March 17, 2023

So you’re thinking of starting an online business soon.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme (unless you’re extremely lucky)

  • It needs an awful lot of work before it generates income, but

  • Done right, it’s easily one of the most fulfilling things you’ll ever do

And if you’re looking for inspiration before diving feet first into the waters of online entrepreneurship..

You’ve clicked on the right article.

Today, we’ll be talking about successful online business stories that have turned average employees into six- and seven-figure earners.

We’ll look at their humble beginnings and the lessons we can learn from their journey.

I myself am a decade-old online business owner making money through affiliate marketing and these stories have served as personal inspiration to achieve my dreams.

Throughout the years, I’ve built about a dozen sites using the valuable lessons I’ve learned from these folks.

I’ve already shared my personal story about my affiliate marketing success but today we’re exploring others’ stories to help motivate you through this journey.

Now it’s time to dive into how these everyday people like you and me achieved their dreams. 

Let’s get it!

5 Successful Online Business Stories to Motivate You

Shane and Jocelyn Sams

Shane and Jocelyn

Let’s start off with one of our favorite successful online business stories of all time.

Shane and Jocelyn Sams are living proof that if you put your mind to something, it will pay off in the end.

In 2012, Shane was a high school social studies teacher and a football coach while Jocelyn was an elementary school librarian. 

Both Kentucky school teachers were earning a respectable $38,000 a year each, enough for them to keep chipping at their debt and mortgage and providing for their two kids. 

But after finding out their son was being mistreated at daycare, the couple decided they’ve had enough slaving away for a job that keeps them apart from their family.

They decided to figure out starting a business due to three reasons: 

  • Their hectic work hours often cut into family time

  • They’re tired of working for bad bosses, and

  • They dream of being financially independent while providing for their family

And then in April of 2012, magic happened. 

Shane and Jocelyn pic

Shane and Jocelyn Sams with Pat Flynn, the man behind Smart Passive Income.

Shane stumbled on online entrepreneur Pat Flynn’s podcast where he talked about how to make money online. 

It inspired the couple to start an online business. 

Were they successful?

Their first sale earned them 11 cents but that only inspired them to work harder.

Eventually, the numbers spoke for themselves:

  • After launching their product, they made $2,700 the first week

  • In June 2013, they earned $36,000 in one month

  • A year later, they were making $140,000 a month

From 2013 to 2015, the couple managed to clock in $1 million in earnings. 



So how did they do it?

According to the couple, there are a few steps:

  1. Think of a product: For the Sams, it was lesson plans, e-books, resources for teachers, and eventually teaching people how to make money online.

  2. Start a website to attract customers: In an Forbes interview, Shane said that in the first few months, they spent about 50-60 hours working on their website.

  3. Create content you know: They managed to combine their teaching and online business knowledge and put it to good use.

  4. Build an audience: Eventually, they started a membership and found out that people will come for the content but will often stay for the community they’ve built. 

Today, Shane and Jocelyn Sams helm three passive income websites: Elementary Librarian, US History Teachers and Flipped Lifestyle.

Elementary Librarian

But perhaps the most important lesson the couple has learned and you might benefit from is this:

Take action and get started.

They were bold enough to seek new challenges and were rewarded greatly. 

You can read more about their story here.

Elizabeth Rider

Elizabeth Rider

Elizabeth Rider, author and recipe developer, is the perfect example of why you should start an online business doing what you love most. 

If there’s one thing she has learned from her success, it’s that doing something you’re passionate about makes work a whole lot more fulfilling.

Elizabeth did not start out to build an online empire. 

She was simply a woman passionate about healthy living who started a blog over a decade ago to share her expertise and connect with others.

To her surprise, her sense of humor, easy-to-follow recipes, and straightforward nutrition advice resonated with a larger audience.

Elizabeth took action. 

She learned about how to work with affiliates and quickly started monetizing her blog.

Pretty soon, her blog garnered 2 million readers a year.

Rider website

Today, Elizabeth has a number of achievements under her belt including: 

Elizabeth is one of the leading nutrition gurus in the country.

But aside from teaching folks how passion is a crucial element for a successful business, Elizabeth’s story is also a lesson on strategic marketing. 

This woman is a pro at utilizing social media to help market her online courses!

How did she harness the power of social media?

  1. Sharing her blog posts online. Elizabeth shares her published articles on social media and even has a YouTube channel for publishing recipe videos. 

