The Ultimate Guide to Starting & Growing an Epic Online Business

how to start and grow a profitable online business

Why hello there you creative bundle of joy!

(Yeah I love silly and completely random terms of endearment, so what?)

Do you have lovely, technicolor dreams about either turning your blog into a business or simply creating a profitable online business that you love?

Or perhaps you currently work a 9-5 and you dream of starting your own awesome online business so that you can LEAVE your 9-5?

Maybe you dream of owning a rainbow colored unicorn that will poop delicious sprinkle-infused custard at your command? (Sorry I can't help you with that last one!)

Ehem. Moving on!

If you dream of creating an epic online business so that you can have more fun, fulfillment and freedom in your life then read on.

So are you ready to read one of my most juicy blog posts ever?! (We're talking just over 5,000 words of juice here, people!)

These are the steps, tips and strategies that I've used myself over the past TEN YEARS in business, including transitioning into making $9,000+ month in passive income from my online business.

But first!!!

If this long blog post makes your head spin ...

I've got an Online Business Roadmap to give you, and it includes all of the steps for starting and growing your online business IN ORDER.

And guess what?! It's in checklist format.

So you can know exactly where to start and what to work on next in order to reach your big amazing goals! Plus, the order in which you do the steps is actually very important. For example, if you try to launch a paid offering BEFORE you have a strong foundation in place, chances are ... it'll probably flop.

Like a dead, smelly fish. Ewwww.

Plus it also includes even more steps, links to my favorite resources as well as my favorite books for both business and productivity! 

You can grab your free online business roadmap right here!

(Why yes I always awkwardly laugh while working in coffee shops, why do you ask?) :P

Alright ... are you ready to go through all 28 steps (in logical order) to start and/or grow your online business? Let's do it!

1. Check your reasons.

Okay so ... this might sound a bit counterintuitive, but don't start an online business JUST to make money! Running a business takes a LOT of time and hard work, and if you're not super passionate about the purpose of what you're doing, you will burn out very quickly.

Like ... about as quickly as a pile of soggy twigs that have been lit with a match! Indeed, it will be a nice and slow, soggy burn.

(Yeah that was kind of a stupid comparison, just bear with me!)

2. Get into the right entrepreneurial mindset.

Blazing your own trail and creating a business can be super scary (but it's also SUPER EXCITING!) In order to push through the fear, doubt, hard days, comparison to others and any other road blocks that will inevitably creep up, having the right mindset is KEY.

Check out this post on 8 tips to developing a successful, dream chasing mindset!

Oh and I've also got this video that I did recently in my free Facebook group for lady bosses on how you can develop an entrepreneurial mindset, which as I just mentioned, is super important! 

(Oh and I also just recently started my Youtube Channel for creative entrepreneurs right here. Feel free to subscribe if you want tips & tutorial videos!)

3. Join a mastermind group for support.

Joining a group for support is great for SO many reasons! Would you like me to share some of those reasons? Good! (And if you said "no," then too bad, hehehe.)

Joining a group of other like-minded individuals is great idea because ...

  • They provide support when you feel alone
  • You can brainstorm when you feel stumped
  • Get help from others when you run into an issue 
  • Receive valuable feedback when you need opinions on something
  • Get inspiration for the days when you feel uninspired
  • Get extra tips on a subject or area you need help with
  • They're great for finding people to network and collaborate with
  • Plus they're amazing for getting the extra push that comes with surrounding yourself with others that have similar goals! :D

If you're a creative lady boss who would like to join a group, feel free to join my Facebook group of Creative Superheroes if you wanna! I do weekly live chats, offer up extra tips + resource PLUS they're so much fun!

4. Define the PURPOSE of your business.

Yo, this one is SUPER important!

(Actually all of the things on this list are super important. So DO THEM ALL, I command you! :::starts waving hands around in a weird, spell-casting fashion:::)

Ehem. As I was saying, you need to know EXACTLY what the purpose of your business (or blog) is so that you can create your brand and ALL of your content around it. Your purpose is what will give you a CLEAR direction!

(Not sure what the purpose of your business is or have too many ideas for your business? Then get FOCUSED with the step-by-step workbook below!)

