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Free PDF: Proven blueprint for an online coaching business that replaces your 9-5

How to Start an Online Business Today (2021)

Do you want to start an online business? 

And not just any business, but a profitable business that lets you quit your 9-5.

Today, you’ll learn:

  • What is the best online business to start?
  • What are the signs of a profitable niche?
  • How do you quit your 9-5 as fast as possible?
  • How do you legally start an online business?

…And so much more.

Read on for the step-by-step on how to build a successful online business. 

Let’s dive right in.

Get my proven "Escape Velocity" Plan for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5.

Step 1: Start an online business (even if you’re a new entrepreneur)

Step 2: Decide on what you want to sell (aka. your business idea)

Step 3: Set up your business

Step 4: Market your business

Step 5: Scale your business

Bonus: How to make time for your business

How to start an online business (even if you’re a complete beginner)

Look:

You might think that you need an incredibly innovative idea to start a business. You know, the “next” Amazon or Facebook. 

Not true. You can start a business with a far easier business idea. And this business will allow you to quit your 9-5 in months instead of years. 

What does it take to build a successful online business?

You know, before I started my current business, I spent years learning the ins and outs of building successful online businesses. 

My first businesses were a six-figure tutoring company and a payment startup, which reached a multimillion-dollar valuation before we shut it down. 

At 25, I found myself back in the corporate world, leading a team at an ads tech startup and overseeing a budget worth millions. 

While I had “made it,” I didn’t feel fulfilled. 

I desperately wanted to find a way out. But the thought of giving up my secure paycheck? I’m MASSIVELY risk-averse, so you can guess how uncomfortable that felt to me. 

In 2013, things took a turn for the worse when my family had to deal with several life-threatening emergencies. (My dad had an emergency heart surgery, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and my sister almost lost her eyesight.)

My 9-5 cubicle

And suddenly, I had my “WHY” for starting a business. I wanted to have the freedom to spend as much time as I wanted with my family without having to depend on vacation days. 

I had a few criteria for my business, though. It had to…

  • Have a low overhead.
  • Be profitable.
  • Be something I could scale. 

So when I asked myself, “What’s the easiest business to start?”, the answer was clear. 

An online business.

My first attempt: Excel consulting

My first attempt was an Excel consulting business.

I knew there were several Excel businesses that made six or even seven figures. And I knew I was good at it, so I thought it was the perfect match — an “easy business.”

Wrong! After about a month, I had to admit to myself that I wouldn’t find the motivation to work on my business.

Excel spreadsheets weren’t exactly the most inspiring part of my day job, so why would I want to work with them in my business?

Besides, there are no “easy businesses” (they all take work).

I scrapped that idea and moved on to the next.

Excel consulting example

After seeing how successful Excel businesses could be, I thought, “I can do it, too.”
But there’s more that goes into starting a business.

My second attempt: Career coaching

My second attempt?

Career coaching.

I had noticed that people frequently asked me for career advice. So I got in touch with some of them and asked them if they wanted to work with me.

Two out of five said yes. I had a business!

But there was one problem. I quickly realized I was good at giving career advice… But I hated it.

So, again, I stopped working on that idea and looked around for the next one.

guest post example

I had gotten some good traction in my career coaching business. But it didn’t feel right so I scratched that idea and started over.

My third attempt: Digital advertising consulting

By now, I had two failed attempts in my back pocket. I had no clue what to do next. 

Did I really have it in me to start a business…? 

But that’s when I happened to come across a Facebook group for entrepreneurs.

And while scrolling through the posts, it hit me just how many entrepreneurs were looking for help with Facebook ads.

As it happened, I spent my days at my 9-5 analyzing Facebook ad campaigns and optimizing them.

So I buckled down – again.

And this time it worked. Within four months, I had earned over six figures from consulting and could finally leave my day job.

Payment first paying client

My first client said “Yes!” without missing a beat.

Since then, I’ve built this business, a multiple seven-figure coaching and digital information product business.

Here below, I’ll show you the exact steps you need to take to start your own online business.

