A Software Engineer's Path to Financial Independence and Early Retirement (FIRE)

Career advice Increase income Tech Careers

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business

Disclosure: This post might contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

Having an online business or side hustle is one of the key factors that can speed up your path to FIRE. It is very easy to do an online search and find lots of great ideas. However, there is a long distance between an interesting idea and a profitable execution. In this post, I will provide a step-by-step guide about how to start and grow your online business.

The most important part of this journey is to treat your online business as a business and not as a hobby. You should think of yourself as an entrepreneur, who is growing a business, and not as an amateur, who is trying things for fun.

One way to motivate and educate yourself about entrepreneurship is to learn from other successful entrepreneurs. A very inspiring class that covers a similar framework as my guide is the Masterclass, where Sara Blakely Teaches Self-Made Entrepreneurship. Sara is the founder of Spanx and was named as one of the Top 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2012 and as the 93rd most influential woman in the world by Forbes in 2014. Definitely somebody worth learning from!

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Setup Your Website

Step 1: Setup your website

a. Select your niche topic

The first step in your journey towards building an online business is to select your target market. Ideally, you will pick something that:

  1. Has potential for high monetization
  2. Does not have high competition from other SMEs
  3. You find interesting and can present yourself as a Subject Matter Expert (SME)
How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Expert Secrets

Russell Brunson, in his latest book Expert Secrets, has done the heavy lifting to analyze all potential options and finalize that the 3 markets with the highest potential for monetization (item #1 above) are:

  1. Wealth
  2. Health
  3. Relationships

Of course, these 3 markets are huge and have lots of competition from other SMEs (item #2 above). In order to avoid them, you will have to find a niche sub-market within the market that interests you most (item #3 above).

For example, if you are interested in the “Wealth” market, then a sub-market could be “Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE)”. And niche sub-market could be “FIRE for Engineers” 🙂

If you are interested in the “Health” market, then a sub-market could be “Healthy foods”. And a niche sub-market could be “Healthy foods for children”.

The most important part in this exercise is to find something that you are passionate about and enjoy diving deeper in. Remember that this is just the beginning of the journey, so make sure that you enjoy the process.

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Select A Name

b. Select a name

After finding your niche sub-market, the next step is to find a relevant name for your website. This name is typically one of the following:

  1. A brand name that is unrelated to your sub-market (e.g. Uber, Apple, Amazon)
  2. A name that is somehow linked to your sub-market (e.g. Eat Sleep Breathe FI, Budgets Are Sexy)
  3. Your online identity (e.g. Mr Money Mustache, Mad Fientist)
  4. Your personal name (e.g. Neil Patel, Jim Collins)

I’m not a fan of option #1, because this generally works for first entrants to a market when nobody knows about that market. This allows them to gain a vast market share. However, the next entrants won’t have the first mover’s advantage, so they want their target audience to understand their value just by hearing their name. For example, in the ride-hailing business, the first entrant was Uber (option #1), whereas the second entrant was Lyft (option #2, since a “lift”, is a synonym for a “ride”).

Out of the above options, I suggest either option #2 or option #3. You can also choose option #4, if you want to build a brand around your own name. This is a personal choice, so select the option that works for you.

In order to see if a domain name is available, you use Bluehost’s domain name checker (shown below). Try different combinations until you find one that satisfies you. I suggest that you choose the “.com” suffix as opposed to any other suffix, as it typically has the best market value and recognition.

c. Register your domain

In order to be able to create a website and make it publicly available, you need to register the domain and use a web hosting provider, which will host it and provide you all the tools to write your content. A couple of popular options are:

  1. Bluehost: This is a very common option. Typically it’s also the cheapest one, so it’s great to use it as a starting point. Engineer Seeking FIRE is using Bluehost.
  2. SiteGround: Another very popular option. It might be a little more expensive, but many bloggers rave about the increased performance (e.g. faster loading time in your website)

Up to you to pick the one that matches your budget and goals. Make sure that your provider supports WordPress, as it is the most common tool to create blogs and websites. Currently, more than 1/3 of all the websites in the internet use WordPress.

After you register the website, you have officially started your online business! Congratulations!

d. Customize your website

One of the advantages of using WordPress is that it is highly customizable. There are thousands of free and paid themes and plugins that you can install, in order to optimize the user experience in your website.

The theme defines how your website will look to external visitors. This is a very personal choice due to aesthetic reasons. The theme controls everything that your viewers see when they visit your website. You should find one that works for you but is also fairly light so that it does not impact the loading time of the page. You can start with a free theme in the beginning since there are great options. Engineer Seeking FIRE uses OceanWP.

The plugins enhance not only the experience of the external visitors, but also the control that you have on your website. There are hundreds of thousands of plugins. The ones that I found most useful are:

  1. Yoast: The best plugin for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  2. MC4WP (Mailchimp for WordPress) or ConvertKit: Enables you to create a mailing list of up to 1000 people for free
  3. Monster Insights: Integrates with Google Analytics, so that you can monitor the traffic on your website
  4. Social Warfare and jQuery Pin It Button for Images: Simplify how your users can publish our posts and images to their Social Media accounts
  5. WP Rocket (paid) or Swift Performance Lite (free): Create a cache for your website, in order to reduce the time that it takes to load your pages. WP Rocket is currently the top performer, but if you prefer to use free plugins, then Swift Performance Lite is your best option.
  6. ShortPixel Image Optimizer: Compress your images losslessly, so that you reduce the speed loading time without lowering quality

The last 2 plugins are used to optimize the speed of your website and will be covered below.

