Want to learn step-by-step how I built my Niche Site Empire up to a full-time income?
On March 11th, 2011 I quit my job as a business banker at Wells Fargo…and it was the best decision that I ever made.
I quit my day job to pursue a very legitimate “work from home” business opportunity and my life and the life of my family has dramatically changed for the better over the past 5 years. Today, I want to dive into the various online business opportunities that I've pursued and what's working for me right now.
So, yes, this is going to be a bit of a reflection type post for me, but also something that will be helpful to you, I believe. I've been working from home and been out of the corporate world for almost exactly 5 years now, and my life as a business banker feels like a lifetime ago.
You see there are so many online resources out there that are touting the next great “work from home” business opportunity and SO many times it ends up being a big fat scam. Luckily, I'm not here to sell you anything. I'm just here to open up and honestly share with you what a genuine online business opportunity looks like…and what it takes to succeed. I've been living it for the past 5 years.
The positive experiences that I've had over the past 5 years have been amazing and educational. In addition, I will provide some of the monthly income from a couple of my businesses. If you are looking to quit your job or searching for that right online business to pursue, I hope that this post will provide a little bit of motivation.
How to Earn Money From Home?
I started out like many other people. I went to college and got a degree in Business Finance. I figured I would end up working for someone else for most of my life…like most people. However, after less than a year at my first job at Merrill Lynch, I knew that I wanted to work for myself…BADLY!
The dream of owning my own business started to creep into my mind, and I tried all sorts of things (that never fully panned out).
I sold used books online for a period of time. I would go to thrift stores and look for first edition books or other novels that I knew would sell well. Unfortunately, this was only short lived side gig that was never enough to replace my day job income.
I also had a short stint where I sold used clothing online. Yep, same deal…buy at a thrift store and try to flip it on eBay. I made a few dollars, but nothing to get too excited about.
I even tried a couple other things like making candles and water fountains (don't ask!)…but again, no success.
The early days…
I kept wondering, how in the world can someone earn money from home with their own business? It was still kind of a novel idea back in 2003 or 2004. I was a lost little lego piece that was never able to find it's set to build something real.
I don't remember exactly what happened, but I finally starting doing some research online…probably via Yahoo or Lycos search engines :). I discovered that people were actually making money from their very own websites! And not just selling things on their websites…but making money with no inventory, no customers, and no massive servers!
People were creating websites, making money from advertising or selling digital products as an affiliate, and just collecting their paycheck.
Thus began my journey into researching everything affiliate marketing related. Like almost everything in my life, I spent well over a year just reading about other people making money, and never really did anything about it.
This Can't Be Real…Right?
I honestly did not believe what I read about affiliate marketing and Google Adsense by this point. It just didn't seem legit that people could make money when someone simply clicks on an ad from their website! Unreal!
However, after reading up on various affiliate programs and Google Adsense, everything seemed to match up…I was ready to give it a try.
So, at some point in 2005 I started a blog about personal finance. This is what I had studied in school, so I figured it would be a good place to start.
I put a ton of effort into creating great content, got approved to several affiliate programs and launched my site! I worked for a few month just trying to write content and even went out and started to interact with other bloggers!
I didn't really know what I was doing, but I held my breath for the paychecks to start rolling in.
Unfortunately, that website was a big failure. I never made more than $100 in a single month, and most months was less than $10.
However, the silver lining was that my mental barrier was overcome…this online stuff was REAL! People really were making money from ads and affiliate sales…this really was a way to earn money from home.
I was hooked.
I Want To Quit My Job
Even though that first website was a failure, the idea was in my head and never left. I wanted to quit my job and make money from websites for the rest of my life.
Remember, this was in 2005. If you do some quick math you will realize that this was 6 YEARS before I actually ended up quitting my job. I spent 6 years of learning, trying, failing…and then eventually succeeding.
My journey has not been an easy one at all.
However, once I got the idea in my mind that I wanted to run my own online business, I was never quite the same. I was probably a pretty average employee…my heart was just never in my job anymore.
So, I would work my day job, then come home after work and stay up late working on my online “business”. (Remember, I have kids, so I would usually try to wait until after they were in bed before working for a couple of hours on my side gigs).
