Need a Better Playbook? These are the Best Online Business Books

Russell Brunson is the founder of ClickFunnels, a software company for business owners that makes 9 figures yearly. His series of online business books, “Dotcom Secrets,” “Expert Secrets,” and “Traffic Secrets,” talk about the strategies he’s learned to build successful online businesses.

Each one is a “playbook” for different aspects of online business. When you combine the lessons from all three, you can build the type of business that joins the “two comma club,” an award ClickFunnels users get when they cross a million dollars in sales using the software.

These online business books should be read in this order:

  • “Dotcom Secrets”
    Start with this book because it lays out the foundations of how to build an online business and introduces you to the concept of building sales funnels, which is the core skill you need to learn above the other skills taught in the series.
  • “Expert Secrets”
    This book teaches you how to build an audience of loyal fans who will buy information products from you, which is the core business model Russell teaches.
  • “Traffic Secrets”
    Once you know how to build funnels and have a following of people listening to you, you can pour gasoline on the fire by learning how to get more eyeballs (traffic) to your offers (aka what you want to sell).


“Dotcom Secrets”

Dotcom Secrets book cover Dotcom Secrets” teaches you how to build sales funnels.

Sales funnels are a series of landing pages, emails, videos, and calls to action that lead people from being unaware, casual observers to buyers and loyal customers.

Before learning about the specifics of building funnels, it’s important to understand some core business principles that he presents in the book. 


The secret formula to online business success

1. Find your ideal customer

If you don’t get the audience research part right, then it won’t matter what funnels you’re trying to create. The first step is always figuring out who your ideal customer might be. Take educated guesses about their demographics like age, income level, lifestyle, and personal challenges.

2. Understand their pain points, wants, needs, and desires

Get inside your ideal customer’s head and think about what keeps them up at night. What problems are they going through? What do they hope to become? Are they trying to make a transformation in their life related to your product? Good old-fashioned brainstorming will help you come up with ideas.

3. Your product becomes the solution

If you want to get good at sales, figure out exactly what’s ailing your audience and position your product as a solution to those problems. You can go so far as to use their own words in your marketing (I do). All the language you use in emails, landing pages, sales letters, etc., should speak to those core issues you identified in the research phase.

4. Create your value ladder

At first, you want to become successful at selling one product. But after that, you can create your value ladder. This is the process of creating multiple products to increase the lifetime value (LTV) of your customer.

If they only buy from you once because you only have one thing to sell, then you can’t increase your LTV unless you raise your prices. Creating a value ladder makes your customers more valuable.

It’s hard to pack all the wisdom from an online business book into one section of a blog post, so I’ll highlight the biggest takeaways about building successful sales funnels and improving your marketing:

  • Use stories to sell products: People remember stories more than plain information. This works well when you tell a before-and-after story of the process you plan to teach them through an information product.
  • Build your attractive character: You don’t just want to sell products; you want to start a movement (more on that later). To build a movement, you want to craft a persona that makes people bond with you. This doesn’t mean you should be fake. Instead, you should highlight the parts of your story and personality that resonate with people.
  • Understand these aspects of building sales funnels: There’s a lot that goes into creating sales funnels (read the book!), but for starters: pay attention to the stage of awareness levels, the difference between warm and cold leads, and how to help people make buying decisions.
  • Create a no-brainer offer: The offer is the thing you sell. You want to craft offers that provide so much value it’s hard for people to say no. You can create better offers by developing ways to lower risk, increase the speed of results, and help them overcome their doubts, fears, and limiting beliefs.
  • Test, test, and test some more: The more you test—different headlines, different calls to action, different copy, etc.—the more you’ll understand what sells and what doesn’t. Smart business owners constantly course-correct and iterate based on data.

The bottom line? If you want to get rich, learn how to build funnels.


“Expert Secrets”

Expert Secrets book cover This is the online business book you want to read if you have dreams of becoming an influencer who sells products people love. If you can learn to position yourself as an expert, you can go above and beyond “building an audience” and build a mass movement of people who swear by everything you do.

Russell even admits to studying cult leaders, dictators, and propagandists to figure out how people can create a huge movement for a cause through persuasion.


Creating your mass movement

You need these four components to build a mass movement:

1. The charismatic leader

Your character should represent what the brand stands for. Often it’s you, but it could be a spokesperson.

Build your attractive character by coming up with a backstory (the best story is how you overcame the problem you’ll teach others to overcome).

Identify the character’s traits to align with the brand (e.g. if you have a rebellious brand, your attractive character should be irreverent). Provide depth and substance by ensuring the character shares relevant information with their audience.

2. The cause

You want your brand and your audience to stand for something and against something else. Create a shared mission that people want to follow and fight for.

The cause makes them feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, which is one of the best ways to create the tribal behavior that drives mass movements.

Think of someone like Elon Musk, who supports huge causes like saving the planet, which inspires people to be his fans no matter what.

