Do you know for certain that you want the online business lifestyle that you see online? You know the one I’m talking about: people who make great money working on their laptops, working from anywhere in the world, totally fulfilled. You know you want an online business, but there’s an elephant in the room: what are you going to do?
That’s actually not an uncommon juxtaposition, and it’s a very workable starting block. Feel assured that most people didn’t know in the beginning. And absolutely *no one* had all of the answers, so you’re right where you should be, friend!
Let’s start by dispelling some myths and poor expectations about starting an online business, and then I’ll show you the roadmap to finding your online business idea.
3 Important Expectations Before You Start Your Online Business
Before you start investing your blood, sweat and time into building an online business, you should make sure you’re on the right page.
1st Expectation: Expect It To Take 2 Years
You’ll almost certainly be making money before then (I’d be shocked if you didn’t) but I say two years because you must be willing to give this time.
Two years isn’t some secret number; the value of 730 doesn’t mean much, but it represents a downpayment.
Anyone who is unwilling to invest two years into building an online business does not want it badly enough to succeed.
The internet has conditioned us to expect speed and ease, but building a successful online business is a 100% doable (but still) Herculean task. If you’re not willing to invest yearS, then I don’t expect to see you on the other side.
That may sound harsh, and I’d offer you that piece of advice over a cup of tea if I could, but the reality is that far more people will quit than fail. The expectation of how quickly success will come is the most influential factor in the decision to quit.
After all, you wouldn’t approach any other huge life achievement with such a short-sighted attitude. Imagine someone saying they wanted to…
- be a doctor more than anything but don’t want it to take too long
- visit every single country in the world but don’t want it to take too long
- build my own boat and sail across the world but don’t want it to take too long
Those all sound ridiculous because they’re clearly lofty aspirations that will take time to come to fruition. Your online business shouldn’t be viewed any differently. You’re creating the means to make money however you like from anywhere in the world with limited resources. That is a miracle! It’s a mistake to see it as anything less special.
2nd Expectation: ‘No’ Is The Goal
All aboard the rejection express! Whether it’s pitching potential clients to hire you, or brands you want to partner with, the sources that will reject you are plentiful. One way to think about it is that the more ‘nos’ you get, the more money you’ll be making.
After all, let’s presume that your rejection rate will always be the same. Let’s say only 10% of pitches will be fruitful. If you take 10 shots, you’ll end up with one win. Take 100 shots and you’ll end up with 10 wins.
This isn’t an exact equation because you actually get better pitching and improve your odds as you continue. Chase your nos! Rejection is a part of an entrepreneur’s life.
In addition to the regular human rejections that we all know and love, you’ll be introduced to a *new* type of rejection: feeling rejected by the process.
Sounds exciting, eh?
Being rejected by the process looks like watching four YouTube tutorials for an hour and still being confused. Or attempting to change something minor on your website and it taking you an entire day and still not looking how you wanted it to.
This is the most important type of rejection to arm yourself against, because it will never stop. As you grow your business, you’ll be able to outsource and automate the tasks that you don’t flourish at, but you will always still be the head of the spear.
You will never stop having to do things for the first time. But as an entrepreneur, you have to have the attitude that it’s OK to not know something yet, because you’re capable of figuring it out. Having that growth mindset will make or break your resilience to rejection.
3rd Expectation: Not Knowing Is Fine
…but not doing is a waste.
You do not need a plan to get started. Every. single. person. that you admire online started without knowing what would happen, how they’d hack it, how to set up their website correctly, what kind of clients to say no to. The list goes on and on.
Heck, I’ve been in business for three years and still at least once a week, I have to figure out something completely new! This is simply one of the hard-to-swallow pills of the entrepreneurial lifestyle.
It’s a lot like the travel lifestyle, actually. You’re always going somewhere new, constantly being forced to make decisions and act. That giant question-mark feeling is not the enemy, and you’ll need to learn to survive there if you’re going to manage to build an online business.
How To Start An Online Business Before Knowing Exactly What To Do
Before you figure out what you want, you can’t expect instant profits. Actually, you should never expect instant profits.
The tales of passive income (“making money while you sleep”) may have you swooning, but you should focus on building up active income first.
The fastest way to make money online is to start offering services, such as freelance writing, social media management, Instagram engagement, etc.
Yes, Instagram engagement as in: log into someone’s account and comment on other people’s posts for them! I know someone who does this for 30 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, and charges $400 a month per client.
Spend 2 hours a day doing this, and you just found yourself a $1.2k a month gig.
Making money online is easier than traditional employment. You will make more money in less time, while still helping people in a big way. It’s the absolute best way to work.
But, where to start with developing your online business when you don’t know what you want to do?
Waiting until you have it all figured out is a fatal mistake. Hone the right entrepreneurial mindset and dig into finding freelance work.
Step 1: Start Making Active Income Right Away
Building up passive income online takes time and refinement. But by monetizing your skills, you can start making active income sooner and discover what your most lucrative skills are.
Questions To Help You Find Your Active Income Skill
A little investigative work will help you find your active income source. Let’s start with the most obvious point:
Can I freelance the skill that I currently do for my 9-5?
