With strict social distancing measures still in place throughout the U.S., and with so many industries taking a hit during the pandemic, many Americans are considering the next steps in their careers. For those with a special skill set, from baking to a background in SEO best practices, "there is no better time to start an online business than right now," says online marketing and business expert Amy Porterfield.
"Right now, people's minds are opened up around learning something new online," says Porterfield, both because many people don't have the option of leaving the house and because "we all have more time."
An online business is any business where services are exchanged on the internet. A fitness trainer might do Zoom training sessions with their clients, for example, or an artist might offer Facebook Live courses teaching various arts and crafts.
Porterfield coaches her clients about how to start online businesses. Some of them have had great success.
Mother of three Danira Cancinos took Porterfield's webinars and built an online course teaching businesses and hobbyists how to make, package, and sell perfect caramel apples. "People struggle with making caramel apples in the baking industry," says Cancinos. "You have to really scrub your apples before dipping in caramel. Sometimes the caramel just falls off the apple."
The course consists of nine, hour-long sessions streamed on Facebook Live over a three-week period. She taught the course twice in 2019, to 633 students, and grossed $126,400.
Here are five tips from Porterfield for starting a successful online business.
When considering a potential business, Porterfield says to start by thinking "about something that you've got a 10% edge on." Is there something you've accomplished or created, maybe a diet plan or a social media strategy, that people are curious about? "That's a really good sign that people would pay for something like that," she says.
You don't have to be the best, or even an expert, she says. "You just need to be able to teach others to reach the same results as you!" Results are key, she says. People pay for results.
Make the most out of whatever skill or talent you're considering. "One-on-one coaching is an effective online business," for example, says Porterfield, "but it maxes out with the number of hours you have available in a day."
When conceiving of your business, consider how to best capitalize on what you're offering. Say you're teaching a live online course. Is it one that multiple people can take at a time? Can you create content for a blog or record a podcast that people can access long-term that can then help grow your audience base even after you've published the content?
"The goal is to have a business that can be built beyond the trading 'time for money' arrangement," says Porterfield, "and into something that can be both passive and scalable."
"It's also important to remember that you can't be on every channel at once," says Porterfied. Using a single platform lets your audience know what to expect and helps build their loyalty. "Pick an outlet, be it a podcast, blog, or YouTube channel and stick with it, rather than trying to put a little bit of content in each format."
Video by David Fang
Customer relationship management (CRM) technology helps you manage and keep tabs on your interactions with customers and potential customers. It can help you see who your customers are, how they're using your content, and how many sales you've made.
Knowing your audience helps you create content that resonates with them. It helps you keep them engaged and excited about your business, says Porterfield. Plus, she adds, once you know who your audience is, you can start figuring out how to market to new audiences your product could resonate with, too.
Salesforce and HubSpot are two popular CRM systems.
"An effective website and CRM system that you're comfortable with is essential," says Porterfield. "It doesn't have to be fancy, but there has to be some sort of base for your business that your marketing can point to."
There is a tremendous amount of content on various platforms that can help you build a successful online business by expanding your knowledge base and honing your sales skills. It can teach you key steps like how to write your business strategy, research competitors, and build a marketing plan that resonates with your target audience. Porterfield recommends books like "DotCom Secrets" by Russell Brunson or "Building a Storybrand" by Donald Miller, podcasts like Entrepreneurs on Fire, StartUp, or her own, Online Marketing Made Easy, or blogs like that of SEO (search engine optimization) expert Neil Patel.
"Creating an online business can change your life," says Cancinos, who recently launched a Cookie Dealer Course and grossed another $61,000. "I love the freedom it has given me and my family. I love being able to make money while I sleep. I love being able to sell something that I already put in the work and delivered on so it generates money all on its own."
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