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How to Launch an Online Business From Scratch
How to Launch an Online Business From Scratch >>
The Beginners Guide to Starting an Online Business
How to Sell Online Courses from Your Own Website
So now that your course has been outlined and your sales page drafted, it’s time to get technical about the tools you need to actually build your online business.
That means before you go any further, we need to discuss the foundation upon which your business will run.
This probably won't be a surprise to you, but the platform and digital storefront where you’ll create, market and sell your online course will be a website. And right now, you need to get it up and running as fast as possible so you can bring your online course to market.
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s no shortage of ways to build a website these days.
Available solutions include:
- 1Using a mass-marketed, but business un-friendly website builder like SquareSpace or Wix
- 2Hiring (and continually rehiring) expensive developers to build and manage a custom website for you — yikes!
- 3Or even going the full distance and trying to code your own website solo — got a few years to spare before you can pull that one off?
That’s why most non-technical entrepreneurs choose a solution that gives them both affordability and advanced feature power so they can DIY their website — without having to know how to code.
In fact, the solution I’m referring to has become such an online business standard that 30% of the entire internet now uses it… and that’s why you’re going to use it too!
So the next step in your solopreneur business journey is going to be learning how to deploy this solution to build and launch your website... not in a matter of days or weeks... but in just a few hours.
Keep reading to learn what this solution is, why you should use it as the platform for your online course products and how it will help you grow your business over time.
WordPress: Your Online Course Business Platform
If you’ve never heard of WordPress before, it’s an open-sourced Content Management System (CMS) that’s free to use, easy to learn and technically powerful when integrated with the right third-party tools (a.k.a. plugins).
And rest assured that it’s also a website solution that can easily scale with your online business as it grows. Meaning that if you need to hire a pro-developer to build some sort of custom solution for you down the road, that won't be a problem.
If you need proof that WordPress is a solution for websites both big and small, here’s a list of some mainstream and "big store" brands that run their day-to-day online operations with it:
Of course, these companies have dedicated developers that create unique online experiences for their visitors, so for now, you’ll be using a set of third-party plugins to gain the functionality you need to get started.
Get ready, because the rest of this chapter will walk you through exactly what you need to do to get your new website up and running in the shortest amount of time and least amount of money.
“But Wait... Why Use WordPress instead of an Online Course Platform Like Udemy or Teachable?”
Well, like we told you back in Chapter 2, it’s important to host your products on a platform you own and control 100% of (a.k.a. your own website). That is to say, an online location where you can manage how you interact with your potential and existing customers as you choose — without interference.
If you use online course solutions like Udemy or Teachable however, you’re either forfeiting control over how you market your products and interact with your students (Udemy) or paying an arm and a leg to add courses to your website (Teachable). On platforms like these, your courses get lost in a sea of other products all competing at “race-to-the-bottom” prices.
That’s why quickly and cheaply building online courses on your own WordPress website is the ideal solopreneur solution since it gives you full control over your products and contact with your customers while also helping you stand out as an authority in your niche.
This last point is super important because great personal brand websites build trust with customers since people know they’re buying from a real expert instead of some fly-by-night course creator.
So now that you know why it’s so important to build and host your online course on your own website, let’s switch gears and discuss how to get your new WordPress website up and running right away…
A Note on Our Tool Recommendations & Setup Tutorials in This Chapter:
The end goal of this chapter is to help you build a working WordPress website that you can create, sell and market your very own online course(s) with.
To achieve that, you’ll need to use third party tools built specifically for WordPress (also known as plugins). Some of these plugins are free (or have freemium functionality) while others require you to buy premium licenses.
Although there are several solutions you can use to build your online course website, we want to show you how to do it with the least amount of complexity and cost. The last thing you want to do is waste time, effort and money only to end up with a half-baked setup.
Many of the tools we recommend in this guide are created by the team here at Thrive Themes, but we do so because we’ve created them for the express purpose of minimizing overwhelm for solopreneurs like you.
