Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman

How much effort is really needed to run a successful blog?

Did you hear about the recent lawsuit where a jury awarded a couple $2 billion for cancer they got caused by Roundup? No amount of money compensates for a terminal illness of course.  The jury definitely made that point with such a generous award. After the verdict, the company's lawyer asked a juror, what evidence did you need to find that the cancer was not caused by Roundup? The juror said

Ripped muscular man working out

Did you hear about the recent lawsuit where a jury awarded a couple $2 billion for cancer they got caused by Roundup?

No amount of money compensates for a terminal illness of course.  The jury definitely made that point with such a generous award.

After the verdict, the company’s lawyer asked a juror, what evidence did you need to find that the cancer was not caused by Roundup?

The juror said he needed proof that the chemical was safe:

I wanted you to get up and drink it.

Talk about a poignant, wise answer.  I love it; a punch to the gut for the lawyer defending the company.

I suspect the trial was riddled with complex expert testimony on the chemical make-up of Roundup.  Yet, the jury didn’t care.  They simplified it down to the core. If it’s as safe as you say, let’s see you chug it down.

Game, set and match.

It got me thinking though.

If future lawsuits against Roundup go to trial, will a company executive take one for the team and drink Roundup shooters on the stand?

How far should employees/stakeholders go to protect a company?  How far will they go to avoid being held accountable for causing illness and death?

I suspect nobody at the company will chug Roundup, not even the CEO.

But that’s what it apparently will take to win lawsuits (according to one juror).

As is often the case, success requires extraordinary effort.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way hoping the company behind Roundup somehow convinces future juries to find in favor of the company.

If Roundup caused cancer, the company needs to account.

In this case the effort to succeed (i.e. successfully defend the cases) is an impossible ask for the company executives and their attorneys.

But that’s not the case with building an online business.  It’s not impossible, but it is hard.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it.  It takes tremendous, sustained effort to grow a high-earning website.

Sometimes I think I do a disservice with this blog because I may make it seem easy.  That’s not my intention.

I’m sure readers have said “it’s easy for you to say XYZ, you’re making money and have lots of traffic.”

I couldn’t agree more.

A lot of this stuff is easier for me.  I still put in a BIG effort daily, but it is easier… now.

That wasn’t always the case.

Like many people, I started when I had a full-time job.  I wrote my brains out at 4 am, again at 7 pm and on weekends.  I did this for well over a year with no results.

I had no idea what I was doing.

I followed bad advice much of the time.  Silly advice that would prove to be destructive.

No sooner did I claw myself to a decent online income did I get punched in the gut with the first Google Penguin.  Over 50% of my revenue disappeared in one day.

I had to pretty much start over in a very new environment.  All I knew up until then was how to do old-school lousy link building with spinning software to rank content in the search engines.

I wasn’t the only person who had to figure things out again.

I put in huge hours just to stay afloat.

Slowly, but surely my fortunes restored.

I resolved to avoid short term tactics and instead slowly built up a more stable online business.

I got lucky too

I acknowledge plenty of the luck I’ve had.  I cashed in nicely when the free Facebook traffic flowed like the Nile, the gettin’ was good.  Ad arbitrage was also a lucky break.

However, both opportunities ended as quickly as they appeared.

There were many who started before me who cashed in on some amazing opportunities.  When Google Adwords started, clicks were as low as a penny.  Think about that.  Search-based clicks for a cent.  How could you not make money?

When the Facebook orgy and ad arb cash machine ended I wasn’t blindsided.  I knew those opportunities were to be shortlived.  I planned accordingly (for the most part).

Through it all, I put in a huge effort every day.

Fortunately for me, while it was hard work, I liked it.  No matter how hard it was, I enjoyed it.

My enjoyment of it is and was my biggest stroke of good luck.

Why am I telling you this?

I tell you this so you get an understanding that no matter what other people say or how easy I make it seem on this blog, building an online business such as a niche site is NOT easy.

It takes a huge amount of effort.

