The 3 Hard Things That Matter In Online Business - Overlap Design

The 3 Hard Things That Matter In Online Business

April 12, 2023

By Tim Barber

Everybody is looking for the silver bullet. There isn’t one.

It makes me mad, because there has honestly never been a better time in the history of the world to start and run a business.

Depending on what you do and what you know, you really can operate a business by yourself entirely from a laptop.

If you’re already running a successful business, it’s absurd how sophisticated the tools for growing your business have become, even in the last year.

Unfortunately, there’s also never been more misinformation when it comes to running an online business. Make no mistake – while the opportunity is HUGE, it takes a lot of hard work.

But folks are lying about what it really takes! It seems like everywhere you look, everybody is promising the next easy tactic to triple your email subscriber list or “Top 10” articles promising instant results.

Even if they’re not OUTRIGHT lying to you, it doesn’t help when the people who made it forget what got them there.

I get it. Remember, we want the silver bullet.

They’ll say things like “Just Find Your Passion!” and leave out the part where they spent hours and hours honing their skills.

Find a person who lost 100 pounds and ask them how; they’ll laugh off any compliment and counter with “Oh, I just try to watch what I eat!”


The hard, honest truth is that anything worth doing in life is going to take some effort.

The upside is that if you can put in the hard work, you can get unbelievable results.

Nowhere is this more true than operating a business in 2023.

I’ve consulted with the likes of Google & YouTube, local coffee roasters, and every size of business in between, and when I got behind closed doors with the companies that really nailed it, the same 3 things were always there.

Here they are: the 3 hard things that really matter in online business:

  1. Learn Your Ideal Customer VERY Deeply
  2. Craft the Best Solution to their Biggest Problem
  3. Get it in front of as many of these people as possible.

If you can get to that point (which is a LOT of work), you can create the best possible product and build an army of loyal fans, even while charging top-of-market prices, even if you’ve never worked in the industry before. And you can do it all on autopilot if you build the right systems.

How do we go about doing that?

Let’s start from the top.


We’re going to find the group of people that we’re able to help most, and get in their heads so deeply that we could make decisions for them.

Your Ideal Client is the exact, one person that represents everything you want in a client.

Now, some of you classical marketing types probably defaulted to demographic – like age, gender, geographic location, ethnicity, etc. And you’re partially right.

But we’re talking IDEAL here. We’re not going to hold back when it comes to defining this person. Here are some other areas in which we can get even more specific, by looking at what makes them tick:

  • What’s important to them in their personal life?
  • What professional or industry associations are they part of?
  • What do they read? Which websites, blogs, news sources?
  • Describe their personality.
  • What’s their main problem?
  • What’s their biggest aspiration? What do they want more than anything?
  • Who are they trying to impress?
  • What are their biggest concerns at the moment?

Do you see how we’re getting into what really matters when it comes to this person? Can you see how the latter set of questions might be as much if not MORE valuable when it comes down to really understanding a person and their problems?

Let’s say you’re a personal trainer and you’re trying to get 22-28 year old women from the Greater Chicago area to train with you, their personality definitely matters some – but your demographics are king here.

It will matter A LOT that you’re getting women in that demographic range – if you tried to appeal to men, or women from 25-50, you’ll be in trouble. What does a 25 year old woman have in common with a 50 year old woman? Practically nothing!

And men and women have completely different goals when it comes to fitness. For instance, do you think men are more interested in “firming and toning” or “getting shredded”?

It’s obvious, right? But if you tried using “get shredded” with a mostly female clientele, you’d lose them in a heartbeat. And if you try to split the difference with a generic “get fit”?

Crickets. Yawns. Nobody’s listening.

Here’s the point: Generic is the enemy, specificity is your friend. Specificity allows you to target the right people and speak directly to them, while repelling everybody who isn’t a good fit – going for tons of people blunts your marketing and ruins its effectiveness anyway, so you’ll get more, better, higher-paying clients by niching down.


A bold claim, I know. I’m not talking about the technical specifics of your industry – I mean the pains, fears, hopes, and dreams of your niche.

How do we do that?

We’re going to find our potential clients where they’re already at, online, and we’re going to listen. If you think this sounds too simple, think again.

We’re talking about a comprehensive deep dive into all the activities of the people you’re targeting. Buckle up, this can get intense.

It starts with:

Reading the blogs they frequent

Look through the comments, too. These are often a goldmine for insights on what they are thinking and feeling.

