13

The Beginning of the End

Well it’s been a great ride but it looks like the ‘magic money’ gravy train is coming to a screeching halt. I’ve seen it coming for awhile now with my earnings for the second half of 2013 being a lot less than in previous years. And now, things have gotten really serious with me earning only $875 in February and on track to do only slightly better in March. But all is not lost! And, in a weird way, this is all actually pretty good news for me. Sure, it’s slightly stressful seeing the bottom drop out of my main income source, but I think I’m actually well-positioned to move on to bigger and better things.

The Bad News

  • My earnings have dropped fairly drastically, fairly quickly. I only earned $875 in February and $1,646 in January as compared with $3,174 and $5,000 the previous year. I’m on track to earn less than $1,000 again this month with my guest posts, affiliate sales, and Adsense.
  • I get more emails these days asking me to remove links than I do inquiries for new deals so it seems like this latest Google crackdown is the real deal.
  • I don’t see things improving in the world of paid links and guest posts anytime soon, if ever.

The Good News

  • While my traditional way of earning money is on the down slide, I’m starting to earn with my Kigali and Kampala city guide websites and I have my Kigali restaurants guide mostly finished so once that gets going, that’s another spot to sell ads. So far I have six advertisers on board for my Kigali site and we’ve just signed up our first for the Kampala site and I’m earning around $500 per month at the moment.
  • Businesses that want to advertise on these sites don’t know anything about SEO at this point. They’re actual businesses that want actual clicks from my actual readers so I can ‘no-follow’ the links. Google-proof.
  • Businesses still approach me to advertise and I haven’t had to do a hard sell to anyone. I hate selling things, so this is a good sign,
  • This type of a business model is based more around building a community who trusts my opinion and interacts with me, rather than dealing with nameless, faceless, people trying to trick Google. I’m filling the internet with great content instead of rubbish and it feels good.
  • Having my income drop off has been a huge kick in the arse for me to start working on other ideas that I’ve been putting off for the longest time. I have three products that I’m working on (also Google-proof). An update to The Underground Guide to International Volunteering which I’m going to put on Kindle this time around, my Kigali map which I know will sell well, and a downloadable Kigali PDF ebook (and maybe a version for Kindle eventually) that I can sell from my website.
  • With everyone asking to remove links, my sites will eventually be back to their squeaky clean, non-Google-scamming roots and maybe I can sell them or start adding genuine content and improving them.
  • I have some savings, so there’s no huge sense of urgency just yet.
  • The costs of running my business are very low and can be temporarily reduced to almost nothing, if need be.
  • I can live very well in Kigali for less than $2,000 per month (and even on $1,00 a month, if I have to) and I think that, with all of the different components I have brewing (including earnings from my ‘old’ methods – affiliate sales, Adsense, the occasional paid post) I’ll be able to reach and exceed that amount in the coming months.

So while things are getting a little scary as far as monthly earnings go, I’m not worried as I think I’m really well-positioned to move away from sleazy guest posting to something that’s a lot more real and satisfying.

As I mentioned above, I don’t need to earn loads of money to sustain myself and save a little. My priority is to never work for anyone else again forever and ever. I’m not interested in striking it rich, just in sustaining a good quality of life while being able to stash some money away in the bank and travel a few times a year. I think I’ll be able to pull this off and do it in a way that leaves me proud of the work I’m doing, allows me to create and communicate with a great communities of people, and lets me partner with lots of interesting businesses.

I’m nearly finished the update of my volunteering ebook and I’m excited about it! It’s been greatly expanded and improved upon and I’m really excited to get it onto Kindle and explore that world. I’m not expecting huge things out of the ebook, in fact it’s probably going to be the smallest earning for me, but I don’t think a couple of hundred a month is unreasonable. Just another piece of the puzzle!

How are you guys finding this latest Google crackdown? I’d be surprised if anyone out there isn’t feeling the pain! I’m getting a lot of emails from other bloggers that are attempting to sell ads for cheap which is something that’s never happened before. I think a lot of people are going to see their earnings and maybe their entire way of life effected. What’s your backup plan?

Well… wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted.

5

Kigali Map Project Update

Anyone who has followed my blog for awhile (and who hasn’t jumped ship since I stopped publishing income reports) will know that I’m attempting to move away from a Google-scamming link selling method of earning an income and towards something more sustainable. I’m hoping to transition from shady activities that I’m not so proud of (filling the internet with crap, essentially) to websites with a focus on East Africa, starting with Rwanda because I live here.

This idea has grown from the kind of accidental success of my Kigali website. I didn’t expect to be here for so long and like it so much so I wasn’t sure how long the website would be useful, but it turns out that I’m here for the long haul and the site has been a huge success. Seeing this, I’ve also launched a Kampala expats site and a Kigali restaurant guide website. Basically, seeing a need and filling it. These markets aren’t yet overwhelmed with information like most places and building the best site in town and getting it to rank isn’t difficult due, mainly, to a lack of competition. This has meant that I’ve been able to position myself as a Kigali expert and any new arrivals will find my site without much effort from me. Being considered a city’s authority is huge and I’ve been thinking about how to leverage this.

