I've gotten a lot of questions from a lot of people, so there's plenty of material to work from in my future blog posts, but the question that stood out to me the most, that was asked in different ways by different people, was basically this: "If you had to start over again, from scratch, what would you do to earn a living online?"
Let me start my answer to that question by being very specific: I am a software developer, both by trade and in heart. It's what I love and what I'm good at. So, specifically, I would start from scratch by creating software tools that help people in some way. I am particularly fond of software that helps automate processes that people are used to doing manually, so I would probably go in that direction.
You're probably not a software developer (though if you are, let me tell you, there's a lot of room for you in the world of online business). But that doesn't mean you can't follow many of the same basic steps I would take to create and sell a product. The path I would take applies to just about any kind of money-making business -- online or off.
So let me go through the steps, one at a time:
1. Do what you love.
Confucius said, "Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life." So that's your number one priority. Whether it's creating useful content on a subject you're passionate about, or creating software tools, or fixing cars -- make sure it's something you love to do.
It's true that loving your work will make you happy, and in the long run that's vastly more important than wealth. Would you rather die happy in modest surroundings or die miserable in a palace?
But there's also a practical reason for loving what you do. Simply put, if you love to do it, you'll get really good at it and go the extra mile that usually results in success. You'll think about your work, plan for it, find ways to improve it. You'll do this because it's fun for you and you enjoy it -- but that kind of dedication results in success.
Success is not something that usually happens by accident. Love what you do and you'll seriously improve your odds.
2. Find a hole and fill it.
Once you've discovered your passion, the next step is to research a problem that people are having that your work helps to solve. It doesn't matter if you're creating a completely new concept or product or just improving on what's already been done. Either can result in great success.
Let me use my first successful web site as an example. Way back when I first got started in Internet Marketing, I built a site around something I love -- old time radio shows. At the time there were all kinds of sites that had the odd link to an MP3 file where you could download a show, but there wasn't a good place that categorized and collected all of these disparate links.
I saw the hole and filled it. My site made it easy to find hundreds of shows in a dozen categories all from one easy directory.
Right about that time Google came out with its AdSense program. I saw my opportunity and jumped on it. That site went from earning zero to between five and six hundred dollars a month. All from one site that I had built using a script I wrote to find and index links to these old time radio shows.
You see? It started with things I loved: programming and old time radio shows. I used my two loves to create a product that solved a problem people were having. And I've been doing the same thing ever since.
So how do you find out what problems people are having? In a word, forums! There are discussion forums on virtually every subject imaginable. So find the biggest forums where your passion is discussed, be it old time radio shows, rose gardening or physical fitness.
Forums are full of people posting about the problems they're having. You know the old adage that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease"? Or perhaps the one that goes "nobody ever notices when things go right"? They're true!
Most of what you read on forums are from people who are posting about problems. And those people are a goldmine of opportunity. They're telling you exactly what problems need solving, what holes need filling. Create a product that helps solve that problem and you've got a business on your hands.
3. Advertise, and don't be afraid to search for partners.
So you've found what you love to do, you've discovered a problem you can help solve and you've created a product around that discovery. Great! But you won't earn a dime if nobody knows about it.
So the final step in my "from scratch" business plan is to advertise your product. Whether your "product" is just an informational site that you earn advertising revenue from, or whether it's an information product like an ebook or a physical product you ship, you'll need to get the word out.
How do you do that on a shoestring budget? Ask for help while offering value to the person you're asking.
Take my old time radio site for example. There was a site, maintained by an individual, that listed off a bunch of other sites where you could go to find old time radio shows. I used to visit that site frequently, which is what gave me my idea to catalog all of the shows in one place so people wouldn't have to go hunting all over these dozens of sites.
After making sure my own site was the best it could be, I contacted the owner of that directory and asked him to take a look at my site as well. If he thought it was worthwhile, I asked him to include it in his list. He looked at it, liked it, and did so. Would you believe that more than half of my traffic came from the link at that site? The rest came from the search engines.
I gave value to the site owner because my site was worth linking to and made his directory more useful. And in return he gave me a link that drove a lot of traffic to my site. It was a win-win.
When dealing with a product that you sell, rather than an informational site, it can be even easier. If you create a great product that solves a real problem, and if you set yourself up as a vendor at a major retailer like PayDotCom or ClickBank, affiliates will do all of the work for you.
But you have to have a great product that converts well, so it pays to do some real testing in advance of creating your affiliate program. Make sure it will sell first. Otherwise you'll lose the affiliates right out of the gate -- often never to promote your product again.
When dealing with affiliates, you also want to as generous as possible. I won't give less than 50% of the cost of my software to affiliates. They deserve that because they're doing the hard work of promoting. If you have a physical product you might have to give a lot less than that, but if you have a digital product then it just doesn't make sense to be stingy. That, too, will drive away affiliates.
You can still find partners when selling a product, though. Let me give you another example from my early days of making a living online -- the one that really kick-started everything for me.
Back in 2005, there was a way to get your web site indexed called "blog and ping." It was pretty simple: post to a Blogger blog with a link to one of the pages of your web site, and that page would get indexed really fast -- often within 24 hours or less.
Well there was a guy who created a video on how to manually do this. He was selling his video and doing pretty well with it. I sent him an email and said "Hey, I can automate that. If you want to sell it to your list I'll split the profits with you." He was all for it.
I was not prepared for the success of that system. In 2004 I had earned around $60,000. That year I made almost a quarter of a million. All because I saw a hole (the manual blog and ping process was tedious, but effective) and filled it (by automating the process with software).
So don't be afraid to look for partners. Don't be afraid to ask. The worst they can do is ignore you, or maybe write back a nasty email that takes only one click to delete. But it might lead to a very successful joint venture.
So let's recap. If you're starting from scratch, first find your passion. What is it you would love to do for a living? What are you knowledgeable about and interested in? Then go in search of problems people are having within your area of expertise. Create a product to solve that problem and find people to promote it for you. Be generous to affiliates and don't be afraid to look for partners.
I've continued to repeat this process with all of my tools and have seen success after success because of it. There have been some failures, sure, but I just count those as learning experiences.
Here's to your success!
Please post your thoughts and questions in a comment below.