Amazon book reviews

(If you’re really ambitious, spend $50 and read the top 5 books!)

Really spend some time here, because if there are books, it means that somebody already tried to solve your client-base’s problem – and the market LITERALLY CAME IN AND SAID ALOUD what worked and what didn’t, what they wish were different. This is crucial information.

Reddit threads

This is like the blogs, but there’s no gatekeeper or leader – this is just free discussion. These are the things people in your market are saying TO EACH OTHER about their problem. This is like a backstage pass to your clients’ personal thoughts!

Take out friends of yours who are in this market and ask them questions

Not sleazy or anything, just curious.

Listen for pain points. Ask them what they wish were available. No need to be salesy – at this point, we’re just gathering intel.

You’re interested in the “behind closed doors” kind of wording. If you can take the exact words your market uses, then by the time you get to copywriting and marketing, you are already going to win because you’re practically in their heads. You make them feel understood by talking to them in their language – and here’s the deal: if they feel like you understand their problem, they will feel safe in assuming you have the solution.


This is an inflection point.

This is where you connect your skills with your ideal clients.

Let’s open up with a couple of facts:

1) People typically care more about fixing things that are broken than they do about preventing the problem in the first place. The sense of urgency is higher, and so is their willingness to pay.

2) You know your client’s biggest problems, backed by research. While it might seem more tantalizing to help your clients achieve their dreams, you have to deal with their pains and problems first.

OK – Comb through your research, then pause for a minute and think:

What do they actually want? What do they stay up at night worrying about? What do they wake up in the middle of the night, terrified of? When it comes to your business, what are they actually stressed about?

Now – using your skills and your knowledge, how can you take that pain away from them?

You’re probably thinking up 2 kinds of answers right now:

1) The stuff you’ll do: like set up a diet & exercise plan, or generate a sales report. “The Features.”

2) The way that doing that thing actually helps your ideal client. “The Benefits.”

One way to think of this is that features are what you put into a product or service – and benefits are what your client gets out.

The benefits are often what it will feel like to have the problem solved; the happy result of having trusted you to do the work you do. Something like “make more money”, “save time”, “avert disaster”, etc.

So, which features are most likely to get your clients the benefits they want?

Does your market prefer video or eBooks for learning?

Maybe they want advice – or maybe they want you to work with them to set up a plan, or maybe they just want you to do it for them. And the more you’re in charge of the project, the more you can charge to render the service.

Do they want a workout plan or a personal trainer? Do they want to go to your gym or have you come train them in their home?

The less they’ll have to do, the more you are free to charge.

There’s also a special category of benefits – the benefits the client gets specifically from working with you.

If you’re reliable, accountable, you take initiative and need very little management, if you’re the one handling the execution of the process, if you really understand their situation… these are also benefits. If you’re in the B2B space and you’re the industry-leader, you’re the premier expert in their area of need, or if you return all client calls the same business day – these are some more.

OK. So, let’s take a minute, and brainstorm some of these to write down. Shoot for 3-5 of these.

Now, we’re going to bring it all home. Fill in the following statement:


Maybe you’ve heard of 1-page business summaries? This is a 1-sentence business summary. This is the ultimate elevator pitch for your business. If you put it in plain English, you can quickly explain to anybody what you and your business are all about.

Here are a couple of examples to get your creative juices flowing:

“I help 25-35 year old Christian male business owners get more clients & provide for their families by coaching them in online marketing and building them highly-sophisticated websites.”

“I help single working moms in the Charlotte area lose those last 10 stubborn pounds by providing in-house personal training sessions & customized meal plans.”

“I help busy executives of physical products companies save hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars a year by automating & streamlining their shipping & inventory systems.”

Great. now, let’s assume you find yourself in this position:

  1. You know your clients better than they know themselves.
  2. Your client has all the information about all available options and can make the most informed choice.
  3. Yours is the product or service most likely to solve their problem & help them reach their dream.

In that case, YOU ARE OBLIGATED to get it in front of as many of them as possible. Anything less is a disservice to the people you’re trying to help.

If you don’t sell, you’re depriving people of the help they need to solve their problems and reach their dreams. And here’s a surprise – you should charge high prices for it.


One very simple reason: people are more invested in things they spend more money on.