  2. Facebook advertising. In an interview, Elizabeth shared that she gets a little heavy on Facebook ads if she’s promoting a course to reach a wider audience. 

  3. Joint ventures in email marketing. While she has her own list of subscribers, Elizabeth also does “joint ventures” with friends who have big email lists. It’s a great way to support other creators and at the same time widen your network. 

Success business

In this day and age social media marketing is the name of the game. 

In fact, 93% of marketers agreed that social media has generated more exposure for their businesses. 

You don’t have to look too far to test if this is true. 

Elizabeth’s success overall has already proved it!

You can learn more about Elizabeth Rider on her site here.

Aibek Esengulov

Aibek Esengulov

It took Aibek Esengulov two years before he saw the fruits of his hard labor. 

He started his website MakeUseOf (MUO) in 2007, a portal for the latest in hardware, software, and information technology. 

It quickly snowballed into one of the largest online technology publications which, at one point, reached 5.5 million unique visits and 10 million page views a month.

That’s quite a feat!

About two years after he launched MUO, Esengulov started generating revenue which allowed him to build a small team. 

What steps did he take to ensure his success?

  1. Following his passion. If you work for something you’re passionate about, everything about it won’t feel like work at all. 

  2. Being consistent. It took 24 months before Esengulov saw results but he never gave up. Like him, keep churning out new, informative content to help grow your audience.

  3. Focusing on quality. Esengulov said that MUO was a cut above the rest because of the high quality articles they put out. He said that it takes him two days of deep research and one whole day of writing just for one article!

Esengulov started his one-man-team website out of his passion for tech and has managed to earn while employing his friends. 

He capitalized on Google AdSense and CPM for revenue plus affiliate marketing with tech brands. 

He also utilized his 230k email list to send out newsletters and connect with his audience. 

All his hard work and unwavering faith in his website paid off in the end.

Pat Flynn

Pat Flynn

Like all the others on this list so far, Pat Flynn did not plan to start an online business. 

It just happened. 

After he was laid off from his job as an architect in 2008, Flynn explored entrepreneurship to earn a living. 

He created a website to help himself study and pass an architecture exam called the LEED exam. 

Pretty soon, Flynn realized his website is generating thousands of clicks.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, he attempted to create an ebook study guide.

Flynn had zero knowledge about building a business, writing copy, or even marketing his work. 

But he scoured the internet for resources on how to do business online including listening to podcasts and reaching out to successful online business owners. 

The end result?

He successfully created a digital ebook to help his website visitors pass the LEED exam. 

And in the first month of selling it, Flynn earned $7,008.55.

He didn’t stop there!

According to him, he got so excited about his success that he wanted others to find success online too. 

In the same month, he started the Smart Passive Income blog where he gives insider knowledge, tools, and techniques on how to earn big bucks online. 

Successful Online Business Stories

And it all went uphill from there. 

He then started a podcast and a YouTube channel to reach out to more people and created new websites like Security Guard Training HQ, Create a Clickable Map, and Food Truckr.

Flynn’s rollercoaster of a career hit success after success. What can we learn from his story?

  1. Go for it.

He kept moving forward even after being laid off and without a steady paycheck.

So even though he was clueless about building an online business, he still dove feet-first into the unknown. 

And look at the rewards he’s reaping!

Within six years of being an online entrepreneur, Flynn’s net worth skyrocketed to $3 million. 

  1. You don’t have to be an expert

You just have to work hard.

In an interview with Forbes, Flynn said that he wasn’t an expert in the industries he started websites about, he just “knew a lot more than the people who are looking for that information.”

That’s why his websites on how to train as a security guard or start a food truck business have found success. 

He worked hard to find out what people are looking for and delivered it to them on a silver platter, in the form of downloadable PDF.

  1. Don’t make it about the money

Even though Flynn is now earning top dollar, he knows his purpose and why he started an online business journey. 

He wanted to guide people to walk on the same path of success he is on.

Flynn is so genuine about helping, he would give out high-quality content for free like this video:

🔴Or this in-depth blog post about his website’s traffic and stats and how he managed to get those numbers up.

Lots of online entrepreneurs of today look up to Flynn as their mentor (including Shane and Jocelyn Sams). 

So if you want to start your own journey, reading more about Flynn’s success is a good first step.

