Calan Breckon • Updated May 4, 2023
Learning how to build online business systems and create a fully functioning online business can seem like a daunting task, even for someone who is determined.
In this article, I’m going to lay out all the basics of starting an online business from scratch, the systems you’ll need in order to keep it running and why they’re important. I will not be covering the exact details of how to do each point because that would take a much larger article to cover all of those details but I will share the basics everyone should know before jumping in head first.
For the sake of this article, I‘m going to be covering course creation and memberships as the main online business products. There are many different options like blogging, dropshipping, eCommerce, etc, but I’ve found my success in courses and memberships.
What are Online Business Systems?
Online business systems are ones that you set up so that you can run your online business from practically anywhere in the world and be completely location independent.
In today’s online world creating an online business is becoming increasingly popular among young people looking to kick their 9-5’s in the hopes of finding more balance and better incomes in their lives. There is also a growing number of older or retired folks looking to turn their lifetime of knowledge into a profitable digital asset.
Long gone are the days when you could work a normal daily job, exchange hours for pay and be able to afford a house and support a family.
Why Should You Start an Online Business?
Studies have shown that the global eLearning market is expected to quadruple in size, going from around $250 billion in 2020 to over $1 trillion in 2027.
In 2020 the world shifted online and got people used to the idea of learning online. With such growth predictions in the eLearning world, it makes sense to position yourself to be in front of that curve as it begins its upward journey over the next decade.
Creating a digital asset like an online course or membership is one of the best ways to create recurring revenue for yourself that will work while you enjoy your life. You’ll be able to generate online sales by setting up automated systems that work for you so that you can spend more of your time either improving your online business or simply enjoying more free time.
Realistic Goals of Starting an Online Business
I’m going to keep it real with you, this isn’t a get-rich-quick plan or overnight success to riches. This is legitimate work that you need to commit to learning, building, and implementing in order to start seeing results.
- It’s going to take time to build your knowledge.
- It’s going to take time to build your systems.
- It’s going to take time to build your marketing.
- It’s going to take time to learn how it all works together.
- And it’s going to take time to nurture it all and let it grow over time.
There is no quick fix to success, sorry to say, and if someone is trying to sell you that then they’re selling you a lie in order to get your money.
Like anything in life worth building, an online business takes time and effort to really get going and then it takes nurturing in order for it to continue growing. This is a long-term plan that is meant to set you up for success that grows over time which is why you need to set up well-running online business systems from the start that will support you as you grow.
If you’re starting off from scratch, you’re going to need to learn the basics before you move into all the other things so commit yourself to having a growth mindset and learning over the next year or two how to set everything up and create a super solid foundation for your business to then grow from.
To take a page out of James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, 1% better is better than nothing and over time if you keep getting 1% better each day, over the course of the year you’ll end up getting 37x better by the time you’re done.
Online Business System Tools
There are many tools out there to help you set up, run, and automate your online business system. The key here is not to get overwhelmed with all the options and just find one you like and stick with it.
Below is a list of some of the tools I’ve used to set up and run my online business. This is not an exhaustive list by any means but the point here is to get you set up with all the basics so that you can begin your online business journey with the basics and start building from there.
Your website is your home base of operations for starting and running your online business. Without one, you don’t have a place to point to when people want to know more about you or what you have to offer.
When you’re starting off you don’t need to get super fancy or hire someone to make the best website for you (unless you literally have zero technical skills, then give me a call). You can easily set one up using a template from one of the many “drag and drop” style website builders out there.
Here are a few to consider:
Squarespace (which this website is built on)
WordPress (a bit more advanced)
The important thing right now is to get yourself a domain, the *dot* com and then set up a basic landing page.
Later on, you can worry about improving it, making it fancy and changing it all you want but the purpose of this post is to get you building the foundations upon which you will improve later.
Eventually, this will be important when you start looking at things like SEO (Search Engine Optimization) which is a fancy way of saying how people find you when they use Google or search engines.
A great tool for writing search engine optimized (SEO) blog articles is SurferSEO. Once you have your basic website set up and want to start driving traffic to your website, writing blog articles is one of the best ways to do that.
Email Service Provider (ESP)
The all-important email list! Some coaches will convince you that you need to build a huge social media following in order to be successful and to that, I say “sure, Jan.”
I personally don’t believe you need a huge social media following to do well in online business and that social media is more of a vanity number than actual business stats to follow.
An email list on the other hand is one of the most valuable things you could build for yourself.
In her free masterclass “The Relaxed Business Owners Guide To Building A Profitable Email List,’“ Amy Porterfield shows you the exact steps you need to take in order to start building your email list from scratch.
Your email list is where you have a direct line of access to your people and get to develop that know, like, trust relationship with them. If you build that on a social platform and then they kick you off, then you’ll be left with nothing and need to start again. Don’t build your house on borrowed land.
