Welcome to the dark side: 13 annoying things no one tells you about making money online

Starting and running an online business is often presented as a rose garden of instant wealth and self-actualization.

It’s not. The “make money online” niche is a MASSIVE niche that rakes in a ton of money by selling the promise… but many people who spend money on these products continue to struggle. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who tell me that they dream of quitting their job and escaping the rat race so they can “make money online”, or how many people who own online businesses but are struggling and don’t know why.

There’s a dark side to making money online that no one talks about. Here are 13 incredibly annoying things no one tells you about starting and running an online venture… but you should probably know about.

1. IT’S NOT REALLY ABOUT MAKING MONEY ONLINE.

The “make money online” niche sells the opportunity of freedom (from bosses and 9-5 and petty coworkers and bills). And it’s okay to sell into that dream but often those products fail to follow up on a key truth: It’s all about running a business. You need a sales funnel — a business model and a target market and a product or service. You need to find a pressing need among a group of people who are capable of paying you, and you need to monetize a solution. Then you need to offer it to them. That’s a business.

“Making money online” is the automatic result doing that. So focus on the business skills first. Case in point: I used to get sucked into reading those “make money online” or “how to start a business” books. But my business TOTALLY changed when I stopped reading those books and started reading stuff about how to sell, how to build a website, how to create products. The money followed.

2. YOUR DREAM HAS TO BURN HOTTER THAN A THOUSAND SUNS

The desire for freedom (which is what the make money online people are selling) is good. But frankly I’ve never known a successful entrepreneur who desired freedom so much that they became entrepreneurs. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Rather, the most successful entrepreneurs I know (or know of) all burned with some other dream — to solve a specific problem or to build a specific thing or (in my case) to write. And when I say that your dream has to burn, I don’t mean that it has to be something you feel like doing once in a while. Rather, it has to keep you awake at night, every night, and you have to get ulcers when you’re not working on that dream. The freedom follows but it’s never ever the thing that motivates them.

Consider some of the most successful entrepreneurs out there — Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Donald Trump. None of them dream of freedom. They all burn with a desire to do something (innovate, invest, invent, etc.) and their success followed.

3. ACTION IS REQUIRED.

One of the biggest complaints among “make money online” publishers and product creators is the sheer volume of people who return their products for a refund and complain it doesn’t work, or the even bigger number of people who buy a product and then never read it. Folks, action is required. It’s okay to invest in resources but then you have to use them. Buy one resource, learn from it, take a ton of notes, and then implement. Act. Do. Try. Fail. Fail again. And then succeed. That’s how it works. Simply purchasing the product is an all-too-common way of feeling like you’re doing something when you’re really taking just one miniscule step.

You will get much farther in achieving your goals in life and in your financial situation if you do something than if you simply read a book. (Clarification: I’m all for reading books! I love books and I write books. So please, read books. But my point is that if you’re scratching your head and wondering why your business is struggling, maybe it’s time to put the books down).

4. YOU’RE GOING TO GIVE UP YOUR PEACE OF MIND… AT FIRST.

Over the years I have watched hundreds of people (maybe thousands — no exaggeration) quit their job to start a businesses because they wanted freedom… but then shut down their business and go back to a job because they wanted peace of mind. That is fascinating to me. I’ve been on both sides of the fence — enjoying the freedom of running a business and the peace of mind of a regular paycheck. Both are very, very attractive but I’m starting to realize that they cannot easily co-exist, at least in the beginning. Maybe a few years down the road your business will give you freedom and peace of mind but it’s very hard to have both of those things at the beginning.

This is where that burning dream comes in. A burning dreams really gets you through the times where you have freedom but no peace of mind. If you want peace of mind, don’t start a business. If you want freedom, quit your job. It’s nearly impossible to have both at the very beginning.

5. YOU’LL BE ASKED FOR FREE STUFF… A LOT.

As your business grows, you’re going to be asked for free stuff — a lot. People will ask for review copies, or they’ll ask you a “quick question” (although the answer is never quick), or they’ll ask you to deliver your service for free because of all the amazing exposure you’re going to get, or they’ll offer to buy you a cup of coffee if they can pick your brain. People don’t mind asking you for these things because they don’t realize how many other people are also asking you for these things at the same time. It can easily turn into a daily onslaught and you could easily spend all day every day providing free stuff to people. (And believe me, very few people actually take your advice anyway).

While it’s okay to deliver some limited free stuff when the opportunity is right, delivering free stuff all the time will hurt your business. And because of the number of people who ask — quite innocently — it can be tempting to give a snarky response. So take a moment now to think about a polite response to say “no” to the people who ask for free stuff.

