The Brutally Honest Truth About What It Takes To Start a Successful Online Business

They make it sound so easy, don’t they?

Tons of gurus tell you how anyone can start a business and make some cash online. They rave about all these sexy-sounding business models and paths to wealth and glory.

It’s never been easier to start an online business, but following through with a business idea and making it profitable is a different story.

If you want to succeed with your online business, you need to understand, accept, and embrace the brutally honest truth about what it takes to succeed.

Here are 5 realities that you shouldn’t ignore:


1. Don’t skip this crucial step when starting an online business

A while back, I did a free consultation for a friend in town. She was a social media consultant who taught individuals and companies how to grow their Instagram pages. 

I checked her Instagram page and noticed she only had a couple hundred followers. 

I told her that she needed to grow her own account before she started charging people. This is the step many freelancers and agency owners won’t take. They don’t take the time to get good at their service or to demonstrate their own competence.

If you have an e-learning business where you teach people a skill or if you’re helping clients with a service you provide, you have to make sure you can deliver on your promises.

Also, it’s not enough to prove your skills work for you. You have to prove they work for other people and companies, too. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to do this. 

  1. In the beginning, provide your service for free with a small sample of students or clients.
  2. Help them get great results.
  3. Ask for testimonials and referrals.

Depending on the type of service you provide, getting results for someone else is enough.

Here’s a good example. If you start a business that sells SEO services to help companies rank on search engines, it will be hard for your company to rank for SEO-related keywords because they are super competitive.

You can, however, help your clients get good results because their industries are much less competitive. This is one example where you can demonstrate the skill through the clients you serve without having to prove it yourself.

Either way, you must have proof of competence if you want to get clients AND keep them.

Speaking of working for free, I’m reminded of this important lesson.


2. You must cure this addiction (or you won’t make it)

If you want to build a successful business, you have to train yourself to think like a business owner instead of an employee. This is where the concept of working to learn comes in.

Many people struggle with entrepreneurship because they are addicted to instant gratification in the form of a salary or weekly paycheck. When it comes to building a business, you can do lots of work without making any money at all. You can work and lose money.

A lot of businesses operate at breakeven for years. Some companies operate at a loss for years (e.g., venture-backed companies that have funding but aren’t profitable yet). 

If you want to make money with your business down the road, embrace this lesson I learned from Robert Kiyosaki, author of the book “Rich Dad Poor Dad”:

steps to start an online business quote 1

In the beginning, you have to work to develop profitable skills and spread awareness about your business.

Say you want to start a business selling online courses.

You’ll have to spend time on activities that help you grow down the road but might not pay you right away, like:

  • Mastering the skill you’re going to teach in your program
  • Testing the concept on students for free before you charge
  • Creating free content to build an audience
  • Learning different marketing strategies like SEO, social media marketing, and paid advertisements
  • Reading business books
  • Building a network of people who can help you promote your course in the future

In a situation like this, you might spend a few months or even years just working for free to build up a fan base you can sell to. If you focus too much on the money upfront, you’ll get demotivated and quit.

You need a long-term mindset, patience, and the ability to delay your gratification if you want to win big in online business.


3. You need to 10x your activity to build a successful business

Most online business owners underestimate the volume of work they need to do to reach their goals.

Say you’re a freelancer who wants to turn their service into an agency.

If you want to make money, you need clients. To get more clients, you need to put your service in front of people who could potentially buy it. To put your services in front of potential buyers, you can do outreach. 

This is the process of sending “cold” emails and DMs to people or companies in your target market.

Alex Hormozi had this piece of advice for people who were serious about growing their service business:

Send 100 DMs a day.

If you want to send DMs that convert well, you can’t just use a templated approach because it’ll get ignored. You have to take the time to study each company for a few minutes and send a personalized pitch. Multiply that times 100, and you’re looking at a lot of leg work.

And that’s just the initial outreach.

After that, you have to have actual conversations with the people who reply. You might have to book sales calls to convince them to buy. You’ll have to follow up with people who don’t respond and be persistent to get their attention.

I’ve been in the “make money online” space for a while now. Most freelancers and agency owners do little to no outreach to grow their businesses. Most of them don’t send 10 DMs a day, let alone 100.

