Big sounding headline, isn’t it? Actually, I’m using it to convey the gravity of the topic, and emphasize that running an online business requires you to put some groundwork in place, hence the pillars.
Of course, this is just my take on the matter, and you’ll surely find other entrepreneurs and bloggers who will present a completely different approach. However, if you want to find a good starting point for your online business, I believe this is it.
The trick with online business is that it’s not the most intuitive line of career out there.
I mean, if you want to open a traditional brick-and-mortar café, for example, then even though the venture will still be challenging, you kind of know what you need to take care of in order to succeed … things like: good location, nice interior design, good deals with suppliers, professional team of employees, education and training programs for employees, advertising, good and unique offer, attractive prices, and so on. Listing all these things isn’t that difficult. But what about online business? Well, online business has its own pillars…
(Note. I encourage you to check out one of my posts talking about the differences of online business vs. offline business.)
1. Core technology
The first, and crucial, pillar. There’s no online business without at least some technology involved. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a tech pro to be able to handle it.
I admit, I’ve a Master’s Degree in Computer Science, but to be honest, I never actually use any of my “university knowledge” when doing business online.
Your absolute minimal core technology is comprised of just three things:
- Domain name.
- Hosting account.
(Well, okay, you also need a computer, but this is kind of obvious.)
Domain name is your address on the internet. Mine is newinternetorder.com.
Getting a domain name isn’t a complicated process, but choosing it can take some research time.
A while ago I published two posts on how to select a domain name. The advice is fully relevant today too. Check them out:
- Which One of These 3 Types of Domain Names is the Best One for You.
- 6 Important Factors When Choosing Perfect Domain Name.
The actual registration can be done through Go Daddy. A domain will cost you around $10 a year.
Hosting account. If I said that a hosting account is where your website is hosted then it wouldn’t be very helpful, would it?
“Hosted” is just another way of saying “stored.” Therefore, a hosting account is where your website is stored. On top of that, it’s also where every visitor can access it.
Hosting is actually one of the more complicated aspects of computer technology, but the good thing is that you don’t have to know a lot about it in order to work with your website.
The setup process of a hosting account is actually fairly straightforward. You just have to sign up for an account, and then work with the support team to get your domain connected to the host. (They can also help you to install your website if you don’t feel like doing it yourself.)
Not that long ago, I wrote a post titled web hosting for online business – complete guide. Feel free to check it out to get all the information you need for a quick start.
Website. This is the last element and actually the one you’re going to work with on a daily basis.
Interestingly, the creation, development, and launch process of your new site can be as long or as short as you make it.
The thing is that you can either go with some ready-made solutions, develop new ones yourself if you have the skill, or hire someone to help you with the whole process.
This also depends on how much money you want to spend on this. Doing things on a budget won’t consume more than $100. On the other hand, hiring a professional can set you back $5,000 or more.
Since it’s the bootstrapping approach we’re focusing on here, let’s keep this on a budget.
Rule #1: use WordPress. It’s a website management platform that’s free and powerful (it’s the one I’m using to run this site).
You can find out how to get and install WordPress in 5 minutes in one of my other articles.
Once you have WordPress, you need to get a unique design that’s going to represent your website and convey its brand. If hiring a professional developer is not an option then consider one of the respected theme stores like ThemeFuse. They will provide you with really great quality themes, that are optimized, safe, and in-tune with modern standards.
When you have the theme, you can install it on your site. This is a quite simple process: how to install a theme.
Apart from the above, there’s a ton of other things you can do with your WordPress site. The number of available plugins is truly exceptional. It’s kind of similar to the situation in the Apple App Store … meaning that if you need some cool feature on your site, there’s surely a plugin for that.
(You can check my list of essential plugins if you’re interested.)
2. The offer
The second pillar is your offering. In other words, what is this cool thing you do that can benefit other people up to the point where they’d be ready to pay for it?
One of the most important things to keep in mind here is not to do any shitty product creation like some people advise … the “you can create a product in one day” -fairytale.
Product creation takes time. This is simply a fact. If you don’t want to believe me then it’s your call. The internet is full of sites where the author will be convincing you that products can be created in hours. If that vision is more attractive to you then by all means tune in to it. But the reality still stays the same – there’s no quick and effortless product creation (something I talk about in the art of polishing a turd).
But products are not the only way for online businesses to make money. Offering your services is another approach that works really well.
For instance, my freelance writing services is something I started offering by accident, but it led me to my first book deal (PACKT Publishing). So you never know what outcome the future holds for you.