6. THE BIGGER YOU ARE, THE BIGGER TARGET YOU BECOME.

Frankly, this one was the hardest for me to learn and I still struggle with it because I hate it when people don’t like me. The internet is wonderful place where trolls and haters can thrive because they can often spread their abuse anonymously — without consequence to them. They spew vitriol but remain untouchable and no one knows that they are really unemployed bums living in their mother’s basement. As a business owner, you put yourself out there with your marketing and your products and services. You’re going to get bad reviews, ugly comments on your blog posts, and people who happily go above and beyond what is reasonable to tell the world they don’t like you.

Get thick skin or get out of the game. Don’t go down to the level of the haters. Don’t fight back. Just address them (if appropriate), delete them (if necessary), or ignore them (if you can’t do anything else). The best cure for haters is to become even more successful and to build a base of great customers who love you.

Funny update: I just received the GKIC ‘No BS Marketing Letter’ in the mail and read it… and Dan Kennedy refers to the exact same group of people as living in their mother’s basement.

7. COPYWRITING IS AN UNDERVALUED SKILL.

When starting an online business, first timers will often focus on the design, the logo, the brand, and the product and ignore everything else. But what they really need is to focus on the copy. An ugly site with good copy will sell more than a beautiful site with bad copy. Unfortunately it sometimes takes the first business failure to figure that out. Copywriting is undervalued. I recently heard someone (Dan Kennedy, I think) talk about copywriting. He said that copywriting is a skill everyone should have but no one wants to pay for, and copywriting courses notoriously don’t sell. On the other hand, there are a variety of other internet-marketing/make-money-online/start-an-internet-business courses that sell well but they are really just copywriting courses in disguise.

Learn copywriting even if this is something you plan to outsource in the future. It’s a HUGE skill that will benefit you forever. I think it’s the most valuable skill you can have in business.

8. YOU RISE ACCORDING TO THE RISKS YOU ARE WILLING TO TAKE.

With risk comes the potential for costly failure, so we avoid risk. People avoid risk by dreaming about making money online but never quitting their job, or trying to start a business but only doing it part time in the evenings because they can’t give up their paycheck. Risk management and risk mitigation are good; don’t get me wrong. But eliminating risk completely is bad because you can only change and grow your business when you risk something. Risk seems scary but most entrepreneurs who have been in business for a while will tell you that the really scary thing is not risking anything.

It’s like our bodies. Our immune system needs the germ in order to create antibodies for it. If we lived in a sterile environment and then suddenly left that sterile environment, we’d get really sick because we have zero immunity. You need to get a little bit sick in order to stay well. When you are willing to take risks — financial risks, social risks, time risks, etc., you position your business to grow.

9. INVESTMENT AND SACRIFICE ARE REQUIRED.

This is so similar to the above point. You need to invest in order to make money online. That investment includes time, money, and effort… and it could also include relationships. When I hear someone tell me that they are starting a business, I get excited for them until they tell me that what they are really doing is posting a few affiliate links on a free website from Wix (or some other free website provider). Yikes! They are not willing to invest in a real website with real products or services. (Clarification: You can build a business with affiliate links on a free site but then you’ll need to invest in other things instead — like traffic-driving mechanisms).

I do okay today because I invested a bit of money and a lot of time and because my wife graciously let me spend less time with her in the beginning while I started and grew my business. The reward is there but it takes a bit of investment up front to get it.

10. SELL PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT BUT GIVE THEM WHAT THEY NEED.

I hate that this is true but it is. I recently wrote a book about how to be a freelance writer and I really wanted to package the book as a way to get business and run a really fun freelance business. Unfortunately, that’s not what people want so they’d never read the book. So instead I talked (reluctantly) about the money you can make as a freelance writer and the freedom you can enjoy as a freelance writer. And the book sold. Inside the book I gave them really solid how-to advice and the reviews that came back praise the book for the helpful advice. But no one would have bought the book if it didn’t sell them the opportunity. (See the copywriting point above — everyone needs to know how to copywrite but people instead buy other resources and learn copywriting from them).

I’m not just picking on the “make money online” category here. This is true in every single industry. It feels so dirty to say “sell people what they want but give them what they need” but the reality is that consumers don’t buy what they need. The fitness and weightloss industry knows this. The financial industry knows this. The real estate industry knows this. I wish consumers would learn it so sellers could simply say “Hey, you need this” and people would buy it because it was a smart thing to do. But it’s not going to happen any time soon.