Get my proven "Escape Velocity" Plan for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5.

How to decide on what to sell in your business

The first step?

Decide what to sell in your online business. 

 Because let’s face it:

You’ll want to make sure that you’re working on an online business that pays off. 

First, let’s take a look at the types of businesses you should start. 

After that, you’ll get the best online business ideas for beginners

What type of online business should you start?

What kind of online business is most profitable?

Well. You need the right online business model.

Here are the pros and cons of the six most common online businesses:

online business models

#1: Ecommerce store

If you run an ecommerce store, you sell physical products to people online. Or you run a dropshipping business and act as the middleman. 

The problem with ecommerce stores is that they often require a lot of time to source products, as well as high startup costs (you need an inventory). Plus, it takes time to get enough clients to make your store profitable. If you factor in things like shipping and taxes, your profit margins aren’t that high

Let’s say your product costs $50 and your profit margin is $20. You need to make 50 sales to get to $1,000. And that’s JUST to make $1,000. If you factor in costs like Facebook ads (to market your business), you need really big volumes to make your business profitable. 

Oh, and dropshipping? They have something of a scammy reputation

Pros: An ecommerce store can be a scalable business model for more seasoned entrepreneurs. (Read: You’ve built a business before.) 

Cons: A difficult business model for new entrepreneurs, if you plan on replacing your salary with your business profits. You need *huge* volumes to make an ecommerce business work.

#2: Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is another option. With this business model, you refer people to other businesses and get a commission on your referrals.

Sounds great, right? Passive income at its finest.

Not so fast! To make affiliate marketing sustainable (you only get a few percentages of each sale), you’ll need a lot of traffic. And that takes time to build.

Pros: “Passive income” when it works. 

Cons: Really hard to build up the traffic you need. Not a great business model if you’re looking to replace your 9-5 salary.

#3: Blogging

Next up? Blogging. As a blogger, you usually make money from ads, sponsored content, or affiliate deals.

As with affiliate marketing, you’ll need a lot of traffic before you ever see even the slightest profit, even with profitable blogging niches. Both blogging and affiliate marketing are business models that could take you years to build.

Pros: “Passive income” and easy to manage when it works.

Cons: It takes years to build up the traffic. If you want to quit your 9-5, this isn’t the business model for you.

#4: Freelancing

Freelancing, selling a service, is a way better option. Why? Because you can get started right away by selling a skill you already have. For example, graphic design, writing, or admin.

But there’s one problem: As a freelancer, you sell your time. You’re like an employee, but with a lot of different bosses. Still, it can be a good place to start if you want to start earning an income from your business as fast as possible.

Pros: This business model can help you quit your 9-5 fast. 

Cons: Freelancing is an independent form of employment. If you want to start a business, you need a different business model.

#5: Coaching and consulting

I’m a huge fan of coaching and consulting. It’s how I got started and was able to quit my job within months.

You can get started right away with a skill you already have. And because coaches and consultants have a higher perceived value than freelancers, you can charge more on an hourly basis. A new freelancer might charge $50/hour for their time, while a coach or a consultant can ask for $100 or more.

Plus, because your rates are high (we’re talking four figures for one package), you only need a few clients to become profitable.

Pros: A profitable business model that works for new entrepreneurs. You can relatively  quickly replace your 9-5 salary. 

Cons: You do need to have a skill that you sell as a coach/consultant. (However, if you’re in a 9-5, you probably already have skills people are willing to pay for.)

#6: Digital courses

Digital courses are a great way to scale your coaching or consulting business. Again, you’re selling something you already know, but you’re doing it in a more hands-off, automated way. And if you do this as a continuation of your coaching offer, you know you have an audience who is happy to pay higher prices for your self-study courses.

However, to sell digital courses, you need an audience, which can take time to build.

Pros: A profitable and scalable business model. 

Cons: It takes time to build up the traffic you need for selling online courses.

online business models pros and cons

Profit = your revenue minus the time and money you put in.

How do you choose your online business idea?

Now you know that the easiest business to start right now is a high-ticket service business like coaching or consulting. 

