Instead of publishing a monthly “Income Report” like many bloggers do to document their progress with their online business, I’ve decided to do things a little bit differently.
If you’re at all familiar with online income reports, you probably know that they can get a bit boring and repetitive. That’s why I’m only going to post them when I have some new insights I want to share with you all. Otherwise, I don’t see much point in sharing with the world how much money we make from our online business.
They won’t be monthly. And probably not even quarterly.
Basically, I’m just going to post them whenever I feel like it.
Today is one of those days.
Note: This post contains affiliate links.
VTX Capital: Our Personal Finance Website
First, some background info:
Ben and I have been running the personal finance blog over at VTX Capital for almost two years now, and this blog for about 6 months (since October 2016). During that time, we’ve learned a lot about what all goes into running a successful blog, mostly via trial and error.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the past year is the incredible value in studying others who have already accomplished what you want to accomplish.
In my opinion, we did too much trial and error in our first year. I think we would have been better off investing more time in learning from people who are already succeeding. We tried to reinvent the wheel, and it wasn’t working.
With this post, I have a few goals:
- Motivate you to finally start your own website if you’ve been on the fence about it
- Show you that it’s possible to replace your 9 to 5 income
- Share some more advanced tips that you won’t read anywhere else
FREE Course: How to Make $7,000+/mo Online
- Learn How to Start Your Blog
- Learn How to Build Traffic
- Learn How to Generate Profit
Completely new to blogging but want to get started? Be sure to check out our step by step post, From 0-$100k: How Anyone Can Start Blogging. You can get started with just a few minutes of setup.
March 24th, 2017 Year to Date Revenue Update:
How Our Websites Earn Money
The primary way that we make money is through “affiliate marketing.”
Affiliate marketing is also known as Cost-Per-Action, or CPA, advertising. This is a little different than display Cost-Per-Click (CPC) advertising (like Google Adsense), where we make a few cents every time someone clicks on whatever ad Google decides to display on our site for a particular user.
Instead of receiving payment each time a visitor clicks on an ad, with affiliate marketing, we get paid only when someone takes a specific action after clicking an ad/link on our site.
Those “actions” are usually defined as making a purchase or entering their email on an opt-in page.
So how is this better than cost-per-click advertising (CPC)?
The commissions are MUCH higher.
Since we only get paid when our ads generate actual conversions, advertisers (the companies we’re marketing for) are much more willing to pay us a higher commission. Since they’ve made a sale or conversion that they would not have made had we not referred the reader, they have no reason not to pay extra for that.
The one downside to affiliate marketing is that conversions are much harder pull off than just getting someone to click on an ad. That’s why having amazing content is so important. It’s the backbone of any successful affiliate marketer.
With great content comes high volume traffic and an engaged readership- the two key ingredients to generating serious affiliate revenue.
The great thing about making money through affiliate marketing is that your earnings potential is virtually unlimited. The only limiting factor is how hard you are willing to work to grow your site.
Here are some of the best performing companies that Ben and I promote on VTX and BTOP:
- Personal Capital
- Lending Club Investing
- Motif Investing
- Discover Bank
- Paid Survey Companies: Swagbucks, MyPoints, Earning Station, Survey Club, VIP Voice, American Consumer Opinion, QuickRewards, PanelPlace, Point Club, One Opinion, Harris Poll
Impact Radius Earnings: $9,895.00
Impact Radius is an affiliate marketing platform that we use to promote some of our top partners in the section above.
As you can see, our earnings have trended downward since late January. January is historically a very good month for personal finance related web traffic, so this was somewhat expected.
AdThrive Earnings: $539.00
We just switched from Google AdSense to Adthrive for our display advertising on March 3. So far, it’s been pretty awesome.
Their system places ads on our site automatically, which frees up a TON of time on our end. Our revenue per 1,000 impressions (also called RPM) has gone from $1.87 with AdSense to now $10.79. Despite our traffic being down in February and March, we are making far more from display ads than we were in January.
This is a really big development for our business.
Takeaway lesson here: As online business owners, a lot of times we get caught up in trying to reach more people, create more content, and just do more. You should regularly take a step back and look at how you can maximize what you already have.
By taking what we already had (steady traffic), we found a better alternative to AdSense, and ended up 5X-ing one of our revenue streams.
