Don’t listen to that enthusiastic woman’s shirt in the image above. You can get people to care about your blog. In this post I’m going to show you how I built a full business around this blog in less than a year.
If someone had told me in its first year this blog would:
- Attract over 138,000 unique visits
- Lead over 20 awesome clientsto work with me
- Help me convince 15 of the world’s most successful online entrepreneursto contribute to a flagship product that sold out in 36 hours
- And, directly earn just over $103,500 in revenue …
… I might have thought that person was crazy. Now I think I could have done much more.
A lot of marketers like to take shots at blogging as a business model. They like to tell you how difficult it is to earn money blogging and that there are other easier ways to earn a living online.
I’m here to tell you they’re wrong… and that they’re right at the same time.
Nothing you try to do to earn a living online will be “easy.” If it was easy, everyone with an online business would be making a killing.
I’m actually glad that it takes a lot of hard work to earn a living online because it means most people won’t try hard enough. That leaves room for dedicated people like me (and you?) to build something significant online that will last for years to come.
But to say that you can’t earn money blogging is just dumb. Look at people like Chris Guillebeau, Leo Babauta, Darren Rowse, Brett McKay, Ree Drummond, Brian Clark, Adam Baker, Karol Gajda, Everett Bogue and Naomi Dunford and you’ll see that each of them earn more than a comfortable living, each primarily by being bloggers.
No, a blog isn’t a business exactly, but a blog is an excellent way to reach people and find customers for whatever your underlying business is.
And hey, if you don’t like the word “blog,” call it something else. How about independent content publishers or content marketers, or just people who publish content online?
Perhaps the concept of a blog (as a chronological journal of content entries) is becoming outdated, but the act of publishing free content to attract leads to ultimately sell products or services continues to thrive, no matter what you call it.
Note that some of the people in the list above are professional marketers (partly that’s because I pay attention to what marketers are doing), but many of them aren’t.
You don’t have to be a professional marketer to earn a living as a blogger. A close friend of mine has a neighbor who earns a living by blogging about sewing and crocheting. It’s most important that you address a problem, need or desire your readers have with killer content.
The particular topic doesn’t matter as long as there is a need and some people will be willing to pay you to solve that need.
Last week was the one year anniversary of launching this blog, and I want to say thanks to everyone who has helped make it such a fun and successful project.
Let’s dissect the growth of this site over the past year in this special annual report. I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned from this first year and exactly how I managed to surprise myself with this year’s accomplishments and income, and how you can do the same with your blog.
First, a little background.
I officially launched Think Traffic back on March 16, 2010, but the idea first came to me in December of 2009.
At the time, I was running a fairly popular site called Free Pursuits (now CorbettBarr.com), which started as a journey of self exploration while on a six-month-long road trip throughout Mexico with my wife.
That was my first attempt at blogging, although I had been building other kinds of websites for nearly a decade by that point, mostly as a consultant to Fortune 500 businesses and as a vc-backed startup founder.
As far as being a first attempt at blogging is concerned, the project was a success. I had attracted well over 200,000 visitors to that site by that point and was having a great time with the project. It was opening up a lot of opportunities.
There was just one problem.
The site itself wasn’t earning much direct revenue. I hadn’t really created a business plan for the site from the beginning, and I figured that as it grew I would be able to earn an income from it.
But that income wasn’t coming and I was starting to wonder if the topic I was writing about and the audience I was building would ever lead to a significant income. I did know one thing for sure: I was committed to building a lifestyle business to support my newly found habit of spending every winter in Mexico.
I started to listen to the advice of other people who were earning a living as bloggers. Chris Guillebeau’s excellent free 279 Days to Overnight Success became a bible of sorts as I started exploring new ideas. In it, Chris talks about the concept of finding the intersection of:
- something you’re good at
- something you’re passionate about
- something people will pay you to do
As I thought through those three categories I kept coming back to how much I enjoyed building online audiences, how much success I had in doing it and how much people needed it (and might be willing to pay me for extra help with).
Side note: it turns out that (like most entrepreneurs), my decision to start this blog was also driven by my desire to constantly start new projects. I’m very happy that I did start this project, but my worry over whether I could earn a living at my other site was unfounded. Today I’m able to generate income there in much the same way as I can here. I just took much more learning and hard work to make it possible. Keep that in mind if you’re starting to worry about your own project. It could very well be you just need to have more patience.
