Ben is here to share with us his personal story of growing from a wannabe blogger into a successful business owner, making over $60,000/month from his blogging biz.
We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s jump right in!
1. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR BLOG(S)?
Unbeknownst to me, my blogging journey began sometime around June 2014 from a Starbucks in Richmond, Virginia. A college friend of mine and I had finally decided we wanted to start our own business, we just weren’t sure what we were going to do. We had no legitimate business background, and really, we had no prior writing experience either. We simply bought a website and got started – no research, no homework, nothing.
The culmination of our efforts resulted in a website that served as a platform for stock market commentary and investment research – vtxcapital.com (the now defunct has been rebranded, but we’ll get to that). It looked hideous too but that’s beside the point.
Now, you may wonder why I say “unbeknownst” to me, but I can assure you that word was intentional. We literally had no idea what blogging was when we started. Sadly, we weren’t even lucky enough to stumble upon a “free” blogging platform. Somehow, I went with a GoDaddy-based page builder that wasn’t even a content management system (like WordPress) which was a total nightmare; I literally had to hyperlink each page together and update them individually. Ugh. Moving on…
In an ideal world we were going to analyze the current state of the stock market, give our readers an over-the-shoulder view of the trades we were entering (for a small recurring subscription fee of course), and expand from there.
It wasn’t a terrible idea per se, we just had no idea how to implement it. Making matters worse was the fact that Jeff had left his job (after saving a year’s worth of salary) and was all-in on the business. Probably not a great idea (in hindsight) when neither one of us had any blogging, design, or business experience.
After 18 months, we hadn’t made a single dollar…
Well, maybe like $9, but I’m pretty sure it was Jeff’s dad and maybe one other brave (or maybe stupid?) stranger who decided to take a gamble on us.
Either way, we had spent a very long time doing things the way we wanted to instead of accepting that what we wanted, wasn’t what our readers wanted. It was back to the drawing board. Sort of.
We hadn’t given up on our idea yet, but we realized we needed a way to reach and grow an audience beyond the mega-competitive niche of investment research.
We turned to a more personal finance-oriented focus and the results were immediate. No longer were we competing with billion-dollar banks for a somewhat small population of people interested in do-it-yourself investing – we had expanded to the adult population of America – and reaching them was a lot easier (yes, we niched up, not down, but it worked for us).
From there, we went on to launch a blog about blogging and online business in October of 2016, BreakingTheOnePercent.com. We also decided to relaunch vtxcapital.com as the more brand-friendly DollarSprout.com in October of 2017 (this time with a strictly personal finance focus).
DollarSprout ultimately ended up being the brain child of thousands of hours of painful lessons learned the hard way (really guys, get coaching, it’ll save you so much time). We did everything the right way from the start. A laser focus on exactly what we wanted, and how we were going to do it. A step-by-step plan that spared no detail, and it worked.
[[ Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story of success, failure, and lessons learned! Many bloggers take the route you did and end up regretting the long months spent on struggling to glue all of these seemingly random pieces together. So I love that you recommend getting the education, the coaching, and the plan in place before actually giving up your day job. ]]
YOU MENTIONED TO ME BEFORE THAT YOU DIDN’T MAKE ANY MONEY FROM YOUR BLOG FOR THE FIRST 18 MONTHS. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT WHEN YOU STARTED MAKING MONEY FROM YOUR BLOG AND WHY IT TOOK 18 MONTHS?
Yep! So, I actually went back and took a closer look and we really didn’t make any meaningful money from our blog for the first 24 months. I think we maybe netted <$10.00 from AdSense, and $9 from an errant ebook that Jeff wrote and we tried to sell (which, by the way, was probably the greatest ebook we’ve ever written). All in all, a return of definitely less than $0.01 per hour for well over 6,000 hours of combined manpower. And the reasons we failed so miserably?
– We had the mindset that what we were doing would work, it would just take time.
– We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
– We were probably too stubborn to seek any sort of outside help.
You would think it would dawn on us earlier in the process that we weren’t doing things right, but it didn’t. I think number one on the list has a lot to blame for that. We truly thought that we were “doing it right”, and that by doing so, it would just take time to see the results of our labor.
