On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited does starting your own business make you?
If you’re reading this article, then I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that you’re just about ready to take the leap and turn your expertise and passion in to a moneymaker.
And that, my friend, is definitely exciting. Heck, I’m excited for you!
You’re putting it all on the line. You’re looking forward to actually earning money from doing the thing that you’re most passionate about.
Your head is swirling with ideas. You’re up late at night, full of energy, jotting notes in a planner. You’re researching online, talking with friends and family, looking into every aspect of what it will take to make your dream a reality.
You can’t wait to start helping the world with your expertise.
Of course, with all that research and planning comes a sobering realization.
Starting a business isn’t easy.
I’m not gonna lie. As exciting as it is, a whole lot of work goes into taking that initial spark of an idea and turning it into a full-fledged business.
And if that work isn’t done right – if steps along the way are skipped over or rushed – then your dream may be over before it ever has a chance.
But listen – I’m not here to rain on your parade. In fact, just the opposite.
I’m here to be your cheerleader – and your mentor. I know what it takes to start and grow a successful online business from home.
And I’ve got you covered.
This article will walk you through the essentials step-by-step.
Whether you’re still tossing around ideas, or you know the direction you’re headed, but just aren’t sure how to get there, this guide will lead the way.
So let’s channel some of that excitement and get started, shall we?
1. Find a Need and Fill It
“To launch a business means successfully solving problems. Solving problems means listening.” – Richard Branson
If you’ve spent even 5 minutes online, you already know how full of noise the internet is.
Everywhere you click, there are online business owners fighting for the attention of potential readers, subscribers and customers.
But the old saying “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” is only going to land you squarely in the middle of Samesville, with your product just adding to the noise.
What you need to do is rise above it and stand out from the crowd.
The way to do this?
Carve out your own niche. A smaller section of the market where you are unique.
This increases demand, so that you won’t have to fight to find customers – they’ll be seeking you out.
So how do you find your niche? The first step is to listen.
Talk with people who need what you sell
Yes, I mean pick up the phone – or connect on Skype – and actually have a conversation with people. If that’s not possible, send them an email questionnaire. If even that’s not possible, ask in a relevant Facebook Group for feedback from people who have a need for the type of product or service you sell.
Or heck, best of all – collect more info by doing all three.
Ask these people to describe the problems they have and how they currently solve these problems. If they’ve purchased from any of your competitors, ask for details on the experience and areas that could be improved.
Get to know your competition
After talking with potential customers, you’ll have a better idea of who your competitors are. Keep in mind that it’s not necessarily the biggest businesses in their industry. There may be other niche competitors that you need to be aware of.
Choose 3 – 4 competitors and learn as much as you can about them.
What they sell, the type of customer they cater to, their customer service policies, their marketing strategy.
To do this, spend time not only on their website, but also on their social media accounts. Do a Google search for their company name and owners/employees, visit their company forum or Facebook Group and look for mentions of them in industry publications.
As you compare the similarities and differences between your competitors, look for areas that could be improved, as well as areas they’re excelling in. Believe it or not, sometimes a new business can be formed simply by taking the best aspects of several competitors and offering everything in one place.
Find out what questions people are asking
There are tons of places online where people go to ask questions. Quora, Reddit and Yahoo Answers are three of the biggest. These sites are seriously a treasure trove of information on what your target audience needs and wants.
If your audience is on Facebook, Facebook Groups are another great place to look. You can find Groups by searching for keywords related to your target audience in the main search box at the top. Once you submit that search, a new menu is added right underneath the search box with a Groups option.
All of these sites have a search feature. Start with broad terms that describe your industry and narrow down from there. Be sure to make note of all the relevant questions you find, as well as any helpful responses. This information will not only help you narrow down your niche, but can also be used later in a variety of ways, such as sections in a course, freebies offered in exchange for an email address, or blog posts.
