Want to learn step-by-step how I built my Niche Site Empire up to a full-time income?
My name's Dom Wells, and I'm addicted to niche sites. Today I'd like to teach you a thing or two about building them out systematically.
When you're just starting out learning to build niche sites, it's downright overwhelming. There are so many steps, so many nuances, so much guesswork, and a lot of waiting around to see if you've actually done something right. I'm going to hazard a guess that the majority of people who start affiliate marketing never get past their first site.
So to those of you who only have one site, or haven't even got that far yet, the idea of building out multiple sites is probably a pretty foreign concept to you right now.
Equally, those of you who DO have multiple sites will be painfully aware how much time it can take up, and how the reality of owning multiple sites never quite lives up to the dream.
Still, it remains a dream for many people. I surveyed my audience several times last year, and the biggest dream for the majority of my audience members was to own a portfolio of sites. Not one site, but several.
Here's the thing though; having a portfolio of niche sites is harder than a lot of people think, and takes a lot of work to get right.
…that is..unless you know how to systematically build out niche sites.
What if I told you that with a bit of work, some set up, and the help of other people, you could have a niche site empire sooner than you think?
My team at Human Proof Designs built close to 500 sites in 2016 alone (Not just for ourselves, we offer this service to our audience). We've already built close to half that many in 2017. Needless to say, I have learned how to build out sites in a very systematic fashion, and have many systems in place to help my team.
The best part about all the sites we've built out in the last couple of years?
I've not personally touched a single one of them.
Every single one of the sites was built by someone I hired, trained and paid to do the work for me. In fact, some of them were hired and trained by the first people I trained. We have systems for that too.
What You'll Learn From Me Today
What I'm going to teach you in this article, is exactly how you can build a similar team to help your own efforts. I doubt you need the 100-employee-strong organization that I've got, but that's the beauty of a system. It scales both ways. You can make it work with just a handful of people.
I'm also aware that some of you will not yet be at the point where you're ready to hire someone. As such, I'm going to spend the first part of this post talking about why you really should be hiring them.
However, if you really aren't at that stage yet, or you just don't want to do it, the good news is that the systems I'm going to talk about WILL still work for those of you flying solo. It will just take more time and you'll build sites more slowly.
By the way, the methods below will work regardless what type of sites you want to focus on. Small sites, “Authority” sites, eCommerce sites, Adsense sites, it's not an issue.
Here's a summary of what we're going to cover:
- Why build a team
- How to build, teach, and run that team
- The phases of building a niche site
- General tips
- Mistakes we've made over the year
Why Build A Team?
I get it. Building a team sounds like a pain in the behind. Nobody really wants to do it if they don't have to.
If you're like me, you got into affiliate marketing because you wanted to be able to work from a computer when and where you want. Part of that freedom means we don't really want to deal with managing people or taking on responsibilities.
There's also a lot of fear, doubt and uncertainty around building a team. It's bad enough that we've got to learn everything there is about niche sites, now we have to think about how to find someone, how much to pay them, how to find the money to pay them, and all of these other things too? Nightmare.
It's for this reason that I didn't hire my first person off Upwork (oDesk as it was called then) until January 2014. At this point, I had only hired one other person, and he was someone I already knew.
We all hire later than we need to. It's one of those things that we put off until the last minute, until we really can't cope with our current workload, or until we finally feel comfortable outsourcing.
That's the wrong way to approach it though. Think of hiring as something you should do as soon as possible. Buying other people's time is the fastest way to scale your business. Think how much you can achieve with a 40 hour week. Now imagine hiring 10 people and suddenly you have a 400 hour week.
I may have dawdled and dragged my feet over hiring my first employee, but I've now spent over $100,000 on the Upwork platform. Not quite as high as some, but high enough to demonstrate I know what I'm talking about.
It's not just about the ability to get stuff done though. There are many other tangible benefits to having a team do the work for you:
Lesser-Known Benefits Of A Team
- You can set up departments. This creates infinitely more focus, and better quality output.
- If someone drops the ball, gets sick, goes MIA, or just wants to take time off, you have others in place to step in.
- A team of specialists is always better than the “holy grail” VA who can do everything amazingly.
I'll cover more on those points above as we continue. For now, let's look at how you actually go about achieving all of this.
Step One: How To Hire Your Team
I want to get this out of the way now. This isn't going to be a perfect process, and you will have a fair amount of churn within your team.
