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This month here on Smart Passive Income, we’re going to talk all about branding. I have some great blog posts and podcast episodes lined up that are going to help you no matter what stage you’re at with your business—but for today, we’re going to start with the basics.
If you already have a brand up and running, this may be a great refresher for you. Speaking from experience, it’s always great to zoom out every once in awhile and ensure you have all of your foundational items in place.
If you’re thinking of building a business very soon, then you’re in the right spot, especially because I have a fun challenge set up for you starting mid-month that I’ll talk more about at the end of this post.
First, What You Don’t Need
A weird trend started to develop while I was in my early years of high school: All of the cool kids started to print their own business cards.
Did they own their own businesses?
But printed on these cards were their names in fancy writing, a logo (usually clip art), and any clubs they were in and special talents that they had. The coolest of the cool kids even had their pager number on there too.
I started to see these cards being passed out, collected, and talked about. So, of course, because I wasn’t one of the cool kids—but I really wanted to be one of the cool kids—I designed and printed one of my own.
When I think back to this part of my life, it makes me laugh hysterically, especially because I remember my own card saying I was a musician (true), and a karate expert (maybe not so true, although I did have a black belt). But at the same time, I know exactly why this kind of thing was happening.
It was fun and exciting to print these cards, to feel them in our hands, and to hand them out and share them with friends—the people who already knew our names and pager numbers anyway.
A little piece of cardstock made us feel like we were official, and that we had something more substantial than what we actually had, which was no business at all.
When I help new students through their entrepreneurial journey, it’s funny because many people who are at the start behave in a very similar way. For some, it’s literally the same thing—printing business cards—but for others it’s a customized blog theme, or having all of their social media profiles match perfectly. It’s swag like teeshirts, and the perfectly-branded email signature.
All of this stuff can be important and plays a role one way or another within a brand, but when you’re just starting out, you need to learn to differentiate between what you really want and what you really need.
Because your time and energy is limited, you must remove the focus you have on these attractive nonessentials and start to hone in on what is truly important in the beginning.
What are those must-haves? They are:
- A Purposeful Mission
- A Working Website
- An Email List
Let’s talk about all three:
1. A Purposeful Mission
I’ve written about the importance of approaching your business with a mission in mind, and really it’s at the root of all that you should be doing and the decisions that you make.
As I mentioned in a previous post about creating a Mission Statement, your Mission Statement defines what you or your business are about. It is action-oriented, determining what your business does, who it serves, and how it does what it does. It is the action you take now to fulfill your vision.
Create high-quality, well-designed goods that I would want to buy myself.
It’s this mission that led to several popular products in his line to fully fly off the shelf.
Sean Wes’s (SeanWes.com) mission is also very clear and powerful:
I’ve made it my goal to demystify the path to building a sustainable, profitable, audience-driven business.
Sean is definitely someone to pay attention to. He’s someone who has been inspiring me as of late, especially when it comes to how clear his head is in terms of where he dedicates his time. All that supports the mission statement above.
He’s got a gorgeous book coming out called Overlap, which teaches you how to start a business while working a full-time job. You can learn more about Overlap here.
Do you know what your mission is? It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your business, it’s always important to remember why you do what you do, and the best part—it doesn’t cost any money to determine what that is.
2. A Working Website
In my online course, Power-Up Podcasting, I teach people how to start, launch, and market a podcast that matters, and also how to make sure it gets found post-launch.
What’s interesting is a common question I receive from students making their way through the course:
Do I really need a website to have my podcast?
The technical answer is, well, no. You don’t. You could easily set up your podcast using simply what you set up via your media host, with no website of your own at all.
But that’s crazy-talk.
Of course you’d want your own website!
You don’t need it to launch a podcast, or host your own video channel on YouTube, or crush it on social media, but in order to build a sustainable, long-term business, you should absolutely have your own website.
These marketing channels are where you go to meet new people and share a little bit about yourself. This is where you are utilizing other platforms that are not fully under your control to provide opportunities for relationships to start, and for you to share a bit about yourself with others.
Your website, however, is like your home. It’s where you invite those people you meet in outside establishments to visit so that you can make them feel more comfortable, allow them to get to know you even more, and eventually help them out on a deeper level. It’s where you can direct people, under your control, to what else you might have to offer. It’s where you can begin to serve them better.
One business idea I had a while back was to provide a service to help popular YouTubers get their websites up and running and help them start to build an email list. It really scares me that many of them have millions of viewers and millions of subscribers, but no real web presence other than their YouTube channel and social media.
