“A hobby is just a hobby unit you make a sale. Then it’s a business.”
*Note: This is the second article in the “Monetizing Your Passion Online” series I’m running for the next few weeks. Enjoy
Now on to the good stuff – exactly how this site makes money…
At the beginning of last year I had a goal of making $1,000 from Live Your Legend in one 30-day period by the end of 2011. It seemed like a pretty ambitious goal at the time.
But that’s not quite how it turned out…
Instead, by the end of 2011 this website had made enough money to support a pretty nice existence in San Francisco. That works out to a bit more than 1k a month…
The full details of how I did it are in the next few thousand words.
Everyone needs models
last week I told you how Corbett Barr showed me how to build a blog that matters, grow a following and launch a brand.
But before I even knew who Corbett (or many of my other current online friends and mentors) were, I stumbled upon Jonathan Mead’s work at Illuminated Mind. Something about what he had created struck me at my core. I could relate to it. I admired it. I respected it. And I wanted something just like it.
He seemed to have just about as much passion for helping people as I did. Yet he had also figured out a way to help others build their passion into an online business.
He was one of the first guys I followed online and he soon became my biggest model – the guy I tried to learn everything from and model my business off his approach. We were helping people in slightly different ways that were very much joined at the hip.
While Corbett guided me to creating a successful blog, Jonathan helped me to build that blog into a business.
And over the past year, that’s exactly what happened – in a bigger way than I could have imagined.
‘But how do you make money doing that stuff?’
I don’t think there has been a single day that goes by where I don’t get that question at least once. Most people, when they ask what I do, they look back at me with this confused look and ask “but how can something like that actually make money?”
It’s an excellent question. And one that I had no idea how to answer up until about a year ago.
In the online world (or any world for that matter), this is the golden question. Sure, you can write about world travel or knitting or doing work that matters until you’re blue in the face, but what about putting food on the table?
I feel it’s a question that deserves full disclosure.
That’s why I’ve created this massive 5,000 word resource – to show you every way this site makes money.
And I’ll be honest, I was hesitant about sharing all these details with you all, but I figured there’s no better way to show you what can be done than by showing you what has been done (on this site at least).
But remember, before the money, comes the 4 pillars of building a blog that matters (discussed last week) – nothing happens without them:
1. Have a cause worth following
2. Help people
3. Write mind-blowing content
4. Make real connections
It all comes back to helping people.
If you notice, every one of the above comes back to doing things for others in one way or another.
Adding products to your online presence is no different.
If you can find a way to help someone with a specific problem (the more specific, the better), the more likely a reader is going to be willing to take the leap from consuming free content to using their credit card to take it a step further.
Only about 5-10% of your readers will probably ever decide to take that leap. And that’s totally fine. In my case that’s 500-1,000 potential paying customers. You can build a very healthy business off a base like that or even much fewer if you really nail your offering (we’ll talk more about that next week).
So without further ado, here’s the goods on Live Your Legend.
Below are the key product offerings I’ve focused on for turning Living Your Legend into a full-blown business. I’ve listed them in the order of which I began offering them and included the good, the bad and the % of my income for each.
Exactly How Live Your Legend Makes Money:
Percentage of 2011 Income: 13.1%
For the most part coaching involves helping someone one-on-one (or in groups) with a specific topic related to your core message and way of helping others. This is for the people who come to your site for its primary message but want some serious 1-on-1 guidance and more of a personal advocate to get results. For me, this involves anyone wanting to work directly with me to solve their core problem of hating their work.
They hire me to step them through the process of better understanding themselves and finding work they are genuinely passionate about. My rates have ranged from $120-$175 for an hour of coaching work (I got to this rate by seeing what other mentors were charging and then testing the waters a bit).
This is hands down the fastest way to make money from a passion. My belief is that just about anyone in the world, who’s been on earth for a couple decades, can find a way to charge for coaching services. You’re likely already an expert on something and you don’t even know it. You can literally hang your shingle today and be able to start making money from it in 24 hours. All you need is one client.
If you find the right match between what you know incredibly well (and likely take for granted) and a person who desperately wants to learn what you know, there is a meaningful exchange of value. The day I started offering coaching on this site, was the day I started getting clients. All it took was offering it. I had 3-5 consistent clients for all of last year.
Coaching isn’t just awesome because it makes money right away. It’s also a perfect place to start because you will learn very specific problems your readers are having and as you work with them, you will develop solutions that will no doubt be able to help many more readers. You can share these in free blog posts or in other products or coaching packages as mentioned below. So always be sure to document your progress and key learnings with your clients. Ideally record the Skype calls (with their permission of course).
And by far the best part about coaching is how incredibly rewarding it is to help someone make massive transformation in their life. This has always been a dream of mine and the things I’ve experienced with clients this year have been nothing short of amazing. I’ll always likely keep at least a couple coaching clients on board for this very reason – to have the opportunity to help people in such a deep and unique way.