My main idea is one I came up with around 3 years ago and have been working on off and on since then. Kigali doesn’t have any decent map, period, let along a tourist and expat-oriented one. If I see a need, I tend to think about being the one to fill it and set out to create a map useful for new arrivals. Kind of an information dump from the website to a physical map with tips, info, loads of points of interest and Kigali’s winding roads. But, while tracing the city’s streets is something I managed to figure out in Illustrator, that’s about all I can do and I got stuck. For years! It’s gotten to the point where it’s kind of a joke. The map. The elusive map.

But I’ve FINALLY moved forward with this. I found a great designer who specializes in maps and we’re on our way. His work so far is good, our communication is excellent, and I’m excited to see how thing thing ends up. I think the key to passive income is products like this. Create it once, update it occasionally and figure out ways to sell the thing. Having a physical object to sell is a lot more tricky than a downloadable ebook, but with Amazon I think it’s easy to just ship a bunch to them and let them handle the details. Selling it here in Kigali will be an initial logistical challenge to set up and I’ll need to think about printers and shipping… but once I get the finished maps ready to go, I think they’ll pretty much sell themselves.

In case anyone is interested, here are some steps I’ve gone through already:

  • Came up with the idea way back in 2010. Traced the city’s streets into Illustrator and then realised that I really don’t know how t use Illustrator.
  • Looked at other maps for inspiration including the Nancy Chandler maps (I’ve since decided to do something different, but my initial idea was very similar to this) and A La Carte maps (which is probably closer to the style I’m aiming for).
  • Compiled a list of the sort of information other maps shared and chose the things I thought would work on a Kigali map. Brainstormed other sections that would work.
  • Wrote content for the information boxes (more detailed descriptions of restaurants, tips etc).
  • Plotted all of the points I was aware of and walked the streets of Kigali neighbourhoods I’m less familiar with to find other points of interest. Bars, restaurants, hospitals, clinics, schools, government offices, banks… and way more. I currently have more than 500 points on this monster.
  • Realised that I suck at Illustrator and attempted to hand draw the map. Soon realised that it would all be scanned back into Illustrator anyway and I’d be stuck again.
  • Eventually conceded that I can’t do this all myself and found a map designer on Elance (about three years after starting this project).
  • Felt all warm and fuzzy and happy with myself when the designer came back with a good first attempt at the design look and feel. Finally, something decent to show for all of this work!

Now I’m at the stage where I give new information (new points of interest, tips etc) to the designer and then he does the work and I check it out, come up with suggestions and more info and then send it back to him. I have most of the city’s useful spots plotted on the map… just need to take a few more walks to unknown areas of town to be thorough.

But this is a problem for me… how thorough I’m being. I’ve never been very good at putting in a half-assed effort. I see this as a great opportunity to make something amazing and I’m not really content with producing something mediocre. I seem to be attempting to make the best tourist/expat-oriented map ever. Of all time. If I don’t reel myself in a bit, this thing will never be finished.

I’ve loved the process, though, and learned a lot about Kigali. I’m already thinking of making a map for Kampala, a bigger city with more of a market for this sort of thing. It has a few crappy maps floating around but if the Kigali map turns out how I expect it to, then I think Kampala would be the logical (and profitable) next step. Then maybe total African domination? Who knows! There are a lot of cities in Africa still not really given much attention online so the need for information is there. Especially in map form.

So… the profits. Well, I guess I’m having so much fun making the map that I haven’t given too much though to the fact that I’ll have to actually sell this thing. I’ve opted to keep the ad free of ads and sell it. The other option would have been to sell ad space to cover the costs and make some money, then give the map away for free. I really think this thing will sell itself and I didn’t want to have to compromise anything by bringing advertisers on board. Plus the idea of selling ad space makes my soul sad.

So I’m thinking I’ll be able to sell this thing for around $10 a piece. With printing and shipping (printers in Rwanda are horrible and ridiculously expensive so I have a connection in China for cheap and cheerful or the UK for something better but more expensive) and giving a cut to any places who sell the map for me and the cost of actually having it designed (about $1500 so far but probably more), I think I’ll be able to come away with at least $5 profit per piece. No idea how many to get printed but the minimum print run is 1,700 for the UK place so I guess that’s a good starting point! My plan is to have something to print by the time I head home to Canada for Xmas. Maybe speak to some printers there and get some quotes.

Lots still to do and think about… but I’m really liking the process. Once I have a physical map in my hands, that’s another key to this passive income lifestyle. Add Kampala in next year, maybe a few more cities and suddenly I have a mini map empire! Well, that’s the idea anyway. If I can really nail the Kigali concept and design, copying it over to other cities will be pretty easy design-wise… the hard part will be finding the information which is what partners are for.

I’m excited to see where my map project is going and really looking forward to seeing what amazing things my designer can produce. I’ll keep you posted on the progress!

2

Starting a Destination Authority Site

Oops, it’s been a long time between posts! As usual, I suppose. I’ve been pretty busy working on trying to find a designer for my dining in Kigali site as well as coming up with ideas for my Kigali map designer as well. Lots of design stuff! It’s fun coming up with ideas though and letting the talented design folks do their thing so I’m excited to see how both of these things turn out.

But enough of that! I’m writing this latest post as a response to an email I got recently from David from A Couple Travelers. He and his partner are looking to diversify their (quite substantial) income and came at me with a bunch of questions related to authority, destination-specific sites. As I seem to have the Kigali thing going well, I guess I’m a good person to ask! But rather than just respond in an email, I thought others would be interested in reading my responses. So here goes…

Do you think it’s possible to run such a website when you don’t actually live in the area?