5. Figure out who your ideal client is.

Once you know the purpose of your business, you also want to know exactly WHO your ideal client is so that you can make sure that, once again, your brand and ALL of your content is created with them in mind.

If you don't know who your ideal client is, then you're gonna have a miiiiighty hard time attracting the right people! (That was said in a thick hick accent, just so you know.)

The more clear you are on exactly who your ideal client is, the more effectively you'll be able to attract them, connect with them and create stuff for them. 

Need help figuring out EXACTLY who your ideal audience is? Download the free workbook below! :-) I literally walk you through step-by-step on exactly how to discover who they are.

6. Get focused and come up with a plan of attack using the online business roadmap.

Now that you've gotten into the right mindset and also know your purpose + ideal client, it's time to get serious by continuing on in your journey!

You need to come up with a game plan to start + grow your online business.

And as I already mentioned at the beginning of this post, I've got a free roadmap for you which literally lists all of the steps in order so you know what to tackle first! :-)

Grab the free roadmap that I mentioned above. 

7. Get a planner to start scheduling your actionable steps in.

You know all of those actionable steps in that roadmap?

Perhaps you also have a mile long to-do list?

If you're not currently using a planner- time to start, baby! As Marie Forleo says, "if it's not scheduled, then it's not real." Trust me, you NEED to use one!

If you want to create and grow a successful online business, then you need to actually SCHEDULE small, specific steps that will get you towards the goals in your business plan. Make a list of ALL the things you need to do and then schedule them in!

Seriously. Doing this will not only ensure that things get done, but it will keep you organized and free up lots of valuable brain space!

I designed planners especially for creative entrepreneurs, bloggers and online course creators, so feel free to check those out right here! 

(They also include pages for your business plan, your ideal client etc.) 

And if you'd prefer a digital planner over a tangible one, then you can simply use a digital planner like Trello or Asana! (I've used both before in addition to my planner.)

8. Create a strong brand + style guide.

Once you've got a specific purpose and your ideal client in mind, it's time to create a SUPER STRONG AND AWESOME brand! If you've been reading my blog for awhile or have looked through my posts, then you probably already know that I have a small obsession with branding.

Like ... I'm almost as obsessed with branding as I am with cats, and that's saying A LOT. 

Ehem.

Just to get clear on what a brand is, a brand is how people think and FEEL about your business. Your brand is YOU. You brand includes things like:

  • Visual elements like specific colors, fonts, logo, design elements etc.
  • Tone of voice
  • Your vibe and values
  • The experience you provide
  • Your copy

Having a strong, consistent brand is essential in standing out and kicking ass!

Guess what? I've got 2 free branding resources for you to get you started, depending on what you need! A branding course and a branding workshop.

You can check those out right here!

9. Have a kick-ass website.

Pardon my bluntness, but ...

your website needs to ROCK THE DAMN SOCKS OFF PEOPLE.

There are a bazillion blogs and websites now adays, and in order to both stand out and take things to the next level, yours needs to both LOOK and FUNCTION great. I hear so many people say, "I'll invest in my website when I start making money" but that's backwards- you need to invest in your website TO START making money!

If you want people to take you seriously and trust you as a business, then your website needs to look professional. Capiche? 

My two favorite platforms for amazing blogs/websites are Wordpress.org (not Wordpress.COM) with BlueHost for hosting and Squarespace. Wordpress is great if you are tech savvy and want to have COMPLETE control, and Squarespace is perfect if you are less tech savvy and want something more simple and easy to use!

(I used Wordpress.org for 6 years and then moved over to Squarespace for the ease of use and simplicity- I love it so much!

So ... let me nail this into your head one more time ... do not skimp on your website!!! 

10. Create beautiful templates for your blog post photos (if you'll be blogging for your business!)

In creating a strong brand, consistency is super important

Creating beautiful templates for your blog post photos is great for not only consistency, but in making sure that you have lovely, pinnable images for Pinterest!

(Plus having pre-made templates saves you lots of time each time you write a blog post!)

I like to create blog post image templates over at Canva, it's totally free and they've got lots of beautiful, pre-designed templates for you to use and customize with your brand colors!

They even have a template that's specifically sized for Pinterest. Woo hoo!

Ideally, you want to start each blog post with a nice pinnable image.

