I like talking about this story, why wouldn’t I? This is when my shenanigans trying to work out passive income online paid off. It stopped being a joke and it became a serious part of my life; changing it for the better and making me realise that you can make a living online, it’s not just a joke!
This isn’t a how-to or guide, but hopefully an inspiring tale (ramble) about how a somewhat ordinary guy with no particular special skills made passive income work for him. This is going to be a long read, so feel free to take it in chunks!
While this isn’t POD-related at all, there are so many crossover skills; if you do well in print on demand, you can likely do well with an authority site too.
In the first post, I briefly mentioned that I had tried a few different ways to make money online. My ethos hasn’t really changed in the past five or six years, but it has grown over time, from;
I basically just want money for free without working.
I guess I’m going to have to work, but I don’t want to trade my time for money!
The second one is much more realistic than the first. It’s probably been hammered in to us all now, especially if you’ve been reading about passive income. “You need to put the work in at the start for it to pay off later.” It’s true. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to make money from doing nothing at the very beginning.
The chart shows a simple version of the process. You put effort in at the start for no reward at all. The reward is delayed, it can come days, weeks months or sometimes years later. Once you’re getting traction, you put more effort in to increase it even more, or you can just simply leave it and it’ll still grow organically. You’ll eventually reach a point where you aren’t trading effort for reward.
I can’t remember when I actually first got into passive income, or how it dawned on me that it wasn’t really a joke or scam. Back in 2013 or so I made my first website with the sole aim of a making money from it. It was a game review site that tanked hard. A good lesson in what not to do.
I must have followed some online guides or read other’s stories later on because later that year I started a new type of site; an evergreen, informational authority site, monetised with ads and affiliate links. I’ll quickly explain the concepts if you aren’t familiar!
“Evergreen” means it relates to content that won’t be out of date. Some hobbies, sports, activities etc, they just don’t change over time. A website about one of these won’t need to be kept up to date all the time. A good example would be a website dedicated to Chess. Chess isn’t going to change. My previous game review site however, needed to be updated weekly or even daily.
“Informational Authority site” refers to a site which becomes the ‘go-to’ place for that niche. Something like MoneySavingExpert for budgeting; it has all the info you need in one place. If you have a question about finances, it will be answered there.
“Ads and Affiliate links” we all know what ads are, but affiliate links refer to a commission based payment. You refer a customer to a website, and you get a cut of a purchase they make. Amazon have a good one. You get a cut of their entire basket at purchase. Great if they click around Christmas, as you can make a lot of money with next to no effort.
My first site was about taxidermy. I know. Apart from helping out with a girlfriend at the time’s taxidermy project a few months prior, I had no experience or interest in the field. I just figured it was a good niche. It probably still is actually, but for me, I learned one big lesson from that site.
You need to have an interest in what you’re doing
If you aren’t interested in taxidermy, how on earth are you going to write thousands of words about it? You really need to have an interest in what you’re doing. It becomes such a chore if you don’t like what you’re working on. You start to question why you’re even doing what you’re doing.
I’m interested in passive income and print on demand, so I am running JeezPod. It doesn’t feel like work at all to write this. I can see why passive income is becoming more talked about, because many many people are very passionate about it (with good reason)!
The taxidermy site soon died, and I worked on another at the start of 2014. This was more like a store; focused on referring to Amazon, and targeted to a specific niche.
Hide your niches
It’s always best to not talk about your niches, so I’ll stop here. You can have the taxidermy one for free. It can be tempting to say you run an online store selling weird specific little things but be wary; people are out to steal from you if they see you are having success.
I see a lot of people posting their designs straight to Redbubble Facebook Groups and they aren’t doing themselves any favours. You won’t get a sale, you’ll just encourage people to copy!
I’ll be honest here. When somebody posts to a Facebook group I’m a part of, I’ll check out their shop, sort by best selling, and see if there is an untapped niche there.
I’ve not actually acted on that yet because I have such a backlog, but so many others will be doing the same. Treat that as a cheeky tip if you haven’t considered that before. It isn’t cheating, it isn’t scummy, this is simply a business tactic; they are a competitor freely giving away information.
The site after the Taxidermy site was much more of a success. To be honest I didn’t earn anything much from it. About £25 on Adsense and maybe £100 from Amazon. Over maybe two years. It was a great learning experience for website design and content creation, but not much a success elsewhere. Ah well, live and learn!