If you start at a price like $1,500 for a 3-month package, you can quickly replace your salary. (And that price point is reserved for your first few clients. Once you have some testimonials, you can increase it.) 

Now, let’s look at how you choose a profitable business idea, how you do market research, choose your niche, target audience, and so much more.

Choose an idea to research

Think you need special skills to get started as a coach or consultant? 

Think again. 

Instead of learning a new skill (which could take you years), you can start with the skills you have. 

Just like I did, when I first started my digital advertising business. 

(And my Excel and career coaching businesses.)

Need a few examples?

Some ideas my clients have come up with are:

  • Relationship coaching
  • Career coaching
  • Marketing and sales consulting
  • Mindset coaching
  • Health coaching
  • Copywriting
  • Brand consulting    
  • Spiritual coaching
  • Video coaching
  • Stress/productivity coaching

How to find your niche

How did I come up with my business ideas? I looked at a few things:

What skills had I learned in my 9-5? And what did people frequently ask me about?

You can use this to figure out your own skills.

Make a list of all the skills you’ve learned in your career.

Then, look at things you get questions about all the time.

Maybe it’s your nutrition, your amazing singing voice, or your public speaking skills.

And finally, look at your hobbies and interests. What skills have you learned on the side?

your business idea graph

Then, think about people who might want this, aka. your target audience. Relationship coaching for men? Career coaching for executives? Brand consulting for creative businesses?

That’s how you find your niche.

If you want more business ideas, you can find 121 of them here.

Don’t start a business based on your ‘passion’

I recommend you start with something you know instead of something you’re passionate about.

Why? Because if you go for something you’re passionate about but don’t have experience in, it’ll take you a long time to get to a point where your clients will trust you with their business.

Instead, start with something you know. You’ll be able to build your business much faster.

Conduct market research to know if your idea is profitable

How do you know if your idea, skill, and niche will be profitable? 

With market research. 

I strongly recommend you do this. My Excel consulting business partly failed because of this: 

I hadn’t taken the time to figure out who my customers were and so I didn’t know how to talk to them or what to offer them.

Market research essentially means that you research your audience to understand what they want. 

People have to be WILLING to pay for what you’re selling. 

Not only that, but your client’s ability to pay is equally important.

If your clients don’t have the money to pay for your services, you won’t get far.

your profitable business graph

But how do you figure out if your audience is able and willing to pay for your coaching or consulting?

Get them on the phone and ask them. 

To find people to interview, you can connect with them in online groups. For example, my clients use platforms like Facebook groups and Reddit to find people who are interested in their services.

Facebook free call post
Here’s how one of my students asked for market research.

And that’s how you come up with your idea.

To recap:

  • Use a skill you already have.
  • See if it’s something people want to and can pay for.

Next:

How to set up your business.

How to set up your business

Now you have an idea and a niche.

But how do you set up your business? 

Here’s how to choose a business name (hint: it’s simpler than you might think) and the legal structure for your business.

Choose your business name

My best tip here is: Don’t spend too much time choosing the “perfect” business name. 

If you’re starting a coaching or consulting business, you actually don’t need a creative name.

Instead, you can just use your own name and move on. (If you buy a domain name, you’d buy a domain like www.janesmith.com. If your name is so common that the domain is already taken, you can add a word that describes your business. For example: www.janesmith-consulting.com.) 

If you want a different name, though, you can use the Shopify Business Name Generator to find ideas. 

Set up your legal structure

Before we talk more about any legal requirements, a quick disclaimer:

This article is not meant as legal advice. I actually recommend that you consult a legal expert for tailored legal information that applies to your specific situation.

Legal structure 

Now that we have that out of the way, what should your legal structure look like? 

This depends on the business you’re building. I recommend that you go with the easiest option because you can change your legal structure later on. 

If you’re starting a business by yourself, that legal structure might be a sole proprietorship or an LLC (the main way they differ is the liability you as a business owner have for your business assets). You can read more about the different business structures here

And to register your business, take a look at this guide

Licenses 

Something I get questions about now and again is:

“Do you need a license to run an online business?”

