When you think about starting your own business, it’s normal to feel a little bit hesitant. After all, a business is a big investment—not just of your money, but of your time as well! Sure, you have visions of big success, but you also worry about what happens in the event that you fail miserably.
It’s about time people started changing their perceptions about starting a business, though. Decades ago, starting a business meant putting together a solid business plan, a reliable team of (hired) employees, renting a space, and getting a lot of money from an investor. But the landscape of being a business owner has completely changed in the past few years, and while it still requires a bit of hard work, it doesn’t require nearly as much money to get started doing something enjoyable and lucrative.
If you’re looking to make money online, there is one thing that is still quite important: you must make a business plan.
This will be a blueprint for your future plans and will help you gauge your success, decide where to focus your efforts, and it will allow you to envision the business you would eventually like to have, and how you can get it. For people who start their own online business, this is a point where they often fail. Because starting a business is considerably easier today than it was, say, 30 years ago, it’s easy to skip this step and go right to setting up a website and putting up some affiliate links on it.
The problem with doing this is that you won’t have a clear vision of what you’re doing. You’ll fail to have the clear steps to take next since you won’t know where you’re heading. Whether you’re thinking you’d like to make a little extra cash each month or make some serious money online and have your site become your main source of income, you need to take some time to create a business plan.
Here are some of the typical points you’ll write out in a business plan:
- An Executive Summary. This is a one-page write-up that should encompass your online business in a nutshell. You should outline your vision, your mission, and your purpose. Remember that your purpose won’t simply be “provide affiliate links to make money.” You really won’t have much success with goals like that! A stronger choice would be, “To help new parents find the best (and most cost-effective) products and services for their children,” and to grow it from there. This is a great place to decide on your niche and focus, and explain why you feel passionate about working in that industry.
- Your Target Market. It’s vital that you define your ideal client and know them as best as you can, because this will affect which affiliate links you choose to promote. It will also dictate how you promote them—social media, a website, newsletters, or YouTube videos, for example. Each platform offers different opportunities with certain demographics. You might even consider reaching out to people in this demographic and running a survey to learn more about their interests, likes, dislikes, income, and more.
- Your Competitors. Believe it or not, it’s not always who did it first; actually, people will remember who did it best. If there is another sports equipment website out there, that doesn’t mean you can’t also start one! In fact, unless you are inventing your own product, creating an online business revolved around affiliate marketing will almost definitely mean you’ll have competition. This isn’t a bad thing, though. Instead, take a close look at your competitors, examine their strengths and weaknesses, and decide how you are going to be different.
- Your Human Resources. More than likely, if you’re making money online with an affiliate site, you won’t need much in the way of employees. However, if you’re not particularly great with web design or you’re interested in a custom logo, then you might want to hire some people to do a little freelance work for you. List out what kind of help you will need, as well as how much you can afford to pay these people, to create the business that you want.
- Vendors And Supplies. Again, for an affiliate site, this is less important. You won’t be producing your own product, but rather promoting others, so you won’t need trusted vendors or a long supply list of things to buy. You should, however, consider which affiliate programs will be the best for you to join. Refer back to your target market as well as your focus and determine what products and services will be best to promote.
- A Marketing Plan. How are people going to find out about you? Are you going to do some promotion on Facebook or will you be gathering email addresses in person or at events? Even if your plan is simply to have a blog with affiliate links, you should have some idea of how to get your work out there—perhaps by promoting it on Pinterest or writing guest posts for other sites.
- Operations. How will your online business operate? How will you manage the moving parts that it entails? Affiliate marketing gets the (false) reputation for being an easy way to make cash. Actually, it takes a lot of hard work to get things going and it may take months before you see any kind of income. This will take even longer if you don’t have a clear game plan. Decide on how many blog posts you’ll write per week, how often you’ll send out emails, and the amount of time you’ll dedicate to social media promotion—or whatever other things will need to be done to grow your business.
- Financial Operations. This will include not only how much you’ll need to put forth and invest (which, as I mentioned, will be pretty low for an online business) but also your goals for income. Three months, six months, and a year from now, decide what you’d ideally be making. Then, as time passes, see how your goals and reality match up and what you can do to improve your performance as an affiliate marketer.