Building an online business is tough.
I should know, because I’ve wasted years and over $10,000 trying to make it happen.
I’ve fallen for many get rich quick schemes. I’ve even spent thousands on a 1-on-1 coaching program that didn’t pan out.
In this article, I go through the pitfalls I’ve spectacularly fallen into, and I also share the realizations I’ve had to help me turn it all around.
Because, you see, today I’m making a living doing what I love, so it can be done. But before it can happen, you have to make a few shifts.
This article came about from the last one I wrote here on How I Built a Business Around My Passion. A few people in the comments wanted to know more about what I tried and how I failed.
So that’s exactly what you’ll discover as you keep reading.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The Early Days
I still remember the first “real” website I had after I got serious about building an online business, or learning how to make money online.
I’d always been into golf (real golf, not mini golf), so I thought I’d pay someone to do keyword research and get a site up for me.
I thought it would allow me to sit back and watch the money roll in.
Well, that didn’t happen.
The site was built and everything was ready, but I quickly figured out that I wasn’t going to make a living without traffic. And I had no motivation to actually work on the site, so I let it expire.
I then found a 1-on-1 online business coaching program that promised to get me to several thousand dollars a month in passive income within 6 months.
I was excited, so I forked over $8,000. And in the end, nothing happened. I once again wasn’t willing to put in the work.
I got a website up, and I created a product, but I thought that was enough, and it wasn’t.
I then let that site expire.
And I kept looking for courses and programs that would promise me the world without any work. I was still trying to succeed without any effort, but it wasn’t happening.
All in all, I ended up wasting well over $10,000 before I had an a-ha moment.
Eventually I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working.
I looked at all the programs I’d tried, and I saw the common denominator for my failure.
Can you guess what it was?
It was me.
Sure, some of the get rich quick programs were a complete waste of money, but I was the one responsible for believing their promises.
And I was the one responsible for expecting that I could make money without putting in any work.
After I realized what was really going on, and who was to “blame,” the shift happened.
I became so disgusted with my own mindset that something snapped. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I was finally ready to put in the work. I didn’t care how long it would take or how hard it would be. I was ready to work hard.
That’s when I found someone who was already successful online, and I learned from him.
I asked him what I had to do. He gave me some instructions and I followed them to a tee. This time I wasn’t going to dilute my focus.
So I worked hard on just one project for about 3-4 months.
After that, I was making $500/month, and before the year was over, I was making a full-time living online, and I spent almost the whole of 2010 in Spain with my girlfriend, and our dog.
This was several years ago. Looking back, I don’t regret a thing, because all of those failures have helped me realize what it really takes to succeed.
This helps me help my clients and customers better, because I know what it feels like to want to do work you love, but fail gloriously.
Those early years were my learning phase. We all have to go through it. We have to fail over and over again until things click.
The Bottom Line
Building an online business around your passion is tough, but it can be done.
There are solid steps you can follow. And there are people out there willing to share their knowledge with you.
But you still need to show up. You have to be willing to put in the work, because no one can do it for you.
I work with clients and customers to help them do this, but I can’t do it for them. They have to show up and do the work, even when they’re scared out of their minds.
All of this began with my desire to build websites and make a living online. I didn’t know I would end up where I am today.
I just followed my excitement.
And that’s all you can really do.
So how can you start following your excitement today?
Photo by Ed Yourdon
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37 thoughts on “How to Fail at Turning Your Passion into an Online Business”
I also had a “straw that broke the camel’s back” scenario with my business after spending years and $1,000’s while I was in college.
It was tough at the time, barely making ends meet after graduating (instead of getting a job in my field during the lowest hiring rates the industry has ever seen), but now I’ve been working online for 6 years and I love it.
What I learned:
Great opportunities are there for everyone, great success is there for those that work hard to add value for others.
For most people it takes a lot of experimentation and trying, but it can be done.
