When it comes to making money online and the “passive income” dream, the first thing that comes to mind for many of us is blogging.
And why not? Examples of successful bloggers abound and the barriers of entry are practically non-existent. You can decide to start a blog now and be up and running in ten minutes time. Personally speaking, I attribute a great deal of my success to this blog.
But in my opinion (and with the benefit of hindsight), creating a blog with the aim of monetizing it is not the best way to build a sustainable online business quickly. Not by a long shot. Although I am a huge fan of blogging, in this post I want to play devil’s advocate and explain why it is an inferior method of making money online. I’ll also explain what I think you should do in order to give yourself the best possible chance of building a successful online business.
My Experience With Blogging
Leaving Work Behind is now over two years old and at the time of writing generates approximately $3,000 per month in direct net revenue. That’s not a small amount, but it pales in comparison to my freelance earnings, which are only likely to increase as Clear Blogging Solutions grows.
Although I believe that my blog income will eventually outstrip my current freelancing income record (~$6,000 in one month) and perhaps even the income generated by Clear Blogging Solutions, it will have been a long journey.
For the first fifteen months or so of its existence Leaving Work Behind operated at a loss. Furthermore, if I were able to to divide its lifetime net income by the total sum of hours spent on Leaving Work Behind, the hourly rate would be paltry.
My blogging journey has been beneficial for many reasons and I believe that I am near a tipping point where all of the hard work to date will truly begin to pay off. However, it has taken a long time and a great deal of hard work to get to this point.
The Problem With Blogging
The art of blogging is simple to learn but extremely difficult to master. Unless you know what you’re doing, it takes an awful long time to build a successful blogging brand.
That was the case with me — I was brand new to blogging in June 2011 and it has taken me over two years to really nail down in my head what Leaving Work Behind is all about. I believe that the next few months will see this blog explode in popularity, but it has been a long time coming.
Many people will point to the “overnight” success of certain blogs as evidence that one can become a successful blogger in a short space of time. One can argue that sites like Social Triggers are evidence of just how quickly a blog can take off. But Social Triggers wasn’t Derek Halpern’s first rodeo. He launched Social Triggers off the back of a string of successful websites — of which one attracted a million page views in just one day. By the time he had the idea for what is now one of the most successful online marketing blogs in the world, he had already cut his teeth on a number of different websites over a period of years.
When it came to launching Social Triggers, Derek drew upon his prior experience to create something that rose to the top quickly, but if you’re new to blogging you cannot expect to achieve the same. While you may be able to find example of overnight success stories, they are the exceptions to the rule and make it far too easy to dream about what could be.
The bottom line is this: if you want build a blog that will enable you to quit your job, you should expect to wait for at least a year (and probably much longer), and that’s if you have the patience and determination to slog through periods of stagnancy and demotivation. Let me put it this way: I would still be in the job that I left in December 2011 if I only had my blog’s income to rely upon. In fact, I may have given up altogether.
Blogging as a Business Model
It is extremely difficult to generate an income directly from a blog — it almost always requires an underlying business model.
The only real exception to this rule is affiliate marketing, but as far as I am concerned, generating an income from affiliate marketing without selling your soul is very difficult to do. It can so easily put you in a position where you compromise your morals (I consider this to be the case for even certain a-list bloggers who are mistakenly considered infallible by many). Furthermore, your income relies upon products created by others — a situation I wouldn’t like to bet my career on.
In my experience, blogs are most effective when acting as a source for client or customer leads for a business. The blog does not directly make money — it acts as a referral source for the machine that does make money.
But having a big audience does not mean that you will make a lot of money from them — directly or indirectly. If you build a blog with a huge audience that has no interest in spending money, you’re screwed.
And let’s face it: most people who read blogs have no prior interest in spending money on them. They come to read free content. You have to persuade them — often over an extended period of time — that whatever you have to sell to them is worth their hard-earned money. Doing so is not easy.
If you practically consider blogging as a business model for a moment, it’s absurd: trying to build a potential customer base out of people who aren’t interested in buying. If you had the choice between doing that or attempting to sell to people who are in a buying mood, which way would you go?
So What Should You Do?
Creating a business ultimately comes down to three approaches:
- Products, or
- A mixture of the above.
Whichever route you choose, the key is to create something of value and market it to people who may want to purchase it.
Regular readers of Leaving Work Behind will know that I am a huge fan of service provision as a means of building a sustainable online business with relative ease. While it may not be as glamorous as “passive income” business models, freelancing is a means of building a real business that can operate in the long term (do you think that niche sites are going to last forever?). Furthermore, as I am just beginning to show, you can adapt and evolve a freelancing business way beyond its original boundaries. The sky is the limit.
If you have a monetizeable asset, you should look very carefully into your freelancing options. For many of us, what we do in our day jobs can be freelanced (e.g. bookkeeping). Alternatively (or additionally), a particular skill you have that you may not fully appreciate could offer great opportunity (like writing did for me).
The alternative is to build an online business by selling products (either electronic or physical). There are a huge number of ways in which you can do this but my primary advice would be this: consider areas in which you have specialized knowledge and seek to utilize them. Find your “unfair advantage” and exploit it to its full potential.
I’ll give you an example — one that is unfolding before my eyes.
My girlfriend works as a sales rep for a cheese wholesaler and knows more about cheese than anyone else I know. She also knows how wholesalers work. She has also made cheese wedding cakes (like that bad boy to the right) for friends. It only takes brief clarity of thought to see how those qualities could be combined to launch a micro business selling cheese wedding cakes, and that is exactly what she is doing. (Incidentally, I’ll probably have more to tell you about that project in the future.)
Raise Your Business Idea from the Ground
I recently finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing, which offers many pearls of wisdom that I’ll be reflecting upon over the coming days and weeks. One of my favorites was his likening of as yet untold stories to buried fossils. King believes that stories are pre-existing — under the ground, so to speak, and your talent as an author is your ability to raise that fossil from the ground intact.
I think the same way about business ideas. I believe that you have a great business idea inside of you right now. It may be buried, perhaps deep underground and perhaps in so many fragmented parts, but it’s there. What you need to do is dig deep and excavate it.
To translate the analogy into practical terms, what you must do is explore the potential for a synergy of your strengths. If you can combine one or more of your relatively unique talents in an effective manner then you may well have a winning business idea on your hands.
The irony of my suggested approaches above is that you might well decide to create a blog as part of your business model. That’s absolutely fine — as long as the blog isn’t at the center of your business model.
The purpose of this post is not to tell you that you shouldn’t blog.
After all, this blog makes me good money and serves as a referral source for my freelance business. Furthermore, blogging can be fun — an interesting hobby that could lead to more in time. Who am I to tell you not to enjoy yourself?
The title of this post was deliberately antagonistic in the hope that it would lead more people to read it (Why Blogging is Pretty Cool But You Should Maybe Think About Other Stuff Too just didn’t quite have the same ring to it). However, my intentions are honest. I think it is high time that the “make money online” crowd shifted their expectations of what blogging can do for us and put careful thought into the alternatives.
You should be impatient to Leave Work Behind. You should want to do it tomorrow. Blogging won’t get you there tomorrow.
Find something that will.