The answer is no, not for most businesses. You will need a license in some areas (mainly in industries like law, health, and mental health). 

Once you have your business set up, it’s time for the *really* exciting part. Getting your first paying clients! 

How to market your business

Now you have your idea and the answer to the question “Should I start an online business?” is hopefully yes. But how do you turn your idea into a business?

Here’s how.

Choose a pricing structure

The first thing you need to figure out is your coaching pricing.

One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of starting an online coaching or consulting business is because you can charge higher prices and a big chunk of that money is profit.

That’s why I prefer this business model to, say, ecommerce.

coaching pricing vs ecommerce pricing

As a coach, you only need to sell 5 packages at $2,000 to earn $10,000. With an ecommerce store (assuming you sell a product that costs $200), you would need to sell 50 products to hit that same revenue. And your profit margins would be considerably lower because you have to pay for your products, shipping, and more.

But what will your pricing look like as a coach?

Example: My first offer

Take me as an example.

When I first started my digital advertising business, I didn’t know how to price my services.

My first client ended up paying me $5,000 for a 6-month package (I based this price on my salary at the time).

She was willing to do so because I had already shown her my value by helping her for free.

But then I hit a wall. People repeatedly said I was too expensive.

Rejection message from client

One of the many messages I got from people saying I was too pricey.

And so I had to go back to the drawing board.

Get some social proof

What did I realize? That in order to scale my business faster (and not be stuck in giving every person the same level of attention I had given my first client), I needed to get more social proof.

And that was best done by lowering my prices for the first few clients.

So I went down to $1500 for a 3-month package. As a result, I quickly picked up a few more clients, went back to my normal rates, and grew it from there.

I frequently recommend my clients to start at this price point, $1,500 for a 3-month package, for the same reason.

You’ll pick up clients faster and that way, you’re able to raise your rates faster.

Use the most effective marketing strategies

When I first started my career coaching business, I was working with a copywriter.

I happened to ask her where she got her clients. She said: Facebook.

That stuck with me. And after I joined a Facebook group for entrepreneurs, I quickly realized that I could grow my Facebook ads business with the help of that group.

In fact, thanks to the relationships I built in Facebook groups, I eventually sold $106,000 worth of coaching in four months.

Does it mean YOU should market your business in Facebook groups?

Not necessarily. Instead, think about where your clients hang out online and on social media.

Are they on LinkedIn? Or Reddit? Or Instagram?

Client examples

For example, my clients Cristina, a stress coach, and Anna, a career coach, found their first clients on LinkedIn.

coaching business example
Coaching business example

Renée, who is a brand consultant, found her first client on Facebook.

Coaching business example

Emily, a career coach, found her first clients on Linkedin, and later, she started getting clients from Pinterest.

Example getting clients from Pinterest

Ruby, a relationship coach, got her first client on Reddit.

Coaching client example Ruby

And Cristina, a naturopathic doctor, got one of her first clients on Instagram.

coaching example

Use social media marketing in the right way

The reason social media works is that it’s all about connecting with other people.

It’s a lesson I learned early on:

Instead of going on social media with the intention to get clients, you’ll want to use it to give value.

And not just facts and figures, but to show yourself as a human.

Entertain people by telling them stories and share fun content because that’s how you’ll catch their attention.

Facebook post example

And in order to build those relationships on social media, you need to be consistent.

Show up for even 30 minutes a day to give value, answer questions, and be helpful. This will keep you top of mind for your clients.

Want to learn more about building your coaching or consulting business? Read my step-by-step guide on starting a coaching business here.

Create a website

Notice anything specific?

That’s right. We haven’t looked at building a website just yet.

The reason is simple:

I don’t recommend that you set up a website before you have a few clients.

Instead, start lean and focus on what will bring in most clients right now (social media).

Once you have your clients you can start thinking about your website.

In fact, I made my first $5K after launching my coaching business without a website or even a sales page.