Yep, totally possible. Just like it’s possible to run travel insurance websites without caring or knowing anything about travel insurance. The site will probably be pretty crappy, though, unless you have a partner or staff who do live there.

I built my Kigali site because nothing else existed that could answer any of my questions. I’m always in search of new website ideas and I was in Kigali slowly discovering the answers to all of my questions, so putting that information into a website seemed logical. My problem is that I often have grand plans with my websites and I saw the oppourtunity to make my Kigali site the best resource for the city… except that I didn’t really know much about Kigali at that point and I wasn’t intending on staying for longer than a couple of months.

So I somehow found two people who were into my idea and wanted to write for the site which got me motivated to work on making a good site with some features like a forum and an events calendar. Then they got busy with other things so couldn’t write for me but, by this point, I’d decided to stay longer than expected. A friend of mine helped write some things early on and the site grew fairly slowly and organically. As I learned more about Kigali, I wrote more.

I really think that living in Kigali and having an obvious passion for and interest in the city is something that readers can identify. Being here, going to events, meeting readers when I’m out, meeting business owners and all of that stuff is important not only to the perceived authority of the site, but also to making connections to eventually sell ads down the road.

Do you have experience with that?

Yep! On the back of the success of my Kigali website, I registered a bunch of domain names with the ambition of expanding this model to other African cities. The Kigali model, at that point, hadn’t earned any money, but I was convinced that being the main authority site for a lucrative market like expats and tourists will eventually pay off. Maybe not for awhile, but I’m a patient person. Plus it’s always great to be the first in and to be able to put really helpful info online for the first time and a lot of African cities aren’t really well-served yet with this kind of information geared at new arrivals who intend on living there.

So far the only other city I’ve launched a similar site in is Kampala. In my mind at that time, I could have gone one of two routes. The first was to find a partner who lives in Kampala, intends on living there for a long time, and has the writing and ad-selling skills needed to be a 50/50 partner. I do all of the nerd stuff and they fill the site with content and eventually approach businesses to sell ads. This would mean that the only up front costs would be time and that I could focus on what I’m good at and my partner, who would be an expert on Kampala (or an expert in the making), could focus on all of the things I have no idea about.

The second idea was to keep the site 100% under my control and hire writers, hopefully one or two committed people on a long-term basis. Then figure out the advertising and money-making part later. This would have meant up-front costs for me as well as the responsibility of managing writers and attempting to verify their content without knowing anything about Kampala.

Somehow I ended up with a third option that sort of just happened organically. I posted awhile ago on Nerdy Nomad that I was hoping to take my idea to Kampala and start a site there. A reader put me in touch with a guy called Tyler who lives there and has for awhile. I don’t know the reader and neither does he! It was a friend of a friend of a friend sort of thing. Anyway, I got in touch and we hit it off and have been on the same page since we started this little venture about a year and a half ago. But Tyler runs his own business in Kampala and is a busy guy so we decided to structure it so that I’d be the nerd and he’d be the manager and ad sales guy. We’ve split all of the costs 50/50 and when revenue starts rolling in, we’ll split that as well. Our main cost is our writers…

How did you find local writers?

When we started out, I had a friend living in Kampala who was unemployed and Tyler had a couple of friends who expressed interest in writing for the site. I think we were offering $20-30 per article, depending on length. Our first goal was to write a bunch of Kampala area guides and then we moved into more general articles and then restaurant reviews. We had some ok results with the area guides and, while the writing and insights were ok, it didn’t have a lot of personality and read like a guidebook. One of the reasons I think my Kigali site is so successful is that there’s a whole bunch of quirky personality hidden within the content that people seem to really like. So, while we were getting good content, it wasn’t great and the writers eventually lost interest in the project or got too busy.

We left the site for awhile and came up with a new approach to finding writers. We decided to look for people willing to give a year’s commitment and came up with a monthly salary based on the number of articles we expected and a list of tasks (posting to Facebook, forum posts, answering emails etc). We found two new writers, agreed to the wage and conditions (I think we pay about $250 monthly each for two articles per week and social media and forum stuff) and things have been going great since then. The writers are engaged, so a really good job, know their stuff, and are producing regular content that’s really useful to people. These two new writers are friends of Tyler, as well.

If you were taking this approach, how would you go about choosing a place?

This is a tough one for me to answer since I’ve always built my larger websites out of a passion for the topic. I was lucky because I built most of my early sites before anyone was making money online so I was genuinely motivated by sharing my knowledge. This was my motivation for starting the Kigali site, too – filling a huge void in information for the city. I didn’t start it with the intention of making money from the site. As the site grew, it became evident that it would be possible, but it wasn’t my reason for starting the site. I think it’s dangerous starting websites with money as the motivator because it will take a very long time to come (at least two years for this sort of site, I think) and if you don’t have a love for the city (or other topic), it’s easy to become discouraged and give up.

