I frequently receive emails with questions along the lines of “what’s the best way for me to start earning money online?” or “I’ve been trying my hand at Internet Marketing for months/years but haven’t made a cent. What should I do to change that?” or “how can I start a successful online business/make my online business more successful?”.
I always find it quite difficult to answer these questions, because there is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer. In this post, I want to give answers that cover as many bases as possible.
If you’re on square one or feel stuck with your online marketing ventures, here’s everything you need to know to get started in the right direction.
If you don’t relate to the phrase “make money online”, because you own a business or want to build a business, feel free to skip down to the next video. If, however, you somehow found your way here from the “Internet Marketing”, “Make Money Online”, “Get Rich Quick” type of angle, please watch the video below:
This video contains the most important message on this page and perhaps on this entire blog. This is what you need to know if you want to build a successful online business.
If you have a specific business idea along the lines of: “I want to sell the best blue widgets through an online store!” or “I’m creating this awesome online service for blue widget owners!”, then you will have to focus on branding, awesome customer service and utilizing some of the methods outlined below to get more customers.
If, on the other hand, you don’t have such an idea, if there isn’t something like an “invention” at the start of your business, your focus can be entirely set on one of the methods listed below. In many cases, you will be able to use a specific online marketing skill to work together with people who have an “invention”-based business and offer them services.
There is no “best” way or method to start earning online. There’s no absolutely superior business model and there is no “easiest” way to get started. Instead, there are many ways and many things you can do to build a business around. And that’s a good thing, because it means you can find something that suits your personality and your interests.
I believe there are two factors that need to be in place for your business venture to succeed:
Quite simply: find something that’s already working for someone and that you like doing. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of options available to aspiring online marketers (the list is sorted alphabetically and doesn’t reflect any preference or hierarchy):
Technically, anyone making affiliate commissions is an affiliate marketer, but the term is most commonly used to describe someone who is sending paid traffic from various sources to CPA and lead-gen offers. There are many advertising networks such as Neverblue, Copeac or EWA, that you can quite easily join as an individual and that have many offers in many different niches that you can start promoting right away.
Essentially, affiliate marketing is about traffic arbitrage. You get traffic in whichever way possible, from whatever sources you can get your hands on and you make sure that the traffic is costing you less than the payouts at the end of the offer are bringing back in. The reason this is typically done with paid traffic sources such as facebook ads, banner ads and popover/popunder ads is that many CPA offers are seasonal or depend on trends. Paid traffic sources give the affiliate the flexibility to react quickly.
Tracking, testing, tweaking and more testing on your campaigns is crucial to successful affiliate marketing. Find the perfect traffic source matching the target demographic of your offer, then test and tweak until you have a winner.
Start with one traffic source and one type of offer. Buy traffic on a small scale and test (different offers, different landing pages) from the very beginning. Be prepared to lose some money before you start making money consistently.
Successful blogging hinges on creating highly remarkable content and building a strong community. The same is true if you intend to build a true authority site. Good, original content is not good enough. You need to have a unique voice and you need to brand yourself or your site.
As a blogger, you also need to be a social marketer to some extent, reaching out to your readers on twitter, facebook and perhaps further channels. Most bloggers end up also selling some type of product or service and many authority sites are monetized with display ads and affiliate offers.
Create a blog, start writing. If you’re new to it, it will be more about finding your USP in the first place. Guest-blog, reach out to other bloggers, always strive to be as useful and unique as possible and let people know about it.
There’s always demand for good online content and offering a content-writing service is a fairly easy way to start generating some income. The challenge is to scale it upwards. It is possible to scale such a business, of course, as several million-dollar content providing services attest to.
If you have a more-than-basic understanding of Google and can create content that’s optimized beyond “we repeat your keyword a lot”, you could establish yourself as a premium source and set yourself apart from the competition.
Get started, write a lot, offer your services on online marketing forums to begin with and keep the end game in mind: how are you going to scale the business up?
There are many great split-testing tools available, but not as many people who actually know how to use them properly. Conversion rate optimization is complex, as soon as it’s taken beyond “test different headlines”, but it also has the potential to make a huge difference for an online business.
With a good understanding of marketing psychology and knowledge of as many successful and unsuccessful split-testing case-studies as you can get your hands on, you can start building your own expertise through simple trial and error.
