For the past 5 years I’ve had the privilege of being able to work full-time from home on my own online businesses. Whenever the subject of what I do for a living comes up in conversation it always leads to a lot of questions. Over the years I’ve had a number of friends and family members ask about what it takes to earn a living working online, and I also get emails from people I come across online or from blog readers who have similar questions.
I thought it might be helpful to write about some of the things that I consider to be extremely influential in my career over the past 7 years (5 years full-time, 2 previous years part-time). The goal here is to shed some light on the things that have been the most critical for me, and I think much of this could be applied by others who are looking to pursue a similar path in their own career.
Keep in mind, this is just based on my personal experience and it’s only one person’s opinion. There are plenty of different ways to make money online and countless different approaches that you can take. This is what I know has worked for me.
1. Consistent Effort
Whenever anyone asks me about what it takes to build a successful online business the first thing I always say is consistent effort.
Most people, myself included, start their online business part-time. If you have a full-time job and you’re trying to build your own business on the side there are all kinds of distractions and excuses that you can make for not putting in enough effort and for giving up.
The reality is that building a successful business takes time, whether it’s an online business or a traditional business. For some reason when it comes to online business most people have unrealistic expectations and they want to be able to achieve success quickly. You’ll need to have some patience and be willing to put in a consistent effort, possibly with little to no return for several months.
Over the years I’ve been in contact with a lot of internet entrepreneurs and bloggers at all different stages and levels of success. I’ve seen people that were highly talented and on their way towards success, but they got discouraged that the results weren’t coming faster, and most of them gave up or moved on to a different project. I’ve seen plenty of others that put in a consistent effort and kept working until they achieved the success that they were after.
If I had to name one thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful through my experience with online business, I would say it is the effort that they are willing to give.
For me personally, I worked hard part-time for almost 2 years before getting to the point where I felt comfortable leaving my job to pursue my own business full-time. During that time I was constantly working late into the night and almost all weekend. I wasn’t making a ton of money, probably about $1,000 per month after a year and about $2,000 per month just before I left my full-time jpb. But I was seeing a growth in my business and I knew I was laying a foundation that would pay off in the future.
Getting started is by far the most challenging part for most people, and I know it was for me. If you can keep pressing forward and not get discouraged by the fact that you’re not making a lot of money right away, success can come later.
One of the hardest things to do when you’re building an online business is to stay focused. You’ll most likely have constant thoughts and ideas about new websites that you could start, but in order to maximize your success with any online business you’ll need to avoid those distractions and focus.
I’ve found that for me it works best to have one or two main projects going at any time, and then maybe another project on the side that requires very little time.
I know there are a lot of people out there that earn a living by making smaller amounts of money from many different websites. For me, this approach just doesn’t work. If I have too much going on I wind up spreading myself thin and not doing a good job with any of the projects.
Over the years I’ve had to resist the temptation to start new websites so I could focus on maximizing the results with my current projects. At times I get off track and distracted for a while, but when I’m spinning my wheels trying to do to many different things at once I’ll eventually regain my focus on get rid of the unneeded distractions. It’s not easy, but I’ve found that staying focused has led to much better results in my own work.
Another major key to success with online business is being able to build a strong professional network. Networking is beneficial for so many different reasons like link building, advice, help with promotions, finding new opportunities, and introductions to even more people.
When I was working part-time, networking was one of the things that I focused on. My primary project at the time was a blog, so I was working proactively to get to know other bloggers and people who ran websites in the industry. Ultimately, the connections I made and the relationships that developed had a major influence on me being able to grow my own blog.
4. Freelance Blogging
One of the strategies I used for growing my first blog was to write guest posts for other blogs. My main motivation was to get a link in the author bio. Those links could send some traffic to my blog and also help for increasing search engine traffic.
What I didn’t expect was that guest posting for other blogs would be one of the most effective things I could do for networking. After getting in contact with a few bloggers and editors and working with them to get my guest posts published, I realized that writing for them was helping me to build really strong connections. Those bloggers and editors were in need of quality content for their blog, and that’s what I was offering them for free. I was also helping to promote the posts via social media once they were published, and the end result was the bloggers and editors were happy to publish my posts.
I didn’t pursue guest posting for the purpose of networking, but that turned out to be an even bigger benefit than the click through traffic and SEO boost that I got from those guest posts.
