If you’re like me you probably come across a product or service just about every day that claims to be able to make you loads of money online in just a matter of days.
While there are some success stories of people who have been able to make a lot of money quickly, reality is much different for the vast majority of people who attempt to make money online.
Building an online business for the long run is typically a more realistic approach, provides a more stable foundation for a business, and in the end is likely to wind up being more lucrative than a quick burst that makes some money and then dies off just as fast.
If you’re someone who is willing to put in the work that is required to build a real online business, rather than relying on gimmicks or tricks to make some fast cash, you need to make sure that you are taking a long-term approach.
In this article we’ll take a look at some things that you can do to be certain that you are not sacrificing the long term stability of your online business in order to make more money right now.
For the first 5 years of my career in internet marketing I made the majority of my income from one website that I worked consistently to build over the years. Some of the tips in this article come from lessons I learned accidentally, others from things I did intentionally, and even some that I learned the hard way.
RELATED READING: If you want to see how I sold that website for six figures please see my complete guide to selling a website.
Now I’m going through the same process with a website in another industry and applying these lessons has allowed me to drastically speed up the growth process by making fewer mistakes along the way.
Here is a look at some keys for long-term success with your website or online business.
1. Take the time to understand your audience
Rather than forcing content, promotions, and products that your audience may or may not want, take the time to get to know your target audience and understand their needs and wants.
If you haven’t yet started your site you’re in a good position because you can do some research before you even begin. Niche or industry-specific forums are a great place to see what people in your target audience are talking about, what kinds of questions they are asking, and what they respond to.
You can also browse other blogs in the niche and read comments on blog posts. You can observe the types of products that are being advertised and promoted in the industry.
If you have already started your site you can analyze your site’s stats to see what type of content attracts the most traffic, which blog posts draw the most comments from readers, and what content is shared the most on social media. You can also survey your readers to get more insight.
Knowing your audience is essential if you hope to build a site that will continue to grow for years to come. Not only will you need to know what type of content to provide at your site, but you can also determine what types of products you could create and sell, what products you could promote as an affiliate, identify services that you could offer, and what type of format your audience prefers.
If you don’t have a true understanding of your audience you are basically just guessing. You may have some success this way, but knowing your audience will give you a huge advantage.
2. Don’t create your site around any topic that is time-sensitive
If you’re hoping to build a website that will continue to grow and be profitable for years to come, make sure to select a topic that will allow you to attract an audience well into the future.
For example, if you want to start a site in the gaming industry that will be around for years to come, don’t create a site focused around a popular and current video game console because it will be outdated in a few years and your audience will drift away.
If there is a product, topic, or event that your site relies on and the popularity of that product, topic, or event dries up, your business will dry up as well.
There are certainly opportunities to make money for a limited length of time in situations like this, but if you have a long-term focus you should consider these elements before choosing a topic for your site.
3. Consider how long it will take for your target audience to outgrow you
When you are thinking about the audience that you want to target, also consider how long these people will fall in your target audience and how quickly they will outgrow the need for what you have to offer.
For example, if I started a site that targeted beginner photographers the content of the site and any products that I created would be focused on basic principles of photography. Once someone has read through the content, practiced on their own, and learned the basics they probably wouldn’t have much use for my site because they would no longer be at that beginner level.
When you have a site where the target audience outgrows the need for your site very quickly, in order to be successful you will need to keep reaching new people to replace those that are outgrowing your site.
Now, if my photography site provided content for people in all ranges of ability and was broken down into different sections for skill level, visitors could progress from one section to the next as their skills and experience improved. Instead of losing that audience that was advancing I would simply offer them something more appropriate for them, and I can continue to keep them as a repeat visitor for a long time.
This doesn’t mean that you should avoid websites or business models where your target audience will quickly outgrow your content, but it is something that you should consider. Will your target audience be large enough to sustain long-term success with the site? How will you attract new visitors/customers to replace those that are outgrowing you?
If you are going to select a topic where your target audience will be outgrowing your site fairly quickly I would advise monetizing your site by selling a product instead of focusing on a monetization method like ad sales. Selling a product will allow you to capitalize on that brief window of time when that person falls into your target market.
Selling advertising or using AdSense will require a large volume of traffic in order to make a good income in the long-term, and if visitors are not coming back week-after-week, month-after-month it can be difficult to reach the level of traffic that you will need.
4. Don’t focus on quick monetary gains
One of the biggest mistakes you can make if you are working to build a website/business that will be successful in the long run is to make a sacrifice for the sake of short-term income.
For example, you may be able to make some quick money by promoting a particular product as an affiliate. But if the people in your audience that take your recommendation are disappointed in the product that they purchased, they are unlikely to ever trust your advice again.