(A vertical image that can be either just text with the blog post title or a combo of a high quality photo and text.) Speaking of high quality photos ...

11. Use high quality photos on your website and in your blog posts.

People are visual creatures and if your photos are low quality, your business is going to suffer.

You want to use high quality images that also reflect the vibe of your brand! So for example, if your brand's vibe is happy and colorful, use brighter, more colorful images! If your brand's vibe is dark and moody, use dark and moody images. Savvy?

On a side note, if you blog you also want to make sure that the photos you use within your blog posts are the exact width of your blog post. (So no more using oversized or undersized images, pretty please?)

Taking your own images is great because then you can customize them to fit your brand, PLUS no one else will have them so you'll stand out more!

Check out the ultimate guide to shooting pretty, styled blog photos if you need more help with learning how to take lovely photos!

Or if you'd prefer NOT to DIY, check out a site like Pexels for free, high quality stock photos.

Speaking of free stock photos, yours truly (aka ME! heheheee) has 15 free stock photos that I shot with my own 2 hands, which you're welcome to use in your own online business! 

Other sites for free, high quality stock photos include:

12. Start using an editorial calendar for all of your content.

If you're not doing this already, doooo it! Creating an editorial calendar will ensure that you are posting valuable content that's inline with your purpose (and ideal clients!)

PLUS, you'll never have to have that horrible, frantic feeling of waiting until the last minute. (I've been there SO many times over the years- blegh!)

I'd suggest creating an editorial calendar for your social media posts (and your blog posts if you blog) for the following month at least 2 weeks in advance.

 (I also like to keep a running list of blog post and content ideas in my phone so I never run out of great ideas!)

Things to consider when creating an editorial calendar:

  1. Consider how much time you have. I know you might be really excited to blog, but be realistic about the amount of time you have to spend! ALWAYS remember QUALITY over quantity.
  2. Think about future launches. Do you have any upcoming launches for products, services, courses, etc? Can you write some blog posts or awesome social media posts in the weeks leading up to the launch to get people in the right mindset of what you're going to be launching? (For example, if you're launching a course on branding, write some really juicy blog posts on branding in the weeks leading up to the launch!) You don't need to specifically mention that you're going to be selling something, just focus on providing as much value as possible.
  3. Always plan your editorial calendar with your ideal client in mind! What would they find to be helpful/entertaining/valuable?

(pssssst, check out this post on how to never run out of content ideas if you're feeling stumped on what to write about!)

13. Use a well branded, high quality bio photo.

Alright you little buttercup, make sure that the bio photo that you use on your website and social media accounts (and anywhere else that you have a presence online) is high quality, fits with your brand and showcases your personality!

Also, make sure that you are using the SAME awesome bio photo across ALL of your social media platforms. Remember: strong brands are consistent, baby!

I actually had a brand photoshoot where I had photos taken specifically to use on my website, social media, etc. Notice how they fit my brand!

I'm dressed in one of my brand colors and my photos have a quirky, colorful and fun vibe! (AND you can bet your last cup of coffee that I create consistency by using this same photo across all of my social media platforms!)

14. Update old blog posts (if you blog for your business) and write quality content.

If you've been blogging for awhile, go through your old blog posts and check to make sure that they're still relevant to the purpose of your blog and your ideal client.

If so, can you update them? Beef them up a bit?

And don't forget to make sure that they each have a lovely, high quality and pinnable image!

When writing your content, focus on QUALITY (preferably 700 words or more), and making sure that everything you choose to share and write about has your ideal client and main purpose in mind.

And if you need help creating blog post titles that stand out, check out my post right here which includes some free templates to get the juices flowing! 

15. Start & grow your e-mail list STAT.

Yeah, you've probably heard the importance of this one before if you want to grow an online business. I'm not gonna lie, I resisted doing this for WAY too long!

I mean ... I didn't even know how to make a damn opt-in on my site, I didn't know what to send my subscribers, I hated the idea of a newsletter ... I literally used every excuse in the book!

But. Having and growing your e-mail list is essential if you want to start selling things online like products, services or courses!

And not only that, but think about how often things like Facebook and Instagram algorithms are always changing.