3. The new opportunity

Odds are, your audience has already tried to solve their problem with a different solution that didn’t work. Now they’re back to square one and tired of hearing the same old advice.

If you can introduce a new solution that they haven’t tried before, they’re more likely to buy. Instead of telling your audience how your solution is better, show them how your solution is different.

Think of a company like P90X, which exploded in popularity due to its “muscle confusion” style of exercise that people hadn’t tried before.

4. The opportunity switch

In short, you say, “You tried this old thing that didn’t work, and I have this new thing that works. I invite you to try the new thing because of x, y, and z reasons that it’s unique and can help you.”

Russell did this with the concept of sales funnels. Before he made it a popular term, people only used static websites. They didn’t have a software system that could move people through stages of awareness and do all these crazy upsells, down sells, and cross-sells.

It was a new way of doing business online, and tons of people joined the movement as a result.


Hook, story, offer

I created another section for this concept because it’s so important.

This three-step process will help you sell a lot more of your product. It uses human psychology and persuasion principles to grab attention, keep attention, and turn that attention into money.

1. Hook

You need to create a compelling set of words that stops people in their tracks and forces them to pay attention. A hook could be a headline for a sales page, the first sentence of a blog post, an email subject line, or a headline/first few words of an advertisement.

2. Story

If you tell a story related to your product that your potential customers can see themselves in, they are more likely to convert.

Talk about how you tried similar strategies that didn’t work, the new opportunity you found, how it changed your life, and how it can change theirs, too.

The story builds desire and interest, which warms them up for the final phase of the process.

3. Offer

You pitch the product. Talk about its benefits, the problems it will solve, and the transformation that comes from using it.

Tie the offer back to the original story. Detail everything they’ll get if they buy, and then ask them to buy.

In summary, to create a mass movement, take the knowledge you have, package it into something valuable, and then use funnels to grow people’s awareness and get them to buy. 


“Traffic Secrets”

Traffic Secrets No traffic, no leads, no money, no business.

Focus on getting eyeballs on your brand. You need people to stumble onto your content, become a part of your funnels, and buy your products.

This online business book has a ton of different strategies to grow your traffic, but there are a few core principles you must understand.


The Dream 100 strategy

From a post I wrote on the strategy a while back:

You want to target 100 places where your dream audience hangs out and build relationships to eventually get your content, products, and services in front of them.

Create your Dream 100, engage with them online, and reach the point where you might have the opportunity to share your product with their audience (e.g., you land a podcast invite with a big influencer, and at the end, you can tell people about your product).

Here’s how the strategy works.

1. Pick the platform you want to use for your Dream 100

You don’t want to be everywhere at first. Pick the platform that best fits the attractive character and the target audience.

2. Create your Dream 100 list

Find 100 people or companies with audiences you’d love to get your brand in front of. You should have a mix of people/companies at, above, and below your level.

3. Start creating a bunch of content on the platform

Like attracts like. If you want to get in front of influential people and their audiences, you want to become influential yourself. This means committing to posting daily on the platform you chose.

Aside from the Dream 100 strategy, “Traffic Secrets” teaches a ton of tactics you can use to get traffic on different platforms.

Here are some of the big takeaways for getting more attention:

  • Create high-quality content: Take the time to research the type of content that does well on platforms and model it (e.g., having a bright and compelling thumbnail for YouTube videos, making the right edits and cuts to videos, and opening the videos with strong hooks).
  • Run ads: Sales funnels have a huge relationship with paid advertisements. Create paid ads to get new leads, and your funnels convert those leads into customers. There are ways you can pay less to acquire customers and get them to spend more money. Reading the book will give you step-by-step systems to do just that.
  • BOPA: Or “borrow other people’s audiences.” This is one of the fastest ways to grow. Find people in adjacent markets and get in front of their audience. The Dream 100 strategy helps you do this.
  • Engage: The smaller your account or profile on a certain platform, the more time you should spend engaging. Like and reply to every comment. Set aside 20-30 minutes daily to engage with your Dream 100 online (this is how you build relationships with them). Leave smart comments and replies to get pushed to the top of feeds and gain followers.
  • Build your list: Email marketing is still the go-to strategy for converting casual audience members into customers. Whoever says email marketing is dead is lying or not very smart. Use traffic to get email subscribers. Nurture and sell to those email subscribers.


Don’t build a business, build a movement

If you want to start a personal brand and use it to sell products, these are the only three books you need. They’re some of the best online business books I’ve ever come across, which is why I make time to re-read them.

Most of the lessons in these books come down to a few things.

Know your audience.

Care about your audience.

Make your audience feel understood.

Those three sentences are the essence of sales and marketing. If you can figure out what people want and understand their problems, you can sell to them by sharing stories that make them believe you’re the one who can help them.  

Become the leader who breaks their limiting beliefs and replaces them with confidence. Walk your audience through their own hero’s journey after sharing yours with them.

The best way to build an online business isn’t to build an online business. It’s building a movement by learning to understand and communicate with other human beings.