Instead of looking to make money now, focus on building the trust of your audience and developing a relationship with them. This will take time and effort, but the long-term result is that they will be much more responsive whenever you promote a product as an affiliate or offer your own product for sale. (See 49 Ways to Gain the Trust and Loyalty of Your Audience.)
Another factor is how you use the valuable real estate at your site. You could sell banner ads at the most prominent locations on your site and start making some decent revenue from it. Or, you could use that valuable screen space to encourage visitors to subscribe to your email list.
You may not make as much money right now by promoting your email list, but in the long run it is likely to be much more lucrative. The ad will make money for you today, but subscribes that join your list today could continue to produce income for months or years to come.
5. Don’t give up if it starts slowly
The biggest mistake I see people making in any type of online business, but especially blogging, is giving up too quickly. If you have a long-term focus it’s not really that big of a setback if things start off a little slowly. You may need to work harder or make some adjustments to your approach, but it’s not a crushing blow.
Too many people get discouraged when things don’t happen as quickly as they would like, and they give up. Stay focused on long-term success and you can see a slow start as a learning opportunity that you can build upon.
6. Be willing to invest in your business
As you start to make money with your website/business, be willing to invest some or all of it back into your business. You may want to use the money to get a new template or theme, to get a professional logo design, to hire writers, to upgrade your hosting, to outsource social media marketing, to run some ads, to invest in a tool or app that will allow you to work more efficiently, or any number of things.
If you view your site as a business you will be willing to invest not only your time but also some money. Wisely investing into your business can help to speed up the growth process and allow you to reach the long-term stability that you are after.
Further more, investing in the right tools early on can save you a lot of time. And as your business scales, you can offload trivial tasks that take your focus away from growing your business.
As an example, you could speed up image creation by using a tool like Venngage which comes pre-loaded with templates for infographics and other image types. Then, once you have budget, outsource image creation entirely to a service like Design Pickle.
7. Make networking a priority
Building a professional network with others in your niche or industry is one of the best things you can do for the long-term health of your business. There are so many ways that a strong network can help you, including inbound links, social media shares, getting affiliates to promote your products, getting exclusive deals when promoting other people’s products as an affiliate, joint venture opportunities, guest posting opportunities, introductions to others, advice when you need it, and so much more.
Set aside time each week to work on building your network.
For more on networking see:
- 10 Principles of Effective Networking
- 15 Online Places Where I’ve Been Featured in the Past 2 Months (and Why You Should Make Blogger Outreach Your #1 Marketing Strategy)
8. Build your email list
If there is one thing I wish I started doing earlier it is building an email list. I managed a popular blog with hundreds of thousands of visitors per month for several years before starting an email list. During that time I could have built a large email list with very little effort, but it just wasn’t something I pursued.
Now, an email list is an essential part of my strategy with just about any website that I start.
With a list of responsive subscribers you can routinely send traffic back to your site through links in your emails, develop stronger relationships with your most loyal followers, easily promote products as an affiliate, and quickly rack up sales of your own products. An email list can benefit you regardless of what type of approach you take to monetize your site.
And if you have a long-term focus an email list is even more important. Start today and in a few years you could have a huge list that is an extremely valuable asset for your business.
For some tips on list building please see these articles:
- How To Get More Email Subscribers: 36 Proven Tactics
- How To Grow Your Email List 3x Faster Using Strategic Content
- The Best WordPress Email Subscription Plugins: Opt-In Forms Made Easy
9. Develop a sustainable traffic plan
In order to achieve long-term success you will need to be able to attract traffic on an on-going basis. Many website owners and marketers place all, or most, of their emphasis on Google search rankings, but relying too heavily on Google is not a healthy approach. Google’s constant algorithm changes are capable of taking down any site that relies too heavily on their search traffic.
Other site owners prefer to use social media as a way to get exposure. Social media is a great option, but spending a few hours per day on social media is not a sustainable plan.
A more sustainable plan involves focusing on building an email list that will continue to bring visitors to your site, networking with other bloggers and site owners in your niche, and working to get links that will actually send visitors to your site.
When the subject of link building is discussed, the focus is usually on increasing search engine rankings. However, links that actually send click-through traffic are easily as valuable as those that are gained for SEO purposes.
RELATED READING: 7 Ways To Decrease Your Dependency On Google For Traffic
10. Develop a sustainable monetization plan
There are a lot of different ways that you can monetize a website or blog, and if you’re focused on long-term profitability be sure that you are taking an approach that is sustainable.
One great approach is to create and sell evergreen products that will continue to be useful and relevant for months and years to come. Creating products can take a considerable amount of time and effort, but if you can continue to make money from those products for a few years it will be well worth the time.
