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Beating the 8 Biggest Fears and Challenges in Growing an Online Business


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Two years after I left my teaching job to work online, I am reaching a turning point in my online business.

I have financial success that I didn’t even dare dream about, but I am very aware what a fragile success it is.

The fact is that the majority of my income is earned using SEO to make money from affiliate marketing. I love this strategy – I love that I should keep earning great money while I am on maternity leave and not working. I love that I earn enough that I have transformed the lives of my family. I love that I don’t have to deal with clients. This strategy suits my personality as well as my lifestyle goals.

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However, I effectively have all my eggs in one basket. My current biggest fear is that there will be a Google algorithm change that massively affects my traffic levels or that Amazon will suddenly shut my account – either would have big consequences for me.

My biggest challenge is the need to diversify to spread this risk.

As part of my plan to grow my business in a different direction, I created a survey for readers of the site.

Why conduct a survey?

What better way to discern what your needs, challenges and wants are. I wanted to get a better idea of what you are struggling with, what I could help with and what products would be of most assistance that I could produce.

I offered a $50 voucher in the hope that more people would complete the survey and I am very happy with the amount of  responses so far. You have helped me out a lot. I sent the survey link to my subscriber list, posted it on my Facebook page and profile and shared it in a couple of Facebook groups.

There are many similarities in the responses and it was interesting to see that many of us struggle with the same things, particularly when it comes to our biggest fears, frustrations and challenges in growing our online businesses. The common themes have also been ones that I have shared at different points of this journey.

I decided to share these common themes to show you how you are not alone – these concerns are normal. Hopefully, I can also help ease them and give you some direction based on my own experience .

Biggest fears, frustrations and challenges in growing an online business

Believing in yourself

I put this first as it came up a lot and it was my personal biggest challenge.

Fears of failure and of wasting time and money are quite natural when starting something new – especially something that requires a lot of work up front with the possibility of no financial reward for a long time and no guarantee of one ever.

I had plenty of people write in the survey that they wanted a “guaranteed” SEO strategy or “guaranteed” way to make money online – that’s just not how this works. It is hard to work so hard on something that could prove to be a complete waste of time.

I still shock myself that I was able to have enough faith and self confidence to keep working on this business for so long at the beginning without any real reward and the fact that I was so public about it – having this site and putting it out there to everyone that we were going to be digital nomads to the point where we had one way tickets to Asia without any income guarantee was certainly a kick up the backside!

What helped me?

I had read so many different stories of people who were working online. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? I kept telling myself this over and over again and it did help.

The other thing that helped was making sure I treated blogging as a business. This advice is brandied around all the time because it is so important and the fact is that the vast majority of people do not. Part of this is that you do need to reinvest in your business.

I am sure there are people out there who have a successful blog or niche site and never spent a cent, but I am also sure that they took longer to be successful and that they are in the minority.

For the first seven months, I reinvested everything I earned as well as some of our savings. I bought tools, themes, new domains and spent a lot on online training. Some things were a waste of money, others are what transformed my dreams into reality.

I would urge you to have a budget for growing your business. And be aware that quality advice costs money.

Knowing I was learning more, that I was making educated decisions and that I could see clearly how I was going to get from where I was to where I wanted to be, all helped me have a greater belief in myself and that I could pull this off.

On the upside, once I had some success, it was much easier to keep believing in myself and I don’t battle this demon anywhere near as much as I used to – but it is still there. Often I think this feeling can also be about laziness and making excuses to not try – don’t let it be for you!

Knowing where to start

Definitely one of the hardest parts about building an income online is knowing where to start – there are just so many options that it’s easy to be completely overwhelmed and to waste too much time flitting between different projects. I know I can still read some great article about what someone else is doing online and be tempted to veer off my chosen path.

Just don’t.

What helped me?

It’s definitely important at the beginning to research lots of different approaches and work out what best suits your goals, needs, time, budget, etc. I’d recommend giving yourself a time frame for this.

However, once you have made a decision, you have to keep to it. You should have a time frame, goals and steps to take for this too. For me, a plan is definitely the best way to stop myself feeling overwhelmed and that I have control.

The other thing is to keep working on your chosen approach until you have given it a proper try. Resist temptation to run off and try something else. In fact, after I reached a certain point, I stopped reading a lot of the blogs I was following about working online. It was doing more harm than good and at some point, you have to trust yourself that you know what you are doing.

Listening to the wrong advice

Many respondents were worried about frauds. So am I.

