Most people don’t plan at all. They just come up with a marketing idea, pursue it blindly, and hope for the best. What happens is they inevitably run into roadblocks, and when they do, they’ve already spent so much time and money that they’re hesitant to change anything — and that’s where they get into big trouble.
Before moving forward with any of the strategies in this guide, decide WHY you’re marketing and WHO you’re marketing to.
WARNING: DO NOT skip these first two steps. I call this “The Shrug Effect.” When you say “know your market,” everyone nods and shrugs — “Yeah yeah, Ramit, I got it” — but nobody actually does it.
We’ll talk about:
- How to find a market that will beg for your product or service (and why your market can’t be “everyone”)
- The 3-step validation method you can use today to see if anyone cares about your idea — and what to do if they don’t
- How to get OTHER people excited about what you have to offer. I’m talking about people like customers, bloggers, and market influencers — people who will help you SELL your idea
Step 1: Know who your customer is
A huge mistake is “trying out” digital marketing (running “just a few” Facebook ads, writing blog posts, or creating social media profiles) without first being crystal clear on WHO you’re trying to reach. In my flagship course on starting an online business, Zero to Launch, I talked about the Immersion Strategy, which is a way to understand your customer better than they know themselves through deep research.
It’s easier to set up a bunch of websites and landing pages and Google Analytics than to actually understand people. But when you do the work upfront, everything becomes easier:
You know exactly what to publish on your blog every time you sit down to write.
You instinctively understand the perfect audience of buyers for your ads.
You naturally start to form relationships with bigger businesses, creating profitable partnerships almost effortlessly.
Knowing your customers better than they know themselves: Immersion Strategy 101
- Be playful and approach research with “a child’s mind.” What I mean by that is: Be open to whatever you may find — gather notes on things like interesting phrases you find or surprising admissions from your market.
- Use a variety of sources when researching your market — Google searches, articles, Amazon reviews, Q&A sites like Quora and Reddit, and 1-on-1 conversations with people.
- Keep a running list of every time someone in your market mentions something about the following: A pain point, a fear, a hope, a dream, an obstacle. These are the deep emotional words and phrases that give you a clear picture of your market.
Step 2: Know where your customers are & what they REALLY want
When I was an undergrad at Stanford, I decided to teach my friends about personal finance.
I printed up all these agendas (double-sided, to save money), reserved spots, even got a bunch of my friends to say they would come.
It took me years to figure out why. Do you know?
First, I talked about financial literacy. Big mistake. People want more money, freedom, options. Nobody wants to be “financially literate.” It’s naggy!
Second, I focused on a group of people (college kids) who NOTORIOUSLY hate being nagged about money. It’s irrelevant since they’re not earning it yet!
But like a delusional entrepreneur, I told myself that people “should” listen. Once you use the word “should,” you’ve already lost.
It didn’t matter how technically accurate my talk was. It didn’t matter what my friends logically stood to gain. I chose the wrong audience, and that was it.
It’s like you telling your friend she “should” break up with her horrible, no-job-having boyfriend. Yeah, she should…but she’s not going to. Not until she’s ready.
Same thing with digital marketing. You’ll see a bunch of people giving you tactical tips like “14 Ways to Make Money with PPC,” but one of the most important lessons you can actually learn is…
…GO TO THE BUYERS.
There are tons of looky-loos, especially online — which means it’s easy to waste your time and resources marketing to people that will never buy.
If you take away one thing about running a profitable online business from this guide, make it this: You have to find people who will pay.
This is not random. A huge part of your success in starting an online business comes from consciously choosing who you’re attracting and who you’re repelling.
What if you could find the people who already “get it?” People who are all-in, paying attention, and dying for you to share your special something?
Step 3: Set one goal
When it comes to digital marketing, people tend to jump from one shiny object to the next — Twitter! Facebook ads! Blogging daily! All of these can make money, but only when done with intention. Most people never focus on a strategy long enough to see any results. In fact, they often don’t even know the result they are looking for! (For example, “Twitter followers” is not a result unless you’ve found a landlord that takes that as payment.)
The way to grow is to focus on the ONE result you want from your marketing plan. Do you want to:
- Grow your email list?
- Make more sales?
- Snag a high-profile speaking gig?
- Get featured in the New York Times?
Once you laser in on ONE goal, what you need to do to get there becomes much easier to figure out. Then, when you reach one goal, you can apply what you learned (planning, timing, and focus) to checking off the next from your list.
Now, I want to challenge you to pick the biggest goal that you want to accomplish with your digital marketing. Maybe it’s to get 10,000 people on your list, make $25,000 in revenue, or get featured in a major publication like Forbes or the New York Times.
Whatever that goal is for you, declare it. And then mark your calendar for one year from today.
I work with a lot of people who want to start an online business. It’s a very exciting time for them — but it’s also challenging to know what to focus on, who to listen to, and what bright and shiny objects are worth their time.
So I ask them, “What’s your number one goal?” If they say, “I want to get 5,000 people on my list in one year,” then we have something very concrete to work with.
When they come to the group and say, “I was doing such and such on Twitter the other day,” the group will immediately call them out and say, “Is Twitter going to help you get to 5,000 people on your email list?”
In 95% of the cases, the answer is no. Twitter might be more fun than doing what it takes to get 5,000 email subscribers, but it’s not going to be a real win for the business.
Having that kind of focus is what has enabled me to grow my business from nothing 12 years ago to now being a million-dollar business with 30,000 students all over the world.
Limiting your options may seem scary, but if you do it, your chances of accomplishing your goal increase exponentially.
Step 4: Where you are comes before where you want to be
When you open the Maps app on your phone, what’s the first thing that happens? Before the route is laid out, before you even plug in your destination, the app pinpoints your current location. It’s impossible to map out your path before you know where you’re starting.
At IWT, we approach online business as a SYSTEM.
That’s why we’re not digging right into marketing tactics and instead looking at high-level strategy. We figure out where we are. Map out the route. And then execute.
To start, I highly recommend you focus on email marketing (Part 3) and content marketing (Part 4). Then, once you are more advanced, move on to the other parts of this guide.
Every day, people come to me frantic and frazzled by all the details of their businesses. No wonder they’re overwhelmed!
Throughout this guide, I will be mainly sharing free ways to market your site. However, some of the more advanced strategies, like pay-per-click advertising, cost money. It’s important when deciding which strategies to focus on to understand how (or if) you’ll make that money back.
That’s why I encourage you to focus on the fundamentals first
Get a good idea of your market, your audience, and your numbers. Then, as you grow, you can invest back into your business.