5 Stupid-Simple Steps to Creating a Rock-Solid Online Business Plan

JoshThe Foundation18 Comments

steps to starting an online business

You’ve done it.

You’ve made the decision that you’re SO over that 9-to-5 grind and you’re going to learn how to start an online business.

You’re probably even stupid-excited about it.

Am I right?

I totally get it.

You can’t stop brainstorming ideas, like blog post topics…

Logo concepts…

Business names…

The perfect tagline…

Product ideas…

And how you’re going to be straight up INTERNET FAMOUS.

But hold the phone for just one hot second and lemme ask you…

Do you have a plan for how you’re going to get there?

A blueprint that will help you make your business work for you?

A breakdown of the steps you’ll need to follow in order to build some solid momentum and make this whole starting an online business thing a real success?

If you’re sitting there with your mouth hanging slightly open thinking “ohhhhh shit. I didn’t know I was supposed to have a PLAN!”, don’t sweat.

You’re not alone.

In fact, most people we come across try to hit the ground running and figure it out as they go along.

But you know what that does?

It creates lacklustre results, overwhelm and a mean case of analysis paralysis…mixed with a dash of shiny object syndrome.

And that?

That is one dangerous concoction.

Because here’s the thing: You can’t just “wing it” and expect everything to just fall into your lap all perfectly packaged and put together.

Oh heeelllllllll no.

It doesn’t work like that.

I should know because this is how Josh and I first started out with the Screw back in 2013.

And you know what happened?

NOTHING.

Wait.

That’s a lie.

Something happened.

We lost thousands of dollars.

And about 8 months of our time trying to fly by the seat of our pants and expecting people to catch on.

Yeah.

Not so much.

In fact, it wasn’t until we failed horribly (read: Launched a product that didn’t even make ONE sale) that we realized “Uh oh! We did it all wrong!” and had to stop everything, re-examine what the heck we were doing and climb our way out of the mess we had made.

Essentially, we had to create a plan for our online business.

But how do you create an online business plan that actually makes starting an online business a breeze?

I’ve got 5 simple steps that will walk you through how to map it all out…without all the overwhelm, guesswork, angry-typing and temptation to day-drink.

Sound good?

Great!

Let’s dive in.

WTF is an Online Business Plan and Why Do I Need One?

I know, I know.

The thought of creating a business plan kinda makes you want to groan and do a mental eye-roll.

I get it.

I was the exact same way.

But here’s the thing…

Creating a plan when starting an online business not only gives you a framework to work off of, but it helps keep the overwhelm at bay, eliminates the guesswork and gives you a well thought out roadmap you can follow.

On top of that, you’ll also be able to see whether or not your idea is even worth pursuing!

That way you’re not killing yourself over a business that might not ever take off.

Instead, you’ll have the clarity and confidence to move forward on an idea that has legs, and ditch the shit that doesn’t.

Doesn’t that make you want to happy sigh?

Me too.

So let’s cut the chit chat and create that plan of yours!

Oh, and before we dive in I should tell you…

I’m going to be using our brand-spankin’ new business (in the nootropics space), NootroHacker.com as the example site throughout this post.

That way you can see everything in action as we move through the steps.

*fist pump*

Step #1: Get Your Prep On

Be honest with me for a sec…

Do you know who is already out there in your industry and rockin’ it?

Like, do you really know them?

Do you know their name(s)? The content strategy they rock? Their average traffic stats? The products or services they offer?

If you’re thinking “uhhhh no”, don’t sweat.

I’m about to walk you through how to get clear on all of that. That way you know exactly what your market looks like, how much potential it has and best of all, how you can stand out and claim a space for yourself.

But first, you’re gonna need this FREE Online Business Planner (it’s the one we give to our members inside Screw U) to fill out all the deets so you can get a solid look at all the data we’re going to be compiling.

(I know, it sounds sexy.)  

Don’t think you need to do your research?

Think again.

Why?

Because business is about so much more than following your heart.

It’s about not wasting your time and making smart decisions backed by research.

And yes, you’ll be able to do this even if you aren’t a techie or data-driven person!

So let’s start with the “Competition” sheet you see listed at the bottom of your planner.

how to start an online business

This is the section where we’ll be filling in all the details we discover by researching our top competitors online.

That means we’re going to be adding in their URL, their estimated traffic (I’ll show you a tool for that), adding in their contact details, listing out the products/services they offer, which content mediums they prefer, ie. blogging, podcasting etc..