Another surprise was that writing free guest posts actually led to some opportunities to work as a paid freelance blogger. I had one editor ask me to write on a regular basis as a paid writer, and it turned out to be pretty good income for me while I also worked on increasing my income from my own sites. I wound up pursuing other freelance blogging opportunities and making some strong networking connections while being paid to write.
If you’re looking to build your own network I would definitely recommend writing for some other blogs in your industry, whether you are paid or just working on free guest posts. If you’re specifically looking for paid opportunities the ProBlogger job board is a good resource. Also, many blogs will have a “write for us” page that gives information about submitting your own posts.
5. Prioritizing My Own Projects
While I did pursue freelance writing opportunities and I have always done some client work on the side as well (services like consulting, writing, social media marketing, design, and SEO), these things have never been prioritized over my own projects and my own websites.
In the early days it was more profitable in the short-term for me to dedicate my time to freelance writing and other client projects, but I knew that I only wanted to use those things as supplemental income. I wanted to earn the majority of my income from my own websites, and that meant that I had to leave enough time to work on growing those websites. I made less money in the short-term because my work on my own sites wasn’t paying off right away, but before long that changed and my own websites started accounting for the majority of my income.
Freelance writing and other service-related work present great opportunities to make some money online, but if you really want to have more freedom in your work you’ll need to prioritize building sites of your own, even if it means sacrificing some income in the short-term.
6. Development of Quality Blog Content
The majority of my success online can be either directly or indirectly attributed to blogging. Whether it is the income that I’ve made by selling ads on a blog, or the products that I’ve been able to sell as a result of traffic generated by blog posts, no other strategy has had as big on an influence on my income.
There are millions of blogs out there, and in order to stand out you need to have quality, original content. Otherwise it’s difficult, if not impossible, to stand out.
7. Diversification of Traffic and Revenue
For a few years the majority of the money that I made from my websites came from advertising sales. After a while I worked on establishing some other sources of revenue with the same websites, like affiliate marketing and product sales. That diversification has been key over the past few years as it’s allowed me to increase my overall income by adding new revenue streams, and also it’s helped me to have more stability in my income.
The past few years have been rough for a lot of websites that make money exclusively from advertising because Google has implemented several major changes in their algorithm that has resulted in huge traffic losses for many sites. Decreased traffic is a major issue if advertising is your only source of revenue, but if you have some other sources of revenue you’re not so vulnerable.
With Google search traffic being so unpredictable for many websites, having diversification in traffic sources has become increasingly important. Over the years I worked on building links from other sites, which brought click-through traffic. I also worked on increasing blog subscribers, which led to direct traffic and repeat visitors. Having diversity is much safer than relying primarily on one source for your traffic, regardless of what that one source may be.
8. Moving to Product Sales
Not too long ago I started to prioritize selling digital products as one of my main sources of revenue. The way things are right now with Google, I would be very hesitant to pour all of my energy into websites that exclusively or primarily make money from selling ad space or AdSense. Things are just too unpredictable and too many sites have lost huge amounts of traffic overnight.
While losses in traffic can hurt regardless of how you make money with your website, it’s more crippling with ad sales than with some other approaches. For example, with product sales if I were to experience a big drop in traffic I could put more effort into recruiting affiliates to promote my products at their sites, and I could even increase the percentage that I pay to affiliates to make it more enticing. I could also sell products at third party sites, like marketplaces (Etsy for example) and daily deal sites. If you’re relying on ad revenue there is really nothing you can do without traffic to your site.
9. Website/Blog Sales
When it comes to the topic of selling a website or blog some people are strongly opposed to it and feel that you’d be foolish to sell a profitable website. Others build sites specifically with the goal of selling them. Of course, there are pros and cons to selling websites and everyone’s situation is different.
From my own experience, selling websites and blogs has been key. I’ve made pretty good money selling profitable sites, and another benefit is that I’ve been able to free up time to work on other projects.
I mentioned earlier that staying focused is a struggle but something I work towards achieving. Every time I’ve sold a website or blog it has been, at least in part, to free up my time to pursue another website that I’ve been wanting to make the center of my focus. Rather than trying to manage too many different things and allowing a profitable website to become neglected and decline in value, I’ve opted to sell and cash in while freeing up a lot of time. It’s a strategy that’s worked quite well for me.
If you have any questions or feedback related to these points, please leave a comment below.