It's important for you to get the technical stuff done and out of the way as fast as possible with the fewest number of headaches and dollars spent. The tools you'll see below will help you do just that.
Build Your WordPress Website Today — With ZERO Coding Ability
So here we go… it’s time to start building your website.
Complete the following steps in the order they’re presented to get your WordPress website launched in the quickest possible time frame.
If this is your first time building a WordPress website — or any website for that matter — it may feel intimidating, but rest assured that it’s really not all that complicated… another reason to use WordPress!
And before you get started, I want you to adopt a very important mindset:
That 'good enough' is better than perfect.
That’s right, you’re not aiming for perfection on your website… just “good enough” to get started growing a profitable online course business.
That’s because the perfectionist mindset will crush your ability to get anything done where a “good enough” attitude will have you shipping version 1.0’s of your content fast to gain real world feedback right away. This strategy will also help you iteratively improve as you go forward.
And if you remember back to what we said in Chapter 2, an 80/20 mindset is what separates successful entrepreneurs who get things done from those who keep wishing they had a working business, but never make any real progress on it.
But don’t worry, the steps you’re about to follow will make sure your “good enough” website actually looks great.
So here it is… the 5 steps you’ll need to get your website up and running on WordPress fast. Let’s get going.
Step 1: Choose & Purchase Your Domain Name
As you know, every website needs a domain name to call home, but please understand that this initial decision is something most wannabe entrepreneurs spend waaaay too much time worrying about.
Don’t overthink it.
Keep the domain name you choose simple and relevant to your niche. As long your domain name makes sense for the range of courses you'll build, it's “good enough” to get started.
In fact, the only rule you need to follow when selecting a domain name for your website is whether or not it can pass the Grandparent Test.
What’s the Grandparent Test?
It’s just a simple exercise where you tell your Grandparent (or any technology or hearing impaired individual) your domain name — over the phone — to see if they can repeat it back to you correctly — on the first try.
By using this strategy, you’ll keep your domain name simple as well as easy to communicate across all types of media.
Seriously, that’s as much effort as you need to spend making sure you have a brandable domain name for your business.
So now that you’ve selected a domain name, how do you actually lock it down for your business?
Well, there’s a number of domain registration companies out there you can purchase your domain name from.
Some well known domain registrars you’ve probably heard of include:
But it doesn’t really matter where you buy your domain name from because they all provide the same basic service. After creating a free account, use their domain name search function to make sure it’s available at an affordable price (usually around $10 USD) so you can pull the trigger on it.
Alternatively, you can also buy your domain name at the same time you purchase your web hosting (but more on that next). This is a great option to take advantage of so you can manage both your hosting and domain name registration in the same place.
It also makes setting up your DNS (Domain Name System) management easier, which we’ll also discuss coming up.
So now it's time for you to learn about hosting and how it works with the domain name you've chosen for yourself. On to Step 2...
Step 2: Choose the Right Hosting Service for Your Online Business
Whether you’re aware of it or not, hosting is one of the most important decisions you’re going to make for your online business.
Like many of the choices you’re about to make in this chapter, there’s a ton of companies to hire to solve the job you want done, but they’re not all created equal.
Said succinctly, “hosting” is just the computer server your website will live on. There's no shortage of companies that build server farms specifically for people like you to hire for their website hosting.
But again, the companies that manage the health and security of such servers are not the same.
Essentially, you need to prioritize 3 things when choosing your hosting provider:
- 1Speed & Performance
- 3Customer Service
If performance is bad, your website can crash or load so slowly that online visitors will bounce before they even read a single word on your website.
If security is poor, your online business and customers will be vulnerable to malicious attacks.
And if customer service is bad, addressing critical problems can take forever or be next to impossible to fix.
That’s why it’s not a good idea to just pick the cheapest hosting service available. Instead, you want to hire a company that’s proven themselves in all 3 of these areas. Getting your WordPress hosting right will play a crucial role in your online business success down the road.
But lucky for you, we tested the crap out of several WordPress specialized hosting companies and have two suggestions for you, depending on your budget.
