With more and more consumers turning to the Internet to shop—for everything from books and movies to groceries and therapists—it makes sense that so many entrepreneurs are looking for a way to take their offline businesses online.
If you run a business that involves communicating, in-person, with actual humans, you might be looking to the future and wondering how your work will evolve. If you dread the turn to digital, don’t worry. You don’t necessarily have to abandon your brick-and-mortar, but adding an online component to your business—like an online shop, course, or coaching program—could totally change your future.
In this post, I’m going to cover:
- Why you should make a plan to get your offline business
- How to translate an offline business to the online world
- How to market your online business and earn more money
Why take your offline business online
There are plenty of reasons to make the jump to online entrepreneurship, and your online business model will depend on your goals as a business owner.
If you want to free up extra time...
Consider setting up passive income streams online. If you meet with clients 1-on-1 in your offline business, there is a limit to how much you can earn. Since you’re selling your time, you’re limited by how much time you have.
Creating an online course or would accomplish two things:
- An unlimited amount of students could enroll
- Students who don’t live close enough for in-person coaching can benefit from what you have to teach.
- You can make more money without doing more work.
Since students can take online courses on your own time, it means you’re not limited by your own availability, energy, or geographic location.
Offering weekly or monthly group coaching calls also accomplishes the above. If you don’t want to miss out on that personal connection of actually talking to people, group coaching is an elegant solution. You get to help more people in less time and do it online, where most people can meet you without traveling.
Taking your business online allows you to scale up without burning out.
If you want to increase your income…
Juggling both an in-person and online business can seem like it’d be more trouble than it’s worth, especially if you’re already overwhelmed as it is, or if you’re already making pretty good money with your in-person business.
But an online business isn’t limited by your time and availability, and has much more potential for growth, especially if you’re a team of one.
And when you set up the right workflows and systems, the online portion of your business can be largely automated. For example, you might have your site set up to tell newcomers about your course.
No matter what you’re selling online—be it courses, downloadables, templates, or anything in between—you can use automation to make the promotion run behind the scenes without having to think twice about it. Automating your online business is easier than you might think, and the time spent setting up your automation will be well worth it down the road.
Essentially, running and automation the online portion of your business means that you can make money while you sleep.
If you want to reach people all over the world…
Personally, this reason for making the move online is the most compelling to me. Growing up in a small town, I struggle to imagine anyone running a coaching business without access to a larger audience.
In an area where everyone knows everyone, it’s possible to find people who are supportive of your online business, but they’re not necessarily your target audience. I know if I ever wanted to teach about blogging in my hometown, I’d get a lot of blank stares and two very enthusiastic customers. The problem is, they’d be my parents.
What I’m trying to say is, no matter how great your offline business is, the audience has to be there. If your audience isn’t in your geographic area, it makes sense to turn to the internet, where you can find people with any interest imaginable.
Or maybe you do have a local audience, and realizing the demand for your service just within your own zip code has opened your eyes to how great your offer really is. Bringing your business online can mean expanding your offer to anyone who needs it, no matter where they’re located.
If you want to build a reputation as an expert…
As we’ve learned from every viral video ever, the internet has a strange way of plucking people from obscurity and turning them into overnight celebrities. Now, not all of us are lucky enough to go viral, but if you start a blog or YouTube channel or Podcast, you can quickly build your reputation as an expert within your niche.
Another perk of building a following online? Free press. Once you begin to become known, other people become curious.
Chances are, your in-person business relies to some extent on word-of-mouth. Someone tells a friend about what you do, and your business grows. But that can only take you so far. Online, word-of-mouth marketing can take your growth to a global scale.
If you want to sell to clients who can’t afford your rates…
If you sell a premium priced item, a portion of your audience wants to work with you or buy from you, but they simply can’t afford it.
That’s where selling an online product comes in.
You can sell an online course if there are too many clients for you to possibly take on. An alternative, though, is to create an entry-level course for people who can’t yet afford your premium services.
This means more passive income for you and more happy clients. It’s a win-win.
If you want to monetize what you don’t want to do anymore…
For example, maybe you’re a great marketer. Scratch that. You’re the best marketer this world has ever seen.
It’s not your passion. You have the skill, so people naturally come to you looking for advice. Instead of begrudgingly giving them your rates and getting started on a project you’re not passionate about, you can teach them how to market themselves.
Package all of your marketing knowledge into one online course and whenever anyone reaches out asking for your expertise, refer them to your product.
Action point: Define what it is you actually want to accomplish with your online business. Don’t just keep it in your head. Write it down, it’ll be coming to play further along this post.
How will your online business fit with your existing business?