Your email list is something that you own and no one will be able to kick you off or take it away from you. The more you build and nurture it, the more success you’ll have when selling your online course or membership program. This is a crucial piece for building out your online business systems so seriously check out Amy’s masterclass when you have time.
A great way to build your email list fast is by creating a fun online quiz for people to take. That way you get their email when they want to see their results. Who doesn’t like a fun quiz!?
Some email service providers to look at are:
Membership & Course Hosting Platforms
This is going to be the website where you host all of your paid-for digital content. There are many out there to choose from, but some stand above the others.
Most of these platforms offer robust systems and guides on how to set everything up in order to prepare you for selling your online course or membership.
This is where you’re going to have to do some serious thinking and comparing. Choosing the right platform for your and your online business needs is important because each platform offers pros and cons depending on what your goals are.
I compiled a list of some of my favourite platforms and what their pros and cons are of using them as your hosting platform for your course or membership.
Some of the top platforms that are being used today are:
Webinars & Masterclasses
When it comes to marketing and selling your digital course or membership, one of the best ways to do it is through a live or pre-recorded webinar or masterclass that gives value to the watcher and then shares your product with them and how it will help them.
One of the queens of this technique is Amy Porterfield who teaches students from start to finish how to create, build, launch, and market an online digital course through her Digital Course Academy program.
Amy currently only runs this program once a year so if you want to know when the doors will next be open in 2023 you can jump on my waitlist and I’ll send you an email reminding you closer to the date.
For now, you can check out these platforms and get an idea of ways to use them in order to share and sell your digital products:
Organization is one of the most important aspects of setting up an online business system. Without organization, everything falls into chaos. I’ve worked with many clients and entrepreneurs that cite freedom as an important aspect of their life and struggle when it comes to setting up more stringent systems.
The truth is, without setting up good habits and systems to get things done consistently and on time you’re online business will fall apart.
Setting up a system that you can create good habits around will change your business and actually give you more freedom than you ever thought. I used to really struggle with getting projects done. I thought I was lazy and that I was somehow the problem.
Turns out, I wasn’t the problem at all, it was the systems I had set up for myself (or lack thereof).
Once I started using the online calendar program Asana to schedule out and plan all my days, weeks, and months I started achieving way more than I thought possible. It was because it was an easy-to-implement change that I could stick to in order to create a new habit around it.
You need to find a system that works for you and then create healthy habits around it so that you follow through. It took me a while to get used to Asana but now I can’t live without it. I also now get to enjoy my evenings and weekend off, free of guilty thoughts because I know everything is scheduled to get done with enough room for last-minute changes and emergencies.
Graphic Design Tools
I am no designer, trust me. I work much better when I can work off a template that is already made and I can just customize it to suit my taste and needs.
When I have to create presentations it takes me no time at all using Canva, but that wasn’t always the case.
The first time I had to set up a slides presentation it took me hours and days to create it all and get it together, but after I did it one time I learned most of what I needed to know for the next time. I also created a template for how I like my slides to look and be presented so now I can easily copy and customize them. This saves me HOURS.
Using a program like Canva can help you set up a system so that making assets and slides takes no time at all. This is important when you’re running an online business and need to constantly be trying out new creative assets in ads and putting together masterclasses in order to build your email list that you will eventually sell to.
Graphic design tools:
You can also check out these awesome Canva Courses if you’re just starting out with the platform and need some guidance.
This one is less of a system and more just good practice. When you start off in your business you’re most likely going to be operating as a sole proprietorship for the first while and possibly even the first few years.
If you aren’t already familiar, a sole proprietorship is an “unincorporated business that has just one owner who pays personal income tax on profits earned from the business.”
Even when operating like this it’s still important to follow the law of the land and register your business.
I did this in two parts by first registering my desired business name with a company called Ownr which is available for residents of Canada in BC, Ontario, and Alberta.
Then I had to also go to the Ontario Government and register my business name with them in order to receive my GST/HST business number, which cost me $60 online. Keep in mind you only need to do this part if you bring in more than $30,000 in a single quarter or cumulatively over four quarters (a calendar year). Talk to your tax specialist for your exact needs and details. You can also find out how to register a business in Ontario and Canada by reading my “how-to” guide.
If you’re outside of Canada make sure to find out what your local laws and regulations are for running your business and filing taxes.
You should also consider getting insurance that covers your home-based business. Many insurance companies will only cover your home and not your business if you work from home, so you might need 2 plans. If you go with Square One Insurance though they offer business coverage on your home plan so I highly recommend getting a quote from them. It’s super easy to do and takes about 5 minutes.
Creating an online business shouldn’t be something you do because you need to generate money right now. It’s a long-term plan you create and execute over a long period of time so that you can eventually leave the 9-5 behind and create financial freedom.
It may take you months or even years, but even if it takes 5+ years to leave your 9-5 won’t that still be worth it?
This is the long game and the systems I provided here are just the tip of the Iceberg for you to get started and point you in the right direction of building your online empire.