I love to tell people that when this blog started back in 2006, I told other financial bloggers about wanting to make money with my site. I didn’t know how I would achieve my goal yet, but I was reading about people like John Chow  and Pro Blogger  making 6 figures with their sites and thought I should join the party. Most bloggers told me that was dumb and that the day I would be making $200 per month, I would be a star PF blogger… well! Ah!
I didn’t let these “encouragements” get to me and grew a thick skin. I concentrated on writing cool stuff that inspired me, thinking I would eventually reach out to people. It worked out pretty well and I now run several financial blogs. But it wasn’t that easy at the beginning…
Back in March 2008, I had been blogging for about 18 months when I decided to buy half of my partner’s existing websites to create a corporation. We called it M35 because we want to become millionaires by the age of 35 (the clock is still ticking… only three years left!). In order to buy his sites, I had to put several thousand into the kitty. It was my leap of faith to be part of a much bigger adventure.
I had to prove myself as a writer and a marketer for 18 months before my friend offered me this partnership. He was working part time on his site and part time on our new ones. During this period, I proved to him (and myself) that I could work long hours without seeing immediate results. That I could simply hold the fort as long as was necessary to earn a penny at the end of the day. I still remember I used to fill an Excel spreadsheet with my hours each Friday night. I was counting everything!
Once we created the incorporation, we took what used to be a hobby to another level. We wanted to make money – I wanted to make some money back from my investment! We started to get a few emails from advertisers to place links on our homepage. We were making slightly over $1,000 per month and I felt like a king!
In 2009, we made our first important deal when I remortgaged my house to buy a website. Who would pay the price of a brand new car to buy a domain and a few posts? I was crazy enough to do it. A year later, our gross online income went from $18,403 to $124,514 . We sold some websites, made some great money and I reimbursed my loan.
This is when we understood that we were darn good online at buying and optimizing existing websites. All our investments generated at least 30% return on a yearly basis. For three years in a row, my partner and I grossed over $100K/year (so 50K gross each) without working more than 10 hours per week. The derived income from our company was the equivalent of roughly $30K each per year. Those were the good years…
The Personal Finance Blogosphere has changed a lot since 2006. Back then, we were roughly 100 known blogs sharing a huge pie. Google liked blogs a lot back then and offered a special place in search engines for any good content. I remember at one point that I could rank on the first page of Google within 2 days after writing an article about this topic. Believe it or not but I used to rank on the first page for keyword like “Primerica” due to my Primerica Reviews  and its 1,000+ comments.
Making money online today is definitely harder than it was back then. The competition in the financial niche has increased to the point where there are now over 1,000 active PF blogs. I doubt there are 10 times more readers to read them! On top of that, gaming Google has become more popular and blogs don’t have special place in search engines anymore. Therefore, if I had to start a PF blog today, it would be a lot more work to reach the level that I am at right now. Most people I know hit a plateau around 10,000 visitors per month and stay there forever.
Is it still a good idea to start a blog today? How much can you earn with it?
These are pretty good questions. Starting a PF blog today means a lot of work. It’s not like you can simply write about your quest to pay off your debts and review the latest balance transfer credit card hoping people will sign-up for it. The commission on a credit card is still pretty good (between $50 and $70 depending on the card) but the web is so crowded with credit card reviews, that I doubt you can actually base a business model on it.
There are tons of affiliate offers out there but making money selling stuff online isn’t the Klondike. It’s not that easy. Just think about how many times you have bought a financial product (savings account, credit card, consolidation loan, investment account, book, etc) online from a blogger… yeah…. the answer is probably close to ZERO. You need to create a feeling of trust and build a psychological funnel that will direct your readers towards buying the product or service you use and recommend. Still, it’s a long process and involves a lot of trial and errors.
The most popular way to make money online has always been going through Adsense. In the finance niche, this is a great bet as you can make over $0.50/click pretty easily. Some topics such as insurance are paying easily over $1 per click. Therefore, you don’t need 10,000 clicks in your month to make a thousand bucks. Still, Google is using is double hedged sword here again. If you optimize your Adsense earnings to the point where Adsense is more important than your content in the eyes of Google, you will lose your ranking in search engines and will make less money. Therefore, you can’t be too good at Adsense, you have to use it with parsimony. If you do so, making a few hundred per month is feasible but you won’t buy a BMer with that income either! I wrote a full post about Adsense Optimization for PF Bloggers .