Alright, so you’re sold. You’re ready to take your offline business online. The logistics are a bit tricky, but nothing that we can’t work through together.
Harmoniously marrying your offline business and online business requires a bit of planning and preparation. Ask yourself these questions before you take the plunge:
How will your online business fit with your existing business?
You have a few options here:
- You can shut down your offline business cold turkey and jump feet first into your online business
- You can run the two businesses together indefinitely
- You can slowly transition from primarily focusing on your offline business to focusing on your online business
If your dream is to become a millionaire with your business and retire early, that might be hard to do selling meditation coaching in your town of 12,000.
However, if your main goal is to serve your local community and give back to the people surrounding you, keeping some focus on your offline business will serve you well.
Tip: If you decide to transition from your offline business to focus on your online model, consider working on upselling your online services to your existing customer base. You don’t want to be leaving your current customers high and dry, and they’ll likely be excited for you and your new venture.
Action point: Decide your goal with bringing your business online. Do you want it to completely take over and phase your offline business out? Or will the two run in conjunction with each other? Again, write it down. If you’re stumped, don’t worry! You can make the decision after you’ve tested the waters with online business.
Assess your current online presence
I have a little assignment for you here, so make sure you have your pen and paper handy. What I want you to do is make a list detailing every single asset you already have that you can use for your online business. Here are a few examples:
- A website for your business
- Social media sites
- A list of email addresses
- A list of street addresses
- A list of phone numbers
Whether your list is a mile long or non-existent, you’re still in a good place to get started. If you already have a ton of valuable assets, you have a bit of a head start. If your online presence is miniscule at best: good news! You get a fresh start, which is always exciting.
Action point: Take inventory of your online business assets.
Identify your target customer
Knowing who exactly you’re hoping to sell to will make finding them online infinitely easier. And lucky for you, if you already have a customer base with your offline business, you likely have a good idea of who your target persona might be.
Essentially, target personas take the characteristics of everyone who might be interested in your online business and creates one “avatar,” or made up person, that you keep in mind when working on different parts of your online business.
For example, if you’re a guitar teacher and most of your students are men in their forties and fifties itching to learn how to play classic rock, you’re probably not going to want to be marketing to teenage girls using Pinterest. You’ll identify Vadim, a 45-year-old accountant who shreds with his garage band on the weekends. Note that when you’re targeting Vadim, you’re not targeting a 16-year-old girl staying up late writing songs.
If you don’t have a distinct customer base, the best way to identify it is to talk to real customers. Ask customers to chat with you for 20–30 minutes. Ask them what their primary goals and obstacles are, and how they use your business. Once you start to see similarities you’re ready. Use what you learn to create a target person that represents your audience.
It’s a little less direct, but you can instead conduct a survey with your current customers and try to draw similarities and comparisons. If you have a brick-and-mortar shop, consider printing out surveys and putting them in an accessible area. Incentivize your patrons’ survey taking by offering up a $25 gift card to one lucky person who takes your survey.
If you have your current customers’ email addresses, you can also send them a link to a Google Form to fill out. Make sure they know all questions are optional (they don’t have to answer anything they aren’t comfortable with) and confidential.
Here’s an example of what your questions might look like. Use these to get started and cater them to your own business:
- Why did you start coming to me?
- What’s the most important problem I’m solving for you?
- What transformation are you hoping to get out of working with me?
- What three social media websites do you spend the most time on?
- What are some online services and offline services you use?
- What are examples of promotional emails you open/don’t ignore?
For an even more in-depth look at how you can get started creating your customer avatar, check out this post and example survey.
Once you’ve established your clients’ needs and habits, it’s easier to get in their head and (1) solve any problems they may be having, and (2) figure out how to best serve them.
Start building your online audience
Now that you’re ready to take your business online, you need to start establishing an audience of potential customers.
My recommendation is that you either start building your email list or start building a following on social media. Which one you choose is up to you, but consider the answers you got in your user persona surveys.
If your audience says they’re not checking their emails or that marketing messages go straight to spam, you might be better on social media. On the other hand, if your audience doesn’t hang out on social media, opt to focus on your email list. In the long run you’ll want to have both an email list and social media following, but for now just focus on one.
When you build your online business around your audience, you’re playing a volume game. You can expect a certain percentage of people on your list to sign up for your product. So to grow your business, you need to grow a healthy list of people interested in your product.
There IS another option for taking your business online—you can build an online business around fewer customers and much higher prices points. This method works the best for consultants and experts who charge a very high price for their specialized advice and services in a small niche.
