As a digital entrepreneur — from selling products to customers online to providing services to global organizations — goal-setting is critical for your success. But digital entrepreneurs operate in a specialized arena that presents unique challenges and opportunities. Those considerations color the process of setting business goals — beyond revenue projections or client numbers — that truly will propel your digital venture forward.
Read on for ideas to help you choose business goals for digital entrepreneurs that will drive lasting success. But first …
What exactly is a digital entrepreneur?
Digital entrepreneurs are people who start online businesses and operate nearly exclusively online. An Etsy shop owner who sells crafts online is a digital entrepreneur. A software developer who creates apps or a consultant who helps clients optimize their online performance are all digital entrepreneurs — if you sell and run your business solely online, you’re a digital entrepreneur.
There are countless reasons why people enter digital entrepreneurship. Some want to travel the world while running their businesses; others want a flexible schedule to help raise kids and keep the home going.
Many digital entrepreneurs share an overarching goal: career control and fulfillment. They also have unique challenges in common that other business owners might not face — from online security to search engine optimization (SEO) to mental health concerns like burnout.
5 business goals for digital entrepreneurs
If you’re a digital entrepreneur trying to decide which business goals to set, focus on these five areas that pose unique challenges for you:
Secure your online presence.
Develop your SEO strategy.
Declutter your tools.
Address and mitigate burnout.
Grow your team.
By setting goals that address these obstacles, you’ll take a huge step toward turning them into opportunities for meaningful growth.
1. Secure your online presence
When your entire business is online, you can’t risk a digital threat. A seemingly innocuous phishing email or low-level DDoS attack could wipe out your system or result in stolen personal information — yours or that of your customers. Depending on how large the issue was, the attack could keep your business from running for an extended period of time. If the revenue from your business is your only income, this can be detrimental for your life as a whole.
That’s why this is an important goal to focus on in 2022, starting with yourself as the business owner.
When Aura surveyed 2,000 Americans, they discovered that most people know about the dangers online — but not how to protect themselves. Aura shared these 45 fraud prevention tips you can use to protect yourself, first and foremost. These tips range from storing sensitive information properly to clipping or shredding old credit cards.
The next step is to build healthy habits around your business’s data security. For example, set goals to:
Set up two-factor authentication (2FA) for all the services you use, keeping your business protected from unauthorized logins.
Set up quarterly audits of your systems to make sure you’re following cybersecurity best practices as our digital landscape changes and becomes more dangerous.
As a digital entrepreneur, the security measures you need to take will depend upon the type of business you run and products and services you use. Figure out what it is you need and then make a plan to implement the necessary action(s).
Remember: when it comes to digital threats, it is better to prevent an attack than to try and recover from one. Use this all-important business goal for digital entrepreneurs to keep your company safe and secure now — before anything happens.
2. Develop your SEO strategy
Search engine optimization is the process of making your brand more visible in search engines, from Bing to Google. A well-optimized website, where good SEO is implemented, can drive leads and traffic to your website long after you’ve done the work to optimize it. However, SEO is not a single, linear or one-dimensional process.
There are three SEO strategies to focus on when optimizing your site:
Technical/back-end: Including page speed, mobile optimization and metadata.
Content: Including keyword use, headers and content creation.
Off-site: Including links that point back to your website and business listings websites.
The best way to set a strong SEO foundation is to work with someone who understands how to do proper SEO. When done right, it can be invaluable to your brand. When done wrong, it can hurt your site more than help it.
Your first objective is to find someone who can do an SEO audit for your current website. When you know what’s working, what needs to be changed, and how you can improve, you can then set goals to implement those updates and find the right person for the job.
When the COVID-19 pandemic drove many companies to remote work, the average number of tools used increased dramatically.
According to Statista, in 2017, the average company used 16 SaaS applications, but in 2020, this number shot up to 80 and then climbed to 110 in 2021.
As a digital entrepreneur, you aren’t immune from the “app hoarding” mentality. While these tools can be helpful, as your business grows, you might be tempted to add more tools and software solutions to improve your productivity — yet this clutter can actually hinder your productivity.