The most popular source of income for PF bloggers had long been private advertising. Selling links on your blog to company trying to game Google. Sounds risky but darn lucrative! At one point, I was making between $6,000 and $8,000 per month simply by selling links. Companies were willing to pay up to $75/month for a link on my homepage! This window of opportunity is now closed as Google hit the financial industry early in 2012. At this point, most of the easy money has dried out from the private advertising field. Buying links and gaming Google is still very popular, but methods have changed and big clients are staying away from this. If you sell private links on your site you will be able to make a few hundred per month, but it will never bring you to a 6 figure income.
Down to real expectations; if you start a PF blog today and you work really hard on it, my guess is that you will be making about $1,000 per month after 12 months. But those 12 months will be at 15 to 20 hours per week of work and you won’t be earning much for a while. Once you reach $1,000 per month, you can drop to 10 hours per week to maintain your blog. At that point, you will be making roughly $20 per hour from your blog. This is a good income but it is definitely nothing to write home about.
I always knew that if I want to make money in life, I need a sideline. My day job is great but it’s not exponential. I work well; I get a nice paycheck with benefits and a bonus at the end of the year. The following year, I have to start all over again. There is nothing more to gain but my year-end bonus that is not scalable.
If you can grow your business, it is possible to scale your results. At this point, you work less and make even more money. Plus, what you have built has a value. If I had to sell my websites today, I would certainly not get what I think they’re worth, but I would definitely be able to sell them separately at a very good price. I can’t sell my job or my brain the same way I can sell my websites.
I also started an online company to make sure I was independent from my day job. I know I can lose my job but I also know that I’m sitting on an income generator ready to be fired-up if I need additional cash flow. This is a lot better than an emergency fund!
The business has grown tougher as both money and traffic is harder to obtain your way. Nonetheless, I’m ready for another round of hard work to make even more money. I’ve created this company to become a millionaire at the age of 35 and I have 3 years before I turn 36.
I have written about some of my failures over time on this blog (you can read how I failed with my first eBook  and how Martin failed at launching his product ). These are important reality checks you will need to get before you embark upon this adventure. We are not only talking about hard work, we are also talking about the likely chances of not making it.
Sorry gals & guys but if you haven’t started your blog yet, you have missed the window of opportunity  to do it. It doesn’t mean you can’t make it today, but it means that the easy money has been already made and there are some big players rolling where you won’t be able to step in.
As I mentioned before, making $1,000 per month with a new blog after a year will be quite an achievement. A few years ago, I could expect to make that within 3 months and see the blog making over $3,000 per month after a year simply by selling private advertising. This is not going to happen anytime soon and chances are that Google will take away all your traffic if you sell links on your site. With no traffic, you won’t be making income anymore!
If you have a chance to escape all this crap and make money with your blog, it won’t happen by using Google. I think there is a lot of room online for other successes but it won’t be done through search engines. Don’t get me wrong, Google Traffic is worth a lot and it is always nice to have it. But I’ve learned one thing about the web over the past 7 years: you can’t trust Google! One day you rank on the first page and the next morning you have disappeared from the search engines. Glenn @ Viperchill makes a shocking demonstration of how Google completely screwed its search engine algorithm here  and there . After reading both posts and doing a few searches on the internet, I can only agree with his theory… Right now, Google likes fresh content over anything else. No matter how great you content is, if it’s old, it can be outranked within minutes with a poor quality article. This is Quite Disgusting.
So if your plan is to rely on building a great site and then doing SEO to get more traffic, I can tell you are entering the race blindfolded… good luck! It’s like playing a game where you don’t know all the rules and they can be changed at any time.
The key is to build a community (yeah, I know you read that a million times!), but cliché just works! My biggest success with community is my dividend network and the newsletter attached to it. Each time I send an email, I get around 100 answers. Nobody can take this away from me! If I had to start over again with a brand new site, the first thing I would do is to build a list. You can read more about how to create your newsletter and make money out of it here .
