Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman

If I had to start an online business from scratch, this is what I would do

Man holding start over sign

I enjoy the many emails I get from Fat Stacks readers.  Many are from people starting out online.  It seems like yesterday when I learned about blogging, SEO and niche sites.  I jumped in with no idea about what I was doing.

Every email from a newbie makes me think about what I would do if in their shoes, especially people who have a family, job and other time-intensive obligations.

When I started, I didn’t have kids.  While I had a demanding job, not having kids made it easier.  I know that since I have kids now and recognize it would be hard to start a blog with a job and kids.

Nevertheless, would I start online now and if so, what online business model would I choose?

I’ve spent several weeks mulling over this topic and putting this post together in bits and pieces.  Here it is.

Hypothetical situation

I’m going to go through the “what I would do if starting over” hypothetical assuming the following:

  • Married with 2 young kids.
  • Have a demanding job that pays reasonably well (not rich, but able to pay the bills and live a reasonably good standard of living).
  • Have very little extra time due to family and work obligations.
  • I wouldn’t want to sacrifice much time with young kids to start a blog.  Kids are young once.

While not everyone reading this relates to that scenario, I know many people who read this blog do.

What type of online business?

There are all kinds of online businesses.  Here’s a brief list of the main ones:

  • Offer services as a freelancer
  • Grow a blog: by blog I mean a personal blog that focuses on building an email list.
  • Build a niche site business: by niche site, I mean a corporate brand (i.e. my name not attached) and monetize it with ads and/or affiliate offers.
  • E-commerce store
  • Sell software

Which model would I choose?

I’d go with a niche site monetized with ads and affiliate promtions.  It’s my main business model today and it’s the one I’d pursue if starting over.  I’m biased because it’s what I know, like and do best.

Existing vs. new site

I’d buy an existing site if:

  • I had a job that paid well and I had a few extra thousand to invest.  By a few extra thousand, I mean money that I could part with and not miss.
  • A good existing site was available for sale.

In all likelihood, I’d start a new site because I wouldn’t be confident enough to drop a few thousand on a site.  Moreover, I’m assuming I wouldn’t have loads of extra money sitting around. Any extra money I did have would be invested in new content.

Outsource vs. write it myself

I’d outsource as much as I could due to time constraints.  The issue is how much extra money would I have each month to outsource?  The answer to that depends on the income I would have and the degree of support from my wife.

I’m fortunate in that my wife has fully supported my online efforts since day one. But I know not everyone is so fortunate.

A best-case scenario would be able to outsource $300 to $500 per month.  That’s a lot of extra money to invest in a risky venture.  Not everyone has that kind of disposable income to pour into a blog.

If I didn’t have the extra money for outsourcing, I suspect the best I could do is publish one to two articles per week.  I’d work on it at night after the kids go to bed.  Instead of watching one to two hours of TV, I’d work on the website.

Have realistic expectations

This is the important part.

It is critically important when you have very limited time and resources to have realistic expectations.  I would take it slow and steady expecting very little results in the first two years.  It would have to be more of a hobby than a business.

The hobby mindset would good in that if I enjoy it, I’ll do it despite no earnings.

The hobby mindset also helps to minimize frustration because I wouldn’t feel rushed to get it earning fast.  The pressure wouldn’t be so severe.

Focus on publishing content

For the first year, I would focus 100% on publishing excellent content.  That’s it.

I would not monkey around with fancy social media promotions, outreach, link building, fancy website design or tinkering too much with monetization.  These are time-sucks that don’t generate results.  Once I hit 30K monthly page views, I’d put some time into maximizing revenue, but that’s it.  The reason for this is every dollar coming in can be reinvested to help growth.

I would be maniacal about content – both quality and quantity.

As for choosing topics, I would do as I do now, which is go after low competition keywords and write articles on more obscure topics.  I’d go deep into those topics.  This approach offers 2 benefits.

First, it’s much easier to rank quickly for low competition keywords than high competition keywords.

Second, I’ve noticed that when I cover a topic few other websites cover, it tends to attract some links.  Likewise, as a publisher, when I link out to additional resources, it’s usually to some related obscure sub-topic to the article I’m publishing.

Down the road, once my site matures and has plenty of inbound links, I’d go after more competitive keywords with higher search volume.

Reinvest every nickel that comes in

Currently, as a full-time niche site publisher, I can’t reinvest all revenue. My family and I have to eat.

