Keeping the Horse Before the Cart – The Importance of Planning Ahead

Keeping the Horse Before the Cart – The Importance of Planning Ahead

So you say you want to make money online… That’s all well and good, but if you want to be successful, you’re going to have to get a little more specific! On Wednesday, I mentioned how important it is to have a plan in place, and today we’re going to talk about how to actually go about putting one together.

For starters, it’s important to recognize that the real world and internet businesses aren’t really that different from one another. Essentially, saying that you want to make money online is like saying you want to make money by getting a job in the real world.

What kind of job? A part-time barista gig at your local Starbucks? A senior management position at a Fortune 500 company?

Think about it – when you were in high school or college, you approached your future career with a plan, to which you had given some level of thoughtfulness. If you were planning to enter the trades, you may have attended a technical school or taken on an apprenticeship with a more experienced worker. If your goal was to be a doctor, you needed to complete medical school and an internship before practicing.

The truth is that there are tons of different ways to make money online, but before you dive head-first into internet business, you need to spend some time thinking about your own personal situation and your goals.

The following are four crucial things you should consider before doing anything else internet business-related:

1. How much money do you want to make online?

No – this isn’t a trick question (although you’re probably thinking, “Ummm… As much as possible, Sarah!”). The internet business world has tradeoffs to be considered, just like the offline job market. In the example above, the trades worker might make less money than the doctor, but he’ll spend far less time training for the job and may experience significantly less on-the-job stress.

This translates to the world of making money online. Compare the founders of Facebook or Zappos to a single mom who earns a few hundred dollars each month selling handcrafted items on Etsy. The financial reward for being part of a successful startup like Facebook is significantly higher, but it also comes with extra levels of stress and responsibility that not everyone is interested in dealing with.

2. How much time can you invest in your business?

That’s right – online businesses require an investment of time! I’m going to say this over and over again on this site, but there really aren’t any “get rich quick” strategies out there that actually work. If you want to make money online, you’re going to have to put in some time and effort.

That said, there’s a big difference – again – between the amount of time required to run a major e-retailer like Amazon or Overstock and the time necessary to list a few items on eBay or Etsy, for example. The amount of time and energy you’re willing to put into your business will play a big role in determining what type of online business is best for you.

3. How much money can you invest in your business?

Don’t let this question scare you off – you don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank to start making money online (unless you’re planning to be the next Google…). However, you will encounter some startup expenses depending on the type of internet business you choose.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to minimize these expenses, as well as online business models that require very limited startup costs. For example, the fees to list homemade items on Etsy are very reasonable. Similarly, you can market affiliate products by writing articles and press releases, and your only expense might be a domain name (under $10) and a hosting account.

4. What are you good at and what interests you?

Your personal skill sets and interests should absolutely play a role in selecting the type of online enterprise that’s best for you. If you hate writing, then blogging probably isn’t the right fit (unless you plan to outsource the creation of all your content). Or, if the thought of writing sales copy for a product makes you uncomfortable, you’ll probably want to find an internet business that avoids direct selling.

Just be careful not to limit yourself too much. Even if you don’t know web design, you can learn enough to get by fairly quickly – but be realistic. If you hate sports, then putting together a website or blog on sports isn’t going to interest you enough in the long run to make it successful – no matter how lucrative the market.


So why is this all so important? When I first started out, I had only a vague idea that I wanted to make money online. I didn’t take the time to think about how much I wanted to make, how much time I was willing to invest or what my particular skills and interests were – I just knew that I wanted the numbers in my bank account to be larger than they were!

Because I didn’t have a plan, I jumped into anything and everything I could find about making money online. I’d see a list of online paid survey providers for $27 and jump on it – then the next day, I’d see a $497 course on selling products via Adwords and think that it was the answer to my prayers.

It wasn’t until I started getting honest with myself about what I’m good at and what I wanted out of an internet business that I started making some actual progress towards my goals. Hopefully, asking yourself these questions now will give you a better idea of what you’re looking for in an online business before you actually get started.

Once you’ve put a few thoughts together, check out my free Guide to Internet Business Models to learn more about the different types of internet businesses out there and which ones will best meet your needs. I hope it’s useful to you in terms of narrowing down what kind of internet business you’re interested in pursuing and putting together a plan of action for your success.

Thanks for reading!

12 Responses to Keeping the Horse Before the Cart – The Importance of Planning Ahead

  1. Jon Alford says:


    Points #2 and #4 stand out for me.

