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As I sit here in my cold Canadian basement office, with a fresh cup of hot coffee in my hand and my trusty hound by my side, I think to myself – “Have I made it yet?”
It’s a question we all ask ourselves from time to time on this journey, and one only we ourselves know the answer to.
Knowing whether you’ve been successful really comes down to whether or not you’ve achieved what you set out to do in the first place.
Everyone has different goals and standards, and so it’s impossible to measure your progress against anyone’s meter stick but your own.
For me, the goal was always to work for myself. Be my own boss. Make my own schedule. Be independent.
It seems that most people, at least when starting their online endeavors, seek a similar goal. The problem is, getting to that goal is a lot like climbing a mountain;
You seem to be on an endless uphill struggle. You take occasional tumbles here and there, sometimes stop for rest, but each time you get back up knowing that you’re getting closer and closer to the next checkpoint on the way to the summit.
The peak for me (and I’m sure for most people) almost seemed like it was too far away to reach. It was intimidating and seemed nearly impossible.
It’s been a long hike, but I feel like I’ve just about reached the summit.
Why, you ask? Because I haven’t had a traditional “job” for 4 months now, and I have yet to starve to death.
I write here on this blog (which I already stated only makes a few hundred bucks a month) but I also have my own company, Top Shelf Media, that designs websites and manages social media for a variety of clients.
The two combined provide (more than) a full time income for me to the point where I now make more than my previous job as a corporate accountant. Isn’t that what everyone wants from this?
Starting and growing my company was really the turning point for me financially, BUT it would never have gotten to that point without my blog and my blogging experience.
It’s taken some time and I think the journey I’ve taken is a little interesting, so I’m going to share it with you today. Maybe there’ll be something for you to take inspiration from, or maybe it’ll be boring and you’ll hate me forever – there’s only one way to find out!
I’ll try to format it as a timeline, because I think it’s important to know how long things take, what steps I took, and looking back on what I would have done differently.
It all started with a little network marketing company named Visalus – aka “The Challenge”.
I was really into fitness and particularly running at the time, and a friend of mine said she had heard of a new supplement company that you could make money from by referring people.
The company and their products had proven successful in the states and was just launching in the UK, and so the earlier we got into it, *potentially* the more successful we could be.
I was looking for a way to make money, I liked the fitness industry, and so this seemed like a good fit for me.
The method of selling for the company, was to hold “parties” and introduce people the products and show them some videos etc. in the hope that they would make an order – fairly standard procedure for these types of companies.
However, that seemed like a lot of hard work to me – plus I didn’t have that many people I could sell to locally.
I started my first blog on Blogger, wrote for it regularly and did my utmost to find customers.
Here’s the site, barely functional but 100% embarrassing http://toms90daychallenge.blogspot.ca/
At this point I knew nothing of SEO, effectively using social media, or really anything to do with internet marketing!
It was a bust.
I made a grand total of zero sales through my blog. Luckily I made enough offline sales to break even and get free protein powder for 3 or 4 months (almost worth it).
I realized that I was probably going to have to try a different product or learn a little bit more about online marketing.
I made the move to Canada in July 2013 and took a couple of months just to settle in and take a look around.
I was having a hard time finding work in Canada due to the work permit restrictions and waiting times in place. I knew I had to start making some money somehow, and so I started my next scheme.
I’ve always been a little bit of a hustler. I always knew that if I wanted something, I could probably trade something else for it, or sell something I had that I didn’t need/want in order to buy it.
I knew the importance of buying things that maintained their value, and would sell quickly so they were near enough “liquid” assets. (Maybe I’ll write a post buying and selling as a side hustle at some point, as I still make some extra money just from opportunity buys and selling them at a premium – let me know if you want to see that)
Around this time I decided that I wanted to start an online store. Unfortunately I had no idea how to do that.
So, I turned to eBay.
I took a look around and noticed that the market in Canada for mobile phone cases was fairly unsaturated – especially on the lower price end of the spectrum.
So I bought up a batch of 40 cool cases and started listing them. I was buying them for approx. $3 each and selling for $6 – which isn’t too bad a margin.
Unfortunately though, postage is extortionate in Canada (probably due to everything being so far apart and having issues with transport in the snow) – and so after postage and packaging I was only making just over $1 per case sold.
