The 7 Not-So-Secret Steps to a Successful Small Online Business

I’m fascinated by what it takes to build a successful online business, so I analyze the websites of people who are making a full or part time living doing this.

I’ve been doing these secret analyzes ever since I got serious about earning money online. The funny thing is that I keep bumping into the same patterns over and over again.

And in this article I’ll go through them. It makes me excited because they show you that you do not have to be a world-class wordsmith, nor do you have to produce the best content in the world.

You do, however, need to do something you love, help people, and get a small amount of attention.

These seven non-secrets take the pressure off you and allow you to focus your energy where it needs to be focused: on your craft.

The only downside is that it will take time, usually years, but that is only discouraging from the get rich quick folks and the ones that aren’t going after their passion or interests.

1. Passion and Profitability

Even though I’ve talked a lot about how to find your passion, I think you sometimes have to compromise a bit to find the intersection between passion and profitability.

I’ve been lucky in the fact that my interests are some of the most profitable ones to get involved in, but if yours aren’t, there’s always something you can do about it.

This takes time, and while most people will quit within 6-12 months, you will keep going, because you see improvement, and you just can’t stop, because you love what you do.

There are a lot of people out there that create websites on patent lawyers, car insurance, and home mortgages because they are high-paying niches.

And I have nothing against people who are passionate about those niches (do they exist?) but if you’re just going after the money… it won’t last.

Believe me, this is something life has pounded into me over and over again. My mind seems to default to focusing in on money and it always ends up in misery.

It has been a great teacher and reminder for me. When the basics are covered, money should not be the focus.

2. Do Your Research

Just to expand more on the profitability side, I’d like to focus on research, because while passion is all good, it will not automatically bring you a steady income stream.

The way I like to do my research is simple: I take a look at what I see around me. For example, in the skin care niche, I know there’s room to make money there.

There are products you could recommend, ebooks you could create, and ads you could sell. That’s an easy one, but what about if you’re interested in building model airplanes?

Could you create your own courses? Could you sell anything else related to your niche? Could you get in touch with advertisers directly and work out a deal with them?

To get ideas, I would look at similar websites, and even have a chat with the webmasters.

It’s not a cut out process for me where I have a set of rules I follow to find the profitability of a market, but it always helps to see that there are people in the space already, and that there are advertisers willing to spend money.

3. Create Content That You Care About

We’ve all seen the articles on the importance of creating remarkable, outstanding, and jaw-dropping content that is impossible not to share, right?

For me, the way most people emphasize remarkable content, it feels like I can’t do it, because there always seems to be someone better out there. The perfect recipe for writer’s block.

But the truth is that most people think like this. Most are afraid that they aren’t good enough, so what people mean by remarkable content is simply content that provides value.

And what is value? It’s different from person to person, and from niche to niche. You might come to the Wake Up Cloud for inspiration and motivation, while someone else comes for the how-to articles.

When you love your topic, it’s hard for you not to improve and share your passion, which shines through in your writing, your videos, and your podcasts.

No one said this was easy, but it’s not impossible either. In fact, it’s very doable.

4. Focus on Humans, But Remember SEO

The third thing I see in successful blogs and websites is that they focus primarily on humans. I think search engine optimization is important, but not to the extent in which you put robots before humans.

In the end, the people that will read your content are fellow humans (and perhaps some aliens, but they are a minority. I think?).

So when you write articles, don’t get cute with your headlines, at least not all the time, because the search engines are still robots, and they will have a hard time figuring out what your article is about if it uses ambiguities and other creative references.

That doesn’t mean you should stop this altogether. It just means that you should find a balance.

There are of course exceptions; people that are 100% creative and ignore SEO, and they do just fine, but I like to use all the tools in the game, which includes the friendly search engines.

5. Repeat for 2-3 years

Here’s the catch: you have to do this for two to three years at least. Again, there are always exceptions.

A good example of this is Fran from High on Health. She started her blog in the middle of 2007, and she’s been writing 3 articles a week ever since then.

She’s battled acne and other health issues, and she’s written about all of them on her blog. She shares her experiences, but she also shares how she was able to heal her skin from acne naturally.

In this interview, she talks about the fact that she was on the verge of giving up because she didn’t see big results right away.

She goes on to say that it took her what seemed like an eternity to get to 500 daily visitors, but from there things took on a life of their own, and this is something I’ve seeing in my own websites as well.

The beginning will always be the hardest. That’s when you will doubt yourself, and that is when you will do most of the learning.

Now in 2011, Fran has over 4,000 daily visitors, and she’s just hired extra writers to help her with the blog. It’s a full-time business. It took her a few years, but she did it through persistence and loving the topic she writes about.

Fran is a perfect example of someone who took their passion and created a small online business out of it.

6. Perfectionism vs. Getting Things Done

Another big obstacle to creating a profitable online business and website is the constant war between perfection and shipping (getting things out the door).