There was just one massive problem. We were way too patient for our own good. And that patience blinded us to the fact that what we were doing wasn’t working at all. Oops.
So, what changed?
I know people tout Pinterest all the time as the best way for new bloggers to get “mass traffic” and while it’s true, there’s obviously a lot more that goes into it. We found Pinterest 20(ish) months into our blogging journey and mostly out of desperation. We had a Twitter account with like 16,000 followers, a Facebook page with 5,000 (crappy because they weren’t targeted) followers, and little else. We tried Pinterest next because, why not?
Of course, we did what basically every beginner business does on Pinterest – pinned to a few boards we had made and then wondered why we got 0 traffic.
Surprise, we hadn’t really put in any work, and yet we expected results.
(Hint: almost nothing in blogging will ever work that way…I can’t stress that enough). It sounds like a dumb piece of advice but it’s not. If you’re not willing to work every single day at something and master it, you will watch longingly as others achieve the success you wish you had.
And so it went, we discovered group boards (back when group boards were slightly more forgiving, but not during the time where they were handing out traffic like candy), figured out what type of content was popular on Pinterest, and then we curated our own. It was an immediate hit.
Within a few months we had a thousand visitors a day coming to our blog. An enormous increase from the max 100/day we had ever gotten before from our Facebook and Twitter accounts. If we had learned anything from those 20 months of nothing working, it was that we needed to pour every bit of energy we had into something that was working. We decided to put our other “time sucks” on the back burner and learned everything we could about one thing at a time. At that moment, it was Pinterest.
In July of 2016 we went on to make $29.00. A morale boost for Jeff who was still full-time for our “business”, with what little savings he had left. But also for me, who had spent thousands of hours of work on vtxcapital.com on top of my normal job as a registered nurse.
By the end of August, we had made $1,162.00. All hope wasn’t lost. We picked one thing that worked for us, and we mastered it. By January of 2017 we had our first multi-four-figure month ($7,158), and just last month we had our best month ever — $61,915.
[[ I think it’s so important to be honest about the reasons behind our failures…I hate using the word “failure” here, but you know what I mean…Learning those lessons and then sharing them with others so they can learn from them too, that’s pretty awesome of you to do. And I love how you said you guys were just too patient with yourselves, I’ve never heard that one before! Seeing growth does take time, but it’s so important to have a strategy that actually WORKS if you’re going to see that growth at all…I’m also a huge believer in the power of Pinterest. I wish I had started using Pinterest for my business soo much sooner than I did! ]]
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE A FEW OF THE BEST WAYS FOR BLOGGERS TO MAKE THEIR MONEY?
This is a vast oversimplification of how bloggers can make money, but I typically like to break it down into four categories.
2) Services (offering your own freelance-based services)
3) Affiliate marketing (selling others’ products)
4) Digital or physical product sales (selling your own products)
Where you are in your blogging journey will often have a large impact on your ability to monetize your blog effectively. Jumping straight into digital products as a beginner blogger trying to make money is going to leave you wondering why the heck you’re not getting results.
I think it’s pretty important to have realistic goals for each step of the blogging journey (while no one’s is the same, you’ll find that certain things are easier to do before others).
For instance, as you begin to blog and build a library of content, you’ll begin to understand which types of content are performing well in front of your audience.
If you’re not having luck with that yet, you can use tools like BuzzSumo to discover content that has performed well in front of certain audiences. From there, you can begin to grow your traffic and your audience. This is where many naturally turn to advertising and affiliate marketing, and it makes perfect sense. It’s a reasonable way to monetize a small audience (and hone your skills while you learn to promote relevant, niche specific products).
On the side, many bloggers like to supplement their income with freelance services. If you have a digital skill of any kind, you can quite literally sell it on the internet. Some bloggers have fantastic success in this way and end up freelancing full-time for a living (as their portfolio/resume grows).
In my opinion, it’s here where bloggers often face a decision. What is the best way to scale? It can be exhausting to repeat the above cycle for $0, $100 or even $1,000/month (assuming the goal of your blog is to make money). Typically, this stalemate will end in one of two ways:
1) The blogger learns how to grow an email list, create funnels, and effectively launch (and continue selling) digital products.