Build up experience and skills by running some test of your own, on any traffic you can get your hands on. Buy some traffic or offer your service for free to anyone who’ll take it. Once you have a few successful case-studies under your belt, start charging for your service.
If you can write copy that makes sales, you’ll be very popular. Copywriting is a very complex art and science and everyone who sells anything needs good copy. Also: most people hate writing sales-copy.
There are many underlying principles to copywriting and even more possible applications, ranging from writing product-descriptions for e-commerce stores to creating all of the content for an online service provider. While the skills necessary to be a good copywriter aren’t easy to acquire, putting in the necessary work can put you in a great position. You’ll be able to offer a service that makes people more money than it costs them to hire you. This is a great position to be in.
Write a lot, challenge yourself to write sales-copy every day, learn about marketing psychology and do a lot of split-testing to figure out what works best. Offer your services for free, to start out with and to get your name out.
There are two aspects to email marketing. The first is list building a.k.a. getting people onto your mailing list and wanting to receive emails from you. The second is sending out emails that people actually pay attention to.
From my personal experience I can say that the vast majority of businesses have no idea what they’re doing with their email marketing. There is clearly not an abundance of email marketing experts around. Since follow-up marketing can be insanely profitable, there’s a lot of potential here. Teach yourself effective email marketing (through lots of trial and error) and you’ll be in a position to transform someone’s online business. Or you can just run your own mailing list(s).
Do a lot of email marketing. Build lists in several niches (using paid traffic sources) and split-test different landing pages and follow-up sequences from the get-go.
Selling your own information products can make for a very lucrative online business. A business that encompasses many of the methods and elements discussed here, such as email marketing, SEO, video marketing and more.
Be aware that not every niche is suitable for information products. You need to find a niche that’s suitable to you personally and where there are willing buyers spending money on information products already. A lot of your success with info marketing hinges on starting with the right idea. Also make sure that you understand the basics of online product delivery and memberships, as well as follow-up marketing. Whether you build many small info-products or one single product or membership that you continually grow or promote is up to you. Both methods can be lucrative.
Here’s an article with more information on what kinds of digital products to sell online.
Do market research and start with a small, simple, free product that you give away in exchange for email-addresses and permission to follow up. Use such small products to test the waters and when you strike an area of great demand, build a larger product, expand your marketing and take it from there. Make sure you have a winning product idea before you invest a lot into creating and marketing the product.
Online media buys (= banner ads, in most cases) can be incredibly fruitful traffic sources, if you know how to utilize them. A key to making them work is to understand the demographic of the people visiting the sites you are advertising on and the demographics of the people most likely to buy your offer.
You can either monetize your media buys directly, via affiliate, CPA or lead-gen offers, or build a media buying service for online businesses.
Use affiliate/CPA offers to monetize and buy on a small scale. Maybe reach out to individual, small to medium sized sites and make advertising deals with them. Start with low spending and small traffic and scale up once you’ve found a combination that works.
More and more people are accessing the web through a variety of mobile devices. On the one hand, many businesses could use some help with mobile-optimization for their sites and on the other hand, there’s a whole world of mobile advertising and mobile follow-up that lacks real experts, because it’s all so new. New territory = big opportunity for pioneers (along with big risks, of course).
Of all the methods listed here, mobile marketing is the one I know least about myself, but it’s clear that many opportunities await.
Find someone who knows way more about mobile marketing than me and ask them about it.
A very popular and well known form of online marketing that goes something like this: find good, profitable keywords, build sites optimized for those keywords, get them ranked in Google and monetize them with contextual ads, affiliate offers or anything else you can think of.
To make this work, you need a very good understanding of keyword research as well as some expertise in search engine optimization. Many aspects like split-testing, understanding market psychology and even site speed optimization can be important, but they take a back seat to finding the right keywords and being able to get pages ranked for them.
Learn about keyword research, then pick keywords and start building and promoting a site. Trial-and-error your way to expertise. The great thing about this is that everything required to build and promote niche sites can be done for free or almost free.
What’s often called “offline marketing” is actually online marketing consulting for small businesses. You work together with a business owner and help them search engine optimize their sites, help them get better conversions, show them how to follow up with their customers, start, run and tweak marketing campaigns with them etc.