Set a goal to evaluate your existing tools to determine which ones you actually need. A few questions to ask include:
Have I used this tool in the past year? The past quarter?
Do I have duplicate tools that offer the same service?
Can I replace multiple individual apps with a single software service? Would I want to?
These questions will help you analyze the products that actually add value to your business versus the ones that create digital clutter. When you know what’s helping, your next goal is to get rid of the ones that aren’t.
Use this process to audit your tools annually, if not quarterly, to get rid of the services and products you no longer need.
4. Address and mitigate burnout
Starting your own business is exciting, empowering — and exhausting. Not to mention, COVID has affected mental health for nearly anyone, including entrepreneurs who are stressed about money and being forced to spend more time alone.
While stress and burnout are common among digital entrepreneurs, you don’t have to let these things take over. In fact, there are many ways you can mitigate them. Protect your mental health by setting goals around these key strategies:
Set clear work hours. For example, always clock out by 6pm. Limit your work time during the weekends as well and don’t answer an email or take a call during off hours unless absolutely necessary.
Take your lunch break. Use this time to reset by having a call with a friend, taking a walk, or simply breathing and getting away from your computer.
Create a vacation policy. It’s easy to work all year round when you don’t have set vacation days. Create a vacation policy for yourself and put vacations on the calendar in January so you actually take them.
Pick up hobbies that make you happy. Time away from work doing things you love personally can give you a much-needed mental health boost.
As an entrepreneur, you are the only person who can make sure you maintain a healthy work-life balance. Preventing burnout is as important for you as it is for your company — mental health affects every area of your business, so don’t let this one slide. Even setting a goal around one of these strategies can have an impact.
As your digital venture continues to expand, there might come a time when you need to grow your team. You don’t need a packed office full of employees, but you may want to take on a partner, assistant or contractors so you can focus on what you do best.
This is a key step in growing your business; however, Jeff Hunter, founder of VA Staffer, explains that entrepreneurs struggle to build out a team because of their fear of losing control. If this sounds familiar, how do you let go of that control? Hunter suggests:
“The trick to beat the fear of losing control is understanding that you need to focus on the most valuable use of your time. The only way to achieve that is to have a reliable, consistent and intelligent person or team of people to take over the activities that are not the best use of your time.”
When looking at team growth, you might want to set a few goals, the first being to simply to determine where you could use help. In marketing? In sales? In website management? Next, a goal might be to take the time to find people who can do that work for you, whether it’s a full-time employee, virtual assistant or contractor.
If you want to build a successful business, you have to be willing to build the right team along the way. Set goals so you begin that process this year, even if you only hire one person to start.
Best practices for setting strong yet attainable goals
Saying you want to achieve something will only take you so far. Taking steps to turn those ideas into a reality is another — that’s why you need to set business goals with intention and clarity. As a digital entrepreneur, use these strategies to set clear and actionable business goals that you can attain.
Give your goals a timeline
Set a clear date for when you’ll complete your goal. For example, if you want to implement a new security system, your goal might be: “Implement a new security system by the end of Q2.” This gives you something clear to work toward and helps you prioritize your time accordingly.
Create bite-sized goals
Don’t just set one big goal — that can be overwhelming and keep you from getting started. Instead, break your goals down into bite-sized goals that prompt you to take action. For example, if you want to implement a new security system by the end of Q2, a few smaller goals that will help you get there include:
Schedule a security audit.
Research security software.
Create a security budget.
It can be hard to hold yourself accountable when you have a dozen other things on your to-do list each day. Find an accountability partner or group to keep you moving forward with your goals this year. This might be a good friend, a co-worker, or even a mastermind group. Tell that person, or group of people, what your goals are and when you plan to achieve them so they can hold you accountable to getting it done.
Be intentional with your goals
If you don’t really care about achieving something, you won’t make time for it. Don’t set goals just to set them. Have a clear intention and “why” for each one. In the security system example, your “why” might be to not only keep your company safe, but to keep your customers’ data secure. With this in mind, you have greater motivation to make it happen.
