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How To Turn Pro Before Launching Your Website

Having a website is extremely important for the success of your business. It’s your piece of online real estate and a vehicle to establish sustainable income.

However, owning a successful website comes with lots of responsibilities. These days you need an active blog, a newsletter, strong social media presence, and maybe a YouTube channel or a podcast.

Beyond all of that, you need to have a unique selling proposition and a clearly defined target audience.

There’s a lot to take in and it’s easy to rush the process and not get the results that you want.

I must tell you, hindsight is a powerful thing. Having now gone through the process of starting a few websites, I wish I had slowed down and taken the time to get clear before launching my website. This would have saved me a ton of time and would have ensured success more quickly.

Many of us are starting online businesses on the side with the hopes of eventually leaving our day jobs.

Once we get the idea of starting a successful business, it’s easy to get excited and run at 100 miles an hour, compromising our health and relationships along the way.

It really doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, you could have an effective business with just a landing page and an email list (more on that later).

In this post, I’m going teach you how to turn pro in your business without having the pressure of building and running a website straight off the bat.

I want this to be as actionable as possible for you, so I’ve broken down the process into 8 simple steps.

Let’s get into it.

Step 1: Figure Out Who You Want to Serve

Your niche, your tribe, your industry, your rat people. Whatever you want to call them, make sure you take some time to figure out who you want to serve.

It’s extremely difficult to serve 7 billion people, so stick to a specific audience or a group of people who share your worldview.

If you’re feeling stuck, think about niches you are familiar with and interested in.

It’s important to stick to what you’re familiar with because you already have knowledge and contacts in this area.

It’s also important to be interested in your niche as you will be spending most of your time serving these people – you want to feel inspired!

For example, I’m familiar with accountants, real estate agents, financial planners and creatives. I could start a business in any of these niches because of my existing knowledge and contacts in the industry.

However, I’m not going to be motivated in a few years’ time serving the accountants. I have an interest in creative industries, so I decided to work with creatives instead.

If you’re interested in a niche but do not have much knowledge of it yet, that’s OK. As long as you have the desire to acquire the skills to solve their problems.

Also, can you see yourself working in this niche for the next 10 years? This is something most aspiring entrepreneurs do not ask themselves. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. So will you still be bouncing out of bed to serve this segment of the market in 10 years’ time?

This is not to say that things won’t change. In fact, they most likely will. But if you want to be the authority, you should have the goal of learning as much as you can about the people you’ve chosen to serve.

Step 2: Research Opportunities

Now that you have identified who you want to serve, the next step is to research business opportunities.

Before I go on, note that this is probably the most rushed step in the business development process.

On a recent podcast, Ramit Sethi said that 80% of your success is determined in your research. Ramit and his team spend hundreds of hours conducting research before creating a product. According to Ramit, “If you can articulate your audience’s problems better than they can and provide a solution, price becomes a mere triviality.”

So how do you go about doing research? Google research? It’s a good place to start. But, there are more powerful methods.

Get Face-to-Face

The closer you can get to your audience, the greater chance you have of solving their problems and thus, having a successful business. Stop browsing the internet and get one-on-one with your audience.

If you’re serving graphic designers, email them offering free business advice in exchange for detailed feedback. Then proceed to schedule a video call or an in-person meeting.  If you’re serving folks who suffer from allergies, ask if you can schedule a quick ten minute phone call to talk about their biggest challenges.

And yes, I did just say “phone call” in that last sentence. While not technically “face to face,” a phone call is a great way to learn a lot about the problems that your target clients are experiencing.

Check Popular Posts

Another great way to identify problems is to look at the comments on popular blogs posts. Analyze the comments to see if there are any recurring questions or statements.

Use tools like Social Crawlytics to see how many social media shares specific posts are getting. Also check out the social media links to see if there are any more conversations going about the specific problem.

Run Surveys

Do you have an existing audience? Cool! Run a survey to your email list or social followers. Or if you’re really hardcore, you could try to cold call your target audience and ask them to participate in a survey.

Validate an Offering

This is possibly the most important step of the whole process. Once you have identified a problem that your target audience has, you need to take it a step further and ask them if they are prepared to pay for a solution. And if so, how much?

