This week I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post or not, worried about negative feedback, concerned that people would think I’m full of sh*t, coming across as conceited or boastful. But then I remembered a time when I was super broke, five years ago, traveling across Asia, and I read something about people making money blogging and it changed my life. So I’m hoping this can do the same for even one person who reads this…..
I was 26 years old, I had taught English in Thailand and Korea, visiting twenty or thirty countries and loving the freedom of this vagabond lifestyle. Teaching English had allowed me to scramble together funds for the next leg of my dream to visit every country in the world which, at the time, was Japan to Australia overlanding as much as possible. But realistically, for me, this teaching for peanuts, saving a little money and hitting the road wasn’t a long-term solution. I wanted the freedom, I wanted this lifestyle but I couldn’t live my life with no financial security. Although I was still young, I didn’t enjoy looking forward and envisaging a life where I couldn’t afford to have a family, to go back to Ireland and see friends and family, to have my dream house, to give my future kids a great education, to enjoy true feedom to live the life I want.
A lot of people, and travel bloggers in particular, talk about the romance of being broke and traveling. And it’s true, it is a beautiful thing. Not knowing where you’ll end up, scoring some cheap flights on a whim and traveling to a new continent. It’s exhilarating. But forever? No chance. Being broke is fun when you’re young and in my experience, the novelty of a broke, nomadic existence didn’t last forever. I found myself dreaming of something a little more. Marrying both the lifestyle of a traveler, with the income of a businessperson. I might have been dreaming, but it was a dream I would strive for. Every day. Until I reached it. Digital nomadism and lifestyle design were on the up, rumours of people working from their laptops, traveling the world were being whispered about in hostel dorms. Tim Ferriss was getting famous. I wanted a slice. I had to do it.
I read an article by a blogger called Nomadic Matt about making $3000USD a month from his travel blog. When I delved a little deeper I realised he wasn’t doing anything particularly special. I figured I had experienced a lot more of the world than most travel bloggers, and if all I have to is write about it, then there’s no reason why I couldn’t hang up my English teaching hat and blog instead. One small flaw, my tech skills are on power with my singing and dancing skills – non-existant. To cut a long story short, I hired an awesome Filipino guy, gave him $100 and onestep4ward.com was born in 2010, here’s the first version I blogged on:
I had moved to Sydney, Australia and had a ‘real’ job. In an office. With a shirt and shoes. It was my first and only ‘real world’ experience, and although I loved Sydney, loved my friends there, and am hugely grateful for the experience, I hated the nine to five. So, from the office, I started my blog. Before long I quit and flew one way to Africa.
I had saved some cash from my job in Australia, but hadn’t made a penny online yet. Then, one very special day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I went to an internet cafe to check my mail. Boom. A guy called Baba Bojang wanted an advert on my site. I literally didn’t believe it, convinced my friends had hatched a plan to tease me. $85 in my paypal later and something big had changed. I had made my first little chunk of money on the internet. I now believed it was possible. Wow.
Within six months I was making $500 a month, another three or four months, it was $1000. I was now making more money from blogging than I had made teaching English. I moved to Bangkok, it was 2011 and it was the start of my new life. The revenue increased month on month, but I was partying too hard, thinking I had hit the jackpot. I was up to around $2500 a month, working five or six hours a week, ‘living the dream’ in Thailand until I realised that wasn’t the dream at all. I wasn’t dreaming big enough. If I can make this much money from one website, imagine if I had three, or five, or twenty??
So I expanded my website portfolio. I hired a guy from Bangladesh and we built two more sites, what happend next was a watershed moment. I bought a website from someone for the first time, I had managed to save $9k from my blogging endeavours, and I used $8000 of it to buy a fourth website. I was for real now. It sounds like a brave descison, but it wasn’t at all. I was terrified. I called my mum, then called her again, and again. My sister, my mates, everyone was getting called. “Can i really blow $8k on ONE site? I could travel for six months with that”. But I did it, and I made the money back in six weeks. More belief.
That was towards the end of 2012, and for the next three years I expanded, and expanded. I started five more sites, and bought more, and more until I had more than one hundred sites. I hired a tech guy to manage my sites, Aghosh, who to this day is my saviour. I hired a couple of writers to write the content for all my sites, I hired a few sales guys to manage the corporate blogging, social media management, SEO link sales, copy writing tasks and advertising (huge thanks to Chris, Nick L, Nick B, Carlo and most of all Carl, who has since become one of my my best mates and is still killing it every day). Eventually I created the face of my digital media company step4wardmedia.com to establish ourselves fully. At no point did I get an office, and no point did I require anyone to report their hours to me. We all worked from our laptops, all trusted each other, and all got along as friends. Digital nomads, all of us.
The revenue kept coming, we stayed humble, kept working, always thinking about how to diversify, how to keep living the dream. Google tweaked a few things which damaged my business model a lot over the last year or so, more than halving my revenue, so although profits are down, I’m still free. With Carl, we are now launching an education start up in Hong Kong called Find A Tutor, and that has been a huge learning curve for us both, starting with the fact that we’re nine months late on launching. Ouch. Here’s a screenshot of our beta site for anyone who is interested:
And so here we are today, I’m writing this from my small two bed apartment in Bangkok which I bought mortgage free last year. I spend three months a year in Thailand, the other nine months I spend traveling around the big, bad world. I’ve had a couple of skype meetings this morning about Find A Tutor and Step4WardMedia and the rest of my Monday I’m off on a date with my girl. This weekend I’m going to Kuwait, my 142nd country out of 193 countries, en route to finishing my goal of visiting every country in the world. I’ll be in London and Ireland next week to get yet another new passport, then I’m spending the rest of the year in Africa, all the time logging on and managing this crazy life from my four year old MacBook.
The first couple of years blogging, before I really cracked it with multiple sites, provided enough money for me to travel and live from, while also expanding my portfolio a bit. Ranging between $500 pm in the middle of 2010 all the way up to about $4500, just before I expanded aggresively in 2012.
So eight days ago, I calculated than in the last three years I’ve cracked the $1,000,000 barrier of making money online. In those three years, my best month was almost $60,000USD and my worst was just shy of $12,000USD. It doesn’t seem real to be honest. I am not a tech expert, nor did I grow up in a business-orientated house. No one told me I could do it, and no one taught me how to do it. But you know what? If a small town Irish guy can do it, then there is literally no reason why you can’t. Believe in yourself, follow your dreams and don’t listen to anyone who tells you you can’t. I’m not stopping where I am, and neither should you. Good luck everyone, and see you on the road.