I know from survey results that a lot of you are hung up on spending top-of-market prices. And you definitely shouldn’t charge top-of-market prices if you can’t get top-of-market results for your clients. This goes back to the first two steps. If you haven’t learned your clients deeply enough that you understand their secret pains and if you haven’t made the best solution, then why should you charge more than the better solutions?

But if you have put in the work to create something that actually solves the problem, and you’re honestly learning your customer deeper than they know themselves, that is something that is literally priceless.

Most “solutions” on the market are anything but – even if millions of dollars were put into a product, and it has HD videos, expensive software, etc… if it doesn’t solve the problem, or it doesn’t solve it in an enjoyable way it’s useless.

You’re solving problems. You’re helping. REALLY helping.

Obviously charging more helps you to do a better job – you’re more motivated, you can get better equipment, make better hires, invest money in research. That makes sense.

But what’s counterintuitive is the fact that paying more for something helps your clients too.

Your clients will, across the board, get way more value out of your solution if they HAVE to invest and go all-in to make it work.

If they pay bottom-barrel prices for a top-shelf solution, do you think they’ll see the top-shelf solution as a game-changer for them? Or is it more likely that they’ll just see it as “another thing on the ToDo list”, or “some online course?” Or your company as “just another vendor?”

There’s an increased perception of value that comes with an increased level of commitment.

I read an article a couple of years ago about a famous concert violinist who played, incognito, in a New York subway.

In the 45 minutes he played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while, out of thousands of rush hour New Yorkers. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston – seats averaged $100. The violin he was playing on was worth $3.5 million dollars. He’s considered one of the best in the world by nearly every authority.

The quality of his music was the same – the perception was different.

So it is with you and your competitors. If you have one of the best solutions in the world, you can charge some of the highest prices in the world – and not only you, but your clients benefit. You drive away the tire-kickers and the looky-loos who aren’t actually committed in the first place – and the people who are ready to go will get a ton more value with their increased commitment.

And if you’re in a position to, you can even provide some education and some training that will guide people to the point where they’re really ready to invest in themselves and solve this problem. Free lead magnets, email courses, or a backlog of YouTube videos will do.

So, now that we’re here, how do we actually go about finding leads, qualifying them, and making the sale?

That brings us to step 3:


This is where, quite frankly, there has never been a better opportunity in the history of the world.

If you’re starting a business, you can go directly to the market. By yourself. You can get technology that would have been worth millions of dollars even a decade ago, for free or close to it, in the cloud, anywhere you’ve got an internet connection and a laptop.

Your entire business can run on an infrastructure that costs only a few hundred dollars a month. Depending on what you do, you don’t even need an office space!

If you’re running an enterprise-level business, the insights you can get from your clients can be earth-shattering – and can lead to insights that scale. If you do the previous 2 steps right, you can transform your business & take over the market with a few months of targeted work.

If you are able to invest – time, energy, money, creative work – the doors of opportunity are open wide to you.

And remember – you are OBLIGATED to get your solution in front of as many of your dear ideal clients as possible. You have a service to do to the world.

But there are so many “experts” in every area of business: distribution, advertising, marketing, and branding… where do you even start?

Here is where you reap the benefits of front-loading the work in the previous 2 steps.

We know intuitively that all the marketing, ads, websites, branding, and fancy tools in the world can’t save you if you’re not helping people solve important problems.

On the other hand, knowing your customer deeply and providing a truly excellent solution is the exact opposite situation. It makes marketing, ads, branding, websites, landing pages, and the rest much easier, way less confusing, exponentially more effective, and way more fulfilling to do.

Common Sense?

Maybe, but common sense is not common practice.

There has never been a time in the history of the world more ripe for people to provide the best possible solution and flourish – and I mean FLOURISH in online business.

So. If you want to connect people with your solution, how do you actually do it? Like, what are the steps?

Whether you’re doing physical products, consulting, services, or information products, without question, your focus should be online. Why?

  • Sales can scale infinitely
  • Marketing is cheaper, farther-reaching, more effective, and easier to test
  • Support can be automated
  • Distribution costs are dramatically lower

all at a fraction of the cost of hiring the same jobs out.

It can all be handled from a website or a landing page, with some configuration of other online tools. You buy some programs, implement some systems, set them up once, and they’ll run forever.

There are 6 basic systems that work for any business.

