My Story of How I Wound Up Making Money Online
The story that follows is more of a detailed account of what I described (more positively) at the Affiliate Blog Online, a blog for affiliate marketers run by good friends of mine in the business. Read that original version here. Or, dive in to the gritty version below.
How Did I Start Online?
I’m just as surprised as anyone that making money online is even possible, and as a writer in a content-driven internet, it dawned on me one day that not only were writing skills in crazy demand, but marketing savvy was as well.
Thank God I was groomed for both. I still sometimes believe, naively, that “Anyone can do this!”
That’s not true.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but everyone thinks that “Anyone” can write, or that “Anyone” can market – it takes all of 5 minutes to prove this to be nothing more than wishful thinking.
Most people aren’t driven to succeed, and think a half-baked attempt at a website can do miracles.
There are few “easy buttons” in this business. Few shortcuts last long, if they work at all. I’m one of the few willing to put his back into the content building and research needed to make a profitable business online, and that’s what I’ve done.
But it took a lot to get here. Right now I’m funded by my SEO and affiliate marketing efforts. I had a lot to learn. What follows is my not-so-pretty-but-sadly-true account of why I in particular wound up online making money.
The details aren’t pretty, I’m warning you now – and writing it out you’ll feel my frustration at the fallout of events that drove me to make me what I am today.
Maybe your story’s in here, maybe you’ll pity me at the end of it (don’t, I’m getting paid whether I work or sleep these days)…but this is my story of how I wound up online making money through affiliate marketing.
See, I don’t think I’m “special,” insofar as I think I’m “driven.”
I’m madly, crazily driven to beat my competitors. I see the world of marketing online like being tossed into a pool of piranhas, every one of which wants to take my family’s next meal out of their mouths.
I won’t stand for it.
One fact that drives me is having a family to feed – and by the grace of God, I do feed them, thankfully.
But I had to learn the hard way…
Welcome To The Internet: This is Sparta!
Really, that makes no sense unless you’ve seen the movie 300, and if you haven’t then I look like an idiot with that line.
What I mean simply is that being online commercially enters you into a competition.
Pages compete with pages.
Your ranking in Google competes with thousands or millions of other pages.
I thrive on the challenge.
When you’re not competing with another marketer, who may just have thousands of dollars in advertising to paste you with, you’re competing against an ever-changing landscape of algorithms and laws…it’s tough.
Many just quit.
What makes me so driven? Let me tell you my story.
Why I’m Driven to Succeed
I’d started online only after being forced into it. I thought the idea of websites making money was for people with pocket protectors, “real work” meant calloused hands, right?
I had calloused hands. I swung hammers, carried 20-foot ladders, carried 5-gallon paint cans and gypsum (“mud”) on my shoulders up said ladders, pushed wheelbarrows full of concrete, helped bricklayers as a hod-carrier in the noonday sun of California summers while wearing fire-proof Nomex coveralls…
I’ve not only traded time for money, I’ve traded sweat for bread.
Virtual businesses sounded like some form of pixy dust, only harder to believe.
I come from a hard-working family. Dad was a Vietnam veteran. They didn’t draft him, he signed up for two tours as an air-evac medic.
He was in a helicopter crash once, wound up saving a Japanese photographer’s life who was trapped inside the burning hull. I think of him often, I think his fighting spirit thrives somewhere inside me, never too far from the surface.
Dad wasn’t a quitter until he quit this life in 2000.
He fought tooth and nail after getting shot down. There are some awesome pictures of him with his M-16 hurling fire, lead and brimstone that were taken by the Japanese photographer after the crash.
Both the photographer and my dad made it out alive. In fact, there are other people alive on this planet because my dad saved their hides.
It’s not some story I’m making up for dramatic effect: my dad made Chuck Norris look like a wet noodle – dad was the real deal.
I’m not nearly that heroic, but I have that same fighting spirit and tooth-and-nail survival instinct that kicked in at some point in my story…
I’m like my dad in another way – I like to help people, believing it’s just the right thing to do…so why am I telling you all this?
Well, I’d lived a life of barely having anything worth bragging about. My mom and dad taught us kids to be hard workers.
I started my family at 19 years of age, marrying my high school sweetheart after having our daughter shortly after high school.
Now we have a large family (7 kids in the home, I have 1 more who lives on her own now). That translates into: me doing whatever it takes to feed my family, usually in a time-for-dollars economy and burning the candle at both ends.