Our two recommendations are divided into an option for the cash-strapped solopreneur (with the expectation that you’ll need to upgrade to a premium hosting provider when you get rolling) and one for solopreneurs that want to prioritize peak performance at an affordable price from the beginning.
These companies also have the added benefit of allowing you to buy your domain name at the same time you sign up for hosting like we mentioned earlier.
So let’s now discuss these two recommendations in detail...
The "Solopreneur on a Tight Budget" Hosting Recommendation: SiteGround’s GrowBig Plan
SiteGround is a hosting company that offers WordPress specialized service plans for just a few bucks a month — but only for your first invoice period (either 12, 24 or 36 months).
This is an important point to take note of because after this initial invoice period is over, SiteGround’s pricing jumps dramatically and you’ll start paying premium prices for budget hosting.
That being said, what SiteGround provides you in terms of website performance, shared server storage (i.e. multiple customers sharing the same server hardware) and customer service is good enough to get started — especially if you’re strapped for cash.
Just know that you’ll need to upgrade your hosting when your business takes off (i.e. when your online traffic begins to spike) by migrating your site to a premium provider like we’re discussing next.
Premium WordPress Hosting for Solopreneurs: WPX Hosting’s Business Plan
For the same annual pricing that SiteGround charges after their introductory discount period ends, you can get premium customer service & website performance from a company called WPX Hosting.
Where SiteGround only gives you shared servers, WPX Hosting gives your business dedicated solid state hardware.
As per our own testing, page load speeds and customer service are super fast. Also, WPX Hosting’s support team is world class and handles critical services like site migration for you — for free.
So if you’ve got the budget for it, using a company like WPX Hosting from the outset will save you many potential headaches in the future as your online course business grows.
Step 3: Install WordPress on Your New Hosting Plan
So now that you’ve pulled the trigger on either a SiteGround GrowBig plan or a WPX Hosting Business plan, it’s time to install WordPress on your new site so you can start building.
How does one do this? Well, if you’ve chosen one of our two recommended hosting providers, it’s actually super simple. Follow the tutorial links below to see how “one-click” WordPress installs happen on both SiteGround and WPX Hosting:
How To Install WordPress on SiteGround
To install WordPress on SiteGround, follow their installation guide here.
How To Install WordPress on WPX Hosting
To install WordPress on WPX Hosting, follow their installation guide here.
Step 4: Choose and Install a WordPress Theme for Your New Site
Congratulations… you now have a bare-bones WordPress website installed!
That means it’s time to start putting some meat on those website bones so visitors have something to look at when they find your site online.
So what’s the first order of business? Installing your WordPress Theme.
And although themes are an important aspect to any WordPress site, I’d encourage you to once again limit this decision down to the realm of “good enough” for now. Over time, you’ll probably want to upgrade your theme to meet future website and business requirements, but for now, here’s a few theme recommendations to get this step completed in just a few minutes.
Free WordPress Themes
The developers over at WordPress release a new Theme every year, naming it after that year it was released:
To make getting started easy, many of these WordPress core themes actually come preloaded on your WordPress install, so you can just choose and activate the one you like best in the fewest possible clicks:
However, a more advanced freemium theme you might like to use instead is called GeneratePress:
The free version of GeneratePress offers enough basic customization to get a “good enough” Theme setup and working on your site quickly.
The customization features of GeneratePress are also pretty intuitive to use and will limit you from wasting too much time tinkering with the “window dressings” when you should be moving forward to the step of actually building your online course as fast as you can.
Premium WordPress Themes
Now, you might be asking yourself… “What about Thrive Themes? Don’t you guys have a WordPress theme I can install on my site?”
The simple answer to that question is: yes, we do. But…
… you can only use one of these themes if you become a Thrive Suite user:
Get Access to a Powerful Online Business Tool Suite
Gain Access to ALL of our Thrive Plugins, Themes and Exclusive Content with Thrive Suite.
Thrive Suite gives you access to 10 premium themes:
...as well as access to our Thrive Theme Builder tool.
