How to Start an Online Business in 2021: The Ultimate Survival Guide for Solopreneurs

It has never been easier to escape your 9-5 in pursuit of the freedom that entrepreneurship promises.

With more than 41.8 million US adults identifying as consultants, freelancers or solopreneurs either part- or full-time, it’s easy to see that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. As an increasing number of those professionals choose to start a business with no intention of ever adding staff, “solopreneur” is likely a term that will only grow in popularity.

But, becoming a business owner can flip your entire life upside down.

As the sole person organizing, managing and assuming the risks for your business without the help of a partner it can quickly become very overwhelming and when you stop working, your cash flow is likely often reduced to zero.

But deep down, you can’t shake the feeling of wanting to build a business of your own. And now more than ever, you need a way to consistently make more income so you gain more stability and absolutely more freedom. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between being chained to a desk – in an office or at home – because there is a much easier way to build the type of business you envisioned for yourself.

Whether you operate on or offline, staying consistent with your marketing while also giving your clients more of your attention is the key to a successful business which means that a sales funnel needs to be at the core of your business strategy. It’s also a godsend for busy owners trying to do it all because you won’t be spending your time chasing down new clients.

With a sales funnel, attracting new leads that turn into paying customers becomes automated and predictable. As a result, your business becomes more manageable. This guide is going to help you understand the ins and outs of building a profitable sales funnel for your business without burning out or giving up in the process. If you’ve already built a sales funnel for your business but it isn’t performing as you expected, this guide will show you exactly what to do to fix it.

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WHAT IS A SALES FUNNEL?

Before I dive into the various stages of building a sales funnel, I want to be clear about what it is. Funnels are the engine that runs your digital marketing strategy: they are essentially the outline of your customer’s journey.

When building a sales funnel for your business, you’re mapping out a customer journey that takes them from not knowing who you are to becoming a client or customer.

In order to do this, each person goes through four stages –  awareness, interest, decision and action – when making a purchase decision. We build sales funnels so this process happens automatically and results can be tracked at every step along the way.

 

DOES YOUR BUSINESS NEED A SALES FUNNEL?

Every business absolutely needs a sales funnel.

Whether you’re a local business owner or an international digital consultant, a funnel is a critical part of selling your products and services (at scale).

We already know that purchase decisions are rarely made on the fly. A prospect needs to go through the different stages of awareness to make a purchase.  We build funnels to help make that decision.

In short, if you want to consistently make sales (and gain back a little freetime), you need a funnel.

 

THE SALES FUNNEL STAGES

The stages you’ll build into your sales funnel will vary depending on who you ask, your offer and especially your audience/niche. For some, they build out 7-stage funnels while others keep theirs small with 3 steps.

However, most funnels will have 4 key phases so that’s what I’ll be discussing here. I’ll also add a bonus step at the end that you can take to help increase the profits you see from your funnel.

Here are the stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Decision
  4. Action

And the bonus step? It’s retention which means building loyalty for repeat sales because the best customers are people who’ve already purchased from you.

 

Stage 1: Awareness

The first stage in your sales funnel is awareness. This is where strangers learn that you, your company or your product exists. This usually starts with them having a problem and now they’re aware that you have a solution.

This stage can happen organically – like when someone stumbles across your LinkedIn profile and clicks through to your website. But others can become aware of you via paid advertising like when they see your ad on their Facebook feed.

 

Stage 2: Interest

In this stage, you’ve gotten the prospect’s attention. They are actively seeking a solution to their problem and decide to take a look at the solution you offer. Great, they’ve made it to the interest stage.

Now the interest stage doesn’t mean they’re actively looking to purchase something from you yet but they’ve taken an extra step to check you out. This could mean they’ve decided to follow you on social media or signed up for your email list.

They’re past the looking stage. At this point, they are no longer a prospect but a lead – there’s a great potential here to make a sale.

 

Stage 3: Decision

After the interest stage comes the decision stage.

Once a prospect enters this stage of the sale funnel, your lead is ready to make a decision. They want to solve their problem and they’re actively considering you.

During the decision stage, your lead is paying more attention to what you’re putting out. They may even take a step toward contacting you — maybe they respond to a newsletter with a question or they book a free call or attend your webinar.

They’re so close to making a purchase and it’s up to you to close the sale.

 

Stage 4: Action

This is the final stage of a traditional funnel where your lead is ready to finalize the deal.

During this stage, money is exchanged and you end up with a brand new customer or client. Congratulations!

 

Bonus Stage 5: Loyalty

Okay, so you’ve made a sale which is great, but that doesn’t mean you’re done selling. Your new customer or client has only made a single purchase, but you have a lot more to offer them.

Retaining clients and building loyalty can be done in many ways, but a common form is emails, special offers and stellar customer service. Your goal here is to continue selling to the customers you already have.

 

EXAMPLE OF A SALES FUNNEL

Every business out there has their form of sales funnels – from the local restaurant to online giants like Amazon. They all look different on the outside, but the process on the inside is the same.