I’m not uneducated, but I did decide to work versus become a doctor, lawyer or architect like my mom wanted.
Bad choice. Mom was right.
I’ve worked long, thankless hours – most of my “overtime” has gone un-paid, and most of my working years I’ve not had a vacation.
My wife doesn’t work (by her own choice), so that means the pressure’s on for both of us. By the way, my wife “works” very hard at motherhood and being the world’s most amazing wife, I just mean she doesn’t have a “job” that brings an income.
Get the picture that I wasn’t a professional anything, but a professional hard worker, a professional do-what-it-takes-er.
I strive at what I do and do it to the best of my ability…
…even if that has meant putting in 70 hours a week, sometimes 80, and getting paid for 40…
…even if it has meant moving my family 3,000 miles from our home in California, away from friends and family, to start fresh in North Carolina with a business-to-business direct marketing franchise, selling an over-priced coupon package that was delivered in the (snail) mail in this age of digital marketing…
(what a joke and waste of money – but I learned a hell of a lot about marketing)
…even if it has meant losing it all and moving to Idaho of all places, to be “rescued” by my brother-in-law. This is where the story gets very interesting.
When Push Comes to Shove
When my business fell apart in North Carolina, I began a residential paint contracting business. I worked more hours for myself than was good for me, but people only let you put in so much overtime when you’re painting in their homes.
I also built fences, digging up the Carolinian hard-baked clay since there was a drought that season; peeled up wooden floors on slabs of concrete (read: holy cow, what was I thinking taking that job?!); sheet-rocking a sound-proof basement theater for a guy who’s WIFE fired me since it took me too long…
Yeah – I had no crew but I got a boatload of work done I’m proud of…even if I did throw out my back, holding up 70-pound sheets of soundproof Sheetrock overhead while screwing them into place in the humidity of a Carolinian summer.
I made the rest of that year work out somehow (at one point I was “fortunate” enough to get into a car accident that wasn’t my fault, nobody got hurt but I totaled 2 cars in the process…we lost our van but got paid enough to eat that month).
Let me be clear in what I believe actually happened behind the curtain of what we see with our eyes…
I believe God watched out for us more times than not. Yes, I am a Christian, and yes I believe God’s hand moves in everyday lives – I do believe that insurance check was a blessing, we were hanging on by our teeth.
If I’m painting a dismal picture here, good. I want you to feel a bit of my story.
We languished in North Carolina and I struggled with depression and exhaustion.
My life was falling apart at the seams, and my wife had our 6th child in the middle of the chaos. We lost touch with our best friends during a time we needed them most, we really felt abandoned during that time – and we were in a large regard.
In the middle of this bleak picture, my brother-in-law was building a business in Idaho and offered me to come out and work for him if I had no other prospects.
Nor did I want to go to Idaho, but California is no place for a family our size who had lost nearly everything like we had.
I didn’t want to go to Idaho for a number of reasons, one of them was knowing the character of my brother-in-law: it wouldn’t end well.
I had known him since he was 14 years old, I knew the man’s character.
Sadly I was right: things didn’t end well.
3 Years Later
The business he had built up was a dry cleaning delivery business. I was told there could be a management position for me if I helped build the business up by signing on new customers.
I did that. I also ran everyday operations (I was the only employee, “we” partnered with a dry cleaner in town): pick up and delivery, loads of paperwork for their invoicing, route management…
Well, after 3 years of practically running his business in the day-to-day marketing efforts – going door-to-door and selling the service by interrupting people during their dinner time (since they’d be home, so I was instructed)…
…after 3 years of putting in overtime each week without pay (with a few exceptions, I had some short weeks)…
…after adding thousands of dollars to the bottom line of the “family” business where I wasn’t treated like family: I “earned” a $12,000/year pay cut right before the holidays, with my wife expecting our 7th child.
I saw where that $12,000 was spent, by the way: vacations, new furniture, fat Christmas presents for his family (meaning his wife and kids, not my side of the family)…Yeah, it was insulting.
To think he thought I bought his song and dance about how “tight” his money situation was when all these purchases were made on the heels of my pay cut was a blow to my ego: he thought I was blind or stupid…
I was hurting to make ends meet and was lied to about the cause of the pay cut, evidenced by the investments made before my eyes.
Needless to say it was a punch in the gut.
There’s a lot more to the story which includes plenty of verbal “intimidation,” power plays and an overall hostile work environment, not to mention constant debates over when payday was and other forms of degradation, but I think it’s clear that work sucked.