We’re also going to be listing out the different content categories they stick to, for example what topics they cover or what pain points they are addressing in their content.

From there, we’ll move onto to the second sheet, Search Traffic.

starting an online business

This is where we will start diving into what people are searching for in your niche.

Now, Josh breaks down this entire process inside our 6-part program The Foundation, but for now just know that in the “topic” section you’ll be filling that up with the different topics/pain points you uncovered when researching content categories in the first sheet.

From there, we’ll start running keyword research around the specific topics to uncover those golden search phrases that people are using to find your competition.

And yes, I’ll walk you through how to do that shortly!

Finally, you’ll add the approximate amount of searches each phrase gets in that third “search volume” section.

Once you’ve got that all filled out, we’ll move onto the third sheet, Social.

start a business online

Now this one is pretty self-explanatory, but this is the sheet we’ll be using to list out all the different social platforms your competition are using to drum up interest and attention to their brands.

The main thing you want to keep in mind with this sheet is that we’ll be using it to spot trends in the networks being used and identifying which personalities have big, engaged followings.

That way we can pick the top social networks to build a following on and forget the rest.

From there, we move onto diving into Platforms!

start a business online

Now this sheet is super important, because this is where you’re going to be listing out all the different platforms you can use to get the word out there on you and your brand!

So that means we’ll be looking for guest posting opportunities, podcasts and video shows that we can reach out to and pitch ourselves for a guest post or interview.

Again, Josh dives more into the step-by-step process of how to do all of this inside The Foundation, but for now start filling out your sheet by listing the different websites you’ve found in your niche, their traffic estimates (I’ll show you how to do that), the link to their contribute/interview outreach page (so you can submit your request for a feature), their relevant contact details, the status of your outreach and any links to interviews or posts you’ve written for them.

Alright, once you’ve got your sheet all prepped and ready to go it’s time to move onto…

Step 2: Compiling Your Competition

Ohhh yeah baby, this is where we start to get into the fun stuff, like snooping on your competition.

Or, you know, doing your competitive analysis…if you want to be all proper about it.

*wink*

How are we going to do this?

Well, first, let’s talk about the difference between your ideal competition and your not-so-ideal competition.

And yes, there’s a difference when it comes to analyzing your competition.

Your Ideal Competition

So here’s the thing…

There can be a LOT of competition online, so it’s important that we identify which kind of brands we want to look for and analyze.

For us, this is any brand that is making heavy use of content marketing.

That means any brand that regularly releases new podcast episodes, blogposts or videos on their site.

We’ll also be looking for websites that are selling:

  • Online services
  • Coaching or consulting
  • Physical products using content marketing (not just an online store)
  • Information products (for example, courses or membership sites)
  • SAAS products

That means we will be ignoring anyone that is…

Your Not-So-Ideal Competition

Sites that fall into this category are typically:

  • E-Commerce sites that don’t have any content other than their products
  • Sites with a whole lotta Google ads
  • Websites that don’t sell anything
  • Online directories
  • Sites not related to your target industry

Now that we’re clear on who we’re paying attention to and those we’re saying “thanks, but no thanks” to, let’s talk about how the eff you go about finding these sites!

Best of all, we’re gonna do it in 3 easy steps and I’m going to use our site in the nootropics space as an example.

1. Identify Relevant Topics

The key with this step is simple…

Grab a paper and pen….errr….open up a Google Doc and start listing out all the relevant topics, phrases or pain points that are related to your niche.

For us, this would be things like:

  • Nootropics
  • Smart drugs
  • Brain supplements
  • Focus supplements
  • Memory enhancement

Of course, you’ll wanna list as many as you can and not stop at 5, but you get the picture.

From there, it’s time to…

2. Search for Blogs

And not just any old blogs, but blogs that are related to the different phrases and topics you’ve just come up with.

Here’s how you do do that:

  • Open up a Google search
  • Compose your search like this: nootropics “blogs”

Just make sure you replace “nootropics” with whatever your topic or phrase is. *wink*

Why do we search for blogs?

Simple.

Because we want to uncover the sites that are not only targeting the same space as us, but are also using content marketing to build an audience.

Why?

Because the most successful sites are typically ones that use content marketing (blogging, vlogging or podcasting) to build and engage an audience online.

Once you have that list compiled, it’s time to…

3. Open Up Relevant Results

This one is a biggie.

Why?

Because we want to make sure we are only paying attention to sites that are aligned with what we want to build online and ignoring the rest.

