10 Years Down & 10 Important Things I've Learned.
(Warning: This is a rather long post where I give you some insights into my life, business, thought processes, and ideas. I started writing a short celebratory post and it turned into this long stream of consciousness where I evaluate and talk to myself quite a bit. I think there are a lot of good takeaways below and I hope my experiences running one website for 10 years will help you see the same level of success. -Steve)
My site I've Tried That turned 10 on May 21st, 2017.
I started it when I was just a junior in college. It's been over a decade now of working on just one single website. This wasn't my first website and it's certainly not my last, but it's the one that I have been able to use to develop a full-time business online.
It didn't start out a smashing success mind you. The first few posts were about baiting an online scammer into doing ridiculous things for my own entertainment. I followed up with some actual reviews and people started responding positively and thanking me for taking the time to help educate them.
I got an immense amount of satisfaction and pride knowing I was helping people make smart decisions. When I figured out a way to turn my reviews into a way to make money, I was completely hooked.
In 2008, I graduated from college. I went on one job interview, decided that hating myself, my job, and my life for the next 50 years wasn't for me, and dedicated myself full time to building my website. By 2009, with (my then-girlfriend, now-wife, any-day-now-mother-of-my-child) Amanda's help, I was making a full-time income and have been working at it ever since.
I've seen flourishing successes and I've seen bleak depressions and every peak and valley has helped shape my business into what it is today.
That's the basis of this post.
10 important things I've learned over the years.
And it starts at #1.
1. Locate gaps in your market.
This is the number one reason my site has been so successful. When I founded my site in 2007, the Internet Marketing industry was a lot more Wild Wild West. Pretty much every marketer was promoting garbage training that no longer worked in an effort to rip off beginners and profit off of their misfortune.
I could have easily gone that route as it was insanely lucrative at the time. Key words: at the time. But one, I have a conscience and couldn't bring myself to deceive others for a quick buck, and two, I wanted to build a respectable business that would actually last.
While everyone was busy zigging, I saw an opportunity to zag. Instead of ripping off others, I thought it'd be much more worthwhile to help them instead. Affiliate marketing was rather new at the time, but I saw the value and potential and realized it was a great opportunity for anyone, regardless of experience, to learn how to build a business online. I educated people instead of deceiving them. The industry was going one way so I went somewhere else in an effort to stand out.
What does this mean for your average affiliate site?
You should be looking at your competition. Google the top keywords you're targeting and look at what the big players in your industry are doing. Evaluate what they're doing right, but more importantly, look at what's being done wrong. Fill in those gaps with a focus on helping people and you will be well on your way to building a legitimate, long-lasting business.
2. Complacency is the silent killer.
I've faced a number of obstacles over the year, but nothing compares to overcoming complacency. I still struggle with this today and complacency has translated over to laziness. (This is also the reason why this blog post is 2 weeks late. A bit of brutal honesty there for you.)
I was able to double my income year-after-year for the first few years of running my business. While it still continues to grow, the rapid expansion died off a bit after I hit a more-than-comfortable yearly income. Ironically, this level of success is what will kill my business.
Somewhere along the way, I hit an income level where it became easy to stop trying to improve. The first few years I busted my ass to try and develop ideas to grow my business. Nine out of ten had failed, but the one that succeeded propelled my business forward.
These days I find myself not wanting to put forth 9 failing efforts just for that one potential chance at growing my business even further. It is, by far, the biggest challenge I face today and one that I am constantly working on rectifying, which leads me to...
3. Reevaluate your goals often.
The goals I initially set for myself were long achieved. I try and set new ones year after year to push my business forward. Some goals I hit, others get crossed off without seeing success.
I have found that it's important to always be looking ahead. If you continue to look around you, you'll get wrapped up in the present. Your business suffers because you fall into maintenance or auto-pilot. Menial tasks consume days. Emails, Facebook, Instagram take up more and more of your focus until your goals simply vanish.
Look at where your business is now. Look at where your life is now as well. And think about where you see everything going in the future. Move the finish line back a little bit and push yourself to get there faster.
4. It's OK to take time off.
This may sound contradictory to the last two points, but there will simply be days, or even weeks, where you cannot push yourself any more and that is more than OK. You can't constantly expect your engine to run full-throttle 24 hours a day or you will completely burn out and throw in the towel.
Schedule breaks and if you don't feel like working at the moment, don't. The important thing is to always come back though. Take time off but return when you're fresh. You may have to push yourself to get back into the groove of things but that time off could be the difference between completely burning out on a project and being able to look at it with a fresh set of well-rested eyes.
5. Hire (more) people.
I don't really write too many of my own articles these days. I did face severe burn out a few years back and was luckily rescued by an eager guest poster. At the time, I was writing 5 articles a week for just one of my websites, while trying to juggle developing a newsletter, responding to emails, assisting people here at WA, and coming up with new angles to take my business.
I simply started running out of time during the day and it became impossible to keep up with all of my tasks. It was about this time that I received an email for a guest posting spot and the proverbial light-bulb just clicked. It wasn't a revolutionary idea by any means, but I was hit with an obvious solution.
If I could train someone to research and write my articles, I could get a lot more done in a day. And then if I trained TWO people, I could double my work output without having to put any more time in. So with that, I doubled the amount of content I was putting out and at the same time, freeing up more of my daily schedule to focus on other aspects of my business.
The trade off here is that hiring other people to do your work will cost you money. Initially, I was spending $50 per article as anything less attracted less quality work. My per article rate has since increased and I spend a couple thousand per month on articles alone.
