recommend going for WordPress and hosting your course on Teachable/Thinkific.
If you’re already too caught up in producing the course content and don’t want to worry about website design or creating funnels, ClickFunnels can save you a lot of time if you’re okay with the lack of customization and a more generic user-experience.
After you’ve got your website and course up and ready, it’s time to move on to promoting your course.
5. Promote Your Course
Let me preface this by saying this is the hardest and most critical part of selling online courses.
Marketing plays a huge role in the success of your course, and without a proper strategy, nobody will discover your course even if it has the world’s best content.
There are a couple of ways that you can get the word out for your course, namely paid ads, SEO or utilizing affiliates.
Marketing Channels to Promote Your Course:
1. PAID ADS (Facebook, Instagram)
This is by far the easiest and fastest way to get traffic to your course. However, do keep in mind that paid ads only offer short term results, and you can’t rely on paid ads indefinitely.
Paid ads can also be a great way to get traffic to your pilot course, where you can drive paid traffic to your webinar or early bird offer before releasing the full course.
2. AFFILIATE MARKETING
Affiliate marketing is one of the most robust ways to promote your cost, but be prepared to sacrifice a chunk of your revenue to pay your affiliates.
If you’re not familiar with affiliate marketing, you essentially offer other people with traffic to promote your course, and pay them a cut for every sale they refer. The upside here is that you don’t have to fork up any upfront costs, but this usually entails paying out a relatively huge cut of your revenue to entice affiliates.
3. PARTNERSHIPS & GUEST POSTS
Blogging is a great way of building an online presence, even if you don’t actually have a blog yourself.
Reach out to popular blogs in your niche and offer to write them guest posts, where you can access their audience base to promote your course down the line.
If an established brand trusts you enough to let you post on their website, it can be a huge boost in your credibility, which would help immensely with promoting your course.
Every online business could benefit from some basic SEO, and it certainly applies when selling online courses. All you need to do at the beginning is to ensure that you include relevant keywords throughout your website, and try to get as many backlinks as possible back to your website.
SEO can be a great way to get traffic passively over the long run, as being ranked highly for the main keywords in your niche means that you get free traffic going to your website.
While SEO can seem time consuming and tedious at the beginning, it’s by far the only marketing channel that you truly own as you’re not relying on affiliates or paid ads, and I highly recommend you double down on your SEO from the beginning.
6. Scale Up Sales with Funnels
Having a marketing funnel is by far the lowest hanging fruit to increase revenue for your online course once you’ve got the basics down.
Depending on the source of your traffic, most leads to your website or landing page might be cold, which then results in a poor conversion rate.
The best way to warm up those cold leads is to offer them free bonuses in exchange for their email addresses, where you can then keep in touch with them and keep your name in their minds.
There are several ways you can entice your site visitors to give you their email addresses. Here are a few:
There are plenty of tools available to help you design landing pages and check-in forms like Thrive themes on WordPress or ClickFunnels.
Once you’ve got these leads, you should further nurture to turn them into paying customers.
This includes separating the leads according to what action they took on the website and then figuring out different promotional channels for them.
Depending on the stage of the sales funnel the audience is in, you can also send them different emails. If you want to send them personalized emails, you can use software like MailChimp which lets you mass email prospects.
A proper sales funnel, be it the one you build on WordPress or ClickFunnels, gives you an invaluable birds eye view on your entire marketing funnel. With that, you can figure out how leads interact with your website and how many of them turn into customers, and proceed with conversion rate optimization.
Through this, you can find out why some leads convert and some don’t. This data will tighten up your sales funnel and increase your conversion rates and revenue significantly.
Final Tips for Selling Online Courses
While selling your online course itself is pretty passive once you get everything set up, there are a few things that you’d need to be proactive to truly sustain your course over the long run.
Stay constantly up-to-date with the latest developments in the niche to maintain your credibility. This can also be your opportunity to establish yourself above the known figures in your niche if you can get the first jump on such news before everyone else starts talking about it.
For example, if you’re in the fitness industry, new exercise regimens and diets come up all the time. It’s up to you to debunk or propagate them to your audience.
Consider updating certain segments in your course with up-to-date information if you think it will be helpful to your potential students, as a course made years ago does not inspire confidence to someone who’s considering to sign up.
You also need to be proactive to gather testimonials from your students. Make it an effort to check up on your students regularly to gather feedback from your course, and ask them if they would be comfortable with giving a testimonial if possible. Testimonials play a huge role in attracting newcomers and quenching any doubts they might have.
As long as you’ve implemented the strategies outlined above, I believe anyone can be a great shot at selling online courses successfully. I stand by selling online courses to be one of the most reliable and profitable ways to make a living online.
Wrapping It Up
Phew! It appears that we’ve reached the end of this guide. Trust me, writing this was not easy! And I am pretty sure most people who started reading this guide, quit even before covering the first section.
I’m also sure that many of you scrolled down to the bottom to see how long this guide is and are now reading this line.
Good for you, bud! I wholeheartedly suggest that you find time to read the whole thing if you’re stuck, wondering what should be your first online business.
This isn’t a guide that you read once and forget about it. This is something you have to bookmark and come back to whenever help is needed.
To those of you who read the whole thing, I can say that taking massive action is the only way forward.
While all of the business ideas are plausible and profitable, the best way to maximize your income would be to combine 1, 2, or 3 of these together.
Sounds too intimidating? Don’t worry; you’re not the only one.
I too was in the same boat once and the breakthrough I was looking for all along came when the realization hit me that everything better exists out of our comfort zone. Of course, try not to overreach and make yourself a master of none, nail one thing and expand your business.
So, don’t be afraid. Take that one small step now and you’ll be surprised where you’ll find yourself six months or one year later. Remember, I’m rooting for you!
I’m always here to answer your questions, clear doubts and hear your criticism. Feel free to leave me a comment below.