However I guess choosing to start the Kampala site is sort of a similar situation except that my partner is passionate about the city and I’m passionate about expanding my little East Africa empire. Kampala was just the next logical choice due to the proximity to Kigali, the fact that it’s an awesome city that I don’t mind visiting, the fact that they speak English and I’d also like a resource for Kampala and since there isn’t one, why not build it myself? Uganda is a much more internet-savvy country and there are more businesses that are likely to understand the world of online marketing than in Kigali. Plus Kampala is a much larger city than Kigali with a larger population of both expats and tourists, so if what I’m doing in Kigali seems to be working well, it stands to reason that a site for Kampala would do even better. I never do keyword research stuff, I tend to follow my gut. But, as I said, I know the stats for my Kigali site and it makes sense that a Kampala site, due to numbers of expats alone, would eventually do much better as far as traffic goes.

If I were to put myself in your shoes, I would choose a place that has some sort of target market of a reasonable size (not sure what that might be, though) in a place that speaks English. The location might be as important as the target market. In my case, expats and tourists are a lucrative market with a lot of money to spend both on doing things and just spending it on everyday life. If you’re able to also identify a defined market that spends a decent amount then that would be ideal. It doesn’t need to be as general as ‘expats’… it could be people who like a certain activity or something like that. I’d also choose a city that you like and have an interest in. Maybe even a place where you would plan on spending a part of the year or one day settling in for awhile. At least to get the site going a bit. If you’re not interested in the city and have no connection to the target market, it’ll be tough.

How long would you say it takes to get something like this up and running and seeing results?

My Kigali site took a couple of years to become popular. Now it’s a very well-known website and people even often reference exact articles or things I’ve said… which is always surprising. When a site is the only thing people find in Google, it will become popular but it takes awhile to build up your content and for the site to start showing on Google. So I’d say two years at a minimum.

Your Kigali site has a really nice forum and it seems like some decent foot traffic. Also you have 20,000 Facebook likes. How did you go about achieving this?

The forum started very slowly with myself and my friend basically talking to each other under various aliases. It would have grown quicker but there’s a well-established Yahoo Group that has always been the go-to for any new arrivals. Probably because there was nothing else. It’s annoying to use and, while it once served a purpose, I think it’s obvious to everyone that it’s not the best format for this sort of thing. My forum filled a need but letting people know about and getting them to switch over it has taken a lot of time. I haven’t done anything special except let it grow organically. I did run a contest last year which got about 60 new people to register, but that’s about it. If there’s no other way for people in the same place and the same interest to speak to each other then starting a forum is great. If something decent already exists, though, it might be more hassle than it’s worth as getting people to change (even from using the crappy Yahoo Group, in Kigali’s case) is very difficult.

The site’s traffic mostly comes from Google, returning visitors and Facebook referrals. The Facebook page is something I’ve put a bit of investment into, paying to advertise with the main goal being more ‘likes’. I think it costs around GBP150 for 3,000 new likes which happens in about a month. For this type of site I see this as a great investment because a large Facebook following is a great thing to pitch to advertisers and also a great way to be able to reach a lot of people quickly. Having an advertiser post an event on their Facebook page, me sharing it and them seeing a large increase in the number of people reached and hopefully a good turnout to their event is something that is very tangible and therefore marketable. The small, square ad in my site’s siderbar isn’t that exciting… promotion on Facebook to a large number of engaged readers is much better. I’m going to put another ad up for Facebook soon to try to push the ‘likes’ up above 30,000. I think it’s money well spent.

Is there really that large of a Kigali following?

I’m not sure what you mean by following but Kigali is a city with a million people but with a large number of NGOs and save-the-world type organisations that are often partially staffed by foreigners. The city is relatively small and the target market is relatively small. Well, it started off small but based on feedback and interactions on my Facebook page, I really think that a lot of Rwandans are interested in the site as well. Plus there’s a lot of movement of people within the East African community (Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania) so I have plenty of African expats who enjoy the content as well. But I’ve kind of made the leap from ‘intro to Kigali’ type help articles to posting about Kigali events, reviewing restaurants, and having a reasonably active forum which I think is useful for all of the city’s English-speaking residents.

Where does most of your traffic come from?

As I briefly mentioned above, mostly from Google, returning visitors and Facebook. The Facebook traffic is mostly my own page. I don’t worry about posting in other forums or on blogs or on other forums. It might be a good idea to troll through other Africa-related forums to see if I can answer people’s Kigali questions and then promote my site but I really can’t be bothered. I think that when a site is the only option in town for a certain kind of content, people will find it. My site is all over Google… it’s hard to avoid if you’re looking for anything to do with Kigali. So I just stick with that. At the moment the site gets around 400-500 visits per day. Nothing major but it’s a very targeted audience, I’d say.

Ok that’s all from me! David, I hope this has answered your questions. Please add any follow-up questions into the comments. Hopefully a few other people have found this interesting, as well. I guess I’d finish with saying that I get a lot of joy from working on my Kigali website. The key to that, though, is that I love this city, love living here, love sharing my knowledge with new people and love continuing to learn about this place. There’s a lot of love! If I didn’t have such a passion for Kigali I really think that would come across in my writing and it wouldn’t be such a popular site. I think the key to a destination authority site is having knowledge to share in a passionate way so if you can’t do this yourselves, make sure you find a partner or writers who can.

Good luck!

11

Starting to See My First Kigali Advertisers

So as mentioned in my A Change in Direction post, I’m making an attempt at moving my income away from what I consider to be dodgy ‘Google gaming’ techniques, over to something more sustainable and less as risk from Google crackdowns. I’ve made a whole bunch of plans on how I’ll be able to accomplish this and, though I’ve been moving really slowly, I’ve managed to take a few steps in the right direction and I’m starting to see some results.