Now, like I said, Josh goes into this in far greater detail inside The Foundation. However, I wanted to give you the general idea so you can start compiling your list!

So from here you’ll start opening up all the pages you deem relevant to what you’re wanting to build online and then repeat this process until you have a list of around 20 different competitors.

Once you’ve got your list and you’ve vetted them for relevancy, it’s time to…

Vet Your Competition

We’ll do this by starting to add each site you find to the “competition” sheet on your master planner so we can start to list out their stats.

how to start an online business

(If you haven’t yet snatched yours up, you can grab it here for free)

To start adding the necessary stats to your planner, do this:

Grab the main URL of the sites you’ve found (don’t include the /blog or /podcast in the URL) and add them all to the “Website” column of your spreadsheet until it looks like this:

online business plan

Once you have them listed, open SimilarWeb.com which we’ll be using for traffic estimates.

Go ahead and copy each URL (one at a time) into the tool and hit “search”.

how to start an online business

Now, to clarify, the traffic stats they give you will likely not be 100% accurate, however it will give us a solid glimpse into how much traffic that site is receiving.

So using Nootriment.com as the first URL we test, we get this result…

how to start an online business

Right off the bat we can see that this site has strong, consistent traffic, ultimately showing us that there is a big interest in this topic and website.

Win!

Next, simply go back to your planner, mark down that traffic estimate and move onto your next URL until your sheet looks like this…

how to start an online business

From there, remove all the entries that are either getting no traffic or less than 10,000 visits a month.

Why?

Because we only want to analyze sites that have big potential.

Once you’ve got that completed, it’s time to fill in their contact details (which you can usually find on the “contact us” page) and then move onto locating their products/programs/services which you can find by looking for links (in the navigation bar or along the sidebar) with labels such as:

  • Shop
  • Store
  • Work with me/us
  • Products
  • Services
  • Programs
  • Hire me/us

Then as you hit their products page, just copy that link and add it to your spreadsheet, just like you did with the contact details.

Now if you find a site that doesn’t have a products page or sell anything through their site, just mark down “N/A” in that column until your sheet looks like this…

online business plan

Next up, we’ll be marking down the chosen content medium for each site we have listed so we can see if there are any common threads in our chosen space that we should stick to.

That means we’re looking to see if they are using content such as podcasting, blogging or vlogging to build and engage their audience.

And as you can see below, our research shows us that blogging is HAWT in the nootropics space and is a preferred medium amongst our competitors.

how to create an online business

Once we have that insight, we can then start to look at the different content categories each of these sites are touching on to, again, see if we can spot some themes around the topics they touch on and how their audience responds.

Now, obviously this requires you to do some solid digging, however doing this work upfront will make your life SO much easier as you start to build out your content plan for your business.

That way you’re not sitting there, staring at a computer screen and thinking to yourself “okay hmmmm what should I write about today?” because you will have done the work upfront that will allow you to pick your topic, create and publish.

starting an online business

Halle-freakin’-lujah!

Of course, if you come across sites that don’t really categorize their content, simply add a “N/A” to that column as those sites are typically the ones who aren’t doing THAT well in the space.

From there, it’s all about using the data you’ve collected by analyzing your competition and creating your Top 10 Competitors list.

Again, Josh dives into this inside The Foundation, but for now you can simply look at your list and make your best educated guess on who you believe is your biggest competition in this space.

Before you do that though, let’s move onto to…

Step 3: Spotting Your Search Traffic

Now this step?

This is where we start to dig deep and see how many people are searching Google for the specific keywords and phrases you will be targeting with your website and content.

To do this we’re going to be using the Google Keyword Planner tool, which is free.

All you need to do is sign in with your Google account—which you have if you use anything like Gmail, YouTube or any of their other Google platforms.

And no, you do not need to create an Adwords account just to use this tool, although they will prompt you to.

Just know that it’s not necessary and you should be able to just click on “sign in” and get started.

Cool?

Cool.

So now let’s talk about how you can start to identify useful keywords that you can start to target, based around the content categories we uncovered in step 2.

Uncovering Keyword Topics

Using the different content categories you listed out above, identify the categories that are closely related to the industry you want to target.

If you look at the info we pulled from doing our research in the nootropics space, you see that in the first entry we have topics like “sleep” and “lose stress” listed on the first entry.

starting an online business

However, if we’re keeping it real, “sleep” and “lose stress” really aren’t that specific to the overarching topic of nootropics.

Whereas categories or phrases such as “racitams” or “choline” are.

