I’m going to start way back in December 2006 where my first record of earnings is on my spreadsheet. I started giving earnings updates on this blog in July 2007 and I had meager Adsense earnings as far back as late 2004… but December 2006 sounds like as good a place as any to start. No! Actually, lets start in 2001 with a bit of background and then go from there…
The Early Days
I started my very first decent website back in 2001-ish (Travoholic) completely as a hobby after spending the summer of 2000 in Ireland and travelling for a month around Europe. Based on what information was available online, this short summer of travel made me an expert! I loved the idea that a website was like publishing a magazine and gave you an opportunity to reach out to and help people with advice. Back then there was no SEO to speak of, Altavista, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves were the search engines of choice and there were only a small handful of budget travel sites. You might not know this but, as far as I remember, Travoholic was the first site to include hostel reviews… too bad nobody was finding it and I was spending so much time on stupid university to figure out how to promote it.
BootsnAll had just started and were spamming the Thorntree with messages to get people over to their site. Lots of small travel sites came and went. I saw lots grow like Hostelz.com which is, I think, the best site for booking a hostel online and reading reviews. I started Travoholic in 2001, but I had been playing online since about 1997 without much of a focus. I see this as a time of missed opportunities for me as I focused on university and working almost full-time to pay for it instead of getting into the website building gig.
There were some early ways to monetise but I was adamant that I wanted to keep my site non-commercial and just offer up free advice without nasty, flashy ads all over the price. Nobody at that time (at least not in the travel niche that I knew of) was making any money anyways, so the idea of it even being possible to earn a buck online wasn’t there.
In 2005 I discovered Adsense, added it to Travoholic.com and haven’t looked back since then. I’d sold out! I remember that very first $0.03 click, yes I do! I was in New Zealand at the time and was amazed that one click paid that much. It’s true! I was used to seeing Commission Junction pay $0.000001 per click, or something ridiculous like that. So three cents seemed amazing to me. Then the next day I got a click for about a quarter and I was converted.
I moved back to London where I didn’t even have an internet connection at home but I got to work on a bunch of new sites, including Stuck in London and Working Holiday Info. Both of these sites were very easy for me to write given that I was my own target market. I knew all of the information I wanted to read, and I had most of the information through experience so it made writing the sites pretty easy.
I had no formal training in web design but, instead, taught myself out of interest. It was a long, long, LONG road of frustration learning everything from HTML to how to upload a file using FTP to the basics of Photoshop. I love drawing and painting and art, so that translates, I guess, into a decent eye for design. The problem was that my ambitions always outweighed my skills and I spent a lot of time tweaking little things instead of focusing on the picture.
The learning curve for me was huge and the only things that saved me were that I was learning it because I liked it and was interested (so it was fun rather than a frustrating chore), and that nobody was making money online so I wasn’t doing it to make money so therefore wasn’t discouraged when I didn’t make any money – this is actually a huge point. I don’t envy people starting out these days without any kind of knowledge in web design but WordPress makes things a lot easier than they once were.
I really did jus stumble through things and learned as I went. Everything, from the actual HTML and design of a website, to figuring out how to promote it, to learning how to make some money. I read some forums to help me along and one site that was huge in helping me learn the coding stuff was Web Monkey which I just looked at for the first time in years but seems to have developed into an even better resource for newbies and experts alike.
- Navigating a Seriously Steep Learning Curve
- The Methods to My Madness – Thinking Up a Site Idea
- The Methods to My Madness – Creating Content
- The Methods to My Madness – Design, Navigation and Layout
- The Methods to My Madness – Building the Website
- The Methods to My Madness – Marketing and Promotion
- The Methods to My Madness – Monetising My Sites
Total Earnings – $12,534
- Adsense – $2,640 - I had discovered Adsense towards the end of 2005 but by 2007 was still stuck in the $150 to $300 range.
- Affiliate Sales – $6,023 - At this point affiliate sales from a variety of places were my best earner. Well, I should probably say World Nomads because they were far and above the others. I also earned a bit through mostly travel insurance affiliates on the networks Clix Galore, Affiliate Future and Trade Doubler plus a couple of other small things not really worth a mention.