And even up until I had made $20K in my business, I used a standard WordPress theme that cost me $150.

old website example

So if you haven’t gotten your first clients yet, focus on your sales first.

And once you are at a stage where you have clients, I recommend building a simple site with a WordPress theme. You can read my guide on creating a website here.

Set up your email marketing

As with your website, focus first on your business idea and getting those first clients.

In the long run, you do want to build an email list, though. That’s because with an email list, you build your own audience.

My go-to email list builder for new entrepreneurs is Aweber.

And remember: Because you’ve already built relationships on social media, you’ll have a much easier time building your list than if you’re starting from scratch.

Other marketing strategies

Now you might be thinking:

“But, Luisa, wait! What do I do with all the other marketing strategies out there? You know, search engine optimization, blogging, ads, Instagram, webinars, sales funnels…”

Look:

Everything has a time and place.

Your FIRST job is to get your first few clients.

Then you’ll want to use what’s already working to build your business and quit your job.

THAT’s when you can start thinking about other marketing strategies.

Get my proven "Escape Velocity" Plan for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5.

How to scale your business with online courses

The last step? Scaling your business with online courses.

Service businesses are great for getting started, but at some point, you’ll hit an income wall. That’s because you can only offer so much of your time.

Fortunately, online courses help you take your coaching program and sell it to more people without having to work more hours.

Here’s how to create and sell your course.

How I scaled my business to over $1M in 11 months

In 11 months from having started my business, I was able to scale it to over $1 million. How? Thanks to online courses.

You see, after my schedule filled up with coaching clients, I knew I had to find a way to grow my business without adding on more hours.

And that’s what I did. At this point, I had switched from selling Facebook ads coaching to helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses (due to all the messages I received from people asking for my advice).

My first course

My first course, “Your First Paying Clients,” was a short, seven-week course that helped coaches and consultants find their first clients.

After I googled different price points, I noticed that most courses were priced at: $500 or less, $1000, $2000, and more than $2000. I decided to price my course at $497 to make it as easy to sell as possible.

Thanks to a combination of my email list that consisted of 300 subscribers, a Facebook group I started around that time, a 5-day live challenge, and Facebook ads, I sold 16 spots.

But not only that. Because I overdelivered during the 7-week course, I was ultimately able to upsell many of my course participants and add $20,000 to my business.

coaching result

Thanks to overdelivering, my clients got awesome results similar to this,
which helped me upsell many of them to my other offers.

My second course

For my second launch, I wanted to aim higher – $100,000.

And so I decided to create my signature course, Employee to Entrepreneur, which still today is a comprehensive course where I teach employees how to quickly grow their businesses.

This time, I priced my course at $3000. Again, I overdelivered both during my course launch and during the program, and as a result, I hit that $100,000 launch goal.

coaching client example

People loved my course thanks to the effort I put into supporting them. And as more people got results, it was easier to show people who were on the fence that the course would get them the results they wanted.

Using all the principles I had learned from my two previous launches, I set a very ambitious goal for my third launch. $1 million.

This time, I used a significant amount of money on Facebook ads ($80,000), strategized a three-level launch (which consisted of a pre-launch, live challenge, and launch), and added webinars to the mix.

The result? An $800,000 launch.

first year business income graph

My total earnings from my course and coaching offers.

As you can see, online courses can be a great way to scale your business without having to take on more coaching or consulting work.

Now, let’s look at how you can use this in your business.

What course should you create?

Yet another reason to love coaching! When you’ve worked with even 1-2 people on a one-on-one basis, you know exactly what type of help they need.

And that will help you turn your coaching program into a course.

Now, if you’re unsure if your coaching or consulting service can be turned into a course, there’s an easy answer.

Plus, by working closely with someone, you quickly help them get results. And those results will act as social proof for people who are thinking about joining your course.

It can. People have already paid you for your coaching, so you know they want the results your help will get them.

Take my client Estelle. She was able to turn a highly personalized service, energy healing, and create a course that people love.

live your magic website example

And she’s not the only one.

There are tons of niche courses that sell very well.

