When we start something new like this, we often just don’t know what we don’t know. One of the biggest things that we don’t know is how many skill sets are needed to build and run an online business.
In the one-on-one consulting I do with entrepreneurs, this is a common recurring theme, so if you find yourself in this camp, you’re not alone. Personally, I had absolutely no idea how many different types of skillsets were needed to create an online business that sells information products. I found out the hard way.
I had taken a few great online marketing programs, I had an idea for information products and services I could create and sell, and thought “Cool. I’ll build a website, write a handful of blog posts, create a free offer to build my list, and I’ll be golden.” Wrong.
It takes a lot more than that. I ended up doing everything myself, and it nearly drove me into the ground. Imagine trying to run a restaurant…by yourself. That’s exactly what it’s like.
In another business, we’ve built up a team to handle all of the various talents and tasks that need to be done. It’s much more sane and balanced this way.
For whatever reasons, most people I help through consulting are not aware of everything that it takes, and I’m betting that if you’re here reading this post, you’re similar to the kinds of folks I work with privately…and you may not know either.
So, here are 15 areas that are going to need some attention within your online business. Areas that will need talent and love if your business dream is going to become a reality.
Now, don’t get overwhelmed. If you’re new to building an online business, this may seem like a lot to deal with, but keep in mind that many of these areas can be combined and handled by one person. And if you’re crazy nutso, like I was, you can actually build a six-figure business alone, doing all of these things yourself.
But if you like keeping your life in balance (as in “staying happy and healthy”), don’t take that path. It’s much healthier to hire people to help you handle all of these things. You’ll be able to focus on doing the things in your business that inspire and energize you, instead of having to do everything, including the things that completely drain you.
15 roles your business will need in order to thrive
1) Instructor/teacher/coach/consultant/expert. This is most often going to be you, because you will most likely be interested in doing what you do best, which will likely involve helping people or teaching people in some format.
2) Virtual assistants. VAs can come in many different types and levels of skill. Some are great at customer service, others like to focus on formatting blog posts and newsletters. Most often, a good VA will be able to handle a number of things on this list.
3) Customer service. If you do anything online that involves publishing any kind of content, free or paid, there will inevitably be requests for help. People lose their passwords to your program. They need to update their billing information. They’re not getting emails from you anymore and they don’t know why. They want to work with you privately. Your videos aren’t playing for them. Online businesses generate A LOT of email communication, and you’ll need someone good to handle all of the emails. Great customer support is one of the best forms of marketing, so this is important not to overlook this. When people feel taken care of by your customer support team, they will be much more likely to talk about you and your business to their friends.
4) Website designer/builder. One way or another, you’ll need a website if you’re going to do business online. If learning a lot of technology skills is not interesting to you, then you’ll need to hire someone to build you a website. It’s going to form the foundation of everything you do online, so this is another critical piece.
You can totally learn to build a website yourself, but if you’ve never done it, it will take you some time…most likely 4 to 8 weeks.
If you’re not interested in taking that path, and if you have the budget for it, hire someone to do this part for you so you can focus on other parts of your business.
If you do want to take the do-it-yourself path of building your site and tech system, the easiest path you can take is to use the Rainmaker platform. Rainmaker is my favorite all-in-one software platform to build a website and full tech system that will allow you to build a business that sells services, live events, and online programs. You can read my full review of Rainmaker here.
5) Tech management person. Your public-facing marketing website is just one part of an ecosystem of software you’ll need to run your business.
You’ll also need software for processing payments online, building and storing your email list, creating a members-only area of your website for your program, tracking affiliate sales, streaming videos and audio recordings, and doing a number of other things that may be specific to your particular business, offerings, or marketing tactics. (The Rainmaker platform I mentioned above handles all but one of those things I just mentioned.)
Once your system is built, you’ll need someone to manage it: Uploading new content to your blog. Creating a new page on your site. Updating your About page copy. Uploading new lessons and videos and audio recordings to your member area for your program. Someone will need to do all of those kinds of things on an ongoing basis.
6) Marketing consultant/Director of marketing. You have a website and online program. Maybe you’re offering coaching or consulting services, or live workshops, or retreats. How are people going to find out about you and your offers? Marketing.
Marketing is fun for most people, but it can be time consuming, and there’s A LOT to learn if you’re going to be a successful online marketer. If you’re going to do this part yourself, you’ll need to love learning and experimenting.
Regardless of who is handling this, someone in your business is going to have to know a good deal about content marketing and what’s currently working in the online marketing space for selling information products, coaching, and workshops.
7) Social media manager. This could be a subset of the marketing department, but often this is handled by a separate, dedicated person on your team. All they will focus on is your social media marketing efforts.
They’ll do things like post to your Facebook business page, Instagram account, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube accounts…every day, or on a set schedule you both agree on.
They’ll create the content for the updates on all the social media channels. Things like quote card images with quotes from things you’ve said or written. Those quote cards get posted on social media streams that can display images.
They will also occasionally post things about your products or services that will link directly back to some kind of landing or sales page on your site.
