There are 3 critical steps to making money online.
Here’s how I think about them.
Before you can sell someone anything, you must have their attention.
It’s stupid obvious, but many fail to act in light of this.
Because gaining people’s attention on the web is very difficult.
Unlike in-person interaction where people typically pay attention to each other (or at least pretend to) out of courtesy, web users ruthlessly shift their attention to whatever most entertains them.
So how do you gain your audience’s attention?
First, you need to know where they hang out online.
Does your target audience primarily spend time on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook?
Do they have any active web-forums?
Are they best reached by email?
Next you need to create high-quality content tailored to this platform.
If your platform of choice is Instagram, you need to have great images.
If it’s Twitter, you need to have clever copy and a volume of content to post.
If your platform is Pinterest, you need to have very long images consistent with the successful content on the site (like infographics).
In case you haven’t noticed, the web is an increasingly visual place.
In order to maximize your chance of success on it, it would help if you learned how to create visually appealing content.
You don’t have to learn graphic design, but you might consider familiarizing yourself with some of the excellent tools to help this process.
Each of these resources are totally free.
Consistent Content Production
Lastly, you need to churn out this content consistently.
Audiences prefer to be able to rely on content production at regular intervals.
This is why television shows have release dates, scheduled airing, etc.
People want something to look forward to, they want to know when they can access it, they want to follow the buzz.
Likewise, you should strive for consistency in whatever context you create content.
I’ve struggled a lot with consistently producing blog content.
It’s a shortcoming I recognize and am striving to improve.
But I’ve realized that the blogs I follow that consistently create great content are the ones I come back to again and again.
And I hope to provide that sort of consistency to you.
So how consistently must you produce this content?
No one can definitively answer this for you.
It depends on your niche, on what year it is right now, on your audience, on your content quality, etc.
And it will probably require trial and error on your part to find the happy medium of content creation and engagement.
But if you’re looking for some ballpark estimates to get started, Gary Vaynerchuk recommends at least 1 long-form audio or video post (think podcast or vlog on YouTube) and/or 6 to 7 posts Instagram or SnapChat. (source)
If you’re a blogger, Neil Patel recommends publishing posts as frequently as you can while maintaining content quality (from a post a day to a post a week). (source)
You can look to successful accounts on each platform to get a better sense of how frequently you should post and what to strive for in terms of quality.
The Reality of Virality
Gaining your target audience’s attention is more difficult on the web than it may seem.
While it’s tempting to believe that “things just go viral” and overnight successes happen, they really don’t.
But don’t take it from me, take it from Gary Vee:
It’s so tempting to believe this because the momentary successes, not the countless failures that lead to them, are what the news reports.
For instance, Rovio, the creator of the hit mobile game, Angry Birds, is often cited as an “overnight success.”
What isn’t as frequently reported is that the founders made 51 (failed) attempts at a successful mobile app before Angry Birds. (source)
Imagine if Rovio had quit after their 10th, 20th, or 30th game.
Would anyone have blamed them?
In fact, their friends and family probably encouraged them to quit much earlier on.
But they didn’t, and now they get to reap the unbelievable financial benefits.
This is why it’s so important to choose a content creation schedule that doesn’t cause burn out.
Gaining the attention of your target audience is a marathon, not a sprint.
In all likelihood, you will produce this content for years before achieving any financial compensation for your effort.
Consistent content production does a lot to build trust with your audience.
And trust is critical because an audience that doesn’t trust the quality of your product or service won’t buy from you.
Again, this is straightforward when thinking about it conceptually, but many fail to understand how the need to build trust impacts their content creation.
Besides consistency, I believe the most financially successful web content creators’ output has 2 trust-building characteristics:
Successful web content creators produce technically excellent content.
Your content doesn’t necessarily need to have high production value, but you do need to maximize your content creation strengths, utilize all resources available to you, and minimize your content creation weaknesses.
James Clear’s posts are great examples of simple yet excellent content.
James doesn’t have fancy graphics or a complex website.
He does, however, have well thought-out posts in a clean and easy-to-read layout.
You must also produce this high-quality content consistently over a long period of time.
Duration shows you’re dedicated.
It shows you’re not a flake.
It shows you’re passionate about what you do and that you’re in it for the long-haul.
These are the types of people and organizations whose products and services people want to buy.
When you consistently capture an audience’s attention with high-quality content over a long duration, then you earn the right to sell to them.
A great example of this is Matt Tsai with his Instagram account @goldenretrievers. Matt posted 5 high-quality videos to his account every single day for a year before considering monetizing his audience.
600,000+ followers later, he’s now driving Instagram traffic to e-commerce site.
Say you’ve captured the attention of an audience through consistent high-quality content production over a long period of time.
Now what do you sell them?
In my opinion, it’s much better to sell products than services.
Services don’t scale well.
To scale services, you can either charge more per hour of your service or you can work more hours.
Either way, you end up trading time for money which always turns out to be a raw deal because you are exchanging a non-renewable resource (time) for a renewable resource (money).
Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t make a lot of money selling services.
Some lawyers charge thousands per billable hour.
But in my opinion, selling services leads to a less than ideal lifestyle.
On the other hand, selling (most) products scales perfectly.
The Brilliant and wildly successful investor Seth Klarman says the best businesses are those in which you sell a fixed amount of work product over and over again at low marginal cost.
In other words, according to a man who has invested in great companies with extreme success, the best businesses sell products.
I think it’s better to sell affiliate products before attempting to sell your own product.
Creating a high-quality product is very difficult and you don’t want your reputation to be damaged by producing anything less than excellence.
Instead, you can sell almost any product available online with what’s called an affiliate link.
Affiliate links are trackable links to someone else’s product or service that, when someone clicks and makes a purchase, a portion of that sale goes to you.
For instance, I have an affiliate link for Bluehost, the web host for this blog.
If you click on my link and buy web hosting from Bluehost, I get paid a commission on that sale.
Additionally, you get a special 50% off price for using my link.
Not bad huh?
Experimenting with affiliate sales is a great way to cut your teeth in the e-commerce game because you can singularly focus on sales instead of worrying about fulfillment, customer service, product issues, etc.
In short, first prove your ability to sell affiliates (someone else’s tried and tested product), and then consider selling your own product.
Making Money with Affiliates
Maybe you’re wondering if making big money is possible when you’re only selling affiliate products.
After all, affiliates typically earn a slim margin.
In July 2017, Pat Flynn made $24,000 recommending Bluehost. (source)
Yes, that’s right – in just one month, Pat made more money than some people make all year.
And that doesn’t even compare to Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s $45,220 affiliate income from recommending Bluehost in June alone of 2017. (source)
In other words, you can make an incredible amount of money through affiliate sales and you never need to produce your own product to make a living if you don’t want to do it.
How have I learned that attention, trust, and sales are critical to making money on the web?
Because I’ve failed in each one of these areas.
Unfortunately, this is how I learn a lot of lessons I share on this blog.
I’ve failed to gain the attention of a sizable audience because my content has lacked quality, I’ve lacked consistency, and I haven’t produced good quality content consistently for a long enough period of time.
But I’m working on them and I hope this post helps you work on them too!