How to Realistically Start an Online Content Business That Actually Grows
6 comprehensive steps to getting your online business launched in 2021
Finding success as an online entrepreneur and content creator is not for the faint of heart.
From choosing the topics to write about to growing your online reputation, there's a lot involved.
Take it from me — I started building my online content business four years ago after the building the held my 9–5 job burned to the ground overnight. It was 2017 and I was merely scraping by collecting my unemployment checks (something all too familiar now in 2021). I made the conscious decision to start writing and sharing my thoughts online.
Fast-forward to 2021 and I now have an online content writing business where I get to work as much (or little) as I like.
I get to influence and encourage hundreds of thousands of people monthly, and I get to sell products that I created that I know will make a positive and profound impact on the individuals who take a chance on them (as well as themselves).
For you — it won't be easy. It comes with struggles and it comes with costs. It will take strategy and understanding. It will take dedicated planning and construction from day one.
But build it correctly — and your online content business will bypass the other "flash in the pan" content creators to become something much more than a dream, a hobby, or even a side hustle.
That's why I've created this article to walk you through, step-by-step, the components of building an online content business and how to create an actionable strategy for each step.
And now, without further adieu…
Setting the scene: Who is this for?
Research indicates there were approximately 17 million online content creators that generated income in 2017. That's a 16.6% increase compared to the year prior.
What's more? It's interesting to note that by comparison, there were only 12 million manufacturing workers in the United States during the same year.
Plain and simple — online content is a rapidly growing industry and the opportunity to enter has never been better.
So who is primed to realize such an opportunity?
Are you an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to actualize an online content business through your knowledge, skills, and abilities?
Are you currently creating online content and want to dive deeper into a strategy that will help you expand on your efforts?
Are you a dreamer who knows your current situation isn't living up to your fullest potential?
Put your seatbelt on, because we're about to do a deep dive into the elements that will help you build an online content business geared for long-term success.
Steps to launching a realistic online content business (that actually grows)
Let's break down the various elements we need to build a realistic online content business that actually grows.
With each step that we go over, we're going to first provide an overview and then, we'll offer action steps you can take to actually start building your online content business.
1. Choose your niche and evaluate your audience.
"If everybody is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going exactly in the opposite direction."
— Sam Walton
I know you've heard this a million times, but you cannot move forward unless you choose a niche.
You have to choose a niche because if you're all over the place — you won't be able to provide consistent and actionable content for your audience. This is key. You're always going to be considering how to progress your audience in their journey.
What is your audience's journey?
That's a great question and it varies.
Let's put a popular (and profitable) niche under the microscope: budgeting and debt reduction.
Blogging icon and radio host, Dave Ramsey, has built his reputation and business on this topic. With his content, he is always offering up the audience ways to help them better their budgeting and reducing their debt.
Now there are definitely niches that are the most advantageous to consider. These are the niches that are both popular (they drive a lot of traffic) and profitable (they allow for the sale of products and services).
It isn't advisable to go into a niche if you don't have any experience or knowledge of it.
So many people get stuck here…
They research the most popular and profitable niches and automatically discount their own abilities. Of course, this is due to a scarcity mindset. Individuals automatically think,
"There are already soooooo many people competing in this niche. How am I supposed to get my piece of the pie?"
Of course, that question holds a lot of water. However, let's remind ourselves of the title of this article:
How to Build a Realistic Online Content Business…
We don't need to capture the entire audience of the niche. We just need to capture the attention of a small set of True Fans that will help us help them.
Take for instance the self-improvement industry. It's estimated the self-improvement industry would reach a value of $39.99 billion by the end of 2020. You would only need to capture .0001% in order to bring in a $40,000 revenue year.
Having trouble coming up with the niche you're going to enter?
A way of helping you out is described in image 1.1:
Take out a sheet of paper and write out what you're passionate about on the left-hand side.
On the right-hand side, list at least 5 problems associated with the passion space (more is always better) that you are confident you can remedy.
This exercise will help you with not only identifying problems (business opportunities for your content) but it will also help identify what content you'll be able to produce over the long-haul (a realistic business operates over the course of years).
2. Share your content.
If "crucial error 1" was not getting the niche right, then "crucial error 1A" is not publishing your content on the right channels.
Back in 2017 when I started creating content, I hosted a site via Wix.com. I thought that just because I started creating content, people were going to come to the site.
I didn't know about SEO (I thought that was another millennial social media acronym).
I didn't know about content platforms (I thought that was a type of woman's shoe).
I didn't know about driving traffic (I thought that's what I was doing on the Los Angeles freeways).
Plain and simple — there was a lot that I didn't know.
It took about six months of aimlessly writing content on my Wix site and "advertising" on my Instagram before I finally discovered a strategy that allows you to share your content and generate traffic, all without the need of investing in a hosted site.
Now, the best way to both share your content and test if it's effective is to write and publish your content on content platforms (not your site — at least for now).
The best content platform that one can utilize in 2021 is Quora. Quora is a question-and-answer based platform.
Here is how it works:
An individual will post a question on the platform let's assume it is, "How do I save more money so I can reduce my debt and have resources to buy more things?"