All the mistakes I have made with my business have been because I followed the wrong advice. It’s tough as so many people online give an aura of success when the only success they really have is bullshitting money out of people by pretending they know what they are talking about. It’s frustrating.

I hate the money I have wasted on such people but even worse is the wasted time.

What helped me?

You need to be so vigilant about finding out the credentials of anyone’s advice you are going to follow. And this doesn’t just mean that they are being honest but that they measure success in the same way as you do.

For example, if you measure success in blogging as being awarded many accolades, making it into newspapers and being seen as successful then I am the wrong person to follow. However, if you want to make a great passive income from blogging, then I am a fantastic person to follow.

Neither approach is wrong, but it’s important that you follow advice from people that have the same goals.

It can be hard to work out – as I’ve written before, I followed another blogger for months before realising that their financial success was only coming from blogging about online blogging. They had decided they were “successful” at building niche sites because they made $10 a month from them. This is far from my definition of successful and I had wasted money and time following advice that didn’t work.

On the flip side, there are fabulous resources out there and you shouldn’t be too afraid to trust anyone. I’d recommend finding a few sources you trust and keeping to them. I would never be making the money I make now if I hadn’t paid thousands in training and good tools. It’s worth taking a risk, just make sure it’s an educated risk.

Finding the time and being consistent

As a mother of three, I definitely hear you on this one. Finding time has always been one of my biggest challenges and, unfortunately, it is not something that has got easier with time.

Many respondents also mentioned finding time with family and work commitments was their biggest challenge. I liked that many responses around this also said how it also makes it extra important. I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve had many bloggers without kids say how they wonder how I find the time with kids and been able to do all this – I always respond that in many ways it makes it easier. I don’t have time to be a hobby blogger or to dabble in internet marketing. I don’t listen to idealistic bullshit about blogging which often seems to entail working for brands for free.

My children give me the biggest motivation in the world to make this work, to use my time wisely and help me keep distractions and procrastination to a minimum. They also ensure I am extra keen for success as my underlining motivation has always been to have more flexibility with our lifestyle so that we can have more quality family time.

Of course, feeling this way doesn’t make time magically appear. You have to work on it. And if you can’t find regular time to work then you are never going to be consistent.

What helped me?

Firstly, you don’t have to do everything. Make sure you pick an approach and make a plan based on what time you can make available.

If you can, outsource, buy plugins, use tools, do online training, basically do what you can to take shortcuts. It never fails to amaze me how much time other people who want to build an online business spend working away on something that a $10 tool per month could do for them.

For example, one of the things that helped me make an income jump last year was simply spending a small amount of money on social media scheduling to remove most of that huge time waster from my schedule. A huge help the last few months has been using writers and someone to upload my posts.

Content writing is an absolute killer of time and something I definitely still struggle with. It’s helped since I outsourced some writing but there is only so much I can do there thanks to the personal nature of my blogs. It also doesn’t help that I rarely write an article that is less than 3000 words and have many that are well over 5000.

All I can say about this is to try to limit it. I knew that I didn’t have the time for producing content every day, so I always built my strategy on gaining traffic around not needing new content. It’s very important to have an actual plan around content and content marketing so you don’t get stuck spending all your time just on writing. You can read more about my strategies here.

Finally, I find that being consistent is about having a plan in place. The plan involves when I can work and what I will do with that time. I am very protective of any time that is marked as my work time and I do what I can to make sure it stays that way.

I am also good at using any time I can get, even if it’s just an extra ten minutes while my kids watch Peppa Pig. Being super organised has helped me with this and ensuring that I can use my time as productively as possible.

If you want to travel and work online, you also need to learn to combine these things – it’s not easy. I have had to get used to working in small hotel rooms with three other people around me. It’s a skill, but one you can master, you just have to be disciplined.

Finding an audience

As you know, you can create the best content in the world, but if no one reads it, is there any point? If you have found yourself on this site, then I assume your answer is no. I have no interest in writing 8000 word guides for no one to read but me.

Content marketing can feel like a never ending task especially when it involves SEO, multiple social media channels, forum boards and whatever else you are trying out. It can be a huge time suck and another area that can get very overwhelming (and disappointing) if you let it.

What helped me?

Again, this comes back to having a plan – a well thought out, educated plan for marketing my articles (you can read my plan here).

Remember, it’s also about finding the right audience if you want to grow an online business. Otherwise, it’s just vanity traffic that won’t help you much.