Ryan Robinson

Let’s look at blogger and content creator Ryan Robinson’s achievements in figures:

  • This guy has been in the industry for more than 10 years
  • In 2019 alone, he made more than $451,238 in profit from his website
  • Through blogging, Robinson made almost $60,000 per month in 2021
  • In the same year, his blog readership reached 4.4 million

Robinson’s achievements should spark a competitive fire in all the writers out there. 

If this man can make it -- so can you. 

Robinson started his blog in 2014 after a failed business venture with a product he made called the iStash.

His website was meant to document his side hustle (mis)adventures but then it gained traffic. 

By this time, Robinson was working as a content marketer for startups. 

He used affiliate marketing and online marketing techniques he learned there, applied it to his blog, and people responded. 

Since then, Robinson has worked with big names in the industry including Google, Adobe, and LinkedIn. 

He also started a few more websites: SmartWP for WordPress tricks and tips and Vegan Table.

How did Robinson manage to do all this and earn almost half a million in a year?

He combined a lot of profitable marketing techniques including: 

  • Writing sponsored blog content
  • Joining affiliate programs
  • Selling online courses
  • Having blog advertisements
  • Business partnerships
  • Podcast sponsorships

…and more!

It’s best if you read about it from the successful man himself and his blog on how to make money with your website in 2023.

3 of the Biggest Online Companies Had Humble Origins

So far, all the folks we’ve listed have been successful content creators, bloggers, and online business owners. 

But while they earn a huge amount (close to a million a year), there are online companies that earn so much more. 

You can’t talk about successful online business stories without mentioning some of the big dogs.

Many of the most popular websites and apps in the world had humble beginnings.

They were started in garages, on whims, or were simply passion projects that grew. 

Here are some of my favorites:

Plenty of Fish

Plenty of Fish

Markus Frind started Plenty of Fish in 2003 “as a way to improve his résumé.”

Before it blew up to be a popular dating app, Frind initially made it to be a small site where you could talk to other people for free.

But he underestimated people’s interest and soon millions were signing up left and right. 

Frind built the site without any capital and he managed to retain complete ownership of the company. 

Even at its peak with 90 million signups and 3.5 million active users, he only had 75 employees. 

And according to him, his website’s profits clocked in around $10 million a year.

Eventually, in 2015, Frind sold his project to Match Group, an American tech company, in a whopping $575 million cash deal. 

Who knew a side project for a resume would make him a millionaire a decade later?



Back in 2001, brothers Andrew and Paul Gower decided to create a simple game as a hobby and a creative outlet. 

They called it Runescape. 

Andrew put it online so he could play with others and it surprisingly gained traction. 

The brothers then started focusing on developing it further, eliciting the help of their friends and family to test the game and even help create sound effects. 

In 2008, the Guinness Book of World Records hailed Runescape as the “World's Most Popular Free MMORPG.”

It then went on to become a multimillion-dollar online gaming platform. 

And then in 2021, Runescape publisher Jagex managed to sell the game to investment firm Carlyle Group for a cool $530 million deal. 

Props to the Gower brothers for creating something for fun and being multimillionaires because of it.



Jack Nickell and Jacob Dehart started Chicago-based brand Threadless in 2000 with an initial investment of $500. 

It was a simple platform where they could sell t-shirts they and their friends designed. 

They also opened a submission portal for those who want their designs turned into shirts.

The pair didn’t foresee that the whole country would want in on the great opportunity to bring their shirt designs to life.

Soon enough, the submission platform quickly caught on with people looking for unique things to wear. 

Today, the company generates around $50 million annually.

That’s pretty cool for a humble project among friends!

What All Successful Online Business Stories Have in Common

Aren’t these stories amazing?

Reading all of it has probably motivated you to start your own. 

I know it’s motivated me to keep trying harder to improve my business. 

But what’s their secret?

What do they all have in common?

Whether they are a big or small businesses, these successful online business stories have the same winning elements that can be split into three:

Pursuing passion

All of these entrepreneurs decided to pursue something they were passionate about. 

Shane and Jocelyn Sams loved teaching which pushed them to create a website that helps teachers. 

Elizabeth Rider’s love for food has led her to become a health coach that benefited many.

Even I built my online business with my passion as the foundation. 

In fact, when I started my very first blog I was simply writing about my truck driving experience for fun. 

I had no intention of making money from that, but it turned into a real business (coincidentally enough allowing me to quit my trucking job!).

