The 5 Essential Elements of a Successful Online Business
In Chapter 1, we talked about the different types of business models you can use to build your business online.
I told you that the Two (2) Business models we focus on here at the Starter Academy are the Content Marketing and Information Product business models - or the Content Blogger and Product Blogger business models.
It doesn't matter what kind of business model you choose, all of them require five (5) specific elements in order to be successful.
They all require:
- A Product or Service (Can be Affiliate Product - Not Yours!)
- An Audience to Sell to (Market)
- A Blog (Website) to Sell Your Product or Service
- An Automated Sales System (or Funnel) to put Sales on Autopilot
- A Way to Deliver the Product Automatically
I'm going to go through each one of these and highlight what is required for each.
These are the key elements required if you want to start and grow an online business (with or without a blog.)
With each comes its own hurdles and with some, the technique or method you use can make or break your business.
We're going to start getting to the stuff you really need to know.
Are you ready?
Let's get started.
Step 1: The Product (or Service)
Before you can start your business you need to have a Product.
The products you sell can come in multiple forms as we discussed with the Business Models in the previous section.
They can be a:
- Physical Product
- Digital Product
- Blog Content (*Yes, this can be a Product - think Content Blogger)
- Service You Provide (Advertising, Consulting, Designing, Writing, etc.)
Selecting the Product you want to sell can be one of the most difficult parts of starting any business.
Finding the right Business Idea is centered around the Product or Products you want to sell.
Finding the right Product Idea is the cornerstone of all businesses (not just Online Businesses).
Finding Your Profitable Product Idea
You can always start by simply doing a Google Search for "online business ideas" or "online product ideas".
The problem is, these Google searches won't give you the most important metric you need.
There are thousands upon thousands of product and business "ideas" out there.
The problem is, they aren't all profitable.
There are 2 Key things every Product Idea requires:
- Fit (does this product Fit You)
- Validation (can this product be profitable?)
The most important part of an online business is You.
Without you there is no business.
So when you select a Product Idea, you have to be able to run that business.
You need 2 Things in order to do this:
- Skills (some type of skill or expertise that allows you to excel in this business)
- Passion (you have to be passionate about the Product)
More importantly, your skill and passion need to come together with the Product Idea.
Without those 2 things, you are simply wasting your time.
Without some type of skill you will not have the required expertise to run the business.
This can be as simple as basic business knowledge, fitness knowledge, Tax Knowledge, etc.
But you need to know how to do something which will affect your business in a positive way.
Especially if you are going to create online courses or run a blog in a specific niche.
Then, if you don't have a true passion for the business you are entering into, you will get tired or bored with it and it won't succeed because of your lost interest.
It happens every day.
This is why you need these 2 things to succeed.
But even more, you also need:
What is Product Validation?
Validation is the process where you go through a series of checks to see if there is an audience and market for what you want to sell.
This can be done in several ways.
- Surveys (you can send out surveys to see what people want in a specific niche)
- Data Mining (you can check for interest or demand in a niche where a similar product is already being sold)
- Keyword Research (you can search using the Google Keyword tool to check for demand)
- Amazon Research (you can search Amazon and check through products and product reviews to search for specific Customer complaints, needs, wants, etc.)
- Facebook Audience Insights
Once you've used at least 2-3 of the methods above, you should have a good idea if the product idea you have has potential.
*If you are using our Content Blogger business model and Affiliate Products are your initial focus, you can validate your product and niche simply by using the Keyword Research and Facebook Audience Insights methods listed above.
That being said, there is only one true to way to Validate a Product Idea 100%.
That is by running a test.
You can use Surveys to test for potential in a market, but the best test is to actually sell your idea.
You can run ads on Facebook or do some other type of small sample testing.
It needs to be highly targeted towards your market (which we will talk about in the Audience section below) or you won't get the test results you need.
By running a test where people actually buy, you will find out the true potential of your product.
Is this "required". No, but it definitely is a good idea if you are creating something new and unique to the market you are getting into.
When you can identify a Product Idea where you have both FIT and Validation, then you have a winner.
When you go into a business venture knowing there is potential, it gives you the confidence moving forward that this is not a shot in the dark.
Now you know you have a business that has the potential to make you money.
Now its time to put the rest of the pieces together.
When you can identify a Product Idea where you have both FIT and Validation, then you will have found a winner. #productidea #fit #validation
Finding Long Term Product Profitability
I said above that you need to have Fit and Validation to find a successful Product Idea (and that's true).
What you also have to consider is Product Profitability.
In the Online Business Models section, we talked a little about this.
The amount of profit that can be made is different from one product to the next.
Each business model has its Pros and Cons and products are no different.
Some products you create might be extremely profitable and some may not.
The other caveat to this is some products you sell might only be profitable for a short period of time, while others may sell for a long time.
These are the types of things you need to think about when building your online business.
Long Term Profits vs. Short Term Profits.
Both are ok, but they also need to be expected.
More importantly, you need to have a plan for each.
None of this matters if you don't have an Audience who wants or needs your product.