My main focus over the past several months has been on getting my Kigali restaurants guide up and running. It’s online now and I’m very happy with the functionality of it, but there’s still a bunch of design work and other small things to do before I’ll truly be happy with it. But I was sick of looking at the thing so I put it up for people to use about a month ago and have since mostly forgotten about it. My programmer was on vacation but he’s back now, so it’ll soon be time to finish up those loose ends. One I’m happy with the site, that’s when I’ll start to think more about how to monetise. But, for now, I’m happy to just put it aside and focus on other things.

My main focus has shifted back to my Kigali website. The site is laid out how I want it and there’s no more little tweaks or fixes to do… it’s just about continuing to add good content which I’d sort of let slide while I was working on the eating website. But now I’m giving it the attention it deserves (adding things to the Kigali events calendar, becoming a lot more active on my Facebook page, improving some older content, and trying to add at least one new article per week) and it seems like this has caught the attention of some businesses in town.

As I’ve probably mentioned a bunch of times, I’m definitely not a salesperson. So the magic emails I’d get from people wanting to ‘advertise’ on my websites was wonderful for me. I didn’t expect that sort of thing to work for Kigali but, as it turns out, it does! I guess if you make a great product and people want to reach your market, they’ll find you.

The Deal

I’m charging US$100 per month for a ad square in my sidebar (135 x 135 pixels) linking to their website plus they get three posts per month (by me, about them… whatever they want within reason) to my Facebook page which just passed the 20,000 ‘likes’ mark a few days ago. The Facebook page is a huge part of making this all work and I’ve developed quite a community on Facebook who trust me and look for recommendations by me. I’m not sure I’d feel like a small sidebar ad would be worth $100 a month but with the Facebook page exposure thrown in, I think it’s a no-brainer.

Plus, any partner who happens to run events regularly or even just once-in-awhile will get my guarantee that it’ll be added to the events calendar. Normally I’m pretty lazy with events because they’re a pain in the ass to add, but with a bit of notice, I’ll make sure to add theirs and also to promote them on Facebook.

My goal is for my advertisers to see a benefit in payment me $100 per month so I’m going to do what I can to really promote them. On Facebook, word of mouth, whatever. Since I’ll only choose businesses that I like, it’s easy for me to want to tell people about them. I think this model will work well and once I have 10 or 12 advertisers, I’ll be busy promoting them, but I don’t think it’ll be too annoying to my readers because they’ll be businesses they’d want to know about.

The Advertisers

I know there are a lot of businesses in Kigali who’d really benefit from being an advertising partner with me. But rather than work to convince them of that, I like how it’s been happening more organically. Like with my previous accidental business model, I’m getting surprise emails looking for information on how to advertise on my website. The people who are finding me already understand the benefit… there’s no sales pitch. This also means that they’re not likely to have unrealistic expectations as they’re already fully active online (they all have Facebook pages, Twitter and websites) and understand what’s possible online.

I’m thinking of the advertisers on my website more as partners. Businesses that I believe in that I really want to push. I’m not interested in selling an image ad square in my sidebar to some company I don’t know anything about and then collecting a cheque. I’m taking an approach that I think will work better in the long run. One where I only partner up with trusted companies that I like and that I’d actually use myself and recommend. This means I won’t lose the trust of my readers by seeming to recommend crappy businesses just to get paid.

At the moment I only have four advertisers paying in full. The Pearl Lounge (Rwanda’s airport lounge for departing passengers), K-Club (a nightclub), Azizi Life Boutique (a shop selling handicrafts), and Inema Art Centre (…an art centre and gallery). The others are The Office (a co-working space that I’m bartering with for a desk), City Arts (a centre for ballet and other classes that a friend of mine runs – they’re only paying $25 a month for now) and Kigali Konnect (a directory site that helped me get my work visa). Plus I’ve given Azizi Life a second slot for free just to balance out the spacing and because they’re a good cause.

I’m happy with the group of partners I have on board but definitely see room for a hotel or two, a tour company and a couple of restaurants. This might be where it becomes a good idea to get out there and approach some people I think would make a good fit. Or I can just wait for them to come to me…

The Goals

I’d like my Kigali website to be bringing in around US$1,500 a month. I think this is a pretty reasonable goal if I can fill all of my ad spots (10 to 12 in the sidebar and one at the top) then that’ll be around $1200/month (if I take any discounts for advanced payment into consideration and manage to sell the top ad for a bit more per month).

Thank leaves me with around $300 to make up and I haven’t quite figured that part out just yet. I’m going to have an ebook for sale once I get around to writing the thing. Plus I have this map that I keep talking about that’s been a work in progress for over two years now. That’s definitely needed here and would be easy to sell… I just have to make the thing! A lot of people cycle through Kigali at a quick pace and a lot of people find my website and trust my opinions… so I think selling these yet-to-be-created maps and ebooks would earning me $300 fairly easily. Possibly. Maybe.

I’d eventually like to push my total revenue for Kigali-related projects up to $2,000 and I think I’ll be able to make up the extra $500 with advertising on my Eating in Kigali website. If I were to work hard (finish my ebook and the eating site and do a bot more to reach out to advertisers) then I think I could reach my goal could be done by the end of the year.

