How quickly we forget.
It seems like yesterday I was a broke as a joke.
As a student in college then post-grad, then starting off in my career, I barely made ends meet at every stage.
Dinners out? Forget about it.
Come to think of it, I did eat a couple of $1 hamburgers a few times at Mickey D’s. What a treat that was.
Car? Nope. My transportation was a used bicycle with failing brakes.
Starbucks coffee? Are you kidding me? It was Folgers or Hill Bros… whatever was on sale that week.
Yet, I look back on those days with fondness.
Graduating didn’t improve things much. Student loans kicked in. Starter jobs don’t pay much. I racked up credit card debt buying a wardrobe of cheap suits.
Then I started my online publishing business part-time. First a blog for my law practice. Then a niche site (just for fun).
Looking back, my interest wasn’t solely money. You probably don’t believe me, but it wasn’t.
My main interest was doing something I loved and carving out the ultimate lifestyle.
By starting an online publishing business, I chose lower potential lifetime earnings than what my career potential was. I’m a lawyer by trade which has good earning potential.
However, practicing law is demanding, stressful and getting more so every decade.
While I enjoyed practicing law, I like publishing online more, even if it meant earning less.
Took a beating
In the end, I got my cake and got to eat it too. I have a great lifestyle, work reasonable/flexible hours, enjoy the work and earn far more than I would have in law (assuming I didn’t somehow become a superstar jury lawyer).
It didn’t come easily.
No sooner did I quit my career did Google reign down upon me the wrath of the mighty Penguin (as in the first Penguin algo update).
I took a beating.
Talk about a kick to the gut.
The day before Google Penguin dropped I was making more online than in law.
All of a sudden my revenue was down 50%. Our first son was just born, which really amps up household expenses including a new family car (literally purchased with financing one week before Penguin).
I was back to being broke as a joke.
With a ticket to practice law, I had a safety net. Also, l’m fortunate to live in Canada. Nevertheless, I was determined to avoid defeat.
We tightened our belts. It was back to Folgers coffee and once a month dinners at… you guessed it, Mickey D’s.
Facebook to the rescue.
I jumped on the FB traffic tsunami. Plentiful free traffic. Unlimited dirt cheap paid traffic.
That is until FB kicked publishers in the teeth. Ad rates rose. Zuck decided to shut down post reach.
I didn’t care though because somehow I saw it coming. This is unusual, because I’m not good at spotting trends. Lucky break I guess.
1.5 years before the FB apocalypse I noticed ever-so-weakening reach. The writing was on the wall. I also knew FB ad rates would rise. Economics 101 dictated it would.
I transitioned back to focusing Google. I overhauled my sites to pull in search traffic.
Haven’t look back since.
Bad times. Good times. Bad times. Good times.
Through it all my daily aim is to stay in the game. It really is.
Fast forward to today. So quickly I forget the broke days.
I’m not the only one.
Jeff Bezos, for example, is well known for talking about how he gets 8 hours per sleep every night and how it’s so important for business success.
Who can argue that 8 hours of sleep is bad? Not me.
But I’ll bet my last dollar that in the early years of Amazon he didn’t get 8 hours of sleep each night.
He busted his butt; toiled day and night; scraping and clawing his way to making Amazon what it is today.
Now as the richest man in the world, he can hire anyone he wants affording him sleeping luxury.
And no, I don’t begrudge the guy. I like Amazon. I’m sure he’s a decent guy.
But when situations change, it’s easy to forget where we came from, Bezos included.
Blowhards like me
Reflecting on Fatstacks emails I’ve sent and blog posts published, I’m guilty of forgetting too (not that my biz is in the same league as Amazon).
Let me give you an example.
In today’s blog post I was going to expound on how it’s so important you focus on your audience first and money second.
In other words, serve your audience and the money will come.
This is my mindset these days. It’s helped me improve everything in recent years.
But that’s an impossible ask of many people, me included 6 years ago.
6 years ago if I read from some blowhard like me to focus on the audience and the money will come, I’d be ticked off.
Only someone with money says that.
Which is true.
6 years ago I focused on the money. I had to.
Looking back, I know without a doubt had I focused more on my audience I’d be further ahead.
But when broke as a joke, lack of money looms heavy.
So I’m changing my tune.
Focus on the money until you don’t have to. You will make bad decisions because money-centric decision making can be bad. But you’ll also likely hustle more; get more done faster. There’s nothing like hunger to inspire action.
I’d rather invest in someone broke as a joke with fire in the belly than a trust funder who merely thinks it would be cool to publish a blog.
You gotta get the bucks rolling in. It’s that or fold.
And folding isn’t an option.
Just be careful not to let your need for making some bucks cloud sound judgment too much. Take calculated risks with emphasis on “calculated”.
I’m at the long term growth stage which is different than starting out. When starting out, you need revenue fast.
I have the luxury to embrace a longer-term outlook.
If starting out with mouths to feed, you don’t.
It’s like investing. Younger people can afford more risk. Older people need to preserve wealth. Different strategies.
I took huge risks. Some worked. Some didn’t.
Conquer like Caesar
You know who else took huge risks?
You’re gonna hate me. Yup, it’s back to our good friend Julius Caesar.
He took risk-taking to epic levels. Life and death. Empire-making or breaking (technically Rome was a Republic then, but that’s not the point… just saying for you History geeks who wouldn’t be able to resist telling me I’m an idiot).
Caesar oozed ambition. Becoming a mere Senator wasn’t enough. He needed to conquer and conquer he did.
But he miscalculated in the end.
He went too far.
He made himself dictator which was too much for the other powers-that-be so they killed him.
Embrace Caesarian ambition and effort, but don’t let blind ambition take you over the edge.
What’s too risky in this online publishing business?
Risk is a combination of potential downside and the likelihood of the downside event occurring balanced with the potential reward and the likelihood of the reward event happening.
For example, PBNs used to be a favored SEO practice because the likelihood of being detected by Google was low and the reward is high. While the reward is still high if they work, detection is more likely so the risk/reward isn’t worth it (IMO).
On the flip side, publishing a mediocre article instead of going all out is sometimes worth it. The potential downside is the article doesn’t earn any money. The potential reward is it performs okay which signals to you to invest more into it.
I’m not suggesting that you only publish mediocre content, but sometimes it’s worth doing to test the waters (especially if targeting low competition keywords).
How about investing more time and money in updating older content instead of publishing new content? This is risky. You may be better off publishing new content… but the potential downside of making the wrong decision here is nominal.
And then there’s messing around with your Amazon affiliate account or AdSense accounts. The downside magnitude is huge, as in a business-killer. There is really no justification for putting these behemoth accounts at risk because the downside is too great (without enough reward to warrant it).
Don’t get me wrong, if I were guaranteed $50 million dollars, but would lose my AdSense account after the $50 mil was safely ensconced in my bank account, I’d do it. So would you. However, no such scenario exists (as far as I know).
And then there’s the best of both worlds. Actions you can take with minuscule downside risk but huge upside potential.
One such example is natural link building, as in publishing content that attracts links.
There’s almost no risk involved.
Why do I say “almost” no risk?
Because there’s risk in this biz no matter what you do. You can do everything right but due to powers beyond your control, something happens. Look at the relatively recent Google Medic update. That was nasty for many health site publishers. Many published great content but took a beating anyway for seemingly no rhyme or reason.
Aside from that natural link building, as in publishing types of content that attracts links naturally is about as low risk as it gets for off-page SEO.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.