You also want to ask, “If I had a solution for <insert problem>, what would this allow you to do?”

By asking this question, you’re getting the prospect to tell you the underlying benefits of solving this problem. You might as well copy and paste these answers into your sales copy.

Most of us make the mistake of launching a website without knowing who we want to serve and what problems we are going to solve. This is a crucial step to sort out before launch as you want your message to be crystal clear throughout your website copy.

Step 3: Create a One-page Business Plan

At this point you have done the hard yards and identified your niche. You have also gotten as close as possible to your audience to find out what they want.

The next step is to get clear about your business objectives. In the research stage, you’ve questioned others – and now it’s time to question yourself.

There’s no need for charts, projections or a SWOT analysis. Here are 4 key questions to ask yourself before proceeding to the next step.

What is Your Underlying Goal?

In one concise statement, what do you want to get out of this venture? Cut through the fluff and really think about what you want.

Here’s an example of my underlining goal:

“To be location independent and earn passive income all whilst helping people around the world.”

Take your time to really think about this statement. You should feel inspired every time you read it.

Why Do You Want to Achieve That Goal?

The next step is to note all the reasons why you want to reach your goal. Simple bullet points will do. Here’s an example:

  • So I can have a base and travel wherever I want months at a time.
  • So I don’t have to stress about money anymore.
  • So I can use my potential and talent to help people in the way I want.
  • So I am able to help and have a strong presence when I have children.

How Are You Going to Achieve That Goal Over the Next 12 Months?

This is where you need to think about how you’re going to reach your goal in a 12 month period. Here’s an example:

  • Grow my email list to 1000 subscribers
  • Publish 50 guest posts
  • Do 20 interviews
  • Launch product/service

What Are Your Long-term Goals?

What else do you want to achieve in the long-term? Is it speaking engagements, writing a books, heading a startup? This is your chance to be ambitious (and a little delusional).  I’m sure with persistence, you will get there!

Having a plan before launching your website will help to get clear about what business goals you want your site to achieve. You will design your site with purpose, clarity and vision as opposed to a ‘wait and see’ approach.

Step 4: Start an Email List

If you’re serious about online business, then you know an email list is key to your success. Your goal is to grow an audience and develop a product before you launch your website. The best medium to do this is through email.

You could also use Facebook or Twitter, but I would recommend using those platforms to grow your email list instead of relying on them to sell your products/services.

The first step is to create a PDF, video series or email series to give away to your audience for their email address.

Clay Collins from Leadpages suggests you create a simple resource document for your audience. People love tools and it’s easy for you to put together. Here are some quick examples of resource documents:

  • 7 Useful Pieces of Home Gym Equipment Under $50
  • 5 Mobile Apps To Improve Your iPhoneography

If you’ve really done your research and already have a product in mind for your audience, you can use your product to get people to sign up to your email list.

For example, if you’re creating an eBook for your audience, you could give away a sample chapter or you could sell the exclusivity of the book by giving subscribers early access. This is similar to what Nathan Barry does with his highly profitable eBooks. This is an extremely effective way to build a quality list of subscribers who have already shown interest in what you’re planning to sell to them.

Once you’ve created your freebie, sign up for an email service provider like MailChimp or Aweber. Get your hands dirty and test some newsletter templates and campaigns. This software is going to become your best friend.

If building an email list is one of your main goals (and it should be!), then you can start to think about how you can optimize your website for best conversions. More specifically, where will you position your call to actions to sign up to your newsletter?

Step 5: Set Up a Single Landing Page

Alright, so you’ve defined your audience, you’ve found out exactly what they want and you have clearly outlined what you want to get out of your business. The next 4 steps are about building an audience for your product or service.

A good place to start is a single landing page, which technically is a website but with much less functionality.

The main objective here is to use your landing page as a tool to collect email addresses. Without going into too much detail, you could have an image of your free giveaway, compelling copy describing exactly how you will solve your target customers problem and a opt-in box to collect contact information.

To get this up and running, you will need to register a domain name and web hosting, which will cost you around $100 in total. From there you can install WordPress (don’t worry, you’re not creating a full website yet!).