Hmm… perhaps some motivation to get going! $2,000 is plenty of money here and would be easy to live on and even save a bit. It would be great to be earning and spending here in Kigali without my magic money from other internet endeavors. It would just prove to myself that this style of community website business is totally viable without resorting to dodgy Google gaming techniques.

It would also act as a great model and some inspiration for my team over at Living in Kampala. To be able to show a good amount of revenue on my Kigali site would be a big boost as Kampala is a much bigger and more internet-savvy market and the earning potential there is even greater.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself… I’ve only sold four ads, after all! But I feel like things are moving in the right direction and I’m really excited to get working on this ebook and map and to keep growing my site and expanding my Kigali products and knowledge.

21

My Plans for a Google-Intimidation-Free Online Income

Following up on my A Change in Direction post, here’s an accidentally ridiculously long post which lays out all of my ideas for continuing earn online after my guest posting magic money machine dies. I’m writing this post both to share my plans for attempting to find new ways to earn a living in this changing world of internet marketing and also just to get those ideas down in one place so that I have a sort of a checklist to refer back to to make sure I stay on track. The new name of the game for me is ‘diversification’ and it hasn’t been a conscious effort I’ve made… it just seems to have worked out that way.

I feel like my earnings goals are pretty modest and, for the new earners related to my African websites, I’m really not sure at all what to expect. I’ve put what I’m hoping to be earning each month with each product by the end of 2013. Some of these things might take longer, some are already earning that amount… but it’s just a bit of a timeline to aim for.

Current Earnings

Guest Posts and Links

This has been by bread and butter for several years now, accounting for most of my earnings each month. I expect that I’ll continue to earn with this for awhile yet, maybe even years, but I think there will be a steady downward slide.

  • What I Need to Do - This one is easy… business as usual! I’m still getting emails, some from long-time partners and many from completely new people, so I’ll keep trying to do deals and hope for the best.
  • Earnings Goal - $1,500 (I currently have an ongoing deal for $500… so if that keeps up, my goal is real just $1,000 each month)

Google Adsense

Adsense has been a trooper all of these years, despite me giving it zero love and attention. I suspect that the entire Adsense network is in a bit of trouble based on the lack of quality ads lately and the emergence of Facebook advertising (which I use and think is far superior). So if Adsense itself is becoming less popular and it’s not getting decent ads, there’s not much I can do about that. But if things stay as they are then there’s no reason to believe that I won’t continue to earn a bit each month.

  • What I Need to Do - While I should be doing something to optimize the ads on my sites, I probably won’t. I hate tinkering  with Adsense and, unless the shit really hits the fan and everything else I do fails, I’ll probably continue to ignore it and hope for the best.
  • Earnings Goal - $250

Affiliate Sales

This is another long-ignored income stream. I used to earn around $1,000 a month, mostly with World Nomads. These days I’m lucky if I can scrape together $100 across several travel insurance affiliates.

  • What I Need to Do - One of the major reasons for a drop in earnings is that many of the affiliate programs I’m a member of have expired or changed or the code doesn’t work anymore. So I have travel insurance websites filled with affiliate links that don’t actually do anything. This is kind of a problem. I really need to go back through my affiliate sites to check all of the links and replace the ones that don’t work with something new. This will be a horribly unexciting job and I’ve been avoiding it for… years! But it’s just a matter of dedicating a day or two to this, doing it, and then it’s done so I can have another few years of laziness. This, in itself, won’t fix things as affiliate stuff generally takes a lot of monitoring, experimenting and tweaking that I’m not so interesting in doing… but it’ll be a step in the right direction.
  • Earnings Goal - $200

Ebook Sales

My international volunteering ebook has been a steady seller over the years, despite doing no promotion at all except for when it was first launched and no SEO to bring people to the sales page. The ebook is good and I’m proud of it, but it needs an update and I’m missing out on a huge opportunity by not having a Kindle version.

  • What I Need to Do - Update my ebook! This will be another annoying job but, as with as with the affiliate programs, once I do it, I can forget about it for a few years. It could be interesting too… I have a lot of new volunteering opportunities for Rwanda that I’d love to share and it’ll be fun
  • Earnings Goal - $140 (10 sales a month)

New Projects

Living in Kigali Advertising

My moving to Kigali site is popular and, without even putting the word out, I’ve been approached by several businesses already about advertising. I’ve only got three deals active but there’s another that should start in June and I have about three more people who’ve shown interest. My goal is to have ten 135×135 sidebar ads at $100 each (I also have an option for $150 a month that includes a page on my site… but I’m not sure how successful that will be) and one banner ad at the top of my site costing $200-300 a month (this will also be displayed on my forum so will have more exposure).

  • What I Need to Do - I guess I need to sell ads! That’s not something I’m super excited about. And the chasing of money each month doesn’t fill me with joy, either. But it’s a necessary evil in this new world of dealing with ‘real’ businesses. The site is pretty much ready to accept ads. I should write articles more regularly but, even when I don’t, the site remains busy. So my focus will be on continuing to create a great website and on finding a few more quality businesses that I believe in to fill up my ad spaces.
  • Earnings Goal - $1,200

Eating in Kigali Advertising

This site hasn’t even been built yet but it’s going to be a good one, I think! I’ve got people out there, scouring the streets of Kigali for restaurants, cafes, and local bars and finding all of the information anyone wanting to eat out in Kigali could possibly want to know. The site will be mobile-friendly and trilingual and just plain awesome.

