8 Entrepreneurs Reveal How They Made Their First Million Online
As they say, money can’t buy happiness — but the lack of it can have serious negative effects on a person’s life. Even if you aren’t homeless or destitute, there’s evidence to suggest that financial stress can lead to mental health struggles, and insecurity around finances can also affect relationships.
So if you’re looking to make yourself some money, consider that we’re living in the digital information age. The hot new resource isn’t gold or oil, it’s information. Online, you can package your knowledge, experiences, and expertise into digital information products, books, or online training programs.
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Online businesses have lots of benefits. No brick-and-mortar location means you can make money without being tied to any one place on the planet. You can travel or build a business in your pajamas at home or in a hotel room. All you need to start making money is a laptop, a solid internet connection, and an idea.
In this article, eight entrepreneurs share how they’ve built their online businesses. We’re not just talking about one moderately successful venture apiece; in some cases, they have multiple million-dollar businesses to their credit. And if you keep reading, you can see them pull back the curtain and share how they made their first million dollars online.
The online education industry is projected to become a $243 billion revenue opportunity for business owners by the end of this year, according to Statista. In this field, you can create a digital course, offer to coach, or sell packaged products digitally.
Ron Douglas has used all of these strategies successfully in his online business career. Douglas is a New York Times bestselling author, the president of Automated Profits, and the owner of a milion-dollar online business.
According to Douglas, he made his first million dollars by self-publishing a digital cookbook and then selling other digital information products online.
Unlike most authors selling ebooks, he offered other business owners a generous affiliate commission to promote his book. Since the cookbook was a digital-only release, Douglas had a high profit margin. He got a lot of promoters. Leveraging the success of his first book, he wrote five more books, published by the major publisher Simon & Schuster, and used the knowledge he gleaned from the process to then sell a variety of courses and services online.
His Advice: Douglas advises would-be entrepreneurs to pick what you want to be known for, make sure there’s some interest in what you want to do, and network with possible business partners. But most of all?
“Be sure to reinvest your profits back into the business; it’s the most lucrative thing you can do to reach $1 million-plus,” says Douglas.
You can use social media, traditional PR, or email marketing to reach consumers and sell information online just like Douglas or any other online success story has.
But according to Nick Wolny, an online marketing expert and the founder of Camp Wordsmith, an email marketing program for service providers, there’s a special reason to use email marketing in particular.
His Advice: “Email marketing should be in the picture from Day 1,” Wolny says. Why? “It will force you to dial in your value position and the way you’ll add value to potential customers.”
As Wolny puts it, “If you can’t get someone to sign up for your email list for free, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get them to buy from you.”
While you’re casually scrolling your favorite social media network, there are entrepreneurs making money from it. For instance, you could use social media to make money as an influencer, or use it to market products and services that you yourself are selling.
Zach Benson is a TEDx speaker, social-media trainer for international brands, and past participant on the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. He’s also the founder of Assistagram, an online agency that helps influencers and Fortune 500 companies create social media success.
Benson says he made his first million dollars online by turning his success with social media into an online social-media marketing agency.
His Advice: To leverage every available opportunity by leaning into what you’re passionate about. “I’ve spent over $300,000 traveling the world to network and learn from other successful entrepreneurs. That helped me form business partnerships and get in front of the right people,” says Benson.
“People started to follow my travels, and my audience grew significantly. I then got a lot of questions about social media. That led to the birth of my agency. The agency grew because delivering results for our clients is one of our highest values.”
Can you draw an arrow from what Benson did to your own experience? You may know a lot about social media, or have built a following already. If so, there may be an opportunity to create a business from what you’re already doing.
Jeff J Hunter
There were 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S. in 2020, generating 1.5 million jobs annually. And as more people dip their toes into the entrepreneurial waters, that number will only increase.
All of these businesses offer products and services, but they also require help doing so. Your business could provide the services and products those businesses need to operate.
One person who’s had success in this way is Jeff J Hunter. Hunter is an author who built an agency for business owners called VA Staffer, a virtual-assistant staffing agency that helps entrepreneurs and startups scale remote teams.
He made his first million dollars online by building a business to serve business owners, using virtual assistants to help companies fill staffing positions digitally, and helped make it stick by using a subscription model.
His Advice: While it may be tempting to always be on the lookout for new business, Hunter’s advice is to make sure you take care of your current clients. It’s easier to make money with existing clients than to secure new ones.
“I don’t have to chase new clients because less than 3% of my clients churn,” he says. “I focus on keeping my existing clients happy, which leads to retention and many referrals.”
Precious L. Williams
Precious L. Williams is a 13-time champion at the National Elevator Pitch Competition who’s appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, and CNN, as well as in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Black Enterprise Magazine, among others.
Williams says she made her first million dollars online through her lingerie boutique, Curvy Girlz Lingerie. She then started Perfect Pitches by Precious, which helps imbue clients with some of Williams’ pitching magic, and has also made over a million dollars online.
Her Advice: Williams says you need to know that it can take time to truly succeed — even years — no matter what social media tells you.
“I am a full-figured black woman who is 43 years old,” says Williams. “When I started my first company, no one believed in my company until they saw our success, earned media attention, and learned I successfully appeared on Shark Tank.”
“I had to believe beyond all belief that we could make it, that celebrating the beauty of curvy women mattered and that you can succeed and be over 40!” Williams says. “My journey is about breaking stereotypes and outwitting, outplaying and outlasting all fear, worry, and doubt!”
An online business means you can generate passive income by selling information. You can create a membership program or course that sells 24/7. You can use social media marketing or paid advertising to get sales.
Blake Nubar has built two eight-figure businesses that have generated over $24,000,000 in online sales and helped over 10,000 entrepreneurs from nearly 100 countries. He says he made his first million dollars online by selling digital information products and transitioning into an agency.
“After learning how to create a successful sales funnel, I was able to build an agency online,” he explains. “We transitioned into products and courses with that success and knowledge.”
His Advice: Nubar says it’s important to use sales funnels in your business. You’re more likely to build trust and get the sale when you can take your potential customer through the buying journey.
Building a business and making money happen when you add value. But adding value can happen in a lot of different ways. Like simply… helping people, as Anthony Murray did.
Murray is a professional speaker, mentor, pastor, and motivator with over 25 years of experience unlocking the gifts hidden inside of people.
He says he made his first million dollars online by helping people unlock their gifts through mentorship: “As a pastor, I founded and started a church with $1,500 and turned that into a million-dollar business.”
His Advice: Stay focused and bet on yourself. Pray, plan, and execute. Pray about what you want. Plan for the path you need to take, for the ups and downs, for your budget, for marketing, and plan for everything. Then go for it.
It’s not always the hottest new trends that turn into a successful business. Sometimes, you simply need to focus on what you personally are passionate about, even if it’s not “sexy.”
Freddie Taylor, the founder and CEO of Urban Intellectuals, is an entrepreneur, speaker, history enthusiast, and philanthropist—and that’s what he did to succeed.
Taylor says he made his first million dollars online through a $1,500 inventory investment in plain old flashcards.
“Low-tech, no-tech flashcards and paper products are how we carved out our first million, but that was capitalized on by building a strong online community of people that know, like, and trust us first,” says Taylor.
His advice: Get a coach or mentor, continuously educate yourself, start building your community, focus on finding your hero product or service, deliver great service, take action, rinse and repeat.
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It takes a lot of work to build an online business, but access to information and a clear blueprint makes it attainable for those willing to put in the work. You can build an online business that provides time freedom, financial security, and a life aligned with your goals.
So what are you waiting for?
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