The Brutal Truth: Building an Online Business isn’t Easy

  • June 8, 2011 by Corbett Barr
  • 32 Comments

I’ve been working with clients trying to build online businesses long enough to know one thing: building a successful online business is much harder than most people assume.

Whatever effort you’re envisioning it will take to succeed right now, double or triple that expectation.

Now you might be in the ballpark.

And I’m just talking those of you starting with realistic expectations. If you’re still of the get-rich-quick mindset, you probably need to reset your expectations by a factor of 10, although I’m sorry to say I’m doubtful you’ll ever actually succeed if you’re susceptible to that mindset to begin with.

This isn’t just about hard work or the length of length of time it takes to succeed, either. You need to set your expectations higher for how much dedication, guts, determination, resourcefulness, compassion, empathy and self awareness you will need, because you’ll need all of those things in spades.

I suppose it’s natural to gloss over the details and just envision the results you’re hoping for. Goals and results are a great motivator in the beginning, but one single end goal won’t keep you going if you massively underestimate what it will take to reach the goal.

And trust me, you’re underestimating things right now. It’s natural because you don’t know what to expect.

Here’s the greatest piece of “success” wisdom I’ve learned over the past couple of years:

Learn to love the process and the daily little wins

Learn to love the journey. Love the challenge. Love the interactions, the creative flow, the learning and the scenery along the way.

Learn to love the uncertainty of it all. You cannot make progress without uncertainty. Jonathan Fields shared that special gift with all of us at the World Domination Summit this weekend. You have to embrace getting out of your comfort zone quickly and often if you want to do great things. Thank you Jonathan for that.

Most of all, learn to love the delivery of value to everyone around you. Figure out what your gifts are and start giving them to everyone you come into contact with.

If you deliver enough value, making money becomes the easy part.

Building an online business will probably be much harder than you’re planning for right now. I learned that myself the hard way, and nearly gave up dozens of times along the way. Not setting my own expectations and not learning to love the daily little wins probably caused a lot more stress and time than I needed to succeed.

Even still, no matter how difficult this challenge has been, it is worth it in ways I cannot describe. In fact, the challenge has been more worth it because of the difficulty.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are you up for the challenge?

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Cosmin June 8, 2011 at 6:15 am

It’s like running an obstacle course but you don’t really know where the finish line is.
However you can be sure that with each obstacle you pass, you just left some competitors behind and you got closer to the finish line!

Cos

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Nice metaphor ;)

Benny June 8, 2011 at 6:52 am

Very inspiring words in such a short post. Thanks for the reality check. I’ll definitely learn to love the process and the daily little wins.

I’m up for the challenge of creating an online business because if I’m not then I’m back to where I’ve always been and I don’t want to be there.

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I’m the same way, the challenge is much better than the alternatives. Challenges can be fun if you embrace the struggle and learn to love the day to day.

marianney | CityVids.tv Denver June 8, 2011 at 8:43 am

Ah yes. This is a reminder I need constantly, because just as I start sitting back and relaxing is when things slow down A LOT. Nothing happens and then it’s that much harder to get started again.

It’s kind of like keeping weight off. If you are consistent and work hard, it comes off. The minute you start slacking and gaining weight again it takes that much more effort to get back to where you were.

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:33 pm

There are all kinds of comparables here, losing weight, getting stronger, learning a language, learning an instrument, etc., although the blueprints for those activities are a lot clearer. Building a business can be more of a challenge because there are so many unknowns.

Asaf Braverman June 8, 2011 at 8:47 am

Thanks for the succinct splash of ice-water in the face. I’ve reset the gage of my expectometer to triple what it had been, and proceed to enjoy adding brick by brick each day. Aesop said, “Little by little gets it done.” Good luck to all of us.

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I’m here whenever you need some ice water in the face, or a kind-hearted ass kicking.

m.camille May 12, 2013 at 4:00 am

corbett,
thanks for the kind hearted ass kicking. You shared the truth and the reality of starting an online business with encouragement and experience. Definitely something to practice and remember.

Sal Greco | Surfer Lifestyle Design June 8, 2011 at 9:09 am

The Daily wins is whats up Corbett…

I try and get the most effective amount of work done in a short amount of time. Doing so helps me not dilly dally and waste time on what does not matter. With 2 hours of productivity I am looking for my “daily win” which is one step closer to a finished project!!!

Great advice, at the perfect time.

Thanks Corbett,

Surfs up!

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:36 pm

“Dilly dally” is such an underused phrase, thanks for keeping it real ;) But yes, I agree, most of us can get a lot more done in two hours than we think we can, if you focus on the right activities.

Jessica Mans June 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

“Most of all, learn to love the delivery of value to everyone around you.” That is huge.
Sometimes we get so caught up in page views and rankings and yadda, yadda, yadda, that we forget that if we helped someone today, that is enough.

Thank you for keeping it real Corbett.

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:36 pm

That’s a great question to ask yourself every day: “did I help anyone today?”

Collin Vine June 8, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Yes, I fell prey to the idea of business being easier than it is while working on http://sproutups.com. I was fresh out of a Startup Weekend and riding the waves of momentum, thinking I was invincible. I kept telling myself that it should be this easy, that I must be over looking something.

Well, turns out I was. The momentum slowed, times got tough, and reality kicked in: starting an online business is hard work.

But I agree with you, Corbett: it’s completely fulfilling.

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:37 pm

I’ve been there too myself. Sometimes everything does seem easy, but momentum can be fleeting if the foundation isn’t really there.

Paul June 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Call me picky! but you forgot the greatest thing of all, that one thing that even an express train can’t stop, the one tool everyone possesses.. Persistence. You have that and nothing can stop you. Yet another great post Corbett, and thanks.