However, once you find those kickass employees who have a fantastic work ethic, who are diligent, and who stick around for ages, you'll understand exactly why we go to this effort.
Quick Side Note: Why I Don't Endorse The Apprentice Method
A lot of people are huge fans of hiring an apprentice and training them up to being *almost* as good as you are at most things. You teach them everything you know about the business, so that they can take most of it over for you.
There are definitely advantages to this method. You can usually get them more cheaply in the beginning, you only have to work closely with one person instead of a whole team, the apprentice has a lot of incentive to get things right and to work hard, and you can usually find a much higher calibre candidate.
I've seen various people have success using the apprentice model, Spencer and Perrin are a great example (Perrin wasn't initially brought on as an apprentice, but his role at NP did evolve into something similar).
For me though, I never felt comfortable going this route. I didn't really want the pressure of working solely with one person, being fully responsible for whether they can learn what's in my head or not.
I like to hire people to do a smaller amount of jobs that they can focus on. Instead of hoping to find that mythical rockstar VA who is great at everything, I hire one person to do keywords, one to do content, one to do uploading, one to build the site, and so on.
When you do things this way, the pool of available hires increases exponentially, and you also don't have to worry about making the wrong hire, because you've got plenty of others who can step up.
I could write a whole other post on the merits of different hiring methods, but for now let's just leave it here. The apprentice model works for some, but it's not my cup of tea.
Here's what I do instead.
Creating Departments In Your Team
Right now, my company consists of the following departments:
- Keyword research
- Site builders
Each department has grown to the point where it has one or more managers as well, but you will probably not need to get to that point. If your team does grow, you can usually hire a single project manager to run the teams, or you can promote someone already in the team.
I've covered the main benefit of setting your team up in departments already; focus. There are a few other benefits as well though:
- If your team aren't building out sites to the speed that you like, you can identify which area is responsible, and hire more people or replace someone as necessary. Or you can improve your training for that department.
- You can build your sites in stages, like a production line. The beauty of this is that you can start doing keyword research and content for the next few sites while the finishing touches are being put on the first ones. When you just have one or two people trying to do everything, this whole process becomes a mess and you end up with a bunch of half finished sites.
- You can use the same SOPs and job postings for each hire in a department, which makes it relatively easy to scale.
So how do you go about creating a department? It's actually fairly simple.
First, make a note of everything you do when building out a site. I'll cover how we do this in more details further down the page, but for now, just list out all the tasks you do.
Group those tasks into similar roles or areas of expertise. You'll start to see that they probably fall into the same groups as I've put above.
For the tasks that are related to admin, such as assigning titles to writers, proofreading/checking content, and installing WordPress, you'll usually want to do these yourself initially.
It's important to create a “Manager” department, even if it is you who does all those tasks. It will be much easier to replace yourself later if you do.
Ok, But How Do I Actually Hire These People?
I'm glad you asked.
This is something that does take practice, but you'll get nowhere until you actually just pluck up the courage to hire someone in the first place. You'll learn a ton with every hire (or attempted hire!) you make.
There are some nuances to posting the correct job at Upwork, especially if you're new and don't have much hiring history to entice people with.
Posting at the correct time of day and targeting the correct level of freelancer makes quite a difference to your results. If you're looking for Filipinos, don't post your job offer at a time when they're mostly going to be asleep. The same goes if you're hiring westerners.
For the level of freelancer you choose (Upwork lets you choose from entry level, intermediate, and advanced), you'll probably be going for entry or intermediate level, depending on the role. For quality writers, you might want to go higher than you would for site builders or keyword researchers.
My most important tip here is to test it. If you don't get the right type of candidate, tweak one of the settings or price points and post again. The country that you target, the time that you post, and price point you offer are probably the three variables you need to focus most on.
We all have a different budget, but I'm not going to leave you hanging here without some suggestions. The below are prices that I think you could have some success with, based on my own experiences. These are not necessarily the prices I pay. I have a much bigger budget than you likely will, so I'm bearing that in mind.
Sometimes, you'll want to hire at a slightly higher rate than you need to, because when you hire the lowest rate, you need to know how to get the most out of your freelancers. For a first time hirer, you probably want to get people who are a bit more experienced.
Note: I always hire “per project” piecemeal. I never want to pay an hourly rate unless I really have to. The only exceptions for these are for higher level, management roles where you want to pay more of a salaried position.
