7 Essential Lessons I Had to Learn to Earn Consistent Income Online

  • August 16, 2011 by Corbett Barr
  • 48 Comments

Making your first few sales online is fun, but consistent income is what you’ll need to build a full-time business around your website or blog.

It took me about 18 months to build my online business (now called Insanely Useful Media) up to a point where I could support myself from it. Over those 18 months, I learned a number of essential lessons that led to earning a consistent income, versus just occasional and unpredictable sales.

I’m going to share 7 of those lessons with you here today.

I’d also love to hear which lessons you’ve learned about earning money online in the comments after this post.

  • Different Traffic Sources Yield Radically Different Results

This one might sound obvious, but it’s easy to find yourself chasing big traffic numbers instead of focusing on the quality of the traffic you attract. Lots of traffic might sound impressive, but it doesn’t automatically lead to earning income online.

Think about where the people who could really benefit from what you’re offering hang out and work on ways to get in front of that audience. Chase quality instead of quantity.

  • You Can’t Make a Sale Without an Offer

This is another one that seems obvious, but still took me a while to figure out. You can’t make a sale unless you have something for sale. The corollary to this one is that you’ll learn more from your first product launch than you will from six months of planning and learning about product launches.

Don’t wait too long to develop and offer your first product or service. The only way you can get good at making sales is through practice. Start small and learn from the experience. You don’t need thousands of visitors to make a decent income online, as long as you paid attention to point #1 above.

  • A Clear Guarantee is Essential

The easiest sale to make is one with a clear and compelling guarantee. A guarantee removes all the risk of buying and puts you on the hook to deliver your promised benefits. A clear and compelling guarantee makes it easy for your customer to make a decision.

Here’s a formula for an incredibly compelling guarantee: “achieve [insert benefit] in [insert time frame] or [insert guarantee].”

Give it a try for your next project. I use this formula for Traffic School and am convinced it accounts for a big part of the success of that program. Thanks to Karol Gajda and Clay Collins for helping me develop the guarantee.

  • Customers Buy Benefits, Not Features

Your potential customers want something. They want to achieve or experience something. Your job is to tell them exactly what they will achieve or experience by purchasing your product or service.

Features are important because they describe how your product or service will be delivered, but features are secondary to benefits. Always lead with benefits and don’t make your visitors work to figure out what they are. You have to learn to be obvious and clear about describing benefits to earn money through a website or blog.

  • You Have to Give People a Reason to Buy

When a visitor comes across your product or service offer online, the default behavior is simply to leave your page without deciding either “yes” or “no.”

To make sales, you have to give people a reason to decide, right now, whether they should really consider your offer.

This reason to buy can take many forms, but typically it will involve limited time offers, special bonuses, or some kind of legitimate (not manufactured) scarcity. Scarcity works because it causes more of your visitors to make a decision now, instead of delaying their decision (which really means forgetting about your offer).

  • It’s Never Too Soon to Develop Your Marketing Plan

It’s a terrible shame when someone puts weeks or months of effort into developing a product or service and doesn’t think about the marketing strategy until days before launch. The sooner you start planning your marketing strategy, the more sales you’ll make.

It’s far more effective to spend less effort on your product (usually by reducing scope) and more time on marketing.

I learned this the hard way, first by doing almost no marketing on products, then by saving a week at the end of the product development cycle to dedicate to marketing. Now, I start developing my marketing plan before I develop the product. Developing your marketing strategy very early on can usually help you create a much better product as well.

  • Study the Masters and Old-School Techniques

You can learn an incredible amount of valuable sales and marketing strategies simply by studying successful companies.

Keep a “swipe file” of marketing materials from several successful online companies and talented marketers. Whenever one of them launches a new product or service, copy all of their marketing materials (screenshots, downloads, etc.) and save it so you can spend time studying what they did and why it may or may not have worked.

You can borrow from the frameworks of others and use what you liked and what makes the most sense for your project.

Not much has really changed about sales and marketing during the last 50+ years. You can also learn almost all of what you need to know to sell online by studying what has worked over the past 5+ decades from classic marketing books.

The only differences are the tools and technologies that are used. The fundamentals of marketing are the same because human psychology hasn’t changed much.

What about you? What lessons have you learned about earning money online? Which of these are new to you? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

If you liked this post, I’d appreciate a tweet, “like,” +1 or any other way you’d like to share the post. Cheers and thanks!