As I look back now, I realize how naive I still was. I had no clue what I was doing online. I would jump from one idea to the next within weeks. I would build websites and then abandon them just weeks later because I thought I had a better idea.
I tried almost EVERYTHING to build a business online!
Here's just a few of the failed business attempts that I made. Please note that I was able to go back to the Way Back Machine and get screenshots of some of my early websites that are no longer in existence.
Personal Finance Blog – (note that the actual design of the website did not get saved on the Wayback Machine).
A Credit Repair Site – but I really didn't know what I was doing…way too competitive.
A Really Bad SalesPage I did…trying to sell my own eBook. I'm pretty sure I sold 0 copies. I'm really embarrassed to even show this, because I hate this kind of salespage stuff…but hey, I was desperate to quit my job.
I created a survey site, meant to compete with things like CashCrate.com. Again, this screenshot doesn't show the full web design which was actually pretty good looking for 2008. I actually had some minor success with this one. When I say minor, I mean I believe I had a few months where I was making over $100 per month.
I'm sure I had a few other sites in this 2006 to 2009 time period that I don't recall. The bottom line is that I did a lot of jumping from idea to idea without ever really making any good money.
The one thing I DID gain was the confidence that it was indeed possible to make a living online. I had sold a few affiliate products and even had a few months where I made like $100!
However, the problem that I kept coming back to was that I had absolutely NO CLUE how to get traffic to my sites! I didn't know how Google worked, and that bothered me. I don't know exactly when, but I decided to dive into how Google worked, ranked sites, and everything.
This is when the light bulb went on for me…
How to Be Self Employed – What Finally Worked for Me
So, here I was in 2009 having spent about 4 years trying and failing all sort of online business ventures that never really panned out. In my research for understanding how Google worked, I read a powerful article called, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine that had a fundamental shift in how I viewed Google and my own websites.
This article made me realize that I was never getting any traffic to my sites because I was always trying to rank in Google for keywords that were just too darn hard to rank for! I was in markets like credit repair, online surveys, personal finance, and others that were HUGE markets…but were also HUGELY competitive.
When you are competing against multi-national corporations and other entities with more money than they know what to do with…you have an uphill battle.
The “Long Tail” article made the light bulb go on for me. I needed to create a website that targeted a “Long Tail” keyword that was super easy to rank for…a market where there was not billion dollar corporations competing.
This decision eventually led to me becoming self employed.
Let me explain.
I did some research using the good old Google Adwords Keyword Tool (now called Keyword Planner) and found a market that appeared to have weak websites ranking on the first page of Google.
The market I picked was Worm Farms. Yep, worm farms!
Here's a screenshot of my very first small “niche website” that I built back in 2009.
This little website didn't make me rich, but it did start ranking on the first page of google for terms like worm farms, and how to raise earthworms, etc. I was pumped!
This little website DID start making around $50 a month. Again, not significant money. But what was significant was that even 6 months later, it was STILL making around $50 a month and I hadn't worked on it in 6 months!
My worm farm site was making me money each and every month on a “passive” basis. In fact, I had created a second “niche website” about buffalo nickels just a month or so after this worm farm site and it was ALSO making $30 to $50 a month consistently…whether I did anything or not.
So, in the second half of 2009 after seeing this data, I decided to push all my chips in and create as many of these small niche websites as humanly possible.
My Decision to Scale…
I did the math in my head. If I could build 200 niche websites, each making $50 a month…that's $10,000 a month!
I was so excited about this plan I told my brother all about it. I said, “Hey Ben, I'm going to build 200 websites in the next year…should I do it?” I'll never forget his answer. He said, “Don't do it, Spencer”.
Well, luckily I didn't listen to my brother (which we still laugh about to this day)…and I went out and built over 200 websites from late 2009 to late 2010. I should be clear that I outsourced most of the content writing and even much of the website building, and certainly all the link building.
For the first time, I wasn't such a tightwad, and allowed myself to spend a little bit of money in order to build my business.
My Plan Actually Works!
Some of my websites were a complete flop. However, other sites started earning MUCH more that $50 a month. I had a couple of dinky little sites making over $1,000 a month, and my highest earner at $3,000 a month.
