Clarity and perspective. That's what I feel like I have right now, and it's probably the most I've had since I started my online business a few years ago.
For the record, October was awesome. Maybe it wasn't the highest revenue month I've had or anything like that, but it was still pretty freaking great.
Well, I took most of the month off. I can very honestly say that I barely worked in October. For years now, I've had this fear that everything would fall apart if I wasn't sitting here manually pulling the levers of the business.
It's something that many entrepreneurs experience, and if we're being honest here it sucks because you can never really unplug (or at least you feel like you can't).
And you know what? Maybe last year that would have been the case. Maybe even 3 months ago, who knows.
But now, I've finally been able to build something that generates significant revenue while I'm not actually here to make sure that it does.
That's a pretty incredible feeling, and I'm extremely grateful.
I'll go into all of that later in the income report, but I just wanted to open with that little nugget of information because it's a complete game changer for me and the way that I approach all of my business ventures.
So let's get into this because I want to cover:
- How taking nearly a month off from my business worked
- The state of Laptop Empires and M$M
Let's dig in, shall we? Read this next little blurb to see how M$M income reports work:
If you’re new around here, I started tracking my blogging income through these income reports in mid-2016. This is a great way for me to keep an eye on my progress of doing M$M full-time, and it’s also a great way for you to follow along as well if you’re thinking of starting an online business.
My income reports are divided into three sections:
- A quick intro to who I am and what my story is for new readers (Must-read if you are new here, skip if you’re not)
- How I made money the previous month (This changes monthly)
- Cool things that happened in my personal life and business goals that I have coming up (Also changes monthly, so you’ll want to read)
It’s already been so cool to see the progress and how much my life has changed over the past two and a half years!
1. Here's a quick rundown of my story:
I used to be a high school band director, which was basically what I had wanted to do my entire life. I had $40,000 of student loan debt that I hustled really hard on and paid it off in a year and a half (you can read more about that here).
Then, I got really excited about personal finance and started this site. I had NO idea what I was doing, but kept plugging away and eventually quit my job six months later to run M$M (which had basically made no money at that point haha).
And now, here I am. I run an awesome online business and basically have found my passion in life.
A lot of you have wanted to start your own blogs after seeing the success that I’ve had, and I highly recommend it. If I hadn’t taken a shot on M$M, I would still be stuck in a career I didn’t really end up enjoying very much.
Just understand – blogging (or any online business for that matter) isn’t easy in any way or for the faint of heart, and definitely not something you should immediately quit your day job for. Most people quit blogging long before they actually “make it.”
It takes time to build a business like this, but if you have talent and a good message/story, it is possible to do well.
Take a look at my free blog setup tutorial. You’ll have your own blog set up in just 10-15 minutes, and will receive a lower website hosting price since you’re an M$M reader when you use my exclusive link. As a bonus from my family at Bluehost- you’ll also get a domain name for free ($15 value)!
Have you taken my free blogging course yet? (You should)
So far I’ve had nearly 5,000 people sign up for my blogging course since I created it, and the reviews have been great! Even if you are just thinking about starting a blog or want to figure out how to get more traffic to the one you already have, this will be useful for you.
Basically, if you want to learn the foundational elements of how I went from a high school band director to blogger doing $100k+ of revenue in one month – you'll want to check this out:
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2. Here’s how I made money with my online business in August:
Facebook Courses (Facebook Side Hustle and Facebook Ads for Bloggers course): $38,563.00 before affiliate payouts and credit card fees
So yeah, maybe these aren't eye-popping numbers compared to what we typically do in a month, but I'm still very happy with how our courses performed in October.
We actually haven't even started selling FB Ads for Bloggers yet (the course is still closed), so that's a revenue stream that's just sitting and waiting to be tapped.
For the most part, FB Side Hustle did the heavy lifting as it has done for most of 2018. This time of year can be slow for course sales, and we expect that November and possibly December will be lower than what we saw throughout most of the year.
People are saving up for Black Friday, Christmas, traveling for the holidays, etc. Side hustles become extremely popular in January, and we're also going to be re-launching FB Ads for Bloggers soon, so we're excited about closing this year out and getting to 2019!
It's actually getting to be kinda crazy because we're seeing more and more people get paying clients and start to make some of the things happened that we imagined we could help people with when we started Laptop Empires in January.
