Updated as of October 2017.
For all of my talk about the three-step process of building a business, there’s something to be said for the fact that it’s so freaking easy these days to start something – right now.
A few years ago, I went to a conference in Portland put on by Jason Glaspey called Tiny Startup Camp.
Start a tiny business by the end of the weekend.
There were great speakers and plenty of people there to help.
But the entire concept was built around the idea that you don’t need funding, crazy tech skills, or 99% of the things that keep most people from starting a business.
All you need is an idea, a few bucks, and an afternoon to put the whole thing together.
That’s a powerful concept.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen this a lot.
Bryan Harris from Video Fruit did a 24 hour project around writing, recording, and publishing a book. At the end of the day, it made just over $2,000. Not bad for 24 hours.
ConvertKit shows you how you can create a paid email course in a weekend.
Now, granted, both of these are already established brands, but the key takeaway is you don’t need to have months or years of experience to get started on a very small project in just a few days.
Get the picture?
The Three-Step Approach to a Lifestyle Business
I’ve talked a lot about how most people go about building businesses in the wrong way. They typically start at the end before they have any clue what they’re doing.
They’re worrying about A/B testing and landing pages before they have a basic website set up.
That’s why I advocate a three-step method:
This is the decidedly unsexy way to approach a building a business.
Typically, this method takes some time to see results, but it’s a really good solid foundation for getting started. So, that’s why I generally push people towards this method.
But, at the same time, it’s not the only way to get started. Noticed how step #3 doesn’t have a linked post?
Well, welcome to step #3.
Sometimes, working on your own project to build something is a good option. It can get you on the road quickly, you can learn skills by doing, and you can make a little bit of money.
The key is getting started.
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
Time and time again I hear excuses like these:
- “I don’t have a good idea”
- “I know I need to start, but it’s just so daunting”
- “I want to start something, but I don’t know how”
The list goes on, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
A lot of this is about confidence, or actually, the lack of confidence. Most people are scared to get started. That can manifest itself into a number of reasons, but the majority of them boil down to those three above.
So how about we change that?
This post is going to go in depth and teach you everything you need to know in order to build an online asset or the beginnings of a tiny business in a weekend.
Here’s the Goal…
By the time you’re done with this post, my goal is you’ll have a site that’s up, allows you to capture leads, test your idea, and see if there’s an actual business anywhere in there.
Simply having this site setup is an asset.
Maybe you’re creative and come up with a killer domain name. Maybe the domain sucks, but it’s a great idea and a thousand people sign up and say they’re interested. Maybe you found the perfect combination of keywords that lead to great SEO rankings.
Any of those things are building the value the asset – i.e. your new site.
Whether you develop the asset, sit on it forever, or sell it later on, you’ve got something you didn’t have before. You’ve put all of the essential online business skills into practice.
And most importantly…
By the time we’re done here, you will have done something. You’ll have made something real, and built your confidence along the way.
Don’t underestimate how big that is.
Hack Your Hobbies Into a Business
While building this asset, you may be wondering if this constitutes a business. Here’s an honest answer: it could be. I like to refer to these tiny startup ideas as Hobby Hacking.
Basically, taking this approach lets you start by creating something small around something you love.
There are a ton of benefits to this.
The biggest is skill building. You’re going to learn a ton by doing these things by yourself.
Next, it’s confidence. Once you start realizing you can do all sorts of stuff like setting up a website and getting your email going then you’re going to feel like you’ve actually created something that’s truly an asset.
Building an online asset that’s framed around something you already love helps you tap into that excitement too. You’re already a relative expert on your chosen topic, and chances are, you can likely think of all sorts of things you’d want to talk about down the line if there is interest.
Finally, this approach doesn’t mean you have to go all in and have a lot on the line. It’s about gauging interest and testing things. It’s not going to cost you a ton of time or money to get started.
If it doesn’t work, that’s ok. You’ve still been able to create something. And if it does…well, that’s pretty awesome!
My golf site, Breaking Eighty, started as one of these ideas. The same with my HDR Software site. Both of these sites are centered around two of my biggest hobbies: playing golf and taking HDR-style photos.