We have an awesome social media manager on our team and she spends about 10 hours a week doing nothing but social media marketing work for the business. She could easily be doing 20 hours a week if we were adding a few more social media tactics to the list.
8) Graphic designer. If you’re marketing anything online, you’re going to need an assortment of things like logos, program images, little embellishments to separate text on sales pages, and social media images designed for you.
Your graphic designer can also help you do things like design a set of Photoshop templates to use for creating your social media quote cards and other social media images.
If you’re not a designer and don’t have this skill, I highly recommend hiring a good one. Most of the things on this list can be learned, but for most people, it’s very hard to learn graphic design if that’s not already one of your natural talents.
9) Copywriter/co-writer/content co-creator. This may be one person, or it may need to be two, depending on who you can find to hire. Or, it’ll be you doing this work.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone on your team that knows how to write copy that converts. I’m talking about any text that goes on your website, or in emails, or in ads you run, that is designed to get people to do something. That something could be to sign up for your blog post updates, or for your free video series, or to buy your online program.
You need someone that knows how to write compelling copy that gets people to take the actions you want them to take. If people don’t take the actions you want them to take, you will very quickly run into a lot of stress around your business because it won’t be generating enough money for you to live and thrive on.
Poorly written copy can kill your business dreams. It’s that important.
Your copywriter may also be someone who’s open to being a co-writer with you. If writing doesn’t come easily for you, consider using a co-writer for marketing content, blog posts, podcasts, videos, and course content for your paid program.
The main point here? The words on your website and in all of your marketing copy (including emails and video scripts) are so crazy, crazy important if you want to create a profitable business.
10) Video/Audio Producers. Shooting professional video and recording professional audio can be tricky. It’s an art form, really.
If you’re going to use video or audio content in your marketing approach, in your free blog content, in your free offer that you create to build your list, or within your paid programs, you’re either going to have to learn how to shoot and edit this kind of media (and buy equipment to do that), or you’ll have to hire someone who already has the knowledge and equipment to record you.
This was another lesson I decided to learn the hard way. For my first full video-based product launch, I bought some great video studio equipment and editing software and decided to try doing it all myself. Bad idea.
I spent $6,000 on a camera, lights, a good lapel microphone, a teleprompter, editing software, and a handful of other things.
What I should have done? Is hire someone in town who already had all the gear and knowledge of how to use it. After attempting some shoots myself, that’s exactly what I ended up doing, and the person I hired had way better equipment than I had anyway. There was no need to spend that money on video gear. Sigh.
Big takeaway here: don’t do what I did. Hire a video production person, or team, to shoot and edit your videos. Hire someone to teach you how to set up your space for recording audio, for things like podcasts, or, if it’s a short audio recording project, hire someone who has an audio studio.
If you absolutely need to shoot video yourself, go the inexpensive route: get some decent lights, a nice background, and learn to use your iPhone. There’s some great tutorials over at Wistia about how to do just that, right here.
11) Project manager/business manager. Once your business starts to grow, there are going to be a lot of moving pieces: Multiple deadlines. Several projects going at once. Things to get ready for the big launch of your program. Other people’s programs that you’ll promote as an affiliate or joint venture partner.
If you have a team of people, even if they are just being hired as consultants on a project basis, you’re going to need someone to manage and coordinate all of the tasks that your team members are working on so that everything gets done when it needs to get done.
If you try to fill this role, it will stress you out if what you really want to be doing is helping people, or teaching them, or in some way interacting with them directly. The number of details that need to be tracked and attended to when your business starts to grow is sometimes staggering, so you’ll need someone who can oversee it all and make sure the whole machine of your business is running well.
12) Business coach/Mentor/Mastermind group. Building and running an online business is hard. There’s no glossing over that. Yes, there are many, many things about it that are crazy awesome (you’re your own boss, you can work from anywhere with internet access, there’s no cap on how much you can make in a year, to name just a few), but there will come a time on your journey when you’ll really, really want and need to get someone else’s perspective, advice, and help in making critical decisions.
If you don’t have someone smarter than you who can asnwer questions of about your business, you will probably make some bad decisions that could have been avoided, and you’ll almost certainly start to get pretty stressed out.
Having a business coach, or mentor, or even a mastermind group that you’re a part of with other entrepreneurs like you, will help you grow your business in many, many ways. Don’t skip this one.
13) Accountant. When your business is small in the beginning, you can get away with not having an accountant for a while, but I don’t recommend going too long before you start working with one. It will be to your benefit to do so, as there are many ways you can save on taxes as a business owner that you probably aren’t be aware of.
14) Bookkeeper. Again, you can get away with not having a bookkeeper for a while, but as your revenue grows, and the number of sales you’re making grows, you’ll want to hand off the bookkeeping to someone else who’s faster and more skilled, unless you love bookkeeping.
15) Attorney. When you sell knowledge products online, or services like coaching, or live events like workshops, there’s a whole set of unfortunate things that can happen between you and unhappy customers. These things are rare, but they do happen.
