How to Build a Successful Online Business

I love the lifestyle that comes from running an online business. I get to work from home each day, set my own hours, choose my own projects, and enjoy abundant income. It’s hard for me to imagine how I’d feed myself without the Internet. When I think about income generation, I immediately think of the web.

I was talking to a successful entrepreneur recently who pointed out that building an online business is an exercise in personal development. He’s absolutely right. I’ve probably learned more valuable life lessons from my entrepreneurial pursuits than from any other areas of my life. Running a business tests you in so many ways — your self-discipline, your intelligence, your communication skills, your focus, etc. If you’re lacking in any of these areas, your business results will reflect it.

The real world of business can be unforgiving. Success is rewarded. Mistakes are punished. The benefit is that it keeps you honest. You can’t settle for weakness, laziness, and bad ideas, or your business will fail. There’s a huge chasm between an idea that sounds good and an idea that actually gets implemented and succeeds under real-world conditions. Anyone can come up with good ideas, but most people can’t successfully implement them.

Some people can’t handle the pressure of running their own business. They worry about the risk of failure. They’re looking at it from the wrong angle though. That risk is precisely the point. Risk is what helps you grow. It makes you stronger. An entrepreneur who fears risk is like a bodybuilder who’s afraid of barbells.

There have been times when I had to deal with tough problems, like having bills due but no money to pay them. These problems made me dig deep inside myself. My business compelled me to grow into the kind of person who could handle these sorts of things. I learned to trust myself to work hard, to stay focused under pressure, and to even enjoy the process.

We all have different levels of risk tolerance. You don’t need to stress yourself out to grow. You just need to challenge yourself in a way that stimulates you. Lift weights that are heavy and which tax your muscles… but which you can still successfully lift. Afterwards you may feel spent, but you’ll also grow from the experience. If you only do what comes easy for you, you’ll suffer from atrophy, and life will become rather boring and pointless.

Why an online business?

In the age of the Internet, I think almost everyone should have an online business if only for the growth experience. It doesn’t cost much to start one, but it will teach you so much. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that you’ll learn you do have something of value to share with the world, something that can generate income for you for the rest of your life.

In a way I’m jealous of the teenagers and 20-somethings who are growing up so Internet savvy. Any of them could start their own online businesses and get ahead financially at a young age. I would have loved to have been doing this in high school or college. It’s terrific that some people are becoming millionaires at such a young age, but I think the real success stories come from those who find a way to generate just a few thousand dollars per month, enough to cover their expenses.

Building traffic

Running an online business is deceptively simple. Look at my web site, for example. The structure isn’t very complicated. It’s mostly just a lot of content. But it consistently generates a nice five-figure monthly income. Anyone can do it, right?

Unfortunately, not everyone can do this. People try and fail all the time. The success stories get a lot of attention, but there are orders of magnitude more failures.

The key factor in building a successful online business is traffic. If you can’t build sufficient traffic, you won’t be able to generate much, if any, income. And unfortunately most people are really bad at building traffic. They apply completely inept strategies that don’t work, and they usually give up within a few months after starting.

Building traffic is not remotely easy for most people. This problem isn’t unique to the web though. You see it in every field. Some authors sell millions of books, while the average book doesn’t even sell 5,000 copies. Lots of people can write a book, but relatively few know how to sell a book. Lots of people can create a web site or blog these days, but few know how to attract large amounts of traffic.

If you can successfully build lots of traffic, it’s fairly easy to generate income from it. You also have time to figure it out. If you can grow your traffic, you can maintain your traffic, and that gives you time to figure out how to monetize the traffic.

In the past I’ve written articles trying to teach people how to build successful online businesses, including How to Make Money From Your Blog and How to Build a High-Traffic Website. Those were long, detailed articles, and both have become extremely popular in the blogosphere. I didn’t charge any money for this content — it’s all free. Those articles inspired a lot of people (hundreds that I know of) to enthusiastically start their own websites. Some of those people are doing quite well now, but most that I’ve been aware of have failed miserably.

Why most people fail

Why did most people fail? I think the reason was that the whole process of running an online business is just too complicated for most people. There are lots of ways to screw it up. It pained me to visit some of those sites and notice a dozen glaring mistakes within the first few seconds — blogs that didn’t enable permalinks, cutesy headlines with no keywords in them, bad choice of topics, page titles that still used the WordPress default format, hideously suboptimal ad layouts, hidden or missing contact info, etc. Any one of those mistakes could cripple a site’s results. More than one is a practically a death sentence. Such mistakes cause problems both for human visitors and search engines.

But at the same time, there were teenagers humming along just fine, generating four figures in monthly income after working on their sites for 6-12 months. They didn’t necessarily get everything right, but they were Internet savvy enough to fix the big problems early.

What bothered me most about this was that people were too often failing because of the technology. Many of them had great ideas and very good content. It was a shame to read some of their articles and think to myself, This is great stuff… too bad no one will ever see it.

The cruel and unfair part of online business is that if you aren’t very Internet savvy, you’ll make mistakes on the technical side that you’re totally oblivious to. You may get the content side right, but the technology will bite you and cripple your results.

In my “How to Make Money From Your Blog” Article, I did correctly identify this problem and suggested that 99 out of 100 people would fail because of it. But it’s still a pretty unfair situation. There are people who can write great content who really deserve to be getting a lot of readers, but because they don’t understand permalinks, RSS feeds, pinging, or other technologies, they’re doomed before they start.

Once I saw this happening, I basically decided I’d better shut up about encouraging people to run an online business. People kept asking me for new articles on the subject, but I didn’t think it was a good idea. I was concerned I’d be doing more harm than good.

A new solution

Recently I came across a good solution to this problem — a way for people to build a successful online business that doesn’t require them to become technology gurus.

What I recommend is a service called Site Build-It — it’s an all-in-one solution for creating and building an online business. You pay an annual fee for the service, and they provide you with all the tools you need to build an income-generating website. They host the site for you, they help you register your domain name, and they provide integrated tools like point-and-click page generators, built-in blogging, form builders, RSS feeds, and lots more. Many of these details will be handled for you, so you don’t have to worry about them.

You still create your own content, and you use their tools (or your own familiar tools) to create a site based on your unique ideas. You focus on the content side. They help you with the technical implementation side.

I don’t recommend this solution for everyone. If you’ve already built a successful website that generates thousands of dollars a month for you, you won’t need this. I don’t need it myself. But if you’re one of those people that have been held back by the technical complexity, I encourage you to check it out. This is the kind of solution I’d recommend for my non-programmer friends who want to get something going online but need help with the technical side.

Running an online business can be a wonderful growth experience, and the income and freedom it can provide is certainly nice too. People really shouldn’t be deprived of this opportunity for technical reasons. The self-publishing power of blogging technology has gotten us partway there, but it’s only one piece to the puzzle. I encourage you to take a good look at Site Build-It, since I think you’ll find that their system fills in the remaining gaps, putting online business success within your reach.

This is by no means a get-rich-quick program. You’ll still need to put in the time and energy to create quality content for your web site, but at least you won’t have to worry as much about the technical side.

Steve Recommends

Here are my recommendations for reviewed products and services that can improve your results. This is a short list since it only includes my top picks.

Lefkoe Method - Permanently eliminate a limiting belief in 20 minutes
Site Build It! - Use SBI to start your own money-making website
Getting Rich with Ebooks - Make passive income selling ebooks
The Journal - Record your life lessons in a secure private journal
Imaginary Men - Intimate lessons from 6 men's coaches