Now — let's say you can effectively answer this question for the user; you have budgeting spreadsheets, you have ways to automate income to various accounts, and you have systematic know-how of debt reduction. This is a prime opportunity to answer the question.
If you're just getting started, it's important to look at the other answers to the question in order to gain an understanding of proper content writing. Notice the paragraph structure. Notice how headlines are crafted.
Test out your content on content platform sites — this will allow you real-time feedback to see if your content is working.
For this section, what you're going to want to do is first create your Quora account.
Pause reading this for 3–5 minutes and go create your account.
Once you've done that, follow the "topics" that you're going to want to produce content in. Quora helps you along with this process so it isn't too difficult.
Then, before going to the next section, I would answer your first question.
I would create an article and don't overthink it — just put a piece of content out in the world.
After you've done that, you're ready for the next step.
3. Improve your copywriting skills.
It isn't just enough to write.
In order to build a business, you're going to need to write with purpose.
If you're going to be an effective content creator — you're going to need to sell your work.
Ahh… But there it is, the "S" Word.
The word all creatives and artists dread…
This is a common problem among beginners and novices. We tend to see "selling" as dirty. Take it from Best Selling Author, Seth Godin, in his newest book "The Practice: Shipping Creative Work",
"Selling is difficult. Amateurs often feel like they're taking something from the prospect — their time, their attention, and ultimately, their money. That, after all, is what car dealers taught us to experience.
But What if you recast your profession as a change to actually solve someone's problem? A doctor who prescribes insulin to a diabetic isn't selling insulin; she's saving a life. […] And the songwriter who works hard to get a song on the radio — one that you haven't heard before — is doing the generous work of creating a new hit, a hit that becomes part of your history and cultural vocabulary."
Once we can get out of our own way and understand that your content — even if it's aimed with strategic intent — is actually helping solve someone's problems and not just being created for sales.
This is your next step in building a realistic online content business.
Every piece of content should be aimed at helping solve a problem for your audience.
Now, this isn't to say that everything you create should be aimed at making a sale (at this point — you probably don't have anything to sell anyway).
What you should always consider, however, with creating your content is answering this question for your audience,
"What's in it for me?"
Ask yourself — what is in it for the audience member?
Are they going to:
Learn a new skill?
Learn how to develop a product?
Learn how to save time?
Learn how to gain more status?
Learn how to save money?
These are just a few questions you can consider when formulating your content.
There is a lot that one can improve upon when it comes to developing copywriting skills.
What we're going to focus on here is developing the copy of your content headlines.
Why is this?
Because headlines account for a high percentage of the success of your content. You can create the best piece of content known to man, however, if you don't offer an incentive (reason to click) you won't get any beautiful eyes on the piece thus not helping individuals solve their problems.
So — for this section, we're going to work on using the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer tool (see image 3.1).
Why are we going to use this?
Because this offers a platform for helping us test out the rest of our copywriting skills.
The tool allows you to do a number of things:
You can test out "list" vs. "How to" article headlines
You get a score of the effectiveness
You get a database of words. These are "power", "emotional", "uncommon", etc. words.
Every time you construct a word, you are given a score. Treat this tool like a game and see the best score you can get.
When you play this "game" you will simultaneously be leveling up your copywriting skills.
“When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
— David Ogilvy
4. Start measuring what works (and what doesn't).
It's hard to take objective feedback.
We creatives like to believe that when we do something right — it is solely due to our incredible efforts.
And when we do something wrong — it's due to the external environment.
"Curse you, audience! You just don't get it!"
I know I've rattled that off in my head…
Okay, I've rattled that out loud in front of my computer screen when I create a piece of content that doesn't have the type of reception I envisioned.
But what exactly is the reason?
It isn't only because the audience doesn't get it.
The reason something doesn't "hit" could be due to a number of reasons:
It could be due to timing (something we'll dive deeper into in a bit).
It could be due to a confusing headline.
It could be due to the lack of narrative (just a boring piece).
It could be due to changes in algorithms
It really could be due to anything!
But let's not get carried away in that whirlwind…
When you have some content under your belt, it's advantageous that you start quantifying what worked and what didn't. Now, this is a blend of science and art considering the subjectivity of content production.
What are some things we can consider (specifically focusing objectively)?
Length of content (track word count for instance when something "hits").
Amount of imagery
Length of headline
Time of day published
If the topic is trending or not (we're going to cover this in the action step).
When we take inventory of why something worked or not (again, as objectively as possible), it helps us pick up on clues.
When we have more clues to why something might be working, we have a better chance at replicating that in the future.
I suggest you track all of the objective considerations I listed above (as well as generating some of your own).
Furthermore, it's suggested that you mirror your efforts — to some extent — to what the world is looking for.
We often get wrapped up in our mind and consider,
"Well, I like this thing — perhaps everyone does."
And sometimes, that isn't the case.
Now, we're not looking for "everyone." However, we are looking for a niche. A niche is made up of a population. We can use Google Trends as our tool to help us understand what people are looking for and mirror our content accordingly (see image 4.1)
What you do with this tool is type in a keyword (say "budgeting") and check the relevant score with the tool.