Blue Media Ventures Earnings: $529.60
This is a network we use to promote one of our survey site affiliates. The particular program we promoting runs on a single opt-in basis rather that double opt-in, and so far it seems to be performing really well for us. I’d like to start taking on more single opt-ins, as they are quite a bit easier to convert.
Despite the CPA being lower than average, the EPC for this program is actually one of our higher paying ones.
FlexOffers Earnings: $797.00
Our FlexOffers revenue continues to trend down as we are finding better places to work with specific partners. That being said, I still like them a lot. Our affiliate manager is always reaching out to see if we need anything, and she’s also good about letting us know of any new programs that might work well for us.
CJ Earnings: $383.83
CJ has always been a staple in our affiliate marketing lineup. We have never focused on them a ton (not for any particular reason), but it’s nice to have the extra income.
Other Ad Networks and Consulting Income: $1,980
We have several other smaller sources of income, which I have not listed here. Most of them are just a hundred bucks here and there.
Some Online Business Tips I’ve Learned
Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
I want to share an email chain I had late last year with one of our affiliate managers, where I asked for a commission increase.
I think a lot of bloggers and online business owners are afraid to negotiate with their affiliate partners.
And I get it.
Negotiating takes us out of our comfort zone, and it puts pressure on the other party (when we are supposed to be working together!).
But, there are times when you just have to buck up and do it, because there is too much money on the table not to.
The below email thread is between me and Andrew, an affiliate manager for one of our best performing companies that we promote.
Note: I’ve left out company names for privacy.
Here is Andrew’s response to my email:
Great, they’re willing to bump us up from $2.80 to $3.00!
BUT, his email actually gave me two little bits of leverage that I wanted to use to try and squeeze out a little bit bigger raise (yes, I know I’m greedy, and I am okay with that). You’ll see what I mean.
- He wants me to switch platforms, which creates a lot of extra work on my end. Registering on a new network, swapping out links in multiple articles, etc. It will take me time and effort to do the switch.
- “We would be happy to revisit in a few weeks to see that it is backing out for both sides.” This is code for “I know what our break even point is, but I’m not ready to pay up to that level yet. Let’s talk again later.“
This is what I love about “the game”.
Most people aren’t willing to haggle over a few cents, but I most certainly am.
I’m thinking long term: over the course of a year(s), every razor thin edge I can get goes towards our bottom line. As we scale up our web traffic and increase our conversions for this particular company, this edge becomes a substantial dollar figure for us.
And even if he says $3.00 is the best he can do, I still just locked up a 7% pay raise! A 7% raise from one email.
So here is what I wrote back to Andrew:
Become comfortable in uncomfortable situations like this (straight up asking for more money).
If you can get past the awkwardness and what you feel as being “too pushy”, you may end up getting a response like this one:
Boom. We’ve gone from $2.80 to $3.00, and now we are at $3.15. That was huge!
In the end, this email thread ended up being worth well over $1,000 to us. And because of this thread, we will continue to make thousands more than we would have otherwise made.
All from this one thread.
A couple months later (and after more positive results), I had a phone call with Andrew and was able to get our commission bumped again from $3.15 to $3.50.
Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
Taking the Plunge…We Hired an Assistant!
Ok, so not a full blown “hire”, per se. But we have brought on a freelance virtual assistant to help us manage our Facebook pages.
Keeping up with finding regular content to share on Facebook turned out to be too much for Ben and I to handle on our own. With little immediate return (both traffic and revenue wise) on our Facebook posts, we just never made growing our page a priority.
Now that we have steady profits coming in from our other traffic sources, Ben and I are putting some of that money towards outsourcing certain things (like our Facebook pages). As much as I hate to admit it, we can’t do it all on our own!
But, I will say this:
We’ve only started doing this now that we are running a strong profit each month.
Due to the nature of Facebook (as a business page, we get very little organic reach with each post), I don’t expect to recoup the costs of our assistant for many months. But, building our Facebook presence is a non-negotiable part of our long term social strategy, so bringing her on is still a worthwhile investment.
In addition to our new assistant, we are also planning on spending just as much, if not more, each month on Facebook advertising to grow our following on both pages (VTX and BTOP). Again, this will have a very negative ROI at first, but it’s something we need to do.
Where the Company is Headed Next
Let me preface this with the following:
- Colgate didn’t start selling toothpaste until almost 70 years after it was started. They originally manufactured soap, candles, and starch.
- Twitter started out as a podcasting platform.
- Amazon called itself “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore” when it first opened. Now they sell everything.