Our students are making more money, building their marketing businesses, and some are even leaving their jobs to run their side hustle full-time!
As much as I recommend that people don't do that (I'm terrified of people trying to quit their job just like I did), I will admit that it's pretty cool when someone gets the courage to take a huge leap of faith in their lives because of something they saw me do.
Featured question from people interested in joining the FB Side Hustle Course:
“What will you do when Facebook isn't around?”
This is actually a fairly common question that we get about the course, and I think it's a fair one. Facebook had some controversy this year and you probably saw something about the company a few times in the news.
For whatever reason, a lot of those controversies literally blew up when we were launching the course. It was almost like Facebook was trying to mess up when the course was open!
But then, of course, everyone forgot about the controversies and Facebook kept doing what most large companies do – make money.
Now back to the question:
It's important to understand that our course is a lead generation course that just so happens to use Facebook as the acquisition platform right now.
We really dig deep into the psychology and strategy of taking a random person on the internet and guiding them to become a potential customer for your small business client. Lead generation is both a skill and an art, and it's the foundation of our course.
Facebook is just the vehicle right now, in 2018. It's extremely cheap to get leads for small businesses with their ad platform.
Will it always be that way? It's hard to say, but I would imagine that it won't ten years from now.
That's why we teach you the foundations of marketing and lead generation so that you can continue to grow your business even if Facebook becomes too expensive. Maybe it will be LinkedIn next or Pinterest next. Heck, it could just be that Instagram is where the leads are cheapest, which would be great because it's housed in the same ad platform as Facebook ads.
These things happen slowly though, and we'll make sure that the FB Side Hustle course evolves with the landscape of social media. Things change, and as a business owner, you have to evolve with those changes. We'll help you do that because we will have to do it too. The trick is to always be looking for the next opportunity, which we definitely are.
So basically, don't worry. We've got you fam. Facebook is still going to be the best lead generation tool in 2019 and beyond, and there is plenty of money to be made running ads for local businesses.
If you've been thinking about making extra money to pay off debt or invest a little more every month, the FB Side Hustle Course is definitely for you.
Click “SEE MORE” below to check out the testimonials and learn more about the course:
Millennial Money Mastermind: $1,985.00
The Mastermind is going really well! Grant Sabatier of MillennialMoney.com and I opened our mastermind in September, and so far it has been a lot of fun. The revenue you see here is from our students that opted to pay over three months instead of all up front when we launched the mastermind.
My favorite thing about this particular project is that Grant and I have grown our business in completely different ways, so I feel like I'm learning a ton while also teaching. I really focused on Facebook in the beginning, and he focused heavily on SEO in the beginning. Our businesses have grown exponentially in the three years that we've been blogging, which goes to show that there isn't one “best” way to grow an online business. You can kinda do whatever you want, as long as you're doing it strategically.
The idea of this mastermind was basically to allow people into our private strategy conversations that we had already been having throughout the year. It's really cool.
We basically pick a topic like traffic growth or monetization and then share what we're doing and flesh out different ideas to grow our business while our students listen and ask questions.
Grant is prolific with sponsored content and driving tons of traffic to his site, and he's shared some really cool ways for me to continue to diversify and grow this site and brand.
The mastermind will end in January, and then after that, it could be the last time that we do something like this again. We're both incredibly busy and 2019 looks like it will be crazy for both of us, but you never know!
Digital Marketing Income: $5,069.95
Still going with my digital marketing business! I'll talk more about my vacation and time away from the business in a bit, but I did have some questions if I should still be doing this side hustle any more. I really enjoy my clients, and it's great to have revenue coming in that doesn't depend on anything I do with M$M or LE.
But, I still have my team handling all of this work, so I have to think about where their time and effort is best spent. So basically, I'll evaluate everything at the end of the year and make a decision on what I'm going to do in 2019 with my marketing business.
Affiliate income: $2,844.40
So I was super-secretive last month about my affiliate income plans, but since the project I've been working live now, I might as well share it here!
I started a new service called Launch That Blog. You can read more about and see how it works here.
The concept is simple but I think it's going to be extremely effective: if someone pays for hosting through my affiliate link, I will install their blog for them and get it completely set up…for free.
