The online business marketplace has changed… things that were hard in 2009 are now much easier. Things that used to cost a lot to set up can now be done for less, and faster, too.
And the education you need to run a business in this quickly changing environment is also different.
If I had to start my business over from scratch (with none of my existing resources, skills, or experience) this is how I’d allocate my time and budget…
Some of my recommendations link to affiliate resources, which means I may earn a commission if you decide to sign up through my links (at no additional cost to you). I’m not recommending anything that I haven’t personally used or benefitted from, and that’s the whole point of this post: to share exactly what I would invest in again!
Why learn from me and my experience? I’m Nathalie Lussier, and I’ve been running a successful online business for nearly 10 years, and my business has generated millions of dollars, and now employs a full-time team as we continue to scale.
In short: I’ve been around the block, I know what works, and I’ve helped thousands of entrepreneurs move past the “tricky startup stage” and into profitable six and seven figure business models.
Let’s look at how I’d approach starting a business from scratch in 2018.
#1 The tech stuff I’d invest in first
Since we’re talking about online business here, many of us jump into what tech tools and systems we need to make our businesses fly online. What’s great is that many of these tools are more affordable than they were when I was getting started, and they’ve gotten much easier to use, too.
Quality website hosting + a domain name
The first thing I would do if I were starting an online business from scratch today is invest in high quality website hosting and get my own domain name.
I’ve been on my fair share of inexpensive hosts that lead to “hacks” and malware being installed on your website.
Trust me: you don’t want to waste your precious time as a startup entrepreneur dealing with this type of stuff.
When it comes to a domain name, I think there are still quite a few good options for “.com” names. But if yours is taken, you can always choose a different type of domain.
I would still pick my name as my domain; throughout all the years, it’s the one thing that has stayed constant in my business… Even though I’ve launched AmbitionAlly, I still use this domain as my hub.
A customizable website platform
Next, I’d choose to set up my domain and hosting on the WordPress platform. Yes, there are a lot more options today (like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and the list goes on) but I still believe that WordPress is the platform of choice for serious business owners.
With WordPress you can install any number of add ons and have the exact functionality you’re looking for (and will grow into, trust me!) without sacrificing on style.
Plus, WordPress is an open source piece of software, which means that you’re not at the mercy of one specific company if ever they decide to stop developing the code. It’s here to stay!
On top of the functional plugins that you can install on a WordPress website, there’s also a thriving community of designers and developers who are constantly creating new themes for you to use on WordPress.
This means that you can tap into an existing “look and feel” for your website (without having to hire a designer) or you can go for something totally custom. If you’re choosing the customized route, it’s either a matter of learning how to work within a theme framework to change colors and fonts and upload your images, or of working with a professional designer on your branding.
When I started my business I used an “off the shelf” theme for my WordPress website and made some tweaks so it looked a little more “me”. But If I were starting my business from scratch today, I’d invest in a beautiful yet simple theme framework like Beaver Builder and tweak it to suit my tastes. Then, I’d focus on the next steps…
Pro Tip: I’d only go back to my site’s design and hire a professional designer for a website revision after I’d made some money in my business.
If I were starting my email list from zero again, I’d want the best tools on my side to help get some subscribers onto my email list… and automate my follow-up, so these new subscribers can become customers sooner rather than later.
I’d likely sign up for a Drip email automation account (free up to 100 contacts) or ConvertKit account because these both have the most room for growth and automation.
But if my budget was a little tighter, then I’d set up a MailChimp account to help me manage my email list, since it’s free for the first few thousand subscribers.
Then I’d want to get my WordPress website set up to convert visitors into subscribers, starting with a polite popup plugin, and that’s where PopupAlly Pro comes in. I would set up a few different opt-in forms, from a “below the blog post” opt-in, to a a call to action box at the top of the site… and of course a polite opt-in, too.
Since I’m just starting from scratch, I might not have anything to offer in exchange for someone’s name and email… and I’d want to spend some time creating a good “freebie” gift, so I would just set up these opt-ins to offer a free live webinar.
Using a Webinar As a Tool
I’d give myself about 20 days from putting up my website to hosting my first webinar. This would give me time to get slides ready, and get some feedback from potential customers. This way, the webinar would have the right content for the type of customer I want to attract.
With an inexpensive tool like WebinarJam, I could start collecting email addresses from day one.
After the live webinar, I would use the recording as my list-building giveaway, until I had a chance to create or find a more ideal opt-in gift. (Or run a second, more polished version of the webinar.)
The benefit of using a webinar like this as my opt-in from day one, is that I could start list building right away… and get instant feedback from people attending the webinar on whether or not I was on the right track with my content. I might even get my idea for my “real” opt-in gift during the webinar!
If you’re not up for doing a webinar, you could create a simple 1-page opt-in PDF that gives people a shortcut related to your topic of expertise.
