Written by Claire Emerson
If you had to boil business down to three key ingredients, they’d be:
- Market, and
Easy enough to comprehend. But significantly harder to master and execute.
Let’s unpack what’s in this holy trinity of business, and figure out how supporting skills can pave the way to a successful online business.
Make, Market, Sell: The backbone of a thriving online business
Without the ability to make, market, and sell — your business will fail.
Unfortunately many budding entrepreneurs often lack at least one of these cornerstone skills. Whether it’s a fear of selling, technical shortcomings, or a distaste for self-promotion, it’s likely that one of these will be a stumbling block.
If you’ve felt the pain of imposter syndrome, or tried to launch something new on the back of “hope” marketing, you aren’t alone. We’ve all been there. Those speed bumps can really cripple your confidence.
So what’s the antidote?
There isn’t one, there are six! The right set of skills can propel you past all the self-doubt that threatens to poison your progress.
Six business-boosting skills you can start learning today
#1: No-code tools
After speaking to hundreds of fledgling freelancers and entrepreneurs about the ideas and projects they want to get off the ground — by far, the biggest obstacle is “getting my website up and running.”
And while no-code tools cover a vast array of business operations, many of them are designed specifically for people who want to build an online hub to market and sell their products and services.
As someone who leverages no-code tools for my own website, I can assure you, it’s much easier to get your MVP up and running when you’re not reliant on a developer to bring your vision to life.
...can help you get a website up and running with minimal technical knowledge.
These no-code tools, coupled with the other skills and tools we’ll cover in this post, can help you turn your simple idea into a sleek and professional online business.
Of course, just as hard to come by as technical skills are design skills.
But guess what?
You don’t need to be a pro at Photoshop or pay that hefty Adobe fee every month to create a good-looking website, make a polished visual presentation, or have a standout social media profile.
One of my favorite no-code tools for getting better with design is Canva.
And sure, if you’re a graphic designer, you might have just choked on your coffee and cursed at your computer…
But for us mere mortals who haven’t been gifted with an artistic eye, Canva is the way to go! It’s got swipeable templates, drag-and-drop elements, and an incredibly easy UX. Plus, it’s packed with excellent examples that will train you to approach your design with a more professional appeal.
It won’t turn you into a designer overnight, but it will take your visual assets to the next level.
Newbies often fall short on marketing and selling, the two critical components of a successful business
This is mostly because marketing is a huge topic to cover, and selling… well it’s just plain scary (and many of us have the wrong idea about what it involves). But one skill that will help you overcome a lot of the discomfort around both of these fundamentals — is copywriting.
“Copywriting is using words to persuade people to take some kind of action, such as clicking on an ad or purchasing a product. For this reason, it’s one of the most important aspects of marketing. It’s also why professional copywriters are the highest-paid writers on the planet.” — John McIntyre
If you’re interested in some excellent books on writing great copy, check out this list.
And if you’re looking for a tool to help you get started, something like copy.ai might be of benefit.
#4: Digital marketing
Your digital presence is a powerful piece of your online business puzzle.
But what exactly does digital marketing entail?
Well, to keep it simple, let’s pop the major components into a short list:
- Market understanding. Knowing who your audience is, what their problems are, and what kind of solution they’d be interested in. This is where the marketing journey begins.
- Providing value. You build a solid base for your business by solving problems in the form of content, products, and services.
- Getting traffic. You need people to actually visit your website, sign up for your offers, and subscribe to your newsletter. So whether it’s social media, guest blogging, partnerships, or networking, how you send traffic to your site is key.
- Building your list. Owning a distribution list is still the most rewarding way to build relationships with your audience. Not to mention it’s the perfect way to provide value, improve your market understanding, and get traffic.
- Making valuable offers. You can’t make money if you don’t make offers. And while it’s often the part of marketing that makes us queasy — promoting your products and services is what powers your profits.
- Testing and experimentation. “Try and try again” is the mantra for budding and established entrepreneurs alike. If you don’t adopt this experimental mindset, and test till you get it right — you’ll likely waste time and money either pursuing a dud of an idea or giving up before something great has been given time to shine.
There are plenty of resources for dialing up your digital marketing skills, so to cut through the noise — I suggest finding a coach or a mentor who has done what you want to do, resonates with your personal values, and shares their mistakes and missteps openly.
Skill #5: Organization and productivity
Managing your time, energy, and attention is the key to execution.
And while I prefer a paper-based, analog approach for task management, I know plenty of people who swear by some of these powerful productivity apps and systems for getting more of the right things done:
- Trello is a digital project management tool that organizes your tasks using visual boards.
- Notion is an all-in-one solution for notes, tasks, wikis, and databases. It can be used for both personal and business pursuits and projects.
- Roam Research is a note-taking tool for networked thought. You can use it for anything from writing, brainstorming, journaling, managing to-do lists, drawing diagrams, and more.
- Slack is an online communication tool that brings all the pieces and people you need together so you can get things done.
- Airtable is part spreadsheet, part database. And works with many of the tools you already use.
