Step 1: Pick a niche (or pick a profitable PASSION).
This is such an important step to building an online business, and one that most folks labor over far too long.
The secret is actually very, very simple. Find something you love, and put it out into the world. I can't tell you how many hours I've wasted on affiliate products, or content campaigns that have been "profit" focused rather than PASSION oriented. Invariably, if you have no underlying love for what it is that we do everyday, the long term success statistics are grim at best.
Find what it is that you'd do for free... and build around that. (Invariably, your PASSION will converge with piles of profit, I promise!)
Step 2: Establish Your Authority and Demonstrate Your Expertise
Writing articles for example like THIS one is a good start. So too is building a blog, or creating a community site in your niche, or any other way YOU feel comfortable to demonstrate your experience, authority and expertise for an audience who WILL follow you if you lead the way.
The truth is, if you have PASSION, and have a unique perspective, you will be persuasive in your "pitch" and you can literally create clients, customers, fans and followers on this basis alone.
Step 3: Automate
If you want to be free, financially and otherwise... you've GOT to automate your online business. Working every day around the clock is never going to make you feel alive and empowered about your niche, no matter how much you love what you do.
Good examples of automation?
Content creation is one... so too are email auto-responders.
Article syndication and content marketing are a great automation tool, because content you create TODAY can often lead to torrents (or trickles) of traffic for years to come. (NOTE: I've written thousands of articles in tens of niches... and still get hundreds, if not thousands of daily readers from content I created for syndication in 2009 or 2010, meaning I can take a week off NOW whenever I want... or focus on optimizing other areas of my business, without worrying that my readership dries up when I take a break).
The same is true of email follow ups, the most common automation tool there is. If you write your email sequence TODAY, you can literally plug it in and it will go out for weeks, months or years, converting subscribers into sales, while you are free to focus on other areas, or do other things that you want with your business... and your life!
Step 4: Create a Curriculum
Every successful online business needs a curriculum. A coaching program. A product. Or a suite of services that you offer that allows you to monetize your marketplace. Don't focus on affiliate offers or contextual ads. You can literally create a KILLER product in about a week, and it can be done for dirt cheap to boot. (You can literally record an entire course in a weekend, and sell it for BIG bucks if you know what kind of content your community craves.)