7 Rules for Starting an Online Business (You Can’t Afford to Break)
Do you dream of starting an online business and escaping the 9 to 5 hell that’s slowly sucking the life out of you?
Here’s an important truth to know: Starting a business online is hard.
But even though it’s a constant challenge, it’s awesome.
The freedom, flexibility, and of course, the money-making potential are all serious motivators to become your own boss.
Sounds good, right?
So, I want to give you some tips that can help you succeed, whether you’re blogging, freelancing, starting a virtual assistant business or doing something totally different online.
Note: This story may include affiliate links.
Rule #1: Know Your Value
“Know thyself” is a bit of ancient wisdom (thanks, Socrates) and it’s super helpful if you’re trying to build a business online.
Because here’s the thing: you really need to know exactly what you bring to the table.
When you don’t know your value or what makes you unique, you’re going to have a hard time selling it to other people. This is where figuring out your niche or specialty matters.
It might be proofreading, growing your following on TikTok or making handcrafted greeting cards. Figuring out what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it matters if you’re serious about starting a business online.
But what if you don’t have a clue what kind of business you want to start? Well, then you start asking questions.
- Is there something I’m really good at?
- What do I like to do?
- What am I really interested in? What do I know a lot about?
- Do I have skills that someone else would find valuable?
- Is there a specific problem I’ve been able to solve that I could help other people figure?
These questions can help you figure out what you can and should be doing online to make money.
Rule #2: Know Your Audience
Understanding what you have to offer is important for starting an online business. But there’s another side to the coin.
You also need to know who your people are. In other words:
- Who needs your help?
- Why do they need it and what are they struggling with?
- Where can you fill in a knowledge gap for them?
The sooner you can figure this out, the better. Because then you can start molding your business products or services to fit exactly what your audience needs.
So, how do you find your audience?
Well, you can just throw things out there and see what sticks. That’s one way.
The easier way to figure out who you can help and how is to just ask.
For example, if you have a blog for your business and you’ve started your email list, you can send your subscribers a quick survey. Or you can post in Facebook groups asking for feedback on the kind of products or services people need.
Getting direct answers can save you lots of time — and headaches — as you work to grow your business.
Rule #3: Get the Right Mindset
Here’s a basic truth about starting an online business: you’ve got to have your head in the game from day one.
If you don’t have the right mindset, it’s easy to get bogged down or burned out. Do you know what happens then? You give up.
Before you get too far into starting your business, really think about what you hope to get out of it.
- Set some realistic and achievable business goals. Visualize yourself reaching them.
- Create some positive affirmations. Find other online entrepreneurs who can offer motivation and encouragement.
- Stay in your lane. Distractions can steer you off course if you let them. So stay focused on what you want to do and don’t compare your successes (or failures) to others.
When you do these things, it’s much easier to stay focused and keep your mind on growing your business.
Rule #4: Give It Time
If you’re starting a business online, don’t get hypnotized by the unicorns.
Unicorns are those bloggers or online business owners who have overnight success and are making six figures within the first two months.
While that can and does happen, it’s not the norm.
The reality is that building a business online can be a slow process sometimes.
I spent a lot of time in the first year or being a full-time freelancer in the trenches making contacts, researching potential clients and pitching every day to grow my business.
It honestly felt like it was never going to happen some days.
And then, just when I was about to give up, I had a complete turnaround and my business hasn’t stopped growing since.
The other thing about time is that you get what you put in.
If you’re only working on your business an hour a day, then you can’t expect lightning-fast results.
So, look at your schedule and your daily routine.
Figure out how many hours you can work on your business each day or each week. This is the hardest part of trying to start an online business.
You’re only one person after all. And you might have a spouse, kid, pets, or an aging parent you’re taking care of. Not to mention, cleaning and cooking and finding time to care for yourself.
So really think about when you can work on your business. Then commit to showing up.
Rule #5: Never Stop Learning
I have learned so much as a freelance writer and blogger. And there’s still much that I don’t know yet. But that’s the thing about starting an online business — you never really stop learning.
When I started freelancing, I wrote about personal finance, specifically, credit and debt. That’s what I knew about and what interested me.
But the thing about personal finance is that it’s hard sometimes to come up with something new that hasn’t been said 100 times before. So I decided to branch out.
I spent time learning about real estate, investing, insurance, home buying, and small business.
When a client asked me to tackle a project I’d never done, like an ebook or a white paper, I took it on. I figured even if they told me the finished product was terrible, I’d at least learn something by writing it.
Now my client base is much more diverse, which is a good thing.
So, be on the lookout for any and every opportunity to learn.
Some of my favorite ways to do that are:
- Reading blog posts and articles online.
- Following influencers in my niche on social media.
- Spending time in Facebook groups relevant to your niche.
- Taking online courses.
- Downloading free tools I come across that look helpful.
Remember, though, that at some point you have to put the things you’re learning to work. James Clear has a great post that explains why this is so important for making progress.
Rule #6: Be Flexible
Here’s the thing about running a business online: things are always changing.
And if you want your business to keep up, you have to be able to evolve and adapt too.
You have to be open to new ideas, test your boundaries, and face challenges with confidence instead of fear. Otherwise, you may get left behind.
Rule #7: Embrace Your Screw-Ups
I cannot tell you how many things I’ve done wrong as a blogger or as a freelance writer. Like, it’s seriously an embarrassing number.
But building a business isn’t perfect, any more than being a mom is perfect.
You will get things wrong.
You will embarrass yourself.
And you will make mistakes.
But those mistakes don’t define you. It’s how you handle them that matters.
I can’t tell you how many times I beat myself up over seemingly trivial things in the early stages of building my business.
But these days if I make a mistake, my first instinct isn’t to don a cone of shame and hang my head. Instead, I figure out what I can learn from it and move on.
When you make mistakes, don’t let yourself get in your feelings too much about it.
Take a day to wallow in your misery if you need to. Then focus on what you can do better the next time so history doesn’t repeat itself. Your business will be stronger for it.