Here’s how it works: you take a service you offer and completely translate it to a very high-value, high-priced online course. If you’re a successful podcast strategist, for example, you translate your program into an online course. When clients come to you, you can offer them your course. You can also sell to institutions who have no trouble buying a license to your course with a high price tag. For our example, a podcast company or content agency might be interested.
A real Teachable instructor, Leslie Zaikis, is a marketing expert who worked with new authors to promote their books. She had way more demand than she could meet, so she created a course on book marketing to offer to prospective clients. Leslie doesn’t need to build a list or promote her course, and she doesn’t need hundreds of students. She offers her course to a handful of clients at a high rate (since it’s so valuable, and her method is proven to work).
Now, that “less is more” model is a very specific use case. If you’re not a consultant selling your services at a high price and in a niche market, it’s best to go the tried and true traditional route—build your email list!
Building your email list
The key to building your email list is to provide value for free. Or, I suppose I should say, provide value in exchange for your potential customers’ email address.
This value can come in the form of a free download, a mini course, an e-book, or any other resource relevant to your online business.
An example of a mini course via our How to Create a Mini Course post - you can charge a small price for yours or give it away for free!
To start collecting email addresses, gate your free resource (a.k.a., hide it behind a sign up page that requires an email address—you can do this for free with Teachable!) and drive traffic to your page.
On Quora, people ask questions ranging from deep personal ponderings to technical things like how to build a computer. Chances are, no matter your niche you’ll find people asking questions you can answer.
The real kicker, though? You need to use Quora strategically. You can’t just spam people with your link or 1. You’ll get banned and 2. Nobody will click anyhow.
Quora is a lot of fun and a great site for driving traffic to your free resource, you can learn how to use Quora effectively here.
Once you’ve driven traffic and people have signed up for your free resource, you can now start marketing to them directly via email.
Of course, using a lead magnet and Quora aren’t the only ways to build your email list (the options are infinite) but those are my favorites. Here’s a more complete guide to growing your email list.
Building your social media following
The first recommendation I have: Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Choose one or two social media sites to start with, and throw all of your energy into them.
The worst thing you can do is spread yourself too thin and have a mediocre following across half a dozen different sites.
If you have already identified your user personas, you might have a good idea of what social media site is right for you to focus on. If not, you may have to dig a little deeper.
The good news is that you and your audience probably have a lot in common. The social media site you personally feel most partial to will likely be a good place to start.
Now, at its root growing your social media accounts should be easy (everything is easier in theory), but there is a lot that goes into it.
When you’re establishing your social media accounts, keep these things in mind:
- Use your social media to be helpful and engaging for your target audience—not your friends. If your niche is baking, your audience likely won’t be overly interested in your live tweeting the latest Riverdale episode.
- Actually connect. When you’re using social media, be social. Make sure to follow others in your niche, engage with their content, and support them as much as you can. They’ll be much more likely to return the favor.
- Use branding. Use a consistent color palette throughout your social headers and avatars to strengthen your brand. If you’re using a visual social platform, use those brand colors in the images you share as well.
What service or product do you offer your customers that solves their problem?
This is the fun part. You get to look to the business you already have and decide how that can translate to an online business. Keep building up your audience while you work on this step.
Identify patterns and systems
To get started, identify elements of this service or product that are repetitive or algorithmic and can be converted into an online course.
When you’re coaching do you constantly go over the same pain points time and time again with client after client? Create an online course addressing that one specific pain point.
Or do you find that under qualified clients make queries wanting to work with you, but they’re still stuck in the “beginner” stage while you prefer to work with intermediates? You can create a beginner course that primes your students to work with you in a more advanced way in the future.
You might be wondering why I’m jumping straight to online courses. Well, this is Teachable. But, there are a million reasons I can think of that your online course should be the first product you offer for your online business. Here are the highlights:
- Online courses are a product you can create once and sell over and over again turning them into passive income
- You can charge more for online courses than you can products like an ebook
- Online courses allow you to reach an infinite number of people unlike a monetization method like coaching.
An example of someone who has successfully added an online course component to his business is Robert McKee. He is a celebrated author of the definitive screenwriting books Story, Genre, and Dialogue.
His seminars on the same topics are in high-demand, but he wanted to expand his reach with an online course. He created Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen to reach students who can't make it to his in-person workshops, and he promotes his course online and live at speaking events.
Define your course topic
Once you’ve decided to create an online course, you need to figure out what exactly your online course is going to be about.
Of course, given that you’re already an entrepreneur you should have a niche in mind. You already know what you’re an expert in, and you know who your audience is. Now you just have to figure out what valuable information you can offer your customers through an online course. The best way to do that is to identify the transformation customers will experience.