For example, if you rely on Facebook to promote yourself, it just takes one simple change that Facebook decides to make to potentially screw you over. Or even worse- what if your preferred social media platform dies all together?! Gah.

Plus, people are WAY more likely to see your email than your social media post. So doooooo it!!!! Pretty please with chocolate covered sprinkles on top?

To start and grow your email list, do these 2 steps:

  1. Start by choosing your e-mail marketing service provider, my lovely pea pod! Mailchimp is perfect if you are just starting out because it's free for the first 2,000 subscribers (it's what I started out with and it worked great.) If you've gone beyond 2,000 subscribers OR want to get serious with your email marketing then I recommend switching to something like Convertkit (which is what I currently use and LOVE!) It's got easier automation, allows you to tag subscribers and has more advanced e-mail marketing features.
  2. Then enroll in this free challenge that I created just for you because it'll walk you through the next step in this blog post (how to create your freebie + grow your list!)

16. Create your main e-mail list opt-in & freebie.

After you sign up with an e-mail service provider, you wanna create easy to find, beautiful opt-ins in multiple places on your website! 

And you need to create that "freebie."

Why? Because now adays, there's so many dang opt-ins that most people aren't just going to hand over their e-mail address for promise of a "newsletter" or a couple of tips.

You need to gift people something really valuable in order for them to join the dark side! (aka your list.) Know what I'm say'in?

And not only that, you want to blow them away by how amazing you are by providing them with such an awesome resource for free! 

And I created a free challenge to walk you through it all step-by-step. :-)

The free Ignite Your List challenge that I created has a 4 part video masterclass series, specific action steps and extra bonus content all delivered straight to your inbox! It'll walk you through how to do ALL the things! Things like ...

  • How to create the perfect freebie to attract the RIGHT people to your business (and straight onto your email list!) ;-)
  • The fastest ways to get traffic to your freebie (without using paid ads. BOOM!)
  • What to actually send your subscribers to build relationships and make sales

I teach you step-by-step how to create your freebie for your opt-in right here.

Awesomely enough, tons of people who have taken the free challenge have started seeing real growth + results in a matter of days!

(Which is pretty dang exciting, if you ask me.)

17. Remember to breathe. You got this!

Yes, this step is actually super important!

Plus if you stop breathing then you will technically die, and that's no good. :P

Take a deep and remember: one step at a time, one DAY at a time!

18. Write valuable e-mail newsletters for your subscribers.

Whether you send e-mails to your subscribers once a week or once a month, try to be consistent and ALWAYS provide value! Don't leave a bad taste in people's mouths (like brussel sprouts- blegh!) by writing about something that is light, fluffy and has no real value or take away.

You want to use your newsletter as an opportunity to build trust, give value to your people, show them that you're an expert in your field and for them to get to know you and your brand better!

So incase you're feeling stumped for ideas on what the sam hill to write about, here's a few ideas to get the ball rolling!

  1. Share a personal story. Is there a specific turning point or valuable lesson learned that you could share? As long as it's relevant, this is a great way for people to get to know you better on a more personal level!
  2. Struggles. Ask your readers what they're currently struggling with using a survey, (you can use Survey Monkey, it's free!) The great thing about doing this is that by finding out what people are currently struggling with, you can get lots of valuable ideas for future blog posts and other content!
  3. Freebies. Make something awesome and give it to your subscribers! For example, tons of people on my e-mail list love it when I send out a good 'ol downloadable checklist. Again, get creative- the sky is the limit! (Actually, why stop at the sky? The outer Universe is the limit!!!!)
  4. Use old blog posts. Do you have any older but still relevant (and totally awesome) blog posts that your subscribers might enjoy? Use that in a newsletter! (But don't make it super lengthy- try and condense the post if it's super long.)
  5. List your favorite tools and resources! I recently sent out an e-mail listing my favorite tools and resources that I've used to grow my blog + biz, and my subscribers loved it! Bonus points if you can include a tutorial or two on how to use one of those resources.
  6. Bust some myths. Are there any myths about your industry or area of expertise that need busting? Are you launching a product or service soon that people might have reservations about? Time to bust 'em, baby!
  7. Upcoming events. Do you have a class, webinar, speaking engagement (in person or online) etc. that you could write about? Let people know!
  8. Blog post introduction. Do you have a super juicy blog post that you just wrote recently? Write a nice'ol introduction to that post and then link to the rest of it!

