The fast, cheap way I started my online business

A few years ago, I was wantrepreneur #1.

First, I’d think up some lame business idea. Like one time when I decided to start a medical records faxing service for doctors’ offices.

I spent three weeks making a website, brochures, and business cards. Then when I finally called up local doctors, I found out none of them needed my service.

This happened over and over again: I’d do all the work, only to find out nobody wanted my product.

Then I wised up: I finally joined Zero to Launch.

I studied the Zero to Launch system for building an online business, and then I took a quick shortcut to get my first 100 subscribers.

It wasn’t the “right” way to do things. But fast forward to today, and I have a 6-figure online business with more than 10,000 email subscribers.

$158,574 in sales the past 12 months.

The change didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken me more than a year of focused effort to get to this place. But it all started with those first 100 subscribers.

If you’re like me and are overly eager, I want to show you the exact process I used to get those initial subscribers.

The basic steps you need to get started are easy, and can be very fast if you keep it simple. You cannot be a perfectionist if you do this.

All you need is:

  • a free piece of content you can give away
  • a place where people can sign up to get that content
  • low-cost Facebook ads

In this post, I’ll explain how to complete each step quickly so you can start getting subscribers in no time.

1. The easiest way to get someone’s email address

You know those offers and pop-ups for free content that you see on websites? Like these:

PDFs, ebooks, audio — anything works for your lead magnet.

This free content is called a “lead magnet” because it exists to pull in “leads” — or potential customers — and get them to subscribe to a business’s email list.

You want to create your own lead magnet.

To start, you first need a topic. Pick one that a) you know about and b) others are interested in.

You don’t need to be a world-class expert, so don’t get hung up on that. Simply choose a topic that your friends ask you for help with.

For example, I chose “how to make money freelancing on Elance” as my topic.

Then I decided to create a simple audio recording for my lead magnet. It took only 2 hours to make.

The thought of talking into a mic for 30 minutes by myself intimidated me, so I asked a colleague to help me. That made it more like chatting with a buddy — much easier.

We did basically zero prep work:

  1. I wrote up a rudimentary outline
  2. We jumped on Skype
  3. We recorded our talk using the free trial version of Camtasia (which allows you to record your screen and edit that video) and our laptop mics

We talked for about 45 minutes. It was far from perfect. I said “um,” “like,” and “you know” more times than I care to remember.

But it was good enough.

I uploaded it to a hosting site (Wistia) with the plan of emailing people a link to the recording once they signed up.

The easier way to do this
You can make this step quicker and easier by making the audio shorter (10-20 minutes) and doing it on your own instead of with a friend. Check out my outline below — I could easily have done away with 2 of the myths and still gotten great results.

Labeling this “rough” was the right idea.

Once your recording is done, resist the urge to edit it. Remember, it just has to be good enough.

If you’d prefer to make a PDF, follow these guidelines:

  • Keep it to 3-5 pages
  • Don’t worry about design
  • Email the PDF to people after they sign up to your email list

2. How to collect those email addresses

Once your lead magnet is ready to go, you need a way for people to sign up to get it.

But you don’t need to spend $2,000 on a fancy website. You can do what I did and put up a standalone landing page instead. I had no idea how to do it, but it ended up being way easier than I imagined. Let me show you.

You can register a new domain name at Namecheap for about $10. Don’t overthink the name or ask all your friends for advice.

I chose because it sounded good, and it tells you exactly what my site is about. Other examples of successful direct domain names are:


Pick something that suits your business.

Next, it’s time to write some copy. If you’re like me and want something fast and cheap, then you need to make it “good enough.” Don’t freak out if you feel like you’re not the best writer.

Just write a headline, along with a few straightforward paragraphs and bullet points telling readers:

  • What you’re offering
  • Some specific things they’ll learn from your product
  • How to get your product

Here’s a look at my first landing page so you can see each of these pieces:

It wasn’t pretty, but it was good enough.

Don’t spend too much time on this. Write for an hour. Then let it sit overnight and spend another hour on it the next day.

Once you’re done with the copy, you can put it in a ready-made template. (I like LeadPages.) All you do is put your text in the appropriate boxes in the template, and hit “Publish.”

As you can see, my first page was ugly as hell. But it was infinitely better than nothing.

