Starting a successful online business can be extremely challenging. There are several elements that should be considered:
- What niche are you going to target?
- Is there a viable audience for your content?
- How are you going to build your product?
- How are you going to market your message and value proposition?
In addition, you have to think about the content platforms that will help you grow.
I always dreamt of building my own online content business. I vaguely knew there was an opportunity in the online content space. I later found out that there are 30.7 million bloggers in the United States alone.
In early 2017, the restaurant I was working at burned to the ground, and I was off and running after purchasing a domain and hosting it through Wix.com.
I was able to get six writers to help me produce content and shortly after launch — I thought my team and I were in business.
Of course, reality crawled upon us once we realized no one was actually reading the content and engaging with what we had to offer. This was my moment of clarity that in order to build an online content business, you needed more than the proverbial,
"Build it and they will come"
Contrary to popular belief (perhaps we can thank the "Gurus" on Instagram for this) building a sustainable, successful, and scalable online business, optimal strategy, knowledge, and skills are needed.
To help you get started, here's an overview of how I would set up a successful online content business — if I had to do it over again.
1. Pick your niche
I know, I know — even the aforementioned "gurus" talk about the importance of selecting your niche.
When I started out, I wrote what was on my mind. This is a common tactic aspiring online content creators do as well. It makes sense. When you're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, no one is there to tell you to target your content.
You're just looking to get your ideas in front of potential people who may gravitate towards those ideas.
There are two questions that your potential audience will ask themselves in regards to your content:
- "What's in it for me?"
- "How will this help me solve my problems?"
Now, this doesn't mean you have to abandon what you're passionate about. In fact, you can use that to your advantage. See the image below for the formula that will help you blend your passion with a problem (business opportunity) in the marketplace:
The big mistake I made was I didn't identify the "problems needing solution." The only thing I was concerned with was that thing I was passionate about.
If you're having trouble with this, it's probably because you're not thinking of your content as part of the product.
Remember that first bullet point, "what's in it for me?" All too often do amateur content creators understand that they're creating content that is helping solve a problem (coding, health & fitness, self-improvement, etc.) however, they don't write for the person viewing the content. They write for themselves.
Whenever you're creating content with your online business, you should be doing so considering how to solve your audience's problem and create the content for them — not yourself.
2. Evaluate the market
We're starting to get a little higher-level here.
Most people, when they think of blogging or content creation, they view it as a hobby.
This is a crucial mistake.
If you want to turn your online content business into a "business" you have to do research on what is happening in that market.
Really, this is a dive deeper into the right circle of image 1.1.
What is my audience looking for?
Now there are many ways to research what people are searching for. There are tools like Ubersuggest that help with SEO (which can be a reflection of what people are looking for on content platforms. But we'll get to that in a bit).
The free tool that you can use to get information on what people are searching for is Buzzsumo. Now, the free version of course doesn't give you as much as the premium version, however, we can still use it to get some results.
Image 2.1 notes the homepage of Buzzsumo.
Essentially what you can do with the tool is to search for keywords or websites and see how they are performing.
The example we have here is "keto." Keto is a highly popular and contested diet.
However, if I were planning on creating a keto blog and online content business, I would want to know what people are searching for within that context.
If we go forward and search for "keto" we will see these results (see image 2.2):
Again, we don't have too much information to go off (considering we're on the free version) but we can do some investigating of what is being engaged within this space at first glance.
Before I conducted this search, I thought the most engaging posts were going to have to do with meat, specifically red meat. Of course, we can see that the most engaging post has to do with bacon, however, the other two involve a drink and cheesecake.
This gives us clues as to what the market is looking for.
It's far better to follow the clues as to what our potential audience is looking for instead of guessing. There are tools that help us identify what our potential audience is engaging with.
3. Choose the right platform(s)
Like I mentioned earlier in the article; I bought a domain, secured hosting, and hoped for the best.
What I didn't mention is that my only marketing was on Instagram. I thought my words were so brilliant and inspiring, that my articles and IG posts would go viral.
Of course, I was wrong.
That's because there is no strategy in that. Well, perhaps there is a strategy, it's just a bad strategy.
The metaphor I like to use to help us draw a clear picture is this:
- Hosting via a website (WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, etc.): This is like putting together a small raft (your site) and heading out in the vast ocean (the internet) looking for fish to catch (an audience). You don't have the resources to catch the fish and you don't know where the fishing holes are.
On the flip side, we can go exactly where the fish are with the help of content platforms.
- Using content platforms (Quora, Linkedin, YouTube) to target audience: This is like getting a well-oiled fishing boat (depending on the platform) and fishing in a smaller but more targeted fishing spot. Why? because the content platforms already have millions of people looking for the content you're going to create!
Now comes the important question,
"What content platform should you choose when starting out?"
Most people are tempted to choose content platforms that pay you. I find this to be a crucial error.
Because if you're just starting out, chances are you haven't honed your content creation skills yet.
And that's okay. I don't want to discourage you.
That's why, broadly speaking, I would choose Quora as the first content platform to target.
Because it's a platform that contains over 300 million unique monthly users and more importantly covers a broad range of topics.