Some people are going to read this and see it as money lost. What you need to realize is that each one of these articles is an investment. Not all of them are going to take off naturally, but every article is another possible source of revenue. Most of my big earning articles are from years ago. Last time I calculated one of my top posts, it was at about a 75,000% return on investment over 3 years. Yes, that says seventy five thousand percent and that's from one article. My site has over 1,800 articles published.
Do you still see that as money lost?
6. Celebrate your victories.
At some point over the course of my career, I came to the realization that I am no longer working for money. I'm working for time. Time that I can use to get the most experiences out of my life and not have to turn in 9 hours a day at a job I hate just for the chance at taking a week off to go to the beach once per year. Hell no. That's not a life I ever wanted to live and so far I haven't.
With a regular job, you do get measurable forms of success though. A bonus here. A raise there. A promotion that shows you are moving in the right direction.
You don't have that with your own business. No one is going to take you aside and throw a party in your honor, but that doesn't mean you can't do that on your own.
For Amanda and I, we like to plan trips to celebrate our successes. We schedule time off to go relax, explore, rest, adventure, whatever. The bigger the milestone, the better the celebration. Sometimes it's as little as a nice steak dinner, other times it's a two-week trip to Hawaii. What's important isn't the size of the celebration, but that we take time to celebrate at all.
7. Get the small tasks out of the way.
I have a set list of tasks that I need to complete every single day. These tasks are fairly menial and can be accomplished over my morning's coffee. There have been days where I have stretched 20 minutes of easy work into a full 10 hours of just absolute nothingness.
As you read the above paragraph, there is likely some task or item that you know needs to be addressed this very moment. Just get it done. You will relieve unnecessary stress and feel a sense of accomplishment at the same time. Take that dopamine spike and translate it into starting something new.
I know it sounds like I am addressing you, the reader, above. That was written by me, for me, as I have a number of big projects I need to be working on at the moment, but instead I am stalling by opening up my inbox every few minutes, closing it to browse other websites, and then returning five minutes later to repeat the cycle.
Go get your work done, Steve.
8. Don't obsess over your stats.
I used to spend a lot of time wondering why my traffic dipped a little bit from one day to the next. I would get obsessed with trying to figure out why while telling myself that my dream was dead and my website was going to flat-line. "There's a low pressure system moving across the Midwest and that is the reason why less people are online, probably," I'd foolishly tell myself.
In reality, there was nothing that need to be explained and if I hadn't been checking my stats every 15 minutes, I would have never even noticed the dip. I have given up entire days worth of work to look at stats. I tricked myself into thinking I was being productive, but I was secretly killing my business because I was doing nothing to move forward. Don't fall into this trap.
But on the other side of this, you should be meticulously tracking as much data about your website and your traffic as possible. The more information you have about your visitors interactions with your site the better. You won't be able to make proper adjustments to your marketing efforts if you don't know what it is that needs to be adjusted.
I run into this problem to this day. I'm often split-testing a number of different elements around my site that sometimes get abandoned due to my poor note taking. I'll have a blog post that was killing it for me that I tried to improve, failed, and then forgot to revert back. I've left a lot of money on the table by simply being careless with my tests.
9. Don't let yourself get distracted.
Specifically with a lot of noise happening within Wealthy Affiliate. Far too often, I see people publishing blog posts here three, four, five times a day, while their own site hasn't been updated in weeks or even months.
Don't confuse Wealthy Affiliate Rank with success. It's not a measure of success; it's a measure of activity within the platform. Your activity here is not going to grow your business. It will only serve as a distraction. Keep the focus on adding content to your own websites.
Wealthy Affiliate should serve as a tool to grow your business. This is not Facebook or Twitter. It's a business platform with social aspects and not the other way around. If the number of articles you've written here is greater than the number you've written for your own websites, it's time to reevaluate some things. I give this speech way too often both publicly and privately. I can only control what I do, but years of experience here tells me a lot of this will not be heard.
10. It gets easier.
It really does.
I can do a search in my inbox and pull out a 100+ messages of people telling me they aren't smart enough to figure out this technical computer stuff and they don't have the know-how that I have to succeed.
Do you think I was born with knowledge on Internet Marketing? Do you think I wrote my first line of code at 3 years old? My first WordPress article as homework in first grade? Absolutely not.
I took the time to learn and understand the things I didn't know. There isn't anything about this that's overly complicated. It takes time and patience to sit down and read and learn. If you joined expecting a quick buck with no effort, you are in the wrong place. Nothing like that exists online. You're better off playing the lottery as that's the only way you're going to make a lot without doing any work.
However, if you dedicate yourself to this business and put forth the effort to research a niche, develop a plan of action, create your website, and start populating it with content, you will absolutely succeed here. Stop looking at what everyone else is doing and set yourself apart from the crowd.
10 Years Down. 10 Years to Go.
I've always wanted to retire before I hit 40. I don't see myself working full-time after that. I am never really going to be able to walk away from developing business ideas though, but I would like to do so with a little less stress and pressure. I'd probably focus on my photography hobby a bit more. I'd love to explore the western parts of the US a bit more. There are so many national parks on my bucket list that I had to move them to their own list.
In order to hit that goal, I have to recite those ten points to myself often. Everything I listed above is applicable to everyone regardless of where they are with their business. New, experienced, earning nothing, earning millions, it all applies.
Lastly, as I write this, Amanda and I are anxiously awaiting our first child. Our little one is currently 6 days overdue and seems quite content in there, much to Amanda's dismay. Baby's arrival is going to add another layer of excitement and restlessness to our hectic lives.
I have to keep pushing myself forward to continue to better all of our lives.