You probably know me as one of those people who’s a straight shooter. I don’t think entrepreneurship is easy, or that everyone should do it. But I do believe it’s rewarding, and that more people should do it. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I write this blog.
And here’s the (shocking) story of how I almost gave it up entirely.
Earlier this year, I could feel things were coming to a head with erica.biz and me. My relationship with this blog wasn’t healthy. I have a fantastic audience full of fans and supporters, and the time had come to figure out how to turn my blog into a full-time income.
“How to make money with your blog!”
I didn’t like my options. There are those people who treat their email lists as if they are not real people. Those marketers (most of whom view blogs as “a waste of time”) constantly email their lists with the latest “make money online” product of the day. “Buy this!” they say. Then next week: “What you bought last week didn’t work? Try this week’s special!”
I know several of those people, and they encouraged me to send more product offers to my email list. But I couldn’t do it. It felt…so yucky to me. And, despite my huge background in sales and being a personally huge advocate of learning sales…it still didn’t sit right with me.
It didn’t help matters when my then-boyfriend, now-fiance Brian tried to help me with it. “Okay,” I told him one day. “Go to Clickbank and find the top-selling products in the make money online niche. Surely there has to be something good there. Watch all their sales videos. Here is my business credit card. Buy whatever you want under $100. If something’s good and will actually help people, I’ll email my list about it.”
He spent 30 minutes on the task and then resigned. “I can’t watch these sales videos,” he told me. “I looked at two or three different products–and they’re just awful. They feel dishonest to me.”
“I know,” I sighed. “I understand.”
And so that route (with the exception of a handful of products that are actually worth it) closed to me.
In the meantime, my email inbox was bursting with people requesting help. Stories poured through the digital wire. The grandmother who just wanted to retire. A guy from Nigeria who wanted to show people in his country that there was a real way to make money–rather than trying to scam people via email or Facebook. A disabled woman who felt that working on the Internet was her ticket to getting off of disability for good. An enlisted officer who wanted a better life for his family. The stories went on, and on, and on. I wanted to help. But what could I do? This blog wasn’t making much money–but not because it couldn’t, given my traffic numbers and awesome fans. It wasn’t making money because I couldn’t bring myself to promote utter crap at the expense of my audience.
And sure, I could have taken the easy way out and sent the disabled woman and the military guy and the Nigerian dude and the grandmother some get-rich-quick product link. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. But I didn’t know what to do. These were real people. They needed my help. And I didn’t have any solutions that wouldn’t involve working for free for them, when I could not afford to work for free.
So I did one of the things I do best: I sat down and cried. I just lost it. Here were real people who needed my help. Not faceless “traffic” or “email list members”. Actual individuals. And I had nothing for them.
Then I decided to give up on email for 30 days. I needed a break. I needed clarity. I needed to retreat from the stories from a bit and focus on a solution.
Digging myself out of the email hole allowed me the clarity I sought–but I fear it might have come at the expense of some people, who got upset that they couldn’t reach me. Still, in that 30 days, interesting things happened.
My “No Email” Trial Turns Interesting
A famous author of a best-selling book that has sold more than 500,000 copies (if I tell you his name and the name of one of his books, chances are you will have read it) contacted me. And when he found out I wasn’t checking email, he had his assistant freakin’ track me down. His assistant contacted me via Twitter, Facebook, and Skype.
He wanted to meet me in person. Surprised, I obliged. And it was then that he said something that rocked my world. He said, “I’ve written one of the most famous books on running a business. I found out about your blog, and read every word. I read your article on how to hire an employee, and I was stunned. It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever read.”
Then: “I know this may seem out of left field, but can you help me hire a new assistant? I could really use your help. I loved your step-by-step process. I’ve never seen anything like it, even having read basically every business book that’s been out in the past 30+ years.”
That encounter started some thoughts bubbling in my head. I didn’t want to bombard you with advertisements (and we both know those aren’t really the path to a full-time income via blogging, anyway.) I didn’t want to bombard you with affiliate links for products that suck (yuck!) A grain of thought planted itself in my head. What if I wrote something myself? Something that would really help an individual who didn’t necessarily have technical experience start an Internet business? Some step-by-step videos?
I mind-mapped. I charted. Then I started recording videos. I named the course Step by Step Business. I figured once it was done, I’d figure out how to find the people who needed it and get it to them/you at a reasonable price. I knew the content was worth $1000, or more. But I wanted to find a way where the average person would afford it.
I spent the entire month of July recording videos. I did a small speaking gig then, and sold the first few “beta” copies. (Two people out of the tiny group who took the first course have already started making money online.) It was a breakthrough. I finally knew how I was going to make money with my blog–by actually helping people. (It seems so obvious in retrospect!)
Meanwhile, I had quietly ended my 30-day no email trial (which had stretched on past 60 days) and was receiving and replying to email again. Several people asked me what had happened with that, so I decided that would make a good blog post. There was a voice in my head that said “Don’t post it!”, but I didn’t understand why it would say that, so I posted it anyway.
The comments were immediate, and negative. I had set up a (pretty harsh) autoresponder. I was sick of getting bombarded with PR requests and basically, a bunch of crap. That was 90% of my incoming email. The other 10% was people who actually wanted help. I wrote the autoresponder for the PR jerks, not realizing it would hurt the people who sent me real emails.