Yep. 100% free.
They buy their hosting, and then I'll have their blog ready to roll within two business days.
Why? Well, the most intimidating part of blogging, in the beginning, is doing all of the technical setup stuff. Downloading and installing the site. Selecting plugins. Basically all of the nitty gritty stuff that I had to sit around for hours and figure out when I was still a band director trying to start a blog.
So I'm going to solve that problem, and I'm going to do it at literally no cost to my customers. I'm also going to throw in a ton of bonus training and resources so that my new bloggers can be successful very quickly.
I already get a lot of traffic to my blog starter guide, but it converts really poorly. I haven't even touched it in two years, and I could just go in and optimize it and probably 5x the conversions right now.
But…why not 10-20x? Then I'll scale FB and Pinterest traffic to it since I'm already running a profitable funnel anyway, supercharge it, and call it a day. That's the plan anyway, so I'll let you know if it works.
In addition to LTB, I'm going to start promoting other bloggers' courses more aggressively. There are tons of great courses out there that I think are relevant for my audience, and I know that I can use my email launch skills to start making revenue that way as well, while also focusing on course reviews that rank well in Google.
I experimented a little bit with my homie Michelle Schroeder-Gardner's Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course in October by sending out a few emails for her flash sale and made just under $1,000. That was from a hotel room in New York while my wife was getting mad at me for working on vacation, so if I sit down and put some thought into the strategy I can probably do much better next time haha.
Here's where my affiliate income came from in September:
Staff writing: $1,500.00
Still doing my staff writing. It's always funny to me because this doesn't change month to month, but I try to write something new underneath the number and make it sound interesting. I'm always wondering if people care if it's exactly the same as last month, or if they are craving a brand new blurb every single month from me.
So instead of really trying hard to make staff writing sound fun (it's usually not), I'm just writing this random nonsense and the people who actually read my income reports word for word will have a laugh. If you noticed this, please type “Easter Egg” in the comment section. It will be our own little inside joke.
I've actually decided what I want to do with ads! I'm going to switch over to MediaVine this month and check it out. I was actually blown away when I had some back and forth with one of their reps, and it just seemed like a better fit for what I'm trying to do with my ad revenue. I don't really want a bunch of ads on the site, but I also don't like ignoring dollar bills that I see on the ground. I want to pick those bills up…and save them. Or something.
What I'm trying to say is that I like money and want ad revenue to be a part of my life in a non-intrusive way.
I'm also seeing other bloggers have some pretty crazy RPMs with them compared to what I get right now. Since the theme of the rest of this year and next is to diversify and grow my revenue, it's at least worth trying out.
The funny thing is that I've had readers tell me I shouldn't get rid of the ads completely, which is the opposite of what I would have guessed that they wanted.
They basically just said “don't make them too crazy”, and “there's no reason to leave money on the table”. So…yeah. I'm going to listen to my readers haha.
So that's that.
Traffic is starting to climb, which is really my main focus. The funny thing is that it grew in October and I didn't work for most of the month. You can literally see in the screenshot below where I stopped working around the 8th haha.
So, I'm assuming it will grow now that I'm actually sitting down and doing stuff again.
You may have noticed that I'm already going in and re-doing old posts that have ranking potential and have had a lot of success there, and I'm going to have my team focus heavily on link building opportunities and optimizing the site.
I've never really focused on SEO with this site before, but now I can, so I will. I'm actually looking at bringing in an SEO firm on retainer in 2019, which will be cool because it will help me get all the granular data about the site organized so I can have my team move quickly on content projects.
I'm also about to start paying for Pinterest traffic, so I'll let you know how that goes. I think there is an opportunity to get high-quality traffic there, so I'll be playing around with their ad platform to find out.
Sponsored content: $5,000.00
Whaaaaaaat. Sponsored stuff. I haven't done anything sponsored this year if I remember correctly. But, now that I'm not in course creation mode I'm going to start looking for opportunities here.
Fortunately, I can pass on 99% of offers that I get and probably will continue to do that. There are definitely companies that I feel comfortable working with though, so there's really no reason that I shouldn't work with them.
I doubt you'll even see this section appear in income reports very often in 2019, but we'll see!