Listen to people’s complaints
As important as it is to know what your potential customers want, it’s equally important to know what they don’t want. You know as well as I do, customers are never shy about complaining if they’ve received a bad product or service. You may have seen some of these negative comments on your competitors’ social media accounts or in their forums. If your competitors are larger, be sure to check review sites such as Yelp, as well as complaint sites. Search for “complaint sites” to find a list of the biggest ones.
Once you’ve got a better understanding of your potential customers and competitors, niches should start to become more obvious.
To help you narrow it down even further, look for gaps between what your customers want and what your competitors are offering. These gaps are where there is a lack of offerings that you can be the one to fill. Cha-ching!
There ae several ways to fill in those gaps…
Improve on a flaw
If you found lots of complaints about a certain feature that isn’t working for people – or something they would like that no one is offering – bam! That can be your opportunity to create a product or service that fixes that flaw.
Change the delivery method
If customers don’t like the way they currently access certain products or services, why not stand out by offering a different delivery method? This worked great for Dollar Shave Club and Amazon, who took products that were typically only available in stores and offered them online. We’re also seeing this in the online information space, with more membership sites popping up because consumers want more up-to-date information than they feel they can get from a large, static course.
Take something that worked in one industry and use it in a different industry
Seriously, some of the biggest innovations in business have come from people taking a great idea that worked in one industry and using it in a different industry.
Offer only one type of product or service
By focusing in on one specific thing, you can more easily become known as an expert – like social media managers who specialize in Instagram.
Serve a specific customer segment
This is kind of like offering only one type of product, but in this case you’re offering more products/services – to a specific group of people. For example? Social media managers who specialize in all social media platforms – but only for real estate agents.
2. Get Specific on Who Your Ideal Customer Is (and who they are not)
“Everyone is not your customer.” – Seth Godin
This is where so many new business owners get hung up. They think, “the bigger my potential customer base, the more money I’ll be making!”
It’s easy to start seeing dollar signs picturing every mom/Harley rider/chihuahua owner in the world buying your product.
But when it comes to launching a new business, having too broad of a market can actually be the kiss of death.
Not everyone is going to want or need what you sell. No matter how great it is, it’s just not going to happen.
And if you don’t define who your ideal customer is, it will cost you a boatload of wasted money and time to push your offers out to a huge audience in the hopes of gaining a few customers.
Just because people can be grouped into a category doesn’t mean they want and need the exact same thing as everyone else in that category.
Their age and gender, where they live, their marital status and family makeup, their education level, how much money they make and what they do in their spare time are just a few of the many factors that affect someone’s decision to buy specific products and services.
Imagine how much easier it would be to present potential customers with an offer they’ll get excited about, when you know all of these details about them.
This is the level at which you need to know your ideal customers.
Get to know them like you know your best friend.
Because the more you know about them, the better you can develop a brand and create offers that will have them beating down your (metaphorical) door.
So, how do you get to know these people?
If you conducted interviews or questionnaires when narrowing down your niche, you already know what this step is all about. Now that you’re clear on your niche, the people you spoke with before may no longer be ideal customers.
Trust me, it’s worth taking the time to find people who are your ideal customers.
You can do this with some careful research in Facebook Groups. Start with a search for words related to your niche and see if there are any existing threads. If not, ask a question or share information related to your niche and then strike up a conversation with the people who respond.
Get to know as much as you can about them in their own words. The language they use is exactly what you’ll want to use when promoting your business.
Nothing gets a potential customer’s attention like seeing the thoughts that are in their head reflected in the sales copy they are reading.
If you have access to a group of people who are in your target market, a survey can be a good option. It’s quick and easy to create a free one using Google Forms, and people can reply anonymously online. As with interviews though, you want to be selective about who you ask to complete the survey, or your data will be incorrect. Putting it out to a whole Facebook Group is going to get you a bunch of responses from people who are not your ideal customer.