Almost, all of my income was coming from Google Adsense. So, I got paid when someone just clicked on the ad from my website. I had no products, no customer service, or anything like that.
By the time early 2011 rolled around, I was making $10,000 a month from Google Adsense! My plan worked as I had hoped!
Becoming self employed isn't something that you just jump into though. So, I discussed it with my wife to make sure she was on-board (she was). And then I waited a few months to make sure we had a nice safety net of savings in the bank before I went and talked to my boss.
Quitting My Job
Once I felt comfortable with the savings amount in the bank, I walked into my bosses office and shared with her my plans to quit my job. I can't stress how nerve wracking this was for me, but also extremely exciting because I had been dreaming of this day for YEARS! I had been trying and failing for 6 years to build a successful online business…and the day had finally arrived!
My boss was 100% supportive and excited for me. My co-workers were happy for me as well. Thanks Wells Fargo peeps for making that transition great!
So, on March 11th, 2011 I said goodbye to working for someone else for the very last time in my life!
I set up a home office (just a desk and a computer basically) and have been happily working out of my house ever since!
As a caveat, I should point out that the business of building niche websites has changed quite a bit since 2011. So if you are at all interested in building a niche website, you should follow along with my public case study where my team and I coach 3 different students to build their own site. You can check out Niche Site Project 3.0 right here.
How My Business Has Grown in the Past 5 Years
When I quit my job, almost all of my income was derived from my small niche websites. However, I had also started something right before I quit my job that I hoped was something that could grow.
That business venture was Long Tail Pro. As you may or may not know, Long Tail Pro is a keyword research software that I created out of my own need to do keyword research faster and better for my own niche websites. I wanted to quickly find and cherry pick those easy to rank for keywords, so that I could go out and build a niche website and start ranking in Google right away.
Long Tail Pro
I started selling Long Tail Pro just shortly before I quit my job. I think in the first year of selling Long Tail Pro, I made around $30k. Nothing huge, and my niche websites were certainly making much more than my software product.
Long Tail Pro has just continued to grow in revenue every single year since then and has become a very significant business. In fact, I've started an entire blog series on how I've bootstrapped and launched a software product, even though I'm not a programmer.
At this 5 year anniversary of quitting my job, I feel like it's important for me to reflect on how much my business has changed and grown over this time period. Long Tail Pro has been a big part of that.
Long Tail Pro Business Changes…
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that fact that I brought in partners into the Long Tail Pro business just about a month ago. This is indeed a big change because I have always been the 100% owner of the business, but now I've sold off a portion of my share of the business and these new partners have stepped in.
The revenue from the business over the past 5 years, and now my partial exit from the business has truly been life changing in terms of my business knowledge and financially.
Deciding to sell a portion of my software company was not an easy one. However, it was a good deal for me, and I still definitely a part owner of the business. I'm excited for the future on Long Tail Pro.
As I've been growing my digital empire with software, niche websites, and other things…one idea never really crossed my mind until just over a year ago…selling physical products.
I mean going from selling digital products to selling physical products sounds like I'm moving backwards in terms of technology and advancement, right? Well, maybe so…but I'm sure glad I jumped into the Amazon FBA business just 1 short year ago!
In March of 2015, I launched my first physical product on Amazon that I had manufactured in China. You can read more about the timeline and other details of how I got started selling on Amazon right here.
In a nutshell, I found a product that I liked but couldn't find on Amazon. I decided to manufacture the product in China (easier to do than you might think through Alibaba.com), ship the goods to the US, and sell through the Amazon FBA program.
After my first 30 days, it was clear that I had a success on my hands as I sold over $4,000 worth of goods through Amazon FBA.
Selling on Amazon is definitely a legit business opportunity. My business has exploded since that first month.
The last time I reported the income from my Amazon FBA business was December 2015. In that month, I had revenues of just over $60,000 for the month. I'm not making this stuff up. But maybe you are thinking that December is holiday season and revenues like that are just a fluke?
Well, here is a report for both January and February 2016. These are profit and loss screenshots from a tracking tool I use called InventoryLab.com. (I'm also including the Amazon screenshots, but please note these are not as accurate because they include any giveaways that I might do).