The easier way to do this
If you want to make sure you have a landing page that not only looks great, but is a proven winner, here’s what to do:

That way you can choose a page that’s proven to get email signups.

3. The low-cost way to get traffic fast

Now it’s time to get some high-quality traffic.

One way to do this is Facebook ads. They’re simple and relatively cheap to use.

Before you can run an effective ad, you need a Facebook page for your business. This is easy to create using Facebook’s walkthrough tutorial.

Now, you may worry about looking scammy since you most likely won’t have any posts or “likes” yet.

Do it anyway.

You can have a reasonably effective ad up and running in minutes — at just $5 per day — following a few simple steps:

1. Keep the ad extremely basic. I used just 2 lines of copy and stock photos from Facebook’s free image library.

2. Choose 6 different photos. The success of your ad depends on choosing the right photo. But it isn’t always obvious at first glance which one will work best. Luckily, Facebook lets you choose up to 6 free stock photos per ad. Then they automatically adjust your ad to show the best performing images more often. This takes the guesswork out of the game and gives you the best chance of ending up with a winner.

3. Set your budget low. I initially chose to spend $15 per day. This way I wouldn’t risk much, especially if no one signed up.

My barebones Facebook ad.

My ad was shown to over 1,000 people, and I got 5 subscribers in the first couple of hours.

That means each subscriber only cost me $3. Pretty good when you consider that some businesses spend 10-20x that to get one potential customer.

Since I had proven the concept at that point, I felt comfortable raising my budget to $50 a day to speed up the process of reaching my goal of 100 subscribers.

The easier way to do this
As you’ve seen, Facebook ads themselves are pretty easy.

But there’s a way you can make it easier to get someone’s email address when they click on your ad.

Since getting someone’s email address requires trust, consider giving away some (or even all) of your lead magnet content without requiring people to sign up first.

For example, you could let people listen to an audio recording right on your landing page, then offer them more great content if they sign up to your email list.

Or, if your lead magnet is a PDF report, you could show a preview of it on your landing page, and ask people to sign up to download the rest.

Either way, this allows you to build credibility and prove your material is valuable, instead of asking people to “take your word for it.”

Getting 100 subscribers in 1 week

After launching my ad, I watched my email subscriber list grow every day. Here’s a breakdown of my results:

  • I paid $300
  • I ran the ad for six days
  • I got 100 subscribers
  • That means I paid $3 for each subscriber, which is a good rate

Even better, 10 of those subscribers became paying customers, and made me $490. Not bad for a very quick, very casual, low-risk lead magnet.

Some of my very first subscribers.

More importantly, I now had a proven, scalable business model. It was far from perfect. But my initial goal was fast and cheap, not perfection.

At this point, I knew I had an audience. People wanted what I was offering.

And once I learned the proper way to start an online business with Zero to Launch, I was able to turn this shaky start into a six-figure business that now helps thousands of people around the world.

Emails and tweets from a few of my clients.

We all start small. What’s your next step going to be?

In the comments, tell me either:

  • What was your first lead magnet? How many subscribers did it help you get?
  • If you haven’t created a lead magnet, what could you offer? Why is that perfect for your audience?

There Are 3 Comments

Join The Conversation

Hey Danny!

Love the detail you went into here, much appreciated!

Question about your lead magnet audio / PDF. When I first created my lead magnet, it was roughly 30 minutes and packed with in-depth material showing *exactly* how to get the desired results of my target market.

Problem is, it wasn’t “crunchy” enough, apparently, so nobody listened to it, got any use out of it, and even tried it out later.

How then do you get new subscribers to *want* to devour your freebie, and not put it off ’til later, aka never?

Would really appreciate any direction you have to offer :)

Thanks Joshua. The first step is to figure out exactly where the disconnect was.

Did they download it but not listen to it?

Did they listen to part of it but found it was too complicated to implement?

Did they not want to download it in the first place, because it didn’t match what they really wanted (e.g. they wanted to lose weight by working out, where the lead magnet was all about cutting calories)?

Or did your copy not properly convey the awesomeness of the lead magnet?

It could be any of the above reasons, or many others — but once you find the answer you can work on that and fix it and try again.

Will Chou

Does this stuff still work? I feel like people have been talking about Facebook Ads for years and it’s saturated. I blew about $300 and didn’t get any subscribers

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