  • What I Need to Do - Well, most importantly, I need to build the thing! I’ve got the content creation going and I’ve got a fantastic WordPress/programmer guy who seems to be able to do anything I ask of him. Once I bring all of this stuff together, I’ll need to get the work out and get people using it. As there’s some competition coming to town soon, I’m going to put a bit of money into offline promotion and really try to corner the market with an awesome product. I’ll then wait for awhile while the thing gains a bit of momentum and then start approaching potential advertisers. No idea how this will all work but, as there are no decent places for restaurants to advertise, I think my site will make a logical choice.
  • Earnings Goal - $500

Kigali Products

Kigali is kind of an information dead zone for outsiders. My site sprung up and has been a success because of this but, besides that and a Yahoo Group, there’s not a lot of information around for a new arrival to the city. Spring boarding off of the success of my website, I’d like to start offering a few products for sale. I’ve got three things in mind: an ebook (PDF and for Kindle), a smartphone app, and a map.

  • What I Need to Do - Make them! The map has been an idea for two years now but I really want to make it great and I think that’s really holding me back. I’ve done a lot of work copying the entire city’s streets into Illustration only to realize that I don’t really know enough about the program to be able to do what I want. So I’ve decided to go for a hand-drawn and scanned map but haven’t had the art supplies I’ve needed (until now… just brought them back from my recent trip). This is a huge project but one I’ll really enjoy. I just need to sit down and get to it. The ebook will be easier and is something that I’ve been working on now and then. The app… I don’t really know when this will materialize or whether I’ll sell it or give it away from free. I’m still not so familiar with apps myself, so this is more of a longer term thing.
  • Earnings Goals - $100 (The only thing I think I’ll have done is the ebook and I’ll start with a modest estimate of selling 10 a month at $10 each)

Living in Kampala Advertising

The entire model for my living in Kampala website is the same as for Kigali. The site is set up exactly the same with the only differences being that I have a partner who lives there so everything is split 50/50 and that we’ve had a really hard time so far finding good, reliable, dedicate writers. My partner is a great guy who is on the exact same page as me with pretty much everything. It’s been nice to split the work and the costs but this also means that we’ll be splitting any earnings. Luckily, Kampala is a much larger and more internet-savvy market than Kigali, so I feel like, once we get the site really known, we’ll be able to command higher ad prices.

  • What I Need to Do - I don’t really need to do anything at the moment. I’v just finished writing up a job description for my partner to take to a couple of potential writers and now I’ll just need to wait and see whether that all works out. My partner is the content editor, sales and manager guy so much of what we need to happen right now falls under him. Once the content starts rolling in, I’ll have to edit photos and add things to the site but, overall, this site will take up a lot less of my time than the Kigali one.
  • Earnings Goal - $500

Living in Dar Es Salaam Advertising

This is a site that’s just an idea and a domain name at the moment but it makes a lot of sense to me to copy successful ideas, especially when there’s a demand for a site like this in Tanzania. A friend of mine just moved to Dar and, at the moment, the only information source for new arrivals is a Facebook group. This is pretty crap. Dar is bigger than Kigali and Kampala with plenty of foreign invaders who need help so the plan is to get a site going for this city too.

  • What I Need to Do - The easy and fun part for me will be actually setting up the site. Creating a little logo, coming up with colours, copying everything that I already have working well on m other two sites. This should take about a week and is something I should do as soon as possible. The much more difficult part (unless I get lucky) will be finding writers who live up to my standards. I’ll likely go with a different strategy to the Kampala site and keep control over everything and just pay writers per submission (or maybe a monthly wage) and if and when it comes to ad sales time, I’ll attempt to have people sell ads for a commission. No idea if it’ll work!
  • Earnings Goal - This one is a long way off, so I’ll leave it off the list for now.

Priorities

I’ve got a lot to do and I have an idea of what order I’d like to do things in. Below seems like a lot but, if I work really hard this month, I think I can have all of the things below finished or at least have made a decent start on each.

  1. Kigali Restaurant Site - I need to get this site launched and out there and popular as soon as possible because I kind of stole the idea from some Nairobi people who are planning on expanding to Kigali. They’re planning on launching in December (although since now they can steal all of the content from my site, it might be sooner) so that gives me a lot of time to get people using my site and they might decide to partner with me in some way instead of destroying me with their big budget. I’ll go into this whole thing in detail in another post… but I need to get this site up pretty quickly.
  2. Kigali Ebook - Writing an ebook is time consuming (my volunteering ebook took me four months to write and design) but once it’s done, selling it is sort of a set it and forget it thing which is exactly how I like to do business. I have much of the information I’ll be using already on my website so most of the work will involve reworking existing content and laying the thing out. Not super enjoyable jobs, but something I can power through and something I can do when the internet isn’t working.
  3. Living in Dar - While this site is something that won’t get going for awhile, it’s easy and enjoyable for me to set up the shell of the site, stick in a few keywords here and there and get it indexed and ready for the real content. Getting the content is the hard part, but having everything ready to go will make things easier later and give me a little push to get started on it.
  4. Kigali Map - In order to really get started on this, I need to know what’s possible with the printers here. The size and folding pattern will dictate how the map is laid out and how much I can cram on it, so it’s a first step that I need to do soon.
  5. Affiliates - This job will destroy my soul but once it’s done, it’s done for awhile. I need to go to my travel insurance affiliate sites, troll through all of the links, and replace them with current, active links or find new ones for different products.
  6. Volunteering Ebook - I need to update the ebook and set up a Kindle version somehow. Again, an annoying (but potentially interesting) job that will take a lot of my time now so that I won’t need to worry about it later.