Both of these have turned out pretty well, especially for Breaking Eighty.
Joel Runyon created a hobby hacking site around building a paleo diet.
But I’ve also tried some that didn’t work out. And when that happened, I just moved on to the next idea.
Also, before we get started one more thing to keep in mind is that even if they are tiny you can still use these online assets to your advantage!
I used Breaking Eighty to get some free golf gear before the site was much more than a landing page.
While traffic floundered at first while I learned the ins and outs of my niche, what I found was that when I reached out to ask for something – almost always the answer was yes.
Will you send me a review copy of this product? Of course!
Can I play your private course? We’d love to have you!
Can I have a special rate at your resort? How does free sound?!
I was surprised at how easy it was to get “fringe benefits” in my niche.
And I was also able to use one of my hobby hacking sites based around hotel suites to get a handful of discounted or free stays even though the project didn’t turn into much of anything.
How to Get Started
So, let’s get this rolling.
In the steps that follow I’ll show you exactly what you need to do to build out this first asset – what you do after that is totally up to you. But if this is your first business or venture online, I promise you’ll feel more confident, empowered, and excited by the time all is done.
Step #1: Pick an Idea
First thing’s first: don’t over think this.
Right now, this is more important as an exercise than a business. If things take off, you can always go back and make tweaks pretty easily.
My best advice is to come up with a domain name around something you’re interested in or a hobby. This will make it more fun for you throughout the process.
Don’t think of this as anything more than an experiment and exercise that you’re doing today.
Keeping that laser focus on the ‘right now’ at the start will help you work on the things that matter and not get overwhelmed by the ‘what if’s’ down the road.
Where you want to start is with a basic idea. Here are some examples:
- Ebook with knitting patterns
- Video course teaching people to play the trumpet
- Reviews of the top 100 golf courses in the country
- How to set up a completely wireless home theater
Again, don’t stress about this part. Nothing has to be perfect.
Start with something that you know and excites you and go from there.
Step #2: Buy a Domain
It doesn’t matter where you do this.
I use Name Cheap on a regular basis – as the site is easy to use. They also have a bulk name search feature which can really come in handy as you’re trying to come up with a bunch of available domain names.
This is a great way to try out different options. Things like adding “the” at the start or an “s” at the end of your domain can make all the difference in what is available and what isn’t.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- A .com is ideal, but it’s not a deal breaker. Just try and stay away from top-level domains that are strange (info, guru, or anything else that isn’t a com, net, or org)
- Try not to use dashes. And only use one at MOST. Example: nichesitebuilder.com is much better than niche-site-builder.com. Dashes lose trust.
- Make sure it’s easy to understand. For instance with locationrebel.com – a lot of people at first were like, what’s a “Sea Nogle.” Look no further than this to see what I mean.
Step #3: Pick Your Hosting Provider
Hosting is the next thing you need to get your site up and running.
It’s important to pick a hosting service that is reliable and has good customer service. At this stage of the game, you don’t need to spend millions of dollars on it, you want something that is going to be solid.
If you want to explore more about the hosting services that are out there, I run through a bunch of options in this post.
Step #4: Buy Hosting Account and Setup WordPress
This is the part of getting a site set up that people think is really hard and time-consuming. Here’s the good news: it’s actually really easy.
The vast majority of hosting sites today actually have one-click WordPress installation. Even if you’re starting from absolute scratch, you can get a bare-bones basic site up and running in about an hour.
I cover exactly how to get your site set up, step-by-step, in this post. For the purposes of your first online asset, at this stage of the game pay attention to steps 1 through 6.
If you choose to go with BlueHost you can get WordPress installed by watching their video series.
Step #5: Install Theme
Ok, now this is where we can take our little exercise one of two directions.
One direction would be to actually set up and install a blog focused theme and start writing content.
That’s a very viable option, but it’s also one that takes more dedication, more time. So, if you don’t know if your idea is even feasible yet, you might want to hold off on it for the moment.