You can use a free plugin called the Ultimate Coming Soon Page to add your content and opt-in box. Or if you want something with more features you could go with LeadPages or Optimizepress.

Don’t worry too much about the aesthetics of the page, just focus on the message. If the problem that you’re solving is painful enough, prospects won’t care too much about the design of your page.

Try to keep things as simple as possible.

Step 6: Join a Mastermind

It might sound a little strange joining a mastermind group at this stage of your journey. Iif you don’t know what a mastermind is, it’s a group of people who meet on a regular basis to discuss business and hold each other accountable.

The reason why you want to join a mastermind group now is because promoting your landing page will be hard work! You need as much support as you can get to push through your limiting barriers.

Start by asking people within your existing networks if they would like to form a mastermind. Propose something like this:

Hey <insert name>, hope you’ve been well!

I’m not sure if you know, but I’ve recently started an online business doing <explain your business and purpose>

I know you’ve been busy doing <describe their business> and I wanted to see if you’re interested in starting a mastermind?

It’s basically a weekly catch up over a Skype call to discuss all things business and to help each other reach our personal goals. I plan to run it weekly for 60 minutes and the agenda looks something like this:

10 mins – discuss progress from the previous week

40 mins – help one member with a specific problem (this rotates each week)

10 mins – discuss goals for the upcoming week

I’m aiming for 3-4 members.

If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll schedule a time to test it out.

Kind regards,

Another good place to look for members is online communities including paid memberships, Facebook groups, Google+ groups, LinkedIn groups and online forums.

If you connect with individuals and you like their business model, simply reach out to them directly using a similar script to the one above.

The real value of having a mastermind is the accountability. Make sure to tell the other team members about your goals (discussed above) and get them to hold you accountable for your promotional strategies (which we will discuss in the next step).

Seriously, you cannot afford to skip this step. Even if you’re a motivated self-starter, having a strong support network is possibly the strongest asset you can have in your business.

As you don’t have an official website yet, it’s important to at least have a landing page to show potential mastermind members. This demonstrates that you’re serious about growing your business, thus you will most likely attract others who have similar goals.

Step 7: Promote Your Landing Page

I’m sure you’ve read about all the ways you can promote your service or product. However at this point, you only need to be concerned with one goal, and that’s building an audience, aka a mailing list.

This means you need to get as many people as possible within your target audience to first see your page and then hand over their email address. No easy feat, I know!

Having said that, there are a few effective free and paid methods that will do wonders for you.

Guest Posting

The concept behind guest posting is to find out where your target audience is hanging out online, and what they’re reading, and bring them back to your house.

Target blogs with decent readership and pitch them an idea (if the blog has a set of guest post guidelines, make sure that you follow them!). Make sure the content you write is in line with the problem that you’re solving, as this will ensure you have a highly qualified email list.

It’s important that you add as much value as you can in your guest post. And more importantly , definitely include a link to your landing page in your author bio. This is very important!

For more on guest posting, check out this article to find out how to get 100+ subscribers from every guest post.

Interviews

If you prefer talking rather than writing, you can pitch podcasts and YouTube channels to do an interview. If you’ve already started creating a product, it could be a great lead in with your pitch.

Hosts are always looking for exciting new entrepreneurs with cool products.

Webinars

Another effective method to build your list is webinars, especially now with the power of Google hangouts. With a bit of work you can run webinars for free!

However, you might want to invest a little in the promotion of the webinar through Facebook ads as this will give you more reach.

The content of the webinar should be focused on solving a problem that you know your audience has. It’s a great platform to get feedback and get to know your audience better.

You can also use you webinars to promote your product or service when you’re ready to launch. All, by the way, without a website.

Social Media

Last but not least, you should use social media to promote your landing page. Simple posts reminding people about your free gift, your latest guest post, interview or webinar are all great uses of social media.

You can promote your page through your personal accounts or create business pages for all of your profiles. (If you’re using Facebook to promote your business, make sure that you’re using a business profile to promote your free gift.)

As you don’t have your official site up yet, just refer new visitors to your landing page. This is an excellent use of social media activity to build buzz before you launch your official website.