Another factor is to only promote quality products and services if you are doing affiliate marketing. As I mentioned earlier, promoting poor quality products will do more harm than good in the long run.
One of the reasons why selling ads is not my preferred monetization method is because it is not very sustainable without a high volume of traffic. If you want to increase your traffic to start making some money from selling ads you could increase your publishing frequency.
Say you start publishing a post every day and your traffic increases. Then you start selling ads to make money from that traffic, but in order to keep that ad revenue flowing and not dropping you will need to maintain, or even increase your posting frequency.
If you slow down your posts your traffic may decrease and your ad revenue will also decrease. Hiring other writers is always an option, and if you are selling ads it may be your best option, but if you want to be able to maintain the blog on your own I wouldn’t recommend using ad sales as a major part or your monetization plan.
11. Work towards multiple streams of income
The websites and businesses that will be the most successful in the long run will have more than one stream of income. This doesn’t mean that you have to start off with multiple income streams, but at least be thinking and planning how you can add new incomes streams in the future.
You could have a future goal of eventually making money from some combination of services, product sales (your own products), ad revenue, affiliate revenue, membership, etc.
If you are only making money in one way from your website you are almost certainly leaving money on the table.
12. Find ways to engage with your most loyal fans (and customers)
One of the keys to long-term success is being able to take things a step further with your most loyal fans, customers, and followers. People who are extremely interested in what you have to offer are likely to be willing to pay for high end products and services, and they may be interested in exclusive access.
As you work to build your site and your audience you can make offers that will appeal to those who are extremely interested in what you have to offer.
This may include memberships with exclusive access that will involve recurring payments, products with annual licenses or renewals (like many premium WordPress themes come with updates and service for 1 year), product upsells or higher-priced packages that include more, your consulting services, or anything else that would give your most loyal fans more access than the typical customer.
If you have a product or service that involves recurring or repeat payments this will be even better for your long-term profitability.
By offering upgraded options to your products and services you can drastically increase the amount that you make, even if most customers choose the basic option.
13. Pay attention to your branding
Long-term success will also require people to remember you and your brand. There are a lot of factors that are involved in branding, including your logo, color scheme, graphics, and your social media presence. Make an effort to provide an experience that visitors will remember.
One quick example of branding comes from Ashley of Mad Lemmings. Ashley’s blog posts always include a graphic that is ideal for social media sharing. They are typically vertical, which works well for sites like Pinterest, and they always include his domain name or branding.
Social media users can see the graphic and know that it is from Mad Lemmings before they even visit the site. Here is an example graphic from his post WordPress Customization: 5 Ways to Pimp Your Website.
14. Pursue strategic partnerships
Strategic partnerships can come in many different forms. The idea is simply to find partnerships with others in your industry that will be mutually beneficial.
In many cases the strategic partnership could be an affiliate relationship that is taken a little further. For example, at one of my websites I sell digital products to photographers (hobbyists and professionals). Although I offer a range of different products I don’t offer anything in the areas of training or education.
There are a lot of sites out there that sell e-books, video courses, and other types of training for people who want to learn more about photography. I’m currently starting to look for a site with quality products that I could offer to my customers on an on-going basis through my email list and blog. And if I found the right partner they may also be interested in promoting my products to their list of customers as well.
There are all kinds of opportunities for mutually beneficial relationships, you just need to take some time to think about the possibilities and to find ideal partners.
15. Make yourself replaceable
Ultimately, you will want to be able to step away from your business, even if it is just for a short period of time, without bringing everything to a screeching halt. If your business relies on you for everything it will limit your long-term growth potential, and will also limit the value if you ever want to sell the business.
Fortunately, you don’t need to have a large office full of employees in order to have a business that will run efficiently in your absence. You can take advantage of automated tools for email marketing, social media management, and post scheduling in advance to have much of the critical work done during a short absence, like a vacation.
Outsourcing work is also a great way to reduce the dependency on your own efforts. If your business involves a lot of blog content that is something that can be easily outsourced if you have the budget. You may also want to outsource things like social media marketing, customer service, and design.
You don’t need to outsource things right away, but as you begin to grow and increase your income you should have some money available for outsourcing. Getting others to help with daily responsibilities like writing content, social media marketing, and customer service will allow you more freedom to focus on strategy and big picture items.
Also, if you need to step away it will allow the business to function without you, even if it is just for a while.
Wrapping it up
When starting an online business it’s critical to think about where you want that business to be in the next 5-10 years, then figure out the right approach to help that vision become reality.
You’ll have to put more time & energy into the business in the early days, but as growth starts to snowball you can plug more people into the business and move to working on your business instead of in your business.