For writers, we pay per 1,000 words. For site builders, we pay per site. For managers, we pay per assignment. Always flat-rate.
|Manager||$7 / hour||$10 / hour||$20 / hour|
|KW Researcher||$10 per site||$20 per site||$30 per site|
|Writer||$10 per 1,000||$15 per 1,000||$30 per 1,000|
|Editor||$3 per 1,000||$5 per 1,000||$10 per 1,000|
|Site Builder||$15 per site||$20 – 30 per site||$50 per site|
If you're looking at this and thinking “Ok but how many keywords do the kw team do per site?” or “Ok but how many posts/pages does the site builder have to organize?” then you're asking the right questions.
I will explain more about that in the site building section of this article. We need to keep moving along.
Final note on pricing: If you're giving people a lot of work or even bulk orders (such as 30,000 words at once), they're usually willing to go lower.
What looks better to a writer? “I'll pay you $30 for this job of 1,000 words” or “I'll pay you $100 for this job of 10,000 words”? Usually it's the latter. Freelancers want consistent work and will give discounts for it.
Wording The Job Post
I've found that my most successful job postings (in terms of number of applicants, and quality of hires) are ones where I simply described the role in detail.
Something like “I want a writer to write Amazon reviews about products for me” isn't really going to cut it. You'll get people applying for that job who think you want them to leave reviews on your Amazon products.
Something like “I need a great keyword researcher” is also not good enough. You'll find a bunch of people who THINK they are great keyword researchers, or who have a ton of experience, only to discover they were taught how to do keyword research by some internet marketer in 2010 who no longer knows what they're talking about.
Be as clear as you can be. Something like this:
“I need someone to research keywords for me for niche sites. I'll teach you my exact process, how to determine if a keyword is good or bad, and how I want you to work.
Your job will basically involve the following steps:
3.) And so on.”
Remember, freelancers can just as easily quit the job as you can fire them, so make sure they come into it with the right expectations.
Finding The Best Candidates
For you though, you’re going to need to do some simple things:
- Include a small instruction in your posting. Something like “Let me know your favorite color when you apply”. No candidate who doesn’t do this gets hired, no matter how good they may seem. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Message potential hires as soon as you can when they apply. They most likely applied to 10 jobs at once, so you want to get them early. Also, if they don’t reply within 24-36 hours, that’s usually a red flag.
- Give them 1 or 2 tasks first. If you want them to write 10 articles, give them 1 first. Absolutely run that article through copyscape afterwards. Keep copyscape checking them always, no matter how many times they send you perfectly unique articles.
- Send them a test or ask them to explain how they would perform the task. Ask for examples of their work if you can, but don’t rely explicitly on this to make your decision.
- If in doubt, hire them, test them, and get rid of them if it doesn’t work out. You’ll learn a ton.
Testing If You’ve Got A Good Hire
I learned from Jon Haver in the past that I should hire fast and fire fast. That method works ok to a certain point, but you can’t expect a good hire to just hit the ground running.
Sure, if someone isn’t showing up for work on time, is replying to your emails too late, or starts making excuses, get rid of them quickly. They’ll never improve if they don’t even get the fundamentals right at the start.
However, give it more time to decide if they are up for the job or not. It usually takes our hires a few weeks to really get into the swing of how we do things, and some of our best employees have been with us for years. It’s unfair to compare them to a brand new hire and assume the new hire is useless.
You’ll know soon enough if the person is really going to be a good fit, and the more people you hire, the better you’ll get at testing. This really is a subjective matter so my only advice is to not be afraid to hire someone if they’re not working out, but at least give them a chance.
Step Two: Training Your Team
When you’ve got specific people doing specific roles within your team, it’s a lot easier to train them. I like to think of it like this: When you start out, you’re wearing all the hats in the business. One by one, you remove a hat and put it on somebody else’s head.
So you don’t need to hire every department and train them all up simultaneously. Just do it one by one. What thing do you do that you personally provide the least value in?
If this is building a wordpress site, which pretty much everyone can do, then build this department first. To train them, I recommend you record a screencast of yourself building a site and performing whatever tasks you’re training. Go through it step by step, talk through what you’re doing, and make it clear.
To accompany the video, you’ll probably also want to create an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), which is basically a document version of the video, listing all the steps, providing screenshots, and links where necessary.
If you’re training a writer how to write content, you can create templates, link to examples, and give clear expectations. Slowly build up your library of documents and tweak them as you go. What you think is clear might not be that clear to a freelancer, so make sure you are checking where they might be confused.