Many people get frustrated with little or no results.  They’re not frustrated because of the lack of results, but because they believe everyone else achieves success easily and quickly.  It’s not true.  Most successful bloggers and niche site owners I know worked their tails off (and still do).

How much effort is actually needed?

Let’s look at some of the more successful bloggers.

1. Brian Dean

Have you read his blog?  Watched his videos?

That guy pours blood, sweat and tears into his content.  I don’t do all he suggests, but I acknowledge that his content is truly epic.

2. Authority Hacker Guys

Have you read how Gael and Mark spent years honing their “white hat” link building processes?  It boggles the mind how much they put into it.  It’s Herculean.

3. Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Michelle makes it look like she’s doing almost nothing for a princely monthly income, but she’s been hammering away on the same site for many years.  She was not an overnight success.

I could go on and on.  That’s just 3 examples of many.

Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Some lucky people hit it big right away, but it is rare.  There is no such thing as instant riches except via inheriting a pile of money or winning the lottery.

Let’s break it down

The two things you need to start making some okay money from a content site are time and content.  Usually, the two work hand-in-hand.  It takes time to publish a lot of content so as you go along, the time aspect takes care of itself.

I say time because it takes 6 to 12 months for Google to take your site seriously unless you do some wicked good link building (and even then you have a time hurdle).

Okay, to be safe, let’s say nothing really good can happen before 12 months.

In order for something good to happen by 12 months, you do need content and lots of it.

I’m going to assume you’re writing the content yourself (I did for years).

I’ll also assume you’re busy – job, partner, family, friends, hobbies, vacations – all the stuff we do.  Your time is limited.  Let’s say you can scrape together 10 hours per week.

If you know the niche well, you can publish 2 to 4 articles per week.  Let’s call it 3.

3 articles per week for 50 weeks is 150 articles.

It’s a good start.  Very good.  If you played your cards right, stuff will be happening by then.  You won’t retire.  You won’t be able to quit your job.  But you should have some money coming in to pay for more content.

Year 2:  You write 150 articles again, but reinvest revenue into 5 articles per month. That’s an additional 60 articles for a total of 210 articles in year two.  Total articles on site is 360.  Things are improving.

Maybe you pour some gas on it in year 3 with some link building.  I don’t do this but it can speed things up.

Long story short, you’re seriously looking at good things happening in year 3 to year 5 with a sustained effort.  I’m also assuming you made a good niche choice, targeted good keywords and published really good content.

That’s what it takes.  Creating a decently earning content website in 3 to 5 years is good and realistic.  Yes, you can do it faster, but I’m not here to get your hopes up.

It’s not easy.  10 hours per week is a huge time investment.

Which brings me to a very important point and that is you need to like doing it.  If you don’t, don’t bother.

About the same amount of time it takes to get ripped

“Gain 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days” claims aside, it takes 2 to 5 years to truly transform your body.  I’m talking about putting on plenty of lean, chiseled muscle.  That kind of transformation requires 4 to 6 hours per week plus another 500 hours per week for meal preparation (I’m joking… kinda.  Meal planning and prep for building muscle takes a lot of time).

The only people that manage to do this are those who like the process.  Everyone else quits by February.  I’m not saying I blame them for quitting.  5 hours per week in the gym isn’t a picnic.  I’m saying you need to enjoy the process to keep it going.

And just like link building, you can speed up the process by using steroids.

Okay, terrible analogy.

Steroids are harmful and illegal.  Not a good idea.  Link building is a shortcut but the worst that can happen is your site takes a hit in Google search.  Link building isn’t illegal either unless you go the hacking route.  I have seen questions in forums over the years where people ask whether link building is illegal.  Go figure.

You’re never done

Another difficult part of this line of work or running any business is you’re never done. There’s always something to do.

This can become all-consuming. You never turn it off.  Your brain never gets a rest.

In my view, it’s a good idea to learn how to turn it off when you turn your computer off.

This challenge is not unique to blogging.  Many jobs and professions have it too.  I practiced law where the job is never done either.  In fact, there were always challenges and problems to think or worry about.

