In the two years of running my business, I've worked with a lot of wonderful ladies who joined the Goal-Getters Club as newbies (we've all got to start at the start, don't we?) and needed help understanding the basics of online business to get their own business off the ground.
Speaking with my clients, students, and ladies in the club, I've found the concerns are almost always about how to get started with an online business and how to be productive and make time for #ALLthethings.
I get it.
A quick search through Pinterest, and it won't come as a shock to you that the 'popular' and super overwhelming advice is: do ALL the things and show up EVERYWHERE and do it ALL the time.
Cue overwhelm, panic, and giving up.
Of course, I had to throw in a 'Full House' GIF to show how frustrating and horrible that "advice" is
If you're going to do THAT 👆, you might as well bang your head hopelessly against the wall (or a piggy bank!)
This leaves most of us struggling with the following questions:
- Do you need to be on ALL OF THE the social media channels?
- Do you need to start off with a website? What do you even put on a website? How do you best describe and package your services? How do people find out about you? How do you find clients? SEO what?
- Do you need to build an email list too? What do you send your email list? Lead magnets, opt-in incentives, automation, sales funnels, WHAT?
And it all starts with one major hiccup.
One of the most popular posts on my website, despite not promoting it all that much, is an old post with my take on the eternal Wordpress vs. Squarespace debate.
Here's my last word on the subject: a website alone is NOT what is going to make your business a business, and a beautiful website is NOT the 'secret' to a successful business.
Why are websites made out to be so important then?
Because websites make for a great centralized hub for all your valuable content.
Also, when you drive traffic through SEO, ads, and your social media channels, you can get valuable insights into what your readers and audience really want (through free, powerful tools like Google Analytics), and guide them to any important content, services or products that you may offer to help them with that subject.
BUT. This is 2018, and there's a lot of great technology, apps, and tools out there to help you test out your idea and get your business off the ground WITHOUT a website.
One of the most important steps in business is validation (of your idea).
Most often, people spend a lot of money making beautiful (to look at) websites that do a terrible job at actually converting the visitors into subscribers (to an email list, for instance).
And that's usually because they build a website and take their business online even before they've tested out their business idea or built a solid foundation for their service or product.
They have no email list of potential buyers or a waiting list of future clients.
The general idea is that first you need a website and only then can you publish content related to your idea, gauge the interest of readers, and build a list of potential buyers/clients.
But that's just false, and really unnecessary.
Now, more than ever, you have access to so many tools that help you get your business off the ground and test your idea, without worrying about your website or how it 'should' look.
The stress of trying to design a website often makes us procrastinate, and that ends up in one of the two ways: you procrastinate too long and get overwhelmed OR worst of all, you let the overwhelm of trying to create the 'perfect' website stop you from even starting your own online business.
If the thought of choosing between WordPress and Squarespace leaves you stressed, and you can't fathom spending thousands of dollars on a custom website when you aren't even sure your business idea will work, I've got a four-step process for how you can start an online business WITHOUT a website:
STEP 1: Create a compelling opt-in incentive
This is the key to building an online audience for your offer 👆
Most online business owners use multiple opt-in incentives to entice people to sign up for the mailing list.
I have one every post on my blog, across any social media platforms I use, and I've also got multiple sign-up options for different opt-in incentives throughout my website.
What is an opt-in incentive?
Any valuable piece of content that educates or helps solve a specific problem that's related to your products and services.
Why is an opt-in incentive important?
The opt-in incentive is the entry point to your (email) funnel and helps you qualify your audience.
This means that if you've got an opt-in incentive that's related to your core product or service, and a lot of visitors are signing up to get the incentive, you get direct proof and data that your audience is interested in that topic.
That's why the opt-in incentive affects every step in your funnel.
Once people enter your funnel, you can show them exactly what you do, and help them get educated about and comfortable with your offerings, so that they are primed and excited to work with you.
Your opt-in incentive must be super specific and give them a taste of how you can solve the problem that they're struggling with the most.