Put Out a Simple Freebie
If you’re struggling to find people to talk with, create a freebie that is very specific to your niche. This doesn’t have to be complicated – shorter is better. Cheat sheets, tools lists and case studies all work well. Offer it in Facebook Groups or ask others with an audience similar to yours to spread the word. As long as it’s specific to your niche, you know that anyone requesting the freebie must be a potential customer. Once you have their email address, you can contact them and explain that you are a new business looking to get to know potential customers and ask for their feedback.
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3. Develop a Brand That Gets People Talking (in a good way)
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room” – Jeff Bezos
Now that you’ve got a clear picture in your mind of who your ideal customer is, it’s time to flesh out how you’ll present your business in a way that communicates what you stand for and why your customers should care.
You guys, this is crucial: A brand is more than just your logo and the colors you use on your website.
A brand is about the feelings you evoke in your customers.
It’s been said that the best way to think of a brand is that it only exists in the mind of your customers. It’s what they make it.
Your job is to put your best foot forward in a way that aligns with your goals and values, but ultimately, they define for themselves what your brand is.
Do they see you as trustworthy? Luxurious? Budget-friendly? Good to the environment? Your job is to communicate what you are striving for and live up to that in everything your business does. If you do this, you will attract your true customers.
There are 5 key elements to a strong brand:
This is the meat and potatoes of what your company does and how it does it. What are you offering and to whom? How are you unique in your marketplace? What will customers see as your strengths over your competitors?
While your brand position is all business, your brand promise is the heart and soul of your business. It is, as the name suggests, what you promise your customers you will deliver. A great example of a brand promise is Geico’s “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance” or H&M’s “More fashion choices that are good for people, the planet and your wallet.”
People love stories, and brands who have a good one to tell are always more memorable. A perfect example of this is TOMS Shoes. When the founder was traveling in Argentina, he saw firsthand how many children were growing up without shoes. He founded TOMS Shoes and made it his mission to donate one pair for every pair purchased.
Of course, not every business has a story as compelling as this, but with all of the ups and downs we entrepreneurs face on our journey to launching our businesses, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to find your own story.
Brand Voice & Personality
A strong brand is one that has a personality of its own. If your brand was a person, who would it be? Fun and quirky like Dollar Shave Club? Inspirational like LuLuLemon? Your brand voice needs to be relatable to your ideal customers and be used consistently in all of your communications.
The visual elements are probably what come to mind first when you think of branding, but they’re actually the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place. After you go through the exercise of developing the other key elements of your brand, only then should you develop an aesthetic that visually communicates the core of that brand to your prospects and customers.
Your brand visuals should include:
⦁ Website design
⦁ Social Media creative (headers, images)
⦁ Package design (for physical products)
One of the biggest mistakes I see new businesses make with their branding is that they think they need to have an expensive, professionally-designed visual brand before they start selling.
Sure, it’ll make you feel good to look so polished – but chances are that in your first year, you’ll learn so much about your market and your customers that where you start your business is not at all where you’ll be at the beginning of year 2.
And that usually means an expensive rebrand.
Instead, I recommend keeping your brand visuals simple and creating them yourself where possible. You can find professional-looking templates for logos, social media headers, websites and email layouts for a fraction of the cost of a custom-designed brand package. After you have a clearer understanding of your market, your customers and your offer, you can upgrade your branding to better reflect the identity you want your business to have.
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4. Craft Your Stand-Out Offers
“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” – Seth Godin
Only once you are totally clear on who your ideal customer is, should you think about what you can offer this group that’ll make ‘em sit up and take notice.
At its heart, any offer you put out should come from a place of wanting to help people, not sell them something.
With millions of marketing messages flying at them, customers have a well-honed radar for sales pitches. Don’t make them tune out before they even start listening.
Zig Ziglar said it best, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” This is 100% true in business.
Whether you are offering products, services or a combination of the two, I always recommend you start by thinking through your sales funnel.