- Asana makes staying organized a snap — with more than 100 integrations, you can use it for just about everything.
- Google Workspace gives you the power to create, collaborate, and organize everything for your business, from anywhere you are.
Of course, the key to being more effective has less to do with the tools you use, and more to do with the decisions you make about how you spend your time.
Getting clear on the results you want, creating systems and habits that support those goals, and making a point of showing up every day to follow through with your plans will have more impact than choosing the right to-do app.
Automation is like an unpaid employee that never sleeps.
Allocating even a little bit of time to automate some of your regular tasks will provide more freedom and flexibility for you later. If you’ve been hesitant about automating some aspects of your business, (and are convinced you don’t have the time to do it) I’d like you to consider a few of these questions:
- What tasks do you still lack a system for?
- What are you putting off until the mood strikes you?
- What simple system or ritual would put you in front of the work you want to do?
- What tasks are you going over and over again that you could invest time and/or money into automating?
You can work a little smarter by using tools and tech to your advantage. And can eliminate many of the repetitive and routine tasks from your to-do list.
A few of my favorite automation tools are:
- Zapier: Easy automation for busy people. Zapier moves info between your web apps automatically, so you can focus on your most important work.
- ConvertKit: Email marketing software that lets you create simple systems for connecting with and selling to your earned audience.
- Typeform: Easily collect and capture customer research and user data. They boast beautiful interactive forms, without the need to code.
Bonus: 3 soft skills you can build to level-up your progress
Technical skills make a huge difference when it comes to building a successful online business.
But you and I both know that managing our thoughts, feelings, and emotions is just as important. This is why it pays to sharpen your soft skills too.
And while there are a number of ways to improve your self-management, there are three skills I think are worth shedding some light on. These play a vital role in navigating the ups and downs of self-employment.
- Decision making, and
If you can build mental toughness, refine your thinking to become more decisive, and consistently do the things you say you’re going to do — you’ll catapult yourself from bumbling amateur to capable professional.
And as we discussed earlier, building smart systems and habits will help you upgrade how you operate and ensure you spend time cultivating the kind of mindset that makes the right things happen.
Leveling up: What it takes to sharpen this skill set
"Real learning is difficult because it makes you feel incompetent before you feel competent." — Seth Godin
We’ve run through a fairly exhaustive set of skills, and perhaps you’re evaluating how proficient you are at each of them. Maybe the answers to those questions don’t look too good. Fear not!
That discomfort — that feeling of inadequacy — is the #1 factor that topples our chances of getting the traction and results we want. But luckily for you (and me!), there are a few things we can do to help smash through those doubt-ridden roadblocks and make more tangible progress.
And three things worth focusing on to help you with your follow-through are:
- Put in the reps. There is no shortcut for avoiding the discomfort of growth. And rather than looking for some miraculous fix, what you need to do is cultivate a habit of practice. Practice will let you intentionally improve at "the thing" you find so challenging to do.
- Create more than you consume. Before you can create great work, it makes sense to check out what other people are doing to execute their best ideas. But at some point, all that consuming leads you to unhealthy comparisons and wrestling with your inner critic. The solution to that lack of confidence is making it a priority to create every day. It’s the “magic pill” that builds momentum and manufactures motivation.
- Build systems and habits that support your best work. Of course, getting yourself to do all the things you say you want to do is no easy feat. This is where systems can help. Smart personal systems empower you to take more action. Whether they help you conserve energy, save time, or complete a specific task — they work in your favor to simplify and add structure to your daily life.
There is no doubt that systems, habits, and consistent practice increase your level of action, help you apply what you learn, and allow you to manage your resources more effectively.
An important note on “just in time” learning
"The sure sign of an amateur is he has a million plans and they all start tomorrow." — Steven Pressfield
Before we wrap today, I think it’s important to share some wisdom I’ve gathered in my time pursuing online business success. And that is:
If you love to learn, but often get stuck, overwhelmed, or just plain excited by all the new material you're consuming — I suggest using the “just in time” approach for applying what you learn. To help shift you into practice mode.
Many of us get stuck constantly consuming, and never implement anything.
So instead of filling your head with lessons you’re not ready to apply yet, with “just in time” learning, you work through only what you need to know and do, right now.
Next time you’re learning something new, do this:
- Focus on the next, most significant, thing you need to accomplish
- Understand how it will directly affect and propel a current project you have
- Use your learning material to create a plan to achieve that specific result within the next week
- Avoid anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to get you to the next point
- Rinse and repeat for the next lesson, module, or skill you’re studying.
Practice makes progress
Remember where we started: For any business venture to be a success, you need to be able to:
- Make something people want,
- Market it in a way so that it attracts the right audience, and
- Sell enough so that you can keep doing more of the making and marketing (or better yet, pay someone else to do it).
There are a number of supporting skills that will make mastering these three fundamentals that much easier. Not to mention, there are a bunch of systems and tools you can take advantage of to simplify the process.
So with all that in mind, what skill are you working on at the moment? And what project can you apply it to, today — to start putting in the reps and reap the rewards you want?