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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Dewane Mutunga August 16, 2011 at 6:00 am

Corbett,

I’ve learned that having the “right type” of traffic as you pointed out is esssential. Not everyone is receptive to your offers and as a marketer you must be mindful of that. For this reason I think having a email list of targeted leads is very valuable because it serves as a source of “loyal traffic”.

If someone is opting in to your list then you already have their attention and interest, how people handle this can be the difference between little or no income and full time income.

Thanks for the other tips!

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Awesome Dewane, thanks for sharing, I like the concept of “loyal traffic.”

Tom Ewer August 16, 2011 at 6:02 am

Awesome post Corbett – you sure packed a lot in! The concept of quality vs. quantity traffic is one that can never been understated – getting a huge amount of traffic is all well and good, but it has absolutely no value if is not targeted to what you are selling.

Kev Kaye August 16, 2011 at 6:20 am

Making an offer was a big turning point for me. Like you said, it seems obvious, but I was learning, socializing and creating free content for months before I made my first offer. Once I started building products and/or making affiliate offers, the money started rolling in.

Also, offering one on one coaching and consulting has been an awesome experience for me and my clients as well. It has created my 2nd big *shift* towards building the online business I want to create.

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm

I know way too many people who get stuck in the free content cycle, thinking they need to put out years of free content before releasing a product or service. That’s definitely not true.

Congrats on your progress, Kev!

Shane August 16, 2011 at 6:50 am

Hey Corbett,
A few things I learned and am still learning is to be insanely useful/consistent with treating readers like customers and not just a stat. This builds trust and it builds loyalty. That’s important because loyal customers not only buy your products and services but they market for you as well!

Another thing I’ve learned is to make the offer but then over-deliver. Throw in a surprise or two and leave the customer feeling like they got an experience, not just a product. This will lead to long term loyalty as well :)

Nasrul Hanis August 16, 2011 at 7:05 am

Yeah.. readers and prospects are looking for benefits that they can use – not only some features!

Alex August 16, 2011 at 7:08 am

Benefits not features; And giving an actual reason to buy – whether that be emotional, physical or whatever.

These 2 are the most prevelant to anyone at ANY STAGE of their business but it takes experience to find this out.

Or you could just read this post and realise Corbett knows what he is talking about.

Lucy August 16, 2011 at 7:13 am

I’ve actually applied some of these when I’m selling on Elance and it works great! I’m going to try to incorporate as much as I can, but this can deff apply to any selling point not just E-Books or other Info Products.

Thanks!

Sean August 16, 2011 at 7:51 am

The big one for me is converting the traffic into sales. I need to do better with getting them to BUY NOW instead of being indecisive and looking around at other products on other websites. It’s all a learning process and just gotta take it one step at a time! Thanks and great tips!

Bridget Taylor August 16, 2011 at 8:29 am

This line really just hit me with how it totally relates to me!! “You can’t make a sale unless you have something for sale” OMG that is sooo true! I need to sort it out!

Thanks for this great post :-)

Steve | ROI detector August 16, 2011 at 8:37 am

Thanks for point out how long it took you to build up a consistent level of income. Many people think it should happen overnight and are seriously depressed when it doesn’t happen. Of course this stereotype is so common online it seems as though you’re doing something wrong if you launch a website and aren’t a gazillionaire sipping cold drinks on the beach the next week.

I use Evernote to keep a “swipe file” of stuff I find online. A really helpful tool to keep all my random notes and thoughts organized.

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Setting the right expectations from the beginning is HUGE. A lot of people give up just because they expect the impossible to begin with.

Siegfried August 16, 2011 at 9:00 am

that’s good point about amount of time needed to build a good income site. most people dont realize it, but it actually takes a long time to build your “empire”, especially if you are newbie :D

TrafficColeman August 16, 2011 at 9:19 am

Creating that first ebook is what gets to people. They fill like the world is about to come to a end because they don’t want to do something wrong..but you just have to take that first step..

“Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

Carol August 16, 2011 at 10:22 am

You wrote: “You can also learn almost all of what you need to know to sell online by studying what has worked over the past 5+ decades from classic marketing books.”

Wow! What are the titles and authors of your “classic marketing books”?

Thanks!

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Here are a few favorites:

Robert Cialdini – “Influence”
David Ogilvy – “Ogilvy on Advertising”
Michael Gerber – “E-Myth Revisited”
Jay Abraham – “Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got”

Seth Godin’s books are great. Anything by Al Ries is good as well.

Sarah Russell August 16, 2011 at 10:48 am

I’ve learned that it’s best for me to spend 80% of my time building traffic and 20% of my time improving my websites versus the opposite, which is how I spent most of my first few years online.