There’s a series of posts on this blog that talks about various online business models, feel free to check it out and try to find the one that appeals to you the most:
- Online Business Models Explained: Products,
- Online Business Models Explained: Services and Consulting,
- Online Business Models Explained: Advertising,
- Online Business Models Explained: Affiliate Income,
- Online Business Models Explained: Subscriptions and Memberships,
- Online Business Models Explained: Online Courses.
The third pillar is marketing. In other words, how you’re going to promote your offering.
An interesting thing we can notice among online entrepreneurs is that some of them have a lot of natural talent for marketing, while others have to spend long hours learning and testing things out.
Either way, your business doesn’t exist on the internet if you’re not doing any marketing. In my opinion, the first rule of marketing an online business is:
If you build it, they won’t come.
Internet is simply too vast for anyone to stumble upon your site by accident. In the real world, for example, when you have a café, people will come across it every day if they just happen to be in the neighborhood. On the web, it doesn’t work like that.
Here are some popular elements of online marketing:
- link building,
- social media,
- word of mouth.
Each of these elements is powerful enough to make your business profitable on its own, but as I said, it requires a lot of testing.
Although you don’t have to be an expert in all of the above, getting at least some knowledge in each of these topics is a must. That way you can pick the most suitable one for your needs later on.
Check out my brain dead simple explanation of marketing, and one of my favorite post on this blog – what being drunk can teach you about life and online business.
I also encourage you to look for advice on other blogs, but be careful not to get fooled into buying some crappy education (distraction marketing). Speaking of education…
4. Minimal education
In essence, education is great. But there’s just so much stuff available online that this whole information overload can paralyze you completely.
I’m a fan of minimal education. If you want to do something, obtain just the minimal amount of information needed and take action as soon as possible.
And this is not an opinion I always had. There was time when I was so lost in consuming this “yet another piece of advice” that I literally couldn’t get anything done. It really is a dangerous habit.
On top of that, there’s just so much crappy educational products about online business out there that getting scammed is more than easy. Here’s a two-step process on how to protect yourself from getting scammed:
- Realize the 1st rule of BS.
- Understand that most of the so-called gurus just want to get you on their email lists so they can constantly push their crap and sell you something every month.
Let’s do a simple exercise, think of a certain guru, the first person that comes to mind … got it? okay … never ever buy anything from that person!
If you want to get some heads up on who’s on the bad guys team in this industry, feel free to follow the Salty Droid.
To be honest, tools are a pretty individual thing (everyone has their own favorites), so I encourage you to experiment and check a bunch of them out before making any final decisions.
The typical set of tools for online business consists of:
- a market research tool,
- a keyword research tool,
- marketing tools,
- productivity tools,
- data synchronization and backup tools,
- content creation tools,
- monitoring tools.
There’s truly a massive amount of stuff available online. The best thing to do before you decide to get any particular tool is to search for some genuine reviews online (reviews published by people who actually have the tool in their possession, and are not just writing a review based on the promotional material).
You can find my recommend set of tools on the official tools page, and my top 12 favorite tools ever. Additionally, you can also check out my review of Market Samurai – one of the top market research and keyword tools.
The final pillar of online business. The topic of productivity has gotten really popular in the recent years. The thing is that no matter what we do, we only have 24 hours in a day, and if we learn how to use this time effectively, we can make a lot of things happen in our lives.
For an online entrepreneur, productivity is especially crucial because there’s no boss standing above us and telling us what to do. It’s really easy to fall victim to procrastination, or other common problems.
What has turned out to be a great solution for me is a work and time management methodology called Getting Things Done (GTD). Over the years, I wrote a number of articles related to the topic of productivity and GTD.
If you want to give it a shot and learn this methodology too then hop over to my series at Lifehack titled “Productivity Made Simple” – it provides a cool GTD guide.
Okay … now what?
These are the pillars … okay … so now what? -says you.
The key to success is to develop your skills/background in all six pillars at the same time.
Think of it like building an ancient structure of some kind … if you place just one pillar instead of the required six, your structure will fall right away. Using three will probably keep it standing, but not very stable. Only having the complete set of pillars put in place guarantees a stable structure.
I know that it seems like a lot of work, and it kind of is… Sorry the be the one to break this to you.
Unfortunately there are no shortcuts, and if someone wants to convince you that there are, they’re just trying to sell you something.
The good side, though, is that you don’t need to become an expert in all pillars at once. You can do everything step by step. Start by building small pillars and then expand each one gradually. This way your business can grow evenly in all areas.
Okay, enough talking. It’s about time to take some action! (That includes me too.)