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9 Cold Hard Truths About Starting a Business Online and Succeeding

I’m a flawed human being like anyone else, so when I write blog posts like this, I almost feel like I’m preaching or trying to sound better than anyone else.

However, a lot of what I’m going to talk about in this blog post comes from my own mistakes and personal experience. It also comes out of the frustration I’m starting to feel from seeing what kind of advice is being shared online, as well as what people are telling me.

I’m talking about the unrealistic, persistent portrayal and romanticism of online business and success.

I need to finally throw down a few cold hard truths. Not only because I think it will help a lot of you cut through the clutter but I’ll feel better about myself.

I don’t want to contribute to the madness. I have no idea when starting a business stopped being about pursuing a profitable venture you believed in and started being about “get rich quick”.

Online business =/= make money online.

My father was the first entrepreneur I ever knew. He never got rich quick. Neither did Henry Ford, Bill Gates, or the owner of your favorite clothing store.

They had to work. They had to persist. They had to solve problems. They had to invest either their time or hard-earned money.

I’m not saying the invention of the internet hasn’t made easier to make money. It certainly has and lifestyle businesses and passive income is very much a real thing.

I’m not going to sit here like some condescending guru and act like “you will only succeed if you work hard!” Far from it. Working smart is what it’s all about.

However, this new portrayal and romanticism of business has attracted crappy mindsets and people looking for silver bullets.

That’s why I wanted to share some cold hard truths about online business from my own personal experience of some success, as well as things I learned from very successful online entrepreneurs that I personally know.

It takes some luck

There I said it. I said the thing a lot of the gurus you and I both follow will never tell you. Why? Because it would hurt their business (of selling you information) to tell you that.

If everyone that started a business knew a lot of luck would be required to succeed, a lot less people would start.

Is this necessarily a bad thing?

Hell no. A lot of people (including you or me) can fall ass-backwards into a pile of money. Luck isn’t your enemy. It’s your ally.

You need to consume less information

I know I talk about this a lot but it’s also something a lot of gurus won’t tell you. If you stop reading their blogs or buying their courses, they go out of business.

The truth is, most of the successful people I know don’t consume anywhere close to the amount of information that some gurus claim to. If you’re claiming to read a book a day, where do you have time to execute on and grow a million dollar business? It just doesn’t add up.

Most of the successful entrepreneurs I know have never bought a course in their life. Instead, they’re part of the 1%. They create a lot more than they consume.

You should, too. Less information and more implementation. Don’t get me wrong, I love conferences, listening to audiobooks and reading blog posts but let’s be honest about where progress actually comes from.

You’re likely using consumption of information as a way to procrastinate on your business or ideas. You know, procrastinating on the actual work that requires effort.

Plus, I’m willing to bet you’ll learn a hell of a lot more about Facebook ads by running a few campaigns yourself than just reading about other people’s campaigns.

You need to start embracing challenges

When did competition, initial capital, or effort become a bad thing? Why does everyone seem to constantly seek the easiest point of entry.

Seriously, challenges in business and life are a good thing.

The road less traveled can pay off, too. It allows you avoid entering a saturated market and build something for the long-term.

You can start by changing your fixed mindset to a growth mindset.


Challenges are where you’ll grow and learn the most, not from some $2000 course that promises a quick fix (and never delivers on this promise).

Trying to make a living for yourself was never meant to be easy, nor is it. If it was, everyone would be doing it, right?

Follow and model yourself after businesses not individuals

I’m guilty of this. Instead of looking at a successful business or enterprise and saying to myself “I want to reach that someday”, I look at individuals and gurus.

But practically, I should be looking at my competitors and businesses that share my customers and model what they do best and apply it to my business.

You should, too. If you run a guitar store, follow your competitors and other music stores closely. Watch how they market and grow their business. Take their best ideas and do them better.

Most of the information shared by a guru won’t even apply to your business, and most individuals are so caught up in their own personas, following and ulterior motives, that they’re not worth listening to anyway.

Invest in yourself and your ideas, not in gurus

If you have a couple hundred bucks to spare, I’d much rather see you (as a bright-eyed and bushy tailed entrepreneur) put that money towards an ad campaign than hand it over to someone who’s claiming to have the formula that will make you rich or people buy what you’re selling.

Success won’t come from a course, guru, ebook, secret or imitating another business model. It comes from executing, persistence and luck.

There’s no magic bullet, secret sauce, or proven formula

There’s no secret way to make money or sell a product. If you’ve been around long enough, you likely already know the most effective ways to grow a business.

It also depends on dozens upon dozens of factors including luck, timing, product, customer, persistence, money, market, positioning, and marketing.

