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The 7 Stages of Building An Online Business [Infographic and Guide]

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CONFUSION!

That’s what the process of building an online business usually results in for most people. And the reason is simple…

There isn’t really a clear roadmap.

Here’s how it looks for most people:

  1. You decide it’d be nice to set up a new income stream and you decide that the internet looks like a solid option.
  2. You go online and search for something like “how to make money online”.
  3. Inevitably, you get barraged with a ton of advice, tutorials, case studies and surely… stuff you can buy. LOTS of stuff you can buy.

From there, people scatter in a ton of different directions. Some people end up buying a bunch of shiny objects which promise the world, and they usually end up on the Warrior Forum sinking their life savings into a bunch of empty promises.

Or you have others who gravitate toward blogging and end up on any of the many blogs out there which talk about making money blogging. But, by nature, these blogs continue to churn out content, week after week. And that kind of structure lends itself to… lack of structure. Just lots of ideas. A gluttony of information. And before you know it, you have a severe case of information overload.

But, let’s back up.

The problem isn’t that you want to build an online business – certainly. The problem isn’t, either, that the process of doing so is necessarily a huge ball of confusion.

No, the problem is that there is a lack of a clear plan.

A clear plan, or a series of benchmarks, is what breaks an otherwise daunting goal into a series of much more doable steps. And in a certain order.

Most people try to build their online business without knowing what they should be focusing on at any given time. The result is usually that they end up focusing on the lowest hanging fruit (i.e tweeting and writing blog posts), all the while continuing to partake in the endless gluttony of incoming information from the internet in an effort to figure out their next move.

Figuring out that next move, though, is quite difficult in many instances. There are a LOT of people out there talking about blogging for business, and each of them has a different style and a different focus. Each of them has different ways of doing things. So, instead of following a plotted path to where YOU need to go, you end up getting jerked around by the content on other peoples’ editorial calendars or marketing schedules.

Here at the Blog Marketing Academy, my job is to show people how to build or grow their business using the power of content marketing.

Now, I’m not the only guy who does that. Probably pretty obvious, right? 😉 But, I’ll tell you what I believe is one of my personal skills, and what I believe is one of my biggest contributions to this effort.

Making things simpler.

I always have the natural tendency to take a bunch of details, find the common denominator, and boil it down to basics. Perhaps it comes from my own personal hatred of details, but I’m usually pretty good at arriving at the “big idea” which explains a bunch of details beneath it.

I bring this inclination to all the training that I create inside the Academy. Both inside and out.

I’m the navigator. The simplifier. And so…

When I see this lack of a central plan, my instinct is to make one. And so I did. 🙂

The 7 Stages of Building An Online Business

Now, I’m going to admit… taking a topic as huge as this one and trying to boil it down to a simplicity is a tough task. It is made even more complicated by the fact that there are so many potentially different ways of doing it.

So what I have done is broken it down into a generality… and one where the stages done in this particular order will give one the best foundation and chance of success.

First, I will show you the 7 stages. Then below, I will do a play-by-play explanation of how this chart is put together.

online-business-plan2

How This Chart Works

The chart proceeds from top to bottom. You start out at Stage 1, which is essentially starting from scratch. From there, you proceed through the entire development phase until you get through stage 5.

The development phase is exactly that: That phase where you are in active development of your business and its systems. In other words, you’re establishing your value, your platform, your email list building systems, your traffic and how you intend to deliver on your value to customers.

Once you get through the end of stage 5, you have the basic pieces in place of an established business. You’ll know your place in the market, your site will be functioning, your list will be growing, you’ll have traffic coming at you, and you’ll be delivering to customers (in return for which you will receive income).

The process of getting through stages 1 through 5 is very much a discovery process. You’ll be establishing yourself, discovering which mediums will work best for you, how to reach your intended audience, what they need and want and what they’ll buy, and how you’re going to deliver it.

At the end of stage 5, you move from the development phase into the growth phase. Because, while you might have the pieces figured out at the end of stage 5, you very likely will still have a relatively small business. Beginning in stage 6, you enter that phase where you undergo constant perfection of your processes so as to increase your statistics.

And then, almost inevitably, you begin to move into the expansion phase (stage 7) where you begin to expand beyond yourself and begin to actually create a business which is capable of you cutting the umbilical a little bit while it remains operational.

The growth phase is one which doesn’t really end. It is ongoing.

However, before you get to that point, your sole purpose is to stay on target with the development phase – stages 1 to 5.

Also note, each of the development stages has a “minimum viable product” listed. The purpose here is to give you a BENCHMARK by which to judge whether you should then be focusing on the next stage.

And that word “minimum” is important. Our job here is to actively seek out the MVP, then when that point is attained, set our eyes firmly on the next one. By doing this, we attain real progress.

So, you don’t get into an endless loop of questioning yourself. Or, in stage 2 (for example), you don’t allow yourself to get stuck in a 6 month cycle of blog tweaking and trying out a hundred different themes. No, you simply keep your eyes on the key pieces you need, then move on once you get them in place.