While there’s certainly a lot to be said for improving your design, adding content, split testing, etc, all the effort in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t get any eyeballs on your site!

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm

It’s true, tweaking your website is usually a pretty low-value exercise (unless you’re working on improving conversions).

Eugene August 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

“It’s far more effective to spend less effort on your product (usually by reducing scope) and more time on marketing.”

I think that’s something a lot of people struggle with, at least I know I do. Wanting to come up with a product idea that is so unique and special that it’ll sell itself. A product that is complete…the only product anyone will ever need!

Of course, that isn’t possible. And no product online will ever sell itself.

Much needed, and timely, piece of advice.

Brooke (Books Distilled) August 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I’m getting ready to launch writing and editing services on my website tomorrow. This was very timely and helpful! Thanks for all the great ideas. I’m pretty much terrified, but hey, you can’t make a sale unless you have something for sale.

Sherryl Perry August 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Corbett, Keeping a “swipe file” of marketing materials to study and learn from is an excellent idea. Your points on having a marketing strategy and learning from books is so important. As always, thanks for sharing.

Srdjan P - Fitness Bloomer August 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is simply to take action on ideas. I spend so much time studying and reading the tactics other marketers are using (effectively) but I never put them into action. I’ve started doing that more and more and things are paying off.

Take action!

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Here’s to taking action! We all could do more of that.

Betsy Talbot August 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Corbett, here I am ready to launch an epic premium product on how we amassed the cash to travel the world – without a clear marketing plan. I put more thought into my last visa application than this!

So I am sitting on a potential gold mine because I don’t know how to pan for gold. Crazy, isn’t it? Especially when I spent months writing the guide and 2 years learning the lessons to create it. No doubt it will make money, but it could make really good money if I spent the time to create a great marketing plan. And why wouldn’t I if I have spent so much time writing it?

Crazy, I tell you. Why do we do this to ourselves?

This one is a huge learning experience, and I know the next one will be much better – and much faster. Putting together the marketing plan first is brilliant. Thanks for the great insights.

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Hey Betsy! You know, just a few days of planning and working on your marketing strategy can multiply your efforts greatly. Do what you can now and you’ll benefit. But don’t beat yourself up about it, we all learn as we go, at least you have the product finished, that’s half the battle!

Brent Walker August 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm

“Customers Buy Benefits, Not Features”. Just built my company website… focused on features. The worst part is I KNEW that was a problem. I guess some lessons have to be learned the hard way. Thanks for getting me back to basics… awesome post!

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 11:16 pm

It’s never too late to change, good luck getting on the right track Brett, let us know how it goes.

marianney August 16, 2011 at 4:24 pm

This is a GREAT tip and one I don’t think I have ever gotten until now, but it so makes sense:
Customers Buy Benefits, Not Features

I think in the past I have focused too much on features which hasn’t sold much at all. Now I know why!

The rest of the tips are invaluable too, thanks for sharing your insights!

jules August 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Good stuff.

I am glad I went a head and launched a product without waiting to
learn more theory.

I launched with a small list and it got off to a slow start, as in one sale on day one ! (not the textbook launch at all).

But it’s picked up over time and sales are consistent weekly with some really happy buyers so it’s been a great learning experience. I’ll use that for the next product and I’m still learning to sell my current one better. Jules

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Awesome Jules, congrats on the progress. Sometimes the best approach is to learn as you go instead of trying to get everything perfect at once.

Brandina August 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Corbett – Thank you for another wonderful post. I am a very new blogger (only a couple of months so ar) and I am able to find value in each and every post you send.

I have yet to decide on a niche and in all honesty, I think I’m quite a ways away from finding something to actually offer up to my readers, but I know that the knowledge I gain from reading about your experiences has already helped me tremendously. Actually, I was just thinking about an hour ago that I seem to be far too obsessed with my stats. People visiting my site is good, but what I really want is for them to take something with them when they venture away.

Thank you

Corbett August 16, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Hey Brandina, thanks for reading and commenting. Congrats on the progress you’ve made so far. Don’t worry about rushing things too much. In the beginning it takes quite a bit of time to digest everything and come up with a good plan. Please let us know how things go for you.

Sunil from The Extra Money Blog August 16, 2011 at 8:31 pm

in my experience diversity has been key. there are many variables online that impact our businesses which are simply beyond our control. that said, having a well diversified set of passive and residual income streams online has helped me withstand temporary ups and downs. for example, some of my niche sites have up to 6 monetization avenues, when one weakens, another picks up.