Expenses to run M$M for January: $8,510.97
This number includes the costs associated to pay my team, blog post editing, running FB ads, and all of the fun stuff like Convertkit, blog hosting, Teachable, and images.
Net Revenue: $25,145.97
For the purposes of this report, I split the net revenue of the Facebook course and FB4B in half. Mike and I leave money in the business (which is structured as an LLC that is owned by our LLCs). It produces a K-1 every year and then we just transfer the revenue to our main business accounts.
The Mastermind with Grant is set up in a similar structure, and I split the net revenue in half and subtracted my expenses for that project.
3. Let's talk about business and life stuff, shall we?
Here's how I took off most of the month in October and still made money:
I'm so relaxed right now. It's awesome haha. September was this super-crazy month for the business with all of the products I was launching, so taking some time to chill and get grounded in October was really nice.
I worked for about seven days in October, and then essentially took the rest of the month completely off. My business partner for Laptop Empires did the same, so we really didn't have much going on at all.
Fortunately, all of our businesses still made money and nobody seemed too upset that we were gone. That was the part I was a little bit concerned about.
Now, did we do the same amount of revenue that we normally do? No. It was definitely down a bit compared to most of the previous months, so us interacting and being present probably has a direct impact on course sales.
But was the amount of revenue that we did while we were away good enough? Yeah. Of course.
So let's get to how I actually took so much time off: I got organized.
I was able to get a lot of content completed ahead of time (which took some work of course), and then got it all scheduled out into Asana so that my team could make sure everything ran smoothly.
In fact, if you're a blogger and want to figure out how you can organize your business and get a good content calendar rolling, check out this Asana for Blogging course. It's solid and reasonably priced.
So the content creation process works like this now for M$M:
- The post topics are scheduled into Asana
- I write the posts
- I drop the posts into a shared Google folder so that my editor can access them
- My editor sends posts to my assistant Rachel
- Rachel uploads the posts into WordPress, selects images, does all the hyperlinking, sets the meta tag, etc.
- The post goes live
- My other assistant Mel double checks after they are posted to make sure that there aren't any major issues
We have a similar setup for the podcast over at Laptop Empires. We essentially batch a bunch of episodes, and then they go to the team and publish every Monday and Thursday.
I'm not going to lie. It's nice. These systems are fairly simple of course, but they allow me to have a lot more freedom from the business when I need it.
It also allows me to focus on other things that I really haven't been able to, like revenue and traffic growth.
The state of Laptop Empires and M$M
I've gotta say…we're in a good spot right now. We spent the first three quarters of the year proving funnels, creating courses, setting up our recurring membership model, and building out our team.
Now, it's time to scale and diversify income streams (namely adding affiliate income).
We haven't done anything to get traffic to the actual Laptop Empires website so far this year. Everything has really been done with the M$M audience, which is fine, but long-term we would prefer for Laptop Empires to be self-sustaining.
The great part is that it will be relatively easy to do that (within reason), and it's our main goal for 2019. We've had a lot of success with LE so far, so it's fun to imagine what it will look like with thousands of people actually coming to the site!
The strategy is going to be pretty simple. We're very good at paid traffic systems, so we can start there and grow LE very quickly.
But, we're also going to focus heavily on SEO in 2019. We've hired a full writing team and will start publishing a lot of content within the next month or so.
For the last few months, I've been really picking a lot of top-tier bloggers' brains about our content approach and building our organic traffic.
One of the biggest things I'm concerned about is our impact. Is the work that we do legitimately helping people while being fulfilling for us at the same time?
I was actually having a deep conversation with Grant from Millennial Money about this the other day. We were both kinda discussing where we felt blogging was going and what we wanted to do with our businesses. He's way into impact with his brand right now, and it gave me a lot to think about as we build Laptop Empires.
There are a lot of really successful blogs right now that churn a ton of revenue by loading posts up with affiliate links and getting traffic to them (both paid and organic).
And I personally don't think there's anything wrong with that. The point of a business is to make money, and if readers click links and find useful products while you get a cut – awesome.
But then there's the question – is that type of content having a real, meaningful impact on the world in some way other than just producing affiliate revenue?
Honestly, I don't know. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn't.
We really enjoy selling courses and our paid group with LE because we can tangibly see lives being changed. Readers are making more money, starting businesses, and even quitting their jobs to work for themselves. It's really fulfilling and fun to be a part of that and the community we've built.