I’ve said it before, but you can’t expect your first attempt at anything to be good. It’s okay to be shit at the start. we aren’t born experts. Remember that quote; “The Master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”
I actually had a few little ideas here and there before I started the site I actually sold. I have no problem starting projects. Looking back now, I started nine sites in total before one actually paid off! These were mainly just small sites with a few pages. I either stopped because I lost interest or because I found out they weren’t worth it in the long run. It’s going to happen.
In January 2015, I started the site I’d eventually sell for £10k. January is a good time to start a project; fresh into the new year and raring to go. I had no job at the time, no prospects and was living at home with my parents. Well, who else is gonna pull me out of this rut?
I’d thought of the idea just after Christmas; a website completely dedicated to a specific hobby, something I already knew a lot about. I did my research, I saw the competition. It was good but not that good. I could write more, better, and have a better domain name, surely?
Putting the work in
What followed was about one year of creating content; writing and images, and then promoting it on Facebook and other places online. The hobby itself was quite easy to write about at the start, but when I ended up getting a job, I had to force myself to finish it. As I mentioned previously, having short term goals is a key to success.
I had a long term goal and a plan for the amount of content I wanted, and each short term goal would work towards it. For me it was a case of doing one chunk a day, every day, until it was done. And I did it. It wasn’t simple, it was tough.
I’d go to work, come home, work on the website until it was done. Every day. And this was only during the first year. I worked on this site for 4 years in total!
Actually creating the content for your site shouldn’t be the hard part. There are so many things to talk about for any given niche;
- Talk about what you do which is unique in this niche
- Research competitors and write their articles, but better, with more up to date info to a higher quality
- Interview experts in your niche and use that as content
- Guest post for other people
- Conduct a survey and talk about the results
- Highlight artists and creators within your niche
- Talk about games, films and books within your niche
I did all of these things. I had so much to write about that my main problem was finding the time to talk about it all. You won’t ever run out of ideas for content, believe me.
Content to promotion
Reaching that first milestone was an achievement. I must have written about 80,000 words. It’s time to take a break when you reach a long term goal. It’s easy to want to keep working but you’re not on this planet to work yourself to death.
I’d seen a gentle growth in visitors to the site as I was writing content. In fact it was the most gentle slope; one you’d walk up and not even notice you were walking uphill.
A very gentle increase, almost all organic traffic. It’s basically a straight line with a few bumps up and a few bumps down. I did some paid promotion; boosted posts on Facebook mainly, but in the long run, it’s the organic traffic which was king. Towards the end I was getting 1000 unique users per day, which is more than many well known sites.
It’s great to see organic traffic; somebody has come to your website by choice. It’s a validating metric to see your organic traffic grow; more and more people are choosing your site based on the content you’ve created.
I did all of my own work. I do the art, writing, promotion, SEO. Everything. I wouldn’t say I’m great at any of these, but I am not terrible. A Jack of all Trades. I find the best approach is to be at least somewhat skilled in every area you’re working in.
Need a new button graphic? OK. Need to fix that issue with the menu? Fine. Dodgy CSS messing it all up? No problem. I had some help on the server side (A good friend hosted my website for me!), but for the most part I was quite independent.
The site design; the logo and layout, were terrible. This was pointed out to me by my girlfriend at the time. Luckily, she was an artist, and she was into the hobby the website was dedicated to as well, so she knew the sort of ‘vibe’ expected from this sort of thing.
Together we redesigned the site, and it looked great. The logo in particular was iconic and pretty. To this day I still like the logo.
After I reached that first milestone, and with the site looking great after the redesign, I just let things sit for a while. It was here I learned that great thing about passive income; you still get income when you aren’t working.
It wasn’t much; £5 a day was a good day. I remember getting excited at a 50p Ad-click. 50p a day! “That’s £180 a year!”, I remember saying to a friend.
This above graph shows the ad income over the life of the site. The dropoff at the end there is when I sold it. Compared to the users image, the ads is a completely different story.
As soon as I finished the content, the ad income started to steadily grow. This is how you get lazy; you’re making more and more money with no extra effort. It doesn’t do any wonders for your motivation!
Once I had all the content up, I took a few months off. The money was coming in, and I had a full time job now as well; anything I got from the site was a juicy bonus.
It dawned on me some time early in 2017 that I could reuse my content to make even more money. I had all this text and image content sitting there, on one site, and I knew I could reuse it!