If you put systems in place for the following, you’ll be light-years ahead of the competition:

The 6 Fundamental Systems of Every Business

  • Lead Generation
  • Sales Conversion
  • Product / Service Delivery
  • Referral Generation
  • Customer Service
  • Inbound Data Collection

These are the 6 basic systems that stand outside of that and bring in great leads, convert them to customers, deliver the value, manage your relationship, and teach you about who your customers are and what they want, then mobilize them to spread the word for your business.

10 years ago, those 6 categories would have comprised nearly 50 employees. Nearly 3 million dollars of overhead, considering office space, salary, insurance, and all the other expenses.

You can handle all of it from a laptop.

The centerpiece of this whole operation?

A bespoke, custom, tricked-out website.

“Running a business online” of course means a website is going to be involved.

But I don’t mean an online brochure where people can go to find your business hours and write down your phone number.

I mean a website that has all of the pieces in place to move the right people happily and comfortably down your sales funnel and handle the entire relationship with them after they’re already customers – from prospecting, to adding value, to closing the sale, to handling payments (and handling non-payments!), running expert customer support, automatically gathering reviews and referrals, and mobilizing your customers to bring in more people like them.

You can take back as much of the work as you want. Nobody’s forcing you to sit in a hammock and drink pina coladas. That’s a sham, anyway. You can finish the sales process on the phone if you’re great at it.

If you’re a classy old-school CEO, you can hand-write custom proposals for your prospects, you can handle that yourself. And if you ever decide otherwise, flip a couple switches in your bespoke website to hand over the reins. CEOs can take vacations too!

The point is that today’s tools make it so that you don’t have to force yourself into doing the work you hate just to make the impact you want. You can do the work you really love, help the people that really matter to you, make enough money (or more than enough) to save, give, and help even more people… and the new wave of internet tools are the key.

Michael Gerber once said “If you’re going to write a book, write an f’ing book”.

The same applies here. If you’re going to build a website, build a freaking website.”


A coffee roaster business we worked with recently (we’re under NDA and want to respect their privacy) went through our 3 Hard Things that Matter and now has these 6 systems in place, with a custom website and some curated tools at the center of the operation.

What does that look like for them?

We used our expertise as an AdWords certified Google Partner and our extensive big-budget campaign experience in Facebook Ads to get our clients high-value email list sign-ups at around $2 a lead.

We convert them at around 10% ($20 to acquire a customer) and run them through highly customized autoresponders, with a no-phone-call sales process. With an average LTV of $950, this is a ridiculous (our client’s words) ROI, even factoring in shipping costs.

We also recently instituted a full-custom referral generation program. New customers now bring along an average of 1.3 leads with them, which obviously bumps their value to the business even more.

We also worked with them to mass-automate their support systems. They now have the margin to hire 1 support person who is empowered to “make right” whatever problems there are up to $100 in cost. And when they solve a problem once, they wire the solution back into their system and it is solved permanently.

We collect data for them based on split-tests & ongoing testing – we’ve iteratively bumped up their conversion rates at every point in the funnel over the course of a year, which grows the effectiveness of all this every time.

The result? A 6-figure profit launch in the first year. And it’s all up and to the right from there.


If you own or want to start a business, there has never been a better time.

And if you’re willing to work hard, the opportunity is virtually limitless.

If you can really get in your ideal client’s head, if you can put together the best solution to their biggest problems, and if you can get in front of as many of them as possible, you’re going to win. And you’ll help a lot of people in the process, which is often a sweeter reward.

Honestly, if you’re still sticking around to read this, then you’re probably all about making this work. If you’re interested to know more and get more details, then would you do me a favor?

We have kept some spots open in our calendar specifically for people who are looking for help executing this and building a business that works.

If that sounds like you even a LITTLE BIT, we’d love it if you’d pick a time to hop on the phone. You can do that here.

Otherwise, here are your action steps:

1) Think of 5 customers you just LOVED working with. Create an ICP using the template. What are the commonalities?

2) Is your solution the best in the world for these people? Really? If not, what could make it that way?

Hint: It’s all about fixing their problems and helping them reach their dreams. “HD Videos” probably aren’t priority #1.

3) Which systems are the crucial 3 you can ramp up to run your business better?

Hint: Solve your own problems. If you are having trouble filling your pipeline month over month, then maybe Lead Generation and Sales Conversion should be priorities. If you’re drowning in support emails, maybe Customer Service.

4) Still stuck? Want to talk through it with us? Book a Clarity Call and we’ll show you the way forward!

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