Without knowing that a market exists with a large amount of potential customers, all this work can be for nothing.
Let me show you.
Step 2: The Audience
I know this says "Step 2", but as we already discussed above, you shouldn't develop a product unless you have product FIT and Validation.
As with all the other "Essential Elements", they all compliment each other.
You can't have one without the other.
And the validation part requires an Audience.
I mean, let's face it, without people to sell to who actually want what you're selling; everything else is a waste of time.
By doing proper research before we ever even think about starting a blog or building a website, we can have a pretty good idea if our product will sell or not.
Sometimes identifying a market and an audience to sell to is easy.
You can find cracks in existing markets all the time simply by being involved in community sites, forums, Facebook Groups, etc.
We've all had that lightbulb moment when we say, holy shit, that would be a great idea!
Product A has this, and Product B has that, but neither have THAT!
When you find THAT, moving into a market can be really easy.
Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often.
The essential element part of this is you need to know if there are people who are actually interested in what you are offering.
Are there thousands or millions of raving fans out there who want what you are going to offer?
This is why we develop an Audience.
The process of developing your Audience starts before you begin your Business and it never ends.
There are 2 Steps I follow in this process.
They begin here.
Step 1: The Customer Avatar
A Customer Avatar is essentially a customer profile.
By researching interest in a market, you can come up with some basic data which will tell you who the perfect customer is for your niche blog and/ or product before you start.
I like to use Facebook Audience Insights, Google Trends, and Amazon.com to find the basic information I need to find my perfect Customer.
Here's my short list of criteria:
- Is my perfect Customer Male, Female, or both?
- What age is my perfect Customer?
- What are their current needs and how will my product take care of them?
- What is their pain and how will my product solve that pain?
- What are their goals?
- What current obstacles are keeping them from getting what they want and need now?
- What are the interests, hobbies, and websites my perfect customer has/ visits?
If you are developing a new blog or product, you should be able to answer at least some of these questions initially without any research.
You can run surveys in Facebook Ads to audience interests which meet the criteria you set here to fine tune your Customer Avatar, but in the beginning I am always concerned with one very important detail.
How many people meet the criteria which match my perfect Customer Avatar?
Using Facebook Audience Insights, I use the 500K benchmark.
If there are at least 500,000 people who meet the basic criteria I've found, then the product has a potential market.
I then use the Google Adwords Keyword Planner to find highly defined interest in what my product provides.
If there are over 1000 searches each month in Google for my base product keyword, then it has potential.
If there are more keywords which add up to 10K or more, I get into product development mode.
This is a baseline.
It shows you potential.
Nothing is ever guaranteed.
Its a hell of a good way to start though.
Developing your Audience doesn't stop here though.
This is only Step 1.
Step 2: The Buyer Persona
If you have been around this game, you might be saying, "but Mike, Buyer Personas are just another way of saying Customer Avatar."
In some circles yes, but I consider a Customer Avatar to be your starting point and your Buyer Persona to be your end point.
Hear me out on this.
When you start out a new business and develop your Customer Avatar, its unproven.
If you research it right you can get pretty close, but the first Customer Avatar you create tends to be general and it might represent your site visitors and customers pretty well...
But you want it to speak like your Customer.
Preferably like one of your actual Paying Customers.
In other words - a Buyer.
When you start your business, you use your Customer Avatars to target the people you think will buy from you (based on the criteria we talked about above).
Once you actually start running your business and start building a list of Customers who have purchased from you, you can survey them and/ or use other passive profiling techniques to identify exactly who your Buyers are.
Once you do this you will be able to fine tune your marketing to the point where you will double and even triple the effectiveness of everything you do.
In other words - you will sell a heck of a lot more.
Remember, the key thing here is that with both Customer Avatars and Buyer Personas, you will never have just one (unless you are working in a very, very narrow niche.)
Some businesses have 3, 4 and even 10-12 Buyer Personas they develop and market to individually.
This takes time of course and isn't where you need to start.
When you start, identifying the key Avatars and Personas who want and need what you are selling will help you have focus in everything you do and ultimately will help you sell a lot more than you will without.
When you know who your customer is, then you know how to talk to them and more importantly, sell to them.
Do you talk to everyone you know the same way?
Or are there those friends or family you have to make sure you talk to one way and friends and family you talk to another?
Think about it.
Targeting in Marketing all starts with knowing exactly who your Audience is.
Being able to Target those who want what you are selling is crucial to your success.
So before you start your online business, do the research that will tell you not just if there is an audience for the niche you want to be in and products you want to sell, but if these people are also looking to buy.
Of course, we can't get them to buy anything if we don't have a place to sell our products.
That's where your blog (website) comes in.
Step 3: The Blog (Website)
Once you have identified your Niche, Product Idea, and the Audience that goes with them; its time to start building your Blog (website).
Your Blog is the hub for everything you do.
It is where you Presell, Sell, and in most cases; Deliver your products.
Here at the Starter Academy we use WordPress to build all our websites.
It is the single best tool available online for building anything you want to build.