That decision on the part of my brother-in-law to cut my pay would send me, panicked, to find a way to make the money up really quickly.
Work more. My brother-in-law told me to sign up more customers, since I’d taken the summer off of marketing (because my wife was horribly sick with the pregnancy, I wanted to get home versus stay and knock on doors for a few hours).
What choice did I have?
I worked from 7 a.m. until 9-10 p.m., Monday through Friday.
I managed to replace a lot of that lost income by closing more sales.
Enough Was Enough
Working like that in a delivery van for what turned out to be a tyrant of an employer wasn’t my cup of tea.
I used to be more of a pushover (ya think?), and in fact I’d gotten literally pushed at work (oh that was a nice exercise in degradation)…
Then I snapped.
Who was he kidding?
Who was I kidding?
Was I going to be pushed around by this bean-counting tyrant my whole life, begging for scraps?
If it wasn’t him, it was going to be some corporate bean-counter – and looking around, I didn’t have a lot of choices left in life.
So to my “brother’s” credit, he kept telling me about Elance. He also gave me a copy of a silly book on making money with AdSense and WordPress websites, leveraging this thing called “SEO” and making tons of “micro-niche websites.”
It all seemed like a joke, but who was I to kid? I needed options so I did both: I built a few websites, and did Elance.
At that point, I realized the pickle I was in. If I didn’t take control of my life, this wasn’t the last thankless job or the last tyrant boss I’d have.
It wasn’t his fault that I hadn’t made a ton of “smart” decisions up to that point.
Having no professional background except in the building trades and a work history that spanned every odd job on the planet wasn’t working in my favor. If I kept working at jobs, trading sweat and time for money, I’d get nowhere and drag my family down with me.
My brother-in-law was singly the worst employer I’d worked for – and God used that as a 2 x 4 to smack some sense into me. He wouldn’t be the last tyrant in my life if I kept working at these thankless, odd jobs.
I was sick of it, tired of living hand-to-mouth, and really tired of worrying about what to do next.
It was getting harder and harder to look my wife in the eye, and the tension was building up at home, too. You can’t put a family through the ringer without the stress taking its toll, and that constant worry ate away at us both.
To say it was awful is like saying, “The sun feels warm,” while you’re in the middle of summer in the Sahara Desert.
Squeezing Elance into a 60-80 Hour Week
Imagine this: working as a dry cleaning delivery driver, which takes 10-12 hours on its own. During that time, you need to knock on doors to make up some extra cash and keep the boss happy.
Walking up to doors with clothes in hand, getting stared at like you’re “The Help” just isn’t very good on the morale…but you have to.
You have no professional experience and no entry-level jobs can sustain your family…
On top of that, your only answer is to work harder once you get home from your 12-15 or 16 hour job.
That was my life.
While my wife and kids were eating dinner, I was either bidding or finishing gigs on Elance.
They’d go to sleep and I would stay up until 1 or 2 a.m., back to work at 7 a.m.
To win gigs at Elance, I’d bid bottom dollar if that’s what it took. Then I’d over-deliver.
I got so good at SEO and content that I gradually raised prices and fired clients. I got picky and still had more work than I could manage.
Often I’d not make a ton there, but it was something and every little bit closed the gap on my $12,000 pay cut.
So I worked during lunch “break” as the clothes were being processed at work. I brought my laptop to Starbuck’s next to the cleaner, working on article after article for clients, or my own websites.
[T]he people in Starbucks saw me jump out of the dry cleaning van and I won plenty of stares – what was the ‘help’ doing? I looked at everyone in this light because there was definitely a sense of ‘class’ distinction I couldn’t help but be reminded of, from my employer to his partner and many customers.
I’d had plenty of customers berate me, as well as the boss – I was pretty sick of the whole situation. So I found solace in buying earphones and tuning everyone out while I typed my way into Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and took so much Ibuprofen my insides were hurting.
At least if my stomach hurt, I could still type.
Nonetheless, my attitude was still hopeful I could work my way out of the hole.
The routine was to pick up the dirty clothes in the morning, deliver the clean clothes during the afternoon and into the evening, during which time I’d also knock on doors, that was my gig.
I’d do paperwork and marketing on top of all that, while my in-laws were pretty carefree, watching movies, doing anything but work the “family” business since my shoulders had broadened to carry most of those responsibilities.
I was a hard-working, one-man show; a 3-ring circus of efficiency.