YaysonPotter August 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm

I really liked how you pointed out that benefits are first to features. It’s one of the things I learned several years ago when it was explained that nobody really cares what features a product or service offers, they just care how those features benefit them. So you need to explain everything as a benefit and not as a feature as in the end that is what the customer wants to know.

Matt Poc @ 100% Instant Commissions August 17, 2011 at 1:53 am

As always, Corbett, you are sharing some great stuff here :)

And yeah, it is so true that if you actually do something, you learn much more, instead of just simply planning it.

Here’s an interesting thing – I used to study quite a lot of stuff about planning and time management. But, the fact is that I did not learn that much from studying about planning.

When I actually started planning my time, I learned much more. I developed my unique system and it works for me :)

What do you think about this, Corbett? Do you agree that if you just actually do something, even if you are not doing it corectly, you get more benefits, than just simply studying it?

Thanks for a great post,

Matt Poc

ah Freedom August 17, 2011 at 6:04 am

That Guarantee is GOLD. Love the generic nature of it.

San August 17, 2011 at 7:01 am

Corbett

This is nice ” You Can’t Make a Sale Without an Offer ”

Value to people + Value for Money .= Earning with dignity.

Thanks.

Jeff August 17, 2011 at 10:37 am

Awesome post as usual Corbett. I think everyone makes these mistakes, particularly the “benefits over features” one. Its so easy to say:

Widget A will perform faster and better than widget B

without focusing on why that even matters to people. The moment you can reword that to:

Widget A will HELP you to (make you more money/save you time/make your work easier etc) BECAUSE it’s faster and better than widget B

at which stage people probably won’t even care that it’s faster/better, as long as they know it’ll help them and benefit them in a MEANINGFUL way.

Also agree with your comment “It’s far more effective to spend less effort on your product (usually by reducing scope) and more time on marketing.”

There have been waaaay too many times I’ve made this mistake. It’s just so easy to get fixated on the product, making it “just so”. At the end of the day, the longer the product ISN’T on the market, the longer you AREN’T making money….and wasn’t that the whole intention in the first place?!

Iteration. Marketers need to live by it.

Aaron August 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Thanks Corbett! First product was nothing short of . . . well I wouldn’t say it was a failure, but I didn’t sell more than a few guides. But now I am ready and after reading your post, feel I am even more ready than I believed. Still learning and hoping for a great launch on September 1st!

-Aaron

Caleb Galaraga August 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Thanks for this Corbett! I recently launched a continuity site to attached to a non-marketing blog and one thing I learned is you need to be persistent when marketing things. It’s NEVER going to be an overnight success…you need to be put in the effort to make it work.

I have quite a long way to go but I’m excited that my small, combined efforts are slowly bearing fruit.

Tho Huynh August 22, 2011 at 4:29 am

Thank for these very cool tips Corbett,

I am trying my best to generate passive income online. However because lack of planning, I think that I have lost my way on doing various things without any rewards. Maybe I should come back, start everything again and this time FOCUS on one business only.

I think the most crucial part for a consistent income online is the product itself. A good sale page does convert visitors to customers, however if your product is over-saying or doesn’t meet their needs, they’ll soon be bored of it.

Best regards,

Nate @ Strayblogger August 22, 2011 at 11:58 am

Great tips as usual.

The most useful one by far is to just get your first product or service out there. There is no perfect way to construct a sales funnel… I’m constantly tweaking mine and trying new things.

The staples that I’ve found that should be part of every sales funnel are:
-Free ecourse
-Ecourse has links to the sales page
-Buffer page between sales page and order form that collects “basic” info such as name and email address
-That submission puts them on a new list that has follow up messages if they don’t purchase

Gail August 26, 2011 at 7:04 am

Thanks for such great information. At first I didn’t try to get targeted traffic,just traffic and I know now that just traffic doesn’t pay the bills. Your explanation is very useful. I also have problems with building my list so I will look for information you may have on that to. I use Thesis Theme also I just wanted to say that your design looks really great.

Gail j Richardson

shlomo August 30, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Does an offer has to be different that what you suggest on your main sales page? like, giving a special discount or gift to my list ? or should I just say “check our product” and send them to the usuall landing page.

what I”m trying to ask if an offer is something “special”?

Digital Product Reviews September 3, 2011 at 5:01 am

hey,
thanks for such a valuable post. I liked the last part of your post (about studying the old-school techniques). This is the first time i visited this blog.
I am glad i did!

Kimanzi constable September 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Awesome post! Really helpful as I start my online business! Heard about your through smartpassive income, good work you’re doing here!

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