Anytime you are trading an hour of your time for a fixed amount of income, you are going to face the very big problem of scarce resources. When I first crunched the numbers on coaching I thought I could make a killing – all I had to do was add more clients. Until I realized I could not physically handle any more and still be happy and relatively stress free.
I only have so many hours in the day and coaching is not the only thing I want to focus on. Also, when income only comes in when you are on Skype or the phone, it makes it very difficult to make money while away from the office, traveling and playing. Simply put, coaching is not at all scalable. That is why for 2012 I’ve decided to close my one-on-one coaching to new clients (more on why I closed my coaching in a couple weeks).
Don’t underestimate how exhausting it can be to spend your life trading hours for dollars. It’s the same reason why lawyers have so much trouble justifying a vacation. For every hour they’re on the beach, it’s another $200-$800/hr they are not making. That’s tough to deal with mentally.
Bottom line: Start out offering coaching as a way to make money immediately, build confidence that you have an expertise and passion that people will pay you for and to better understand your audience’s problems. But beware of its lack of scalability over the long term.
Percentage of 2011 income: 12.0%
Some people see consulting and coaching as one in the same. I see them as pretty different, at least in my case. Coaching is helping people with your core value proposition – the way you set out to help them. Consulting is helping people or companies with the tools and strategies you’ve learned along the way in building your business. If you build a successful blog or web business (or any business for that matter), that means that you’ve learned an extremely valuable skill set. One that many people and companies are lacking.
When people need help and you know how to help them, there’s money to be made. That exchange in value can be more than worth it for both sides if you give the absolute best of your services to them and they agree to pay a fair price to receive them.
The majority of my consulting this year has been for small businesses and solopreneurs who have wanted to learn how to build a successful blog and online presence and how to understand the role that new-age media and technology can play in their business. The best way to market this service is simple: build a massively successful web business. Don’t be one of those guys who claims to be an expert designer, who’s own site actually looks like sh*t. That’s not gonna fly.
I’ve charged anywhere from $85-$200/hr for consulting services. Although, I’d highly recommend doing fixed fee projects if you take the consulting route (thanks to Adam Baker of ManvsDebt.com for this super valuable advice). Having a fixed fee usually allows you to charge more and it doesn’t train you to trade hours for money. It also aligns the interests of both parties in a much more honest and appropriate way. If you’re paid by the hour, your incentive is to take longer, whereas your client wants to get you to finish as fast as possible. Not a good setup for anyone.
This is generally pretty easy work once you find it. If you’ve learned the specific tools to use to grow a business online (or whatever skills you’ve learned in your case), then it’s normally a cake walk to apply these to a company who doesn’t know up from down in that particular area. I’ve now gotten to the point where I could spend an hour or two consulting with a company and give them the best I’ve learned that I know will make a massive and near immediate change in their results.
For better or worse, this work doesn’t have to be as mentally challenging. In that sense it’s easy money. Coaching on the other hand is much more mentally and emotionally exhausting (which is why I’ve loved it so much) because every person and every life situation is different. There is no exact template that fits each situation. Although over time you’ll find the patterns are very similar.
Once again you are trading time for money. You partially avoid this by doing fixed fee projects, but still, you are only getting paid if you do the work. Still not a scalable solution and won’t allow you the full-blown freedom that most people are looking for.
And much worse than that, is the fact that usually you are consulting on something that you happen to be good at and know really well, but not something that is your true passion. You true passion is how you set out to help people in the beginning. For me that was helping them do work you all love (which coaching was perfect for), not showing people the strategies to grow a website, etc. Although in my case it turns out that those are very closely related – most passionate people want a web presence to further scale and leverage that passion.
Bottom Line: This can be easy work and is a good way to fund your own projects, but you’re still trading minutes for dollars and you are likely not consulting on a topic that you’re most passionate about. Not the best long-term plan.
3. Offering other products (aka: affiliates)
Percentage of 2011 Income: 9.3%
Simply put this is getting paid a commission for selling someone else’s product to your audience. I have a very strict policy about what I do and don’t promote on this site. In order for me to suggest all of you buy someone else’s product, it has to:
- Be of absolute top quality
- Be massively helpful to the purchaser (which means I’ve already used it and it’s been massively helpful for me)
- Be very well aligned with my audience’s problems and needs
Very few products make this cut. Almost none in fact. The sad truth is that 99.9% of all digital products on the web are very low quality (At least based on the extensive research I’ve done). Since I started blogging I think I could count on two hands the number of products I’m willing to promote.