This is why I recommend going in the section direction and going the landing page route.
A landing page is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a page where someone will ‘land’ on your site and only have two options. They either sign up for your email list or they leave. It’s super basic and a very simple way to get started.
The goal is to collect the email addresses of people to gauge interest. If you toss up your landing page, tell people about it, drive some traffic to it and get a bunch of people signing up, then it looks like you’re on to something.
If the opposite happens and you hear crickets, then maybe you need to refine your idea or move on to something else altogether. If this does happen, the good news is you haven’t wasted a ton of time and energy and still have experience setting all this stuff up.
I recommend going the landing page route. A landing page only takes about 30 minutes each to set up since you don’t need to worry about things like a blog or about page or stuff like that.
These are a few mini hobby hacking projects I’ve worked on in the past. A few have been great, others…not so much.
All you need is a sweet eye-grabbing photo and some good copy in the email box to make people interested. Here’s the text from my Breaking Eighty landing page up close:
- Go to ThemeForest
- Search for a WordPress launch theme. (Here’s a list of a bunch).
- Find a big, beautiful photo relating to your site. You can find free images on a site like Pixabay.
- Install. Follow step #7 in the how to set up a blog post for more details.
Once you’ve got this set, you’re almost done!
Step #6: Sign Up for Mailchimp
Ok now that you’ve got a sexy look landing page, time to actually make that email list do something useful. I personally use ConvertKit, but MailChimp is super cheap (read: free) for those starting out.
So having one less monthly expense while you’re starting up is always a good thing. If you start getting lots of signups, you can always upgrade or move to another service if you’d like.
MailChimp is all about making the user experience as simple as possible. And, they provide really detailed, step by step instructions (with images) so you can get yourself up and running really quickly.
One reason why MailChimp is so easy to use with WordPress is it has its own plugin that I’d recommend getting too. This way you can seamlessly integrate your site with your MailChimp account.
This will allow you to create an email opt-in box on your site that will connect with MailChimp directly. So, anyone who signs up will be added to your email list.
Find more details on setting up here the plugin here.
Now you have a way to build a list, offer something for free via email, and gauge interest for your new project.
Step #7: Setup Google Analytics
This is pretty easy to do, but absolutely essential.
You need to be able to track whether or not people are coming to your site. If no one sees your page, then it’s pretty hard to get email signups, right?
Google Analytics is free for you to use and you should have it on every site. Google has a lot of support and guides to get you through the setup process. This is a very good tutorial on how to get started with Google Analytics.
In addition, you can also simplify things and get a Google Analytics plugin for your WordPress site as well.
Like with the MailChimp plugin, this will make it easy for you to not only hook your site up with GA but you can track traffic from the dashboard of your website.
Step #8: Setup Social Accounts
If this is a brand that you’re really hoping to grow and evolve, you’ll want to make sure you procure the necessary social accounts as quickly as possible. Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Pinterest, you name it.
Now, before you freak out that this is a ton of work, hang on a second.
Just because I’m telling you to grab the handles doesn’t mean I’m expecting you to use them. But, if your project turns into something with potential a year from now, you’ll be very happy you grabbed the Twitter and Instagram names.
It’s better to control everything relating to your brand then have someone else be able to mess with you later on.
The easiest way to see what names are available is to use a tool like Namechck:
The awesome thing about this tool is it does all the work for you. You can easily check available names at all once. If you’ve ever tried to do this one by one you know how time-consuming that might be.
The other great feature of Namechck is if one site doesn’t have your available name you can keep trying similar names until you get one that works across all social media accounts.
Step #9: Build Relationships and Drive Traffic
In order to see any sort of success, you need to get traffic to your site for people to sign up. The last thing you want to do is get your site launched and do nothing to promote it.
Chances are very slim anyone is going to simply find it online without you giving them some help to start.
So there are a few ways you can do that.
First, if you have some extra income, look at paid traffic.
The other way to approach getting traffic is organically.
This means more hustle on your end. You’ve got to get out there and tell people about your project. That might even start with your friends and family, announcing it on Facebook, telling your fantasy football league or your yoga class, you name it.