- Abercrombie & Fitch used to be a sporting goods outlet.
My point is, things change.
When Ben and I started VTX Capital, our plan was to create a subscription-based investment research company…
Well, that plan didn’t exactly work out for us. We struggled to make any money at all, actually.
Then we stumbled upon affiliate marketing, and started learning how it works.
Fast forward to now, and our business is almost 100% focused on affiliate marketing. While we still have a lot of room for improvement, we’ve become really good at what we do.
The further down this path we go, the more likely it is that we do a complete re-brand at some point. “VTX Capital” was the corporate name we first came up with for what we thought our business would be, but lately it’s becoming more and more obvious that that name no longer fits our brand.
And now that we’ve figured out how to succeed with affiliate marketing, we want to start aggressively pursuing other niches in the future, not just personal finance.
That may mean creating one or more new websites, hiring content writers, and other business investments.
We are slowly transforming from a financial education/coaching business to a media company, and I never saw it coming.
Self-awareness is a very important skill in the business world– Ben and I are acknowledging that our original plans didn’t work out the way we wanted, but we are willing to double down on what is working. Even if it means something we never anticipated.
Things are going really well for us, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the results we are finally beginning to see.
It feels so great to finally know that I no longer need a regular day job to pay my bills and make ends meet. Trust me, it’s been a looong time coming.
Really, I wish everyone could experience feeling this sort of freedom.
Is it easy? Definitely not. I work on this stuff around 60-80 hours a week.
Having a full time job and working for someone else is easier, I promise you that.
But it’s not nearly as fulfilling. And the income potential is a fraction of what it would be if you are able to create your own successful business.
For me, the thought of making someone else’s dream come true while I clocked in and clocked out ate away at me every day I was at work. It finally got to the point where I could not take it any more, and I left my cush corporate desk job.
Maybe that’s just how my brain’s wired. Maybe not everyone is like me.
The purpose of this article was to show you that it’s possible.
It’s possible to build something amazing (while you’re still working your 9 to 5).
It’s possible to create a sustainable online income stream.
It’s possible to leave your job and do something you love- while working for yourself.
Less than a year ago I was making 29 cents a month.
I know so many of you are looking for a way out. Well, starting an online business may be your ticket.
With our recent success, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people about how to get started with something similar to what Ben and I are doing.
The truth is, you can make a lot of money blogging, and you can make money with pretty much any niche out there. Cooking, DIY, Video Games, Yoga…really, anything.
If you’ve been thinking about giving blogging a shot, below I’ve outlined the exact steps for you to get up and running in about 15 minutes.
The Simplest Way to Start a Blog
For new bloggers, I recommend using Hostgator.
Why HostGator? Well, in my experience, they are the best all around hosting company for new bloggers in terms of performance and cost. They’ve also got a great infrastructure to accommodate your blog as it grows, which is really important.
Step 1: Choose Your Hosting Plan
Go to HostGator’s home page and select “Get Started Now”. This will bring you to a page that gives you 3 different packages. I recommend starting off with the Hatchling Plan:
If you are just starting out, the Hatchling Plan is all you need. First rule of business: don’t over complicate things and end up overspending!
Step 2: Choose Your Domain Name
Once you hit the Sign Up Now button, you’ll be directed to the order form. The first item on the list is the most important one: your domain name! This is the one and only name for your website, so give this some thought.
It can be tricky coming up with a name that isn’t already claimed.
Tips for Choosing Your Domain Name
- Stick to just .com endings. Don’t bother using .biz, .info, .org, or any other endings.
- Make your domain name simple and easy to remember.
- Leave out numbers and dashes and anything else other than letters.
Step 3: Enter Your Hosting Plan Information
This step just confirms what you chose in Step 1 (Hatchling Plan). If you want to change plans, though, you can do it here.
You’ll also set up your HostGator username, which is what you’ll use to access the back end of your site.
Step 4: Enter Your Billing Information
Another straightforward step. If you can’t figure this part out, maybe this whole online biz thing isn’t for you ?
Step 5: Choose Add-ons That You Want
I recommend all of them, however, you can probably get away with adding them later. Eventually (hopefully in the not-too-distant future, assuming your blog grows) you’ll want all of these things.
If money’s tight, you can forego these things. If I had to choose just one add-on, I would choose the site backup option. Losing all your hard work is a buzz kill that I would not wish on even my worst enemy.