January 2016 Profit and Loss from Amazon FBA
You can see the total net profit at the bottom of just over $22k. January was a good month! (Better than December 2015).
Here's the January Amazon Screenshot:
As you can see, this screenshot is not very accurate. Unfortunately, Amazon “counts” as full revenue all the discounts/giveaways. I definitely did not sell $96k worth of goods. The profit and loss screenshot is the accurate one.
February 2016 Profit and Loss from Amazon FBA
So, the net income was down a bit in February, but still a fantastic month overall with about $14k in total net profit. Part of reason for the lower revenue was a shorter month and then a higher inbound shipping costs that usual as I stocked up quite a bit after January.
Here's the screenshot directly from Amazon for February:
Again, this sales screenshot from Amazon is not accurate because it inflates the numbers a bit. However, it really was a great month with about $65k in true sales occurring.
Wondering how I sold so much on Amazon? Here's my 10 second lesson:
- Researched potential product ideas using Jungle Scout.
- Find products selling well (over $10k a month or so) but have low competition (at least a few results on the first page that have less than 50 reviews if possible). I use Jungle Scout to get all this data.
- Think of ways to tweak the existing offerings on Amazon to make your product different. (Could simply be a size or color change, doesn't have to be drastic).
- Order a sample on Alibaba.com.
- Inspect sample and ask for tweaks from manufacturer.
- Order a small batch once satisfied with product sample from manufacturer; ship to Amazon. (I use a logistics company to get freight from China to US to Amazon).
- Create a highly descriptive listing with lots of high quality photos. Write a keyword targeted title…you can use Long Tail Pro to help you find keywords to target (that's what I do).
- Giveaway/Discount product to get some initial reviews.
- Watch the natural sales start rolling in.
- Restock inventory before you run out!
Honestly, that's about it. Yes, there is lots to learn along the way and this blog post is not meant to be a one-stop shop for how to sell on Amazon. But that is a very high level look at how I approached the process.
List of 9 Legitimate Business Opportunities That I Have Personally Tried…
Over the years I have tried TONS of different online business ideas. Some of them have been flops and some of them have been a huge hit. If you are interested in learning more about the many different business ventures and how I got them to work (or not work), you can browse my projects section right here.
Here's a quick look back at the business ventures I've been involved with over the years. So, if you are truly looking for some legitimate work from home business opportunities, I would recommend starting with this list.
9 Legit Business Ventures That I've Started…
- Selling used books online – not highly profitable, but can indeed be done.
- Selling used clothes online – same as the used books.
- Writing and selling your own ebooks (either on your own website or through Amazon Kindle as I explain here)
- Building Niche Websites – You can learn the most up to date strategies for building niche sites by following Niche Site Project 3.0 right here.
- Creating iPhone Apps – Check out my experience for building and launching my first iPhone app here.
- Buying and Selling Websites – You can read my experiences in website flipping here.
- Starting a software business – Can be highly profitable. Here's a few of my experiences with Long Tail Pro here.
- Selling physical products through Amazon FBA – Want more than just the screenshots that I shared above, read about my Amazon FBA ventures here.
- Start a blog (like I've done with NichePursuits.com) – Blogs can be a business all on it's own. Starting a blog works basically the same way as starting a niche site; so you can just see what I do on NichePursuits.com, or you can read Niche Site Project 3.0.
So, as I look back at what I've attempted and what I've accomplished over the past 5 years, I realize 2 things: 1. I'm a bit scatter-brained with so many ideas 2. I've actually made several of these ideas quite profitable.
I also want to point out that NONE of these are quick or easy! There is a huge learning curve to any legitimate business idea, and they are going to take time to launch and turn profitable. Remember, it took me 6 LONG YEARS from when I decided I wanted to start an online business in 2005 to when I was making enough to quit my job in 2011.
However, hopefully some of what I've been able to accomplish over the past 5 years as I've sat here working at home can provide some amount of motivation for you as you pursue your dreams of starting your own business and quitting your job.
And lastly, thanks to everyone that has followed along with my journey on NichePursuits.com over the past 5 years! I hope you've learned a thing or two along the way, and I look forward to sharing my next 5 years with you as I blog about my business experiences…
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Want to learn step-by-step how I built my Niche Site Empire up to a full-time income?