Thrive with clear business goals for digital entrepreneurs
To grow your business, you need to set goals. But what goals should you set? Where should you place your focus? As a digital entrepreneur, there are a few unique areas for you to consider — including online security, mental health, SEO, team growth and your digital workspace. Use these five ideas to set goals that will help you grow your business into the thriving and sustainable company that you dreamed it could be.
Chelsea Guffy recently began a side hustle as a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations.
“I thought to myself, ‘Okay, this could be something really cool,’ Guffy said when a friend she helped advise on a Disney vacation suggested she do it as a job.
This is Chelsea Guffy’s story, as told to writer Jamie Killin.
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This is an as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Chelsea Guffy, who recently began a side hustle as a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Last year, I noticed on social media that one of my sorority sisters had started working as a travel agent on a lot of Disney vacations and working for a travel agency called ET Family Travel.
I had a Disney vacation coming up that November, and I had already booked the whole thing but I had asked her if she could get me dining reservations, because those are the hardest thing to get at Disney World, and she agreed. She helped me get all the dining reservations that I wanted.
Then she said to me, “Chelsea, you know Disney in and out. You should come on as an agent.” So, I thought about it, and come the new year I thought to myself, “Okay, this could be something really cool.” I joined the team and I fell in love with it.
Travel is just in my blood, and I love booking vacations for my family, so it was a no-brainer.
I grew up in Florida about two hours away from Disney World and grew up going.
The first time I went, I was probably three weeks old. I’ve always had a love for travel – I studied abroad in college, and when I was growing up my family would take trips at least once a year to different places all over the country.
Travel is just in my blood, and I love booking vacations for my family, so it was a no-brainer that I’d like doing it for other people.
The agency I work for focuses on Disney and family-friendly trips, so most agents focus on theme park vacations. However, we do all kinds of travel. I mainly focused on Disney at first, but then I got requests from my friends, so I decided to branch out.
I did a United Kingdom trip for a friend of mine in June, and now I’m doing another UK trip as well as a New York trip. I’ve also helped with California trips and even staycations.
My clientele is primarily my friends and people in my network, but now I’ve had two clients who I did not know previously – one reached out to me through my social media, and another was a referral through the agency.
I’m able to help my clients save a lot of time. I have a lot of knowledge; while they might need months to plan a trip, I can do it for them in three weeks. Sometimes I also find lower prices for them.
I also make sure to tell my clients that this is my second job and that I have a full-time job. I try to give as much time to my clients as I can – but I make sure to set expectations.
I do also get benefits like free Disney tickets and discounts at hotels.
As a side hustle, it’s nice to have the extra cash. I am an independent contractor who makes money based on commissions from the theme parks and hotels. There can also be perks from vendors we work with, which is a benefit for a travel enthusiast like myself.
The amount of time I spend on the job varies, but I average 12 to 15 hours a week in addition to my full-time job. I start as soon as my son goes to bed, so 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. are my prime. It works because I’m a person that likes to be busy – we’re always go, go, go.
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Startup business grants can help small businesses grow without debt. But if you want free money to start a company, your time may be better spent elsewhere. Competition for small-business grants is fierce, and many awards require time in business — often at least six months.
Some grants are open to newer businesses or true startups. And even if you don’t qualify now, it can pay to know where to look for future funding. Here are the best grants for small-business startups, plus alternative sources of startup funding to consider.
How Much Do You Need?
with Fundera by NerdWallet
Government startup business grants and resources
Some government programs offer direct funding to startups looking for business grants, but those that don’t may point you in the right direction or help with applications:
Grants.gov. Government agencies routinely post new grant opportunities on this centralized database. If you see an opportunity relevant to your business idea, you can check if startups are eligible. Many of these grants deal with scientific or pharmaceutical research, though, so they may not be relevant to Main Street businesses.