All it takes is one mishap or one company decision to completely disrupt everything they’ve worked so hard for, and a website becomes almost an insurance policy for the popularity they’ve earned on those outside platforms.
Plus, let’s not forget Google and search engine optimization too!
When building a website, there are tens of thousands of different ways to go about it. There are options for hosting companies, website and blogging platforms, themes and designs, plugins, etc. It’s really confusing (which is partly why many people don’t even get started, and also why this challenge I’m putting together is so important), but it’s vital for the long-term success of your brand.
That’s why I say a working website—it just needs to work at first. Like with the business card example, it’s very easy to get lost in the “what’s the best way to design my website?” rabbit hole, which is a hole that many people never escape from. Yes, the look and feel of the website is important, but what’s more important is getting something up, rather than nothing.
It’s a ready, fire, aim approach, which means you can be a little off the mark at first, but then hone in on what works for you later on. You can always change things later and make improvements, and small purposeful and incremental improvements are always better when it comes to website-related items—so take that approach at the start. Take that big, bold action of getting started, and then slowly progress toward perfecting it along the way.
Plus, as you begin to publish content and begin to help people navigate through your brand and your offerings as they come, you’ll likely change and adapt to the audience that you eventually build, and can make adjustments as necessary to the website from there.
Start simple. Start simple. Start simple.
You just need it to work.
Work comes in many forms, however. Work in terms of just being ON, that’s first and foremost. Second, you want it to make sense. You want it to be easy to navigate and have some sort of structure to it. But the most important metric I want you to consider is how it’s working to help you build your email list—the third must-have for building a successful online brand.
3. An Email List
Is an email list necessary in order to build a successful online brand? Again, technically, no. It’s not. But you’re climbing a much steeper mountain without it.
The biggest mistake I made (and I made it twice) was not starting an email list right away.
On GreenExamAcademy.com, I didn’t build an email list mostly because I had no idea that I could. I thought it was a fancy thing big brands had access to, and because I was so new to online business back in 2008, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Eventually, I found out what an email list was after a mastermind group I was involved with suggested I sell my second product—an audio version of my LEED exam study guide—to those who had purchased the ebook version.
“It’s always easiest to sell to those who have already bought from you,” I was told.
Well, the problem was I had no idea how to reach out to those initial customers, other than one by one via email. I got the email addresses from the PayPal notification emails that were sent to me, and after sending over 500 emails, I was eventually banned from sending emails for about a half a day because I was sending too many within a specific time period.
I made the same mistake again when starting SmartPassiveIncome.com. The site was launched in October 2008, and I didn’t begin collecting email addresses until January 2010—almost a year and a half later.
That time, my excuse wasn’t about not knowing—it was that I didn’t think it was the right time. My site had just started, I wasn’t planning on selling anything, and I didn’t see the value in it.
So I get a few email addresses—maybe. So what then? Why is that important?
When I finally started to collect email addresses back in 2010, the importance of email became very apparent, very quickly. And as time went on, the reasons for having the email list revealed themselves even more.
At first, I saw a direct correlation between emails that were sent, and spikes in traffic to the website. This came because of broadcast emails about new posts that were published, and also the influx of visitors to older posts from my archive that were linked to some of the first few emails in the autoresponder sequence.
I also saw that emails that were sent to my list became great conversation starters. I was able to have a direct interaction with my audience because of it. I could ask questions and get answers back. I could get feedback for my work to help improve it. And, it also just showed people that I was a real person who took the time to reply.
Then, in 2013, something crazy happened—my website was hacked. SPI was down for an entire week after a DDOS attack left the site unusable, and during that insane week as I was trying to get things back online, I was still able to keep in contact with my audience to let them know what was going on. It showed me that even if my site was gone, I’d still have my email list so that I could set up shop elsewhere if I needed to. That’s huge for peace of mind.
More recently, when I made the decision to start creating my own products, the email list I’ve built has been instrumental in the success of the launch campaigns for those products. Both public launches for Smart From Scratch and Power-Up Podcasting surpassed six figures in earnings, and email, by far, was the number one referral source for sales.
For more information about setting up an email list, from what provider to start with to how to begin to segment your audience, click here for a free How to Start an Email List tutorial.
The Five-Day BYOB Challenge
If you already have an online brand, hopefully this has been a great reminder for you about the foundational items you should have in place.
If you’re close to starting and you’re ready to build a website of your own (or you’ve been meaning to but haven’t had the right excuse to get started), well I’m happy to let you in on a little secret.
