Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Everyone Should Start an Online Business (or How You Can Be Your Own Patron)

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Most people I talk to are at least a little curious (and sometimes equally skeptical) about the idea of starting an online business. But they don’t know where to go from there.

Launch Business

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

For the longest time, I avoided this whole world, because it sounded sketchy (and a lot of it was). But when I launched my own business, what I found out about making money online surprised me. Here’s what I learned:

  • You don’t have to over-crowd your website with ugly pop-up ads that attack the user.
  • You don’t have to turn into a used car salesman with slicked-back, greasy hair, hawking useless products at people who don’t want them.
  • You don’t have to spam people to death and sell your soul to the Devil just to make a buck (promise).

Does this sound like you?

I have a missionary friend who doesn’t make enough money to save up in case of an emergency. If she ever gets in a minor car accident, her life will be very difficult. She calls it living by faith; I call it scary.

My younger sister just graduated from college and is having trouble entering a crowded market in the process of downsizing. She feels stuck.

My wife and I know a couple who are adopting a child from Uganda (which is expensive), and they’re trying to find ways to make some side income online. But they’re not exactly sure where they’re going to get all that cash.

And of course, I have a TON of writer and artist friends who are working a day job, while waiting to be picked to publish their book or hired by a company to finance their dreams… some day. In the meantime, they’re growing frustrated.

What are these people supposed to do? Start an online business.

Why an online business?

Three reasons: It’s cheap, it’s simple, and it’s profitable.

Look, I’m not going to tell you starting a business is easy — it’s not. But it’s easier than it’s ever been.

In the old days, if you wanted to be an entrepreneur (which literally means “risk-taker”), you had to take a lot of risks (duh). You’d have to buy or rent office space, raise some capital (i.e. go into debt), hire a bunch of staff, and hope for the best.

In those days, I never would’ve wanted to start a business. I never would’ve been able. But the reality is now you can start a business for around $100 (just ask Chris Guillebeau).

What it really costs

If you want to start an online business, here’s what it’ll cost you:

If my math is correct, that’s around $120 — for the year. My dad used to run a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with dirt-cheap rent, and he still paid over 20 times that (which isn’t as much as it sounds).

Yes, as you grow your business, the expenses can rack up but so will the revenue. The point is that it’s VERY cheap to start. And that’s the hardest part of anything: getting going in the first place.

So basically, all you have to do to succeed is make your first hundred bucks (to make back your investment), and the rest is profit. No investors, no debt, no problem. All it takes is time and energy.

“But I’m an artist…”

Right. You’re an artist. Like Hemingway. Like da Vinci. Like thousands who have come before you… and starved. Unless they had a patron. Someone who would pay their bills so they could create their art.

But here’s the thing: There are no more patrons. Not really. No one’s going to give you a heap of money for your genius. No publisher is going to buy your manuscript for a million dollars. It’s not going to happen.

That patron? It’s going to have to be you. The best part is we live in an age when this has never been easier.

Yes, easy. Compared to the Renaissance and the Roaring Twenties and even the late 80s when publishers were doling out six-figure advances to first-time authors, it’s easy to finance your own calling. You just have to have some guts.

Of course, starting a business will take work and time, but it is possible (and quite cheap). Which is what make this whole thing remarkable: Anyone who wants to do it, can do it.

And that, as per usual, is the really scary part. Because now it’s up to you.

Have you ever thought of launching an online business? What’s stopped you? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://www.positivewriter.com/ Bryan Hutchinson

    Darn, Jeff. Really, did you have to?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins


  • http://hugmomma.blogspot.com/ Hugmomma

    You know that moment when you are frustrated with too much information trying to make heads or tails out of what you should know, and what is just advertising; intimidation is kicking your butt over making big changes and learning new stuff; and then a kind soul sends you an email with all the answers. I’m there! Sigh…. Thank you Lord, Your people save the day again. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Amen. :)

  • Joanne

    Great article! I have taken more risks this past year than ever in my life and at times I have wondered- have I finally discovered myself or am I just in an extended midlife crisis? Lol! We are so lucky to live in these times when people publish and do things independently and don’t look so much to others for validation.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Well said.