Now, we don't need to get bogged down in the specifics. Actually, we're just looking for the score relative to the tool's scale (0–100). The closer to 100 the better.
That's really it.
This is to track if we're producing content that a population actually cares about.
I would run through a number of your own keywords that pertain to your topic (so in our example we could also use "debt reduction", "credit card debt", "save more money", etc.) and see what we come up with.
5. Create your customer base.
It sounds simple…
We could develop an entire article just on this topic alone. However, we're going to attempt to break apart what we mean here into manageable chunks.
Let's get into it…
What we mean by "create customers" first involves creating an email list. This is necessary.
Most customers need many different "touchpoints" before making a purchase. That means a potential customer needs more than just one piece of content in order to influence their purchase.
On the flip side — research notes that the majority of articles are only read for 15 seconds.
Something's got to give.
That's where your email list comes into play. An email list allows you to control the communication with your audience. Now, of course, I'm not suggesting that you can force your reader to read your emails. However, you can direct them to your valuable content.
Earlier, we talked about publishing your content on a content platform. This is a great first step. However, when you start creating content, what are you doing? You're opening the door for your content to be read by a potential audience. However, you're also having to compete with millions of other content creators for those same eyes. Perhaps one day you can get those eyes, but the next day you can't.
At least with email, you make sure that you send the content to the eyes directly — not within the sea of competitors.
Now, your goal shouldn't be to strictly sell your products. It should be to continue the problem solving journey.
With this action step, we're going to suggest you get started creating your email list.
On every content platform you publish, you should include links to your email list's landing pages. We're not going to go fully into how to do that, but it isn't too hard.
What we want to focus on here, is specifically getting an email service provider (ESP). So many people get bogged down with the complexities of email marketing and rightfully so — it's a pretty confusing beast.
Unfortunately, that's where too many people stop. They stop at the overwhelming feeling and don't even take the first step — creating an account.
There are dozens of ESPs you can choose from, I use Convertkit. However, you can also try out:
Thankfully, most of these ESPs allow for a free membership. Most of the time, it's free until you get past a certain threshold (500 subscribers for instance).
The action step you want to do here is to at least create the account. That's generally the hardest part.
6. Create your customers.
Now that we have a potential base to sell to, we need to actually make sales.
What we're going to focus on here with our realistic online content business is the sale of digital information products — namely an ebook.
Again, like some of the previous steps, in this piece, we're not going to go over the actual specifics of writing, uploading, and selling your digital information product — there are already plenty of resources out there.
We want to highlight the fact that the eLearning industry (the same industry housing our digital information product) is an industry expected to grow to $325 billion by 2025.
This whole time, we've been helping solve our audiences' problems.
What if we could ante up on the problem-solving?
What if there was a package-able way we could help them solve the problems in less time?
That's where your digital information product comes into play.
We already know there are content platforms that will literally pay you for the content (well — really the content platform doesn't pay you anything and it's really the audience that pays you via redistribution).
What if we could increase those content platform earnings by an extra 30–50%?
That's something you would want to capitalize on, oui?
Well you can (see image 6.1)
So you can see the earnings are just north of $250.00 for one day.
Now, is that money that will catapult you to the top 1% earners in the world?
But for millions of people, that type of money can radically change their entire trajectory — especially if it's consistent.
I've included the daily figure, here again, to further drive the point that we're looking for realistic online content business development.
I don't know about you — but I'm so sick and tired of people claiming you can make $5,000 in a day without doing any work.
These earnings really are the culmination of years of work — and it's worth it. Furthermore, if you can consistently earn within the range over the course of months and years, you're looking at a full-time content creation business.
Again, let's keep this manageable, small, and [most importantly] realistic.
With this action step, I want you to write your digital information product (ebook).
I don't want you to get bogged down in the email marketing or the formatting. I want you to simply open up a GoogleDocument and write the ebook.
Create a title page
Create a table of contents
Write the content
Save it as a PDF
I've already written articles that go over the actually [free] formatting and design of the ebook.
The most important part with creating your digital information product is just that — creating it.
Once it's written, however, you can learn more about passive selling, email marketing, etc.
Write the first draft.
Recapping What We've Learned
That felt like a lot.
And really — it's only scratching the tip of the iceberg.
Creating a realistic online content business that actually grows is hard.
But it's also possible.
There are a few things you should take into consideration when trying to build yours:
Choose your niche and evaluate your audience
Share your content
Improve your copywriting skills
Start measuring what works (and what doesn't)
Create your customer base
Create your customers
Once you've done that — congratulations.
Congratulations, not because you're now rich and don't need to keep building.
Congratulations because now at least you're off the launchpad.
Science notes, a rocket will take a tremendous amount of energy to break through the Earth's atmosphere and be sent into outer space. However, it can go faster when it's in orbit.
Think about this with your own online content business.
So much of getting started takes a lot of energy:
Creation of the first content
Getting on content platforms
Creating an email list
But once that stuff is out there — it continues to travel; similar to a rocket in orbit.
Get your business launched and let the rest take care of itself.
“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate. Don’t think. Act.”
― Steven Pressfield
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