For the past few months, my team and I have been working on a little five-day challenge we put together to get people moving on this online branding stuff.
It’s called the BYOB Challenge (BYOB = Build Your Own Brand). In five days, I’ll walk you through all of the steps you need to get a working website up and running, complete with a mini-campaign to help you build your email list.
It’ll be all you need to get that jump-start as you begin to build your audience and your brand online.
The unique thing about this challenge is that it’s not an email-based challenge, like some of my other challenges have been. This is a full-on comprehensive course with five modules (one per day), with several short lessons that will guide you through this entire process.
From honing in on your brand mission, to getting your domain name and building your website from scratch, to what design to use and what plugins to install, to what pages to include and even how to begin to think about collecting email addresses—it’s all here in this course that’s framed for a five-day window of action. The cost for something like this could easily be in the $200-$300 range, but because I know how vital this is to everyone building a business online, I’m going to be offering this course for free.
If this is something you’re interested in getting access to once this goes live, then make sure you click the link below to register for the challenge now. It starts on Monday, October 16, and runs through that entire week.
More info is available on the registration page, including some cool giveaways for people who complete the five-day action plan. If you’ve been waiting for the right time to get started, here it is.
Thanks, and I look forward to working with you through this process starting on October 16!
Great news, SPI family: Amy Porterfield has returned to the podcast for yet another insightful, actionable episode I know you’re going to love. Today, she’s covering everything an online business owner needs to know about list building, …
This was my first year experiencing what it was like to create and sell online courses. With one public course launched (Smart From Scratch) launched earlier in the year, and another one that just launched last month (Power-Up Podcasting), I’m already experiencing the benefits I always heard other course creators talk about:
Increased income, yes. But, more importantly, increased amounts of success stories.
Truly, there’s no better way to package up information you have to solve a problem, and provide a win for your customer while also getting paid at the same time.
As an advisor now to Teachable, the online platform I use to host and sell my online courses, I knew there were tons of other course creators out there—many more and different experiences than my own—who could offer tips to those who are just starting out. [Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Teachable.]
So here they are, 31 course creators from various niches with their #1 tip for creating and selling online courses:
1. Do not prepare an online course for selling. Create an online course for what you love to do and then sell it. You will earn a lot if you tell a topic that you love to do.
– Resit, Master of Project Academy
2. Stop worrying all the time about how you will sell your course and start worrying about how you will create such a good course that will provoke a real change in your students’ lives. Then, I promise you the money will come. Great content means good reviews, and good reviews mean more money.
– David Perálvarez, Club SiliCODE Valley
3. Build content that people can’t find anywhere else in the world for the same price or at the same level of quality. If you do both at the same time, sales will roll in like crazy.
– Dakota Wixom, QuantCourse
4. Stop making excuses as to why you aren’t qualified to teach, set a deadline, and commit to that deadline. Do not let yourself get distracted by trying to make everything perfect. It will never be perfect. Strive for professionalism, but don’t derail yourself in the chase of perfection. You can’t fix what you don’t launch. So launch it, learn, tweak, and repeat.
More advice from Sarah on her experience getting started: I lurked around the SPI and Teachable communities for 14 months. I listened to all the course-related podcasts Pat did. And I got stuck in a cycle of trying to gather all this intelligence. I wish I had stopped going into “research” mode and just committed that time to DOING IT. Finally, in January I committed to launching my course by the first week of March. I did it, and got 52 students. I was actually literally sitting in the audience at a conference Pat was speaking at and I was getting student after student and refreshing my app to see how much money had come in!
It was an amazing feeling and I only wish I had done it SOONER :).
– Sarah, User Research Mastery
5. For a fast and profitable launch, plan a launch on Instagram. We flipped $2k in ad spend into $60k worth of sales on our Teachable course. Micro-influencers are the way to go!
– Julie Cabezas, Social Brand School
6. Each one of us has a secret passion. Maybe you know more about Star Trek than anyone on this (or any) planet. Maybe you can recite the relative strengths and weaknesses of every car on the market. Maybe you have all your grandmother’s recipes for your family’s special foods. You think you’re the only one who cares about these things. You are not. Use your secret passion as material for an online course and people will respond. Because people respond to passion.
– Eric Goldman, Profit Leader Academy
7. Test your idea first. Don’t waste any time creating a course unless you have a solid list ready to buy it. Start small with blog posts and expand as the traffic steadily increases. Launch your course when your audience starts asking for it.