  • Cheri Fields

    I was able to catch  Danny Iny’s webinar yesterday. Thanks for recommending him!… It was hard to hear what I need to do to make my “brand” profitable. But then I remembered the whole reason I began writing in the first place: earn enough money to take my pastor husband with me to Israel and then save up for missions trips for our kids….. Things are already starting to change on my blog and I pray Iny’s strategy works!…..For me the biggest hurdle to starting an online business is having to put so much out up front without a direct promise of results. So far, I haven’t earned any money (just been blessed with goods and services), but wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. This awareness is helping me stay motivated to take the next steps.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Those are admirable goals, Cheri.

  • Stef Gonzaga

    I have been thinking of starting an online business for a while, so your post came just in the nick of time.

    I think what’s really stopping me are money and the uncertainty of the product’s marketability. As a writer, I enjoy collecting beautifully designed notebooks and notepads as these help inspire me to write or come up with good ideas. I’m not sure though if other people would share the same sentiments as me and be willing to pay for it.

    I hope to get around to doing some basic market research. Thanks for the push, Jeff! 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Awesome, Stef.

      • Stef Gonzaga

        Thanks Jeff! 

    • Renee Altson

       i share your desire and sentiment for beautiful notebooks! up until recently, i have been a moleskine lover…..

      • Stef Gonzaga

        Hi Renee! I’m a Moleskine lover too, but I’m checking out other brands (some handmade with love) to include in my soon-to-be inventory. :)

    • Melanie Fischer

      I think this is a fabulous idea! I got a fancy scribbler for
      Christmas and it has inspired me to actually write with a pen. I have heard
      that a different part of our brain is tapped into when we write rather than
      type…I believe this may be true. Let me know if move ahead with this, I would
      be interested in seeing what you come up with.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        I think that’s true.

      • Melanie Fischer

        I have been thinking about your notebook idea: You could
        always get words of encouragement (such as “keep writing”, “the world needs to
        hear your words” etc.) printed on the bottom of the pages. From experience I
        would think that hard cover notebooks would be best so that one could write anywhere
        without requiring a hard surface to write on, and coil bound so the pages can
        easily be flipped and not be in the way. You could offer support to others by
        donating a portion of sales towards projects such as for illiterate adults or
        writing workshops for inner city children. You could even collaborate with
        other artists by promoting their art on the covers of your note books. If you
        are a Christian, you could make this not only a business but a ministry also by
        committing to pray daily for the writers who have these books in their hands.

        Blessings on this project…I truly believe that it has

        • Stef Gonzaga


          These ideas are great! I’ve actually decided on opening a section of the business to artists and DIY craftsmen from the Philippines who would like to promote and sell handmade notebooks and notepads online. It’s somehow my contribution to the local market and community of artists in my area.

          I guess you can consider this my main niche — rare, beautiful, and unique notebooks and notepads made with love by creative thinkers. I’ve started gathering potential products from Pinterest and Fancy, plus others using Evernote. Already I’m having a blast, how much more when I open shop? :)

          Thank you once again for your encouragement! I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve started working on the business. This is exciting. 

          • Melanie Fischer

            Good job Stef, way to move forward with this!

            Definitely keep me posted, I would love to follow your progress…and purchase one of your notebooks!

      • Stef Gonzaga


        Thank you so much for the encouragement! I agree, it’s a different experience when writing by hand. I wrote a poem last night by hand, and I noticed that my brain exercises more than when I write with the computer.

        I hope to get this business idea running within this year, hopefully after graduation. I got in contact with Daycraft Paper Products, which I hope to include in my inventory. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve made progress! 

  • http://www.jackiebledsoe.com/ jbledsoejr

    Caught the webinar yesterday. One of the 1st webinars I watched/listened to from start to finish, without multi-tasking! Phenomenal webinar and all the info was very practical. Plus, I feel I can actually do it all!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      That’s awesome!