11. IT’S NOT LUCK OR SYSTEMS… IT’S FOCUS AND CONSISTENCY.

The make money online niche makes its money from repeat sales. From people who keep spending a ton of cash on different products and resources because what they’re really looking for is the silver bullet — the one thing that will unlock it all. There is no silver bullet to be found in a resource or tool or system or even luck. The only thing that will generate success is focus and consistency. Pick something and then work at it over and over every single day. Period.

Alarming story: I dialed into a webinar that a real estate investing client was putting on. During that call, my client asked questions and invited responses: One of his questions early in the webinar was “how much have you spent on real estate investing courses in the past? The numbers were $5,000, $10,000, and one guy estimated close to $100,000 in the past decade or so. Then later in the webinar he asked how much people might be willing to spend on some one-on-one coaching to actually set up their real estate investing business and a lot of people replied that a few hundred dollars would be too much for them. I see this kind of thing all the time — people willing spend thousands on ideas that might help them but won’t want to spend a few dollars and a few hours on focused and consistent habits.

12. YOU’LL WISH YOU DID A HUNDRED THINGS SOONER. JUST DO THEM NOW INSTEAD.

I wish I started building an email list sooner. I wish I focused on copywriting sooner. I wish I built up a blog in a different category sooner. The list goes on and on. I could spend my entire day regretting things I didn’t do yesterday or last week or last year or last decade. You’ve got to put that stuff out of your mind. Just do it now.

There’s a well-known saying that is relevant here: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.” So true. Do smart things as early as possible but if you don’t do them early, don’t regret it and don’t let your regret delay you any further. Start now.

13. THE 2 REAL SKILLS IN BUSINESS ARE TO DRIVE TARGETED PROSPECTS AND CLOSE THEM.

It’s so easy to put up a website. It’s so easy to offer something for sale. It’s so easy to create marketing content. It’s easy to drive traffic. Anyone can do this stuff in their sleep… and so many people do this stuff because it’s just so darn easy to do. And then they wonder why they struggle because they seem to be doing the right things but nothing happens. That’s because these are easy things and anyone can do them but there are two more challenging yet more important skills to have: Drive targeted prospects and then sell to them. Driving targeted prospects is not just marketing. It’s a collection of skills around needs assessment, targeted advertising, copywriting (and yes, a bit of marketing). And closing is a collection of skills around copywriting and selling.

If you can develop those two skills, your business will grow as fast as you want and you’ll actually make money online. But if you ignore those two skills, you’ll just be doing what everyone else can do in their sleep and you’ll miss out on seeing any results.

THE LAST WORD

If you are dreaming about a better life for yourself, that’s great. That aspiration is part of what makes us human. But I wrote this post to make you aware of what you’re facing by following a path defined by “making money online”. Instead, focus on building a quality business with great products and services that truly meets the needs of your customers. Build the right skills and take consistent, daily action. You can see results if you can overcome the dark side.

What I’m working on this week (Aug 19 – 23)

Somehow I ended up scheduling a handful of projects that are all due today. I try not to let that happen very often but somehow it happened… and I’ll roll with it. So I’m kicking off the day with the following projects:

  • Writing the first draft of some web copy for a real estate investment firm
  • Writing the first draft of a sales letter and report for a real estate investment firm (a different one)
  • Writing the first draft of a report for a real estate financing company

Assuming that I survive the day, I’ll go to bed tonight and get up tomorrow and this is what I have to tackle for the rest of the week:

  • Outlining a book for a mortgage broker
  • Wrapping up (possibly the final edit — or VERY close to it) a book for a real estate investor
  • Wrapping up 2 articles, that I’m writing with a co-writer, for financial advisors
  • Revising 2 reports for one of my brands and working on early drafts of two others — both of these need to launch at the end of the month
  • Pushing forward with my 100 Proposals in 100 Days challenge. (And I think I need to do an update on my blog, don’t I? Okay, that’s coming.)

I have a few other things I could work on but it’s safe to assume that this will take me the rest of the week… and probably Saturday as well. :) It looks like a scorching hot week, as well, so I’m excited to be working in my cool, air conditioned basement to escape the heat!

Hope you have a productive week!