Let’s walk through the different stages…

Stage 1: Foundation

stage1

Most people, when they first get started, the first thing they do is have an idea then rush right out and install WordPress.

No, don’t do that.

Stage 1 was put there for a reason. It quite literally IS the foundation of your business going forward. And you should be doing it first.

Your job here is to identify who you intend to serve and how you intend to serve them. You then clearly nail down TRULY who you are serving through the avatar process, and your solution.

What many people getting started screw up is that they believe the act of blogging is the same as starting a business. It isn’t. Just as in any business on the face of the earth, YOUR business will be in the business of helping others solve a problem. I call it the “transformation“. They want an outcome… and your business is to get them there.

Inside the Academy, I have two courses specifically aimed at Stage 1 entrepreneurs. They are:

I have a little bit of tidying up to do with the training… because I intend to re-align my Academy courses around these 7 stages a lot more predictably. But, for now, those 2 courses are perfect for a Stage 1 entrepreneur just looking to get started on the right footing.

Stage 2: Platform

stage2

Here is where we get into setting up your blog and your initial content, but it is important (once again) to note that it comes AFTER stage 1 is complete. The reason is simple…

The function of your blog is to serve as a marketing vehicle for your transformation… and to get people going on it. If you don’t clearly establish what that is, then your blog will have no solid purpose. You wouldn’t have a GOAL with your content. And you wouldn’t be able to focus on a call to action – which is that thing that you want visitors to do.

So, once you establish that in stage 1, then you set up your platform. Get the blog set up on the right footing, kick off your content process with “pillar posts”, and then create your first landing pages designed to get people to take their first step on the transformation that you’ve established.

WARNING: Stage 2 can be “sticky” in that people can get sucked into the tweaking cycle with their blog. Messing with colors, tweaking stylesheets, switching out themes. It is important that you NOT get sucked in by that. Realize that, in the development phase, your goal is to achieve minimum viable product then move onto the next area of focus. Don’t be a perfectionist. You can always come back and tweak things later, but by then you’ll have a better reason WHY you’re making certain tweaks, rather than simply chasing some pot at the end of the rainbow.

For Stage 2 bloggers and entrepreneurs, here are some solutions which may assist:

Stage 3: Email List

stage3

Building your email list is not just a top priority, it is THE top priority. And lazily popping a “join my newsletter” opt-in into your blog’s sidebar isn’t going to cut it.

So, immediately after you get the guts of your blog set up and your content process underway, you put full focus on building your email list effectively. This means creating lead magnets which convert, setting up lead funnels (which are basically just the various incoming pathways by which people get onto your list), and potentially building out a basic followup sequence of emails.

This isn’t tough stuff, but it is often overlooked. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps it is because people get bogged down by the mechanics of setting it all up. If so, I’ll go ahead and drop a little link to my next upcoming live workshop:

Get my help figuring out and implementing the actual mechanics of building your list, with the upcoming List Building Simplified live workshop. Click here for more information.

By the end of stage 3, you should have at least one or more targeted lead magnets in place, and at least one corresponding lead funnel for it. And I would highly suggest you not completely rely on your own blog to do the heavy lifting here. Good lead funnels can be built which bypass the blog altogether and build your list consistently. This is where squeeze pages and all that come in.

So, if you get a little cross-eyed on this, let me be the simplifier for you. Consider the next upcoming workshop which I’ll be delivering in early October.

Stage 4: Traffic Building

stage4

It is in stage 4 where we really begin to focus on our outgoing promotion in a large way. The idea is simple…

  • You have your home base set up (that’s the blog)
  • Your blog is designed to focus on a call to action and to build your list (which is very important)
  • So, now incoming traffic won’t be getting “wasted” by bringing people into a site which does nothing to grow your business.

Get it? Good. 🙂

So, all the incoming traffic sources you may usually think of can be included here. That said, let’s maintain focus on our MVP once again and realize that we don’t need to simultaneously do ALL of these traffic methods in order to proceed.

You want a basic syndication process in place, you want a social media presence, and you should probably have at least one paid traffic funnel coming into one of your landing pages (established in previous stages).

Why paid traffic? Is paid traffic a complete necessity? Well, not really. But, I can tell you this…. paid traffic is, by far, the most predictable way to remain in the driver seat as you grow your business. It allows you to drastically shorten the runway, to firmly establish what your target market responds to. Not only that, but the internet is maturing quite a bit and we do kind of have a “pay to play” situation now. Relying on exclusively free traffic to grow from scratch can be done, but it takes a LOT longer. And it is harder now that it used to be…. let’s just say it like it is.

All that said, paid traffic doesn’t have to be expensive. It usually isn’t at all… especially in stage 3. Stay cheap on it and you won’t try ramping up your budget until you get to stage 6 and you know your funnels will convert and send you more money than you’re spending.

Once you have some new, predictable daily traffic coming into the site (not in necessarily a huge volume), then go onto stage 5.

Stage 5: Delivery

stage5

This is where we get into what is classically called “monetization”. We’re going to start making offers and begin delivering on the transformation we arrived at in Stage 1.