2) A blogger learns how to grow their traffic in such a way that they can reliably promote affiliate products with little variance.
The “best” bloggers often learn to do both.
Now, this isn’t to say these are the only two ways, they’re just the two most popular. Jeff and I ended up primarily focusing on number two, but again, that was more because it catered to our strengths more so than it somehow being better than number one. Both can be incredibly effective, and I always promote going for whichever suits your strengths best.
[[ That is excellent advice for choosing your income streams. You really need to start where you are and use what you have. Being realistic and focusing on your strengths instead of just “doing what everyone else is doing” is the best route! ]]
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BEST PART OF BEING A BLOGGER? WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART?
The best part about being blogger (again in my opinion) is the fact that I really do get to work in my pajamas.
That’s mostly a byproduct of having no boss, which is also nice. I truly cannot put into words how thankful I am for the freedom that blogging has afforded me. Having worked fifty plus hours a week at a hospital for years, I am not soon apt to lose sight of this new found freedom. It’s truly a huge blessing. I took a risk leaving a well-paying position at the hospital (and a pay cut) to do this and I’m incredibly lucky to get to see my family, girlfriend, and dog more than I ever would have during my typical 9-5 grind.
As far as the hardest part goes, I’d have to say there are two things I’ve noticed in just the first few months of being out of the corporate world.
You do lose immediate access to a very real social network that you may have taken for granted.
You begin to realize just how much time you’re spending in front of a screen.
While I socialized little with many of my nursing friends outside of work, it’s still nice to get the validation of a job well done from people in a similar role. That’s not to say I don’t get that same appreciation from many people within our blogging community, it’s just super nice to get it in person sometimes. Humans are amazing people and I definitely consider it a privilege to get to work alongside some of the best of them at the hospital (for what it’s worth I do still work flex-time to help keep my skills sharp, keep my license, and see everyone, of course J).
Secondly, as previously mentioned, I took screen time to a whole new level. It’s definitely something I’d like to reduce in the future as Jeff and I work towards a more stabilize business model that doesn’t require thousands of hours of upfront work. I’m acutely aware of how much time I spend in front of my computer and sometimes that comes at the detriment of others. Not in a malicious way, but because it’s hard to step away when you’re in the middle of things. Learning to walk away even when you’re not done with something is a lesson I’m quickly learning! It’s providing work-life balance that wasn’t always there and I’m thankful for it.
[[ Man, I feel you on this one! Even as an introvert, it’s difficult being home alone in front of a computer most days. I try to do my local networking with other blogger and play dates for my kids as much as I can, but I need to make more effort. I love that you are a registered nurse. You’re probably going to cringe hearing this because most nurses do, but I’m a huge Grey’s Anatomy fan haha, it has made me appreciate people in the medical field so much more (even though it’s just a silly tv show). Work-life balance is definitely something all full-time bloggers need to strive for. ]]
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL WORK DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
In an ideal world:
Get up around 6:30AM and eat light breakfast.
Come back, feed dogs, eat healthy breakfast, shower and start work by 9AM.
Finish any unfinished tasks by 10AM (assuming they’re small).
Do daily tasks by 11AM (update websites, read email, and address outstanding issues).
Work on current project till lunch and resume work thereafter.
Small break at 3pm to come back fresh.
Work on current project till 5PM. Eat prior to gym, unwind for the day after gym, bed by 10.
Walk down in pajamas around 7:30AM.
Work till I’m starving.
Keep working anyways.
Get irritable and finally give in to eating around 3PM.
Eat second meal of day around 5PM in preparation for gym.
Who knows after that.
[[ You sound like me! I have the tendency to drink too much coffee and work until I’m starving too… we gotta stop that Ben! ]]
WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE A NEW BLOGGER THAT WANTS TO MAKE MONEY FROM THEIR BLOG?
Since I can’t ever follow a script, I’ll give two.
First, study your “competition” but don’t treat them like competitors.