Now, that’s still an okay margin, but after doing some quick maths and realizing I was only selling around 20 a month – it just didn’t seem worth it. Now I understood why there weren’t many others doing it.
At this point I had a full time job in Canada as a corporate accountant – finally.
To be honest, when I look at my online history, I usually disregard anything prior to this time, because this is when things really started getting more serious.
I knew I wanted to be making money online, and I knew I needed some help to do it.
So I went and bought a book named “The Laptop Millionaire“. (I still highly recommend it by the way)
I think I read almost all of the book that same day, and finished it the very next morning.
I felt like I had everything I needed and was ready to go. I was going to dominate the online world.
I was an accountant, I had been for years, and so it made the most sense to me to start a website that taught people something I knew about, which turned out to be: how to do their books.
Unimaginatively the website was due to reside at HowToBookkeep.com.
The only thing is – how do I make a website?
I had made my Blogger site before, but even I knew that it was trash. So I got in touch with an old friend of mine who I knew could give some advice on the matter.
He got back to me with a resounding “WORDPRESS” – perfect, I thought.
So I went along to WordPress.com and made an account.
Anyone who’s been doing this for more than a few months can tell me exactly what’s wrong with that last sentence.
It took me weeks before I even figured out that I should be on WordPress.org. (By the way, check out this post if you need to make the move yourself Move WordPress.com to WordPress.org With Ease)
So eventually I got hosting and made the move – what a nightmare that was figuring it all out for the first time! I bought a premium theme and started making content.
I had been reading the Laptop Millionaire book and so I knew that once I had content and traffic I just had to monetize and hey presto – I’d be a millionaire.
Except, what the book doesn’t teach you is about marketing and finding a target audience and knowing what your audience wants, aka market research.
There were a couple of things wrong with this, but mainly it was that I was using a site aimed at teaching people how to bookkeep, but then producing an eBook about just cash flow which didn’t really make any sense.
Anyway, I wrote the thing. In a weekend.
I was so pumped to write it, release it and rake in the millions that I literally started when I got home from work on Friday. I stayed up writing till midnight, started at 6am on Saturday and wrote all the way up until midnight on Saturday, then woke up at 6am on Sunday, and finished by midday.
I then made the eCommerce store on my site, put it up for sale and sat and waited.
24 hours later and I hadn’t made a single sale.
I was bummed.
All that work for nothing.
When I look back on it, even though I know I made mistakes, and I know I wasn’t successful; this process taught me so much abut WordPress and how websites, hosting and email worked that I don’t regret it one bit.
I think I ended up making 2 or 3 sales over the last few years through a service called SmashWords completely randomly.
I still had my bookkeeping blog, but I was so disheartened by my lack of eBook sales that I barely updated it.
I kept exploring though, and one of the websites that came to my attention was ClickBank.
There were products on there that I could sell for a commission in the same way I originally sold Visalus, except the products were virtual so I believed they may actually work online.
I started looking around, googling how to make money with ClickBank. It was at this point that I stumbled across a program named “Google Sniper”. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Google Sniper is actually in itself a ClickBank product.
I bought the Google Sniper program (unsure who made the commission) and started following the course. It promised to show you how to identify niches, create sites, rank them for specific keywords on Google and then sell ClickBank products to the site visitors.
Of course, now I know that it’s complete B.S. and SEO doesn’t work like that, but this opened up a whole new world to me – the world of search engine optimization.
I started reading more and more and trying to learn the techniques to get sites to show up on Google.
I may not have known exactly how to get any site to the top of Google, but I had a rough idea.
More than that though, I knew how to complete rudimentary tasks like keyword research, or an on-page SEO analysis without any problems.
So I started an account on Fiverr and started selling those services as “gigs”.
It took off fairly quickly, and before I knew it I was making an extra $200-300 a month.
This was my first REAL success with selling online.
The only problem was that I realized very quickly that this wasn’t scalable. It was unlikely I wasn’t ever going to earn much more than what I already was with Fiverr, plus they take a pretty big chunk of your revenue as their fee.
So, I started offering full SEO services to my Fiverr customers in early 2015 and ended up with a small customer base outside of Fiverr (see full article here on how I did that How To Make REAL Money On Fiverr).