For example, one of my clients sells a course that helps people use herbs to lose weight.

Other online courses out there include courses that teach you how to build and live in tiny homes, brush lettering with watercolor, how to find dream orchestra jobs, astrology, how to learn a language in three months, and how to travel with flight points. And these are just a few examples.

Your online course strategy

You don’t need a lot to get started selling your course.

I recommend that you start an email list so that you have your own audience of people who follow you closely.

But contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a massive email list to get started.

In fact, with even 500 subscribers and normal email list conversion rates (1-3% of your subscribers), you can get your first 5-15 course participants.

Just like with my first course, I recommend that you get started with a lower priced course ($500 or less) and grow it from there.

your first course

How to grow your course sales

Once you’ve sold your first course and you know it works, you can take that, the results your course participants have gotten, and turn it into a signature course.

Selling your signature course

To start out, I always recommend my clients to use live webinars to sell their courses.

Why live webinars? Because at this point, you don’t want to sell your course one-by-one. Instead, you want to have a system in place that allows you to sell to more people at once.

And that’s exactly what a webinar helps you do.

As mentioned, I used these in my early days. And even today, I use webinars to sell my course.

course growth

Example of what your course sales might look like with a 2% conversion rate.

How to go evergreen

When you have a tried and tested course you KNOW will sell, it’s time to go evergreen.

What this means is that you sell your course on automation. You could have Facebook ads leading traffic to it or other traffic sources coming in (read my 24 best coaching marketing strategies here to learn how to get that traffic).

And these systems will eventually allow you to create an online business with all the flexibility and freedom you want.

Bonus: How to make time for growing your online business

Now you know how to grow and scale a business. 

It’s time to execute your strategy!

But what a lot of people ask me is this:

“How do I make time for growing my business?”

And I get it. You have a busy 9-5, maybe a family, and not that much time to build your business.

No problem. You can tailor the strategies above to fit your busy schedule (more on it below).

But my strong advice is that you don’t hand in your notice before you’re ready. 

Double your salary 

You see, a mistake I see a lot of new entrepreneurs make is to quit their day job too fast.

Here’s the thing:

Running a business from a place of stress and frustration won’t get you anywhere great. 

Instead, start your business from home but don’t hand in your resignation until you’ve doubled your salary. Why? Because you don’t want to take on the wrong clients or make bad decisions out of desperation. 

If you double your salary, you’ll have money to spend on business costs and your taxes.

Schedule your tasks

Wonder how to make your side business and 9-5 work at the same time?

Here’s what I did to work on my business while in a demanding managerial job:

I scheduled everything.

Business calendar first year

My schedule when I was still in my 9-5. 

You don’t need hours and hours every day to work on your business.

But you do need to be strategic about your time. That’s what will help you quit your job faster without staying up until 2 AM every day.

And that’s what scheduling will help you with. I used my lunch breaks, evenings… And thanks to having pre-scheduled all my tasks, I never had to put any energy on figuring out what task I needed to be working on next.

Want to start an online business, grow it, and quit your 9-5?

Want to take what you’ve learned and launch your online business?

I want to make this as easy as possible for you. That’s why I’m showing you my entire system for how to go from your 9-5 to a successful business.

coaching result

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • My exact system for building an online business and replacing your salary BEFORE leaving your 9-5.
  • The exact content you should share on social media that will make people crave your offer and land your first clients. (And the exact content I used to get my first clients!)
  • How to grow your hugely profitable and meaningful business in the most strategic way.

Want to go from no idea to online business owner?

Get my free Ultimate Guide and learn how to grow a 6-figure coaching business from scratch:

Get my proven "Escape Velocity" Plan for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5.
Your 9-5 Escape Velocity Plan

The proven blueprint for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5

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The proven blueprint for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5

ABOUT LUISA

Luisa Zhou is the creator of the Employee to Entrepreneur system, which shows ambitious men and women how to build profitable and meaningful online businesses that replace (and exceed) their 9-5 salaries. Fun fact: She’s also a former International Space Station engineer. LEARN MORE

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