I say transformation because people take online courses for one reason: They want to make progress in a certain area. They have the before and they want the after. Your course should take them from point A to point B and at the end they should see a tangible difference in what they know or their abilities. And your course should speed up the transformation, so that they learn what they need with less time and hassle than they would on their own.
Going back to the guitar example, perhaps your entry level course will teach your students all of the basic notes on the guitar. By the end of your course they’ll know all about Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (I still remember that from my 7th grade guitar class) and they’ll even be able to strum along to a few simple songs. Before the course they hold the guitar backwards. After the course they know how to play 3 songs using 5 common chords. And they’ll do it way faster than they would just by watching YouTube videos.
No matter your niche, instead of deciding to teach the ultimate guide on any given area, you’re better off creating a specific course walking your students through just one or two specific transformations.
Creating your course content
We’ve gone over how you can create your online course more times than I can possibly count. To spare the Teachable blog regulars from having to read the same steps for the millionth time (and counting) here are some of our most popular resources on creating your course content.
Launching your online course
Now all that’s left to do is launch! There are so many ways to launch an online course, but our favorite is championing your email list (on average it converts at 2%!) and creating supplementary promotion on your other online assets.
Decide HOW to sell your course
There are two main models for selling your course: open-close launches and evergreen sales.
Evergreen course sales
Having an evergreen sales system means that you’ll launch your course once, and then it’ll be available from that moment on. We most often see this type of launch with course instructors who have an entire school full of multiple courses for their students to choose from.
With that said, there are plenty of instructors who only have a course or two and keep it evergreen indefinitely.
Open-close course launches
We see a lot of open-close launches here at Teachable and for good reason. If done right, the open-close model is very profitable and is what a lot of our most successful instructors do.
The idea of an open-close launch is that you’ll create the course once, and then host huge launch campaigns several times throughout the year. When you’re not launching, your course is closed, and no one can sign up until enrollment opens again.
These types of launches help create urgency and excitement. Making your course available for only weeks out of the year can give people a “now or never” mindset that pushes them to take the plunge and purchase. It also makes for a better, higher-energy experience when students enroll in a course at the same time.
Write your sales page
Your sales page will be a lot of peoples’ first impression to your online product, so it’s something that you’re going to want to get right.
We often see course creators so relieved that they finally finished creating their online course that they rush through their sales page and are disappointed in their conversions.
Essentially, your sales page is going to make or break your potential customer's’ decision on whether or not to buy your online course.
Teachable’s sales page editor makes create a beautiful sales page easy, so all that is left for you to do is write powerful copy. You can go the DIY route and write the copy yourself or check out the Teachable Experts and hire someone to help you with your sales page.
If you do decide to go the DIY route, be sure to check out this blog post on creating content that converts.
When you’re launching to your email list, our signature strategy is our Crazy 8 Launch. You want to send out multiple emails to keep your messages from being lost in a cluttered inbox. It might feel a bit spammy at the time, but if you’re only launching a few times a year your audience shouldn’t mind.
As for launching on your other online assets, here are a few ideas:
- Put out an announcement on your Facebook Page and consider putting in $10 or $15 to boost your post
- Schedule tweets to go out a few times a day over the course of your launch
- Go live on Instagram answering all of the questions your followers have about your online course
- Create beautiful graphics for Pinterest pointing back to your sales page and pin them to relevant group boards
Letting your existing customers know about your online business
This one can be especially tricky if you’ve created your online business to completely replace your offline business. Clients might feel emotions ranging from thrilled for you to a bit betrayed, especially if they’re a long term customer.
Luckily, a lot of their reaction is going to come from how you frame your announcement, giving you a lot of power.
What you don’t want to do
Send a cold email saying, “Hasta la vista, I’m officially closing shop to move my business online. If you want to work with me in the future, go to www.mywebsite.com!”
Now, the above email would be great for people you might have on your list but have never directly worked with in the past, but for your longer term customers it might leave them feeling confused.
The better route
Instead, reach out personally to your most loyal customers and tell them the good news yourself. Don’t be nervous or fidgety or apologetic, this is an exciting move for you, after all!
If you’re excited when talking about the big changes you’re making, the people around you are more likely to be excited for you.
If you really want to make your online business launch an exciting occasion for your local customers, consider hosting a launch party. Team up with other local businesses to secure a venue and food, and make an entire event out of it.
You can even raffle off access to your online course or an online coaching session with you.
The key here is to make your transition seem like a good thing, because it is!
Still wondering what the big deal about online courses is? Watch this video to further understand why you should create an online course for your business.