At the end of the day, it’s good for me to stop thinking about this stuff.  I’m more refreshed when I return and I have more going on than just work that I want to pursue/enjoy.

Is it worth it?

Yes and no.

Yes, if you like the work.  It’s still work.

When you hit $10K per month you still have to work. If you don’t like it, you might as well find a job or business you do like.  Seriously.

It’s not worth it if you don’t like the work.  If you find you have to force yourself to do it, it’s probably not worth it.  Surely there’s some other side hustle you prefer or find a job you like (or don’t mind).

9 thoughts on “How much effort is really needed to run a successful blog?”

  1. Love your content on the blog and I’ve been enjoying your emails as well. I was thinking of buying your course, Blackroom Blog Profits, but found that it’s currently offline. Will you be selling it again as I’d like to check it out? Thanks

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the nice feedback.

      I have no plans in the immediate future to reopen Blackroom Profits, but am rolling out concentrated mini-courses. At least that’s the plan.

  2. John,

    that was a great read. Interesting that you make the comparison with bodybuilding. I have been weight training since last October now, the longest period in my life and it only works because this time I have found a way to keep my interest; namely I keep detailed notes of my progress which serve to motivate and inspire. Perhaps that could be helpful for some people when starting out, keep a strong eye on performance such as opens, reads, sites visited until the $ start appearing.

    I can’t commend you enough for your honesty and integrity. If medals were handed out ‘keeping it real’ you’d be decorated like a five star general.

    • Hey Steve, I used to weight lift quite a bit. I still do but only 30 minutes per week or so. I know the culture and know what it takes to make real gains. It’s slow, tedious and requires tremendous effort and consistency. It’s an apt analogy to building a business.

  3. Hey Jon, love this article! It’s so hard for people to know the downsides of a business model they get enamored with.

    I’ve been in the agency world for the last 5 years and it has it’s own unique challenges. High stakes relationships. Single clients that can tank your whole business. Daily stress around ad campaigns (including weekends). And no opportunities to take breaks unless you have smart, competent employees capable of making good judgement calls in complex situations.

    The reason I became enamored with content sites and your style in particular is because there is so much more in my control, and -relatively- easier to systemize.

    I do have a question about the nature of the business.

    “When you hit $10K per month you still have to work. ”
    Would it be possible for you to continue earning what you earn if you stopped working for 1 month?

    From where I’m sitting, with little experience building content sites, it seems like with some planning you could step away from a content site for a month and it would still be producing revenue with stability. You could plan out content to be published for that month, and theoretically not have to look at the site for the entire month. Especially if you had a VA ensuring a standard of quality and some rules in place to contact you if certain major problems occurred.

    When I have a big month in an agency it’s great, but if I don’t work my income literally goes to zero, especially without any very qualified people who can run ad campaigns, edit websites, manage valuable client relationships.

    When you have a big month with an established content site… and you don’t work… I’m guessing your income doesn’t go to zero, or anywhere near it, but Im curious what your thoughts on this are.

    Even if you were to stop working, forever, on a site with 3000 articles making $10k+… how long would it take for income to go to zero?

    The reason I ask is because of the seeming stability of a content site built well, and because I know I’m probably totally blind to the worst downsides of content sites.

    • Hi Mason,

      Grass is always greener, right? Great comment.

      To answer your question, yes, I would earn roughly the same if I took 1 to 6 months off. I have a team in place. I’d have to check in here and there and ensure I have enough new article topics but for the most part the system works on its own.

      I spot check quality weekly and give feedback, but if I took 3 months off, I’m sure I would do just fine barring any disaster.

      I agree with you that revenue is less volatile than running an agency with a handful of clients.

      • Ha I just came to see if you’d responded and what do I find but an entire new blog post answering my question! Thanks for the response here and that awesome blog post! Definitely answered my questions and confirmed that I’m headed in the right direction. time to commit a few hours a day to building a content site long term.

        The pro/con profile of content publishing just fits my personality better

  4. Great article. I spend an average of 10 hours a day working on my blog. It’s paying off, I’m now earning a decent income that I never had before.


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