One of the hardest parts of becoming a location-independent boss is deciding what type of digital business to start. Internet business ideas are all over the place.. but when you’re just getting started, how can you decide which online business idea to actually pursue? There are 3 steps to figuring this out:
- What’s business model(s) will you pursue?
- What’s your subject/topic?
- What is your starting gameplan to get traffic/clients/$$$$$$$?
First, a bit about me, and why you should even listen to me.
I’m a twenty-something year old full-time (mostly) traveler, who lives in an RV (….yes, on purpose.) I make 100% of my money online. Most of it is through a digital marketing agency, a little bit from freelance consulting, and pocket change from a myriad of half-finished passive income websites that I’ve set up over the years. I have a penchant for coming up with ideas and going all-in to get them started (can you say shiny object syndrome??) I have been in the digital marketing industry for over 8 years, focusing on SEO, and have helped businesses of all sizes increase their traffic & bottom lines – from household names that you’re almost guaranteed to have interacted with at some point, to blogs that started out small and became huge money makers, to local businesses of all kinds who just want to sell more services, to consultants and coaches and membership site owners. I used to be the VP of Operations at someone else’s agency after starting there as a social media manager. I have started viral news sites, owned an ecommerce store, and clients pay me a pretty penny for advice on marketing their own businesses online. Basically, I know online business from multiple angles. I quit college to do this stuff. I’m not a millionaire, but since I began working for myself in 2016, I’ve continued making enough money on the interwebz to fund my travels, and this year (now that I’m planning to slow down on the travel and amp up my business focus) I plan to make a lot more.
BACK TO THE POINT.
I have a bit of a mental framework when coming up with business ideas, or recommending ideas to others, which I’ll try to share here. I’ll go through that and then later we’ll discuss some business ideas that could spark some ideas within you, based on a few different scenarios.
1. SELECTING YOUR BUSINESS MODEL
First you have to consider 3 things (can you tell I dig lists?) —
- how fast do you need to start making $$,
- what do you have more of right now to invest: time or $$, and
- how involved do you want to be long term?
I recently covered the 4 foundational online business types that exist (in my opinion – there are thousands of variations) on my Instagram story. They all have different payoff amounts and speeds, and different upfront costs in terms of time and money. So let’s take a step back and review what WHAT THE HECK AN ONLINE BUSINESS EVEN IS, and what the basic online business models are.
And before we do that, let’s take two steps back and talk about what the heck a business is.
A business is where you exchange something of value in return for money. If there is no value or money being exchanged, there is no business. You can have a fancy logo, an office, and a business bank account… but if there is no money going in and out of that bank account, you don’t have one, no matter how much fun you’re having “playing business” with your business cards and fancy name. 😛
So an online business is where you exchange something of value in return for money…. over the internet. That’s literally it. Anything you can do over the internet can be an online business. And the internet has really opened up options for what you can do because there are multitudes of new softwares and specialties being born each day, that you can either learn and sell your services for, learn and sell your knowledges about, or learn and use those tools to sell other things like products.
So with that being said, the 4 basic online business models (again, in my opinion) are:
- Selling services/knowledge (ie personally doing an activity, consulting, or paying others to do the activity)
- Selling digital products (ie your mind)
- Selling physical products (ie ecommerce)
- Selling other people’s products, physical or digital (ie affiliate marketing)
Like I said before, they each have different levels of involvement, speeds of payoff, and upfront investments required in terms of time and money. Here’s a little matrix for you.
|Business Type||Short Term Involvement||Long Term Involvement||Payoff Speed||Upfront Investment|
|Services/consulting||High||High to medium||Fast||Low|
|Information products||Very high||Very low||Slow until launch||Time-based|
|Physical products||Medium||Medium-Low||Variable, Medium-high potential||Variable (dropshipping vs inventory)|
|Affiliate marketing||High||Low-Medium||Slow (typically)||Time-based|
So ask yourself:
How fast do you need to start making money online?
This is an important one because the answer will completely drive which type of online business would suit you most.
The fastest way to make in income online is (drumroll) selling a service or product that you can provide with your brain + time.
I’ll be honest – trading your time for money long term is not the most freedom-centric way of running an online business. But it is the #1 fastest way to start earning an income digitally. The simplified process it to decide what product or service you’re offering, to who (product + market fit), get it in front of them, take their money, and provide the service.
This is exactly what I do with most of my business!