It is also the most Beginner friendly website building tool you will find that gives you both the ability to start a small blog and turn it into a huge web business.
And its Free.
Beyond this, what makes this Blog/ Website building tool so popular online is its ability to do almost anything and provide a huge array of plugins and themes to add the functionality you need exactly where you need it.
The only thing you need to run a Blog with WordPress is website hosting.
Your website host runs the software that powers your site and a lot of people starting out get this wrong.
Think of it this way, you wouldn't want to run Windows 95 on your new computer right?
Your computer would run like crap.
You want the latest and greatest version of Windows on your computer so it runs fast without any issues.
The website host you choose has the same exact effect on how your website runs.
Pick a crappy host, your website will run like crap.
Pick a good host and you never even think about it.
That's why I recommend using SiteGround Hosting when starting out.
Great hosting you don't have to think about.
Content and Marketing
The best part of WordPress is the ability to section off your Content and Marketing strategies using Pages and Posts.
Pages are your permanent content (Home Page, About, Contact, Sales Pages, Landing Pages, Etc.)
Posts are your blog content.
The "Pre-Sell" Content that pushes your site visitors into your Automated Sales System.
In the Starter Academy we show our students how to turn every piece of content they create on their blog into a part of this system.
This is why our users never have to "think" about what to post on their blog.
They already know because of their Content Plan (Next Chapter).
It all starts here with your Blog.
The Content and Marketing Engine that powers traffic, leads (Subscribers), and Sales.
It all starts here and it powers your....
Step 4: Automated Sales System
It doesn't matter if you are on vacation, out to dinner with family and friends, or just sleeping at home at night; its nice to know that anyone can visit your site, become a subscriber, and buy your products at any time (day or night).
A complete hands off business is what we dream about right?
That is what an Automated Sales System does for you.
It puts your profits on autopilot 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
With the Two (2) Business Models we highlight here at the Starter Academy, this process requires just a few things.
- Traffic to our Blog Posts
- Turning Visitors into Subscribers (Leads)
- Using Email Series to Develop Relationships and Trust, then Pre-sell and Sell Products
- Using Sales Funnels (multiple Sales pages) to sell Affiliate or our own products
- Providing a safe and secure Checkout experience for our Buyers (if selling our own products)
- Delivering the product
- Providing post sale support and community.
Our Automated Sales Systems Systems start with:
Blog Post Content
Every Blog Post we create focuses on one of Four (4) things.
- Promoting a Lead Magnet or Landing Page (to get Subscribers)
- To Push Visitors to Specific Products or Pillar Content Posts
- Increase Social Media Traffic
- Give our Subscribers Content they are asking for
This allows us to create a content plan which is always focused and has a purpose (and is easy to plan).
Having a Flexible and Capable Email Marketing Tool
There are Two (2) parts to getting Subscribers on your blog.
Collecting Subscribers through Landing Pages and Optin Forms and managing and sending emails to those Subscribers as a part of your system.
These tools give us the ability to collect Subscribers on our Blog and send emails to to them when they take specific actions inside our Automated Sales System.
We setup specific email series for each Lead Magnet, Landing Page, and Sales Page we create.
When a Subscriber take a specific action or doesn't take any action at all; they get a very specific email which pushes them further into the sales funnel until they ultimately leave or buy.
I will go into detail on how we do this in the Next Chapter.
Having Simple, Yet Effective Sales Funnels
Sales Funnels are nothing more than a series of pages which lead your site visitors down a path which ultimately sells your products (affiliate or your own).
Sales funnels can be extremely complex and diverse and include actions and reactions, upsells, downsells, and cross-sells.
With our Automated Sales System, we integrate our email marketing system into this process, so we can follow up with emails which focus on where each Subscriber is in the Sales Funnel process.
Part of this is also having a safe and secure Checkout experience (if you are selling your own products) and then delivering the product to your Customer after the sale is complete.
Delivery of your products might seem like its the easiest part of the process.
It can be, but unfortunately that is not always the case.
Let's take a look.
Step 5: Delivery
When you sell a product, the next thing you need to worry about is delivering it to your customer.
If you are selling other people's products (Affiliate) then this isn't an issue.
When it's your product, it is a major issue.
The Customer Experience is important and bad delivery can result in instant Refund requests and lost business.
Methods of delivering digital products and services require solid integration with the payment system (Checkout) you are using and your website or product delivery service.
Here at the Starter Academy, we deliver products either through specific Landing Pages (for single product downloads) or through the Starter Academy Member Area we created here on our site with WordPress.
*We use the Wishlist Member Membership Plugin for delivering our tutorial video content and courses; not to mention most of our downloads.
There are numerous tools that can be used for delivery.
The important part is that it works seamlessly and is easy and friction-less for the Customer.
When your Customer is happy, you won't just make money for the sale, you might be able to sell to them again and again; creating long term value and a Customer for life.
This is why Delivery is just as important as any other aspect of the process we described above.
Now its time to put all of this together into a Plan.
With a solid plan of action, we can setup and start building our blog into a business.
Are you ready?