The term Sales Funnel is used in several different ways, but let’s start with the overall big picture. Within each section of the funnel, you can always break it down further into smaller, more specific funnels.
Want a step-by-step plan to create your standout brand?
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5. Set Up Your Business Systems
“Losers have goals. Winners have systems.” – Scott Adams
This is where most new online business owners think they’re supposed to start.
All the way down here at step #5.
I get that, when you’re excited to launch your business out into the world, it seems like the quickest way to do that is to build a website, set up a shopping cart and begin selling (or trying to!).
But if you want to create a business that has staying power, you won’t overlook all of the work that needs to be done before you get to this point.
So, assuming you have done all the setup work up to get here, how do you get started putting in place all of the systems you will need and making sure they work together?
Business Registration & Banking
Of course, you’ll want to start by registering your business as required by the country you live in. This will also include determining what your obligation is for collecting and remitting taxes.
If you’ll be selling to countries in the EU, you may also need to register for a VAT number to collect the Value Added Tax on any sales made to customers in the EU.
Once your business is a legal entity, you can set up a business bank account.
Websites, Blogs & Third Party Sites
Remember, the goal is to launch your site and start making sales as quickly as possible.
In most cases that means starting with a simple website or a third party option and choosing a ready-made theme to get a look that fits your branding. Keeping it simple will save you thousands of dollars that can be put toward promoting your new business and bringing in customers.
Lots of businesses start with plain jane websites and systems that are far from perfect, but their businesses quickly take off because they have a strong offer that comes from their clear understanding of who their ideal customer is and what they want.
A beautiful website is not the determining factor in whether a business will be successful.
As your business evolves and you solidify your offers and branding, you can upgrade your simple site to something more sophisticated.
It used to be that custom coding a website from scratch was the only choice. Of course, some designers still do that, but the good news is that there are now DIY options that cost significantly less and take days instead of weeks (or months!) to create.
For a site that has every feature you could ever need and the ability to grow as your business does, I recommend WordPress.
But – and this is important – not WordPress.com, where you pay them to host it, but a version hosted with the hosting company of your choice. I recommend SiteGround, because they specialize in WordPress sites. They’ll set everything up for you, so you’ll have a blank site to start adding content too.
When researching building a website, you’ll likely hear about website builders such as Wix and Weebly.
Although these allow you to create a website quickly and for free, I caution you against using them.
These free sites have very few features. To use your own domain name, remove ads and be able to install Google Analytics – all essential features of a business website – they’ll make you upgrade to a paid plan. And those paid plans cost significantly more than a WordPress site would.
Whether you’re planning to make blogging your business, or want to add a blog to your business site, hands down the best platform is WordPress.
Although it’s easier to use a free hosted blog at WordPress.com, it has limited features. You can’t use your own domain name, install plugins, use a theme other than the standard ones provided or display ads.
For all of these reasons, if you’re using your blog as part of your business – or if it’ll be your main business – a hosted version of WordPress is the best option. Once it is set up (which Siteground can do for you in a day), using your blog is the exact same, whether on WordPress.com or a self-hosted version. So in the end, it’ll only cost you about $5 a month for all that added functionality. It’s a no-brainer!
Third Party Sites
There are lots of ways to sell online that don’t require you to have your own website.
⦁ Etsy for handmade items
⦁ Creative Market for graphics
⦁ Zazzle for products such as t-shirts and mugs printed with your designs
⦁ iStockPhoto for photos
⦁ Fiverr and Upwork for freelance work
⦁ Amazon for everything from a self-published book to wholesale products
And this is just to name a few. These can honestly be a great way to start your business, because you can instantly tap into their large existing audiences.
Email Service Provider
No matter which platform you use for your website, you’ll need a way to collect email addresses and build your mailing list. That list of customers and prospects is the most valuable asset a business can have.
Even if you don’t have any plans for an email campaign yet, hear me out – having a way to contact people who have purchased from you or who have expressed an interest in what you offer gives you the option to reach those people when you’re ready.