- Article Writing $40 - I wrote two articles for Brave New Traveller back when it was a new site. No idea what they were about. At this stage I think I was hoping that writing articles would be a way to top up my earnings but I never really got too into it.
- Design Work – $50 - I designed a logo for my buddy Neale’s goldfish care website. The little guy hugging the fish tank. That was me.
- Advertising – $3,781 - This was made up mostly of my memberships with Linkworth and Text Link Ads and me trolling the forums at Digital Point looking for folks to buy links on my sites. Nobody was contacting me at this stage. For the people I found on Digital Point who wanted to buy links, I had no idea what to charge. I generally looked at the Google page rank of my sites versus other sites that were being advertised and gave a similar price. Prices were mostly ranging at around $40 to $100 per year. Pretty cheap!
- Google Adsense: Steady Eddy… Sometimes
- Affiliate Programs: The Big Money Maker
- TLA and Linkworth: No Fuss Link Sales
- Direct Link Sales: Potential for Some Easy Money
- Writing and Designing: That Little Bit Extra
I earned this amount while I was still living in London so the extra $1,000-ish per month-ish really helped out in that crazy expensive place. I had already managed to save a bit while I was living there but this extra amount really helped pad my savings a bit more. I wasn’t putting any money at all back into my business, as far as I can remember.
Where I Was
I was living in London! Still. I was coming to the end of my five years there and pretty ready to leave, as I remember it. I’d moved from Acton in the west to East Dulwich in the southeast which was a welcome change. I was mostly work and no play in 2007.
I did take pity on myself for my 30th birthday and spontaneously flying to Australia to spend my it road tripping around Queensland with a friend which was an amazing trip. I got to head out to her hometown and meet up with some other friends there, as well. It’s always great to catch up with friends on their own turf and I’ve been lucky to head to Australia several times to see friends I’d met while living in London.
I don’t exactly remember all of the other smaller trips I took during that year. Most of my photos are on a hard drive in Canada, anyways. I think I went camping in Wales that year oh and I met my brother an his girlfriend and some Irish friends in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day. Oh and I went up to Scotland for my cousin’s wedding and met my mum, dad and brother there. I also went home to Canada for Xmas for three weeks. It was great to spend some time with my family and friends before heading off for who knew how long.
What I Was Doing
For pretty much the second half of the year until I left in December, I was working 9 to 5, commuting 30 minutes each way, cooking dinner, eating while watching Seinfeld, going to the gym and then spending four to five hours a night, four or five nights a week working on my websites. I was all work and very little play (I moved across town to escape the temptation of going out all the time) and determined to get my sites ready to go before I left because I wanted to spend more time travelling and less time working. I was spending a lot of my time working on my sites.
I’m trying to make this point very very clear… a LOT of time. On top of my regular job. When you’re working on sites that you’re interested in, it’s actually not so bad. But if you’re in it from the start to make a buck and pick shitty topics, this phase will probably suck for you. Hard.
This is also when I registered as a Sole Trader in the UK. I set all that up… I don’t remember too much paperwork. I remember going to an information type seminar but they weren’t much help given that my business model was pretty foreign to them. The actual setup part was all pretty straightforward, though. It’s the tax stuff that’s a bit more confusing although filing is easy enough as it’s just done online. I decided to register my business in the UK because I was living there, I had lived there for the past five years, I’m a citizen thanks to my lovely Scottish dad, the tax rates are better than Canada (I think), the health care is better (I think), and I’d be more likely to call the UK home in the future than I would Canada.
Early December was party time. I’d been in London for five years, mostly working at the same place,Â so this meant a lot goodbyes and even more leaving parties. Lots. London… fun, but deadly. Then I was off to Canada for three weeks for some family Xmas time.