Instead of being jealous of someone who is doing something extremely similar to you, befriend them. I promise you that working with people will pay dividends down the road. You can be Type A and ruthlessly competitive, but your blogging journey will be made one million times easier by working with people that are like-minded.
From guest posting opportunities, to affiliate sales/product launches, to backlinks and promotional content, your success is often tied to the success of those around you. Network, network, network.
The caveat to all this is learn from them. What is it that they’re doing that’s working? In what ways are they successfully reaching (and monetizing) their audiences. If it’s working for them, odds are something similar can work for you. Don’t copy. Innovate. Find ways to be unique but build on principles that you know are likely to succeed.
Secondly, spend more time doing what you’re good at it (and master it).
Money doesn’t always buy happiness, but it often doesn’t hurt when it comes to scaling a business. What is working for you? Rather than getting shiny object syndrome all the time (and chasing what is working for other bloggers) is there something you could be doing to expand what’s already working for you?
Going from $25 to $50/month in income may be the difference in being able to afford a tool that’ll help you scale to $100/month. Rather than jumping ship to the next project, see if there are ways you can get the most out of what you’re already doing (or have done).
If you’re good at affiliate marketing, double down on what’s already sending you traffic and see if you can squeeze out more.
Good at selling an affordable digital product? Tweak your funnel or spend time developing relationships with new affiliates. If what you’re doing is working, even on a microscale, why not do more of it (or at least do it slightly better)?
Resist the urge to be fifty-six places at once. Do what you do well, and then do it better.
[[ This is excellent advice. I made this mistake when I was a new blogger. I spent way too much time being jealous of those “six figure bloggers” instead of recognizing my own strengths and building on them. When I learned to build community over competition, my world changed. Now, I work with many of my so-called competitors, and we have become great friends and colleagues. We support each other’s businesses and encourage each other as entrepreneurs. It makes a huge difference. And I hope our readers here will take this to heart, because here we are… you and I (technically competitors selling similar products) working together to help our audience! And there’s enough room for both of us … all of us….]]
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE BUSINESS/BLOG RELATED YOU WANT TO SHARE?
If there is anyone out there that’s written a post on how to scale from being “just a blog” to a multi-person business, I’d gladly be a loyal reader of yours. Jeff and I thought it was pretty funny watching Kyle Taylor of The Penny Hoarder squirm when he was asked what it’s like building a business from your dorm room (when you have 0 business background), and now, we totally get it.
Jeff and I are in way over our heads, so if there’s anyone out there who’s penned “The Ultimate Guide from Transitioning Your Blog into a Business”, I’d love to hear from you. It helps you realize that learning is truly a life long journey. If you’re not willing to constantly put in the time and effort required to learn new things about blogging, progress will come slowly.
Oh and lastly, always have a questioning attitude (seriously, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Facebook groups are amazing for this and people are so willing to help). Jeff and I wouldn’t be where we are now if we didn’t finally break out of that rut around 24 months and accept that we didn’t know it all.
The people that I see going from hobby bloggers, to full-time income earners, are the ones that are constantly asking questions. Stop killing your productivity being stubborn and tinkering with things hours longer than you should. Be brave, get involved in groups, ask questions, and give feedback when you do know the answer to something. Those people are the ones that make it.
[[ I love all of this! Asking questions, being humble, accepting that you don’t have all the answers letting people help you…It’s all part of the process. You really have to step out of your comfort zone and do the hard stuff if you want to make it in this business. ]]
Ben Huber, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story with my readers!
Sharing a little piece of yourself and your journey has really helped us to see the real world behind the scenes of blogging and what it really takes to make money in this business. These tips are so beneficial to new and seasoned bloggers. And we appreciate you so much!
For anyone that wants to learn more about Ben and Jeff, their business and their training courses, you can find them at Breaking the One Percent.
|Ben Huber is head of content marketing and the better looking co-founder of Breaking The One Percent; a marketing blog built around helping others launch, grow and scale online businesses. When he’s not busy A/B testing different marketing strategies, Ben can be found at the gym or at your local sporting venue. For more actionable marketing tips or inquiries, chirp at Ben on Twitter at @vtgrad2010 (and be very patient).
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