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘Local search, press releases, and the future of content’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

Here are some of the things I’ve been reading this week:

  • Local search ranking factors: There’s a big push back to the local market and I’ve been watching it increase in importance over the past couple of years. Well, the good folks at Moz have surveyed and analyzed the factors that influence local search ranking. There is really good stuff here and, like a lot of stuff that comes out of Moz, this should go into your to-do list for your website if you are targeting a local market.
  • Google’s new SEO rules for news releases: I’ve been relying on press releases releases for a long time — to help me build awareness and quality links for my business and my clients’ businesses. Recently, Google announced that it was changing the way it would pay attention to news releases backlinks. Jayme Soulati discussed this on her site and she also linked to a blog post at PRnewswire. If you write news releases, be sure to read them both. The best quote is: “We believe the value press releases provide is in discovery, not links.” This won’t change how I write press releases but it will change why I write press releases.
  • How to make yourself a marketing Einstein. This is a humorous article that builds off of a quote loosely attributed to Einstein. The premise is: If you invest 15 minutes a day studying something, you’ll end up a year later having spend the equivalent of a year in college. So this blogger is spending a full hour a day studying a topic (marketing). In his first post he mentions 2 excellent resources — The massive guide to getting traffic and How to increase website traffic. Great stuff at both sites… and I love the hour-a-day for a college-education-in-a-year approach!
  • The insider’s guide to the future of content: The folks over at Steamfeed wrote a great article about how content is changing and what we can expect it to be like in the future. As a writer, I’m mindful that the content I create may not always be consumed as text (I also write audio and video scripts for businesses and I’m increasingly asked to do so). Smart content creators will pay attention to these predictions and adjust their businesses accordingly.

Creating demand for your product (video by Jeffrey Gitomer)

I love this video by sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer. It inspires me to rethink how I market and sell in my business and in my clients’ businesses.

In this video, Gitomer references National Cash Register founder John Patterson and talks about what he did to create demand for his product. Check out the short video by Jeffrey Gitomer…

That’s a great B2B example but what about B2C? Well, a B2C example is when cereal manufacturers advertise children’s cereal to children. Obviously the children aren’t going to go out and buy Lucky Charms (or whatever) but they will bug their parents to do it. Different market, similar idea, same outcome.

Here is a framework for creating demand for your product or service in the same way that Patterson created demand for his product:

First, make sure you know who your customers are! Use this list of 55 questions to answer about your customer to help you.

Second, identify your customers’ customers (in the case of B2B sales) or your customers’ influencers (in the case of B2C sales). It might help to use the same 55 questions to answer about your customer but use it for these folks.

Third, identify a point of differentiation that you offer that your customers cannot currently offer to their customers. (In the case of B2B, it was a receipt. In the case of B2C, it is the marshmallowy goodness of red hearts, green clovers, blue diamonds and purple horseshoes delivered into a bowl by a leprechaun).

Fourth, find a way to connect with that second tier of people (your customers’ customers or your customers’ influencers) and motivate them to demand the point of differentiation you offer. John Patterson advertised to remind shoppers to ask for a receipt. He didn’t need to sell anything in this advertisement, he was just offering a valuable service.

Fifth… now wait. Wait for your communication to take effect. Wait for the shoppers to start demanding receipts and the children to start demanding Lucky Charms.

Sixth, connect with your actual customer and offer your product or service. Your selling effort is minimized because your customer has already heard from their customers that they desperately want what you have to sell.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN…

You’ve heard Gitomer introduce the concept, you’ve read my little 6-step framework to help guide you. Now what can you do in your business to create demand?

How to eliminate marketplace saturation

I was asked a really good question on a forum and I wanted to share that question here. Given the subject matter of the forum, I wasn’t able to get into all the specifics but I have a little more space on my blog to talk about it.

So here’s the deal: Saturation is a concern that businesses have. They’re worried that there will simply be too many competitors in the marketplace. In the forum I was on, it was one freelance writer concerned that there would be too many other freelance writers but of course that’s not the only place where saturation is a concern. I’ve heard of book authors and SEO firms and foreclosure consultants all concerned about saturation; I’ve worried about it in a number of industries I’ve worked in as well.

But here’s the thing to remember: Saturation is only a problem when you are exactly the same as the majority of other competitors. If you offer the same freelance writing services as 100,000 other people then saturation is a problem because you’re competing against 100,000 other people. Your prospect will be overwhelmed by 100,001 proposals and pitches and resumes and C.V.’s all touting superiority (but demonstrating similarity).

If you want to avoid saturation, you need to make one simple tweak: You need to differentiate your business. Identify a smaller group of prospects (perhaps a subset of the larger group that your competitors are fighting for, or a completely different group that is overlooked by your competitors) and focus your offering exclusively on the needs of that group.

You’ll sell more because your marketing communication is focused on that group and your product is more in sync with what they are looking for. You’ll reduce or eliminate the competition because they’re all scrambling against many other competitors or a big group while you are connecting in a more relevant way with a smaller group.