On the other hand, if you want to make an income more passively without giving your time directly to clients or customers, there are more flexible options as long as you have some time to spare before you start making that moolah’. Some options…
-Start an ecommerce store
-Start a blog that can earn affiliate income, product creation income, membership subscription income, etc
-Start a niche site that earns affiliate income through Pinterest traffic, SEO etc.
How much of an investment in time and finances can you dedicate to making this work?
Not willing to commit a lot of time? Then offering consulting services or manual work is probably not your best bet.
Not willing to commit a lot of money? Then you better choose an digital business model where bootstrapping is a possibility. This just means you need to eliminate anything with an upfront investment.
Most people have more of one than the other – time or money – so take that into consideration when choosing what exactly you can commit.
What do you want your business to look like long term?
If you want a laid back, hands off business long term, then a services based business is not your best bet. But that all relies on how important it is that you start making money now. There’s also nothing wrong with starting a service based business to get going, and then branching off into other things while hiring people to take care of the delivery aspect, or selling your service business altogether. So none of these options are life sentences.
Deciding what you need short term and what you want long term should help you settle on a business model to start.
Oh, and to be clear, you don’t have to settle on just one at a time, either. I do multiple. It just helps to have focus particularly at the start. 🙂
Onto the next part….
2. SELECTING YOUR TOPIC
There are 2 important questions that will help you select your topic or niche to combine with your business model.
(Pssst, I’ll also be sharing very specific topic ideas on this blog – yet another reason to stay tuned – but keep reading below to come up with some of your own.)
A. WHAT ARE YOU/can you get GOOD AT, OR what are you INTERESTED IN?
This is important because you need to have at least a little bit of interest or skill in the area you’re going into. Both is ideal, but one or the other will do.
Why? Well, if you have the interest, you can find the people with the skills to hire and perform the actual grunt work.
If you have the skills or can gain the skills, you can get started with a digital business that makes you an income, and then transition down the line into another business or pivot into something you’re more interested in. Sometimes, although this isn’t the funnest avenue, this can be the most effective so long as you find a way to be passionate about being in business itself.. because there are times where having an interest in what you’re working on can hold you back due to perfection paralyzation.. but that’s a conversation for another day.
Even if you’re just doing affiliate marketing, you have to figure out how to be interested in the topic (even if you’re just interested in it because it’s a profitable topic, not because it’s one you’re passionate about.)
The jackpot is when you have both the interest and the skills surrounding a topic, meaning you can not only pull of the work or consulting or information-sharing required, but it actually gets you off, too.
B. WHAT WILL PEOPLE PAY FOR?
You can’t just start a llama hat company, follow all the proper steps, and be sad that it didn’t work out.
You also can’t start a llama hat affiliate website to promote someone else’s llama hats, and then be sad that you’re not getting commissions because nobody wants llama hats.
You have to do the market research to see if people want llama hats.
Some questions to ask to figure this out:
-Is there search volume for this? (Do keyword research)
-Do competitors already exist in the space? (Yes = good sign and indicates market demand)
-Are other people advertising this? (Yes = there must be money in it)
-Are there Facebook groups, forums, Pinterest boards, etc dedicated to this? (Yes = same as above)
Finding the intersection of what you’re good at/interested in and what people will pay for and then injecting that into your business model is the ultimate way to form a business that serves you and lets you share your “superpowers” with the world.
3. Lastly, what is your starting gameplan to get traffic/clients/$$$$$$$?
This is going to have to be a post (or series) for another day because there are a lot of ways to skin a cat and they deserve more detail. 🙂 How do you get your product in front of your market?? Where do you find them? How do you sell them? Stay tuned and subscribe to the email list for this.
Make no doubt about it.. the most common conception about being a rat race rebel is that working online is easy, making money online is easy, anyone can do it, etc. That if you’re making an income online, you must have it easy. That’s not true.
If anything… making money online is HARDER than getting and holding a regular job. You have to be organized, you have to hold yourself accountable, you are 100% responsible for your income, there will be hurdles and learning curves and roadblocks (even mental ones) that you will have to constantly overcome to get to the next level. But if you’re willing to be a lifelong student, keep at it with determination, and possess some interest in business, you can make it work.
Questions? Confusion? Ask away in the comments. I know this is a LOT of information to consider and go through but if you’re serious about making that internet money, it’s all stuff you have to work through eventually.