Projects and Ideas
I had started my living in London and working holiday visa websites in 2005 but really spent a lot of time in 2007 getting them to a point where I wouldn’t have to worry about writing content or tweaking the look while I was on the road. I wanted to focus on building new sites rather than adjusting older ones. I completely overhauled the work visa site, complete with little hand-drawn cartoons (go on, click on some different countries… their clothes change! Yes, probably over the top…) throughout the site. While the site’s content is in a bit of disrepair, I’m still really proud of those little characters! At this point I had Travoholic, Working Holiday Info, Stuck in London and a site about travelling by van around Europe. Four sites, three of them pretty big with a lot of good content.
I started one of my most important projects in August 2007 – this blog! I feel like I fought against blogging for a long time before jumping on board. I posted almost every day for a couple of months, mostly about my future travel plans and things I’d done to date to set up my mini-empire plus monthly earnings reports. Not only was I new to blogging but I was also pretty new to making money online so it was fun to blog about these things. The blog was also a major step because it was my first WordPress site. I was skeptical about WP for a long time after, though, and continued to make my other sites using HTML and Notepad. At that point WP was still very bloggy-looking and I wanted to make information sites, not sites that looked like blogs.
- Why I Used to Think Blogs Sucked Big Time
- Why I Have Converted to the Way of the Blog
- The Importance of Knowing Your Niche
Things I Was Trying
Up until this point I was relying solely on income from Adsense and the World Nomads affiliate program. But then I discovered selling ads/links. I used the forum on Digital Point and was selling ads to other forum members. In December 2006 I did about 15 deals, most for a very cheap $30-100 per year. I continued to use this forum to find link deals for the rest of the year.
Mistakes and Moments of Genius
This was the year that I went from earning $50 a month with World Nomads to over $1,000 almost overnight. Well… in six months, anyways. I changed my keywords around and did some sneaky things… an idea I actually stole from someone else. I’m not going to divulge my secrets but having this extra cushion of money from a reliable source was huge in my decision to travel and also gave me some money to be able to invest back into my business. Plenty of people have since caught onto the idea so earnings have gradually fallen over the years.
Surprise Increases/Decreases in Earnings
Inspired by the information I found on Digital Point, I started getting into SEO, something I really didn’t know anything about before then. I tweaked my sites to be more SEO friendly and promptly went from earning $600-700 per month down to $300 with a huge decrease in traffic. Ya… I don’t get it, either. Maybe it’s because I was changing things that were already working, who knows. Things eventually clawed back but it was a nasty shock.
Useful Tools and Websites
At this point I think the two sites I was spending a lot of time on were Working Nomad and the Digital Point forums. Working Nomad was a site similar to this one with travel updates and, more importantly, earnings updates. He has since stopped posting them, but at the time he posted monthly and I got a tremendous amount of inspiration from them. It’s why I post them to my site… I remember how much they kept me working. Plus he had a pretty active forum of newbies (many of whom have gone on to set up successful online businesses) which isn’t active anymore but if you troll through the old posts, you’ll find a lot of good information. Then there was Digital Point which I mentioned above. Just a really good source of information.
Balancing Work and Travel
I was still living in London at this point so I think my main challenge was balancing web work with work work and having a social life. Towards the second half of 2007 there really wasn’t much of a balance. I’d moved to the opposite side of the city to escape the party scene in Acton and to focus fairly strictly on working on my websites. I really love the work so it wasn’t too much of a chore, but I did spend a lot of time working and not so much time sleeping.
Overall Thoughts on 2007
The year was pretty busy with a lot of work on my websites crammed in between working at my nine to five job in London. Throw in plenty of travel planning and I was kept pretty busy. The highlight was my trip to Australia for my birthday and that would have motivated me to keep working on my sites. While I was busy, I always kept the payoff of being able to live anywhere and travel endlessly in my mind as motivation. I really can’t think of a better motivator than that! I think that lots of people get into this business these days but lose track of how great the payoff will be at the end of two years without any money. True, it probably won’t happen for most people with crappy ideas and execution, but it definitely won’t happen if you give up!
If you have any more questions about my early days and what I was up to in 2007, leave them in the comments.
My 2008 report is heavy on travel with some work stints thrown in in between volunteering and the Olympics. Look for my 2008 report next week. Hopefully!