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Yup, persistence is massively important. Thanks for the reminder Paul.

Moon Hussain June 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Corbett, as I read the beginning of the post, I found myself nodding my head. Shit, it’s been pretty damn hard!

And I’m still knee deep in it. But like you said, I’m loving what I’m doing and look forward to the small and big successes alike.

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Knee deep isn’t bad, but you’ll need to get waist deep to really start making progress ;)

Matthew Hooper June 8, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I think it’s like Moon just said. It might be work but if you love what you do, it hardly seems like work.

Plus, like you said, it is about the little wins. When Hillary summited Everest, he didn’t wake up in the morning and head to the top of the peak. He went from one camp to another. Little wins every day. Eventually he stood atop the worlds tallest mountain because he had a greater goal. He also loved climbing mountains.

– Matt

Corbett June 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I love tricking myself into doing “work” simply by loving the process instead of only focusing on the outcomes. It’s simple but effective.

Vivek Mayasandra June 8, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Corbett,

Another great post! This one particularly strikes many chords with a lot of people. The biggest thing I’ve realized is that all of this online business-building requires a massive mental shift for those of us coming from the average predictable 9-5 world.

I’ve just now bit the bullet and started a website, and I’m experimenting with a couple ways I can add value to people. I don’t know what’ll happen, but I’ll tell you that doing all this writing/coming up with other ideas has been totally enjoyable. It’s kind of like finding momentum on a long run – one of those runs you feel like you can do forever. You’re not worried about finishing, you’re just enjoying the workout.

Embrace the journey ftw!

Thanks for the reality check :D

_Vivek

John Falchetto June 9, 2011 at 2:25 am

Hi Corbett,

I really like your approach. I have grown tired of speaking to people who are feeling like failures because they believed that ‘get rich quick online’ was a reality.

Thanks for keeping it real and showing everyone that really matters is the journey much more than the destination :)

Elana Miller June 9, 2011 at 8:37 am

I think a lot of people start off with the “get rich quick” mentality… that’s honestly how I looked at it initially, and how many people sell make money online products… but what counts is if you keep up the effort and enthusiasm when the initial excitement wears off. And you gotta enjoy the process, because that’s 99% of it anyway!

Adarsh June 9, 2011 at 8:42 am

Getting out of the comfort zone is what most people fear. the fear of losing your job, losing your pay check everything is what makes people stay away from online business.

You dont need to quit your job to build a business. I built mine working part time and still do so. Leave the fear and follow your heart

Rob June 9, 2011 at 10:09 am

Really enjoyed this. Great post. Thanks.

Reminds me of that quote from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming”

Our team’s metaphor for it earlier this year was that it is like climbing a mountain… with lots of false ridges! http://blog.escapethecity.org/esc-updates/know-what-you-are-getting-into/

Another one I read recently was that start-up years are like dog years (one feels like seven!). That’s both a good thing in terms of the experiences and learning as well as the downsides!

We often feel like we have been building our business for 18 years not 18 months. But wow it’s worth it!

Tim June 9, 2011 at 10:36 am

Hi Corbett,

After a year or so of trying a few different things online, I’ve finally settled on setting up a web-based business that looks like it could be sustainable.

I’ve learned to avoid “get rich quck” like the plague ‘cos it normally translates to “get some other guru rich quick when you buy into their method” and is usually nothing more than empty schtick.

I’ve also learned to embrace the little wins:
First sale? That was celebrated.
Moving up some places in SERPs? That’s gotta be a success right?
Positive customer feedback? Now we’re talking…

It all re-affirms the reasons why we want to ditch the 9-5 and do something a little more satisfying. How much more fulfilling is it to say “Yeah, I did that??!!??”

And, yeah, thank God you didn’t give up all those times – you’re a real inspiration, man!

Keep up the success,

Tim

Owen Marcus June 11, 2011 at 9:08 am

Corbett,

You are right on, “If you deliver enough value, making money becomes the easy part.”

Jonathan Fields spoke about it and Chris Guillebeau demonstrated it at World Domination Summit.

You are also on it when you said you need to love it. Nothing is worse than working hard at something you don’t like. 35 years ago that taught me to do whatever I needed to do to find and then do what I loved. Fortunately since than I have always done what I loved. It’s not always fun as you know, but it is rewarding.

Natalie Sisson June 14, 2011 at 10:02 am

Love it Corbett. Coming from the trenches on this for the last year I have fought every single battle head on. I’ve won some and lost many but the key is to keep innovating and testing and learning to better cater to your community. Start solving their problems in a useful way and you’re on to great things.

Aaron June 14, 2011 at 7:20 pm

This is exactly the type of post that I needed. Some people try and make it seem like having an online business is as easy as setting up a blog and letting the cash roll in. And when it doesn’t, you’ve failed. I want to enjoy the journey just as much as succeed in the online world, and you’re right on with taking pride in the “little wins” along the way.

It’s a lot different when you are creating an online business with the intention of bringing people value and purpose instead of simply rolling in the dollars.

Thanks for the encouragement!

Aaron

Adam Stanecki June 16, 2011 at 1:54 am

Corbett,

I often have to kick myself for forgetting that it’s about the journey not the destination.

Your advice to “learn to love the uncertainty of it all” is exactly what I needed to hear today.

Now, it’s time to hustle!

Cheers, Adam.

mario July 1, 2011 at 8:06 am

Great article, this is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to accomplish. There are so many moving parts to building an online business! there is search engine optimization, dealing with programmers, social media, content content content, and everything else that I still need to learn and figure out!

I’ll be thrilled when I get my first $100. :)

Mario
http://www.paddleboarding.com

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