And if you do decide to pull the trigger on a Thrive Suite, you'll also get access to most of the plugins you’ll need to build your online course website. Here’s how easy it is to install and activate all of the Thrive Suite plugins on a WordPress site in a single click:
Step 5: Set Up Your Essential WordPress Plugins
Like we mentioned above, WordPress plugins are the third party tools that will give your website the functionality it needs to operate as an actual online business — without needing to know how to code.
However, WordPress plugins are a dime a dozen and can cost you lots of money to get the licenses you need to succeed.
However, here at Thrive Themes, we offer a complete suite of plugins to cover the majority of your online business and marketing needs — through a super affordable Thrive Suite.
Like you just saw the end of the WordPress theme install step, purchasing, installing and activating each of the plugins we’re about to showcase takes place through a simple, 1-click install Product Manager tool:
Click here to scroll back up and see how the Thrive Product Manager plugin works if you happened to skim past that installation tutorial video above.
And once you've got your theme and plugins installed, here's how to use the primary tools you’ll need to get your new WordPress site looking fly.
Your Site Building Workhorse: Thrive Architect
The way you’re going to custom build your own course website on WordPress — without coding skills — is with a visual page building plugin.
Of course, there are many WordPress page builders available for you to choose from, but again, not all tools are created equal. None offer the truly visual, front-end, drag & drop functionality that Thrive Architect does, which is why we recommend you invest in learning how to use it now:
And especially when it comes to building a website for the purpose of selling online courses, the other mission critical plugins you get in Thrive Suite are hands down the best solution for solopreneurs starting out like you.
One of the primary reasons that we recommend Thrive Architect as your page building solution is because it has hundreds of professionally designed and tutorialized landing page templates that allow you to load them up, change a few colors, swap out the images and then modify the step-by-step instructional copy to get your content published as fast as possible.
Click here to see our gallery of 300+ landing page templates currently on offer:
Investing up front in the Thrive Suite, which includes the premium Thrive Architect page builder, will end up saving you both time and money when it comes to the other mission critical tasks of running your online business – like building your courses, email list and then marketing your products — as you’ll now see.
Your List Building Power Tool: Thrive Leads
If you can’t code, not only do you need a visual page building plugin to create a gorgeous website, but you'll also need a tool to visually build opt-in forms to start growing an email audience.
We’ll cover more about building your audience in the next chapter, but for now, know that you’ll need to strategically place opt-in forms across your site with the goal of growing a healthy email list.
In fact, without a powerful lead generation tool, it’s next to impossible to cultivate an audience you can communicate directly with. And without that email list being engaged and eager to hear from you, it will be an uphill struggle to create a profitable online course.
So to solve this problem, you’ll use a plugin called Thrive Leads:
Thrive Leads uses the same visual building interface as the Thrive Architect page builder, which eliminates you having to learn how to use another tool to build your opt-in forms.
And now that you have your page builder and lead generation plugins installed, what else will you need to activate on your site?
Your Online Course Crafting Tool: Thrive Apprentice
Thrive Apprentice — surprise, surprise — also uses the same front-end visual building interface for your individual online course lessons that Thrive Architect and Thrive Leads provide. However, you'll build and manage your online course module-chapter-lesson structure from the WordPress backend:
We’ll get into the specifics of how to go about technically building your online course in just a moment, but Thrive Apprentice is by far the simplest online course plugin you’ll find to help you craft a professional and engaging learning experience for your students.
And when you take the final step of integrating Thrive Apprentice with a payment processing and course access restriction tool like SendOwl, you’ll also gain the ability to limit your course access to paying customers only (more on this coming right up).
Miscellaneous Plugins You’ll Probably Need
There are a few more basic plugins you should consider installing on your infant website to boost its performance and security.
Without sidetracking too much, here’s 3 freebies you should install, activate and set up alongside your page builder (Thrive Architect), your lead generation tool (Thrive Leads) and your online course building plugin (Thrive Apprentice):
A•kis•met: Anti-Spam Plugin
Akismet is a spam filter plugin offered and maintained by the creators of WordPress.