Motivation porn is distracting you, not motivating you


We’ve all seen it.

The countless Instagram accounts putting up motivational quotes.

If you’re like most people starting out, you probably consume a ton of motivational stuff like videos, speeches, images, quotes, case studies, and more.

It’s debatable if all this motivation stuff is even motivating you in the first place. What it certainly is doing, however, is distracting you.

It’s just more information you’re consuming.

I understand the psychology of it. If it’s keeping you focused on what you’re trying to achieve, more power to you.

But don’t rely on it, or use it as a crutch or way to procrastinate from actual effort and work.

Stop only pursuing money: It’s a tool and not the only measure of success

Of course money is important and anyone who tells you it’s not their primary motivation in starting a business is a liar.

However, I see too many people getting caught up in the bottom line and ignoring other signs of traction in what they’re doing.

Plus, focusing on just money is short-sighted. Have you ever taken the time to read the stories of how the most successful and profitable businesses started?

They were building something for the long-term and usually, it was a pursuit of something they were passionate about. Or at least, if they weren’t passionate about it, they were extremely driven to just build something.

What I’m saying is, there needs to be a secondary motivation to your business. Why does it need to exist? Why that product or service? Why do you seek autonomy and self-employment? What do you even need the money for?

You will fail, or at least, encounter problems along the way

Your first project or venture will likely fail, and if it doesn’t, it’s likely you will have pivoted along the way or at least encountered a few headaches.

And that’s okay. Strife is a part learning and growth.

How will you know not to touch the hot stove unless you’ve been burned by it? You will begin to amass many lessons along your journey. Embrace it and be realistic about your ventures.

But be optimistic, too.

Published in Entrepreneurship

  • thank you for the advice Corey

  • Troy Johnston

    Great value and not so subtle reminders. Thanks Corey!

  • Hi Corey,

    It’s so refreshing to get an honest view of how online business actually works.

    You kept it real and laid out the blueprint on what it takes to build an online business.

    I agree with you. Luck matters. However, persistence and alot of HARD WORK puts us in a position to hopefully get lucky.

    I liked the info graphic on the Carol Dweck “Growth Mindset”. I’ve listened to her audio book and it’s a true master piece.

    All in all, I’m trying to implement as much as possible. I found a good ratio for me is to learn for an hour and try to do 3 hours of implementation.

    Thanks for this amazing post! I’m going to book mark it and come back to refer to it again.

  • oneilda

    My motivation is to live long enough to use what vibrancy i have left to share what I know and build something that can be handed off. Most of all I’d like to be able to support myself and get out of an abusive relationship and get off SSDI.

  • John

    Hi from Thornhill Corey 🙂

    I have had much success with a business a couple years ago but in the end it shut down as fast as it grew up. Now I’m looking for more long term options (doesn’t even have to make crazy money as you said) and have been trying facebook ads and twitter and all those things you’ve mentioned in your previous blog / youtube posts. It’s insanely hard and seems to never go anywhere 🙁 just money keeps going to shopify, oberlo, facebook etc… everyone out there is making money but the ideas I have hehe

    Even tried ebay for a year and kijiji for half a year. There is almost nothing I haven’t tried. Basically you need to bold even more how HARD it is to get something running to support yourself as a regular salary.

    But I understand to stay optimistic and never give up.

    My question is (if you don’t mind sharing), who are some of the “gurus” and influences you follow these days that are helpful for running your own business?

    • It’s true. As cliche as it is to say, and I hate saying it, if it was easy everyone would do it. The internet has romanticized the idea of owning and starting a business, making it sound easy or like very little work. I’m beginning to hate how starting a business is constantly shown as an alternative to a 9-5. Reality is, starting a business is harder and more work than a job. Starting a business is the pursuit of autonomy and something that fulfills you. Not easy money. The fact that you know it’s hard and keep persisting anyway is very good. If it’s what you truly want, keep doing it. Something will eventually click for you. Will it be a huge success? That I can’t say.

      Anywho, lately, I’ve been on a “guru” diet. I’ve become really jaded lately from the persistent narrative being pushed, which I think is bad for most people starting out. I still once in a while check out Gary Vaynerchuk’s stuff, but for the most part, I have my head down and focus on things I’m doing and learn by doing.

  • Boom ! I agree with everything in this post Corey. EVERYTHING. I just saw a lady in a group I am a part of complain that she launched her blog 2 weeks ago and still has not engagement. That scared me. 2 weeks. This person is expecting a flood and boatloads of money. At that moment, I had no doubt that that wrong dream has been sold to too many people.

  • Michael Pietrzak

    Thanks Corey, you said a lot of things that I’ve known intuitively for a while now. It’s comforting to know that I’m moving in the right direction.