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Optimize your website for speed

e. Optimize your website for speed

At this point your website is up and running. You can write new content and visitors can view it. However, you might notice that the pages take a little more time to load. If you have large images, then this might make the problem worse. And some of your users might not like these delays, so that might leave your website without waiting for everything to download.

There are several tools that check the speed of your website and point out different issues:

  1. PageSpeed Insights by Google
  2. GTMetrix
  3. Pingdom

You might be discouraged by the volume of warnings and errors that is shown by the above tools. Fortunately, Online Media Masters has a step-by-step guide to optimize the speed of your website. In a first pass, the guide might look long and daunting. However, the core part can be finished quickly. You can just do the following configurations:

  1. Cache plugin (select the option for WP Rocket or Swift Performance Lite)
  2. CloudFlare setup and settings
  3. Losslessly Compress Images (select ShortPixel)
  4. Add SSL

You can start with these optimizations and measure the speed again using the tools above. If you see specific errors that you want to fix, then use the guide as a reference on how to fix them.

How to Start And Grow Your Online Business - Write valuable content

Step 2: Write valuable content

At this point you are ready to write posts and publish them. The more you write, the more valuable your website becomes. At the same time you should make sure that you structure your content in such a way that it optimizes 3 areas:

  1. Readability
  2. Ads
  3. On-page SEO

a. Focus on Readability

It is critical to make sure that all the content that we publish online is easily readable and understandable by our target audience. Physician On FIRE has a list of guidelines for well-written guest posts. I’ve used it as the basis of my guidance for readability below:

  • Posts should be at least 1,000 words. Even better if they can be 1,200 or 2,000+
  • Use your own unique perspective and personal stories
    • No plagiarism
  • Do not use grammatical errors or profanity
    • Install Grammarly to get real-time auto-suggestions about how to improve your text, as you type in your browser
  • Do not have long walls of text. Break the text using headings, pictures and short paragraphs
  • Use lots of high-quality pictures. Make sure that they are royalty-free. You can either create your own or use the following websites:

b. Guidance from Ads providers

Mediavine, which is one of the main Ad Networks that we’ll cover below, has published guidance on how to optimize content for better SEO and ad performance. Their goal is to help content creators write content in such a way that it optimizes the addition of ads.

Mediavine’s main points are:

  1. Write more.
    1. At least 700+ words. Longer is better
    2. Use unique images
    3. Put valuable content in the end
  2. Break that writing up into shorter, more frequent paragraphs
    1. No more than 3 sentences long
    2. Use Headings to split up text
    3. Increase your font size and line height spacing to be at least 18px tall and 1.6px respectively.
  3. Keep sidebar short

Most of these points line up well with the readability points above. This means that if your post is well-written, then it will be easily understandable by your readers and it will perform well in ads as well.

c. On-page SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

SEO is used to increase your rankings when users search for relevant queries in the Search Engines (Google, Bing, etc). We’ll talk about it in more depth in its own section below. However, here we will cover how we can improve in-page SEO, i.e. how we can structure the page in such a way that it can be crawled more effectively by the search engine crawlers.

You can either use a DIY approach and use specific tools to optimize your content or use a paid service.

  • My recommended free tools (more details below) are Screaming Frog and Site Liner
  • If you are interested in a paid service, then SJ Digital Solutions provides an SEO content outline for your posts, in order to help you make them SEO-friendly.

Screaming Frog

There are multiple tools that check the in-page SEO by doing site audits. However, the easiest one (and free) to use is called Screaming Frog. The limitation of the free version is that it works for up to 500 URLs.

What you need to do is:

  1. Download it
  2. Install it
  3. Follow the instructions from this detailed YouTube video explaining how to crawl your website and improve the in-page SEO

I have captured the instructions from the video in the next couple of sections.

Screaming Frog – Left panel – “Internal” tab

The above video goes through the following columns in the Screaming Frog report:

  1. Address
    1. Are all the individual URLs formed correctly?
    2. We should be using categories and not dates in the URL
    3. Any category pages or service pages?
  2. Page return error codes
    1. Are there any status other than 200 (i.e. “Success”)? If so, why?
    2. If you run the Broken Link Checker plugin in your website, does it find any broken links?
  3. Titles
    1. All titles should be 55-75 characters
    2. Any pages without a title?
    3. Any pages with duplicate titles (e.g. one with ending “/” and the other without)?
    4. Any titles that look weird (e.g. all caps)?
    5. Any pages that should be tagged as noindex?
  4. Meta description
    1. Meta description length should be 50-160 characters
    2. Any page with empty meta description?
    1. Any duplicate meta descriptions?
    2. Any descriptions missing the keywords for the post?
  5. Meta keywords
    1. This should be empty in Screaming Frog
  6. H1 tags
    1. H1 tag should be equal to the title
    2. Any pages with 2+ H1 tags?
  7. H2 tags
    1. Any tags longer than 35 characters?
  8. Meta robots
    1. Are the noindex tags in the correct places (author URLs, tags, etc)?
  9. Word count
    1. Any page with 0 words or important pages with very few words?
    2. Any pages with < 300 words?
  10. Level
    1. Should be 3 or less
    2. Main pages should be equal to 1
  11. Inlinks
    1. Helpful to understand relative authority within the website
  12. Outlinks and External Outlinks
    1. Helpful to point to authoritative pages
  13. Response time
    1. Should be less than 3 seconds
    2. Cross check with GTMetrix and other tools
Screaming Frog – Right panel
  • “Overview” tab
    • An alternative way to easily spot outliers is to view the “Overview” tab at the right side of the window. Go through each category and see if anything is tagged.
  • “Site Structure” tab
    • All links should be within 2-3 clicks from main page
    • Important pages should have depth equal to 1
  • “Response” tab
    • All pages should have response time < 3 seconds
    • Also check with other speed tools mentioned above