For just a few dollars a year (you get to decide on the price you pay for it), you can purchase a basic license to prevent your new site from being blasted by unwanted spam comments.
Yoast SEO: Search Engine Optimization Plugin
Yoast SEO is a free Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plugin you can use to set all the important meta-data for each of the posts and pages you'll create for your site.
Although the Yoast SEO plugin offers several other features like traffic light color analyses of your content (Red, Yellow and Green lights), ignore them. SEO is way more nuanced than that these days. Use this plugin just to set each piece of content's meta-data (the headline and meta-description Google show on its search result pages) before you publish:
W3 Total Cache: Caching Plugin for Page Load Speed Optimization
Like we mentioned before in the hosting section, the speed at which your website's pages load is critical to the success of your website.
One plugin that can help you make those load times even faster is W3 Total Cache. Activate and setup this free caching plugin on your WordPress website to give your load times a boost.
Side Note: In another small plug for one of our recommended hosting plans, W3 Total Cache comes pre-loaded on all WPX Hosting Wordpress installs by default!
Ultimately, this will help you engage more visitors and achieve higher conversion rates since less people will bounce from your site due to slow loading pages. If you're interested to learn more about how to optimize your site's load times, check out this in-depth post all about it.
Use Landing Page Templates to Launch Your Essential Content Fast
Now that you have all the plugins you need installed to create your website, it’s time to begin creating your essential, initial content.
What content will you need to create and where should you get started?
Well, for the first iteration of your website, plan on creating the following pieces of content. Your:
- 2Blogroll with your first 3 strategically crafted articles
- 3About Page
- 4Online Course Sales Page
And to get each of these mission critical pieces of content done fast, you’re going to use some pro-designed landing page templates — remember that you're gunning for “good enough” to get started.
This is another reason why choosing the Thrive Architect Landing Page Builder plugin becomes such a benefit for you… it has over 300 landing page templates to choose from!
So let’s get your new website off to a great start by rapidly implementing your Homepage — right now.
Build Your Online Course Homepage
One of the easiest types of Thrive Architect homepage templates to implement for version 1.0 of your new website is the "Homepage History - Personal Branding" template:
All you have to do is select one of the templates available in Thrive Architect from our Thrive Landing Page Cloud, and once it loads, replace all the images with your own, modify the copy (as per the instructions written out on the page) and change the colors to match your website’s V1.0 branding.
To make this super simple for you, watch the following video to see a step-by-step tutorial of how you can select, load and modify a Thrive Architect landing page template in the fewest number of clicks.
This particular video also breaks down what's behind each element of the Personal Branding homepage template mentioned above:
Design Warning: A note about logos
One of the tasks you’ll have to take care of when creating your homepage is coming up with a new logo for your business and website.
Contrary to popular belief, spend no more than 10 minutes and $0 getting this done!
That means you don’t have to hire a graphic designer to create a unique new logo for your site. Instead, you can create a version 1.0 logo of your brand with text alone.
If you’re interested to learn how you can get a “good enough” logo on your new homepage in the next few minutes, read this blog post all about rapid logos right now.
Seed Your Blog With 3 Strategic Articles
When building a brand new website, content creation can be a big challenge.
What sort of posts should you create to start growing your organic search engine traffic and building an audience most efficiently?
Well, when it comes to strategic blog content, there’s 3 articles that we recommend you start with… it’s kind of like creating a mini marketing funnel, only with high value blog articles instead of landing pages.
If you’re interested in pursuing this strategy to kick your blog off to a great start, read this post on what and how to write your first 3 blog articles about.
Knock Out Your About Page
Although most About pages look simple, they somehow become monsters for people to create in real life.
That’s why getting a little help to create a great about page will help you knock it out before you get the chance to think twice about it.
To create an About page for your new website that adds value and helps visitors understand what your business is all about, take our quick Thrive University free course on How To Build a Powerful About Page next.
Bring Your Online Course Sales Page to Life
Remember that “sales page first” draft you created in the last chapter? It’s time to bring it to life on your new website.