Lesson #1 from Think Traffic’s first year: a little business planning can go a long way towards earning a living from your website or blog.
Chris’s magic formula I mentioned above turned out to be gold. I launched this site knowing very specifically what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to help my readers attract more visitors to their websites. Simple, to the point, and measurable.
I knew that if I offered additional products and services to address the same need in a deeper way, some of my readers would become customers and clients.
It’s a simple formula when you think about it, but so many bloggers don’t get it right. Or, they struggle with identifying a problem/need/desire to help people with. Or, they struggle to refine their message or to get the word out and connect with the right people. More on those in a minute.
Lesson #2: know what you’re talking about.
Or as Gary Vaynerchuk said in our interview last week: know what the fuck you’re talking about.
Another mistake I constantly see new bloggers making is that they get themselves into a serious chicken-and-egg problem from the beginning.
Let’s say you want to build a lifestyle business and travel the world. What’s the best way to do that? (Counter to what you might think from the number of blogs out there on the topic) the answer probably isn’t to create a blog about how you want to build a lifestyle business.
Think about it this way: if you are looking for advice and information on how to do something, let’s say you want to become a professional underwater diver, would you rather learn from an expert who has been there, done that, or would you want to learn from someone who is just starting out, just like you are?
Most people want to learn from the expert.
I honestly fell into a bit of that trap with my first blog. I started blogging about the concept of lifestyle design before I had it all figured out for myself.
There is some value in learning what someone else is going through and from reading their stories about the similar journey he or she is on. You can also create value by bringing in experts on your topic through interviews. If you’re not an expert on your particular topic, think of yourself as a facilitator, not a faux expert in the making.
Instead, it’s much easier to build a following around something that you have expertise in or where you have a uniquely compelling story to share. Think about what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at. Then think about what you can earn money doing.
Lesson #3: plan your products and services in advance.
Before I started this blog, I knew how it would earn money. I planned from the beginning to offer consulting services related to building website traffic. I also planned to create a comprehensive course on building traffic (which became Traffic School).
Building a blog is hard work, and it’s easy to get so busy creating content and promoting it that you have no time left over for developing products.
You should combat that problem by thinking ahead about what products, services, advertising, affiliate marketing or otherwise you’ll be offering through your site.
I’m not saying you should know exactly what you’ll offer (it’s good to be flexible so you can adapt to what you learn from your readers and customers), but it’s good to have basic plans for creating your first products. In fact, if you’re a procrastinator, you might want to start by creating a product first, before you start blogging. That way you won’t have to worry about getting too busy to create a product.
Lesson #4: you can’t do it alone.
If you’re new to blogging, you might have this picture in your head of the heroic blogger, who does everything singlehandedly without help from the outside. At least that’s kind of what I envisioned in my head.
It turns out that every successful online entrepreneur I know (especially in the blogging world) relies on dozens of informal relationships to help with everything from business strategy to product development to promotion and more.
You can’t build a successful blog-based business alone. You need help from other people to let you know when you’re crazy and to help you get the word out about what you’re up to.
That means you need to spend a LOT of time building relationships with other bloggers and people online. Trust me on this one, just start asking your peers online and people you admire to meet for coffee (if you’re in the same place) or to talk over Skype sometime.
Don’t ask for anything and don’t expect anything in return. Just get to know people and try to be as helpful as possible.
Create these relationships in a genuine way, and they will pay off for you, I promise. Just keep making new relationships. Don’t try only to meet “a-listers” either, reach out to the people at your level who you know are going to be hugely successful one day.
I networked my ass off this year, and it paid off in massive ways. Don’t try to be a hero and do everything yourself. It’s much easier and more rewarding to make lots of online friends and form mutually beneficial relationships with some of them.
Bonus tip: when you’re just starting out if you don’t have relationships with people yet who can give you feedback and critique what you’re doing, consider paying for a professional blog critique. I purchased one from Chris Garrett a few months after I started blogging and it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Check out Chris’s critique of my blog Free Pursuits from back in the day to see how it works.
Lesson #5: follow the basics, ignore the gimmicks.
(this one is possibly the most important lesson of all)
With my first blog, I spent a lot of time chasing dead ends and looking for gimmicks that would flood my site with visitors.