So, adding all of my new and diverse set of revenue goals up, I get a total of $4,390 which is a pretty nice monthly total. There’s a lot of room to increase on this and, if I do all of the things I’m supposed to, I don’t think earning this amount will be an impossible task. Plus, I’d be happy with a lot less… my main goal is to not have to get a ‘real’ job! I can live a very nice life in Kigali on around $2,000 a month (after tax) and if I wanted to go budget, I could probably make $1,000 a month work so even if some of my new earnings plans don’t pan out, I’ve still got a lot of wiggle room.

It’ll take a lot more of my time to manage things,  So, for me, this means a lot of busy days and a lot of discipline to stick with each of these tasks – some very annoying. This post is a push for myself in the right direction, I hope!

Ok… time to get some serious work done.

24

A Change in Direction

Aaaaaaah! I’m annoyed. I wrote a huge post and now I can’t find it. Don’t think I saved it. My battery died and all seems to be lost. So this is a shortened version due to extreme frustration.

To start, sorry about the lack of earnings and spending update for April! I’ve been in Europe and haven’t had much time to myself to get online. So… here it is: I earned $5,008 in April. Sadly, that’s the last time I’m going to be posting my earnings to my blog. I know it kind of sucks. I remember when the Working Nomad stopped posting his earnings reports. I was pretty bummed as I looked to them as proof that earning online was, indeed, possible and I enjoyed comparing his earnings to my own. But I have my reasons…

First I guess is that I’m not really enjoying posting the earnings reports all that much. The truth is that I really don’t do many things that have an effect on my earnings from month to month. So the reports are generally just “Here are the figures and, yet again, I didn’t do anything different or try anything new to share with you.” That’s kind of dull for me to write and probably dull to read, as well.

The second reason is that I’m finally starting to feel slightly uneasy about the methods I use to earn online. I do a lot of things based only on hunches and instinct (totally scientific! ;-) and, up until recently, whenever Google were laying the smack down on people for links sales and paid posts or whatever, I didn’t pay it much attention. I guess I didn’t feel like I needed to… I sort of trusted that what I was doing was working still and didn’t feel so afraid of Google. This was probably the way to go as I never got a nasty email or saw my sites banned or anything like that.

But now something just ‘feels’ different. I’m a bit more uneasy these days that my methods for earning online will be profitable for much longer. I think the paid posts gravy train might be leaving finally. It’s not just my hunches that lead my to this conclusion but two other things as well. First is that I’ve had a lot fewer people contacting me for links and guests posts than normal this month. Of course last month was a good one and the one before wasn’t great so I can’t really just go on three erratic months. But this month is looking bad.

Then there’s the fact that I’m getting a bunch of emails for people who I’ve done previous deals with who are asking me to remove their links. They don’t want refunds, they’ve just been send emails from Google telling them to clean up their linking act. Whether my sites are on some bad guy list or something I don’t know and I don’t care all that much but the fact that people are removing links they’ve paid for tells me that this guest posting thing won’t last to much longer. At least not if Google has their way. Normally I’d ignore all of this stuff and power on… but then there’s that feeling that’s there too. It just feels like it’s time to figure something else out. Something that’s not at the mercy of Google.

That something is, thankfully, already in the works and already earning a bit of cash. I’m going to shift my focus to becoming the expat overlord of Kigali with my main website, an eating out guide, and eventually a printed tourist map, an ebook, and an app to bring it all together. The site is already very popular, it’s the only game in town, it’s trusted and visible and I’ve attracted a few advertisers already without having to do much. I haven’t quite totally worked out how to earn a decent amount from all of this but I know that having influence over a very lucrative target audience who arrive confused in a place where lots of businesses want to get their attention can only be a good thing. I’ve got the moving to Kampala site as well (which my partner and I have let slide a bit but are we’re the verge of hiring two dedicated contributors) and a site for Dar Es Salaam is on the horizon too.

The things I’ll be trying with these websites and products will be new to me and things that I will enjoy writing about. So, though my regular earnings reports will be gone, I’m going to post more about my adventures with these community sites and once I get things going a bit, I’ll start talking about how (and how much) I’m earning from these sites.

I know a few people will be disappointed that the reports are stopping but there are a bunch of people reporting their earnings online these days – way more than when I started doing it years ago. Off the top of my head there’s Matthew Woodward and The Blog Builders.

I hope people will continue to check in with me – especially if you’ve got an interest in community/city guide type sites as I think my adventures with these sorts of sites could be pretty interesting! It’ll be nice dealing with real people and businesses. People who actually want to engage and find my content useful and advertisers who actually want to engage with my readers. The way I’ve been doing things up until now has been a bit too faceless for me. Doing all of this in a developing African country should add a bit of extra bonus excitement to the whole thing!

Well… that’s all for now. Stay tuned for posts going in a new direction including more travel and personal life posts as well, just for the hell of it! It’s time to connect again. Thanks!