I battle with this all the time, and so do many other successful entrepreneurs.

You will probably never feel like you’re ready to start your first website, because it feels like everyone knows more than you do.

But in the end, you have to ask yourself if you want that to stop you. Those are merely your thoughts holding your back. They aren’t real, and they can be changed.

I personally got so sick of standing by that I started my own blog and began writing. I didn’t care anymore what that little voice inside my head thought.

I was going to do this because it was what I wanted to do, and by taking action I destroyed the false illusions and saw that I had something to contribute to the world.

And I’m pretty sure you do, too.

7. Anticipate Mind Ghosts

I want guarantees, but I ain’t getting them.

I’m constantly battling my own ghosts and fears. I always believed that successful people were without fear, because they’ve reached the top.

But the truth is that you will never be without fears. There will always be dissatisfaction in your life if you let that little voice – some call it the ego – run your life.

I’ve had the shiny ball syndrome many times. I’ve looked for other online business models because I was uncertain about this one, but in the end I know that building an online business takes time; usually years.

And I wouldn’t want to give up what I have here at Wake Up Cloud even if it is scary, because I just love what I do here too much.

The Wrap Up

Basically what I’m trying to get across here is that you can build an online business, but only if you’re ready to put in the time (sorry get rich quick people).

I wish there was another way, but if life were easy, it would be like playing a video game in god-mode. It would be fun for the first 10 minutes, but then it just bores you and you go do something else.

The recipe is simple, and almost cheesy:

  1. Find something you love that has the potential of profit
  2. Create content
  3. Have fun (and make connections)
  4. Embrace the struggle
  5. Rinse and repeat

Something I forgot to mention in the list was making connections, but that happens automatically as you get in touch with like-minded people in your niche.

Life is scary, but isn’t that what makes it so interesting?

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  1. They often say it takes a lot less time to build an online business then a regular (offline) business. That is partially true, but people who have never started and built a business before don’t know what that means.

    For their understanding, building an online business takes just as long as a regular business, because it is nothing different but – a business.

    The reason why it is said that an online business takes less time to build is because online businesses are usually consulting businesses, web service businesses and shops. They are people businesses, they instantly delivered digital tool, etc. While regular businesses can, and mostly have, bigger investments and a much more complex market.

    That’s the easy vs. hard and the fast vs. over time.

    • It all depends on how you want to do things. In the article, I was referring to a business model with digital products, affiliate marketing, advertising, and even consulting. Then you have an almost infinite variation of how those can be done as well.

      Great points as usual, Stella!

  2. Very true about fear. But a little fear is good. It will keep you on your toes and keep you from being too complacent.

  3. Hello Henri,
    This what stuck with me, “it would be like playing a video game in god-mode, It would be fun for the first 10 minutes, but then it just bores you and you go do something else.”

    Its so true but most people don’t realize, once something is easy its not fun anymore, you need to struggle a little bit, it makes you creative, it makes you think, and it makes you happy.

    • That’s the truth.

      And then again, we need a few god-mode moments here and there to be reminded of all this, and to relax.

  4. Lee Miller says:

    Henri you are the master of KISS (keep it simple silly). I enjoy your easy style of giving information and encouragment. Thank you so very much. Lee

  5. What kind of business we talking about though? Online means a lot of things. I have sites that within 6 month of making them are generating $500+ a month. If we are talking about leveraging blogging as a marketing platform for products and services, then yea, that does takes much longer typically, but is much more secure and profitable in the long run if successful. Insightful post Henri


    • You definitely can get a solid online income going within 6-12 months. This article was more about the leveraging blogging as a long-term business solution, so it takes time, but is more fun.

      I do want to emphasize that this is not the only route, and definitely not the easiest, but in my opinion the most rewarding.

      Cheers David!

  6. Hi Henri!

    I agree – So far I haven’t met anyone who would be passionate about home mortgages 🙂

    Blogging is a long-term thing and there is lot’s of work to do. However, having an end-goal in my mind all the time, I’m not afraid to put the hours in to get there.

  7. Good article Henri,
    Passion and Perserverance are key.
    Passion is the “relatively” easy part, perserverance is the tough part and I like your point about keeping at it for 2-3 years. This is very tough and you often feel alone wondering if you are talking to the great void. My experience is that for every 100 people in your group/list only 1 will be active and interact with you. The rest will just follow you silently.

    • Yes sir. It’s tough, and sometimes lonely. Like I said above, not for everyone, but for a select few that really want it.

  8. Hey Henri!

    As usual, these are great points you make here. I think these a pretty solid guidelines. In fact, I just created a video that is related to your first point about passion & profitability. In it I talk about how purpose is the third part of that equation that really helps get things moving. Thanks for always delivering such great content!

  9. Great post!

    Have to add that things will develop as quickly as you act to make them do so. For instance, I’ve had a website for just 2 years also in the health blog niche, and it was getting 3,000 visits daily when I sold it.


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