Here are a few different kinds of opt-ins that are working well at the moment:
A checklist - a 'classic' offer, if anything on the Internet can be called that, which sums up the tips, systems or process that you may be sharing in a blog post
A diagnostic tool – think along the lines of a quiz, questionnaire or a form they fill out that will tell them what stage (of something related to your business) they are at. This helps them get clear on the actual problem they have and where they are at right now. When they are clear about that they can see the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.
Action prompts – Something that will get them to take a specific action and create immediate results, like workbooks and worksheets.
Trainings and tutorials – If your service or product helps them with a complex tool, process or system, offer an important or most difficult part of it to prime your audience for the rest of your content and services.
STEP 2: Gather leads for your opt-in incentive
Now that you have created an opt-in incentive, it’s time to set up a landing page where people can sign up to receive it. This is the part you can replace a website (temporarily) to get people to sign up to your mailing list.
Capturing leads this way also helps you build a highly qualified list of people that are actually interested in your content and any (future) products or services.
I love, use, and recommend ConvertKit* for building your landing pages to capture leads (my go-to option when I don't make my own landing pages on Squarespace, my website platform).
ConvertKit* will also double as your email marketing system, and will help you actually deliver your opt-in incentive to your readers, so you essentially get two services (often expensive tools) for the price of one. This makes it a lot cheaper and faster than waiting to develop a custom website.
Another popular option is LeadPages, but since that's a more expensive option, and doesn't help you actually deliver the opt-in offer, I don't recommend it when you're just starting out without a website.
The URL of the landing page is where you’ll send people to get your opt-in incentive, whether that's on social media, at a networking event, through ads, or to your friends.
STEP 3: Deliver the opt-in incentive
Once you’ve created the compelling opt-in incentive, and captured the leads who are interested in it, you’ll need a way to deliver it.
To do this, you’ll need an email marketing system like ConvertKit* (what I personally use and recommend), MailChimp, AWeber, MailerLite, Active Campaign, or any other service you prefer.
Pick the one you prefer to deliver your opt-in incentive, and create a follow-up email sequence to help them get to know you and to educate + nurture your readers.
You can also use the email marketing system, like ConvertKit*, to send out regular content to your audience if you don’t have a website. You can send them an audio recording (podcast), a video you created, or written content that you’d put in a blog, without a website!
Since emails go directly into people's inboxes, the attention each of content piece receives is much higher.
It also provides a more intimate and well-converting way to build a relationship with your audience and provide value to them without needing a website.
STEP 4: Find people for your opt-in incentive
Pick one social media platform to create an audience with.
If you already have a blog and website, you might want to use Pinterest.
Pinterest is less of a social media platform, and more of a visual search engine, which means it is fantastic for getting blog traffic, so use that to your advantage.
I use Tailwind* each week to make sure I’m pinning about 50-70 pins per day automatically (in only 5-10 minutes a week!), without violating Pinterest’s terms and conditions and without burning myself out.
Since signing up for Tailwind*, my repin and save rate has increased by over 1,710% and I’ve been able to grow my email list on autopilot.
If you don’t have a website yet, you might benefit by focusing on Instagram.
It is dynamic, and one of the best (and fun) places to create an audience and relationships using thoughtful captions and comments, hashtags, challenges, and opt-in incentives.
Facebook, if you're keen, really works best if you’re going to set up a free Facebook group to grow your audience or if you’re planning to run Facebook ads.
So what now?
Create a strong opt-in incentive that aligns best with your product or service idea, and promote it using social media channels (or ads, if you have the budget for it).
If you're keen to validate your business or product idea, and see if it can make you money, these are the only steps you need to set up your business, test your idea, and start making sales.
Go get it!
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*DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links to ConvertKit and Tailwind, which, in plain speak, means that if you decide to buy and use one of the services, I’ll receive a small commission. I personally use, love, and recommend ConvertKit and Tailwind for their ease and range of use. Thank you for your support!