#2 The business education I’d tap into
I took a look at all of the online courses I’ve purchased over the years (and tallied up how much I’ve invested…well into the multiple 5-figures, ouch!). It gave me time to really think about which ones were beneficial – and which ones I’d want to invest in again.
Some of these courses have been around for awhile, others are newer, and some are really specific to the type of business you might want to create:
Marie Forleo’s B-School
One of the first courses I would want to take again if I were starting my business from scratch is Marie Forleo’s B-School. I have a full review of Marie Forleo’s B-School program here, but here’s the short form version:
I really believe that there are core foundations that every business needs in order to be successful.
Of course you can learn bits and pieces of these concepts for free on blogs across the web (many of the people sharing these ideas might be B-School grads themselves).
But there’s nothing like a cohesive step-by-step process for putting together your virtual business plan from someone who runs a really successful business.
I also believe that the B-School community is bar-none. It’s full of supportive men and women who are there to learn alongside you and cheer you on.
Although the group is much bigger today than when I first joined B-School a few years ago, I still think that there’s a lot of value in putting yourself in a group of motivated individuals who will cheer you on and help answer your questions along the way.
Click here to see what I’m offering as a bonus for anyone who signs up for B-School now until March 1st, 2018.
Amy Porterfield’s Webinars That Convert
If you want to create and sell information products or consulting, you’ll benefit from learning how to put together really enticing and educational webinar presentations.
That’s where Amy Porterfield’s Webinars That Convert program comes in. She’s essentially written the book on what it takes to create stunning presentations that get people to say “yes.” She’s also put together a great set of webinar slide templates and sequences that encourage people to attend your webinar live -or purchase afterward, if they weren’t able to attend.
Starting from scratch, this would be my go-to resource, and I’d soak it up like a sponge.
Specific Trainings Based On What I Need Next
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can easily spread yourself too thin when it comes to learning online marketing “tactics”. That’s why I’m not recommending a TON of different programs in this section. It’s also why I wouldn’t try to bite off more than I could chew if I was starting my business from scratch.
I would, however, think through what my overall strategy was for my business…
For example, if I knew that my main form of content marketing was going to be a podcast, then I’d want to learn everything there is to know about starting a successful podcast.
If I knew that I wanted to focus on driving traffic to my website using Facebook ads, then I’d want to sign up for a Facebook ads specific program.
Similarly, if I wanted to go “all in” on writing amazing blog posts that rank well for the search engines, I’d learn the ins and outs of search engine optimization (SEO). The same goes for learning about affiliate marketing, or publishing a book on Kindle.
All of these are topics that you can learn in a fairly condensed amount of time, so you can be on your way and implementing as soon as possible.
#3 The events I’d attend
If there’s one thing that has really helped my business grow faster, it’s putting myself in a room with other go-getting entrepreneurs. There’s also something really powerful about taking some time out of your every-day routine to attend a conference or an event.
A lot of the events that I personally attended are either no longer being run, or the crowd has changed a lot since I attended and isn’t as entrepreneurially focused. So I did a little digging, and these are the conferences that I’d personally want to attend if I were starting my business over from scratch again:
Note: If you don’t see an event that speaks to you, I recommend doing some research locally to see what events might be coming to a town near you that focus on business, social media, or technology – these tend to attract the type of people that you’ll want to get to know.
The Conference For Women
I’ve never attended one of these events, but it’s been on my list to go for years. I think there are a lot of movers and shakers in attendance. Plus, it’s great to meet other women entrepreneurs or those who are also juggling a “side business” with their full-time work.
South By Southwest Interactive is a massive event that attracts a really wide range of innovators and businesses. I attended this conference in my second year of business, and the people I met there were pivotal in helping to change my thinking and get more exposure. One tip: find out who you want to connect with before attending, since it is such a big event you can get lost in the crowd easily.
World Domination Summit
This is another fairly large event that tends to attract a wide range of people, most of whom are into travel or living an alternative lifestyle. There’s definitely an entrepreneurial “follow your dreams” focus. Again, you’ll want to scope out who else is going so you can make connections before you arrive. I’ve spoken at WDS and met amazing people I am still friends with today.
Digital Marketer’s Traffic & Conversion Summit
If you’re looking for a more deep dive into the digital marketing space, this is an advanced conference where you’ll meet a lot of already successful online business owners. If I were attending as a brand new business owner, it might feel like drinking from the firehose – but the people you’ll meet and the ideas you’ll gain will be priceless.
WordCamp and PodCamp
I love both of these events because they’re really accessible; there are WordCamp and PodCamp conferences being held across the world. I’ve spoken at both of these conferences, and I think the people you’ll meet can become longtime friends and potentially even clients depending on your business. There’s a wide range of attendees from experts and business owners to people who love WordPress and new media as a hobby.