Stage 5 is a discovery process… because while you know the transformation you want to deliver, you don’t yet know exactly what needs to be said to get them in the door. So, at this point, you’re discovering what kinds of products people want, what they’ll buy, how they want it, and what kinds of marketing will get them to take action and buy.

The goal of stage 5 is to have at least one offer which is converting.

And quite frankly, everything we’ve done in the development phase of this chart is aimed toward that single goal. You don’t really have a real business in place until you have at least one offer which is selling.

I will also say this…

There are times where adjustments are needed in stage 5. Sometimes, for instance, you’ll find that you need to make a few tweaks to your traffic funnels from stage 4 so that you get people more likely to convert. Or you may need to make some tweaks to your blog’s call to action as you learn more about what people are willing to buy.

But, your MVP of this stage is to have at least one offer which is established and is converting (aka people are buying it). Your sales numbers don’t have to be huge, but you’ve heard it said before… that making your first dollar is always the hardest. It is true.

By the time you get through stage 5, you have a platform, an email list which is growing, traffic which is arriving, and an offer which is converting.

With all that in place, you now have the guts of a fully functioning business. Congratulations!

From there, you move into the next phase, and the next stage…

Stage 6: Growth

stage6

With the basic pieces in place, we enter that phase where we begin to improve things. This is where we make our funnels more efficient, try out new forms of content marketing, start up new incoming traffic efforts, do split testing to raise conversion rates… all of it.

You never really get out of Stage 6, to be honest. For the remaining days of your business, you will be constantly trying to grow it beyond where it is at.

But, see, by time you get to this point, your mindset is different. You are no longer throwing crap up against the wall to see what sticks. By this time, you have a “proof of concept”. You have an offer which is converting, and you have a real BUSINESS. It is completely different than how one feels when they’re still trying to figure everything out.

As stage 6 continues over time, eventually you’ll move into Stage 7.

Stage 7: Expansion

stage7

Stage 7 is where you begin to move from a “one man band” (or a one woman band) into an actual business. We’re talking about a business which will be capable of sustaining itself without you, or expanding beyond what you alone are capable of.

In Stage 7, you will begin hiring others. You will begin to take those processes you’ve found work for you and actually document them into checklists and best practices that others can now follow. Your job here is to take those things which you were doing personally, and make things such that somebody else could step in and perform those duties.

One point of clarification I can make here is that you don’t necessarily have to wait until Stage 7 to hire anybody. It is quite possible that you may end up outsourcing a few things in stages 2 through 5 – and that’s OK. However, by the time you get to Stage 7, you’ll literally be at a cap where you are your own bottleneck. And you’ll KNOW that you need to begin expanding your team.

And that’s a good problem to have. 🙂

The Final Word

So, where are you on this chart?
(consider posting your answer in the comments below)

This chart is a system which works because the sequence of it is purposeful. And I believe many wannabe entrepreneurs with blogs end up falling on their faces when they try to violate the sequence.

For instance, if you don’t nail down Stage 1 before you execute Stage 2, you could easily end up with a blog which is attracting the wrongs kinds of people. And you end up facing the prospect of making big shifts midstream.

Or I see some bloggers who set up their site in Stage 2 then immediately jump right into Stage 6. But, it is insanely premature. It usually ends up in the content rat wheel where you just keep posting and posting and posting in an effort to grow your traffic…. but you have no REASON to exist (failed stage 1), you’re probably not building a list (failed stage 3)… and it ends up requiring some revamping in order to right the ship midstream.

The good news is…

If you’re reading this right now and you feel you have done things out of sequence… it is OK. It isn’t too late to right the ship.

In fact, even if you have an established blog with some incoming traffic… if you’re completely clueless on how to make money with it, then while you may think that you’re in stage 4 or possibly even stage 6, you’re actually probably still a stage 1 business. Because you never established the content/market fit and your problem/solution match. You don’t have that one guiding foundation in place yet.

So, suck up your pride and put your attention on Stage one. Better late than never. 🙂

What Do You Do Now?

My aim is to see you getting results. Obviously, my entire business here at the Academy is aligned around that, and the courses and the VIP membership are geared toward propelling you through these stages and into 6 and 7.

And, in the coming weeks, I intend to complete some training inside the Academy training site which is still in progress, and also simultaneously re-align everything around these 7 stages. I want it to be clear, predictable… and outcome based. I want you to KNOW exactly where you’re heading and how to get there. No guesswork, no confusions, no info overload.

But, all that said, I also know that I’m not the only guy around who teaches how to build and grow an online business. And, if somebody else clicks with you better than me, that’s fine.

You can use this chart as a bit of a guide through ANY internet marketing training you may consider, whether it be from myself or somebody else.

You’ll know where you stand, what you need to focus on, and you can then be a much more educated consumer of instructional courses than you would otherwise.

If you want to have the most targeted guidance through the 7 stages of online business, then consider joining the VIP program here at the Blog Marketing Academy.