But all of this demeaning work and restlessness added up to my overall frustration. I worked harder and harder until I began making little mistakes at work.
Those little mistakes came from my fatigue (ya think?) – the problem was created by the needless pay cut to begin with, but at this point there was no going back. I’d proven I could do it all, so I was being asked to keep working fiendishly.
Rug Getting Pulled From Underneath Me
To say that things were rough at work is a gross understatement. It may seem like I’m pouring a lot of gory details in here – for posterity’s sake, I am – but I’m leaving a lot out.
I’ll just say things went from bad to worse when I realized I could negotiate better terms at Elance, once I learned about SEO thanks to my own websites ranking and making money from AdSense…at the time I wasn’t doing much affiliate marketing but on one site.
That one site really began to produce, making me a thousand dollars one month and I couldn’t believe it. My eyes opened up to the possibilities of quitting Elance and my day job, having more time to build more websites like it.
Then a cascade of events happened that ripped the rug out from underneath me. I thought things were going “OK” until…
My brother-in-law tried to force more work out of me, this time even telling me my pay for marketing was no longer guaranteed. See, my marketing was always performance-based pay: if I signed up a customer, I got paid, if not, too bad – even it took me 3 hours to get 1 customer.
Now he wanted to re-negotiate terms by saying he’d pay me up front, but would reserve the right to take the money back if a customer cancelled or if he thought the customer wasn’t “good enough.”
I’d had it.
I told him to pound salt, I’d just put more time into Elance. He didn’t like that, but it paid off for me as I continued to grow in knowledge of SEO link-building, content marketing and copywriting.
Then my wife had our 7th child.
Her brother demanded I go back to work the day after my son was born, during which time my mind snapped in two.
I was incensed.
I couldn’t believe I was being asked to do that – but he didn’t like being in my shoes for one day. He couldn’t hang. He told me he’d been in the van for 12 hours, screaming at me how angry he was that he was lost.
Ironic, I’d gotten lost plenty of times on the route, and spent up to 16 hours in the van.
Not one to argue (at the time), I complied, biding my time and gritting my teeth. I told my wife Elance and AdSense would rescue us.
Then, my mother-in-law had several strokes.
Who took care of her?
My wife, with no help from her brother or sister-in-law, or from me…
She also took care of our 7 kids (we homeschool, by the way).
Thanks to working from 7 a.m. until 1-2 a.m. every day, I couldn’t do anything to ease her burden.
If it sounds like I’m frustrated – I can’t tell the story without gritting my teeth. It’s unbelievable and a lifetime ago (this was in early 2010).
I made such a success of Elance that I stopped marketing for my “brother’s” business entirely.
I told him I wouldn’t work for “not-guaranteed pay” and that I’d be an imbecile to say otherwise. He didn’t like my new backbone.
He demanded I stop Elance so I could market his business – but he wasn’t willing to re-negotiate terms.
Mind you, he’s a natural salesman. If he wanted to, he could have marketed the business just fine and done just fine.
At the time, he had nothing else pressing other than his love of leisure time. He didn’t want to put in the 10 hours a week to market his own business, which I told him at the time was madness when I was working 50-60 hours with unpaid overtime as it stood.
What I Learned
I had been pushed and shoved enough. I was standing up to a bully, something I was never known for – by nature I’m a complacent pushover, a nice guy who likes to get along with everyone.
But I’d had it. I had no other choice but to push myself, demand more from myself, make smarter choices and take the bull by the horns and put it down.
I had some hard choices to make, at the time I could sense the business “partnership” dissolving. I was going to quit in December of 2010 (it was July of 2010 at the time), when I figured my websites could produce the necessary income for me to quit both Elance and working for the “brother.”
So what I learned after struggling my whole married life (some years were better than others), was this:
- Entrepreneurship was my only promise of stability. I was done with playing by someone else’s rules.
- I needed to write, it’s what I loved doing and what I was good at.
- I knew and understood people, I was a born natch for marketing.
- The internet would become my escape hatch, no more tyrants.
I had a long list of tyrant bosses, but not all my bosses were that way. I’ve had my share and finally had enough, that was what I learned working in the worst, most “taken-advantage-of” position in my life.
Funny that I’d heard for years that going into business with family could end up this way, and I’m glad it did.
I’ve not looked back since.
Getting Fired? Really?
After telling me he’d be looking for my replacement in March of 2011, which would give me about 9 months of income and plenty of time to pay off all our debt and really get ahead…just a few days later, he fired me.