At the same time, we also want to generate a lot of affiliate revenue in 2019. I think there is a balance to be found between affiliate revenue and info products, and we just have to decide what type of content we feel comfortable with to get there.
So that's at least where I'm at with all of this. I want to make a ton of money, but I want to make a real difference with the business at the same time while also producing meaningful content.
It's exciting because there are a lot of directions we can go right now, and its fun to be thinking about higher-level things like impact than just trying to figure out how to survive every month (which is where I was a year or two ago).
One last goal that we have for LE is to grow our paid course group to 2,000 members by the end of 2019. That would put us around $100k/month in recurring revenue, not including course sales or any other revenue streams.
We actually do think that it's very possible to get there based on the amount of paying members we currently have in the group and the number of members added every time we open up our courses to the public.
I can finally focus on traffic and revenue growth on this site again!
This year has been a little weird because there have been times that I sacrificed revenue on M$M to get people to our courses over at Laptop Empires.
You've probably seen that my affiliate revenue, ad revenue, and traffic have dropped as the year has gone on (with the exception of this month). A lot of that is because we've optimized most of my top performing posts to get eyeballs on the FBSH sales page (which means that they leave M$M). And…it worked. Really really well haha.
But at the same time, I need to start building here. M$M is my baby after all, and I think it's going to grow quickly now that I can actually focus on making it happen.
So for me, that looks like going after low-hanging-fruit first. I'm redoing older posts that have potential to rank well in Google, and we've already seen several of them climb in the rankings to the first page. There are also some technical SEO items that need to be addressed on the site, so that's underway as well along with some design changes.
My assistant, Rachel, will be focused on keyword research and finding link building opportunities, which will be nice.
Along with going after search traffic, I'll likely scale some of my paid Facebook traffic and also add paid Pinterest traffic to the mix. Like with LE, the idea is to focus on SEO in 2019 but also diversify at the same time. The “Your Money or Your Life” Google update hit some of my money blogging friends pretty hard, so I feel that it's smart to attack from several angles now that I have a team that can help me do it.
You just never know with any of these platforms when things will change. J$ from Budgets Are Sexy and I were having a talk at FinCon earlier this year, and he kinda put things into perspective for me with this:
“Google could decide that it doesn't like personal finance blogs anymore, and all of our businesses could disappear overnight.”
Now, do I think that's going to happen? No. At least, I hope not haha. But it does make me feel that diversifying and investing effort across multiple platforms is a good way to go. As long as you understand how to keep high margins using paid traffic and funnels, it's a strategy that works really well and allows you to move quickly.
I'm actually going to increase the amount of content on the site from two posts per week to five! That will obviously be a big change, but I think it's the right one. I'll be writing three posts per week, and I'm hiring writers to fill out the Tuesday and Thursday spots. I'll dig into my strategy for this a little more in next month's income report (I'm already at 4,000+ words for this one so I need to wrap it up haha).
And last but not least, I also need to redo some of my lead magnets and email sequences for the site, so that will be a big project in 2019.
It's definitely a lot of stuff to do, but I have a team in place to help with everything and I'm learning to let go of things that I don't need to do personally. Even just having someone do the blog posting process for me has saved me several hours per week! I wish I had done that a long time ago, but oh well.
2019 gon' be cray cray
I'm really excited about next year. We've spent so much time building out infrastructure and teams this year, which we think will pay off in a massive way moving forward. Fortunately, we were able to make great money while we did that this year, so in theory, it should be like pouring gasoline on the fire as we expand the content and reach of M$M and LE.
But…I'm still going to chill for the rest of the year in 2018. We made plenty of money this year, I'm happy, and I want to spend some time with my wife before putting the pedal back to the metal.
We have a fun sailing trip planned with friends in December, but other than that I'll just be sitting around and trying to force myself to take reasonable amounts of time off every day.
Wish me luck!
If you've been reading M$M for a while – I honestly can't thank you enough. Hopefully, you can tell that I work really, really hard to produce content that makes your life better. It's my passion in life.
But, I can't do any of this without you. I hope you had a great month in September!
Make sure you jump into the private M$M group on FB so we can hang out together! I'm in there allll the time haha.