Another quote from Hormozi:

steps to start an online business quote 02

Besides DMs, this means strategies like:

  • Creating new content for your brand or company every single day, for years at a time
  • Trying dozens of different ad campaigns with different creative media, hooks, titles, button labels, etc., and A/B testing them until you see which ads work best
  • Creating a list of 100 people to collaborate with on every single social media platform and engaging with them daily
  • Going on a podcast tour and appearing on hundreds of shows to promote your brand

Odds are, you’re grossly underestimating the output you need to succeed. Starting an online business can be achieved through simple steps, but it’s anything but easy.

Starting an Online Business Checklist - Click here to access


4. Avoid shiny object syndrome at all costs

There are tons of different ways to make money online, and there are a bunch of different businesses you could start.

On the one hand, that’s great because there are lots of different options you can choose from to match your tastes, talents, and skillset.

On the other hand, you can get analysis paralysis when trying to pick a business model. Also, you can abandon ship too early and try to pivot when you should just stick with your original plan.

This is what most wantrepreneurs do.

One day they have an email marketing agency. A couple months later, they’re running a crypto investment firm. When the markets crash, they pivot to affiliate marketing—all the while, none of their businesses work, and they waste time by constantly starting over.

Russel Brunson suggests a different approach in his book “Dot Com Secrets.”

If you’re running an online business, you should have:

    • One core product
    • One target market
    • And one “funnel” or series of emails to sell people on your product

He says you shouldn’t launch a new product until you’ve hit a million dollars in sales with that single product.

Even if you do expand your product line, you’re still serving customers in that same target market. Often, the new product just gives them more of what they already asked for (e.g., adding an up-sell with coaching based on content from an online course you sold them before).

If you give it a sincere shot and the business model doesn’t work, sure, you can pivot. You might establish a business to the point you can exit the day-to-day role or sell the company, which means you can start something new. 

But in most cases, you need to stick with your business model, your target audience, and your core product for years at a time.


5. You need a top-notch, customer-focused product for your online business to thrive

There are many different reasons why your business might be underperforming—a bad market, a change in trends, or the competitive landscape.

But often, you have to face a painful realization if you want to grow your business and increase your revenue:

Your product or service just isn’t good enough.

If you’re acquiring lots of new customers but can’t retain them, there’s something wrong with your product or service.

For example, lots of companies these days are anxious to work with agencies because most of them over-promise and under-deliver, which is the exact opposite of what a good company does.

You need to ask yourself tough questions about your business and act on the answers:

  • Is your product or service actually getting people good results?
  • Are you properly responding to feedback from your customers (or are you even asking for it to begin with)?
  • Do you need to take more time to study and improve the skills needed for the service you provide?
  • Do you provide an amazing onboarding experience and take care of your customers after they buy?
  • Is your product the best it can truly be?

It takes self-awareness and humility to double down on your business when you know it’s underperforming because of you.

You should constantly be working to improve your product and meet the needs of your customers.

This quote from Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, arguably one of the best companies ever invented, says:

steps to build an online business quote 03

If your product is good and you treat your customers well, they’ll tell other people about your product or service and grow your business for you. If you’re in a certain industry and keep losing clients because of your product performance, negative word of mouth will spread and cause more customers to flee.


Don’t fall for the hype

In general, a lot of online business gurus and personalities glamorize the idea of building a business by making it sound sexy and easy.

They teach you to have unrealistic expectations for success, both in the amount of money you can make and how quickly you can make said money. 

Use this rule of thumb when you’re deciding if you should listen to someone’s advice about starting an online business:

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

You can make money online.

You don’t need to be a genius to do it.

In many industries, the steps are simple.

But you still have to do the work.

Nothing worth having comes easily. If it does come easily, it’ll also be easy to lose. 

Building a business can be a lot of fun, and it can give you freedom. But you also have to do a bunch of tasks you don’t want to do. You’ll have to slot through tedious work. Some aspects of building a business are mind-numbingly boring.

Even though it’s not all sunshine and roses, building a business is an excellent tool for personal growth, and it will be a rewarding experience (even if it isn’t always pretty).

Be excited to build your business, yes, but remember, a successful business requires substance, not hype.