Local governments. Lots of federal grants award funding to other governments, like states or cities, or to nonprofit economic development organizations. Those entities then offer grants to local businesses. Plugging into your local startup ecosystem can help you stay on top of these opportunities.
Small Business Development Centers. These resource centers funded by the Small Business Administration offer business coaching, education, technical support and networking opportunities. They may also be able to help you apply for small-business grants, develop a business plan and level up your business in other ways.
Minority Business Development Agency Centers. The MBDA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, operates small-business support centers similar to SBDCs. The MBDA doesn’t give grants to businesses directly, but these centers can connect you with grant organizations, help you prepare applications and secure other types of business financing.
Local startup business grants
Some local business incubators or accelerators offer business grants or pitch competitions with cash prizes. To find these institutions near you, do an online search for “Your City business incubator.”
Even if you don’t see a grant program, sign up for their email newsletter or follow them on social media. Like SBDCs and MBDAs, business incubators often provide business coaching, courses and lectures that can help you develop your business idea.
Startup business grants from companies and nonprofits
Lots of corporations and large nonprofits, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, organize grant competitions. Some national opportunities include:
iFundWomen. iFundWomen partners with other corporations to administer business grants. You can fill out a universal application to receive automatic notifications when you’re eligible to apply for a grant.
Amber Grant for Women. WomensNet gives two $10,000 Amber Grants each month and two $25,000 grants annually. Filling out one application makes you eligible for all Amber Grants. To qualify, businesses must be at lesat 50% women-owned and based in the U.S. or Canada.
National Association for the Self-Employed. Join NASE, and you can apply for quarterly Growth Grant opportunities. There are no time-in-business requirements for these grants of up to $4,000, but you’ll need to provide details about how you plan to use the grant and how it will help your business grow.
FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. This annual competition awards grants to small-business owners in a variety of industries. You can sign up to receive an email when each application period opens. To be eligible, you’ll need to have been selling your product or service for at least six months. Be mindful, though, that each grant cycle receives thousands of applications.
Fast Break for Small Business. This grant program is funded by LegalZoom, the NBA, WNBA and NBA G League and administered by Accion Opportunity Fund. You can win a $10,000 business grant plus free LegalZoom services. Applications open during the NBA season, which runs from fall to early summer each year.
Alternative funding sources for startups
New businesses likely won’t be able to rely on startup business grants for working capital. The following financing sources may help accelerate your growth or get your startup off the ground:
SBA microloans offer up to $50,000 to help your business launch or expand. The average microloan is around $13,000, according to the SBA.
The SBA issues microloans through intermediary lenders, usually nonprofit financial institutions and economic development organizations, all of which have different requirements. You can use the SBA’s website to find a lender in your state.
Friends and family
Asking friends and family to invest in your business may seem daunting, but it’s very common. Make sure you define whether each person’s money is a loan and, if so, when and how you’ll pay it back. Put an agreement in writing if possible.
Business credit cards
Business credit cards can help you manage startup expenses while your cash flow is still unsteady. You can qualify for a business credit card with your personal credit score and some general information about your business, like your business name and industry.
You’ll probably need to sign a personal guarantee, though, which is a promise that you’ll pay back the debt if your business can’t.
If your business has a dedicated customer base, they can help fund you via crowdfunding. Usually businesses offer something in exchange, like debt notes, equity shares or access to an exclusive event.
There are lots of different crowdfunding platforms that offer different terms, so look around to find the model that works best for you.
Startups looking to make it easier for people to rent apartments on a flexible, shorter-term basis are gaining momentum thanks in part to the rise of remote work. Last week, Dealbook reported that a flexible living startup, Flow, founded by WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann, has locked down $350 million from Andreessen Horowitz. Earlier today, TechCrunch reported that an online rental marketplace, Zumper, just raised $30 million in a Series D1 round of funding led by Kleiner Perkins to help it better serve people looking for short-term rental options.
Now, Landing, a startup that is making it possible for its customers to rent a fully furnished apartment on its platform for as short a period as one month, says it, too, has secured fresh funding: $75 million in equity funding and another $50 million in debt.