#4 What I Would Focus My Time On
I’ve talked about the various investments I’d make in my website, my education, and networking with the right people… But back home sitting alone at my computer, what would I focus my time on to get my business going successfully?
Find My “Magic Sauce” And Start Offering A Service
Many people who want to start an online business think they should create an online course or an ebook as one of their first offerings.
But in my experience, it’s MUCH easier to start building your business by offering a service that fits within your “zone of genius”. Of course, starting from scratch, I might not know exactly what my skill set really is and what people might be willing to hire me for.
In that case, I would write down everything that comes naturally for me, what I can spend hours on end doing without getting tired, and what my childhood hobbies or obsessions were.
Then I’d see if there are any patterns, noticing if there’s an intersection between what I’m really good at and what other people might need help with. In my case, that’s coming up with ideas and strategy (I used to come up with business ideas as a kid), and techy website stuff (I started making websites when I was 12 years old).
I would stay away from starting a business based “on my passions,” because one thing I’ve learned over the years is that I can get really passionate about topics for months (or even years) at a time, but these don’t tend to make the best long-term businesses. Eventually, I do lose steam.
Focusing on a skill or something that you’re great at is a much better long-term plan for building a successful business!
Get Clear On Where My Ideal Clients Are
Now that I’ve got a good idea of what I could offer as a service, whether it’s something in the realm of coaching or consulting, or “done for you” type stuff… I need to make sure that it’s something that people are looking for, and willing to pay for.
That’s where gaining clarity about who your ideal clients are and where they tend to hang out is important. You need to be able to get in touch with them!
In my case, I might search Google with a few key words (web sites or business strategy) to see what top sites come up. I would also look for Facebook groups, forums, and other “hubs” where people congregate.
Just to get a really specific example going: if I were looking to offer a service to parents of twins on how to juggle two kids at once, I might look for “twin support groups” and get to know this community. I wouldn’t try to sell anything to this group of ideal clients, I would just observe for a few days to get a feel for the common frustrations and questions that come up.
Make Time To Talk To Potential Clients
I’d also see if anyone would be willing to chat with me on the phone. Then I could get to know them better and find out if my idea for a service is really something that’s needed.
When I was first starting out online, my instinct for creating a service or a product offering was to “look at what everyone else is doing” and do the same or a similar thing.
You don’t know if what other coaches or people in your industry are doing is even working. And if it is working, it might be because of their “special zone of genius.” Or it might be because of the ideal clients they’ve attracted… who may not be the same as the ones you’re meant to serve.
So that’s why actually talking to a live human being about whether what you could do for them would be beneficial for them is so important.
Based on a few informal conversations, I would decide if I should to go ahead with my idea for my service, pick a price for it – and start offering it to people in this community.
Build My Email List
You know I love me some list building, and at this point, I’d have even more clarity about the topic and what to teach on the webinar for the opt-in (as mentioned above).
This is the time to begin looking at other ways to drive traffic and get exposure for the webinar. So that might be getting to know other influencers in my marketplace and asking them if they’d be willing to help spread the word. Or, it might be running a Facebook ad, writing a guest post for a popular website, or asking to be interviewed on someone else’s podcast. It would also be worth it to invite the people in the different groups and communities that I’ve been participating in to join me for the webinar.
Some of these things take time, but at least getting the ball rolling at this point would help me get some list building going so I would have a steady flow of potential clients for my service.
Crank Up The Marketing
After holding my first webinar and getting a few one-on-one clients for my service offering, I might have a handful of people on my list (maybe 30 or 100). This gives me some feedback to work off of.
If I hadn’t gotten a nibble on my service yet, I would know that I wasn’t on the right track with what I was offering, so I’d go back to the drawing board and get more feedback.
However, if things are starting to hum a little – I have to get really clear on what worked to get those clients and start repeating it. If talking to someone on the phone resulted in a client signing up, then I’d want to book more introductory phone calls. If it was the webinar that got me clients, I’d do more webinars.
If people found me through my guest post or Facebook ads, I’d do more of those.
#5 What Next?
Now you might be wondering… if you’re starting an online business, why the focus on starting with a service before getting into creating and launching an online course or membership site?
That’s because it’s much easier to start earning an income from a service during the early days when you don’t have an audience to sell a program or a course to yet.
Once you’ve made your first few hundred or thousand dollars, then you also have more capital to re-invest into your business. This will enable you to hire some help, get some of the necessary tools to run a course, and also have a better understanding of what your market wants. After all, if you’re putting time and resources into creating an online course, you want it to be the RIGHT course.
So That’s How I’d Start My Business Over In 2018…
Now you’ve read about how I’d go about starting my business from scratch again in 2018.
I didn’t talk about all the things I tried (that failed miserably!) or all of the ways that 2009 made starting up harder… But if you want a guide to help you start your business or take an existing business online this year, then I’d love to help you do it.