Site Liner

Screaming Frog does not show duplicate content in your website. In order to see that, use Site Liner. If you find any duplicate content, then you can either remove the duplicates or add noindex tags to the pages.

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Drive traffic to your website

Step 3: Drive traffic to your website

After having valuable content in your website, the next is to help others find it. In this section, I will cover the main ways to bring traffic to your website.

In my opinion, the 3 main ways to increase your traffic are:

  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • Organic traffic from people, who search for your content in Google, Bing and other search engines
  2. Social Networks
    • Pinterest is currently the top traffic generator
    • We’ll also cover Instagram, Twitter, Facebook
    • Lots of other options, e.g. YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, etc
  3. Other (Email list, forums, guest posts)
    • This is great to increase retention, i.e. to encourage your previous viewers to revisit your website

If you want to dive deeper into this area, I recommend the book “Traffic Secrets: The Underground Playbook for Filling Your Websites and Funnels with Your Dream Customers” by Russell Branson.

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Search Engine Optimization

a. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Have you tried searching for your content in Google, Bing or any other search engine just to be disappointed by the fact that they are nowhere to be seen? The goal of investing time in learning about SEO is to help boost your rankings towards the first page at Google. Research shows that most people will only look at the first page and click only on the first 5 links. That is where you want to be!

Of course, it is not possible to achieve this for every query. There are millions of websites with billions of pages. Many of them have a huge reputation and they are very difficult to compete with. That’s why you need to pick your battles. More specifically, you need to find queries with keywords where:

  1. You have the ability to write good content
  2. The competition is low
  3. Monetization potential is high

We discussed earlier how to boost your in-page SEO using Screaming Frog, as well as about the importance of the Yoast SEO plugin.

In this section we will cover the SEO tools and the ways to use them. More specifically:

  1. Keyword search: Create a list of keywords that is related to your website. The longer list the better.
  2. Keyword filtering: Filter the above list and find which ones are the best keywords to target
  3. Keyword integration: Integrate the above keywords with your website
  4. Backlinks: How to improve your rankings for these keywords

Note: Optimizing your posts for SEO is something that you do once (or not very often), but it takes some time to show results. So, don’t expect that once your write an SEO-optimized post, it will immediately appear at the top of Google’s results. It will take some time for that to happen. However, once your website starts getting traction, you will see lots your posts getting organic traffic from the search engines without any additional work from you.

SEO tools

The main SEO providers are shown in the following matrix:

SEO providerTrial version
(full features, limited time)
Free tier (limited features, unlimited time)Minimum monthly price after trial (billed annually)
SEMRush7 days freeYes$83
Ahrefs7 days for $7No$82
Moz30 days freeYes$79
Ubersuggest7 days freeYes$24
KeySearch30 days freeNo$14

Each SEO provider has tools that cover the following categories:

  1. Competitor analysis: Understand what keywords your competitors are ranking high for
  2. Keyword research: Analyze whether a keyword is a potential target by looking at competition and monetization potential
  3. Backlink analysis: Find all the links that point to a website. The more authoritative links that point to a website the higher it appears in the search engine rankings
  4. On-page SEO: Analyse the pages of your website and optimize for SEO. This is what we did with Screaming Frog above.
ToolCompetitor AnalysisKeyword ResearchBacklink AnalysisOn-Page SEO
SEMRushDomain AnalyticsKeyword AnalyticsBacklinksOn Page SEO Checker
AhrefsSite ExplorerKeywords ExplorerRank TrackerSite Audit
MozSite CrawlKeyword ExplorerLink ExplorerOn-Page Grader
UbersuggestTop PagesKeywordsBacklinksSite Audit
KeySearch Competition Analysis Keyword ResearchRank Tracking & IntelligenceWebpage Audit Analyzer

The first 3 tools (SEMRush, Ahrefs, Moz) are the largest providers in this space. Most big websites are paying their high(er) annual fees, in order to take advantage of the increased capabilities that they provide.

If you want to really dive deep into the differences between each of the top 3 tools, then I recommend that you read this detailed comparison from TheBluePrint.

However, if you are just starting with SEO, then it probably makes sense to use the free versions of the tools to do the initial analysis and then switch the KeySearch, which is a lower-cost provider for ongoing research. This way you will learn the differences between the main options and also keep the ongoing cost low.

