From Newbie To Full-Time Blogger: 5 Things I Learned

Editor’s Note: I first heard of Michael Dolen when he pitched me for a guest post on this blog. Something about Micheal’s mail was different from the many others I receive. As we exchanged emails back and forth, I found out that Michael has a very interesting story of going from debt to a successful self-created career in blogging. I asked him if he would mind sharing his story with the readers, and he said his story was just another story of a blogger–nothing special about it. But here’s the thing – even though your life seems “regular” to you, it can be a huge source of inspiration and learning to others. Boy, am I glad I talked Michael into writing down his story – it is so jam packed with nuggets of information based on real experience! I hope you learn from it as much as I did. (Note: If you have a story to share, feel free to contact us, so we can feature you in one of our future stories).

Handing it over to Michael now…

In today’s economy it’s hard to be optimistic about anything, especially when you are just starting out in your career (or you are still in school and haven’t even started yet). With high unemployment and the outrageous cost of going to college, is there any light at the end of the tunnel? The answer may surprise you and that “light” may come from where you least expect it… blogging.

To prove to you anyone can be successful with blogging if they put their mind to it, here’s where I was coming from when I began:

  • I had no college degree. In fact, I had recently dropped out of college.
  • I was in my early 20’s with no formal education, no stable source of income, and no financial support from family. Furthermore, I actually had a negative net worth due to massive medical bills resulting from a car accident I was in at age eighteen. In a nutshell, my prospects didn’t look too bright!
  • My knowledge of web development was limited. I can’t code/program for the life of me and my Photoshop skills were virtually non-existent.

Fast forward to the present and I’m doing quite well for myself thanks to blogging. Here’s some valuable things I learned along the way that I would like to share with you:

(1) Choose a niche that you love and can be easily monetized

I founded in 2008, and yes, credit cards are something I am truly fanatical about as strange as that may sound. You see, those medical bills I mentioned were actually floated using 0% balance transfers (and without those credit card deals I would have been screwed). Secondly, I am a bit OCD when it comes to rewards – I just love finding ways to game the system and come out ahead by squeezing every point and mile possible from purchases.

Credit Card ForumSo for me, the credit card niche was perfect… it was a topic I honestly enjoyed plus it’s something I could easily monetize. I think you should use the same litmus test when choosing what you want to blog about. But don’t just be a sellout and pick something lucrative if you don’t actually enjoy it. I say this for two reasons:

(a) As expected, the most lucrative niches usually have the most competition so ironically, they are usually the least lucrative for newcomers. Only jump into a cutthroat niche if you have the stamina to stick it out for the long haul… because it will take a lot of hard work to break into the game.
(b) If you don’t enjoy what you’re blogging about, operating the site is going to be 10x harder. When you enjoy something it doesn’t seem like work and in turn, you will probably get a lot more done.

(2) Be willing to work on your blog every single day

To build a successful blog there are no shortcuts (and if there are some, please let me know!). Ultimately, what it boils down to is persistence. You need to be prepared to sweat away at it for months and years to come. And that’s why it’s so important to be working in a niche that you enjoy, otherwise the climb up the mountain will seem like torture.

For example with CreditCardForum, as mentioned I started it in 2008 and I would say it took a good two years before it finally took off and started making what I would consider to be real money (an income I could live on).

(3) Be prepared for the ups and downs (and use the latter to your advantage)

Talk about discouraging… It’s spring of 2008 and despite being totally broke, I found the best small business credit card deal that offered 0% on purchases and used it to buy the CreditCardForum domain. And we all know what happened just a few months later during the fall of 2008… the credit markets crashed!

So there I was, stuck with a business idea in the least attractive niche there could be! All the banks had ceased their affiliate marketing of credit cards so if you had a site like mine, making money off of it was next to impossible!

Despite this, I kept chugging along, blogging and writing articles on the site every chance I got. I knew things would turn around eventually and this was a great opportunity to build up the site, while everyone else in the space sat on the sidelines. And sure enough, starting in 2010, credit cards began coming back and all my hard work during the recession is paying off.

(4) Auto-pilot is never an option

So let’s say you start a blog and three years later, you’re buzzing along and it’s gravy. Don’t misinterpret this as an opportunity to start slacking off. Let me give you an example of why…

Before I started CreditCardForum, there was another blog in the niche that was the #1 authority. It had been around a few years and I respected the site and author so much. In fact, it was actually inspiration for me to start my own site.

Well the owner of that other site started to slack off big time. I noticed he was outsourcing much of his writing, and in turn, the quality suffered greatly. It got so bad that a few weeks ago, I actually was alerted by a reader of my blog that one of the articles I had written about how to apply for a credit card without a SSN had actually been duplicated on this other guy’s site! Each sentence was simply reworded, without even changing the order of sentences! It was truly unbelievable and so shocking, I emailed him and requested that it be taken down promptly (which he did do).

Not to toot my own horn, but today my site blows his out of the water in terms of traffic and I’m guessing I probably earn more too. I’m not saying this to brag but rather to demonstrate how quickly the tides can change if you start slacking off. Once you “make it” in blogging, don’t let what happened to this guy happen to you. Stay vigilant and focused on maintaining quality.

(5) Build multiple streams of income

Eventually you want to get to the point where you can build multiple steams of internet income. However I don’t always recommend this, because if it means your main blog will be neglected or deteriorate (like the example in #4) then your best bet is to stick 100% of your time and resources going into that single site.

During 2009 when the recession was at its ugliest, as mentioned I remained dedicated to my credit card site but also spent a minority of my time building some other, smaller blogs in different niches. This ended up working out nicely because even though most of my income today is from credit cards, those smaller blogs I created are still bringing in money every month. If the economy takes a turn for the worse again and credit card deals dry up, those alternate streams of income should help hold me through.


No matter how hopeless things look now or how little experience you have, it is possible to pave your own way through blogging. Now I’m not claiming you will succeed overnight or that you will ever reach the level of a fulltime income, but I am confident that if anyone really dedicates themselves to it, they can make extra money every month through a blog.

Editor’s Note:

To me, Michael’s story rang a bell because this guy doesn’t just talk the talk, he also walks the walk. So many will tell you to keep working, to never rest on your laurels, to keep putting out great content, to keep building back links, and so on…. which is fine. But when you receive a guest post pitch from a guy who has much more traffic than you, it makes you stop and think. And pay particular attention to what he has to say.

Also, instead of just sending me a form letter asking for a guest post, he engaged me in a conversation. Which made me, the host blogger, a lot more open to what he had to say. When I suggested that he share his story instead of a guest post, despite his earlier reservations, he agreed. And sent me this article which is close to 1300 words. Now, it would have been so much easier to spew out a 500 word article, but that’s not what someone who is really after success does, right?

What about you? What are you takes? Share in the comments section below. And feel free to contact me with your own story.

About the Author: Michael is the President of Category Media, LLC which is the parent company of CreditCardForum. Having grown up in rural Michigan, today he lives and operates his internet business in sunny SoCal
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  1. Andrew Hobbs says:

    Patience is something we cannot neglect not only in blogging but also almost every single goal we want to achieve. People get frustrated when they don’t see potential changes after starting to do something for a while. That’s the crucial time. You have mentioned the most significant points in this post. Well written. Thanks for sharing

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