Don’t skimp on this step, even if it feels like a chore, because this document/SOP library is the heart of systematically building sites. Without the systems, it’s a mess.
It’s easy to wish that you could find a freelancer who instantly “gets it” and can just build your sites perfectly every time, but nobody is psychic and everybody assembles their sites slightly differently.
Take the time to document everything you do, and you’ll again thank yourself later.
Additionally, by knowing all the steps you do and how long it takes you, you’ll be able to understand how much you should pay your freelancer, or whether or not they are working efficiently. If something takes you 2 hours but takes your freelancer 3 days, then they’re probably working for 10 different clients, or not giving your tasks the credit they deserve.
Systems are there to make things more efficient, but also to highlight when things are going wrong.
The real key to training is to basically hire the right people, and show them what you do. Give them some tasks, check their work, adapt as necessary. You really don’t need to do much beyond that.
Step Three: Running The Team
Running a team is quite straightforward if you are a good manager. To avoid this post getting longer than it already is, here are some quick tips:
- Don’t micro-manage too much, but keep tabs on your team’s progress. You want to catch mistakes early. The worst thing is to find out someone is building your sites wrong after they’ve already done 10 of them.
- Just because someone is great for a few months, doesn’t mean you can stop checking up on them. People get lazy or try to cut the odd corner. This includes copyscape checking your writers.
- Give pay rises where merited, but don’t let someone demand one just because of time spent under you. If they deserve it, give it to them, if you can replace them and it’s an unwarranted demand, get rid of them.
- If you’re not shy, try to have weekly or monthly Google hangout meetings just to cover any pending issues. You’ll find your team think of you more as a boss than a random client. If you are shy, try to force yourself to get on at least 1 or 2 calls with them.
- Use something like Slack or Google Hangouts to chat with them.
- Set expectations about communication. The worst thing is sending an email to someone and not hearing back in 48 hours.
- People will leave. Always be prepared to replace them and possibly hire 1 more person than you need.
The Process We Use For Building Out Sites
I really didn’t expect to go into so much detail about the team side of this whole process, but as I started writing, I realized how important a team is to the whole systemization of site building. With that said, a lot of you are probably going to find this next section to be the most valuable. It’s the part that can be followed whether you have a large, robust team, or whether you are a solopreneur who just wants to follow a blueprint when building out sites.
If you’ve been paying attention this far, you’ll already know the departments we use. These departments closely match the process we follow for building out our sites. As I mentioned earlier, the beauty of doing a production line like this means that while one part of your team works on building out a site, the other part can be focusing on keyword research, or content production.
Here are the steps we build sites in. Each step requires a different person (or team of people in our case). Initially, I was the “grand overseer” who managed everything and moved sites through the steps, but now I have an operations manager who does that. I suggest you take on this role yourself initially.
Niche Selection/Validation and Keyword Research
This is arguably the hardest step to teach somebody. If you've ever seen the posts where Spencer teaches Perrin, you'll see that it's not an easy process and you can't just say “Here are the steps, go find me niches”. However, you CAN teach the process and somebody CAN learn with practice. There's also a ton of content already out there that teaches it. I just want you to bear in mind that you can't expect someone to hit the ground running with keyword research.
My number one tip here is for you to master this step yourself first (otherwise you'll end up with a bunch of sites that you can't rank or earn from) and only outsource it when you're comfortable doing so. For this reason, I actually recommend this as the last department you build.
We've talked a bit about hiring a writer already, and I've mentioned that you should create templates and examples for them to follow. That's really all there is to it.
Make sure you copyscape check everything, and watch out for spun content which can beat copyscape.
The hardest part of the content creation step is getting it done on time. Writers, particularly at the lower end, are always looking for new clients, which means that once they've worked for you a little while, they will start delivering your work later and later, as they're busy pleasing new clients. If you can, give them enough work to keep them busy.
Even $50 per article writers make mistakes. I like to hire an editor to clean up their work, make sure they're not writing awkward sentences, and also to make sure the article is on point.
You'll be surprised, but quite often you tell someone the article title is, for example, “Best straight razors” and they will come back with an article about how to use a straight razor. It can be a pain to deal with this, which is why I love having an editor to catch mistakes, fix them, or send the work back to the writer.
I recommend you start with this step unless you love writing the content for your sites. Even if you do love it, this is the most time consuming part and if you want to build multiple sites systematically (which is the point of this post), you'll want to have a content team.