Not only are repeat sales significantly higher when you regularly send emails, but just imagine – what if you use a third party site like Etsy and for some reason your account gets deleted? Or you build a big Facebook Group and it gets deleted? If you don’t have an email list, you have no way to contact past and potential customers.
There are zillions of email service providers, but most only offer a basic set of tools. Because of its impressive set of features – and because it’s one of the most affordable options – I use and recommend ActiveCampaign.
With ActiveCampaign you can:
⦁ Automate Your Sales Funnels: Very powerful automations make it easy to trigger emails based on user behaviour. When someone signs up for your freebie, they will automatically start receiving your sales funnel emails on whatever schedule you set up. They never downloaded the freebie? The system can automatically send them a reminder email. They purchased halfway through the sales funnel? The system can automatically end the sales funnel sequence and start sending product-based emails.
⦁ Send Subscribers More Relevant Info with Tagging: Tagging lets you add little “notes” to subscribers’ accounts. They downloaded a freebie? Tag them with “freebie1”. They purchased a product? Tag them with “product3”. Over time these tags give you a clear picture of what your customers are interested in and will help you send more specific emails to them.
⦁ Personalize Emails: Personalization is one of the best ways to get your emails opened. ActiveCampaign lets you go beyond just using the subscriber’s first name – it makes it possible to actually show different blocks of texts or images based on a subscriber’s tags, behaviour on your site, geographic location and many other variables.
⦁ Track Site Visits: Site tracking lets you see what each subscriber does on your site and send them emails in response. A subscriber visited your sales page but didn’t buy? Send them an email. They made it to the checkout page but didn’t complete their order? Send them an email.
⦁ Split Test Your Emails: The best way to find out what your customers want to see in emails from you is to test what response different emails get. Split testing lets you send out different versions of your emails and then track the response to each. This can help you do things like perfect your email template and find which subject lines get opened most.
⦁ Create Beautiful Emails: Use the existing templates to create professional-looking emails or build one from scratch. The drag-and-drop email creator makes it easy to create unique emails quickly.
⦁ Integrate with Over 150 Apps: ActiveCampaign integrates with over 150 other apps so you won’t have a problem pairing it with your website, scheduling software, e-commerce platform and all your other systems.
OK, OK, enough with the lovefest – but do you see now why I love ActiveCampaign so much?
These are features that the biggest providers offer – such as Ontraport and Infusionsoft – but with ActiveCampaign, you get them for a fraction of the cost.
But what about MailChimp, since it’s FREE?
A word of caution about MailChimp. Although they have added a lot of features lately, they still can’t compare to the functionality of newer services. And after your list grows past 2,000 subscribers in MailChimp, you’re paying the same (or in many cases more) for less functionality.
MailChimp also a problem with lower delivery rates. Whether an email gets marked as spam or not is determined by what server it is sent from and whether that server is known for sending trustworthy emails. Because MailChimp offers free accounts, they attract people who send spam emails. As a result, ALL email sent from those servers suffers because it is suspected of being spam. This decreases delivery rates even for those online businesses that are not sending spam email.
Document & Video Hosting
Whether it’s for hosting your freebies – such as .pdf workbooks or training videos – or your main course material, you will likely need a service for hosting documents and videos.
Free document hosting through free services such as Dropbox and Google Docs are usually all you need.
If you are offering freebie videos, then YouTube is a good option, since there is no cost to post as many videos as you want. But if you are offering videos as part of a paid product, YouTube’s suggestions of competitors’ videos can look unprofessional.
Instead, I recommend using Vimeo for hosting videos. It’s what I use inside my membership site, because it gives me complete control over how my videos are displayed.
If you’re setting up a membership site, take the time to think about how you want to structure it before you start looking for software. Each software option out there has different capabilities, such as how they distribute content to members, what payment processors they work with, whether members can upgrade and cancel their membership on their own, and many other features.