This was July 3rd or so of 2010.
I remember being completely horrified.
I smiled and said, “OK, I’ll finish out the next week, no problem.”
It was a Friday. I was to work until the next Friday.
I was expecting two weeks of pay. I was paid one week of pay and our rent was due – and he knew it.
This was a calculated, vindictive move, timed to pack the most whallop.
My plans to get out of debt and bide my time for 6 more months or so were just shot.
Quickly, I could feel my wrists burning up and a long time of endless gigs on Elance before me. I wasn’t looking forward to it.
My Carpal Tunnel wasn’t “bad,” if it was I wouldn’t have worried…
…it was horrible, excruciating… The pain didn’t subside.
At this point, I would wake up at night from the pain in my arms and wrists, even though I was exhausted from burning the midnight oil and working a mindless job.
It was horrible news. It terrified me since I didn’t have medical coverage to do anything about it.
I was taking so much Ibuprofen I could feel my stomach lining in a constant state of pain, and I knew that a combined attack of Ibuprofen coupled with anxiety was a sure-fire recipe for an ulcer.
Just what I needed.
I wanted off the “Job/Endless Gigs/Deadlines/Write Content For Others” train: because I kept working long hours into the night. It was exhausting…I didn’t have it in me.
I knew that I needed a passive income, not an active income. I wanted to work once and get paid again and again for my efforts: work smarter, not harder.
By that time I’d had this blog, The Average Genius, and I petitioned for work here and got some gigs.
I got more gigs on Elance than I really could manage, and I got thrown into another bout of depression.
I was insulted, lied to, bullied and the injustice of it all infuriated me. Try to work your best while furious: it doesn’t jibe.
The only reason I didn’t become an alcoholic at the time was because I couldn’t afford the liquor.
So here I was again: worried, done for, back against the wall and my brother-in-law would make his passive income while I slaved away. It was just what he wanted, a vindictive move.
It took a while to build things back up, but the fourth quarter of 2010, my life changed.
Sales shot up on my website (I had about a dozen sites, but one website was particularly killing it).
I’d taken top rankings for lucrative terms on expensive products and I sold them like hot cakes – I was going to retire from Elance…and I did.
Easy Money But a Hard Road
Why’d I tell you all that? Just to be a jerk and throw my “brother” under the bus?
No – and sorry to say, I don’t really care what anyone thinks of me or him.
My story is simply a historical account of what happened.
If you don’t like it, sorry. That makes two of us. I wish it never happened.
I wish I was a fiction writer and made all that up. I don’t wish that story on anybody – but I told you my story because this isn’t a joke for me.
This is life and death, this marketing business.
Search engines supply me with a boatload of traffic, I’m largely dependent on Google to bring new customers my way, and they do. But it takes work to get free traffic.
It takes determination to succeed.
I had a lot to learn from my clients at Elance that I didn’t know, and I got paid to learn. I studied their methods and surmised what they were doing – and if they kept paying me thousands in repeat business, that meant they were making thousands upon thousands from my efforts.
I was right.
So I started doing it, too. I talk more about what I learned (and what works) in my newsletter. Have you subscribed?
I also recommend you read my posts on my methods with Commission Junction (a series). After learning and improving my performance marketing skills, I released a book called CJ Tactics – and no, they’re not rehash of that blog post series. Get the book here.
I talk about the tools I use in the section entitled Recommended Tools in the navigation area up top, I have reviews to products up there in the drop-down menu if you look.
My WordPress SEO Book for Beginners
If you’d like to learn how to rank without risking a search engine penalty, and without large expense – YES it CAN be done, I’ve done it over and over and use various ranking methods in my business – then read my book, I talk more about it at Duct Tape SEO.
Or read the story why I bothered to write Duct Tape SEO.
For a non-endorsed 3rd-party review of Duct Tape SEO, head on over to Leo Dimilo’s blog. He surprised me with that one, Leo doesn’t bother to use an affiliate link, a rarity online. He’s an honest marketer and doesn’t pull any punches in his review.
I also gave Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income a copy. He had a lot to say, including:
I can tell it has everything a beginner needs to understand SEO & how Google works.
(Note that Pat doesn’t officially ‘endorse’ the book, as he only endorses what he personally uses himself, but he gave me permission to use that quote.)
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Thanks for reading, and pleased to meet you! Hope to see you around (most of my posts aren’t so heavy, I promise).