The trick to escaping your 9-5 may actually be much more straightforward than you think. Can you freelance the work that you currently do for your job? Or maybe the skills from a past job?
What do people ask me for help with?
Are you ever asked to edit your coworkers’ writing? Or to create a logo for someone’s new band?
That could very well be a compass pointing you directly to a profitable skill. This is precisely how I stumbled upon my role as a Pinterest manager!
What’s something that I enjoy that other people pay for?
What are 10 things that you enjoy or can do that people pay for? Maybe it’s proofreading, or video editing, engaging on Instagram.
You may be tempted to stop at 5, but I really implore you to challenge yourself. Your best idea will probably not be your first.
This isn’t an online business idea, but I love giving the example of a woman who loved being a bridesmaid so much that she became a bridesmaid for hire.
You are already sitting on a profitable idea, you just have to be creative enough to find and monetize it.
Remember: it’s okay if you don’t want to pursue this type of work long-term. This part of your journey is just a springboard into building an online business that feels aligned with you and how you really want to spend your days.
After you’ve started making active income, it’s time to foster your big kahuna online business idea. I’ll sometimes refer to this as your “passion project” or your “big what” because theoretically, this would be what you’re really passionate about.
Active income is what gets your plane off the ground, and once you’re up in the air your passion project determines where you’re going to go.
Ideally, your passive income is your “big what” in life. What do you want to be when you grow up and what legacy do you want to leave behind? You can address this with your active income, but given the endless potential of an online business, there’s no reason not to zoom out and dream big.
Step 2: Develop Your Passion Project
Once you’ve established active income, you should explore how you really want to show up online. This begins as an exploratory passion project and is later monetized and will become your primary business model.
There are a few questions here that you should be searching for answers to:
- What am I most excited to talk about?
- How do I actually want to spend my days?
- What makes me feel alive?
- What do I want to write about, talk about and help people with?
Be honest with yourself in these answers. Journal daily to help expand on these questions.
Start a website for this passion project, even if you have no idea what you’re doing. Blogs, website design and sales pitches can all be edited later. You have to start doing things before you know everything (because that list will never stop growing).
Use this website to create, develop, connect and realize your aspirations.
The answer to the question “what online business should I start?” can only be found by discovering what you like to do online and what you are good at. This may take months or years.
Build Your Active Income While Searching For Your Big “What” Simultaneously
The 2-pronged approach to building your active income and passion project in tandem will help you expedite this process. By making money online, you’ll be able to reduce your hours or leave your 9-5, freeing up more time to dedicate to your growing online business.
Besides bringing in money, your active income will help with the soul-searching element on this process.
During this process, you’ll naturally…
- find what you’re good at and what you like
- network and meet people in the online business world who you’ll learn from
- grow and develop as a digital entrepreneur
Step 3: Make It Profitable
Once your passion project has matured and been refined, you should develop a business model around it.
There are a thousand little steps in that process, and I can’t tell you what they’ll be for you. Every journey, business model and individual is so radically different, and I don’t throw out this step lightheartedly. It might be really difficult to figure out how to make your idea profitable, but everything can be monetized. Always remember the for-hire bridesmaid, and all of the other bizzare business models out there.
On a podcast, I once heard someone tell the story of this phase of their online business. They had been blogging, sending weekly emails, building backlinks, the whole 9 yards for their brand, yet they weren’t making a real income. They were bending themselves into a pretzel to do it all, and someone gave them a piece of advice that turned out to be their lightbulb moment.
Someone told them, “stop everything that you’re doing and don’t do a thing until you figure out how to make money.”
Figure out how to make money. That’s all this step requires of you. I know it’s huge, and hard, and I’m still figuring it out myself, so I understand the weight of this step.
Remember: more people will quit before they ever fail. This process will take time.
That is how every full-time blogger, YouTuber and template creator got started.
My Story Of Figuring Out My Online Business Idea
I was just like you: I knew with all my heart that I wanted an online business. I had been traveling full-time while freelancing, living the digital nomad lifestyle, but I hated freelancing. The lures of passive income and self-employment inspired me to start a brand, but it hardly made money for the first two years.
Something was going extremely well for me though: and that was Pinterest. I was a pro at uploading my content to Pinterest, maximizing brand reach and driving website traffic.
So, I started selling this skill. I started teaching other people how to use Pinterest as a coach, and managing accounts directly as a Pinterest manager.
Someday, I want to just run this brand full-time, and I’ll get there eventually. But in the meantime, my active income that I get through my Pinterest work supports both my husband and I, and gives us the freedom to work from anywhere.
Final Thoughts On Starting An Online Business Before Knowing Exactly What To Do
Do you feel ready to dive in and try to find your online business idea? Developing the idea for a profitable online business will take time, effort and some good ole’ fashion soul-searching, but I don’t doubt for a moment that it’s not worth it.
After all, you’re essentially offering yourself your dream job – how could that not be life-changing?
If you need a friend to talk to on this journey, shoot me an email at kayla (at) writingfromnowhere.com! I’d love to hear about your ideas and cheer you along.
Always cheering for you, friend. Good luck, and go get it!