This is the story of how I went from being a bored financial advisor to owning a financial comparison website that lets me travel the world on the profits.
I’m usually not comfortable telling people how to make money online but I wanted to share my story because if I can do it then you can do it. I’ll also give you some tips on what NOT to do when starting a niche site like this. If you avoid the mistakes I’ve made then you’ll save yourself a lot of wasted time and energy, and you’ll probably start making money a lot more quickly too.
I am a qualified independent financial advisor, and although I had a decent job in the UK financial services industry, like many other people I found myself dreaming of making money online and living by the beach. I tried a bunch of things and nothing seemed to work until I started Compare Logbook Loans, a financial comparison site in the obscure niche of logbook loans that I’d never even heard of before.
It wasn’t an easy ride, and I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way, but it now earns me and my business partner a basic living each month, and since it really took off I spent most of 2011 in Thailand and Vietnam living by the beach. The site won’t make me rich – it now makes around $8,500 net profit per month between two of us – but because I get paid in UK pounds it allows me to live an excellent lifestyle in exotic places where I benefit from the great exchange rate.
There are many different online business models but the one I have managed to get working is a cross between affiliate marketing and lead generation. Put simply, this means that I get paid a commission by loans companies every time my website sends them a new visitor who goes on to become a customer. Everything is tracked automatically by online software and the lenders simply transfer money into my bank account at the end of the each month – it’s great!
Obviously there is a large amount of work of be done on the website each month – it’s not one of these automated cash machines that you hear about – but in relation to the income the amount of hours worked is pretty good and I can’t complain.
What NOT to do
Rather than just give you give you a chronological account of what I did, it might be more useful for you if I break it down into mistakes I made and how you can avoid them. I have always found negative advice more useful, simply because it is much easier to know when something does NOT work than when it does, because there are so many variables involved, including blind luck and random chance (which most of the so-called “gurus” never seem to mention.)
Here are a few of the mistakes I’ve made and what I learned from them – I hope this helps you to shave at least a year off your learning curve!
1. Don’t choose a niche you absolutely no interest in (unless you have a budget set aside for hiring writers.)
If you choose to create a niche website in an area you have no interest in then you will get bored of it before your site has a chance to start making money (this is especially true if you are relying on SEO traffic, which takes time.) The reason I chose the finance niche was because my background is in financial services, but obviously I don’t have a genuine passion for bad credit loans! This made writing content for the site extremely difficult as I was writing about things I had no interest in, and for long periods I didn’t add new articles to the site because it was boring. It also makes link building very difficult because many personal finance sites won’t link to sites that deal with bad credit at all.
The reason I chose the logbook loans niche in particular was because I had used it as one of my test campaigns for learning how to use Google Adwords. This was over 3 years ago and in those days this niche was quite unknown so I found myself making an easy profit at the time. At this point I thought it would be a good idea to promote the site using SEO techniques as well.
2. Don’t write spammy low-quality articles just for SEO purposes.
This came back to haunt me last year at the Google Panda update. Websites could get away with this in the past and still climb to the top of the rankings but the Panda update has made this much harder, and we can expect more of the same as Google keeps trying to filter out low quality content in favour of useful and interesting stuff. During the update my site dropped from number 1 for its top keyword down to number 4, which in financial terms meant a loss of 75% income.
What I did to remedy this was a gamble but it seems to be starting to pay off. I deleted over 120 pages of low-quality repetitive content and added some genuinely useful and informative articles in their place. There is no way of knowing for sure but I think this is what stopped my site going disappearing entirely (which is precisely what happened to so many other people during the last update.)
Another problem related to this is that because I thought I just needed articles for SEO purposes (i.e. lots of keywords endlessly repeated in every possible formation) it prevented me from discovering the power of guest posting, both as the best SEO technique for link building, and as a way of getting excellent free content that my visitors would enjoy. For example, look at the articles on Grad Money Matters and the other top personal finance blogs – they are all useful, informative and entertaining, written in order to help other people get what they want and need.
3. Don’t think about “making money” instead of “creating value for other people.”
This mindset is the underlying cause behind the above two mistakes. If all you think about is making money then you won’t create useful content for other people, you’ll use pushy sales techniques that frighten visitors away, and in many cases you’ll pick the wrong niche in the first place. Once I changed my mindset to creating value I immediately came up with dozens of article ideas and possible partnerships with other personal finance websites. If I had known this 3 years ago my site would probably be earning at least 3x what it is today.
4. Don’t be impatient and quit too soon.
You have to be smart enough to know when you’re getting lucky. So if something works just a little in the early days then it is most likely that a bit of work and focus will get it to be successful in the future. After my initial success using Pay Per Click I hired an SEO company with the profits and they totally failed to deliver. As the PPC earnings dropped over the next few months I found myself losing money rather than making money, so I got disillusioned and quit working on the logbook loans comparison site altogether.
This was followed a year of flip-flopping from one project to another with no real success, and lots of self-loathing in the process! Then came one of those beautiful coincidences that happen every so often. Two years ago Yahoo accidentally charged my credit card for some ads that I had cancelled several months previously. On a whim I decided just to use the credits to buy Yahoo PPC ads and use them on promoting the loans site. I really lucked out here and it started turning a profit on the very first day!
It’s a tiny niche and there is not enough traffic to earn a living just doing PPC alone, but this time I was smart enough to know that I was getting lucky and that of all my current projects this was the one with the most potential. So I decided to start developing the site in order to attract organic search engine traffic rather than have to rely on paying for ads all the time. If it hadn’t been for Yahoo’s mistake I never would have gone back to the site at that time and would have missed the opportunity.
I really hope a few people reading this take inspiration from it and go out there and build their own money-making website so that they can quit their job like I did. I feel grateful every day and don’t take anything for granted, it took a long time coming.
If I had to give one piece of advice to beginners I’d say: be smart enough to try lots of things until you find something that works, then be smart enough to know you’re getting “lucky” when something eventually does….