5 Secrets to Building a Sustainable Business Model

In the beginning, I was incredibly naive. I made a lot of assumptions — and failed miserably — as most entrepreneurs do.

But I made one glaring assumption that outshined them all. And it almost killed my business.

At the start of my entrepreneurial journey, I had a lot of hopeful expectations, just as hordes of other rosy-minded naivetés do. My expectations about what it would take to build a business were horribly optimistic. But there was one mantra that lived in my head, my own secret weapon.

I knew that it was just a matter of time. I was willing to do whatever it took. I would give up whatever I needed to give up to make this work. And for a long time, my business was the only life I had.

Build It and They WON’T Come

Despite that, one assumption I made was near-fatal.

I thought that I could start a blog, just write, get a million subscribers, and somehow the money thing would take care of itself.

Ah, the good ol’ “Create It and THEN Monetize It” (a not-too-distant cousin of the Build it and They Will Come maxim). I’m not sure when this became entrenched in the minds of business men and women, but I’m fairly certain 13th century carpenters weren’t trying to figure out how they could “monetize” shelves. They just built something people needed and sold it.

Back to our story. I thought I was too advanced for a real business model. I could figure that out later. I needed the popularity, the accolades, and crowds of followers first.

So in the beginning I plastered Google Adsense on my website. That’ll work, right? Three months later I had earned a grand total of $2.38. Not exactly enough to avoid living in a van down by the river.

No problem, I figured. I’ll just cut out the middle man and start selling ads Factory Direct. Well, that showed a slight improvement. I think I made around $150 one month. Still not enough to quit the day job, though.

So I scrapped that and tried affiliate partnerships (AKA selling other people’s stuff). This did even better. For the first time I could see this actually might work. But it was still selling someone else’s vision, and even though it was making more than my previous ventures.

5 Steps to Sustainable Success

I began to see that selling my own products was the only way to go. I did that, and lo and behold I started to see how this could actually work. Here are the steps I took to correct my disastrous mistake:

1. I Ditched the Create and Monetize It approach (Skype, anyone?). I knew that trying to make money from something that wasn’t created with that intention in mind wasn’t very smart. Kind of like trying to turn a 747 into a fighter jet. The lesson: Start with a business model that’s proven, then figure out how you’re going to get attention.

2. I created a sustainable business model. I mapped out what my audience had responded to the most based on the content I had already published. Then I evaluated what people would most likely pay for, and lined that up with what they were already spending money on.

3. I got better info on whom I was targeting. Not all traffic is created equal. I started tracking where traffic was coming from, and set up goals to see which traffic sources were buying the most. Then I focused more of my efforts on the buyer sources, and less on the others.

4. I looked at the numbers every day. If you look at the numbers every day, they have a tendency to go up. Weird how that works, huh?

5. I only sold stuff that people already wanted. Whenever I create a product, I now take action to make sure people want it before I create it. Nothing gets out the door until the data and customer response proves that it’s a winner. Period.

So there it is, my big, fat, embarrassing mistake bared for the world to see. Looking back, it’s kind of ridiculous to see how brazenly foolish I was. I guess my “just a matter of time” mindset ended up working after all, despite my circuitous route to success. I hope these tips and my story helps you and saves you some easily avoidable heartache.

In short, build it because they’ve already come, and you can’t go wrong.

Since a young age, Jonathan Mead has had a hard time doing things he’s not passionate about. He left the corporate scene at age 23 to become self-employed doing what makes him come alive: helping others create work they love while getting paid to be who they are.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.