Like how on print on demand, you can use the same designs on other services, I could turn my 80,000 words into something else; a video series, an eBook, a podcast, the sky was the limit!
I tried converting some of my articles into audio for Youtube but it didn’t seem worth the effort. Shy in front of a camera generally, I settled on an eBook. I felt it would be easiest to make the transition.
The eBook wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad either. It was just the site content, bundled together, slightly edited and put on Kindle. There were a few bonus articles just for the eBook, but I wasn’t expecting many sales. I was silly not to do this sooner, even sillier to not turn it into a paperback (wow I should do that now!)
The eBook went live to moderate to low success. I never promoted it, I just put it out there and left it. It still sells now (I made sure to retain rights to the eBook when selling the site), which is just another benefit of KDP and passive income. It’s been three years but I’ll get a sale or two a month. A nice bonus but nothing to shout home about, really it was just an excuse to promote my main website.
I started a Redbubble account to reuse the images. They’d make brilliant stickers, I thought. Turns out I was right; my top seller on Redbubble is still a sticker from this site. It just goes to show how simply trying something can work out for the best. There’s no harm in trying.
Redbubble was an afterthought but it soon picked up. When I sold the site in 2019, I was making nearly as much on Redbubble as I was on the Website.
I felt great when I was getting £100 a month from Adsense. It felt like an achievement. I ended up getting a much better job at the end of 2018 so I thought even less about the site. It was purely in the background for me.
At around 1000 unique users a day, the site was doing well with no input from me. It was then I was contacted by somebody wishing to purchase the site.
The email at first just seemed like spam. You’ll get it a lot when you run a website, however it looked like a regular email. I decided to reply and we got a dialogue going. After a few phone calls, I was convinced that they were legitimate.
The company wanted to build a blog network and had recently bought up a lot of similar sites. Mine was identified as a site they wanted.
Sell or keep?
There is generally a rule that you should sell a site for 2-3x the yearly income. I was offered £6k, which was around 4x the yearly income. I couldn’t believe it, but I was still hesitant.
The ad income was only increasing, and my full-time job itself paid £30k, so why rush into selling my site? I’d worked on it for 4 years now, it was worth more than that surely? I replied saying I wouldn’t sell for £6k, and I wasn’t desperate to sell at all.
They replied quickly, the next day if I remember right, upping their offer to £10k. Crazy. There seemed to be no issue with them paying more. A jump of £4000 in one day.
£10k was a good number for me. I always had a silly idea that I wanted to get a house before I was 30 years old. £10k would be a nice addition to my house deposit, and it meant i could move forward with my goal.
I thought about it for a weekend and accepted on the Monday.
I had some demands. I wanted to retain the eBook content, Redbubble store, and I also didn’t want a non-competition clause. This is important. I have a lot of knowledge about this hobby now, and I wanted to be allowed to use after I sold the site.
They accepted. It was a done deal. They even paid me before I transferred the files and domain. £10k in my bank like that. I couldn’t believe it.
I didn’t really know what to do when I sold my site. I had got into a habit of waking up, checking my Adsense income, and then commuting to work. Suddenly I couldn’t check my Adsense income, it was weird!
During my time developing the site, I started a few other sites, but they weren’t at the same level yet. I did put a bit of effort into working on them but nothing came of it. I may have just been lucky, but I think it was the hard work and determination that worked. I haven’t put the same energy in on my newer sites.
I took a big break from making websites. I felt I deserved a rest. I bought the house and focused on my job but it always kept coming back to me. I’m not designed for this 9-5 rat race at all. It’s not an exaggeration, but I hate working for other people!
Here’s where the part about the lock-out clause comes in; I was free to start a competitor with my old site.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Taking the same content from the first site, rewriting it to make it better, learning from my old mistakes. I have been building a competitor for a year now and while the competition generally is tougher, it’s slowly improving and getting better. I can see the Ad income increasing every month, the visitors rising.
It turns into a game. Once you learn to treat online income like a game, you start to really want to get better, higher, more.
I’m going to pour more of my time into my competitor site now in the hope that it can surpass my old site, but you never know with how things work on the internet.
I do miss the site, but I’m glad it allowed me to move on with my life; stop renting, and start focusing on bigger projects.
I hope you all enjoyed the read,and I hope this post inspires you to try new things! let me know if it does!
Feel free to follow JeezPod on Facebook for updates when new articles come out. It’s a very relaxed page, and there might be 1-2 posts a week so it won’t spam your timeline.