Let’s say you’re a virtual assistant and you have just created your new service package CEO System: The Ultimate Guide to Organizing Your Online Business, and you’re ready to make a sales funnel. It might look something like this:

  1. Awareness: An instagram video about your free (related) product
  2. Interest: A product landing page with an email sign up
  3. Decision: The free product delivered and a drip campaign
  4. Action: A no-brainer deal on your service

 

HOW TO BUILD YOUR FIRST SALES FUNNEL

Building a sales funnel sounds more complex than you think. Chances are you’re already doing each of these steps, but you haven’t put them all together as a sales funnel yet.

Keep in mind that when you’re creating a sales funnel, every content piece you create – whether it’s a blog post or video on social media – becomes a part of your sales funnel. So, you are surely on your way to building a great funnel.

 

Step 1: Analyze Behavior

For a highly-effective sales funnel that converts like crazy, you need to get to know as much as possible about your audience. You’ll be able to market specifically to those who will benefit from what you offer and do it in a way that captures their attention.

 

Step 2: Create Eye-Catching Content

Don’t waste your time building a sales funnel that no one is interested in. So make sure that you create content that looks awesome, is on brand, and solves problems.

To start, create content that focuses on organic growth and make sure it’s evergreen so you can distribute it and maximize it’s reach. Then, once you have the money to do so, put a little toward ads.

One of the first pieces of content you should be creating is a lead magnet to get people to sign up to your list. Other good options would be infographics, social posts and blog articles.

 

Step 3: Build a Landing Page

You want to create awareness content that sends people somewhere. That somewhere is usually a landing page where strangers become leads.

Make sure your landing page has a bold call-to-action. Make your page even more persuasive by adding things like past results, testimonials or even samples of your work. And most importantly, be sure to collect email addresses!

 

Step 4: Design a Drip Campaign

Following up with prospects and leads on a regular basis is a must, but who has time to sit down and write emails on the fly? So you’ll want to design an email campaign that delivers persuasive content to subscribers over time without being annoying.

Use educational emails to build up your audience. Share free content that helps your audience with a small win and end your campaign with an irresistible offer.

 

Step 5: Build Loyalty

Your job isn’t done once you’ve made the sale. Growth happens when you turn one-time customers into repeat buyers and advocates for your brand.

Design a post-purchase drip campaign that gives customers access to exclusive things like coupons or discounts, first-access to new products and other swag that’ll keep them coming back.

Important: You don’t have to glue together several pieces of software to build your sales funnel. I personally LOVE using Kartra’s all-in-one marketing platform for my sales funnels which includes landing pages, email marketing, memberships and more!

I was able to eliminate 10 different subscriptions just by moving everything over to Kartra. Check out the $1 trial to see if it’s a good fit for your business. No more struggling with tech because this is totally worth it!

 

EVALUATING YOUR SALES FUNNEL

You’ve created your sales funnel and that’s great, but you don’t want to stop there. It’s rare that people build a sales funnel that works perfectly right out the gate so you need to make sure everything is working. And then you’ll want to do regular checkups and analyze your results.

So how can you tell if your sales funnel is a success? The biggest sign is going to be your conversion rate.

Conversion rates tell you how many people have taken action versus how many people have seen your content. For example, if you’re running a Facebook ad, a conversion rate to look at would be how many people signed up for your email list after clicking through on your ad.

When evaluating your sales funnel, don’t forget to ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you making any sales?
  • Are your existing customers coming back and buying more?
  • What other results do you want to see that you aren’t seeing?

 

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR SALES FUNNEL ISN’T WORKING

Look, not every funnel is going to start making sales right after launch. Some will need to be tweaked a bit.

We typically use 2% to 3% as a good conversion rate across all industries. However there are some niches paired with a stellar sales funnel that can make a bigger impact.

If you find that your sales funnel isn’t performing as you had hoped, it’s time to dive into testing and tweaking. Maybe your lead magnet isn’t as desirable as you had thought. Or maybe your sales page copy isn’t very clear. Or it could be something else entirely.

 

Problem #1: If people aren’t engaging with your awareness content

This is the very first stage of your funnel and the one that fuels all the rest. A little digging around now is definitely worth the effort.  Research and don’t be afraid to experiment and tweak your awareness content until the results meet your expectations.

 

Review #2: If people aren’t signing up for your email list

Ask yourself, “am I targeting the right audience?” “Is this the right offer for this audience?” “Are my expectations reasonable?” You might find that you have to adjust your awareness content strategy to make sure you’re filling your funnel with qualified leads.

 

Review #3: If people aren’t making it past the decision stage

You’ve described your product and offer, but people aren’t buying. The biggest opportunity for improvement at this stage is to refine your offer by ensuring it’s focused on the buyer. Get to know their unique set of problems better and brush up on your sales pitch.

My best piece of advice is to just keep at it and be willing to let the data lead your decisions. If something isn’t converting – whether it’s a lead magnet or your product – be open to tweaking, refining or changing it all together.

A sales funnel is like a houseplant. You can’t just sit it by the window and hope it grows. You have to problem solve and adjust until you have a sales funnel that’s booming with sales. 

Hey there! My name is Tylesha Dobson, founder of Afterglow Digital.

We’re sharing everything we know (and it’s a lot) about websites, marketing, tech and business. Continue the conversation with us over on one of our social media channels!

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I want to show you how to quickly build a wildly successful business online without burning out or giving up.