You need to work out who this audience is, where they hang out, how you can attract them to your site, how you can earn income from them and how you can keep them as readers once they have discovered you.

Again, working this out is about educating yourself, having a plan and sticking to it. Don’t give up on any one approach until you have given it time.

Not earning a stable income

I SO hear you on this one. It is probably the thing that has given me the most stress, many tears and sleepless nights.

It was very hard at many points last year knowing I was responsible for supporting a family with an income that was unreliable.

This is why it is important to diversify and hopefully end up with many income streams that are big enough alone to support you if something happens to one of them. Of course, this is easier said than done. We are all time poor.

What helped me?

I think this highlights the importance of giving things time, being patient and working out what really works instead of just flip flopping between many strategies and never really getting anywhere. This is what has worked for me.

Monetising without selling your soul

For people that start with a blog and then think about monetising it, this seems to be a common concern. It certainly has been one of mine. I know it’s easy to feel like a “sell out” and there are some forms of making money from blogs which make me feel so uneasy that I could never ever do it – like if I was to have built this site pretending I was already a successful online entrepreneur or if I recommended products that didn’t work.

At the same time though, if you want a financially successful blog you have to combine what you want to do with what needs to be done to be successful. I would certainly not do things that I feel uncomfortable about, especially when they are plain wrong like my examples above.

However, do I write about things I don’t want to to make money? Of course. Do I do work activities that I don’t want to do? All the time. I personally hate just about every element of self promotion, but it needs to be done, so I do it.

I get driven crazy by idealistic bs about blogging – like if you are true to yourself and write quality content people will come. Sure, as long you find a way to help them discover you, as long you have a blog that looks legitimate and is easy to read, etc etc.  Many bloggers seem to act as though it’s evil to even want to make money.

If you want your blog to be a business, you have to treat it like one. There’s going to be tasks you don’t like, but that doesn’t mean you are selling your soul. Anything that feels like that, I recommend you keep away from. But be prepared to compromise on the rest.

That quote about making your passion your job and you will never work a day in your life? Utter bs. In my experience, as soon as you have to start doing something, the less enjoyable it is. I would much rather be a professional travel blogger than back teaching or computer programming, but it doesn’t mean my job isn’t work.

What helped me?

There are so many methods of monetising a website. If something doesn’t sit right with you then move on to another idea.

I absolutely HATE it when bloggers preach that there is only one correct way to monetise or you have to do something a certain way. You don’t. Find what works for you.

For me, it was SEO combined with affiliate marketing. Since my goals for my business was more free time and earning passive income, this was a great fit for me. I also hate self promotion and could never be someone on Facebook saying me, me, me – for me, that would feel like selling my soul. 

This is not the only way I have monetised my websites but it is my favourite and by far the most successful way.

Getting readers to click and buy on your links

So you’ve built the site, you have the traffic but how do you convert your readers into making purchases?

What helped me?

I am someone who initially gave up on affiliate marketing very quickly.

I added links to old posts that were getting lots of traffic and just magically expected that I would start suddenly pulling in money. I made $0.

Fast forward a few months and I started making what turned into very decent income from affiliate marketing. What was I doing wrong?

There were two main things:

  1. I wasn’t focusing on reader intent when I was adding affiliate links to my pages.
  2. I did absolutely nothing to optimise my placement of affiliate links. If I mentioned a product or hotel, I would link to an external site and I put no thought or decent research into whether this was the best approach.

Once I concentrated on reader intent and optimising my placement of affiliate links, my affiliate income increased dramatically.

You need to have a plan about attracting the right readers to the right articles and you need to try different approaches to adding affiliate links to your articles until you work out which convert best on your site.

You can read more about optimising placement of affiliate links in my article about making more money with Amazon. I also often discussed maximising hotel affiliate revenue in my income reports.

You can also find more posts on blogging fundamentals here.

There you have it – those were the recurring themes in my questions about fears, frustrations and challenges. Do you share them? What are your biggest fears, challenges and frustrations?

I also wanted to take this chance to invite you to subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t already. Now that I no longer write public income reports, this is the only place where you can read about how my income is growing, what’s working, what isn’t and what I am working on next.

About the Author

Sharon Gourlay is passionate about working online and helping others to follow in her footsteps. She left Australia with her young family at the end of 2014 determined to grow an online business. She succeeded and now supports her family of 5 to live their dream lifestyle.

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