But if I had a full-time job that pays the bills, I would reinvest every nickel that came in back into content.

Choose a niche that I know

Knowing your niche helps tremendously with both quality and quantity of content output.  While it may not be the most exciting niche, it would give me a leg up and hopefully a competitive advantage.

When you know the niche well, you can publish nuanced, info-dense content much faster. That’s what it takes to succeed with niche sites.

Remain anonymous

I would not attach my name to a blog or website if I were still working, especially if in a corporate or professional job.  I wouldn’t want to jeopardize the position or confuse clients.  I also wouldn’t want to give employers a heads up that I have a side gig which would make it look like I wasn’t fully committed to my career (which would be the case but I wouldn’t want employers and bosses to know that).

Stick with one site

Because I do this full time and have the resources, I can attempt to grow multiple niche sites (I have 9 sites that I’m growing – some slow and some faster).  It may turn out to be a bad strategic decision.

However, if I had very limited time and resources, I’d focus on one site only.  Starting a second or third would be a terrible, distracting mistake.  I’d focus on the one site until it was a viable business earning enough income where I could quit my job.

Avoid short-term tactics

I was impatient in my early days.  I took shortcuts which were primarily link building shortcuts.  I don’t do that anymore ever since the first Google Penguin in 2012.  Those short term tactics cost me a lot.  Had I just published awesome content I’d be way further ahead.  I lost a lot of content that I wrote.

If I started over, I’d focus on the long term and avoid all short term tactics that didn’t pass the sniff test.  In other words, I’d follow Google search terms of service.  I know I sound like some goody-two-shoes, but it’s only because I’ve been bitten by the might Google Penguin.

Would I build links to speed up the process?

No, I don’t think so.  I’d be tempted, but I wouldn’t.  I’d do my best to be patient and focus on content quality to attract links.

I’m working with a guy who launched his first niche site in December 2018.  He is building an awesome site.  I believe it will be a huge success.  Since he’s launched the site, his content has attracted 20 inbound links, many of which are from decent sites.  If he had paid for 20 links of that quality via outreach and guest posting, it would have cost him thousands of dollars.  Instead, he’s focused on publishing really good content and is attracting links naturally.  Since his site is only 3 months old, the traffic hasn’t come pouring in yet, but with inbound links coming in fast and furious, I expect at the 6 to 12 month mark his site is going to grow very fast.

Maintain a frugal lifestyle

Even if you hit the jackpot and start raking in bucks, save as much as you can.  Online revenue fluctuates.

My savings helped me through lean times.  When times are good, I sock as much away as I can.

If you’re working a job and your site(s) is earning, you can reinvest all of it or save some of it.  Don’t blow it all as it comes in.  Rainy days will come around and you want to be able to weather them.

Would it be worth it?

I started my online business before I had a family. While I had a full time, demanding job, every minute outside of that job I could devote to building niche sites.

These days with young kids, time is more limited.  Would I do it?

I think I would for one reason alone and that is because I enjoy it.  If I didn’t enjoy it more than my job, there’s no point.  I wouldn’t do it so I could work at home, or to have more autonomy.  While those are collateral benefits, they’re not sufficient benefits to motivate me to do it.

The why needs to be stronger.  Enjoying the process is what it takes.  Since I enjoy this work, I believe if I were to learn of this type of business today, I’d probably give it a shot.

Summary

I have to admit it’s a lot of work starting an online publishing business from scratch. I’ve been at it for years.  It takes a long time.  Was it worth it?  Yes, it was definitely worth it but it’s easy to say at this point.

All-in-all, I would choose to build a business much like I have but would have to be patient.  I also wouldn’t have the luxury to tinker, test or mess around.  It would require a 100% focus on content.

If I were told that if I would be able to make a good living publishing niche sites and blogs in 5 years, I would do it.  5 years goes fast and the pay off is worth it.

IMPORTANT:

There are many considerations when thinking about quitting a job, especially a good job.  Even if you manage to build an online business that earns as much or more than your job, there are other benefits of a job that you don’t have with an online business.  Those other benefits include:

  • Pension
  • Healthcare
  • Stable income
  • Opportunity for advancement

When you quit a job, you give all that up instantly with no guarantee.

I quit my career for this business, but it wasn’t and still isn’t without risk.

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