You want to get people to your site as many different ways as you know how. Keep in mind the key with this is to get interested people. If you’re looking at a hobby hacking type project then you don’t need nearly as many people interested to make it a success as you think.
Focus on getting those real fans. I’m not going to promote my golf site to people who hate golf. My target audience isn’t even everyone who plays golf, it’s pretty small. But that’s ok because they are as passionate as I am and really get into it.
Also, work on building relationships, this goes hand in a hand with what I mentioned above. You want to find people in that niche or area of focus you’re concentrating on and reach out to as many of them as possible.
This is all laying the groundwork. Because, if your mini site takes off, well you’ve already got a network of people you’ve built up over time, which is the best way to find true fans.
This is going to be the most tedious and longest part of the process, which is why it’s really important you don’t want to make this your primary business goal first.
It took me years before I really made any money on Breaking Eighty. In fact for the first two years, I didn’t even think about monetizing it at all. I was only focused on building a network and a solid audience.
Then when I had that, it was much easier to take the site to the next level.
Congratulations on Your New Web Asset!
Congratulations! You could do nothing else from here, and you still will have an asset that you can leverage in the future.
However, this is a good time to look at some of the options for what you could actually do with this asset now that it exists.
Let’s take a look at how I’ve been leveraging a couple of my ideas.
Best Hotel Suites
Note: This is one site I didn’t continue from late 2012 into 2013. But I wanted to leave this part in so you could get an idea of where I was thinking about going with it.
I’ve had this site up for the last 4 months, and essentially I’ve been using it to build up a barrage of hotel reviews. At some point, I’m going to launch this site. I’ll have some kind of blog component where I review high-end hotels and suites.
I haven’t completely decided what else the site will contain, but I know in one form or another it will have those reviews.
So how does this help me?
Well anytime I travel I email some hotels, I tell them what I’m doing, and ask if they’d be willing to give me a room in exchange for a review.
So far I’m batting about 25% on room offers. Pretty freaking good if you ask me! This one site which took me about an hour total to get completely setup has saved me at least $1k in hotel costs.
File under: Hacking the High Life
Not to mention I then get to write about a topic I like, and build a relationship with the establishments. Just make sure you’re upfront about your plan with the sites and don’t promise anything you can’t deliver on.
Note: Breaking Eighty is still going strong five years later! I’m not only making a couple thousand a month from it, I’ve also snagged tons of free golf gear, played incredible courses, and built up an awesome network in and around the golf industry.
One amazing point of B80 was that my hobby hacking project created a different side project, The Eighty Club. I was seeing so much success within my small niche that I created a membership site around it. Pretty sweet!
Same drill as above, except Breaking Eighty, will probably be my next site to launch. I’ve already received review copies of some awesome golf products (and written in-depth reviews on them).
This site has solely been a way for me to turn my love of golf into a business.
We’ll see what shape it actually takes as we move into the new year, but I’m pretty excited about it. That said, even as it stands I’ve had a surprising amount of success in forming relationships with golf companies.
Does This Spark Any Ideas?
Those are a couple ways I’ve leveraged similar assets.
Here are some of the other things this exercise can do for you:
- Serve as a squeeze page for an upcoming product launch
- Vehicle for testing an email series on a smaller audience
- Build your confidence and skills for setting up WordPress websites
- Turn these landing pages into a service you offer
The options are really endless.
It’s easier than ever to get something useful setup.
There are all sorts of ways you can move forward from here. The goal of this exercise was just to build confidence in your ability to build something online.
If you take the leap and do this now, do it with the understanding that you’re not going to have the four-hour lifestyle with passive income rolling in overnight. It might take years. That’s why we tend to recommend the three-step process first.
But, if you’re willing to launch things quickly, play around with a few ideas, have a plenty of time before you need to worry about bringing in any income, creating an online asset especially around a hobby is a great way to go
If the process around hobby hacking interests you, keep your eyes peeled, we’ll have a lot more about that in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can check out this post for more information.