The first step in your SEO is to find potential keywords that are worth targeting. At this point we’re interested in creating a long list of potential keywords. As long as a keyword seems related to your online business, then it should be in the list. We’ll filter the keywords to find the best ones to target in the next post

There are 3 main ways to create long list of relevant keywords:

  1. Manual
    • Brainstorm all potential keywords and their relevant combinations that are related to your online business
    • Add all these keywords in your list
    • For example, some keywords related to personal finance could be: Safe Withdrawal Rate, increase income, decrease expenses, investing, 401k
  2. Keyword tools
    • The goal of these tools is to create a long list of related keyword phrases
    • This is a great addition to the manual search. You can use the manual words as a starting point and create multiple iterations
    • The best tool in this category is Answer The Public:
      • Add a keyphrase in the search bar
      • Click on the Search button
      • Download the whole list by clicking on the Download button (upper right of the page)
  3. Competitive analysis
    • The goal of this method is to look at the top keywords for your main competitors
    • First you need to create a list with your competitors. Here are some ideas about how to do this:
      • Start with the “obvious” competitors that you already know
      • Google “best <your niche> blogs” or “best <your niche> sites> or “top <your niche> blogs” or “top <your nick> sites” (without the quotes). Go through all the results and add them to your list
      • Google keyphrases that you identified in the next step and look at the top results. Add them to your list
    • After you have a list (30-50 competitors minimum), then you enter them one to the “Competitor Analysis” tool from your favorite SEO provider and copy the top keywords to your list

If you want to try the SEMRush Competitor Analysis tool, just enter a domain name below:

The best way to create a good keyword list is a combination of the above. You can create a list of keywords manually and use it as input to your tools. Then you can enhance this list by analysis your competitors.

Step 2: Keyword filtering

Now that you have a long list of keywords, the next step is to filter them and decide which ones are the best to target. We want to analyse the websites that rank high (within the top 10 Google results) for that keyword. If they are all very authoritative (i.e. they have high Domain Authority and Page Authority), then we’ll need to eliminate that keyword from that list. If at least one of them has low authority, then we can keep the keyword.

There are 2 main ways to do this:

  1. Google + MozBar + Keyword Surfer
    • Install the MozBar Chrome Extension
      • It enhances the Google search results by adding the Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) of each result
      • The higher the DA/PA of a result, the tougher it is to replace it in the Google rankings
      • Check this excellent guide on everything that you can do with MozBar
    • Install the Keyword Surfer Chrome Extension
      • It enhances the Google search results by adding a monetary value for each search
      • The higher the monetary value the higher the possibility that you can monetize this keyword
    • Google each keyword
    • Look at the results from the MozBar and keep only the keywords that have at least 1 low (30 or less) PA/DA result. These are great keywords for you to target with your content
    • If all results in the first page have high PA/DA (30+) then it will be difficult for you to replace them. Remove the keyword from your list
    • Also check the results from the Keyword Surfer to understand the possibility to monetize this keyword. If this is a high value, then it’s a great keyword to target for monetization
  2. Keyword Analysis tools
    • Enter the keyword in your favorite “Keyword Analysis” tool from the above section
    • Examine the websites that rank high for that keyword. If all of them have a high Page Authority and Domain Authority (30+), then you can delete the keyword from your list
    • Keep only the keywords that have at least 1 low (30 or less) PA/DA result. These are great keywords for you to target with your content

Step 3: Keyword integration

At this point, we have finalized the keywords that we want to target with our content. The next step is to create pages or blog posts that address each keyword.

Let’s say that we have decided that we want to target the keyword “401k retirement plan” with our next blog post. We want to make sure that this keyword exists in the following areas:

  • URL
  • Title
  • First paragraph
  • Alt attribute for all our images
  • H2 headlines
  • Repeated multiple (6+) times within text

In addition, you should keep in mind all the learnings from the On-Page SEO section.

However, at the same time, you should also respect the reader’s experience. You don’t want to load our page with the keyword, even if it doesn’t help the reader, just in order to increase our Google rankings. This is called keyword stuffing and is penalized by Google, so it’s better to avoid it.

The last step in the SEO methodology is to increase your Domain Authority by adding more backlinks to your website. This way, Search Engines will rank your site higher. Below are the main ways to add backlinks:

  1. Use the “Backlink Analysis” tools from the corresponding section above
    • Enter the domain name of your top competitors (you can use the same list of competitors from step 1)
    • Create a list with all the backlink that point to them
    • Examine if you can add a backlink to each of the results (e.g. ask the blog owner to add you, etc)
  2. Help-A-Reporter-Out (HARO)
    • If you are interested in being featured in big publications (e.g. Time Magazine, Fortune, etc), then this is your chance!
    • You can register at HARO as a source and response to journalists requests for information
    • If a journalist likes your response, then they’ll use it in their post and provide a backlink to your website
  3. Forums (including Reddit, Quora, etc)
    1. Forums are a great way to provide your own opinion and add backlinks to your website
    2. You can think of forums that are close to your niche (e.g. blogs related to personal finance or healthy cooking, etc) as well as popular websites like Reddit or Quora
    3. However, keep in mind that most forums use “nofollow” links, which do not help with your SEO score
    4. One way to easily check if the links in a website are “nofollow” or not is to download the MozBar Chrome extension and use the Highlight links feature
  4. Guest blog posts
    1. Google recently issued a warning and requested that guest posts use “nofollow’ links, which do not help with SEO

Below you can try SEMRush’s Traffic Analysis tool to find the backlinks for any of your competitors.