Be careful though. Your time is better spent executing the strategies discussed above than posting on social media. Batch process your content using tools like Buffer or Hootsuite, so you can free up your time to do the important lead generating tasks.

Your Email List

Your existing subscribers can be your biggest referrers, so it’s important to regularly add value to them so they become raving fans. Also, if you don’t keep building engagement with your list, they may forget about you and all of your hard work will be undone.

So the question now is, what the heck do you send to your subscribers?

Here’s a list of useful things you can send them:

  • Links to your guest posts
  • Links to your interviews
  • Invites to attend your webinars
  • A weekly round up of the best articles within your niche
  • Progress content for your new website: logo concepts, blog design, images etc.
  • Surveys to help you better serve them
  • Blog posts (which you can post on your site when it launches) – you can post them on syndicate websites like Medium, Quora, Google+

Step 8: Launch Your Website

Given the size of this post, let’s do a quick recap of what you’ve achieved in the pre-launch phase:

  1. You’ve identified who you want to serve.
  2. You’ve conducted extensive research to find out exactly what your audience wants and if they’re prepared to pay for it.
  3. You’ve gotten clear about what you want to get out of your business.
  4. You’ve set up a an email list will be the engine for your business.
  5. You’ve created a simple landing page with a free gift to build your list.
  6. You’ve joined a mastermind to hold you accountable to your goals.
  7. You’re promoting the hell out of your landing page and your email list is growing steadily.

So far, your total investment is $100 and a lot of hard work and time. You’ve set yourself up in a prime position for continued business growth.

By now, you should have a warm email list eagerly waiting to see what you have to offer, a strong support network, a clear direction and a solid marketing system.

Building your website should now be a breeze (comparatively speaking), since you’ve already answered the tough questions and you know exactly what you need to communicate to your audience. You know who you’re serving, what problems you want to solve for your audience, and how to communicate that on your website.

All that’s left is to find the design and the copy that will support those goals. It really does pay-off to take your time and put in the work upfront as it will make your life so much easier moving forward!

Are You Ready to Turn Pro?

For many entrepreneurs, “turning pro” means building a website and handing out business cards. But if we take a step back, we’ll see that “turning pro” really means building your audience first, and then launching a website that speaks to the needs of your audience.

The great thing about this 8-step method is that it allows you to build a product or service at the same time as you build your audience. Your whole strategy is getting to know your audience, and promoting your free gift through your landing page.

I think the mistake most of us make is thinking that we already have a solution without doing enough research to validate our idea.

So remember to take your time to find out what people want. Get on the phone with your target audience and have a chat. This process will only give you more confidence and will enable you to create a valuable website that resonates with your audience.

And the best part? You can replicate this process over and over again as you launch new products or launch your business.

Now I would love to know what you think about this process in the comments below. Let’s get a conversation going.  I’m sure we’ve all got different opinions, so what’s yours?

About Michael Ofei

Michael Ofei writes at MichaelOfei.com, where he shares ideas on freelancing and indie entrepreneurship. For more useful tips on how to build a business that you love, download his free guide called The Business Systems Kickstarter.

34 comments

  1. I have had this article bookmarked for months waiting for just the right time to re-read it and continue to implement its ideas. The re-read was better than the “read.” It helped me put focus on how much progress I have made. However, even more importantly it put focus on the key things I need to do to continue making progress. By the way, my website referenced is for a business I’ve been building for years. I’m still only using landing pages for building of my ABM business.

  2. Michael I wished I had this logical and straightforward road map some twelve months ago before starting out – spending tons of precious time, energy and cash steering in the wrong direction! Your words and step by plan are so important I think you should add step 9 – ideas to turn list into $ then make Ready like a pro as step 10 Then .you have the Ten Commandments !!!! …that’s how important your rules are.

    1. Hi Mark, thank you for your kind words. The good thing is you can still apply some of these principles even though you’ve already launched your website. Great idea with the extra step! All the best.

  3. Oh wow, so “wish” I had had this advice ever so many years ago (if I did get it I apparently wasn’t ready to listen!). Shared your post with a client who was focusing on her site…totally understand her why and your article really hit home with her!