For WordPress sites, there are several membership plugins. MemberPress, Restrict Content Pro and MemberMouse are the most popular.
There are also third party membership platforms that offer an all-in-one solution. They host your content, process credit cards and give you the tools to manage members. Two of the biggest are Teachable and Kajabi.
If you need to have your clients schedule their own appointment times, there are several tools that can easily automate this. For an affordable option (they have a free plan!) check out Calendly. Or for a more robust solution, Acuity has an impressive set of features.
Invoicing & Accounting Software
For small service-based businesses that need invoicing and accounting software, FreshBooks has everything you’ll need. For larger and product-based businesses, Quickbooks is a budget-friendly but robust option.
Need help sorting out all the tech?
Try out The Action Takers Club and watch step-by-step videos on how to make all of the tech pieces work together in your business. No more tech headaches!
6. Build Your Community with Marketing
“Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.” – Seth Godin
Notice this step is “build your community”, not “start selling”.
As a new business, your focus should be on building a loyal audience.
These are the people who – once they get to know you – will not only purchase your products and services, but also be the ones who refer you to others and bolster your social media accounts with likes and shares.
Remember, marketing is making the right offer to the right people at the right time.
That’s why before you jump in and start, you’ve gotta have a plan. Without one, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. And when you miss the mark it can feel like promoting your business IS your business.
I like to do my planning with good ol’ fashioned paper and pen, but if you prefer doing it digitally, a free tool such as Google Calendar is all you need.
In your plan you should include:
⦁ Personal days: By adding these first, you don’t run the risk of planning a big launch that ends up overlapping with your cousin’s out-of-town wedding.
⦁ Holidays and seasons: There are certain promotions and content you will want to have ready for your audience based on holidays, seasons, important happenings in your industry such as conferences and maybe even quirky holidays that your audience will enjoy.
⦁ Product launches: If you’re already planning the release of specific products/services, much of your efforts around that time will go to promoting them. Include them on the calendar, and be sure to block out the time you’ll need for the extra work that comes with launching.
⦁ Timely content: This is content you know you can only create at a certain time. For example, if you’re a travel blogger and you have a trip planned, that would be when you need to plan to create that content.
Once you’ve added these basics to your calendar (don’t worry if your first attempt doesn’t feel complete – it’ll be a constant work in progress) you can start to make a plan for how you’ll use other marketing tactics.
This is where things can get overwhelming, and many new online business owners end up in the weeds.
You don’t need to do it all.
In fact, definitely don’t do it all, because all you’ll succeed in doing is spreading yourself so thin that nothing is successful.
Focus only on the areas where you know you can make an impact. That means choosing the methods that will be most relevant to your audience. If they’re not on Instagram, there is no point in spending time promoting your business there.
As you go through the list below and think about the marketing you want to plan for, take the time to develop a solid strategy and goals for each method. Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish with your marketing and how you will get there is important.
Are you planning on doing it all yourself or outsourcing? Will you start with one method and then add more as you reach your goals, or will you try several methods at once? Which methods can you share content across to save time and money?
Start off with a plan you can work toward and check in with your goals frequently so you know whether it’s time and money well spent.
Ways you can build your audience:
Email Marketing & Funnels: Every business needs a mailing list, and much of your marketing will be aimed at getting people to join your list. Use freebies to entice people to join, and then put them in a sales funnel to help them get to know your business and what you offer.
Content Marketing: Some would say that all marketing is content marketing, but for these purposes I consider it anything you create that is designed to educate people in some way. Blog posts, videos, webinars and podcasts are all great examples.
Social Media Marketing: This is not just posting random selfies of yourself and calling it marketing. People are on social media because they want to learn something or be entertained. The best social marketing does both. Learn from your competitors what your audience is responding to, and take the time to create high-quality, unique content.
