Reverse-engineering how to make money online

To many beginners, online marketing is a lot like magic. They want to make money online, and they’re pretty sure it’s possible, but they have no idea where to start or what to do.

Yes, there is an infinite amount of things to learn, articles to read, videos to watch, courses to buy… But the truth is, the general idea is really not that complex. There are no “magic tricks”, no silver bullets, no one Facebook ad targeting technique that’s going to make you a millionaire.

So how do you figure this stuff out? You reverse-engineer it. You start at your desired goal, and backtrace.

  1. Your goal is to make money.
    • Yes, I’m stating the obvious here. The goal of online marketing, when it comes down to it, is to make money.

      You might have other goals as well: “having an impact”, “helping others”, “creating value”, etc., and that’s all good and well, but let’s be honest: you also really want to make money. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
  2. To make money, you need to sell something.
    • There’s only one way to make money in this world (unless you’re a thief), and that is by selling something.

      You could sell a product — like a t-shirt, expensive furniture, or an online course. Or, you could sell a service — like consulting, ghostwriting, or personal training.
  3. To sell something, you need leads.
    • It doesn’t matter how amazing your product is — without customers, it will never make you any money. Before customers buy something from you, they are called “leads”. Not all leads will buy from you, but you still need them.
  4. To get leads, you need an email list.
    • Well, technically I guess you don’t need one. You could collect leads by other means, but to this day it remains the most effective way to collect leads and then convert them into customers.
  5. How do you get people on your email list? You produce content.
    • The tricky part is to get people to actually sign up to your email list. This falls under the category of “simple, not easy”. Getting people to sign up can be very difficult, because no one wants their inbox to be clogged with spam or annoying marketing emails, but the one proven way to do it is by:
    1. Producing content for your target demographic
    2. Giving them value upfront and promising them more of it once they sign up
  6. Where do you produce content? On your website.
    • There are many places you can produce content on. You can use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Medium, and so forth. These can all have a place in your marketing strategy, but by far the most important channel to produce content for is your own website. Two reasons for this:
    1. First of all, social media networks don’t let you capture email leads without paying for ads (with the exception of Medium, for which there are a few third-party solutions for email opt-ins).
    2. More importantly though, your website is the one thing you have full control over. Social media networks come and go (remember MySpace? Google Plus? Vine?), but as long you make good on your domain and hosting payments, your website remains.
  7. How do you get people to visit your website? By building a social media following.
    • So you’re producing consistently good content on your website. How do you get people to consume it?

      There are many ways to get traffic. SEO (applying different strategies and tactics to rank higher up in search engine results), Facebook ads, guest blogging, and so on. Those are all great, but the most fundamental one — if your goal is to establish a brand — is to leverage social media to get people to come to your website.
  8. How do you do that? By being interesting.
    • There’s a right way to do social media, and there’s a wrong way. The wrong way is robotically sharing articles and other stuff you think people are gonna care about. Spoiler: they don’t care. No one cares.

      Think of social media in terms of different communities and eco-systems. If you want people to care about what you have to say, you need to become an active and valuable member of one of those communities. In other words, you need to be interesting.

When you think about online marketing this way, it’s not as overwhelming, right? And the best part is this: you don’t need to do all of these things perfectly in order to make money.

Now: go out there and do!

Written by Jon Persson

I’m great at two things: 1) helping small businesses communicate with consumers clearly and compellingly and 2) designing distinct and effective logos, visual identities, and marketing material. If you need help with either of these things, you are welcome to inquire about hiring me.

If you want, you can also follow me on Twitter.

PS. If you’re serious about making money online, you should also subscribe to the Marketing Idiots email list.