  • Lisa Hall-Wilson

    I listened in to the webinar with Danny Iny (a fellow Canuck! :D ) but his suggestion to use squeeze pages seemed sketchy. Feels smarmy to me. Websites that do that claim they work well in gathering emails…but it turns me off. Maybe I’m alone in this? 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I think it’s a matter of semantics. I mean, my about page is a “squeeze page” that acquires a lot of emails: http://goinswriter.com/about-me/. I think there are ethical, non-smarmy ways to do it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    Great post! Something else others could consider is not just an online business but a “virtual” business. Take me for example. I’ve been 100% self-employed for over 12 years now. The last 10 of those years I have worked from a home office and 90% of my work is virtual (taking place online, via phone, Skype, etc.). I can work from anywhere I want, when I want. My point, for those who might be skeptical initially of an “online” business selling a product, course or information… if they have a skill and can provide a service that can be done remotely, a virtual business isn’t a bad way to go as well. : )

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I like that, Daniel. Good call.

  • Sheri113

    I have wanted to work for myself as long as I can remember. I have a blog, a website and lots of ideas but . . .  excuse, blah blah blah, excuse.  Thanks for writing your great posts. They have been just the poke I needed to get my lazy ass into gear!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins


    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       Good luck Sheri! Now that you’ve gotten the poke to get going, what’s your next step?

      • Sheri113

        I am working on my first ebook. The suggestions on the Webinar last night for building a platform were very inspiring. I spent half of my precious football Sunday working on my book and researching ebook publishing options.  Actually made progress today – amazing!

        • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

          Love hearing that.

        • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

          Sweet! Congrats on making progress.

  • http://dreamjobprogram.com/ Drew Tewell

    Everybody now has an opportunity online. Thanks for sharing, Jeff! I hope to check out the webinar today as well. :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Agreed, Drew.

  • http://twitter.com/CRoyseNiles Christine Niles

    I just figured out what’s stopping me! While I have a pretty solid business idea and no real reason not to start, I’ve been, well, not starting. And wondering why. But it just clicked — I’ve simply been *more* compelled and in love with another project.  But the two are starting to intersect and the passion is resurfacing. Danny’s presentation, as always, was stellar!! The perfect roadmap. Thanks for sharing him with us! 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Love it.

  • Jenn

    Toddler + baby prevented me from missing the webinar yesterday–thanks so much for offering it again today! The last one was fantastic, looking forward to today’s.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Hope you like it!

  • Rob F.

    What stopped me? Mostly, not knowing what my business was about and not having a product to sell. That webinar was a real eye-opener, and I’ve actually got something I’d like to get myself expertised on! Thank you for the hipping-to, Jeff!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Very cool, Rob.

  • Pilar Arsenec

    Hey Jeff, if I was wealthy, I would be your patron is a heartbeat. Man, you changed my life besides Jesus and my husband. You are a genius and world changer. You ROCK!!

    Now for my answer, my dad owned a restuarant in Greenwich Village for 37 years. He opened it after I was born. I am 46 now. He closed it due to his second bout with colon cancer. He wanted me and my brother to take over, but neither he nor I were interested.

    I guess after witnessing the ups and downs of owning your own business turned me off. So, I would say that competition and fear is what’s stopping me.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Well those are real things, so that makes sense. The pod news is you face much less risk than your dad did.

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Jeff, you hit the nail on the head, it’s not easy but easier than you think. There’s an estimated 2.3 billion people online everyday and they estimate that number will triple in the next five years. That’s a large audience to share your art/expertise with the world, it’s just about figuring out what you want to talk about and who you’re talking to. 

    After that you combine the amazing tools we have and you can start seeing a few bucks coming in. Chris Guillebeau always talks about creating a life of freedom and value and an online business can give you just that. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins


  • Carol Malone

    Starting an online business sounds terrific . . . but . . . what do I have to offer but a few extremely unpublished manuscripts with no prospects for publishing at the moment? I have the Facebook presence, a Twitter account, a regular blog about my life and a writer’s blog. How do I construct relationships–as Danny suggested in his webinar–when I have nothing to offer?

    • http://twitter.com/CopyByTom Tom Southern

      You have your ideas, Carol.

      Your ideas about writing – why, how, who for, what, your inspirations. Write about these in ways that answer other writers who want to get noticed on blogs with large audiences who write (like Geff’s here).

      Read more blog posts, and then read the comments section following them. You’ll find your answers about what to offer your audience right there. And yes, think about creating your audience before you start selling your writing. That’s the business part :)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      You have yourself: your voice and your worldview. And that’s interesting. I write more about that here: http://goinswriter.com/writing-topics/

      And how do you make those relationships? Be nice to people; do favors. I write about that here: http://goinswriter.com/influence-people

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      You have knowledge Carol. If you’ve written manuscripts in the past, it’s something you know how to do. Start there and see where it goes. In the end, we all have something to offer.

  • http://twitter.com/becomewhour Hannah

    Yeah! I already have my own online business but I almost feel inspired to start another one after reading that :) I feel really sad when I hear the “but I’m an artist/it would be selling out” argument. Since when is getting fair renumeration for your skills and talents ‘selling out’?

    Figures aside, it seems like the biggest barriers to entry for people starting their own business are fear of the unknown and a reluctance to change. People might hate their work, but they’re also resistant to taking the leap and daring to dream. I definitely experienced this myself, and it was really easy to come up with a list of reasons I shouldn’t do it. The harsh truth is that it’s ultimately about taking responsibility for your future: what kind of life do you want, and are you willing to feel uncomfortable to get it?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Totally agree, Hannah. Fear is the biggest barrier to start anything.

  • http://twitter.com/CopyByTom Tom Southern

    Geff! So true. Artists need to make a business of their art. It’s not a new concept though. Successful artists have always known this. Damien Hirst knew this and used it in the kind of art he produced. You don’t have to like his art to recognise his business nous.

    Even in the days of patrons, artists needed to understand that creating art was also about creating buyers for that art.

    It’s all in the marketing.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Interesting. Looking up Damien now.

  • http://twitter.com/MattLBrennan Copywriter Matt

    Excellent post! I Started a business awhile back, and it was a great move. In this type of economy, it’s a great way to earn a little extra income without a lot of overhead. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins


  • Amyah

    I see your point, Jeff. But what always stopped me is… I am NOT a sales person, I know nobody neither than nothing about selling to people, and… it is good to want to have an online business but… for selling what? I know, it looks silly but… I have problem to imagine what I could sell… kind off… and not talking about the how to do it… this is another story.

    I am a writer/author, writing articles for magazines in French and English, would like to make a living with my writing but… because there is a but… I really don’t know what to do and how to do it… I would say that it is… should I say… frightening, in some sort?

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Me neither. You don’t need to be.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      I don’t know Amyah. But I have to disagree that you’re not a sales person. We’re all selling something whether or not we know it. We sell our traits to our significant others, to our employers, etc. We’ve all got skills that we’re selling.

      One thing you mentioned is you’re writing articles for magazines in French and English. There’s many people who would love to do this. Maybe you could start up an online course showing people how to sell themselves and their articles to magazines for publication?

      • Amyah

         Hmmmm! Thank you guys! :)  It is a completly different world. You’re right Joe, we are passing our life selling something abour ourselves, be it ideas, abilities or else. Time to think about this seriously and with a new vision of “The Thing”!!

        Thank you Jeff!

    • Dan D.

       Actually, Amyah, you are selling… just not you. But the articles you write are selling for someone else. Just move yourself from the background where you are when you write for someone else, to the foreground when you write for yourself. I also like Joe L.’s comment about building a business showing other folks how to write for magazines – especially if they are multilingual.
      Go Girl!

  • MatBastardson

    I signed up, confirmed, and here it is after 5 Eastern, Jan 19th, and I never got any info about how to actually attend the webinar. No link, no nothing. Just a free PDF, and now another internet marketer has my e-mail address. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Not sure what happened, Mat. Sorry about that. Shoot me an email and I’ll see what I can do: jeff (at) goinswriter (dot) com

  • GaryReed

    Same problem as Mat.  Clicked the link, but nothing.  Signed up this morning, but had things to do.  Hello! It’s Saturday! Thought I could get a look after the event.  What’s the deal Jeff?   

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Hey Gary. These were only live replays, not recordings. That’s why I shared those specific times. We may see about doing another live replay, since some weren’t able to make it. Sorry you missed it.

      • Christoph

        Same here. I missed it and would love to get my hands in a recording/replay. Keep it up!

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Amazing post, Jeff. And thank you and Danny for the great webinar.

    I empathize with the folks who are afraid. I was there myself a while ago and still feel the nagging fear in the back of my mind. I think the trouble is that we scare ourselves by thinking that, in starting a business (or anything important), we must take a huge leap…

    When it really comes down to being willing to find the initial small steps.

    The lesson I learned is that we must first be willing to accept uncertainty and step into the unknown. How else do we learn anything? After all, that’s how we learned everything as we grew up…and hopefully, how we will continue to learn as we grow older. 

    It’s only when we make a move that we start seeing what works and what doesn’t. Obviously, it’s easier said than done. But you know what they say…nothing of value is ever accomplished without struggle.

    Again, thank you, Jeff!

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    I’ve started up a couple and am starting up another one shortly. I’m working with a great friend and we’ve got some amazing ideas I’m sure people will want to hear. 

  • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

    Really starting to get some momentum on my side endeavor, thanks to encouragement from folks like you and Michael Hyatt.  You are right, the barriers are gone…GO FOR IT!

  • http://www.dynam.is/ Nathan Roten


    Thanks for the encouraging words and insight.  I agree 100%.  With today’s technology and the power of free software like WordPress, we are without excuse.  We all have the ability to have a presence online.

    I have one question about the webinar with Danny.  Because of meetings, I missed the original call.  I made it to the first live replay and got about half-way through, but because I have two kids, and they began to melt down, I could not finish it.  Is there anyway for those of us who tried our best to make it, but were unable, to get a recording or in someway have access to the content/blueprint?  I got to the landing page idea, then had to stop?  

    I would love to have access to the rest, because I am definitely up to the challenge Danny gave for year 1.  Any help you can provide would be much appreciated!

    Thanks Jeff.

  • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

    I think I just make things bigger than they need to be. Then I either get overwhelmed by the scope or slowed down by it. Jeff, your TribeWriters course has helped me see that and it’s helping me ship. Thanks.

  • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

    Fear.  Thanks for the continued prodding and encouragement through your writing and interviews.

  • KM Logan @lessonsfromivy

    Thanks so much for hosting the webinar, it’s really helped me focus my vision.  I’m currently in Danny’s master class and looking forward to good things.

  • wwjw.com

    Your article makes my dream come into alive again.Thanks for your article!I will keep an eye on you like before.

  • http://www.raindropcatcher.com/ Robin Raindropcatcher

    Signed.I have an online business I’m making more than my living with and I don’t have to sell anything. Oh, and I’m an artist. The nice thing is, now I work one hour a day and the rest I can dedicate to my arts.

    I do, however, understand all the people who are not there yet. I’ve fought six years to get there. It can be pretty frustrating and all the advice on any business blog doesn’t help at all, if you haven’t figured out how to put it into practice yet.But believe me, folks. You’ll find a way and then an internet business is the best thing that can happen to you :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/dahni.lauoletolowily Dahni Lauoletolo-Wily

    I always want to write. I feel like I can’t write when I have so many things I’d like to write about. My cousin told me, “Maybe its because you have so many things going on in your life….” –I do, but I still like to write and I’ve been slacking in my journal. However, when I do write, i try to be detailed and make it short. I don’t write the way i use to write…with every little detail, and I may not like it, if I go back and re-read my stuff!

    I want to Thank you for encouraging us. I’d like to make a living online and trying to catch up on your blog and try to stay focus. I feel like I’m wasting time when I just sit here but reading your blog encourages me and gives me hope.

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