    Thanks a bunch for laying it clearly…we share a passion…do-able, actionable steps!!

    Laugh lots, Love more!
    MamaRed

    1. Hi MamaRed, thank you for sharing this with your client!

      Yes, I wish I was armed with this info as well. It would of saved me a ton of time!

      All the best.

      1. My pleasure Michael…love finding information that is shareable and helps others.

        Aren’t we blessed that we get to share what we’ve learned and, hopefully, save others the teeth gnashing and hairpulling we went through!

  4. I am sure glad that I landed on your page. I was going to start with developing a website without doing the preliminary steps. Now I will change my strategy and place more effort in doing the preliminaries and delay with activating a website. Do you have any suggestions on how to find a good name for a website. Should it be specific or general in nature?
    Thank you for excellent information.

    Oscar

    1. Hi Oscar, I’m glad you found this article useful.

      Ah naming is a tough one. It really depends on what type of business you’re building. If you’re building a personal brand, it’s always a safe bet to go with your own name. Here’s a great article with some examples http://fizzle.co/sparkline/personal-domain-names

      If however you want to build a business that is bigger than you and may involve a team, I find it’s more effective to use something memorable than descriptive.

      For $5, this guy will help you create a new name for your business https://www.fiverr.com/dion/superlatively-create-one-banner-or-header-or-logo-or-miscellaneous-design-product-for-your-website-blog-or-business?funnel=2014102703285269919788600

      I hope that helps!

  5. Picture an image of a girl with saucer-like eyes and an open mouth – well, that girl is ME! THIS HERE is EVERGREEN CONTENT – wwowwww

    I want to launch a website within the next year, and these tips are just FABULOUS! OMG!!! OMG! OMG!

    Okay – can you guess that I am excited? I have to get through one hurdle though – I don’t understand HOSTING 😛 But, thankfully, a good friend has decided to hold my hand and guide me through the scary labyrinth of back-end duties 😉

    That said, I am going to print this and get my brain cells MOVING 😛

    THANK YOUUUUUUUUU

    Kitto

    1. Thank you for your kind words Krithika. I love your passion!

      Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and all the best with your website 🙂

  6. I so appreciate the way you wrote the post with so much crystal clear detail. For me, it was a matter of receiving a lot of information without the feeling of overwhelm in actually being able to accomplish the tasks listed. Thanks for enabling me to truly visualize what I need to do and for a concise manner of how it should be done. 🙂

    1. Thanks Charlene, I’m really glad that this post has enable you to visualize what you need to do.

      When writing or working with clients, I try to break thinks down clearly into actionable steps, so this is a great compliment!

      All the best with your business and let me know if I can help you with anything.

  7. Thanks Michael. What a kick in the pants! I think your boot print is still visible!

    Simple blueprint here that will work great, IF you implement it and stay consistent with it. I have had this backwards myself and am just now realizing this point. Even though I help local business owners to get their web presence up and running. Dummy! (pronounced “Duh-Me”)

    This blueprint will work wonders for local businesses too, who want to build their own piece of online real estate. Just a small ‘tweak’ to this 8-step process and even an existing business with a established customer/client/patient base will see great success and improved results. I will use this info in helping my clients and friends.

    Thanks for posting this info and having the heart to serve others with it.

    All the best to you!

  8. Hey Ling, glad you found my article useful.

    Ha! Yes, it’s easy to get stuck endlessly fiddling with web design without focusing on the customers pain points. I like your thinking!

  9. Great article! I have seen so many people scrambling to have a “pretty” website without getting clear on their goals and their niche, then wonder why their website is not performing for them!
    I also love how you put list building before site building – I have pushed so many clients to do that myself, as many people have the misconception that they cannot start building a list until they have a website.
    I would say – not having a website should not be holding people back from building their list, nurturing their relationship and even getting clients.

  10. VERY detailed and pretty fabulous, Michael. Thanks so much for this blueprint of how to build an online biz. I’m doing many things right, but you’ve given me great food-for-thought of what to change. TY.