Many people claim they are passionate about their business but the only thing they are really passionate about is getting money. I loved how you said, “I became so disgusted with my own mindset that something snapped.” It is a hard thing to let go of, just wanting it all for yourself. After all, work isn’t so bad. In fact it can be fun. And then when it also pays, well that’s just fantastic. But if you wouldn’t do it for free, you ought to consider if it is the thing for you.
I believe that people who are great at what they do deserve to be well paid, even fabulously well paid. But first you have to be good — good in a technical sense and good in an ethical sense. Henri, thanks for the real life case study on what really works.
You’re right on, Kenneth.
And the part most people don’t want to face is that it often takes time to get good, but in order to get good, you have to show up and put in the work.
The real shortcut to success is no shortcut at all.
People make an enemy of time. What’s wrong with something taking a long time? It takes the time it takes. Facing that reality solves lots of problems.
Well said Kenneth. And I’ll add, some things are worth the wait!
An interesting read. I read it earlier also on the about us page of your blog. Not to mention, quite an inspirational story. I also did similar mistakes when I entered into the world of Internet marketing. But, later on as I moved in life, I realized those mistakes and made sure not to make them again.
Good stuff, Rinkesh. Mistakes are learning opportunities.
Nice Henri, I enjoy the details here! BTW what was your first successful online business (the one you made $500/mo with); was it WakeUpCloud?
My first $500/mo came from a niche site in the health market. I’d always been interested in natural health, so I started something there.
Wake Up Cloud didn’t come until about a year after that.
Great post Henri. I must say, an inspirational story. I went through the same stage. Did a lot of mistakes and finally after quite some time, I made my first successful website. One must be able to take disappointments as a part of life and should not let his focus shift from the goal.
So what you what you learnt that success don’t come quick, but how did you make 500 USD in 6 month?
Like I wrote in the comment above, I built a niche site around a topic I was interested in.
I no longer recommend this because of changes Google has made, and also because I’d rather do something I’m passionate about.
Great post Henri! Thanks. I had a similar experience and finally realized that looking for a quick fix is so tempting but it rarely works. The 2 key things I discovered in creating a successful coaching business after years of floundering were: 1. If you don’t expect to have to invest in yourself and ‘do the work’, how can you expect your clients to? 2. It’s all about mindset– not wanting to do the work doesn’t necessarily mean you are lazy, but there is some fear keeping you from really digging in. Uncovering and right-sizing that fear is the key to breaking through it. What I’ve learned too is that once you’ve done the hard work of laying the ground work– creating products, programs, systems, and processes, It gets easier and the work gets to be more fun and feel less like work!
Couldn’t agree with you more, Cindy.
It’s kind of like when you learn to play guitar (or any instrument). At first it’s a struggle. You’re learning where your fingers go, the chords and how your hands work together.
Your fingers may become sore from the steel strings, and you may curse the gods. But as you keep practicing, you start finding a flow.
Suddenly you can play one song, two, you slowly get better, and things start to flow. Then it’s just a matter of where you want to go, what you want to do, and how good you want to get.
It’s all about putting in the work. But also realizing that that work doesn’t have to be cumbersome. When you do something you enjoy, it’s enjoyable right now.
Which program did you follow to the letter (with hard work) to find your success?
For the niche site, there was no program, only a mentor who helped me. But again, it doesn’t really matter what I did, because this was a few years back, and things have changed since then.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. It just goes to prove that successful bloggers go through the same growth pains as those still trying to find their success.
It all comes down to the fact that success only comes from doing what you really want to do, and not from borrowing the experiences, or advice, of others. If you can find an intersection between that and the people you want to share your ideas with, then that intersection will be your ideal topic.
Passion is good. What matters is how you match your passion to what your audience wants to know. In the end, you need to be passionate about giving people what they want.
Oh how right you are, Tom.
I talk about this a lot, and it’s so important. You have to find the intersection between what you love to do, what you’re good at (or want to become good at) and what people are willing to pay for.
Great post. To make it online, you have to put in the time, do the work, learn from the mistakes, and re-do the work if necessary, until you make it. It’s simple, but never easy, which is good, else everybody would be able to do it.