So with that in mind, I would take the keyword “racitams”, open up the Keyword Planner tool and click on the first option titled “search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category”.

starting an online business

That will then open up a text field where you can paste in your first keyword to search, ie. “racitams”.

You’ll also want to click on the “keyword options” tab and make sure you switch “only show ideas closely related to my search term” to “ON” so you’re not left with completely irrelevant phrases that don’t apply to your niche.

online business plan

Then simply click “save” and then click “get ideas”.

That will bring you to a page that looks like this…

creating an online business

As you can see we’re given an “estimate” that spans quite a large range.

Thanks, Google.

Now clearly Google is a tad secretive around their metrics, however to get a decent estimation we simply take the largest number and halve it.

That means if we’re looking up a search phrase like “racitam” and we see it spans from 1,000 to 10,000 monthly searches, we will assume it’s getting in and around 5,000 monthly searches.

Are there better tools to run your keyword research?

Absolutely.

But for the sake of this post, we’ll continue to use this tool.

From there, we’ll continue to work through the different topics we have found until we have a long list of viable keywords listed in our planner.

As you do this you’ll notice you stumble upon those golden keywords which churn out a bunch of other keyword ideas you can use for future content.

For example, take a look at the results I get when I search “choline” as another potential keyword.

starting an online business

I can now identify these keywords as potential subtopics inside my main content, add them into my spreadsheet and continue my research until my spreadsheet looks something like this…

how to start an online business

Again, Josh deep-dives into this process of keyword research and selection inside The Foundation (including a quicker way of uncovering all of those keywords you see listed), however I wanted to make sure you had an overview at how we pick specific keywords to base our content around so we have a fighting chance at being “discovered” in the search engines.

Best of all, this works for any niche and I’ve included at least 6 different keywords within this one post you’re reading, which I know will have an effect on our ability to rank for this topic of starting an online business.

Once you’ve got your list of keywords you can target within your content, you can move onto…

Step 4: Searching for Social

In this step we’re really going to be focusing on two things: Creeping our competitors and spotting the Big 3.

Best of all, it’s a stupid-simple process.

Win!

First, going back to your Online Business Planner start opening up the sites of your top 10 competitors.

So if you were to look at ours, we would be focusing on the first 10 you see listed below.

how to start an online business

From there, it’s wicked easy.

Just open up their website and search for the links to the social platforms they’re using to connect with their audience and build attention around their brand.

Once you have found those icons or links, simply open up each profile and add this info to your spreadsheet:

  • Social platform
  • Profile name (and be sure to include the link)
  • Number of followers
  • Repeat this process for each of your top 10 competitors

While it may seem tedious, having all of this info will give us a solid idea of which platforms are the most popular in your industry and which are not worth your time and energy.

how to start your own online business

Now once you have all of this information listed out, it’s time to identify our “Big 3”.

WTF is the “Big 3”, you ask?

It’s the 3 most popular social networks that our target audience uses to interact and connect with our competitors.

Now Josh has a whole fancypants method he uses inside The Foundation to figure this out, however for this post we will simply take a good hard look at our data and see which networks seem to be the most popular with our competitors and roll with those.

The main key is that we’re choosing the 3 networks that not only have the most amount of followers, but also have the most engagement on each profile.

That means the brand is consistently posting, sharing and interacting with their followers AND their following is engaging and interacting with them.

Why does that matter?

Because what’s the point in devoting the time and energy setting up a presence if no one is using that platform or engaging.

Answer? No point.

Which is why we take the time to do the research up-front so that you’re not sitting there with a new sexy profile, talking to yourself for months and getting radio silence.

Once you have your Online Business Planner all set up and tricked out with all your intel, it’s time to…

Step 5: Prepare Your Platforms

Now this step is one of the most critical pieces of starting an online business plan.

That means we’re going to be researching our 3 “big impact” platforms we have available to us—guest posting, podcast (or video) interviews and free groups.

Why do we round up this info?

Because when it comes to starting a business online, attention is everything.

That means a huge part of your entrepreneurial efforts are going to be focused on promoting your brand and getting the word out there.

Again, Josh has a whole process that he walks you through inside The Foundation for finding all the information you need for all 3 platforms…

However, I’m going to walk you through a simple hack to finding killer guest posting opportunities.

That way you can get started spreading the word and educating your dream audience on what you and your brand are all about.

Sound good?

Great.

Here’s how we do this…

Getting Guest Posts

To start we’re going to be filling out the “Platform” sheet inside your Online Business Planner

starting an online business

To start filling it out, we’re going to brainstorm a whole list of topic ideas related to your niche.