You’re going to need to have some legal protection set up before you get too far along with your business, which means that you’ll need a good attorney who knows about online business, ecommerce, and intellectual property for digital products.
As I said at the beginning, if you’re new to this world of building an online business, try not to get overwhelmed. That list of things probably seems like a lot. That’s because it is. BUT, remember, you don’t need to have all of those people or skill sets (if you’re going to try and do many of those things yourself) all at once.
Here’s the usual order of the first set of things you’ll most likely need to get handled:
1) Website and tech system
3) Graphic designer
4) Marketing consultant (or an online marketing class for yourself)
5) Content creator
If you’re the expert who will in one way or another be creating content that will help people in your target market, then you’ve got that one covered.
Most often, the expert will also handle the creation of content, such as blog posts, podcasts, or content for the paid programs.
The free content that’s created then becomes part of the marketing strategy, which is why I’m a huge fan of content marketing. Two birds with one stone.
If you don’t know what content marketing is, I highly recommend heading on over to newrainmaker.com and checking out their free training materials. This is currently the best training material around on how to use content to do the heavy lifting of your marketing efforts. Definitely worth your time…and it’s free 🙂
So, that shorter list of 5 things above could get you going through the first phase of your business, where you’ll start to see revenue coming in.
As soon as you start selling something, though, the very next area that will need attention is customer service, so at that point of growth, the next skill set to learn, or the next person to hire, is a virtual assistant who’s great at taking care of customers and prospects in a way that will help those folks talk about your business positively to their friends. Great customer service generates free word-of-mouth marketing, and it’s just the right way to treat people.
Where are you at in your business journey now, and how many of these areas are you handling on your own? What’s the most pressing area that you’d love to hire someone to help you with?
Appreciate your work/content.
Regarding intellectual property, item 15 above, with your other site or sites, have you hired outside counsel for trademarks? For a new platform I’m building, that cost will be a big unknown. Some of the search (grunt) work can be done by me, but this is no DIY job.
Just curious if you have experienced this cost.
indeed, we’ve hired an attorney for trademark processes a few times. I’d have to check our bookkeeping records to get an exact amount, but I seem to recall a trademark costing somewhere around $500 to $700. If you’d like an exact amount, let me know, and if you’d like a referral for the attorney we used (he’s great), just send me an email at email@example.com.
Forest, this is what I needed to hear, and those numbers make sense, especially if I can get my servicemark(s) as distinctive as possible.
Again, appreciate your body of work. Keep writing!
Yes — it’s better to have the list, which I find validating, than to just have a sense of what “should” be happening but is not. I am totally on board with letting my business grow organically. What is different is that mine is not an online business, but I do want to market and have a presence and momentum there. Yes — the VA sounds like a perfect next step. Thank you.
This post is illuminating. In my business, I keep running into necessary tasks that I do not know how to do, which makes me beat my head against a wall. My husband and I were just talking last night about the need to have a team, and I’m a bit overwhelmed by your list, although I’ve needed help in most of the areas listed above. It’s difficult to hire up bc the risks of expanding one’s team can get scary. Anyway — super helpful. Thank you!
“…overwhelmed by your list…”
– Oh, I sooo hear you, Laura!
Isn’t it better to actually *have* that list, though, rather than letting all those scary “I need to know so much – gahkk!” skill-sets just kind-a floating around in your head like a dark, undefined cloud?
I totally understand, Laura. There’s this list…the places you need help in your business…and then there’s how to get there, how to get the help.
The first step is just what you did with your husband the other night: get clarity around the problem. Put it on the table so everyone is aware of it.
Next step: identify the one team member who could help you the most, RIGHT NOW. For most folks at the stage of growing their business that you seem to be at, it’s finding a virtual assistant who can handle three or four of the big areas on this list. They exist! We’ve had a couple VA’s like that on our team over the years: someone who can handle customer support, tech management, formatting content, organizing private sessions and interviews on the calendar, project management, and even some marketing consulting/visioning.
Hope this helps a bit. One step at a time. Maybe start with this kind of role I described above. Once you get them on board and trained, your revenue should pick up, and then you’ll have room down the road for the next most pressing role that you need to fill on your team. That’s how we’ve gone about it. Slow and organic.
Hang in there!
Great post Forest and timely. The other role that I need for my business is video/audio production with the larger role of Youtube and video in online teaching. I look forward to learning more about your rebranding.
Thanks, Richard! And thank you for bringing up the video/audio production piece. I forgot to add that one!
Hope all is well,
Funny you sent this post today. I was just trying to think of some of the resources you and Bari have sent out of the last few years in the areas I need right now. I’m re-branding a bit too right now and going back to my child/family therapist roots. I’m needing a copywriter/editor and marketing guru in the realm of parenting education. If you could shoot me info on any people that you love in these realms or maybe we could set up a session to get your insights. I’ve joined copyblogger and love ’em! Seems like your re-branding will be so needed and take off quickly. Best wishes!