Called out on my blog, I saw the autoresponder for what it was and quickly realized my commenters had a point. Looked at from the lens of someone who wanted help, it sounded cold and distant. I changed it immediately, then dropped it entirely a week or so later.
Yet one commenter wouldn’t let up. “Make no mistake, Erica is in it to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that, I do the same, but there is no need for her to be so superior and rude,” he wrote. (That was after I changed my autoresponder and admitted I’d made a mistake.)
What made it more devastating was that this comment was from someone who’d actually purchased products from me in the past–someone I’d talked to personally, 1-on-1, who I thought would know me better than that.
I Considered Shutting Down My Blog Entirely
Shaken, I reconsidered everything. I’m still not sure why that comment dug so deep. Maybe it was because I thought he knew me, but mostly it was because I really wasn’t “in it to make money.” Heck, I’d gone to great lengths to treat you as a real person, not just as someone to be marketed to. All the people out there who just spam their lists with crap–and he couldn’t see the difference between me and those other people?
That day, I couldn’t see myself ever blogging again. I seriously considered pulling down erica.biz entirely. Why waste my time blogging for free here when I could just run a business and be free from the hateful personal attacks? What was I even doing here? Whatever I was doing, I was apparently doing it all wrong.
I threw myself into Whoosh Traffic, and here we are. Four months later, and I’ve only written two blog posts since that fateful day. It took me four months to get over that comment.
This blog post is me closing the door on that and looking forward. I’m still angry about it, but I’ve decided I don’t want to give up blogging. Besides, who would I be to let one asshole get in the way of helping people? That’s not really how I want to present myself to the world. So I’m shaking it off…slowly.
I switched over to Disqus comments after that, although it wouldn’t have made any difference with that comment, as that commenter used his real name. But I figured it might help some other anonymous attacks I’ve gotten in my comments. Instead, my blog filled up with spam comments. Apparently the spammers exploit Disqus. I am looking for a better solution.
And Now, For my Most Surprising News of 2011…
I wanted to make this a separate blog post, but it seems fitting to add this here. It’s going to surprise the heck out of you, I think!
A few of my personal friends know the hassle I’ve gone through trying to get a mortgage over the past year. The banks just do not want to give mortgages to self-employed people. I moved to Austin, Texas, and am ready to buy a house here (especially given that a mortgage here would actually be cheaper than the rent on an equivalent place–the way it should be!)
In case you’re self-employed and haven’t tried to get a mortgage lately, first, the banks will only count W-2 income (salary) from your business, not dividends you pay yourself. I pay myself in dividends as well as salary, so that reduced my income dramatically. Secondly, they want 24 months of W-2 salary from your own business, and then they take the average of those 24 months. If you’re like me, and just learned that you have to have W-2 income, sorry, it’ll be 24 months before you can qualify for a mortgage.
I even had one bank pull all my tax returns directly from the IRS, which showed that I made plenty of money to afford the mortgage, and had for years. (We’re talking a $200,000 mortgage here.) No go. Since over half of it was dividends, I didn’t get to count that income. And they didn’t like that I had seed-funded Whoosh Traffic out of my personal savings, instead of getting investors.
Tired of fighting, I raised the white flag and decided to beat the banks at their own game. So I went out and got a job.
Yep, you read that right! I’ve had a whole lot of job offers over the past few years, but I knew what I wanted to do–make a real difference at a startup company. So the first person I called was Jason Cohen over at WP Engine, which does WordPress hosting. I told him I was on the market because I needed a mortgage and W-2 income, and I’d help them get more customers for their hosting business. They’re located here in Austin, and Jason had been after me for a while about doing some consulting with them.
So now I have a job. A real W-2 pay stub with a boss and everything! (I called my dad and told him, and he almost dropped the phone: “That’s something I never thought I’d hear you say!”) I’m having a blast designing landing pages, helping them set up ad campaigns, and tweaking their website for maximum conversions.
And now I can get a mortgage! And I have health insurance.
I announced this on Facebook recently, and the questions poured in: “Does that mean you’re no longer doing Whoosh Traffic? Is Whoosh Traffic okay?” The answers are: Whoosh Traffic is doing great, and I’m still working on it! I’m happy about how this turned out anyway, because now we can use Whoosh Traffic’s income to hire more people and do some marketing, instead of having some of its income diverted to my salary.
I’m stoked because we may be able to hire another programmer even sooner than I originally thought! We are really rocking it out with our rank tracker, and even had a Fortune 500 company sign up recently for it. (And they love us!) We plan to go deeper into the SEO tools niche in 2012. But I suspect I’ll have another, goals-related blog post to talk about that in!
As we close out the year, I’d just like to say thank you for your support. 2011 wasn’t the easiest year for me. But coming into 2012, my resolve to help you get started making money online has only deepened.
Oh yeah–and about that Step by Step Business product? Stay tuned. It’ll be here very soon, in an extremely affordable fashion. I’m ready to start 2012 with a bang. I’ll be busier than ever, but I feel more energized and motivated than ever!