Facebook Groups & Forums: Whether you’re participating in someone else’s or starting your own, these can be a great way to connect with potential customers.
Paid Advertising: Facebook Ads are the most popular option for small online businesses but it’s also worth exploring AdWords, ads on other social media sites, paid influencer marketing and ads placed on specific blogs your audience read.
SEO / SEM: Search engine marketing (SEM) is the broader term that includes both paid ads in the search engines as well as search engine optimization (SEO). Even if paid search ads aren’t appropriate for your business, think about optimizing all of your content and blog posts to help you get found through search.
Videos & Webinars: Video has been hot for a while now, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. If you’re not comfortable in front of the camera, put together a slide presentation with Google Slides or PowerPoint and add a voiceover.
Guerilla Marketing: I’m including this one because the whole idea behind it is to get the word out about your products and services for little to no cost. It’s exactly what small online business owners need. It might be putting your business card in the pages of library books, handing out samples outside of an event or creating your logo in chalk on sidewalks all over the city. There are lots of interesting guerilla marketing tactics to try.
Whichever of these methods you use, remember that everything you put out to potential customers – whether it’s a blog post or a Facebook ad – should give them value even if they never buy from you. If you do this you will become known, liked and trusted in your industry much faster.
7. Always Be Improving by Testing, Tracking and Tweaking
“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” – Kim Collins
OK, time for a truth bomb.
No matter how much research you do or how many hours you put into creating your ads, copy, offers, visuals and all the other elements that make up your business … it will never be perfect.
Instead of spending months or years shooting for perfection, go through the steps in this article as quickly as you can and get your offer out into the world. Then start testing, tracking and tweaking to improve it.
Trust me, your prospects won’t be shy about telling you exactly what they think. The sooner you hear their feedback, the sooner you can start shaping your business into exactly what your target audience wants.
I’ve seen countless businesses get their product to market only to find out that a competitor just beat them to it. Or they waste time trying to get everything perfect, and after getting feedback from the market, they realize all their hard work has to be redone.
Money loves speed, you guys!
To make the most of testing, you need to start with a plan. Just like you did when planning your marketing, create a calendar that lists what methods of testing you will be using and when. Staying organized ensures you do thorough testing without forgetting or repeating anything.
Types of tests to run:
Split Testing: Also known as A/B testing, this is when you split your audience in half and each half sees a different variation of whatever you are testing. So if you’re testing a Facebook ad, half of your traffic will see the first version and the other half will see the second version. This lets you determine which one best met the goal.
To increase conversions (the number of people who take the action you want them to) you need to develop a testing system. To start, identify the elements that have the biggest impact on a potential customer’s decision. Website headers, headlines, calls to action, email subject lines and images are all great examples of important areas to test.
When starting a new set of tests – on your website, sales funnel, ads, etc., – be sure to start by testing the biggest elements first. Headlines, images and calls to action are the elements that have the most significant effect on conversions. You may have read a great case study about changing a button colour and seeing increased signups, but that rarely happens. Generally, the biggest improvements come from changing the most important elements.
Once you’ve identified the elements you want to change, create a testing schedule where you change only one thing at a time. If you change more than one thing – say the headline and the image on your homepage – you have no way of knowing which of the two increased the conversions.
The best approach is to try several different headlines until you find the best one. Then keep the best headline and move on to trying several different images until you find the best image.
User Testing: Want to know exactly what people are doing when they’re on your website? With user testing, you can be a fly on the wall. If you don’t have a steady stream of traffic to test with, a company like User Testing will send people in your target market to your site and give you feedback on their experience.
Beta Versions: If you’re offering software, a membership, online course or coaching program, you might want to consider a beta version. This is when you offer your services at a reduced price to a small group of people in order to get their feedback. This helps you make improvements to your content before you do a full-scale launch.
The key to success with beta versions is to carefully choose people who are in your target market. Requiring payment – even if it’s significantly reduced – will help weed out freebie seekers who won’t stick with it long enough to give you helpful feedback.