I once read it doesn’t matter how many readers go to your website. That’s only good for your ego but it doesn’t fill your pocket with money. The only readers that count are the one that are engaged, that comment and answer back. The rest are only there for the free stuff; they take and don’t give back. Would you feed your neighborhood with your best spaghetti sauce? That’s what happening on the web if you don’t monetize your site!
There is something worse than trusting Google and it’s to trust online marketing gurus. They are not evil, far from it, but they are just a bunch of people making money online and trying to figure out what is going on with Google. Some gurus advocate genuine link building, while others will tell you that gaming Google is the only way and others will ask you to register for their course so they can teach you how to write compelling content and create a bond with your readers.
The problem is that they are all right. They are right because they found a way to succeed in the online industry. But they found their way, not your way. There are tons of ways to make money online and you need what you are good at. It can be link building, writing awesome stuff, networking, social media, monetization, conversion, lead creation, flipping sites, Adsense optimization etc. You can find dozens of gurus for each technique. Don’t waste your time trying all of them and following everybody’s advice. Here are a few examples of how gurus make their money with different strategies:
Glenn @ Viperchill  does a lot of SEO and link building
Justin & Joe @ Empire Flippers  are building sites to sell them
John Chow @ John Chow Dot Com  is making money telling people how to make money (the most common business model ;-))
Jon @ Authority Website Income  makes money from a methodical link building strategy using VAs and expired domains link redirect.
Spencer @ Niche Pursuits  is making money from niche websites based on extensive keyword research.
Chris Ducker @ Chris Ducker  makes money from VA training and hiring for other people.
Pat Flynn @ Smart Passive Income  makes money from building a deep bond with his readers and selling affiliate products.
They all make over 6 figures and all follow different paths. So technically, they all hold the holy grail and drinking their Koolaid will lead you to the infinite potential of the online industry… but the problem is that you have to pick the 1 way that you like, master and follow through. Trying to become all these gurus at once will burn you. This is why it is important to find your own style.
Further on down the road, there is another reality check I need to share with you. Working online is not different than working in the real world. If you think you can’t make it with a brick and mortar business but you can do it online; you are wrong. It’s not because you can work on your laptop in a Starbucks that makes you the next Pro Blogger. The glamorous aspect of blogging is attractive: how about working when you want, where you want and raking in a 6 figure income while you sleep? Nobody would spit on that.
But that’s the end result a few people reach. You would probably reach the same level of wealth with any other type of business. Imagine if you had 6 rental properties or owned a $10M business recycling plastic? You would be making a six figure income while you sleep the same way you would do with blogging.
Can you imagine how hard it is to put money aside and build your real estate empire? Or how many hours you need to put into hard work to build a $10M recycling business? Well similar efforts will be required if you want to build a 6 figure income blog! It’s not easier because it’s online! It will require that you work hard, long hours for almost nothing in your pocket. One day, maybe, if you are lucky, you will reach the top and make money. Or you could also fail miserably like thousands of other bloggers who quit after 12 months of writing, commenting, hard work… but without any results.
Is buying blogs a safe business model? Why not? After all, you buy a domain where there is already traffic and where you only have to put your links here and there to make some money. It’s not that simple either!
I went into a lot of details as far as my buying blog process  goes. So far, I haven’t made any bad investments. However, some of them were/are not as profitable as I thought they’d have been. This is always a problem since the dynamics of a website changes every 6 months or so. A Google update, a new affiliate, a shift in trends could all be good reasons why your site generates more or less money. The problem is the dynamics are changing constantly. Before you buy a blog, you want to make sure there is some stability. Never buy something 12 months old. The site has only gone through 2 dynamic changes and could easily drop flat in a few months and you would lose all your money. If you can buy a blog with a brand, it’s even better!
Buying a blog such as Smart Passive Income would be an awesome deal. Most people think the opposite because they see Pat as being the main icon behind the site. However, since this site has so much powerful content and its ranking well all over the web (youtube, google, podcast, facebook, etc), you wouldn’t have any problem making $30K/month for several months, read years before it fades away.