I like to separate the setting up of a site on my host from the actual build. This is for a few reasons:
- I don't want to give my website building VA access to my namecheap account
- I don't want to give my website building VA access to my cpanel
- Things like softaculous can be clunky and you end up logging in to fix things anyway.
I prefer doing this step myself, or giving it to my project manager once he's hired. It's one of those things which is classed as grunt work I suppose, but it requires giving access to someone you trust, which is a high level task in my book.
This is the second department you should set up. There are hundreds of freelancers out there with WordPress skills, and it's very easy to say “Install these 5 plugins, add those basic pages, format articles like this.”
A few notes on this stage:
- Don't expect your site builders to be proofreaders or to understand on-page SEO. That's an entirely different skillset. Tell them how to upload and format articles, and give them some basic on page SEO instructions only. Things like “Put the main keyword in a subheading, see if the main keyword can fit in the first paragraph” are fine. You can then do the more finely tuned on-page seo yourself later, or wait until the site starts to rank and then tweak it. You can also give this task to your keyword team if they're up to it.
- If you use a variety of themes and plugins, create training for them because a good site builder might not be familiar with a theme, but will get the hang of it quickly.
- When training, make sure you cover all the small things that you usually do without thinking. Things like permalinks, Yoast setup, sitemaps, and all of that. Web developers aren't always affiliate marketers, so they might not know something that's obvious to you.
- Make things easier by using boiler-plate templates for your about/privacy/etc pages.
Launch The Site
I like to start a site with about 10,000 words content, and then add more as time goes by. Really you're not going to rank a site without 30 posts these days, and you want your content to be 1,000 words minimum.
However, because of the sandbox, I like to get things online and indexed as soon as possible, so I'll actually buy a domain and install WordPress as soon as I know what niche I want. That way, even if the content doesn't get added for 3-4 weeks, the site has been indexed already and can start ranking sooner.
I don't see the point in keeping a site hidden from search engines until it's “ready”, because in the long run, a site is never truly finished anyway.
Ok so that's our general process. It's pretty simple when you split it into steps like this.
As mentioned above, we do more to the sites once they're launched. We don't just “set and forget”, but I want this article to work for people no matter how they build and grow their sites, so I'm not going to give my specific guidelines here.
We all rank and get traffic to our sites differently, and I don't want to start a debate on the merits of the different methods in this post.
Tools We Use
Every affiliate marketer likes a few tools right? Here are the ones that we use the most.
- SeCockpit (paid) – KW research tool. Any cloud-based kw tool is fine though. The advantage of cloud-based is if you have several freelancers sharing an account or sharing data, you can access it from anywhere.
- Google Drive (free) – We use Google Sheets for tracking our customer orders and sites in general.
- Trello (free) – While G. Drive tracks things, Trello tracks them on a more granular level and helps us see where sites are in the production line.
- Slack (free) – Chat app useful for discussing things quickly without the need to email.
- Google Hangouts (free) – For chatting and for video meetings.
- Semrush/Ahrefs (paid) – We use both but these are more for scaling a site than setting it up. Also useful for verifying a niche.
- Thrive Themes Suite (paid) – We use various Thrive themes and plugins.
- Elegant Themes (paid) – You don’t want EVERY niche site to be built on Thrive do you?
- Easy Azon Pro (paid) – Makes inserting Amazon links very easy. Worth testing articles with/without it later for CRO though.
The real lesson I want to pass on to you is that while tools can make your systems easier to manage, you don't absolutely need all of them. I know many people who have a gazillion different tools and a whole bunch of Zapier integrations in place. While they can help, they're not going to make or break your success.
Nothing beats a well organized and communicative team.
I want to finish up by adding in these final tips:
- Remember what I said at the start. This isn’t a perfect process and you’ll make mistakes as you go. Make sure you learn from them and adjust, and you’ll be fine.
- You don’t need to be anywhere near as large-scale as we are. We build sites for a living and get a lot of custom requests daily. If you’re just doing this for you, you can make do with 1 person in each department.
- As Ryan Levesque likes to say: You don’t have to get it perfect, you just have to get it started.
I'm Dom Wells, owner of Humanproofdesigns.com. We offer a bunch of services to affiliate marketers. We're most famous for our Done For You affiliate sites. If you're looking at this post and thinking “Sounds amazing, but I'd rather you did it for me,” then you know where to find us, and we'd be happy to help.
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