If you are testing, you have to have a way to tell whether those tests are an improvement or not. This is where tracking comes in.
Google Analytics: This is a must for all websites. You can create a free Google Analytics account quickly and then get started tracking by inserting the code on your website. Once installed, it will track visitors to your site and give you great insights, such as what websites are referring people, what organic search terms bring traffic, how long people stay on your site, which pages they enter and exit on, where your audience is from, whether they access your site from desktop or mobile… the list goes on.
Heatmaps and Recordings of Visitor Sessions: If you want something more advanced, there are third party services such as Crazy Egg that monitor your website and give you excellent information on how people are using it. Heatmaps show you graphically where people are clicking on each page of your site and recordings of visitor sessions let you see exactly what each user is doing.
Social Media Analytics & Metrics: All of the social media platforms provide some type of analytics about the activity on your account. Some – like Pinterest and Instagram – require you to have a business account to see this information. Make sure you know how to access these and use the information to learn how to improve your social media marketing efforts.
Customer Feedback: Hearing directly from your customers is the best feedback you can get. Reach out personally to your best customers and get to know them better. Not only will you learn more about them and why they love your company (which can help you find others like them), but it will also show them they are valued and will help build their loyalty to you.
For all other customers, send them a link to your online customer satisfaction survey. This can be created for free using Google Forms, and you get to choose whether people can respond anonymously or if they must provide their email address. If you have specific open-ended questions you can include those, but usually it’s best to keep it short and ask on a 1 – 10 scale how they would rate your product/service and how likely they would be to recommend it to a friend.
OK, so look. There’s no point in tracking if you’re not going to act on the results. Use what you learn to make small changes – and then go through the loop of testing and tracking again.
Remember, the key to making improvements is to only make one change at a time.
If you’re testing your homepage, and results show you that people are leaving after only a few seconds, changing your headline, offer and image are all things you’ll want to test. But you can only test and then tweak one element at a time or you won’t know which one made the difference. Then when you have a winner, try and beat that by going through another round of testing, tracking and tweaking.
Start the testing, tracking and tweaking process all over again.
8. Don’t Try to Grow it Alone
“I get by with a little help from my friends.” – The Beatles
Being an online business owner who works from home can be lonely. And it definitely doesn’t present you with many opportunities to learn and grow from others in your industry. This type of creative fuel is critical if you want to build and sustain a thriving business.
Luckily there are places where you can connect with other online business owners:
Facebook Groups: If you’re not already part of any business Facebook Groups, they are a great source of information and support. You can find Groups by searching for keywords related to your target audience in the main search box at the top. Once you submit that search, a new menu is added right underneath the search box with a Groups option.
The Action Takers Club Community Forum: As much as I love Facebook Groups, one thing I find frustrating is how fast they move. It’s easy to miss things and usually impossible to go back to the posts you want to revisit. If you want a different way to learn from and engage with fellow business owners join us in The Action Takers Club Forum.
Mastermind Groups: A mastermind group is a small group of people at similar stages in their business who offer one another peer-to-peer mentoring. If you join a good one, it can propel your business forward.
There are lots of paid mastermind groups that are managed so that business owners at similar stages are together and can learn from one another. You can also ask in Facebook Groups, and there are always people interested in joining one. The key is to keep the group small and choose people you trust to stay committed to regular meetings/calls to keep the momentum going.
Local Business Groups: Sometimes stepping away from the computer and meeting other business owners face-to-face is the best way to learn and re-energize. Search Facebook or ask your local Chamber of Commerce to find local groups.
Here’s the thing: Starting a business is not for the faint of heart.
In this article, I’ve laid out a plan that is going to take hard work and a lot of determination.
But if you follow the steps I’ve outlined here, you can achieve your goal, and start a successful online business from home.
So ramp those excitement levels back up to 10, and get to work, you guys!
Here’s to your success!