I think this is a business model that will continue to work very well. Think about it; most of the time, you can buy a great blog within 4 years of gross income. Chances are that the blog you are looking at isn’t that big and you can buy it as cheap as twice his past 12 months’ gross income. When you think that buying a rental property would cost you 14-15 times the yearly gross income, buying a blog looks like the most lucrative investment on the planet!
If you are looking to generate extra income from a website, you probably found a few buzz words within your research. Since blogging requires you write content on a steady basis, this is very demanding. Most of your blog posts can’t generate money either because your readers will be bored from your credit card reviews pretty fast. Therefore, you need to spend a lot of time building your community in the hopes of making money one day. Since blogging is so rough these days, internet marketers came up with other types of websites requiring less work but generating more money. Isn’t this paradise for any online entrepreneur? Here’s a quick resume of all the cool words and how you can make money from these types of sites.
Niche Site: this is a small site with 5 to 25 pages of content on it. The goal is quite simple; rank in search engines and get visitors to generate income. The most common type of niche aims at Adsense, Amazon or a specific affiliate program as a source of income. Depending on the niche and its traffic, you can generate something between $25 and $500 per month. If you generate more than that, this probably means your site is bigger and you fall in the second category.
Authority Site: the authority site is often confused with a niche site. It makes sense since both are targeting a specific topic. The main difference is authority site is an enhanced version of the niche site. It shows more content, often of better quality, more options (such as a forum, newsletter or other types of interaction). The income potential is higher but the work required is more demanding too. It’s not as demanding as a blog in terms of content creation but adding a fresh piece once in a while is always a plus to keep your site on top of the others. While the niche site is “just another wordpress site”, the authority site should definitely add value to the world of internet.
Epic Shit: Many bloggers have referred to epicness over the past 3 years. I’ve been part of it ;-). There are a few variations of the word epic such as a “whale post”, “pillar article”, “authority article”, “reference”, etc. An Epic article would be like the one you are reading right now; tons of content and hindsight about a specific topic. I wrote this article to share my thoughts and knowledge about making money online in 2013-2014. I think it will be a great reference for many of you in the future and probably help you avoid making a beginner’s mistake. Epic articles are highly time consuming and don’t necessarily give something back to the writer… immediately. I’m thinking that if I write less stuff but always this quality, I might get a bigger readership! Another Epic article I wrote is how I run multiple blogs without working much .
I’ll be honest with you; it’s been three months that I’m lagging behind on making a 6 figure income this year. For the first time in four years I might not make over 100K this year. I’m still making good money (especially for a sideline!) but I don’t treat myself as I used to with my online money. I like to be accountable for my actions and this is why I blame it all on me. I wasn’t smart enough to see it coming and assumed that the online environment would be pretty much the same for several years.
On the other hand, I’m not happy with the status quo and can’t stand failing. This is why I’m currently rethinking my whole business model and looking a different opportunities. The eBook business has recouped a part of my lost income and I hope my future membership site will generate revenues as well. My first book on sale at Amazon is still generating between $200 and $300 of income one year after I’ve launched it. Writing another book would take me roughly 6 months and I would be making another $250/month of passive income.
As far as my membership website, the moment you reach 100 subscribers at $10/month, you just generated $1,000 of semi-passive income. The key is to offer a premium service and this is why we haven’t launched yet.
As far as blogging, I’m not quite sure where I will go with my blogs. We own several great sites but we need to pay for content creation and paid writers are never as engaged as website owners. So chances are that this model will eventually fade out if we keep it this way.
Niche sites and authority websites are still on the radar as they generate a few hundred per month without taking a second of my time. I just wish I could create bigger sites generating higher income! This is definitely something I need to work on for 2014.
If I had to start all over today, I would definitely start by buying a site that already works and optimize it. I still think it’s the best way to make money on the internet; let others build a site ranking in Google for you! Then, building a newsletter is probably the key for being independent of external forces. But beyond everything, I would my focus on only a few sites and work hard on those exclusively. The biggest weakness of my empire was once its strength; we are everywhere. Right now, we don’t seem being able to manage everything and have simply put too many things on autopilot. This is the biggest mistake we have made; there are no autopilots during a Google Storm!
How about your site? Do you have problem managing it? Would you start a blog today to make money online?