And even though that still feels super intimidating, I’m going to give you a cheat that’ll make it super simple.
Instead of having to hack your new sales page together from scratch, you can use a brilliant Thrive Architect sales page template that was designed especially to sell online courses from your own website.
It’s called the ‘Online Course Sales Page’ template and it’s the one you’ll be using to get your “sales page first” draft built with Thrive Architect in the shortest time possible. And don’t worry, it looks amazing!
Follow along with this tutorial video to get your online course “sales page first” draft done and published on your WordPress website:
Let's Start Building So You Can Sell Online Courses from Your Own Website
Congratulations! You’ve arrived…
It’s finally time to start building your online course.
To do this fast, affordably and with the fewest number of tech hurdles blocking your way, we’re going to explain how to build your online course with Thrive Apprentice integrated with a payment gateway and digital product delivery tool called SendOwl.
Of course, there are several other online course tools and plugins out there you can choose to use instead, but this recommendation IS NOT made lightly.
Although this might not be the online course solution that gives you the most bells and whistles, IT IS the most professional looking, simple to setup and insanely affordable option available as a bootstrapped solopreneur.
Too many entrepreneurs underestimate the cost of complexity when starting their business and we guarantee you that other online course setups out there are cashing in on that fact. They‘ll keep you busy trying to duck tape complex and expensive tools together when what you really need is to get the tech stuff done quickly so you can actually start building your online course.
That’s why, by the end of this section, you’re going to have an online course setup on your WordPress website that not only delivers a pro-learning experience, but can accept payments and restrict course access to paying customers only.
Ready to get these final tech hurdles out of the way so you can start building your course? Awesome! Continue…
Setting Up Thrive Apprentice on Your WordPress Site
Assuming you already installed Thrive Apprentice through the Thrive Product Manager plugin discussed above, now watch this tutorial video showing you exactly how to setup Thrive Apprentice on your WordPress website while integrating it with SendOwl.
Of course, that means in order to follow along with the video, you’ll first need to create a SendOwl Standard Plan for yourself. To get more info on what SendOwl is and what it does, read this.
And once that’s done, you’ll be able to use Thrive Apprentice to start building a premium online course on your WordPress website:
Connecting Your Payment Gateway to SendOwl
The next important task you’ll need to complete is integrating your new SendOwl account with a payment processor (e.g. Stripe, Paypal, ApplePay, etc.).
If you need help learning how to setup one or more payment processing accounts, check out the following resources:
Once you have your SendOwl, Stripe and (optional) PayPal accounts created...
...use the following SendOwl tutorials to help you get them all integrated quickly so you can start accepting payments whenever your course goes live:
Setting Up Video Hosting for Your Online Courses
In order to sell a high-value online course on your website, you’ll need to make your online course video-based. That’s because video courses have a higher perceived value by customers, which makes it easier for your to deliver a course in the $200+ price range.
However, it’s not practical to host your course videos directly from your website. If you do, you’ll quickly burn through your hosting service’s monthly bandwidth limits and crash your site.
To get around this problem, you’ll need to subscribe to a video hosting service.
The video hosting service we recommend starting out is Vimeo Plus. That’s because it’s currently the easiest, highest quality video delivery solution at the lowest price.
Vimeo Plus also comes with good privacy/protection options so non-customers can’t view your course without purchasing and logging in — which is exactly why you shouldn’t use YouTube to host your videos if you were wondering.
We don't recommend messing around with Amazon S3 and custom video players either. It saves you a bit of money, but adds a ton of complexity to creating your online courses.
In this chapter, you learned all the technical details of how to build your WordPress website and get your tools ready to craft your first online course.
Now that the technical hurdles are out of the way and you finally got your course built, it's time to move on and learn how to start building an audience of true fans that are going to love your online courses — even if you’re starting with a nonexistent following.
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Online Business Launch Strategy Series
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Next Up: How To Build Your Audience
We’re going to show you:
By the end of chapter 5, you’ll be well on your way to growing a loyal audience ready to launch and sell your first online course product!
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