This time around, I focused only on the basics. I consistently work to:
- Care about my readers and customers
- Solve people’s problems
- Write epic shit
- Tell people about what we’re doing here
That’s pretty much the core of what it takes to build a popular site. If you do that consistently you’ll build an audience and more importantly, your readers will help spread the word about what you’re up to.
The gimmicks and tricks are almost always a waste of your time and just a way for someone else to get attention or make a sale from useless information.
Enough Lessons, Here’s How I Earned $103,500
Remember when I said that the size of your online audience doesn’t really matter?
Here’s what I mean by that.
This site attracted 138,500 visits from 81,228 unique visitors in its first year (from March 16, 2010 to March 15, 2011), here are the weekly visits totals:
The site directly earned just over $103,500 in revenue during the same period. If you divide the revenue by the unique visitors, that means for every single person who visited this site at any time during the past year, it earned $1.27. That’s every single visitor, regardless of source, and regardless of which content they arrived at.
How much does your site earn per visitor? You may not need as many visitors as you think to earn a good living.
81,228 unique visitors may seem like a lot, depending on your situation, or maybe you have many more visitors. There are lots of sites out there that attract at least that many visitors per month.
My point is, you don’t have to build a gigantic audience to earn a comfortable living as long as you focus on providing insane value and offering compelling products. Then build a modest audience of committed readers and customers.
I’m going to hold back from digressing too much here, but to me this is the true promise of the Internet. It’s not that you could be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin. The chances of that happening are ridiculously minuscule, and most of us don’t want that life anyway. The true promise of the Internet is that each of us can build a thriving lifestyle business that makes us happy, lets us live the life we want and makes the world a better place.
[end of minor digression]
If you’re curious about how that $103,500 breaks down for this site, I earned revenue from three sources over the past year. Here’s how they break down:
At the same time I conceived this blog, I also envisioned a comprehensive training course on how to build traffic online. That thought became Traffic School nearly a year later and that single product accounts for the majority of revenue made through this site in the first year.
I don’t necessarily recommend you wait so long or embark on creating something nearly as comprehensive for your first product, especially if you haven’t created an online product before. Try developing something smaller and get input from your readers as you’re creating it.
Also, don’t forget that creating the product and making it the best you can is only half of the battle. The other key to creating a successful product is generating interest and anticipation before the product launches. My favorite guide to how to create a successful first info product is How to Launch the **** Out of Your Ebook. Check it out if you’re planning to build a product. It’s the best $97 you could spend.
- Consulting – 35% (by working with over 20 clients last year on marketing and site development projects)
I launched consulting services very early on here, and at first I struggled to earn enough on an hourly basis to make it worth my time while still leaving me time to spend on creating content and products.
All that struggling stopped after I discovered and read Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. This book literally changed my entire consulting strategy and helped me avoid the dreaded consulting “hamster wheel” that so many freelancers find themselves stuck on.
If you haven’t planned on doing any consulting, I have to tell you it can be very rewarding. Also, there’s an important reason why it can help the rest of your business. When you work with clients, you often come to understand problems that affect thousands of other people out there. Those problems can easily be turned into successful content and products if you pay attention and take notes.
I want to give a very special thank you to the 20+ clients I worked with last year. You made this business possible and I hope I’ve given you my best through our projects. Here’s to a monster 2011 for all of us. Thank you again for supporting me and my work.
- Affiliate marketing – 10% (earning a commission for selling other people’s products)
Finally, the smallest part of my business (at this blog) this year was affiliate marketing. I actually do more affiliate marketing through other sites, but haven’t focused on it as much here. Even still, I was able to add a decent amount of extra revenue to my top line here by recommending select resources I believe in.
Get Your Free Business Plan Workbook for Building a Successful Blog-based Business
I’ve taken everything I learned from the first year of Think Traffic (and the first two years of my other site), and packaged them into a new comprehensive business plan workbook for bloggers.
This six-page workbook will walk you through a series of 33 in-depth questions you need to ask yourself to create a successful business around your blog.
I’ll be releasing the workbook for free later this week, so watch here to get your copy.
Now let’s open it up for questions in the comments. What would you like to know about how to build a successful blog-based business? Feel free to ask anything, I’m more than happy to answer.
And as always, if this article helped you, you can help me out by Tweeting this article or “liking” it on Facebook using the buttons below. Thanks!