3 Essential Pillars of Online Business Planning

So you want to build an online business? I have one question for you… what’s your business plan? If your plan can fit on a napkin and goes something like “create my thing and sell it to people,” (or worse… you don’t have one at all!) well… we’ve got a problem. 

Business planning isn’t quite as simple as that… but I know WHY some people think it is.

Every day, online entrepreneurs who are looking to sell their know-how and expertise (knowledge brands)are bombarded by BS messaging like, “Launch your online business in 7 days” and “here’s how to go from a negative bank account balance to $10k in sales overnight!”

Yes, these are actual promises being made in the online marketing world. 

*insert eye roll*

It’s not that I don’t WANT it to be that easy. Believe me… if I could make it that easy, I would. 

But I’m not going to sit here and tell you what I know to be a lie… that building an online business is easy.

Or that if you follow a step-by-step formula, you’ll build a 7-figure income.

Or that anyone on any planet built a successful business (that actually supported them!) by working only 4 hours per week.

The truth is building a business (ANY business… not just online) takes work, insight, and, yes, planning.

It definitely takes more than merely having a super cool idea and being “pretty sure” people would buy it if you put it in a course… or a membership… or [insert whatever program format the latest guru is selling as the best way to do it]. 

Building an online business, particularly a knowledge brand, is a process. 

And I’m #sorrynotsorry to say, but shortcuts rarely lead to success. More often than not, the only thing they’ll shortcut you on is your results. 

That’s why we’ve been unpacking the process I call “The BADA$$ Online Marketing™ Process” that outlines the actual process an online business should go through — from planning to thriving.

To learn more about all of the phases in the BOM™ Process, read this post

In this post, we’re gonna go deeper into what you need to focus on in the first phase of the process, the Planner Phase. Let’s dive in below…

Want to dive a little deeper into the subject? Listen to Bobby discuss the concepts in this post in Episode 278 on the Certified BADA$$ Online Marketing Podcast™!

The following post was taken from the transcript of Episode 278 of the Certified BADA$$ Online Marketing Podcast™.

What Is The Planner Phase of Building an Online Business?

Woman with confused look on her face. She's wondering what is the planning phase of online business.

First, I wanna be clear that the Planner Phase isn’t about the results. It’s about the work you do before you can ever get the results you want. 

The business planning phase is when you get into motion.

It’s about coming up with some ideas and casting a vision for where you think you want your business to be five years from now.

This isn’t about figuring out the immediate short-term plan when you write a business plan. It’s about figuring out where you are and where you think you’re headed.

Having that general long-term direction will help you figure out what you should be building and what you should be focusing on in the phases that follow.

Now, I don’t want you to overthink and spend too much time in this business planning phase.

Because honestly, when you create a plan, it could go wrong… and you would just have to throw it out.

We all think we know way more than we do, but the concept here is that you’re not gonna be able to plan your way out of that problem. You’re not gonna know the right answer, and no guru can tell you the right answer.

The only way to find the right answer is to get out there to do market analysis. Get your ideas out to the market and see how the market responds. Because your market knows the right answer.

What Is The Overall Objective Of The Planner Phase?

Man with confused look on his face.

The objective of this phase is to create a well-thought-out business plan and a plan for how the different pieces fit together.

These different pieces are your operations, traffic, conversion, and customer experience machines that we talked about in recent weeks. (Click the links if you missed them).

Once you understand and see all of the different things you’re gonna have to create, the planning phase is where you figure out how you will implement these machines in your business.

  • What is your business going to look like?
  • What is your content going to look like?
  • What are your products going to look like?
  • What are the different things that are gonna come into play?

You’re gonna think these things through so that you essentially have a blueprint to go and start building your business.

As I said, it’s about casting a vision. Understanding your long-term vision will help you to build the right thing first.

3 Pillars of The Planner Phase

In the business planning phase, three key elements happen in order.

Many business owners don’t do this or take the time to be rigorous about this. But these are important silos in building your business.

Let me walk you through these core parts of the planner phase.

1. Look Inside Yourself

Man with his hand to his chin, thinking.

The first thing that you should do is look inside yourself. Do some self-discovery about the important parts of yourself and your personality and understand these things.

Determine your core competencies

Be honest with yourself and understand your strengths and weaknesses. They’re gonna affect the kind of business you can build.

Take some personality assessments and look at these things.

If you do the work deeply, you’ll start to see that there are natural ways that would help you figure out what kind of business you would build.

You have to be very serious about understanding yourself and your strengths and your weaknesses.

Then you’ll learn the things you’re good at and how that could play out in your business and you can really serve your audience.

Again, you’re not making final determinations, but you’re really finding those things that you’re good at.

And that’s a piece of information that you need to know to figure out what kind of business you’re going to build.