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Stupid Simple SEO

Online class recommendation: Stupid Simple SEO by Mike Pearson

In this post, I have covered the basics of SEO. However, if you really want to dive deep into SEO and turbocharge your results, then I really recommend that you register for the Stupid Simple SEO online class by Mike Pearson.

Mike has done an amazing job simplifying every aspect of SEO. His videos are a step-by-step guide, where he really dives deep into every aspect of SEO. I strongly recommend it, since I found that I learned a lot. It’s not a quick-and-easy fix, but a methodology that works.

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Social Networks

b. Social Networks

Today every brand has some presence in Social Media. It’s really easy to create an account and talk about your brand. And some people might think that it would be really easy to create accounts in each of the big social media networks and copy-paste content among them. However, the reality is that very few brands have a great social media strategy. Even big brands make mistakes.

If you really want to understand the differences between each social media network, then I recommend that you read the book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary explains that your brand message needs to be customed for each network. Brands need to create native content and not just copy-paste. He provides lots of examples of what works and what doesn’t in each network. The book was written in 2013, but its message is still very applicable and its examples are great.

How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Pinterest

How to maximize traffic from Pinterest

Even though Pinterest is most commonly classified as a social network, it’s actually a search engine. Think of it as a visual version of Google. The big difference is that Pinterest’s results are images, whereas Google’s results are links.

Pinterest is currently the fastest way to create massive traffic to your website. Within 3-4 months after starting Pinterest, you could have 200-300k page views. This is not a typo! Think of Pinterest as a very early stage Google, where you could influence its rankings by creating lots of links. In fact, the key to routing Pinterest traffic to your website is indeed to submit lots of pins to Pinterest.

  1. Setup your profile
    1. Switch to a business account
      • Allows you to display your brand name instead of your personal name
      • Gives you access to Pinterest Analytics for your account
    2. Use the “Search” button (upper right corner) to find popular Pinterest keywords
      • Click the “Search” button and search for a keyword related to your niche, e.g. “financial”
      • Note the keywords that appear below. They are popular Pinterest keywords that will be great for you to use in your Display Name, your Profile, your board descriptions, pin descriptions, etc
      • For example, if I search for “financial”, some keywords that show up are “planning”, “tips”, “freedom”, “goals”, etc
    3. In the Display Name add popular keywords that show what your account is about
      • Your Display name should not be only your brand name, but also include popular keywords
      • E.g. “Engineer Seeking FIRE | Financial Independence | Personal Finance”
    4. In your Profile, under “About Your Profile” add some popular keywords
    5. Upload profile picture
    6. Enable rich pins for your account
    7. Claim your website
  2. Create at least 3-5 boards
    • The main board should be named after your website, e.g. “EngineerSeekingFIRE.com”
    • Create 1 board for each of your post categories
    • Board titles and descriptions should include Pinterest’s popular keywords, as was explained above
  3. Create creative pins
    • Search for high-quality license-free images from Unsplash, Pexels or Pixabay
    • Use Canva to create the pin image. Search for “Pinterest Pin” templates and select the ones that you like the most
    • Have creative titles, e.g. “10 Best Ways to Increase Your Side Income” instead of “Earn more”
    • Play with the fonts, e.g. use different fonts, bold keywords, etc
    • Add your logo or website url
  4. Have a consistent pinning strategy
    • Pin multiple (e.g 15-25) new pins of your own posts every day
      • When you write a new blog post, create 15-25 pins for that post
      • For days without a new blog post, create 15-25 pins for an old post. Pick a post that has lots of viewers (i.e. there is interest) and you haven’t repinned recently
      • Each pin should have slightly different title or image or colors
      • Check this video from Emily Dyson to see how she creates 30 pins in under 25 minutes for more information (you can also view the corresponding Twitter thread for more details)
    • Re-pin 2-5 pins from other users every day
    • Space out the pins, e.g. by 30 minutes each
    • Either use Pinterest’s native scheduler (free) or Tailwind (paid 3rd-party app, provides more advanced pinning options)
  5. Use Pinterest Analytics to analyze which pins get the most traction and keep repeating more of them
  6. You can purchase Pinterest ads, however, it’s typically most cost-effective to follow the above rules and create organize traffic via Pinterest. Pinterest is actually the exception among social media networks, as you will see below.

I highly recommend the following 2 courses, if you want to dive deep into Pinterest. The course creators are expert Pinterest Marketers. They generate more than 1 million page views from Pinterest for their blogs every year! Their courses have tons of positive reviews and success stories.

