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“There’s so much to do. Where do I start?”

Whether you’re running a race or starting an online business, the first step is always daunting.

You look ahead and see nothing but the work that needs to be done, and the progress you’ll have to make.

You can’t see the finish line at all. You might not even see the starting block.

This post is about the starting block exclusively.

If you get your online business off to the right start, the whole race will be easier, and you’ll increase your chances of winning it.Click To Tweet

Wondering how to plan your online business? Ask the right questions.

Online entrepreneur on starting block, taking first steps toward an online business startup planThe best online business startup plans are easy to write and remember. And they all start with asking and answering five simple questions.

We’ll spend the rest of this article detailing what you need to consider when you answer them, but for now, these are the questions:

  1. What is the universal category my business fits in?
  2. What will I offer?
  3. Who will I offer it to?
  4. What is my “unique take?”
  5. How will I communicate that unique take?

Grab a sheet of paper, fire up a word processor, or download my 20-Minute Online Business Planner. You’re about to make a plan you can stick to!

Need an online business startup plan to guide your day-by-day efforts?

Let’s start with the first question …

1. What is the universal category my business fits in?

According to Russell Brunson’s book, Expert Secrets: The Underground Playbook for Creating a Mass Movement of People Who Will Pay for Your Advice (affiliate link: highly recommended), there are three major categories of information which tend to sell consistently on the internet:

  • Wealth/Money
  • Health/Wellness
  • Relationships/Love

If your online business can fit into one of these broad categories, you’ll find it easier to earn revenues from your offers.

But we don’t stop there. Let’s get a bit more specific …

2. What do I offer?

Within those very broad categories, what do you offer? Let’s look at some examples:

Wealth/Money: BIG Brand System fits into this category because I teach people how to take their hard-earned expertise and create a business that earns money.

How about yours? If you help people:

  • Manage their money
  • Plan their retirement
  • Create a working budget
  • Earn more on their investments
  • Build a business that earns revenue
  • Save more when they shop
  • Become a speaker, author, freelancer, etc.

… or anything along any of these lines, your business falls into this category.

What specifically do you offer? Make a note.

Health/Wellness: These businesses help people live a richer life not through abundant wealth, but abundant health. If you help people:

  • Have more energy by doing yoga, hiking, swimming, walking, or any form of exercise
  • Feel better with special diets or improved nutrition
  • Live a balanced life by making easy changes to their habits
  • Manage their time more effectively
  • Reduce stress with lifestyle changes
  • Get more from their careers and lives

… or anything along any of these lines, your business falls into this category.

What specifically do you offer? Make a note.

Relationships/Love: These businesses show people how to get along with those around them, form connections, or build families. If you help people:

  • Find the love of their life … the first or second time around 😉
  • Have healthy, nurturing relationships with their children
  • Make friends with ease
  • Enjoy a healthy sex life
  • Raise balanced babies, toddlers, or teens
  • Have a richer relationship with their partner

… or anything along any of these lines, your business falls into this category.

What specifically do you offer? Make a note.

If you’re unsure which category you fit into, think about the reason why.

You may help professionals network effectively, which may feel like a “Relationships” business. But if the reason why people want to improve their networking skills is to build wealth through better business relationships, then what you do fits into the “Wealth/Money” category.

Once you’re sure about the category you fit into and what exactly you’ll offer in that category, let’s talk about who you want to work with.

3. Who do I offer it to?

Let’s get a firm understanding of who you want to help.

I can hear the collective groan right now. Yes, we’re going to talk about your ideal customer.

Stick with me here!

For some reason, many business owners don’t want to do the work of thinking through who their target market or ideal customer really is.

I think it’s because deciding who to aim your marketing efforts at means you’ve got to determine who you don’t want as a customer. You may be afraid to leave anyone out. You’d like to think your product or service is ideal for everyone.

But …

Something magical happens when you become very clear about the kind of person you’re aiming to serve.Click To Tweet

Your marketing messages are more compelling because you’re not trying to please everyone.

Your marketing materials are consistent because you know who you want to appeal to, and you let that knowledge guide your decisions about copy and design.

And the most amazing thing is that …

You attract people who will be best served by what you offer. They’re interested in your service or product, and you don’t have to try so hard to sell it to them. It solves one of their problems, so they want to hear about it.

Why determining your target market is important:

  • When you know who your ideal customer is, you can craft your marketing to attract them.
  • It’s much easier to sell something to an audience who wants and needs what you offer.
  • Your marketing language will be tailored to how your target market speaks about their problem. They’ll recognize themselves in your marketing, and know they’re in the right place.
  • Your colors, fonts, and overall graphic style will work together to attract people who want to buy from you.

Afraid of commitment? Read this.

What if you get it wrong?

Once you’re out there marketing your specific offer within a specific category and to a specific ideal customer, you may find that you attract a different group of customers than the one you originally anticipated.

You may even find they want something different!

That’s OK: it’s a natural part of the process. Just commit to observing the customers who show up on your doorstep to see if you need to revise what you offer and who you offer it to.

One of the most beautiful things about online business is how it naturally evolves and changes as it grows.Click To Tweet

Don’t resist this! Embrace it by getting your initial idea out into the world and then watching carefully, making course corrections as you go along.

You’ll know you’ve identified your ideal customer correctly when you start seeing people who meet your description interacting with your business and becoming your customers.

4. What is my “unique take?”

Once you know all of the above, it’s time to figure out how your “unique take” on things. This is called “positioning” in marketing terms.

Positioning refers to how your prospects perceive your business in relation to your competitors’ businesses.

Ask yourself, how is your offer different than what’s already on the market?

This is where you can bring your own personality and your hard-earned professional expertise to bear.

What do people always say about your work?

When you’ve received positively glowing feedback about what you offer, what do people mention? What do they think makes your business stand out?

Look at the comments of your current customers. They are likely already telling you what makes you unique (and valuable).

5. How will I communicate that unique take?

Finally, think about what marketing tactics will best communicate your unique take.


Your business is unique because your information is easy to understand. Emphasize that with online video tutorials or simple checklists and resources.

Your business is unique because your training is backed by data. Emphasize that with information-packed infographics and slide decks.

Your business is unique because it’s friendly and approachable. Emphasize that with live video, customer interviews, and more.

Your business is unique because you show people how small changes make a big difference. Emphasize that with “tips of the day” or a simple email autoresponder course that delivers transformation one small action at a time.

The idea here is to take what makes your business unique within the larget market it belongs to and emphasize that with the marketing tactics you use to get it out into the world.

The final step in our online business plan? Decide how to use your marketing to pump up the volume on what makes your business unique!Click To Tweet

Take 20 to make a winning online business startup plan

Download my 20-Minute Online Business Planner to make this easy. It will give you a space to think through how you’ll answer these questions.

When you’re done, you’ll have an overview that will help you run your online business with ease.

Every step you take will be guided by your target market’s needs and desires — and how you’ll serve them in a unique and memorable way!

Grab the planner here:

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on January 11, 2012 and has been updated with several hundred words of new information and additional resources. Enjoy! 

Grab this resource! Answer five simple questions to get your #onlinebusiness on track for success. Not sure what to do next so you can grow? Get this simple (20 minute!) online business start up planner. #onlinebusinesstips #onlinemarketing #startup
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