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Why I Burned Down (And Rebuilt) My Online Business In 100 Days

You have to tear down the house you're currently in if you want to one day build a skyscraper.

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Two steps forward, five steps back, one-and-a-half cartwheels, throw your back out, and then do it all over again tomorrow. That’s how this entrepreneurship thing works, right? If your answer is yes, you’re definitely not alone.

So many people think their first business idea will be the thing that takes them from zero to yacht selfie in one fell swoop. This kind of linear, no-setbacks progression is rarely how things play out in the online entrepreneurship space — despite what social media might lead you to believe. Most successful businesses that go the distance pivot and iterate often; a 2009 report from the IBM Institute found that 98% of CEOs were tweaking their business models. Innovation is the norm, y'all.

I’ve been in online business for seven years and have built up a good network as a consultant. But I knew I wanted to shift the direction of my business this year. Then my sciatica flared up and chronic pain reared its ugly head this summer. I didn’t just want to shift; I had to shift if I was going to stay alive in this industry.

So over the last several months, I formulated a plan, wound down my retainers and other funnels, and focused everything into one offer: Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for small business owners and online entrepreneurs.

Burning down the very thing that delivers you your paycheck is terrifying. Having setbacks along the way — firing my web developer, a personal emergency that forced me to fly home, and other unexpected expenses — makes it even more terrifying. But as entrepreneurs, it’s all part of the gig.

I’ve reimagined my online business in 100 days — and now I love it. If you’re an online entrepreneur who sells products, programs or services, and are considering a transition, here are five steps you can take to do the same.

Define your “revenue bridge”

Let’s first address the elephant in the room, which is how you’re going to keep money flowing as you navigate your business transition.

My guess is that you are in one of three situations:

  • You have the capital and could fund your entire pivot now.

  • You have some of the capital you need, and need to keep some revenue streams going during your transition.

  • You don’t have the capital you need and need to go rustle it up somewhere.

If you’re in the first category, you’re good to go — but it might make sense to keep some revenue streams humming along for the sake of smoothing out cash flow.

If you’re in the second category or third category like I was… get ready to hustle. Go out and offer some spot packages or services that can help you pull in quick cash. Make monetization a game. Often, we villainize trading dollars for hours, but in this scenario putting in hours in order to be flush with cash is a great idea.

Trust me: The transition itself is already tumultuous enough. Your timeline may drag on, and unexpected expenses are almost certainly going to appear along the way. The last thing you want to have happen is run out of runway right before you take off.

Keep revenue humming along and focus on short, burst-like packages you can sell to people that are under 90 days in length. This will help you resist overcommitment.

Related: Why Diversifying Business Revenue Streams Is Crucial To Your Success (And How To Do It)

Audit your existing content

Some of us have been at this for years, and we’ve produced dozens if not hundreds of social media posts, email newsletters, blogs and other content. We’ve developed standard operating procedures, built online courses and have had fancy-looking worksheets designed. You’re probably sitting on way more content than you realize.

Set aside a few hours, pour yourself a refreshing beverage, and audit your content – all of it. As you comb through everything that you have produced over the years, look for material that is still relevant and valuable to customers. Instead of reinventing the wheel, take the content you already have and brainstorm ways to offer it to your clients in a different, more leveraged way.

Many of your past articles or social posts don’t need to be trashed; they simply need to be refreshed and modernized. Once you realize the content you created months or years ago could be making you money today and tomorrow, the prospect of pivoting feels much more achievable.

Assemble your contractor dream team

You’re probably already familiar with Hofstadter's law without even realizing it. Hofstadter's law states that the more complex a task or project is, the more difficult it is to accurately estimate how much time you’ll need to get the job done.

Related: ​​Why Entrepreneurship Always Takes More Time Than You Expect

If you’re pivoting in your business, chances are high you’re navigating new territory that will feel disorienting and complex at times. I was definitely in this category as I got ready to melt my consulting business down to the studs.

I was going from one-on-one consulting to a more leveraged group program offer. And I knew I wanted to “own my tech” and minimize the number of SaaS expenses I paid each month. So I brought someone in to help me plan out a custom website build.

I wanted this offer to have a “heightened” quality and look visually different from other similar offers on the market. So I brought in an illustrator to whip up some custom graphics.

Then I hired a developer and handed the vision over to them. I also brought in a coach who would help me assist in the program, and a trademark attorney to help me lock down the brand from day one. I upped my virtual assistant’s hours for eight weeks to help us out with nitty gritty details. 

In writing all this out, it feels like a lot — particularly since I normally operate mostly as a one-man band. But there is nothing more expensive in entrepreneurship than inaction. Lack of knowledge, motivation and/or support gets very expensive very quickly as an entrepreneur.

Having a temporary dream team was an investment, but it’s also what helped me nail my pivot in just over one fiscal quarter. Bring in contractors to help you navigate your transition. 

Incentivize early adopters

It’s important to have early adopters who are excited to test the product, give you feedback and use it to get results. In these early days, optimize for learning, not cash. 

Consider how you could incentivize being an early adopter. From fast-action bonuses to additional one-on-one coaching calls, don’t be afraid to sweeten the pot. For many early adopters, the tradeoff of being on the ground floor of a new product, program, or service — even as you work out the remaining kinks — is that they’ll get additional attention and support. They’ll also see you build up something exciting.

Stay flexible and seek out win/win deals with your prospective clients; the extra sweat equity upfront is absolutely worth it.

Related: The Art and Science of Finding the Right Set of Initial Customers

Dazzle your first 100 customers

I’ll always remember this anecdote from a retail job I had as a teenager: “When people have a great customer experience, they tell seven people who then each tell seven other people. When they have a bad experience… they do the same thing.”

Dazzle your early adopters. Think of ways to create surprise and delight outside of your usually day-to-day online business efforts. 

One of my value-adds is really simple: We send every client who purchases our full program flowers prior to their first call. We even set up some free automations to make this easier: Clients include their mailing address in our intake form in Google Forms, and an automation in Zapier sends the info directly to us as a task in Asana. 

Onboarding is so important for customer experience and branding. Online entrepreneurs talk; if you have an awesome product that is giving people a great experience, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a superb reputation.

If you dislike or even hate your online business, it’s time to intervene. Your transition doesn’t have to take years; by taking the right steps in the right order, you can turn things around and build a business you love far sooner than you think.

Nick Wolny

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Named a "40 Under 40" by Houston Business Journal, Nick Wolny is the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. He writes approximately 200 articles a year on behavior, media and the LGBTQ economy, and resides in Los Angeles.