Think about it — if you're interested in producing content about keto (like we mentioned earlier) do you really think you're going to want to post content on Linkedin?
But if you wanted to do "keto" and dabble in "productivity" then you'll be able to find spaces on Quora that cover just that.
Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's also describe what Quora is to those of you who don't know. Quora is a "question or answer based platform."
Sure, unlike some other content platforms, you aren't making money right away. However, what this allows you to do is build your audience and establish credibility.
This is what I did and it helped me garner over 1.5 million views of content in my first few months, it helped me build my email list, and it helped me build credibility as a writer in my niche (see image 3.1).
That's a third of a million views in 30 days.
Views are a form of social proof.
Social proof can help increase conversions up to 15% and it helps establish:
- Customer buying decisions
You can try and build social proof starting from scratch on a content platform that requires publication support and minimum viewership time requirements, or you can go with a platform like this and test if your content is viable with an audience.
You're able to see if the content is viable through "upvotes" and views.
Now you might be asking yourself,
"Jon, isn't this article called '…if I could do it over.'? You're saying you wished you did Quora but you did and were successful. What gives?"
You're 100% right.
The thing is, I wished I would have started producing content on this site way earlier. It took me over 18 months to find the site and start producing content.
When you're going to create content, it's best to publish your content on the right content platform. Content platforms already have the eyeballs you're looking for. Make sure to target the right content platform (Quora recommended). This will allow you to reach the most amount of eyeballs the fastest.
4. Leverage your content into an email list
Everyone and their mother has written about the importance of building an email list.
So, I'm not going to go too into the specifics here. You can read about building an email list in other areas.
What I want to emphasize is to do this immediately when starting out.
You can take the traditional route of asking people to "join your newsletter" which may get some subscribers.
However, you can increase your conversions by offering a free gift in exchange for an opt-in.
This technique isn't being used just by content creators — it's being used by multinational corporations as well (see image 4.1).
Building an email list allows you to continue the conversation heading into the future.
The average reader will only read your article for 15 seconds or less. This isn't enough time to build a relationship with your reader.
When you take the conversation away from the article and over to email, the relationship can build.
The subscriber can learn more about the journey you're taking them on, and you can teach more to your subscriber.
It's a win-win relationship.
You can include opt-ins to your content within the content and in your profile bio.
Make sure you continue the relationship even after your reader has consumed your content. You do this by allowing the reader to opt-in to your email list. Here is where you'll continue to provide content and parlay the list into selling your online products.
5. Leverage the list into product sales
I've written about this more times than I can count.
Listen, I went to a Chicagoland public high school, I can't count that high…
Regardless of my math skills, when you build an email list, you have the ability to leverage the list into digital product sales.
How do you do this?
Well, ironically, we go back to square one…
Remember when I said if I could go over and build my online content business starting from scratch I wouldn't purchase a domain and host via Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, etc.?
Well at this point, I would.
That's because we have done a number of things:
- We've started producing content with a purpose.
- We're producing content that is targeted at a specific audience.
- We're producing content on a content platform.
- We're building an email list.
At this point, we can start to leverage the content on the content platform into content for our site (where we'll ultimately market and sell our products).
How do we do this?
Well, remember when I said it's important to build an email list?
There's one element that I forgot to mention. Actually, I didn't "forget" I strategically left it out so I could include it here.
Now that we have our email list, we can start redirecting that list back to our site — but with purpose.
Many people starting off in the online content space think you need website metrics to read 20, 30, or 50,000 pageviews in order to be successful.
This couldn't be further from the truth.
Many people believe that the most effective way to generate income via your own website is through advertising revenue.
Again — hogwash!
See image 5.1 for my own site's pageview analytics.
Note that my own site isn't even hitting 10,000 in a single month (though it has before).
Now, income from that same month in the form of digital product sales looked like this (see image 5.2).
Roughly speaking, I was generating $.50 from every site visitor.
Now that might not seem like a lot, however, when you're talking about thousands of site visitors, it can add up.
And you always have room to grow.
Now when you can continually provide value to your email list through content, you can leverage that into digital products. That's what you see above.
Once you have a footing with influence, credibility, and branding; you can expand that value into the creation and sale of digital products. These include ebooks and online courses. You don't need to have tens of thousands of site visitors in order to generate thousands in monthly income.
Building an online content business can be hard.
It took me years to get where I am — working full-time for myself.
It took me over one year to get my first sale, $13.50. After that, I didn't see another sale for over another year.
I know, if I could go back and do it over, I would do it differently.
I wouldn't just start creating and "hope for the best."
That's what amateurs do.
I would do it with purpose.
After building my own business over the last 5 years, I have learned a lot. I have learned what worked and what didn't. These are the things I wished I knew when I started building my business back in 2017.
When you're getting your online content business off the ground, you definitely need to think of the launch and the first year.
However, it's also important to think a bit longer term.
- How do you want this business to look in 3 years?
- In 5 years?
- In 10 years?
That's how you create real growth and real change.
If I could go back and start my online business from scratch, I would do things differently.
I would do it like this.
And so should you.
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