In the free challenge that I mentioned above, we also go over exactly what to send your subscribers in order to make sales. Woot!

Sales = good for business. ;-)

19. If you blog for your business, then make and use content upgrades in your blog posts.

This is a great way to grow that e-mail list, baby!

A content upgrade is when you make something (like a workbook, checklist, guide, etc.) to go with your blog post but make it so that the reader has to opt-in to your e-mail list if they want to get it! I do that throughout my posts by creating a graphic in Photoshop and then linking it to my Leadpages opt-in box, so sometimes when you're reading my blog posts you might see me give away a goody, like this:

Grab the super awesome (and free!) goal setting workbook so that you can learn how to set kick ass goals and actionable steps so that you can actually achieve them!

As I mentioned, I use Leadapges to create my e-mail opt-in boxes, but you could also use a Wordpress plugin like this one and there's a tutorial on how to create content upgrade boxes in Mailchimp right here!

20. Continue to grow that e-mail list, baby!

Yep, you wanna keep doing everything that we just talked about!

I also teach you how to keep growing your list in that free challenge. :::cough :::

21. Start doing webinars 

Speaking of growing your e-mail list ... webinars are absolutely freak'in amazing for growing ALL aspects of your email list!

I was super opposed to doing them at first (because I was dumbfounded by the tech, terrified at the idea of live broadcasting, scared crapless at the idea of selling anything etc.) but yo ...

webinars LITERALLY exploded the growth of pretty much everything! 

My e-mail list, my income and the opportunities that started coming my way ... just woah. And fast. I literally started to get over 3,000+ new e-mail subscribers a month because of how I use my old webinar recordings on my site.

So ... :::looks you square in the face::: try one, pretty please?

I've even got a free webinar crash course to get you started! It's a 1.5 hour long workshop with a goody bag that has a workbook, checklists and cheat sheets ... ya know ... only the good'n'juicy stuff. Just click below to get started kicking butt!

22. Create an effective social media strategy.

Like it or not, social media is extremely valuable for getting traffic, connecting with your ideal clients, promoting your stuff and about ten million other things! 

In other words, creating an effective social media strategy for your online business is extremely important, mmmkay? Just take my word for it!

You NEED a plan, yo. When creating your social media strategy, consider these things:

  1. Figure out which social media platforms are right for you and your online business. Where does your ideal client hang out the most? What types of content will you be posting? (For example, you probably don't want to use Instagram if you don't have lots of photos to post!)
  2. Make sure that all your social media accounts are well branded. Use the same high quality, branded profile photo across all of your platforms, make sure each platform includes what you're all about, a link to your website, etc. If your platform has a header image, make sure it uses your brand's specific colors, fonts ... you get my drift?
  3. Plan out your social media posts each month. Take a day each month to plan out what you will post to each social media platform and when! Remember not to over promote yourself (because that starts to feel icky to people real quickly!) Share other people's useful content that is relevant to your readers in addition to sharing personal tidbits about yourself to help people get to know you better!

For more tips on social media, check out the 28 Pinterest tips I used to massively grow my site's traffic and these 11 tips for Instagram!

23. Create something great to sell once you reach at least 500 - 1,000 subscribers on your email list.

Now that you've built a solid foundation by doing the things on this list so far (in addition to growing your e-mail list!) it's time to get to the money making part of your online business. Woo hoo! Are you feeling excited? YOU SHOULD BE!!!

First, you need to decide WHAT type of thing you want to sell.

Need a few ideas on how to monetize your online business?

There's SO many options. (Really, the sky is the limit!

Here's a few ideas on things that you could create to get the ball rolling!

  1. Info products. Do you want to create and sell digital info products? (Like ebooks?)
  2. Online courses. Wanna create super amazing online courses?
  3. Coaching services. Think of all the services you could help people with!
  4. Etsy shop. I absolutely adore Etsy! It's the black hole of online shopping for me. :P
  5. Freelance services. Whether you're a graphic designer or want to offer some other type of service, you've got tons of options!
  6. Tangible goods. Ya know, like the planners I created and sell!