– Sarah Crosley, The Creative Boss: Create the Ultimate Opt-In Offer
8. Don’t wait . . . set a date and get out there and pre-sell (better yet, create your webinar date to launch your yet-to-be-created course). Nothing will light a fire fast enough knowing that you have to get it done.
– Susie Parker, Family Success Academy: Baby Naps Made Easy
9. Don’t try to be perfect.
– Cassie Zeider, Mommy & Me Wellness & Nutrition
10. No course is ever perfect when it launches. If you try to make your course perfect before you launch, you will NEVER launch. It’s okay to start with an initial version of your course that you improve on after receiving feedback from your students.
SPI is the primary reason I was able to launch my course. Without the SPI podcast, I would likely still be tweaking my course trying to get it to be perfect before I launched. Regardless of whether I’m chosen or not to be featured, I just want to say thanks for all the GREAT content your team gives away as it helped me tremendously.
– Daniel Milner, Make TV Easy
11. The number one thing people need to know is to sell something that people actually need. And then know a thing or two about marketing to sell it. Love Pat Flynn. Love Teachable. Love helpful people and making a living doing it!
12. Teach MORE THAN your competitors for FREE. Selling is nothing but teaching genuinely. If you just teach without holding anything back, genuinely, and help people, everything becomes very easy. Why I am saying this? Because it’s not something I had planned before my course launch. It’s something I realised last month. My “Aha!” moment. After looking at last 4 months’ stats.
I did $20,000 in sales in the last 4 months without running a single Facebook ad or any kind of promotion. I have just 11 videos on my YouTube channel. But those 11 videos teach more than other paid courses. Somehow people are finding those videos, getting amazing value, and subscribing to my paid course.
– Mubaid Syed, T-Shirt Profit Academy
13. Roadmap actual deliverables and stick to a schedule that’s conducive to producing the outcomes you need to meet your plan. Too many entrepreneurs spend three years “making” a course, and not a single buyer will ever be exposed or even hear about it!
Our current course is doing well over $25k/month in recurring and we’re moving all of the outside stuff into Teachable as we speak!
– Scot Smith, Automated Inbound: Rainmaker University
14. Plan out your marketing and promotion strategy even before you build your course.
– Amir West, Online Entrepreneur Life: Amazon Phenomenon
15. Business success is not dependent on the size of your email list, nor what you’re passionate about. A large unresponsive list is a massive cost centre and your passions don’t mean a thing if people don’t want to pay for it.
Find a deep unmet need or hidden desire waiting to be addressed. Address that in your course, and then make THAT your passion. If you can do that, even a small list can be very responsive and profitable; and you’ll have a thriving business. You guys are doing such a stellar job towards making it possible for solopreneurs to be successful. Just a BIG thank you!
– Vikram Anand, Get Ahead Fast™
16. It’s all about creating a detailed, powerful outline. Armed with that, you’ll know how much of your course you can give away for free to attract the right audience, which parts of your course to promote or add to your blog/podcast, and how to build a sales page that highlights what you’ll share with people.
– Regina Anaejionu, Business School for Humans: Monetize and Market Your Mind
17. Whatever topic you have in mind right now, make it 5 times smaller. The biggest mistake is to think you have to cover everything in one step.
– Kerstin, Fluent Language School
18. Stop reading about it. Taking action is the best teacher! For years I have been studying marketing strategies, read articles, listened to podcasts (SPI rocks!). The more I studied, the more overwhelmed I became. I finally stopped worrying about it, moved my business to Teachable and simply took action. My business income quintupled (literally!) after doing those things. This is after 10 years of struggling with the business. Pat and Teachable, thank you!
– David Wallimann, Guitar Playback
19. Start right now even if you don’t have everything figured out. If you believe in yourself and the online course you want to create to help others, you’ll find your way to get there no matter what.
– Arantxa Mateo, 32 Mondays: What to Eat to Lose Weight
20. Just do it! Perfection kills progress. Like Pat, I live in San Diego. I’m a huge fan of the show. I literally shot my class in my living room. I duct-taped together my first sales funnel and I was trying and failing at Facebook ads on Black Friday (my launch day, which now I hear is the WORST day to launch anything, LOL). Now a few short months later it has made about $50,000 and enrollment has been closed much of that time. Testing deadline funnel now. Yes I will be adding more courses ASAP!
P.S. Did I mention I love Pat’s podcast, Smart Passive Income? It is likely one of the stories on there that got me to try a course. My first business is ecommerce.
– Gina Downey, Academy for Dance
21. VALIDATE, then create. Before pouring time and money into an online course, make sure that people will buy it by actually ASKING people to buy it! You may be able to get 100 people to sign up to be beta testers for your course, but if no one is willing to pay you for the course, then it’s not worth creating.