  1. Big Pin Energy by Emily Dyson
    • Great guides in pdf format that cover every aspect related to Pinterest
    • Emily generates 10+ million Pinterest views, which generated 1.5 million views on her website. In 2019 this website gave her a 5-figure income just from Pinterest
    • She is very active on Twitter (@TheEmilyDyson) and very helpful in answering any type of Pinterest-related question
  2. Pinterest Ninja by Megan Johnson
    • This is a video-based step-by-step course
    • Starts from the very basics (e.g. how to create an account) and covers even more advanced elements (e.g. how to use Tailwind to schedule posts for multiple boards)
    • Megan generates $10k/month from her blog due to the > 1.2 million page views that she generates from Pinterest
    • She also has a private Facebook group for her students to interact with her and learn
How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Instagram

How to maximize traffic from Instagram

  1. Account setup
    1. Setup a business account, in order to get post insights (e.g. likes comments, shares, saves and engagement), as well as activity and audience analytics
      • Engagement corresponds to interactions of your post, information on how many people show your profile, how many accounts were reached, how many people clicked to see your profile and how many of them followed you. In addition you can get information on how many people clicked your website and how many people emailed you
    2. Profile
      • Pick a catchy and descriptive profile name
      • Use a profile picture that is either a picture of yourself or a clear logo
        • You can use Canva to create your logo, based on pre-existing templates, by customizing fonts and colors based on your needs
        • If you use a picture of yourself, make sure that it’s a high quality personal picture
      • On your bio, make sure that you have a clear message about what your profile is about
      • Add a link to your website and your affiliate links (e.g. discount codes, Amazon, etc)
        • Create a welcome page on your website and link all the traffic to this page (e.g. https://engineerseekingfire.com/instagram).
          • This is the recommended option. You own every aspect of the page, e.g. branding, messaging, customizations, etc.
        • You can either use 3rd-party Instagram tools, such as Linktree or Tap Bio.
          • I would recommend against this option, as your users will land on a webpage that is not owned by you. The 3rd-party owns all of branding, marketing, styling, etc.
  2. How to post
    1. Images: It’s very important to include high-quality images, because it is a picture-based social network. People see images and very rarely read the caption of the post.
      1. You can find high-quality license-free images from Unsplash, Pexels or Pixabay or
      2. You can use your own, taken using your camera or cell phone
      3. In both cases use in-app or 3rd-party editing tools (e.g. Canva) to make the image eye appealing
      4. Instagram gives you the option to add multiple pictures to a post. You can access those in a post by swiping left. You can still use this option, however Instagram users don’t tend to swipe left. So use the first picture in a smart way (e.g. pointing out that this is a slide show with multiple pictures)
    2. Caption
      1. Title: At the top of your post add a title for your post. Use the Fonts for Instagram tool (explained below) to customize the style of your title
      2. Main section: In the middle of your post, add a brief description explaining what your post is about
      3. Call-to-action: At the end of your post, make sure that you use call-to-actions e.g. “head over to my website”, “link on bio”, “check out my stories”, etc). You can also increase engagement with your audience by ending your post with question (e.g. “what did you eat for breakfast today?”)
      4. Hashtags
        1. Make sure that you add hashtags that describe what your post is about. You can do that either as part of the caption or add the hashtags as the first comment.
        2. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags per post, however, research shows that the perfect number is 9 hashtags per post, as the Instagram algorithm tends to ban posts with 30 hashtags nowadays
        3. Make sure that the hashtags that you use describe exactly what your post is about. Do not use hashtags that are not related to your picture.
        4. Try to have a combination of popular and non-so-popular hashtags. For example, use some hashtags with 10k followers, some with 100k followers and some with 500k followers
      5. Tags and mentions
        1. You can tag up to 20 accounts per post. Make sure that the accounts that you are tagging are related to your post. Do not tag random accounts that you follow. Accounts you tag on your post will be notified for all the comments that you will get on your post
        2. Make sure that you @mention on your caption accounts that are related to this post or the account that posted the original picture (if you are reposting). The account that you @mentionwill be notified that you mentioned them as
      6. Tools
        1. Use Fonts for Instagram to make sure that the parts of the caption that you want to stand out (e.g. your title, a specific question or a specific call to action)
        2. Use IG LineBreak to add keep the formatting of your text as you prefer. Otherwise, Instagram will post your text as one line.
      7. General tips
        1. Post at least 3 times/week, ideally once per day. I don’t recommend more than once per day, because you want to allow some time for your posts to be seen
        2. Try not to edit your posts for the first 24 hours even if you find a mistake. If you edit a post within 24 hours of posting it, Instagram tends to bury the post and not show it to your followers and hashtags. As a result, your reach and engagement will be very low.
  3. Stories
    1. Every time that you create a story, it shows up at the first place in the stories carousel of your followers’ homepage
    2. Write stories often during the day, because this way your followers will see your content more often
    3. Make stories fun and engage with your followers in your stories by creating small tutorials, asking questions, creating polls, quizzes and asking them to take certain actions
    4. Make your stories valuable by sharing content that your followers want to see
    5. Anytime that you submit a post, also share it to your stories, so that you route more engagement to your post
    6. Make your stories appealing to the eye using 3rd-party apps, such as Canva and Unfold
  4. How to grow organically
    1. Search for accounts that are related to your area and follow them
    2. Like and comment on their posts and stories. Every time that you engage with their stories, they receive a personal message on DM. Start a conversation and introduce yourself, after they reply back
    3. Share their posts in your Stories and mention them
    4. Put what they share in their post in action, e.g. if they share a recipe, then try it, post about your impressions and tag them
    5. Usually, it is easier to get a follow-back from micro influencers (accounts with <10k followers)
    6. Focus on building a community. Do not work hard to get a new follower and then ignore that account
    7. Do NOT engage in follow loops, especially with accounts that are not related to your area. Keep in mind that what matters on Instagram is your engagement. Follow loops will just increase the number of your followers, but will reduce your engagement, as they will be ghost followers
    8. Do NOT follow trains on DMs. Usually, follow trains are composed of accounts that are in similar niche areas. However, this will only increase your followers, but reduce your engagement. So, if you are invited to a follow train, you should kindly reject it
    9. Keep in mind that when you post, Instagram will not show this post to all your followers. If you want to increase the amount of people, who see your post, you could pay for an Instagram Promotion (see below) or add your post to your stories (as mentioned above)
  5. Instagram Promotions
    1. Instagram gives you the option to pay, in order to advertise your posts to more people. You can choose which post to promote and customize your audience target (e.g. whether to include your followers)
    2. In most cases, people react to an Instagram Promotion by liking the post, but not following the account
    3. It feels odd to pay Instagram to show your posts to more of your followers
    4. In general, I am NOT a big a fan of Instagram Promotions, except if you have a website that you want to route more traffic to
  6. Paid partnerships
    1. When you reach a significant amount of followers, you have options to start paid partnerships with companies
    2. You should start reaching out to companies for paid partnerships even if your account is small (e.g. around 1500 followers). Just make sure that you have a well-established account (at least 50 posts) and great content
    3. Usually, companies will pay you a % of your followers in $ for each post (e.g. if you have 10k followers and they pay 1%, then you will get $10k*1% = $100 for each post related to this company)
    4. Another payment option is that you get a fixed $ amount for a set of posts (e.g. they might pay you $500 for 5 posts)
    5. Instagram requires you to add the “paid partnership” tag on your sponsored posts
  7. Useful tools
    1. To format your posts: Fonts for Instagram, IG LineBreak
    2. To automate post scheduling: Tailwind
    3. For stories: Canva, Unfold
    4. To track your followers: Reports+ (Android, iOS)
How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Twitter