Offering products is where you really start to have a business. Doing it through affiliates is often the best (and certainly the fastest) first step. I’d recommend having an affiliate product offer on your site from the moment the site is live. But please please be sure it satisfies the three criteria above. This trains your readers right from the start that you are in this not only to help people, but also to make money while helping those people. That’s an important psychological point for both sides to understand. You’ll also start learning right from the beginning what people want or don’t want. That’s invaluable.
Since most online products are completely digital, the marginal cost to produce another unit is basically zero. That’s huge because it allows the creators of these products to offer a commission anywhere from 30% to as high as 75% or more. They are getting their product in front of customers they would have never had access to, so it’s worth it for them. This is pretty unreal considering normal referral fees for physical products or services are more like 5-15%.
If you follow the above three points and find a really solid fit for your audience, you can make some serious money doing this. Just recently I offered an affiliate product from a close friend who does amazing work, and it brought in nearly $4,000 for Live Your Legend in just four days. And I have buddies with similar audience sizes who have done up to $8-10k in a week with the right offer.
And Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income is the master when it comes to this stuff. He reports his site’s income on a monthly basis and makes anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 or more per month with carefully selected affiliate products. The potential is huge, especially since this is now a scalable business model (unlike coaching or consulting). There is no additional cost or effort for you if you sell one unit of someone else’s product or if you sell 10,000. Oh, the power of the Internet…
It’s very easy to get seduced by the possibility of affiliate offers. Unfortunately many people online will promote anything in exchange for a few bucks. The extra bump in short term income is absolutely not worth it to me (and I hope it’s not for you either). Anytime you offer something that is not an ideal fit for your audience, they will notice (and so will you because you probably won’t sell any copies).
Every time you do this, you damage the trust your readers place in you. That damages your brand and will create the exact reputation you don’t want over time. There are ways to build great business around affiliate offers but only explore them if they’re in the best interest of your readers. Anything else will come back to kick you in the ass.
Also, for every bit of energy you put into promoting someone else, it’s energy you could be putting into building your own product. That is where the real leverage is and what most of your readers ultimately want. I’ve seen people go years without ever building a product of their own because promoting affiliates is much easier and requires less time and work in the short term. But ultimately this is not what’s going to build the business and brand you want to have when you look back on things in 5,10, 20 or more years.
Bottom Line: Affiliates are a great way to start making money right from the get go and learn what customers want. Its scalability and income potential can be very attractive, but don’t sacrifice your reputation for a few extra bucks. And be sure you don’t get seduced by affiliates to the point where it keeps you from building your own products.
4. Creating Your Own Products
Percentage of 2011 income: 65.6%
This is the ultimate. You created your site to help people with something you are uniquely good at and especially passionate about. The absolute best and most focused (and usually most lucrative way to do this) is to build your own products.
I was told this for years from guys like Jonathan Mead, Corbett Barr and Leo Babauta, yet it took me until three months ago to finally pull the trigger. It dramatically changed the potential of my business in a way I never could have imagined. My first (and so far only) product I’ve released is Live Your Legend’s flagship self-study eCourse called Live Off Your Passion: An Unconventional Guide to Finding Passion and Building a Career around Work You Love.
Live Off Your Passion dwarfed all my other income streams in a matter of days after the launch. I didn’t launch it until mid November, 2011, and it still made up over 65% of my 2011 income. That’s crazy. If I would have only listened to my buddies years ago!
When it comes to products, you can create just about anything from simple ebooks to full courses or memberships. I took Jonathan’s advice, which I highly recommend, and decided to create something much bigger than an eBook and instead made a full self-study course complete with 200+ pages of content, 72 pages of workbook exercises, 14 Expert Video Interviews and all kinds of bonuses.
I poured my heart and soul into this product. And as a result it’s been massively helpful for hundreds of people and I’m able to charge a much higher price ($127 for the full course) than a typical ebook (which might be $5-$20). So far Live Off Your Passion has sold over 400 copies since I launched it a little over two months ago.
It’s hard to know where to start. Creating an uber-helpful product can be a game changer in so many ways. First off, if you’ve created a super loyal following and are helping people in big ways through your articles and other free work, people are going to want to buy something from you. Some will want to buy just because they want a way to pay you back for all the free help you’ve given. And many others will want to buy because they want very specific help on a challenging situation related to your circle of passion and expertise.
The best part about all this is that you can figure out exactly what people what you to create (and what they are willing to pay you for) before even day one of creating the product. You’ll pretty much have it sold before you begin to design and built it. That’s the beauty and brilliance of the web.
Through coaching, emails, comments and surveys, you can figure out exactly what to build. Then you’ll know it’s going to sell before you even start working on it. That not only takes a ton of the risk out of it, but it also gives you huge confidence to build something epic for your audience. Never before has it been more simple to validate a product before building. Most companies in the world do the exact opposite: they design, build and then sell. That’s also why most products launch directly into a brick wall. You get to turn that process around, which makes all the difference.