Here’s the problem though – buyers on Fiverr are there for one reason and one reason only; to get cheap services.
Most Fiverr buyers are looking for a lot for a little. They only want to spend $5 but expect the world in return.
I quickly discovered that, while my new clients were extremely nice people, they had extremely unrealistic expectations for my services with their limited budgets.
It quickly came down to; do I work my ass off and make no money, or do I just end this here and move on?
I inevitably decided that I needed to move on.
In September 2015 I started this blog.
Originally it started as TomWattsBlog.com, but after not too long I decided that a more descriptive domain name should be used, and so I switched to BlogTrafficBuilder.com.
As mentioned before, this blog does okay financially, or at least okay enough for me to justify keeping it going.
At the same time, I also started a blog at QuickEasyFit.com – combined with my experience from trying to make howtobookkeep.com work, this is what really set me up to start this blog you’re on right now.
Quick Easy Fit was started with a friend who would write the articles and I would do all of the promotion.
We got to 8,000 Facebook likes and 6,000 Twitter followers in just a few months.
Eventually though (of course just as we were about to start monetizing) the friend decided they didn’t want to write anymore. It was a women’s health and fitness blog, and so I ended up selling the blog via Flippa for just over $1,000.
By this point I had decided that SEO was too unpredictable and if Google changed the rules tomorrow (which as you all know that’s very possible) it could put an SEO business in jeopardy overnight.
I really liked making, maintaining and fixing WordPress sites though, and so that seemed like the most sensible route for me to explore next.
Coding was always my shortfall however; I had learned what I could over the years, but had no formal training and relied on others’ help to get me through.
I didn’t believe I could be a viable web developer without knowing at least some code.
So on Black Friday, I went to Udemy and bought 6 or 7 coding courses – for just $10 each. Normally these courses would have been upwards of $300 each.
I’m pretty sure they do this every year and Black Friday is coming up so watch out for that if you’ve been procrastinating on upping your knowledge game.
I spent the next few months learning to code properly – and while I’m by no means an expert, I can now code in HTML, CSS, JS and PHP fluently as well as having learnt some Bootstrap, which is all you really need for WordPress sites anyway.
At this point I felt confident enough to start working on sites other than my own.
I wanted to get out there and start getting clients. One of the courses I’d taken had recommended using UpWork as a way to start getting some freelance work.
So I went and made a profile and started applying for jobs right away. I think I got one or two jobs just on that first day.
I completed the tasks and took payment, this whole making money online thing was finally starting to work!
Between January and June I took on various clients through UpWork and friend referrals while still working a full time job.
I made it clear to my clients that I did have a full time job and could only work evenings and weekends, but none of them cared.
I made new websites, I redesigned sites and I fixed other people’s shoddy work too!
Aside from Udemy, all of my previous experiences and lessons had been leading up to this.
The whole time I’d been making money and blogging, it was just a case of finding out what was going to be the most successful way to get by, and also find something that I actually enjoyed doing.
I quit my job and started Top Shelf Media.
At this point I had enough clients (and was just taking on 2 more larger clients) that I could leave my job.
That was the goal, to be free from an employer – however at this time I was unsure how long it would last.
The timing wasn’t ideal and it was a lot of hard work. But I’ve now, in November 2016, made it to the point where my company brings in enough to keep me afloat and allow me to really take control of my own life.
It took me three and a half years to get to where I am today – which in retrospect really isn’t that long.
My biggest tip would just be to try and find something you like doing and use that to make your money. If you like writing, keep writing and attracting readers. If you like making things, keep making things and attracting customers.
Try something. Fail at something. Repeat until it works.Try something. Fail at something. Repeat until it works. Click To Tweet
If you’re only just starting out then just know that if you keep going, you’ll get there eventually. It’s hard work but it’s so so worth it.
I feel like I’ve just reached the summit, but all I can see now is the next peak. The journey continues, and I’m optimistic about the future.
Thanks for reading!
EXTRA: I’m considering doing a weekly “Answer your questions” posts where I’ll take questions emailed to me and write my responses in a post and possibly record a video.
Let me know what you think, and if you have a question right now (and you’re on a computer not a phone) there’s a little box with a question mark in the bottom right hand corner of this page – you can enter your question there – or just put it in the comments!
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