The things you’re really good at doing will have to flow through to your business. And just as importantly, the things you’re not good at doing will not flow through to your business.

Identify your areas of expertise

During this process, you also need to think about the areas of expertise that you have. You need to understand what you’re really good at now.

Know what you believe in and stand for

You also need to think about the things that you believe in and what you stand for, especially related to what you want to help people with.

In general, this is about coming up with your core values, which are the things that you’re gonna be willing to argue with other people about.

That’s important because knowing that will change things about how you’re gonna approach your business.

Figure out what makes you unique

The last piece about looking internally is thinking about the things that make you uniquely you that could give a different spin to your business.

It’s about things like your personality quirks that you can bring into your brand and add some flare so that people will start to see you differently. They will set your brand apart from the people who aren’t like that.

2. Look at Your Market

Woman with magnifying glass

The next piece that you need to think about is your audience.

We could talk about this in a lot of ways, but ultimately, this is about doing market research. You have to define a niche and the different segments of potential customers.

A lot of people talk about having an ideal customer avatar, but I think that’s shortsighted.

Very few people have a single customer avatar, so you have to have buyer personas instead. And you’re going to have multiple buyer personas.

Once you’ve defined those different market segments, you need to determine what they really need at this phase, what they need to do, and what kind of help they need from you.

Is it information? Support in implementing? Coaching? Accountability? Community?

They’re different potential things that they might need from you. And you have to define all of this.

It’s also about looking and seeing the alternatives out there from other businesses and what they’re doing right now to try to solve their problem.

When you look at those alternatives, you identify what works and what doesn’t.

From there, you figure out where you can carve out your unique position in the market by finding the places where the existing alternatives fall short.

This process of understanding your market and finding customer segments is something that so few people do well. Most of the people who build online businesses never do any of this stuff or they do it superficially by doing things like validation calls.

They only try to get people to say yes to what they think they want to offer instead of coming from a very open-minded perspective of understanding their audience’s problem.

You need to be someone on the outside looking in and investigating that.

When you’re willing to do that work, that’s where the magic happens.

In the planning phase, this market research piece is the hardest part. It’s the part that will take you the most time. So how do you do this?

Listen to people who are already serving your target market

Listen to the podcasts, watch videos, or read blog posts of the people who are already out there serving your audience.

These people have probably figured a thing or two out about how to speak to your target markets. So, just listening to them, the people who theoretically you’ll be competing with, is a good way to start to get information about your market.

Be among your people

Find where your people spend time and be there. Facebook groups remain one of the best ways to do this.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you go in and ask market questions because that’s not effective. Instead, this is about seeing what they’re asking, the problems they bring to the group and looking for solutions with, and the language that they use as they’re describing their problems.

You can just be there, being a fly on the wall before you start asking questions.

At this phase, you only need to get some ideas and then do research.

3. Put Your Market Research Together

Man with very surprised look on his face

Now, once you’ve done the internal work and looked at your target market, you’re ready to start to put things together in a business plan.

Identify your core differentiator

The first thing that you’re gonna put together in your business plan is your core differentiator. This is the way you look at things differently, your competitive advantage, and what will make your business different and distinguishable from the existing alternatives.

Some of it could be about how you solve the problem, how you deliver it, or the personality you bring. It could be about an overall different approach to doing business.

Put together your business plan

This is when you start to put together your plan, like a walkthrough of your product mix, acquisition strategy, content marketing strategy, sales strategy, opt-in funnel, etc. You think about how the process is gonna be.

You also need to think about analytics, like your list size, website traffic, and conversion rates.

But don’t overthink these. It’s not about getting to the point that you’re tracking thousands of numbers because if you track too much, you can’t keep them in mind.

As you’re starting, you’re probably gonna track no more than 10 numbers, and that’s fine. But you have to figure out what those numbers are based on your business plan.

You also wanna think about the revenue streams versus costs. What kinds of costs are you going to have and how are they going to line up with revenues? How would these play out in your financial health?

You need to understand that as you create your business plans and your budget.

Summing Up the Business Planning Phase

So, there you have it… the things you should be focused on during the Planner Phase of building an online business. Once you’ve done this process, you have an overview of what you think your successful business is gonna look like.

Again, the hard part here is the middle part of looking outside at your niche and the market segments. Other than that, you shouldn’t spend too much time on this phase.

Create the plan so that you can get into action. Once you’ve dialed that in, that’s when you move to the next phase, which is what we call the Builder Phase.

We’re gonna talk about that next, so be sure to check back here.

If you want to dive deeper into this topic, make sure to join my free program, the BADA$$ Online Marketing University (BOMU). We have a course about business planning and the BOM process, which walks through these phases.

About Bobby Klinck

Harvard Lawyer and Online Entrepreneur

About Bobby Klinck