When I created my first online course, I sent a few people in my audience a personalized email where I gave them a description of what the course was and what it would include. If they were interested, I asked them if they wanted to pre-purchase the course at a special rate (yes, before it was built!). I made $8,000 off of the pre-sale, which validated that people wanted my course. I spent the next few months creating the course, and launched to my list of only 2,000 at the time. My first launch did $41k in sales. Validate the idea, then create the product.
– Abbey Ashley, The Virtual Savvy: VA Bootcamp
22. The number one tip I would give to course creators is start building your list immediately. Always be growing your audience and remember to nurture it as you grow. If you have a great audience who wants to hear what you have to say, you will be successful in your online course creation and sales!
– Fleur Ottaway, Venture Digital: Get Results from Your Facebook Ads
23. Jump and then figure out how to open the parachute. I started my course live before I had all the content developed. Each week I had 15 people who were showing up to my office to learn, so I needed to make sure it was ready for them. Eight weeks later my course was developed, recorded, and uploaded to Teachable. Over $70k in 6 months later and I’m happy I didn’t wait until it was “ready.”
I teach mindfulness from the Christian perspective as it differs from the Buddhist perspective (in a respectful way).
– Gregory Bottaro, Catholic Psych Academy: Take Control of Your Life Today
24. Don’t pressure yourself to create one module or even one PDF of the course BEFORE you’ve pre-launched and pre-sold the idea. That pressure can be a major mental block, and you’ll never take action to get it out of your brain and into Teachable (#speakingfromexperience).
So instead, craft your pre-sales campaign, do that, and then once the dollars are in and there’s PROOF that your people are willing to put their money into your idea . . . then your mental blocks will magically turn into action.
– Elise Darma, InstaGrowth Boss
25. Overcome any hesitations, any procrastination, any fear but writing a list about how fabulous you are, how helpful your course will be, what benefits you’ll be bringing to their lives. Jump up and down, get super excited, and GO! You’re now in the right buzzing mindset and vibrational vantage point to pour the right energy into your work. YOU’RE GOING TO NAIL IT!
– Heather, The Brain Trainer
26. Differentiate yourself and your course. Don’t be one of a thousand teaching HTML, or healthy lifestyles. Find something that makes you different. Find a way to be different. It’s the only way you can stand out and build a real business. If you’re the same as everyone else, no one has a reason to enroll in YOUR course. Differentiate yourself and make that differentiator your competitive advantage.
– Mark Lassoff, LearnToProgram: Become a Professional Developer
27. Start. Like, now. No, really. Like, do it. You’ll never learn or have success with course building if you never get started! Love the blog! Thanks for all you do
28. Grab that camera (or phone as I did) and start recording. It will not be the best course, for sure. The market will decide if it’s good or not.
29. Find one person and walk them through your exact process of the course you’re considering creating. Each step of the way becomes your working outline for the course and helps identify any steps you might overlook. As an added bonus, this person becomes your true raving fan and an amazing testimonial. Teachable rocks!
– Jeff Rose, The Online Advisor Growth Formula
30. Engage with your audience. Focus on helping people, money will follow.
– Sam (Sanjay) J, TIBCO Learning
31. Sell as you create! By sharing what you are working on, your fans feel like they are part of the process and they will be rooting for your success. Plus they will be thinking about getting the class when it comes out. I think it is enticing to know about a product that you can’t have yet and by the time it comes out they have convinced themselves that they need it and they jump at the chance to buy. Offering a special price for early buyers also removes a consideration and makes the purchase a no-brainier. Just make sure you deliver the good so they will come back for the next class
My first class literally launched 5 days ago and I already have 246 sales. I am not sure if that is awesome by other’s standards but I am beyond thrilled! I have created class content as a guest instructor for other companies like Craftsy, Lifebook (Willowing.org), and Wanderlust (Everything Art) to learn the ropes but there is nothing as satisfying as creating your own course from soup to nuts on your own platform. I just wanted to make sure you knew I am a newbie at creating courses on Teachable, so if you want that perspective, call me!
– Lindsay Weirich, Essential Tools and Techniques for Watercolor Painting
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this post! If you’re thinking of starting an online course of your own, now’s definitely the time. It can be a massive game-changer in your business income generation, but more importantly, it’s the ultimate way to serve those who are looking to you for advice.
For an online course platform that works and is easy to setup, check out Teachable!
[Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Teachable.]
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