Genuine appreciation for a passion helps engage people and helps to grow an audience.

What about you?

What are you passionate about?

Seeking guidance and mentorship

Successful online business owners can’t do it alone.

While there are a few who have managed to find success building everything from the ground up, it would take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. 

And why put yourself through the misery of figuring everything out when you could simply look for a mentor?

All of these entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to generate revenue and sought guidance on how to monetize their passion project.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, especially from someone who is already a veteran in the field.

We all need helping hands to give us a boost.

Putting in the hours

Remember when we said at the beginning that a business will start to earn anywhere between 18-24 months?

Guess what?

Those months are filled with endless hours of hard work. 

Any successful entrepreneur would tell you that they spent hours working on their business every day, even when they were not making money in the beginning. 

It’s not always smooth sailing but that’s to be expected. 

After all, anything worth having is working hard for.

To this day, I still force myself to do at least SOMETHING on my business every single day. 

Even if it’s just 5 minutes, at least I’m moving forward every day. 

So keep these things in mind when you are working on your business.

So How Do You Start Your Own Successful Online Business?

All of these victories are no doubt making you itch to start your own online entrepreneurial career. 

That’s good!

But where do you start?

Identifying a Niche

How To Find Your Niche Market + 5 Examples to Inspire You

It’s a saturated online world out there and the quickest way to stand out from the rest of the pack is to focus on a niche.

A niche is a smaller segment of a larger market.

For example, you decide on the health and fitness niche (one of the top 10 profitable niches today). 

You can focus on weight loss or a specific diet such as vegan, paleo, keto, etc.

Identifying your niche lets you:

  • Narrow down which products to promote
  • Become an expert in the field
  • Target a more specific group of people

With a niche, you won’t have to deal with things outside of your expertise. 

And when you ace the three points above, you’re well on your way to having a high-traffic website.

But if you’re still confused about which niche to pursue, here are a few guide questions to nudge you on the right path:

  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What do you want to learn more of?
  • Is there a market for this niche and can it be profitable?
  • What problems do you want to solve?
  • Can you see yourself working for this niche in the next decade or more?

Building a Website

Once you’ve identified which industry you’ll be penetrating, it’s time to crack some knuckles and build a website. 

Why a website and not social media, you ask?

That depends on what you prefer, actually. 

If you feel like your presence will be stronger on social media, then by all means capitalize it.

But don’t underestimate the power of a well-written, high-quality blog post to rank the searches.

You could create a website with as little as $2.95 a month with a hosting site like Bluehost.

Once you’ve launched your website, it’s time to keep these things in mind:

  • Consistent publishing of high-quality content
  • Learn the basics of SEO
  • Build an email list

These will help you drive up the traffic on your website and help you rank higher on the searches.

READ MORE: SEO for Affiliate Marketing – The Ultimate Guide for 2023

Making Money Online with Affiliate Marketing

It goes without saying that one of the best ways to make money online while building a business from scratch is with affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing is an ad model where brands work with affiliates to promote their products for a commission. 

I’ve been in the affiliate marketing industry for over an decade and I am now earning $40,000 a year in commissions. 

It was a heck of a ride experimenting on articles, trying to drive traffic to the site, and eventually getting that initial sale (11 cents!)

But you don’t have to walk blind!

Platforms like Wealthy Affiliate can guide you on your affiliate marketing journey from start to success. 

These guys will help you take what you love doing, build an audience, and make money. 

Wealthy Affiliate helped me find success online and I will forever be grateful for their guidance.

READ MORE: Affiliate Marketing for Beginners – A Complete Guide for 2023

Final Thoughts

Are you inspired enough to start your own successful online business?

Who knows, maybe in a few years, we can add your name to this list!

If there’s one overall lesson I want you to take away from this article, it’s this:

Everyone had to start somewhere.

Teachers turned into online mentors, laid-off architects into passive income gurus.

Take me, for example.

I’m just an average guy who didn’t do well in school. 

After I got laid off from work, I decided to become a truck driver and I started blogging about it to help others who would want to be drivers too.

I learned about affiliate marketing and fast forward to more than a decade later, I earn $40,000 in commissions per year. 

If I can do it, you can too!

And if you’re feeling a little demotivated, just remember it takes time, work, and professional guidance to become a success story. 

Keep putting in the work and one day it will pay off big for you!

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