After you come up with your paid offering idea, be sure to actually validate it first BEFORE you spend tons of time (and potentially MONEY) creating it!

That part is super important.

Is it something that people either FOR SURE want / need? Would people be willing to pay money for it? Can you create a "BETA" version? Do your market research!

24. Create beautiful mockups of the stuff you sell.

I don't know about you, but I get WAY more tempted (and excited!) to buy something when I can actually SEE it first and picture myself using it. So you are DEFINITELY going to want to create some beautiful mockups of the stuff you create! 

(P.S. also notice that I made the mockup fit the colorful, fun vibe of my brand!)

I love to take my own mockup photos, but you can also EASILY create them yourself!

Here's some super spiffy sites where you can both create mockups and buy mockup templates ... (by the way, please note that if it's a PSD file then you need Photoshop in order to open and edit it!)

Mockups are great for using on social media, your website, sales pages, in your e-mails ... any place where you wanna give a sneak peek to get people pumped!!! Ya feel me?

25. Promote your amazing products + services.

Once you've created something great to sell, you need to promote the shiz out of it, baby! But you don't want to be obnoxious about it- nobody likes that.

And if you DO like obnoxious salesy people then well ... um ... that's cool! Hahaha. But MOST people don't.

In order to avoid being "that" annoying person, check out this post on 10 tips to promote yourself without being annoying! 

Here's some other ideas on promoting your products and services ...

  • If you have a  blog, go through old blog posts that are relevant to your new product/service and create a link leading to that particular product/service!
  • Be sure to point people to your most valuable resources AND your new products/services on your sidebar and around your website!
  • Create e-mails that "soft sell" your products and services, but make sure you are providing tons of free value for your e-mail subscribers on the regular and not just bombarding them with salesy e-mails! (Because blegh.)
  • One word: WEBINARS. See step #21 in this post.

I'd recommend scheduling several different ways to try promoting your products/services inside of your planner!

Remember, if it's not scheduled then it's not real. ;)

26. Keep showing up and taking action.

The people who succeed are the people who don't give up!!! "Failures" are seen only as learning opportunities to figure out different ways to get something to work.

Having a bad day? (Or WEEK?) Keep going. Feeling like a failure? Figure out why, and change anything necessary. You got this!!!

Feeling unsupported and alone?

Join a group of like-minded individuals that can support you!

(If you're a creative ladypreneur then feel free to join my group on Facebook!)

Going through a horrible bout of depression? 

Read this post and keep going. 

Feeling uninspired?

Read this post for 15 ways to get inspired and keep going. 

Are you starting to get my point yet? Because my point is ... KEEP GOING! Through the good shiz and the bad shiz ... just. Keep. Going.

27. Keep learning.

Sorry to break it to you my little rosy-cheeked kitten, (sorry I have no idea where that came from!) but just when you THINK you've learned everything, just know that you haven't. Things are ALWAYS changing and you'll never need to stop learning.

Plus, learning makes you grow, get better at your craft AND it gives you super powers!!!!

Well, not literally. But kind of in a way!

Just remember this: apply as you learn.

For example, after you take a helpful class or read a very valuable blog post, take a moment to actually implement what you just learned. Whether that's doing something or changing something immediately or scheduling it in your planner to do/try whatever you learned at a later date, don't forget to implement as you go. 

Otherwise your brain will be completely overloaded with tons of valuable information that you're not even putting to use!

And then you'll go into overwhelm. And no one likes overwhelm, am I right?!

I've got lots of step-by-step courses right here.

Remember, they are write-offable business expenses at tax time! ;-)

28. Want a complete step-by-step roadmap to create your epic online business? Don't forget to grab your free roadmap! 

It's what I WISH I had back when I first started. 

I literally list out ALL of the steps, in order, for starting and growing your online business. Plus, they're all things that I myself have actually done. :-)

You can grab your free roadmap right here!

Welp my friend, you made it through this epic 5,000+ word blog post. Congratulations! 

Did you enjoy this blog post? Make my day by pinning it on Pinterest!

No really ... this post took me over FIFTEEN HOURS to write and I'd be so greatful if you took a hot second to share it.

To pin it on Pinterest, just hover over the photo below and click on the "P"!

If you shared it, thank you. I appreciate it!

xoxo
Allison