How to maximize traffic from Twitter

  1. Enhance your profile
    • Create a professional-looking header and a logo using Canva
    • Be creative with your description.
      • Explain how somebody will benefit by following you, e.g. “I will teach you about personal finance”
      • Show authoritativeness, e.g. “Experienced Marketer | 15-year veteran in digital marketing”
      • Use emojis
    • Add your website url
  2. Pay attention to your posts
    • Twitter is all about communicating news and exchanging information
    • Content delivery is what matters most
    • Your voice needs to be unique and authentic, in order to differentiate from the crowd
    • Utilize popular hashtags and Twitter Retweet accounts to amplify your message and increase the people, who view it
    • Your post picture needs to be high quality and appealing to the eye
  3. Ways to grow
    • Create viral tweets that will get lots of interactions (retweets and replies) from other users. You can check out my recommended Twitter courses
    • Follow lots of relevant Twitter accounts. Many will follow back
    • Be active (comment and respond) in threads from other big accounts
    • Interact with other users via Direct Messages
    • Be consistent and write at least 6 value-adding posts daily
      • You can do this either manually or using tools. Tweetdeck is free and Hypefury is paid.
    • Purchasing Twitter ads is another potential option. If you decide to go this route, then you should initially test the ROI before investing big amounts in ads.

If you really want to dive deeper into Twitter, then you need to understand how to structure your Tweets in such a way that you’ll maximize the interactions from other users (get more retweets and replies). In order to do this, I strongly recommend this course:

  • Make It Stick by Charles Miller
    • Charles is a professional copywriter
    • Very active on Twitter (@CMillerTalks) and very helpful in answering any type of Twitter-related question
    • Makes $100k/year from Twitter alone
    • The course currently has ~90 5-star reviews
How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Facebook

How to maximize traffic from Facebook

Facebook is an amazing opportunity that is very tough to utilize from the marketing perspective without a serious budget:

  • There are 2.6B Facebook users (as of Q1 2020), which makes Facebook the largest social network by far
  • However, it is really difficult to reach a big number of users with your posts
  • If there is no/little engagement with your posts (likes, replies, clicks, etc), then only a small number of your followers (e.g. 2%) will view your posts in their feed
  • It’s important to produce high-quality content and trigger interactions in order for Facebook’s ranking algorithm to show your post to more users
    • Use as little text as possible
      • The goal of the text is to trigger curiosity, so that they engage with the post
      • Include call to action with URL for user to click at
    • Visually compelling images
  • Consider Facebook Ads
    • It might be easier to reach lots of people via Facebook Ads than by trying to create viral posts
    • That’s why Facebook is currently one of the top 2 (together with Google) marketing platforms in the world

c. Other (Email list, forums, guest posts)

  1. Email list
    1. Add an email registration form on the day #1 of your website
    2. Emailing users is the best way to increase retention, as you can drive return users back to your website, when you have:
      • A new post
      • A new product to sell
      • Something important to announce/share/request
      • Something that you provide with/without charging them
    3. You can start your email list with multiple WordPress plugins, such as MC4WP (Mailchimp for WordPress) or ConvertKit, which are free for up to 1000 people
  2. Forums (including Reddit, Quora, etc)
    1. Forums are a great way to provide your own opinion and create traffic to your website
    2. Utilize forums that are close to your niche (e.g. blogs related to personal finance or healthy cooking, etc) as well as popular websites like Reddit (suitable for anonymous answers) or Quora (suitable for answers, where you use your real name)
  3. Guest blog posts
    1. Ask owners of blogs relevant to your niche, whether it would be possible to write a guest post that will be added to their website
    2. Your benefit is that there will be a link from that person’s blog to your website
    3. However, be aware that Google recently issued a warning and requested that guest posts use “nofollow’ links, which do not help with SEO. This means that a guest post has the potential to increase your traffic, but not your SEO score.
How To Start and Grow Your Online Business - Monetize Your Website

Step 4: Monetize your website

At your point you have a website with lots of traffic. The last step is to monetize it. I will cover the basic monetization mechanisms, i.e.:

  1. Affiliate programs
  2. Ads
  3. Selling your own product
    • Digital products: Ebooks, courses
    • Physical products
  4. Selling your own services

a. Affiliate programs

This is an easy way to start monetizing your website. You don’t need to have a product or make any changes to your website.