And don’t forget that your audience trusts you more than anyone else. I don’t care how much you endorse or promote your buddy who’s affiliate product you are offering to your followers, you will still never be able to transfer the amount of trust they have in you. Build on that trust by offering them something bad ass.
With creating or publishing your own product also comes a new level of credibility and respect for your own brand. Within weeks of launching Live Off Your Passion, I had no fewer than a dozen offers from others entrepreneurs for me to partner on things. Totally out of nowhere. And on top of that, last year the course won Best Personal Development Product of 2011 by one of the larger reader polls on the web. Who would have thought?!
Your own digital product is also as scalable as things get. I spent probably a hundred hours building this product over the months prior to launch. But now the product is up for sale for anyone any time. I get sales while on flights, while at dinner and while I sleep. That’s what I call scalable! Since the launch has died down, the course now sells about one copy a day on average. That’s with no extra promotion.
To be honest, there are very few negatives to creating your own baby. But products do take a lot more upfront time. Even the thought of creating one can turn into such a mental monster that you never cross the finish line. Avoid this by starting small. With one page. Or perhaps keep the whole thing under 30 pages. The scope will likely grow but at least it doesn’t start out quite so intimidating.
And launching the product can be a whole separate project (as it should be). My launch process for Live Off Your Passion was over two months long. I actually recently put every step into a checklist. It ended up being over 150 items long. I should share that with you one day… That’s my way of saying, don’t underestimate the power of a well executed launch. I credit it with a great deal of the initial success of Live Off Your Passion.
You also need a decent sized audience to make meaningful money from a product. Although the sooner you create it, the sooner your new and growing community of followers will have a chance to buy it. But your audience doesn’t have to be huge – especially if you launch properly. And you can always borrow someone else’s audience by bringing on the right affiliates. Just be sure you get the fit right. Similar to dating – not something worth cutting corners on. Only partner with people you’re willing to professionally marry (you get the idea).
Bottom Line: Launching a massively helpful high quality product can change everything. I see this as the ultimate goal and the faster you can start doing this, the faster you have a significant and scalable online business. All the other revenue streams above build up to this.
It all comes back to helping
So that’s how I’ve done it so far. Those three areas are everything that have allowed Live Your Legend to put food on the table and even make some money while I’ve been out on the occasional beach (literally and figuratively).
As with everything, it’s a function of how hard you work for it and how badly you want it. It always will be.
But remember, all of the above is a complete waste of time if you aren’t passionately dedicated to helping people. If you don’t start with that, all of what you just read is worthless.
I cannot say this enough – it all starts with the four pillars:
- Have a cause worth following
- Help people
- Write mind-blowing content
- Make real connections
Start with one…
There must be a million ways to make money online by now – or at least enough to have just about every option imaginable. I picked four and thanks to the guidance of Jonathan and a few others, those four have made all the difference.
But I’ve seen just about everything by now. You can host a video show with special guests, do online pilates classes, create a membership course, compose and sell music, create physical products to sell – like widgets or clothes (I may toy with some LYL apparel later this year), do a live seminar, offer group coaching… The options are as endless as your imagination.
And that’s often the problem. There are so many options, it’s hard to know where to start.
Do you know the one way to ensure none of this is successful? To ensure that you constantly spin your tires trying to monetize a passion yet never get off the ground?
It’s trying to do everything at once.
As inspiring as each of the above and the countless other options may be, the only way to be sure you can experiment with them all, is to start with one and only one.
I’ve seen more ways to monetize a passion than I thought could even exist. Just about everyone of them fired me up. In fact most of them are on a list somewhere, waiting to be explored when the time is right.
But in the beginning I started with just one thing. I first offered coaching, then did a little consulting. From there I started to test out affiliate offers and then I took all of what I learned and built it into a flagship product.
Now they all come together to make a business I never could have dreamed of until a couple years ago.
But how do I decide on my offer?
That’s the golden question.
I asked it constantly, until I found a model worth following. I stumbled up Jonathan Mead and his work at Illuminated Mind, and he was kind enough to not only lead by example but to coach and mentor me (mostly for free) on how to nail my unique online offering.
In fact he’s developed a system for uncovering this for each of the people he works with. He calls it Getting Paid to Exist. While Corbett is my blog building expert, Jonathan has made a science out of helping people define their online version of their passion and build it into a web-based business.
A path is created by walking
Nothing that matters comes easy.
If you want to build your passion into an online offer the world actually needs (and wants), you need to know the steps required to make it reality.
Most people stop short of doing work they love because they’re either scared or don’t believe it’s possible.
You absolutely must spend your time around people who know it can be done – who have actually done it.
That’s what we’re here for.
Trust me, the world wants what you have to offer.
You just need to start offering it.
The rest will take care of itself.
And keep an eye out next week for a complete guide to converting your passion into a profitable online endeavor…