There’s still a big demand for this kind of service as many business owners are clueless about online marketing and a good consultant can be the best thing that’s ever happend to their business. Plus, since there was an “offline marketing is easy” fad in IM not too long ago, there are probably a lot of incompetent amateurs shilling their services. Build some real skills and you can easily establish yourself as a company that stands out from the rabble.
Do some online marketing of your own, first. Build some niche sites, build a mailing list or two, read some books and trial-and-error yourself some experience. Then, offer your service (maybe for free, to being with) and focus on delivering actual results and offering a fantastic customer experience. Make sure your primary motiviation is to help people grow their business.
Most people don’t like building links, which is why link-building services are so popular. The same can be said for other, “deeper” aspects of SEO, such as on-page, on-site and speed optimization. The latter belong mostly into the category of “consulting” above, but even with a backlinking service along, you can build a highly profitable business.
There’s a large range going from “tons of very cheap crap-links” to “a few super-backlinks that cost you an arm and a leg” and services all along this range seem to be prospering. You could do anything from to running some link building tools 24/7 on a VPS to build links for your customers all the way to building your own network of high-quality, aged, PageRank websites to sell individual links from. Chances are, you’ll find eager customers, provided you offer a good service.
Start small, with a simple link-building service and scale it up with automation tools, outsourcing or your own network. Offer your service on IM forums, to find your first customers.
Disclaimer: I am the opposite of a social media expert. Nonetheless, I know that such a thing as social media experts exist and it’s clear to see that for some businesses, social media is a big deal.
As with many examples here, you can build your own business around social media, or you can offer services to business owners. With social media, it’s all about building a brand that people like to identify with and creating buzz by giving your followers things to talk about and share. One of the reasons I’m not a social media expert is because doing this right demands a significant time investment. Business owners may not be able to make that investment themselves, so there’s demand for people who could do it for them.
Despite the “soft-skill” nature of social media, don’t neglect the importance of testing and analysis in this field. Even a social media marketer is a performance marketer.
Create twitter, facebook, linkedin and whaterver else there is accounts and trial-and-error yourself to some proficiency with social media marketing. Beyond that, find someone who knows more about this topic than me and take/test their advice.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, online video is becoming increasingly important. Videos are useful marketing tools all along a funnel: they can help you build a brand, get more exposure and get more traffic, they can help you engage users on your website, educate them about your brand or business or product, they can be used as sales-videos to turn visitors into customers and they can be part of your support, in the form of tutorial videos.
You can build a whole business of your own, based on videos, or you can offer a valuable service to businesses, by offering video creation for them and/or by offering to help them out with the technical aspects of setting up video delivery and analytics. As with email marketing, there’s a lot of potential in the field of online video marketing, because it’s new and not many experts exist. Not many businesses are split-testing conversion-videos and properly utilizing video-analytics, because those things are complicated and time-consuming. They’re also potentially very profitable.
Make loads of videos and put them on YouTube. Test different video elements (e.g. opening, call to action etc.) to see what gets the highest engagement, the highest click-through rates and the best viewer-engagement. Build your expertise with your own videos and once you’re proficient, start approaching business owners.
You are fortunate to be alive now and to be part of the world’s population that has Internet access in some way or another. While it’s not easy to create a successful online business, it’s also not nearly as hard as it could be. The great thing about online business is that with all of the examples above, you can get started by investing mostly time and keep spending to a minimum.
You can get all of this started with a minimum of risk and almost no start-up capital necessary. You can buy a domain for less than $10, get hosting for less than $10/month and start building a website or a blog using only free resources. You can do all of your SEO and link-building manually, to get started with. You can use free screen recording software and the webcam on your notebook, start making videos and generate traffic from YouTube. You can use a free HTML editor to create simple landing pages, start off with small amounts of paid traffic and run split-tests using free software. You can get in touch with small businesses of all sorts and offer to write sales-copy for them, create videos for them, run split-tests for them or provide any number of other services for them, for free, just to gain experience and many will be glad to take you up on that offer.
And even starting with so little and with no formal business experience, it’s not unlikely to start earning some income within a few months and maybe even generate a full-time income within a year.
If you have that entrepreneurial spark and you are not afraid to challenge yourself, to see how far you can go and how much effort you can make in the face of (inevitable) adversity, now is the best time to get started.
That was a lot of text. Congratulations for making it this far. Here are the two things you need to remember:
All the best,
I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better marketer and product creator. Read more about my story here.