Delta-v Capital led the equity piece, joined by new and earlier investors, including Greycroft and Foundry. Landing has now raised $237 million in venture funding and $230 million in debt since its launch in 2019.
We told you a bit last week about Landing’s founder Bill Smith, a serial entrepreneur who we dubbed the “anti-Adam Neumann,” given that he’s decidedly understated, he’s conservative when it comes to raising venture funding, and his two past companies have only made investors money. Neumann, in comparison, is a forceful personality, and not everyone came out ahead, famously, on WeWork’s path to becoming a publicly traded company last year.
Smith’s company works like so: Using gobs of data on pricing and demand around the country, it zeroes in on multifamily buildings around the U.S. Through performance marketing and referrals, it then finds tenants for these apartments, itself signing one-year leases, then quickly moving in everything from furniture to utensils for the tenant. Landing has all of these furnishings made in Vietnam and shipped to warehouses in Austin, Phoenix and Alabama, where it is based.
Tenants, who sign on as Landing “members” for a $199 yearly fee, commit to renting from Landing for a minimum of six months, though they’re allowed to move freely to other Landing-operated apartments during that period, provided they give the company two weeks’ notice. Smith says that currently, on average, they stay in one spot six months.
Right now, Landing — which is not profitable — makes money by marking up what it pays in rent by upwards of 40%. Eventually, Smith told us last week, Landing intends to sell its software directly to the multifamily property owners. “Over time, we’ll partner with owners to bring this product to their building, and it really won’t be a ‘Landing’ lease product,” he said. “They’ll just join the Landing platform. They’ll operate using our technology and our standards. And, and it won’t be this model of, you know, Landing leases it and is committed to that lease.”
It sounds very much like what Flow is building, based on a “inside” story about Flow in the real estate outlet The Real Deal this week. According to the outlet’s sources, Flow is effectively a service that landlords employ to make their properties more attractive to people who want to bounce around yet also experience a branded, consistent experience.
As with Landing, shorter lease terms and furnished apartments will likely allow Flow to command higher rents, notes The Real Deal.
Unlike Landing, Flow will itself own at least some of the multifamily units into which its members move. Indeed, with his ample WeWork proceeds, Neumann has already snapped up more than 3,000 apartment units in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Nashville, per Dealbook. It could give the outfit an additional advantage. As The Real Deal notes, Flow’s buildings will “also be able to tap into cheaper financing . . . because banks can lend to the properties at the same leverage point offered to apartment projects, or up to 80 percent. Those are more favorable terms than the roughly 55 percent typically offered to hotel developments, essentially creating a high-yield business with lower costs.”
Flow, Landing and Zumper aren’t alone in spying opportunity in flexible living. Last fall, Zeus Living, which is focused on giving people “flexible living” options, raised $55 million in a round led by SIG. Blueground, a pre-furnished apartment rental startup focused on short-term and long-term rental, meanwhile raised $180 million in equity and debt funding last September. Another tech-enabled platform, Placemakr, separately raised $90 million from investors back in March.
Another flexible-living company is Sentral, whose 3,000-plus properties are owned by Iconiq Capital, the San Francisco-based investment firm whose investors include Mark Zuckerberg and Reid Hoffman; Iconiq is also a major investor in Sentral, the WSJ reported last year.
Expect more players backed by more capital, despite the uneven performance of some companies in the space, including Sonder, a short-term rental startup that went public last year via a SPAC merger and that last month cut one-fifth of its staff as part of a restructuring designed to shave $85 million in annual expenses. (On the customer-review platform Trustpilot, Sonder receives 1.3 out of five stars, with complaints about everything from a lack of hot water in its branded units to blood-stained linens.)
While the short-term rental business is complicated given its many moving parts, more individuals are adopting a nomadic existence owing to the pandemic’s ripple effects, and VCs like nothing more than an industry in flux.
“Our view,” Placemakr’s CEO tells The Real Deal, is that the “more the merrier. The institutionalization of an asset class doesn’t happen by a single group.”