That means we’re going to do a big ol’ braindump and list out the different synonyms that are related to your industry.

Using nootropics as an example, I would list out things like:

  • Nootropics
  • Smart drugs
  • Brain supplements
  • Focus supplements
  • Memory enhancement

From there, I would open up a Google search and start pairing my synonyms with different search queries, such as:

  • Write for us
  • Contribute
  • Guest post
  • Guest blog
  • Featured contributor/writer
  • Submit a post
  • Work with us (<– that one doesn’t always work, but it’s worth testing)

Using the first phrase in each list, this is how my search would look…
starting an online businessThe reason we compose our searches this way is to tell Google that we ONLY want to see results from sites that are relevant to the topic of nootropics AND have the words “write for us” written somewhere on the site.

When I run this simple search, here are the results I get…

how to start your own online business

You can see that out of the first 8 results I get, 5 are direct links to those site’s guest posting pages.

From there, I would start opening up each of those links and taking a spin through the requirements before adding this info to your sheet:

  • The website’s homepage URL
  • What type of promotion opportunity it is (guest post, podcast or group)
  • The link to the submission page
  • The contact details listed

Once you have all of that listed, you can then repeat a similar process to Step 3 with using SimilarWeb.com to estimate the traffic each site receives.

Why are we adding traffic estimates to this section?

To ensure that each site you pitch is actually worth the time and energy it takes to write a guest post or do an interview.

After all, we’re not trying to get ALL the interviews or guest posts.

We’re simply after the opportunities that will make a dent in our business and get us and our brand in front of the right audience in the most efficient way.

Which means by the end of your research, your sheet should look similar to this…

starting an online business

Now, don’t sweat if you can’t find over 20 different sites YET. Simply do your best and aim to find 10 sites you can eventually pitch for guest posts.

From there it’s a simple process of rinsing and repeating.

And yes, it’s tedious and can feel like a lot of work.

But I’m tellin’ you, it’s worth it.

After all, we’re not here to build flash-in-the-pan businesses.

We’re here to create wildly-profitable businesses that light us up.

And to do that, you need to get in front of the people who are perfectly aligned with what you have to say and sell.

Before you do that though…

There is still ONE more step we have to tackle.

*insert stunned-face emoji here*

However, in order to get your hands on it, you’re gonna have to grab your free Online Business Planner!

Yeah.

I just dropped a cliffhanger.

build-your-business-the-right-way-grab-your-free-online-business-planner

  • Erica

    Thank you for all of this info! It was SO helpful. You nailed it right on the head how I was feeling about wanting to start my online biz. I have ideas out the wazoo, but I really need to reign them in. I’m so going to grab that online business blueprint. THANK YOU!!!!

    • Josh Stanton

      Glad you liked it @disqus_w40NCr9DuP:disqus! Yeah definitely check out the blueprint as it takes you through the steps in a more concise way.

  • Tom

    Thanks for the informative post!

    I think it is really important to have the right amount of planning prior to starting a business and that you guys nailed each the keys tasks here.

    It’s crucial to NOT spend too much time on things that do not matter at such a early stage e.g. your email signature or Twitter posting schedule.

    • Totally agree! And stoked to hear you found it helpful, Tom 🙂

  • Thanks. Bookmarked this to read it every week.
    Going to print your little image as well!

  • Jeremy

    Hi Jill & Josh, thanks for wonderful post! It was so enriching! Tried to download the guide, but was brought to an error page by LeadPages.net, can u guys send me the guide via email or a download link? Thank you.

  • Just tried to download the guide, but there was an error page. I’d love to see the Online Business Blueprint!! Can you email it to me? cindyrowe31@gmail.com

  • Crystal Dawn Johnson

    WOW!!! This is some amazing content!! SHARING!!!

  • this spreadsheet aka the Free Online Business Planner is my FAVORITE!!!!!! All the hand hearts… seriously.

  • Excellent! I can’t wait to check out the spreadsheet. Thank you!

  • Following this process helped me realize that a lot of my competitors aren’t updating their blogs on a regular basis. Also, I was able to see what their most popular blog posts are. Thank you very much because this gives me a serious competitive edge.

    • Niiiiice! Sounds like a huge opportunity you’ve got there 😀

  • Well written and all areas covered, most people fail online because of not following the training rushing to reach where.In the end one either gives up or has to start allover again.
    Thanks for sharing

    • Josh Stanton

      Happy you dug it!