We tend to not think we’re making money when we fail, but the reality is we are making money even when we are losing it and failing it, but as long as we stick to the original goal, keep learning, keep trying, we’ll finally make it and then looking back, we will see everything we ever did is all part of the process.
Good points, Harry!
Hey Henri, Congrats …. Its a good sharing.
Being a mother of 9 months old baby girl, I always think about doing something online so that I can work from home and also give lot of time to my lil angel. I am working for an IT company currently. Infact, I did have couple of business ideas but could not implement them. I do get motivated seeing the people who are doing great in online business. Since I am committed to this, I might take lil more time but I am sure I will be succeeded in this. Thanks for motivating others.
Good stuff, Roopa. Just focus on taking one step at a time and I’m sure you’ll see progress.
Thanks Henri…. I will make it…. I am happy that I am getting a chance to read such experiences/sharing and also share my thoughts….
So true Henri,
I’ve gone through the same thing and hoped that by just having a website things would magically happen. But it’s not until I now finally am putting in the consistent work that things are happening.
Thanks for sharing this, Henri. I think you are right. I too have a habit of focusing on multiple things.If you are a creative, then there are so many business ideas that come to one’s mind. And one feels like doing everything. that is what makes the difference. Do everything or do onething and reach to a point of excellence in that.
It’s kind of like a buffe. You can’t fill your plate with everything most of the time. You have to start with one thing (or in the case of this metaphor, a few things).
Then you can come back and eat more if you want to.
So in business, focus on one thing, get it working and then experiment with other things.
Henri, yours is a very interesting story. You did a nice job of taking us through your early days. Do you think the $8k program could have worked or was it a complete scam? That’s so much money! I guess whoever sold it took advantage of the “get what you pay for” mindset.
Thanks for a great post.
It wasn’t a completely crappy program.
I think if I took it today, I could make it work, because I could fill in so many of the blanks myself.
But back then I didn’t know anything. And also, I was constantly looking for signs that it wasn’t working. So it was part me and part the program.
Great story. I’ve only put the money to edit and print books, have photos shot, and a few online ads. I’m building a platform. It’s slow, but I have faith it will slowly build.
As long as you are moving forward, you will learn new things :)
That’s a really honest and straightforward post that can be summarised as follows: devote yourself and work hard upon your dream for it to come true.
However, I feel there is one more side to this story: flexibility.
My friend has set up a business that failed since there was no demand for this kind of services in this particular region (a bakery in the city centre). Yet, after a while of panicking and hair pulling, she adapted her business to the specification of the place which is flourishing capital of culture and art. She decided to combine her artistic skills with her passion to cakes: this is how a cupcakery with artistic cupcakes came to life and started to generate decent income.
What I want to say is that you cannot force your dream or your vision upon reality, can you? You have to bend it in accordance to present fashion and trends…
Thanks for leaving such a great comment.
Absolutely you need flexibility. This is why I tell people to take action, see what happens and adjust.
It’s so easy to get stuck trying to plan your way to perfection, but really, you have to be willing to start before you’re ready (in most cases), see how things go, and then course-correct if needed.
ooh this is really cool! i’ve come across wake up cloud but didn’t realize that this was the back story behind it. really nice post, Henri. appreciate you sharing it with us
I feel your pain Henri..
I too spent over ten grand (half of that for my first website) and years spinning my wheels before I figured it out.
The main difference is I didn’t know enough in the beginning to know that there were pp making tons of money, and possibly for not much work.
I just had an idea.. a void I thought I’d fill. After about a year, and thousands of dollars and 12 hour work days, six-seven days a week…and not one penny in profit, I finally tossed my original idea.
I’d say it took three good years, and $10,000+ dollars, working full time before I finally started making money.
I can honestly say that all my “failures” were from lack of the right knowledge of what it takes to succeed online.
My advise to newbies. Find someone successful (this being key) AND you can trust, and simply follow what they do. Most successful online marketers share or sell products with A-Z help.
One you’ve chosen the person you want to follow, stay focused and don’t deviate chasing something else.
Absolutely. Excellent points here :)