One of the perks of my job is lifting the lid on other people’s businesses. As a business coach and trainer, I have a front-row seat to the evolution of online business models as well as business services that are delivered primarily online.

While I work with some fantastic bricks-and-mortar businesses, most of my clients are increasingly running online businesses.

Whether you’re a coach, therapist, teacher, trainer or you’re currently selling professional services face-to-face and want to transition to exclusively online, here are some trends and developments in online service delivery that I’ve seen work.

All the trends and developments discussed here harness low-cost or no-cost tech, which makes them accessible for the solopreneur or million-dollar microbusiness.

It’s not you, it’s your business model

First, a definition of terms. Your business model is simply the way you make money: your offerings, your prices, and how you deliver what you do.

A hybrid of online and face-to-face elements is increasingly common.

This might look like the bricks-and-mortar business that also has an online membership, or the online business that runs large face-to-face events or smaller retreats. It could be certification programs combining a face-to-face weekend retreat, followed by six months online study and online study circles, followed by another face-to-face retreat to finish.

Face-to-face events are a fantastic way to augment trust, unite the super fans, and create excitement while also providing marketing fodder for many months to come.

(Check out this client case study of changing your business model.)

Passive income

Behold! The joy and wonders of passive income. Alas, there’s little that’s honestly passive. At the very least is the set-up investment of signing up to an affiliate program or whitelabelling a software or external team (yes, there are businesses that exist to be whitelabelled, acting as an auxiliary to other businesses). And that’s before we get to marketing.

While passive income may not pay all your bills anytime soon, it’s pretty easy to sign up as an affiliate for software you use and love, and courses or programs you’ve experienced benefit from.

Recommended tech: My shopping cart Thrivecart (affiliate link) also handles affiliate marketing (where others are selling on your behalf), discount codes, abandoned shopping cart automations and all kinds of other fancy jazz. 

Memberships and masterminds

Memberships and masterminds have been popular for some years now but they’re likely at their height right now. Tangential to these are circles and deep, facilitated co-working.

While there’s plenty of overlap between these, essentially you have a group of people gathered around a common purpose.

At one end of the spectrum, you may have a large, loose, and self-organising group of people meeting online (and perhaps, periodically, face-to-face) with little or no fees exchanging hands.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have high-price, international masterminds that may or may not involve a godlike figurehead for followers to emulate and worship.

Memberships, masterminds and circles can be highly structured, involving high quality training and facilitation, mentoring, accountability and support. Or they may be a very low-cost membership that acts to increase community engagement (in essence: if you’re paying to receive a communication, you’re far more likely to engage).

Some memberships and masterminds are more social and centred on networking; others are more focused on training; still others are focused around achieving one key goal or outcome.

Recommended tech: Facebook groups are still the leader for managing groups. No other social channel has quite nailed groups yet. For those who are anti-Facebook or whose members don’t like the constant distractions, there’s also Circle, Mighty Networks and Slack.

Online courses, classes and programs

The online education industry has changed dramatically since I first sold an online course (on email marketing!) in 2012. The industry is moving in two directions: short, sharp, highly practical, low-cost ($29-$199) courses, which are often delivered live; and high-end, lux experiences with lots of accountability and support.

When I need something specific, I don’t always want to spend three hours on YouTube and Google, muddling it out. Depending on how valuable I perceive the subject to be and how time-poor I’m feeling, I’ll happily pay for a short course, or an expert for an hour of their time to save me many hours of mine.

When trends move in two directions, don’t get stranded in the middle – ensure your courses, packages or programs are one or the other. You could offer both ends: a high-end program that offers more interaction, feedback, and help; and a short online class that offer tactics, templates, checklists with a ‘no-time-to-lose’ approach.

Check out my on-demand trainings to see this in action.

At-your-convenience communication

Oh how I wish I’d bought shares in Zoom in January 2020! Nearly two years later, we’re Zoomed out.

Enter the rise and rise of asynchronous communication, where you don’t have to be seated at your desk at a specific time to have a conversation, brainstorm, seek feedback or ask advice.

This might look like an Angel Card reading from my client Rachel Scoltock, where clients send her a question, and she sends them an audio response. It could be giving business coaching clients access to ‘Voxer hours’, whereby clients can ask questions or seek advice on voice apps such as Voxer, Messenger or Instagram DMs.

It could be a done-for-you-service, such as website design, SEO, copywriting, or marketing, where there’s minimal real-time communication, and everything is done via voice messaging, video walk-throughs, and online management tools.

Recommended tech: Voxer, Loom, and VideoAsk for asynchronous communication client interaction.

Seeking commitment

Too much convenience can make us sick. As well as ‘at your convenience’ asynchronous communication, is the committed container of done-for-you services.

When I started my business in 2008, I modeled it on the Public Relations industry where I’d come from, and I had several retainer clients who I serviced for many years.

The strengths of the retainer model is the stability and predictability in cash flow and less need for marketing and constant lead generation. On the flip side, it can be a slippery slope into being ‘always on’ and ‘always available’, which is particularly problematic for owners who struggle with enforcing processes and boundaries.

A solution to this is the recurring intensives, whereby clients are booked in a recurring day each week, fortnight, month or quarter, and the time is strictly managed by the contractor or business owner, who produces work within a tight timeframe.

I’ve seen variations of this in different businesses. It can work particularly well in creative industries or with creative clients, where a brief can be a moveable feast, priorities can shift, and timelines can get extended indefinitely.

By creating a clear and strict container for work to be done in, we’re breaking the disruption that changeable, demanding clients can create and ensuring that our quality of work is far higher.

Recommended tech: Asana, Trello or ClickUp project management software for recurring intensives. Dropbox or Google Drive for file management.

Choose your volume, choose your intensity

A common mistake many soloists make is believing that a cheaper thing will be easier to sell. But the ugly truth? It’s very expensive to set up a system that sells your $27 product on autopilot. It takes a lot of cash to experiment with online ads, and a lot of copy writing and tech skill to set up a highly-converting funnel.

It makes far more sense for a soloist to focus first on one-to-one or one-to-many premium services before launching a productised service, a low-cost digital product (such as a PDF download or template) or group work.

When reviewing what you’re selling and how you’re selling it, first consider your optimum conditions for how you work best.

These include whether you’re a long-distance runner or a sprinter; whether you like building relationships over time, or you like seeing the back of a client after you wave them goodbye when a project is complete; whether you love people or only cats; and how much time you actually want to work across a year.

Start by figuring out how you work best before you look at how your clients want to access your services.


Bridging the online gap

Regardless of whether you’re a bookkeeper, copywriter, business coach, therapist or fire-breathing clown-for-hire, there are several further considerations to bridge the online gap:

  • Gifts! Everyone loves snail mail. I love receiving cards and gifts in the mail and it’s likely your clients do too, especially if you’re an online business.
  • Don’t penalise people: I charge the same for face-to-face as online delivery. Some people prefer different formats; some people can’t afford to travel long distances and give more time to attend face-to-face. Online delivery is not inferior.
  • Streamline and simplify: More tech is not necessarily better. As much as possible, look to simplify and streamline the technology your clients are using and have one place for them to go to access everything they need.
  • Engaging all your senses: I have clients standing, stretching, dancing (I trick them into it), or collecting things from the natural world to bring along to online sessions. Don’t be boring. If you’re training or facilitating, you’re also an entertainer. Make people laugh. Not only will they engage and learn more, but they’ll also love you for it.

Ready to plan your first online course? Or re-think a course you’ve already got up and running? Then check out my Online Course Plan, done-in-a-day.