Step 6: Enter Your Coupon Code
We’ve got you covered: use the coupon code BTOP42 for 42% off your order. We’ve partnered up with them to give our readers this exclusive deal not offered on their regular site. All the more reason to get started right now!
Step 7: Review Order Details and Submit!
Once you’ve completed all the steps above, go through and make sure everything is the way you want it. I won’t include a screenshot since everyone’s checkout page will look slightly different based on their choices.
You’ll also notice that there are a few other free perks: 24/7/365 Phone, LiveChat, and Email Support AND a 45 Day Money Back Guarantee if you decide blogging isn’t for you. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
Once you’re all set, go ahead and hit Checkout and let’s get rolling!
Step 8: Install WordPress
Now it’s time to install WordPress on your site (don’t worry, it’s easy!).
Go to HostGator’s Billing Login page:
Use the email address you signed up with and the password included in your order confirmation email.
Once you’re logged in, you’ll see a bunch of tabs on the top. Click on the Hosting tab.
Once that loads up, you should see an option below under “Special Offers” that says Get Started with WordPress Today. Click it:
That will bring you to a “QuickInstall” page, shown below.
Make sure your domain name is chosen in the “Application URL” section. Be sure to leave the box after the slash blank.
Then, check the “Enable Auto Upgrades” box. Enter your “Admin Email”, your “Blog Title” can just be your domain name (with spaces), then enter whatever you want your admin username to be. Pro tip: Never make it “admin”! You WILL get hacked if that happens. Make your Admin User something unique. Lastly, fill in your first and last name, then click the “Install Now” button.
Step 9: Finish WordPress Install and Log into WordPress!
Once WordPress is finished installing, you’ll get a confirmation message giving you info for where to access your WordPress login, your username, and a randomly generated password to sign in. Your WordPress page can be found at http://yourwebsitename.com/wp-admin. Go to that URL and sign in.
And that’s it! You’re all set up and ready to go with your new domain.
Other Ways to Make Extra Money:
1. Do Online Surveys: Companies are willing to pay money to get inside the heads of consumers. Below are my favorite survey sites. They’re free to join and free to use. Pro tip: It’s best to sign up for as many as you can as that way you can receive the most surveys and make the most money. Swagbucks ($5 Free Signup Bonus), Survey Junkie (QUICKEST to start earning), MyPoints ($5 Free Signup Bonus), Earning Station, Survey Club, VIP Voice, American Consumer Opinion, QuickRewards, PanelPlace, Point Club, One Opinion, Harris Poll
2. Drive for Uber: This is a really good use of your time if you are trying to make some extra cash in a weekend. Here’s a signup link that gives you $100 after you give your first ride, plus check out How I Made $427 in 2 Days Driving for Uber.
3. Earn More Interest on Your Savings: Move your savings over to a bank account that actually pays you a decent interest rate on your savings. Discover pays nearly 1%, which is 11 times higher than the national average. Take 10 minutes out of your day and do this- over time, it really does make a difference.
4. Sell Your Stuff: Most of us are guilty of hanging onto things that we never use, myself included. Take a day and go through all your old stuff and get rid of some of it! One tool that is really helpful for this is Decluttr.
5. Invest Your Savings: Despite the risks involved, you should probably be investing as a way to make extra money. For the DIY investor, I recommend TradeKing. Motif Investing ($150 sign up bonus) offers pre-made “themes”, such as cancer research, which is neat. Stash is an app that’s great for a new investors, as it makes everything extremely simple.
6. Bet on Your Own Weight Loss: What better way to lose weight than to avoid losing a bet? Sites like HealthyWage.com allow you to place a wager and make extra money when you successfully lose weight.
7. Download the Shoptracker App: They’ll instantly send you a free $3 Visa gift card, plus another $3 for every month you keep the app installed.
8. Use Swagbucks for Online Search: Swagbucks is a great way to passively earn cash and Amazon gift cards with very little work. They have a search tool, which is just like using Google to do your online searches, except you get rewarded “SBs” for the things you do through their website. Redeem SBs for rewards. And by signing up through our link, they give you a free $5. Boom.
9. Peer to Peer Lending: Using money you already have to make more money is usually a pretty smart move. Using a service like Lending Club is a great way to act as a lender and earn interest on your money.
FREE Course: How to Make $7,000+/mo Online
- Learn How to Start Your Blog
- Learn How to Build Traffic
- Learn How to Generate Profit