  11. After a few failed website/blog attempts, I can see that I’ve been going about it completely backwards. Your detailed plan gives clear steps to grow a business in the correct order for best success. I’ve spent some time thinking about my niche, and now it’s time to put the rest of it together. Thanks for a very inspiring and practical blueprint.

    1. Hi Jay, I can definitely connect with where you’re coming from. I’m glad you can use this as a blueprint to give yourself the best chance. Let us know how you get on! Cheers.

  12. Just in response to what Frank said above, Michael didn’t say that those things were part of a website but instead that those things were “responsibilities” included with having an online presence, so it’s important to make that distinction.

    It’s true from a copywriting and conversion perspective that having a consistent message from email to landing page is essential, but it’s not clear to me that Michael is suggesting otherwise. (Or did I miss something?) It also doesn’t make sense to me to have different landing pages for different guest posts, you should only have different pages for different offers.

    A landing page is basically a page that has an offer and persuades someone to take action, so Michael’s definition is correct. And many successful bloggers and people with successful online businesses only started out with a Twitter account and nothing else (such as Henneke Duistermaat).

    It’s true that it’s good to be consistent with your online marketing, but there is so much evidence out there showing that creating a website first is like putting the cart before the horse. Michael does a brilliant job explaining why. Relationships and target market first, website second.

    I only just realized that part of my marketing problem are that I’ve spent months not doing anything because I’m waiting for my website to be ready, despite all the advice to the contrary that you shouldn’t wait for your website to go up before marketing yourself. Months wasted, it’s so true.

    Fantastic post Michael.

  13. Your post is interesting, and helpful but its title and key premise is wrong. The “landing page” you say is among the first thing you need is a web site, and therefore is among the first steps needed. Of the features you include as part of a web site “blog, a newsletter, strong social media presence, and maybe a YouTube channel or a podcast ” only a blog should be considered part of a web site, and it is not a necessary one.

    These are all valid parts of a marketing campaign, and your discussion about where they fit in an entrepreneurs priorities is quite good, but thinking that they are part of a web site only muddles the discussion

    Furthermore, a landing page is a destination page for a specific ad or posting. And landing pages need to be customized to match the link that will bring people to it. So the single page you recommend starting with should not be called a landing page either. But a landing page should be added before your first guest post, and some additional guest posts probably will require additional landing pages. You should not guest blog seriously without a well thought out web site in place when you begin.

    1. Hi Frank, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

      I don’t think there’s necessarily a right a wrong approach to launching a website. I’ve also seen landing pages used effectively in a variety of ways.

      Here is a great case study of how someone built an email list of 1357 subscribers before launching her blog http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/pre-launch-subscribers-email-list/

      The purpose of this article is to challenge readers to take it a step further and conduct market research to get the most value out of the pre-launch marketing.

  14. Great stuff here!

    These steps can become complicated when your brand is in more than one area. For example, I’m an romantic suspense author, but in the past two years I started a local writing group which hosts an annual event, and I’m a speaker. That’s a lot of brands/services in one site and there are other opportunities on the horizon.

    I’m rebranding my website next year and these steps will definitely come in handy.

    1. Hi Elke, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

      You make an interesting point. I’ve seen others in a similar situation to you have a personal website (like what you have), but then launch each project attached to your brand on different websites.

      This could work well as you can use the above strategies, to relaunch your writing and speaking projects.

      Here’s one example that comes to mind http://hrostoski.com/

      All he best

  15. Lots of great ideas here! I think few people understand the importance of promotion, particularly the usefulness of guest blogging, which is often a FREE way to advertise to thousands of potential customers!

    Since you also asked about “differing opinions” here’s mine: You don’t necessarily have to have ALL, or even most, of the things that you mentioned in your second paragraph to have a successful website. Many successful websites do one or two of those things (e.g. a really good blog, really powerful social media, an excellent YouTube channel) and do just dandy. To me, much better to concentrate on one or two aspects and be great at them than five or six and be mediocre at each.

    1. Hi Daryl, thank you for sharing your insights!

      I couldn’t agree more – personally, I only use a few strategies and that seems to work well.

      It’s also worth experimenting with a variety of methods then picking the two that yield the best results.

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