The process is as follows:

  1. Search if the websites or products that you want to promote have some type of affiliate program, e.g. google for “Amazon affiliate program” (without the quotes)
  2. If there is an affiliate program, then you will get an affiliate id that you will use to create links that point to that website
  3. If a user clicks on a link that includes your affiliate id and buys something from that website, then you get a commission

Some popular affiliate programs:

  1. Amazon Associates: All Amazon products
  2. eBay Partner Network: All eBay products
  3. ShareASale
  4. Clickbank
  5. Rakuten
  6. Impact

b. Ads

There are 3 basic payment ad-related pricing models:

  1. CPM (Cost per “Mille”, i.e. per thousand impressions): You get paid $X, when 1000 users view the ad
  2. CPC (Cost per Click): You get paid $Y (typically $1-$3), when a user clicks on the ad
  3. CPA (Cost per Acquisition): You get paid $Z, when a user clicks on the ad and buys something from the target website

There are 6 main ad networks that you can use, if you want to provide ads in your website:

Ad NetworkMinimum Monthly RequirementsSupported pricing modelsComments
Google AdsNoneCPC– Lowest barrier to entry, lowest earning potential
Media.netNoneCPM, CPC, CPA– Supports contextual model, i.e. the ads are relevant to your page

– Provides higher earning potential than Google Analytics
Monumetric10k page views (for $99 fee)


80k page views (no fee)
CPM– 4 different monetization programs, which adjust based on the size of the website
Ezoic10k page viewsCPM, CPC, CPA– Uses AI to determine best type of ads for each visitor
Mediavine50k sessionsCPM– Targeted to bloggers

– Ads blends well with posts and are not intrusive
AdThrive100k page viewsCPM– More demanding acceptance process

– Most traffic needs to be from the US

Deciding which ad network to select is mostly based on:

  1. Your current website status (page views and sessions)
  2. The location of your views (US or not)
  3. Your preference in the look-and-feel of the ads from each provider
  4. The revenue potential from each provider (typically, the providers that have higher requirements, also provide higher revenue potential)

c. Selling your own product

If you want to sell your own digital products, then the most popular platforms are:

  1. For video-based courses:
    1. Teachable
    2. Udemy
  2. For ebooks
    1. Gumroad
    2. Amazon

If you want to sell your own physical product (e.g. books), then the most popular platforms are:

  1. Amazon: You can use “Fulfillment by Amazon” (FBA) to offload all logistics of receiving orders and distributing the items to Amazon
  2. Ebay: Mostly for used items
  3. Etsy: Great for creative minds
  4. Your own platform: You can either a) create a storefront in the above websites and post a link from your website or b) create a storefront in your own website, e.g. using the WooCommerce plugin

The benefits of selling your own product include:

  1. You set your own price
  2. Price margins in most cases are huge. You can sell an ebook for $50 and have multiple buyers. Many people would not buy a book for $50, but they would happily spend $50 on an ebook from an expert they trust
  3. You own the marketing, e.g. you can provide discounts or flash sales when you want
  4. You can create your own affiliate programs, when others will be working on selling your own products

d. Selling your own services

There are multiple ways to sell your own services via your website:

  1. Subscription model
    • Create a membership program on your website and charge users either one-time or monthly.
    • You can use the Memberpress plugin for WordPress to do this
  2. Coaching
    • Multiple combinations, e.g.
      • Personal coaching vs business coaching
      • Multiple subjects (e.g. career coaching, interview coaching, etc)
  3. Consulting
    • If you are an expert in an area, then you can set an hourly price and advertise your services, so that enterprises can hire you
  4. Freelancing
    • You can build websites, write mobile apps, or work on any other type of service, based on your niche expertise
How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Next Steps

Next steps

This detailed guide includes lots of practical information for a variety of complicated topics. However, if you want to take your online business to the next level, then I strongly recommend that you take a look at the following resources:

  1. Entrepreneurship
  2. SEO
  3. Pinterest
  4. Twitter
    1. Make It Stick by Charles Miller (ebook)
How To Start And Grow Your Online Business - Do Something Great

About Me

I am an engineer with 15+ years in the tech industry, including roles at Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. I've been a Software Engineer, Product Manager, and Technical Program Manager. I also have an MBA from Kellogg School of Management with Majors in Finance and Marketing.

What drives me? A passion for empowering engineers to achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE). I reached FIRE, when I turned 40 years old. Whether it's through personal finance strategies or career insights, I'm here to guide you on this path. Have questions or need advice? Feel free to reach out!

My Newsletter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *