The Five Stages of an Online Business

Build a long-term, sustainable online business - This approach helps you master each step, build your reputation and create the audience you’ll need to succeed in later stages of online business. *PIN* and grow!


If you’re new to the online world, it’s easy to think that you’re going to create a program or course and have a massively successful business.

I know exactly what’s that all about, because I’ve been there. Despite my years of experience in digital marketing, I still bought into the dream I was being aggressively sold.

The dream of creating passive income. The dream of creating once and reaching many. The dream of growing a business beyond my wildest dreams. (Brittany breaks down the hype about launching courses in this post here.)

All of it was complete BS. Because while I *could* do those things, there were a whole lot of steps skipped over in an effort to get me to open my wallet and make their dreams come true. (Note, I said their dreams, not mine. Because I never dreamed of launching something where no one signed up or pounding my head on my desk.)

But….hope springs eternal and I know I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who was sold this bill of goods to end up realizing it was unrealistic.

It’s nothing short of ridiculous to think you can go from no website, no email list and no online presence to selling out your programs, courses or products literally overnight.  Sure, some people do it, but those overnight success stories are the exception, not the rule. (Even if you have the most amazing past experience offline!)

For the rest of us – the mere mortals, non-special snowflake people – our online business evolves in stages. Stages that involve mastering our message and material, getting results and building our community.

So, what does that look like? Brittany and I have created this model – the 5 Stages of an Online Business – to show what the progression typically looks like.

Services Based Biz Model Graphic2

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the five stages you’ll likely go through as you build an online business: 

Stage #1: Freelancing

This is where many online business owners (and self-employed people) typically start out. You go from working for one company, to likely having a handful of clients where you function in a contractor or project-based role.

As a freelancer, you’re happy to have clients but may struggle with how to make more money, brand yourself or break out of the cycle of being dependent on your clients.

Examples: Copywriters, designers and consultants with freelance contracts

Stage #2: Owning a Business

You’ve stepped up your game and have more of a CEO role, even if you’re a team of one. A lot of the work here is around your mindset and marketing, as you’re focusing on building something that’s sustainable for the long-term and not dependent on the whims of just a few clients.

As a business owner, you wear a lot of hats and you may struggle to balance working on your business with working in your business. At this stage, you may also find yourself capped out income wise and wondering how you’ll go beyond your current rates or annual revenue.

Examples: Copywriters, designers and consultants with agreements in place where you’re in the driver’s seat

Stage #3: Productized Service

Building on your success as a business owner, you’re now creating signature services and offerings that you’re known for. You’re an unrivalled expert in these areas and are able to charge a premium.

Much of the success with a productized service comes from your ability to package  your service in a way that makes it sell itself with strong results for past clients and a proven process.

Examples: The Story Distillery, Infusionsoft Onboarding

Stage #4: Group Programs

Next up, you’re leveraging your productized service and experience with a group, but still offering some level of individualized support. This usually requires some type of time commitment from you by managing a community or hosting group calls.

Group programs, while they provide scale as you’re working 1 to many, are not fully passive. Work needs to be done to manage participant expectations and demands on your time.

Examples: Lucky Bitch Bootcamp, I Heart Coaching, Inside Scoop Academy

Stage #5: Info Products

Info products may include ebooks, courses without a community or coaching element, and standalone audio/video based training. They’re designed to require little time investment from you and your team, aside from product creation (which can be significant), marketing and customer service.

To be successful with info products, plan on having a sizeable email list or online following, and be ready to make a marketing splash.

Examples: Meditation downloads, Launch Planning Toolkit, Earn 1K on the Side

So, what do you do with this info? Well, for starters, understand what stage you’re at now, and how each one builds on the next.

Keep in mind that you may find yourself in multiple stages at once, but the key is to work through them in a logical progression to set yourself up for success.

You may see cases of where people are able to leapfrog or shortcut their way to success, but if you want to build a long-term, sustainable online business, this the way to do it. This approach helps you master each step, build your reputation and create the audience you’ll need to succeed in later stages of online business.

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