    It’s definitely important for people to be realistic about how much time they’ll invest (or be required to) in a project. Online endeavors aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it solution although people seem to think they are.

    Looking at #4 I agree and have something to add. People, sometimes fool-heartedly, believe they can build a sustainable business SOLELY around what they’re “good at and interested in.” While that approach will assure them a stream of article ideas and prevent premature burn out, they require the last part to make this the holy trinity: their passion/interest must be bankable (yea, high-tech wordage).

    Monetization is tough if you’re 1 of 173 people per month searching for “your-keyword-of-passion,” ya know?

    Great site, keep up the good work!


  2. Sarah says:

    Jon –

    That’s an excellent point – thanks for sharing 🙂

    I’m working on a report right now on how to plan an affiliate niche marketing website that I’m hoping to have ready for next week, and that’s one of the big things I touch on in there.

    I think the classic example is “underwater basket weaving” – just because you’re passionate about it doesn’t mean there’s a market that’s going to buy it!

    Thanks again for stopping by 🙂


  3. You have some great information about Affiliate Marketing. Maybe you can answer this question for me?

    I’ve dabbled a little in online affiliate marketing but I’ve had very little success.

    I’ve been some what successful as an offline affiliate marketer. I have a luxury many marketers don’t have, I own a weekly advertising/TV Guide magazine.

    So I can place my Per Inquiry/Per Sale ads in it for Free. I currently run about 7 ads that are doing ok.

    My question to you is how can this be duplicated online? I’ve tested several offer with different traffic sources.

    And I can’t seem to figure out the formula to make it work. With my publication I circulate 20,000 magazines each week and we have a very large and loyal readership.

    So is it just numbers or is it the offer or both?

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi Steven,

    Thanks for stopping by! That’s a pretty big question you have. What kind of offer are you running? What site structure are you using? How are you getting visitors and how are you qualifying them?

    Feel free to shoot me an email (sarah @ with more details on your situation, and I’ll see what kind of feedback I can provide.


  5. Sheila says:

    I just recently signed up for your newsletter and really enjoy it. You have some great advice that has been very helpful to me! Thanks!

  6. Alan says:

    Hey Sarah,

    As I was reading this article I had to keep looking over my shoulder. Have you been spying on me for the past year? Really, everything in this post is what I have been doing! Jumping from one thing to anothrer,over and over. Thanks for some great advice, and a great newsletter. Alan

  7. Luis says:

    Hello Sarah,

    Thank you for this post. It felt encouraging.
    Actually I can’t believe how lucky I am that I’m just in the process of thinking what to do as a future project, as I receive your newsletter. I’m exactly with the same goal that you mention you had (“I want the numbers on my credit card higher, and I want to make it online”). I have a number of ideas, but I didn’t decide yet what to do. I simply do not know how to evaluate what’s best for me to do. How bad is to be unexperienced! Ha ha ha! So I was being inclined to just do something. Now I’m not so sure 🙂

    I just feel (as I heard from Pat Flynn’s podcast) that “I should be selling stuff online yesterday!”

    It would be so helpful to be able to take part on your webinar!

    All the best


    • Sarah says:

      Hi Luis! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      First, sorry for any confusion – this post was from a year ago, so there’s no upcoming webinar. But I’m happy to answer any questions you have!

      There’s nothing wrong with being confused at this stage – everybody starts at the same place! And yes, I definitely agree with Pat that selling things online is great, but I’d recommend studying the different types of things you can sell before jumping in to any particular business model.

      For example, will you sell affiliate products (and, if so which ones)? Info products? Google Adsense clicks?

      If you’re just starting out, I would recommend figuring out how to do good keyword research and then how to launch a website and get it ranked in the search engine results pages. Start by monetizing with Adsense (it’s the easiest by far to integrate) and then, as your skills increase, move on to more advanced strategies. I have a lot of posts on these subjects (as does Pat), but I’d also recommend taking a look at

      Hopefully that helps to get you started on the right foot!

  8. Keith says:


    Thanks for an interesting post.

    I have been in a similar situation, running a fulltime job as well as an online business on the side. Decided to take the plunge and started fulltime since February this year. I have just started my website and have started a few blogs. Just a few posts at the moment.

    Will definitely look into what you have discussed and see how I can implement these suggestions.


    • Sarah says:

      Keith – Good for you for making the leap! I hope things pan out for you and that you find the information on this site useful in making your business work 🙂

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