A look at how I took a technology blog and successfully monetized it to the tune of six figures per year. Here’s the full story of how I did it.
Ever felt like your niche is difficult? That to make any money you have to be talking about making money? Or weight loss?
I’ve talked about my history as a tech blogger before in various places, but it occurred to me that I’ve never gone into much detail here on the blog on exactly how I turned it into a six figure business.
I “cut my teeth” as a technology blogger. In fact, I spent over 10 years blogging about geeky stuff before I ever wrote the first word about blogging for money. I talked about how computers worked. I wrote what became the Internet’s top tutorial on building a PC.
Today, I’m going to focus not on the full story of that site, but specifically on how I monetized it.
Oh, and BTW, just to be clear: I no longer own that site. I sold it to somebody else… a move I should have done much earlier. I wrote on this blog before about how all entrepreneurial endeavors have an exit point and I passed mine with that site. The site can go on (and is), but it needed to happen under new management. So, I decided to sell it.
But, let’s talk about the history (and how it shaped how I do things today).
I’m also going to give you my analysis and swipe file I used for a $12,000 promotion I did with my tech blog in late 2008 while my wife and I were on a cruise.
The Problem With The Tech Niche
One thing I’ve said before is that the best markets are the ones centered around delivering a transformation. You want a group of people who are looking to achieve something and your job will be to enable that transformation.
- The “make money” market enables a transformation from not having enough money (or having a job) to one where you have a lifestyle business which makes all the revenue you need.
- The “weight loss” market enables an obvious transformation.
- The dating market enables a transformation from being single to being in a relationship.
Right on down the line, many of the “big” markets are centered around a transformation which usually aligns closely with deep human emotional and physical needs (see Maslow’s Hierarchy).
Which brings me to the tech niche…
The tech niche has no real transformation. It is mainly centered around hardware and software. Things we can BUY, but usually once you’ve bought it there’s not much more to do except talk about it. There are little “mini transformations” within it, but not one big overarching transformation.
My background in the tech niche is a HUGE component to why I teach the idea of the transformation to my students inside the Blog Monetization Lab. My experience just makes things easier for you. 🙂
But, obviously, I still made it work. Question is… how?
I Started With Banner Advertising
Banner advertising was a nice cash cow for me in the tech niche, but I also learned early on that it can be rather unreliable. At one point, I was generating $6,000-$8,000 monthly off banner advertising alone. But, it definitely wasn’t always like that – and it didn’t stay that way.
I had an experience early on with selling my site to another company that led to a real transformation on my part… and a realization that you can’t rely on a single source of income. For me at the time, that income was banner ads. It was making OK money, but then this company came along and offered to purchase the site for a big pile of money. Problem is, after everything went through with the sale, the “dot com bomb” period happened in the late 90’s. Everything dropped and reality started to hit home. The company who bought my site wasn’t paying me what they owed because THEY weren’t collecting revenue anymore. And, things just fell through.
Now, I ended up getting everything back and over time I did build the ad income back up. But, ad revenue did drop substantially again years later.
As more and more sites came online and all started running banner ads, all of a sudden my site wasn’t the traffic novelty it was earlier. Plus, the reality of banner ad performance was hitting advertisers and driving prices downward. Payouts became lower and things just got more competitive. Banner ad inventory was commoditized and that’s exactly where it stands today.
But, this whole boondoggle with the collapsed acquisition of the site really transformed my mindset. It made me realize that banner ads were a potential source of income, but not THE source of income. Not even the best one, for we shouldn’t forget that the entire point of a banner ad is to make your visitor LEAVE your site and go somewhere else. There’s something fundamentally flawed about that model.
I realized that, in order to control my own destiny, I needed to have a self-reliant business. One that didn’t depend on the changing winds of external companies, but instead focused on an offer I controlled.
I moved into selling information products. And I did it far earlier than most people did.
My Start With Selling Information Products
When I went through that weird period where I wasn’t making anything with my blog because of this other company’s financial problems, I was in a position where I wanted to generate revenue – quickly. So, I looked to what was proven to be in demand.
For me, it was a large tutorial that I had written on building your own PC. This was quite the tutorial and ranked #1 in Google for that keyword phrase for years. It drove quite a bit of traffic to my blog, in fact. So, I knew I had a proven demand there. And this was a kind of “mini transformation”, since this was something they wanted to achieve.
Now, back in this time period, PDF ebooks and the like were far from normal. What was the typical medium for distribution was… the CD-ROM. Remember those things? 🙂 So, my first information product was to compile the full tutorial on building a PC into an ebook. I coupled with it some bonus material I had created plus some hand-picked open source utilities (remember, most people didn’t have broadband back then so downloading software was time consuming). I burned all of this to CD-ROM and sold it on my site.
I actually bought blank CDs at Staples, along with envelopes, labels, everything. Burned the CDs right on my office PC, packaged them up, and ran them to the post office a couple times per week. It got to a point where I was selling 20-30 of these CDs each week. If my memory serves correctly, I was asking $21.99 for the product.
A few lessons can be gleaned from this:
- Make a product based on a proven demand, not necessarily what I felt excited to make.
- Leverage an asset that I already had. After all, I had already written this tutorial.
- Make it convenient. On dial-up internet, it took much longer to get all this stuff. So, shipping it to them on CD-ROM and having everything they’d need for a successful reference disk for their computer was convenient.
Finding some level of success with one product meant I wanted to improve it. So, my product line eventually expanded.
I wrote a book on networking and put that and the Build Your Own PC book into print. Having that tangible, easily referenced guide was an additional value for customers. Also, I finally learned the concept of leverage and how best to spend my time. So, I contracted an outside company to print the books as well as take over the creation of the original CD-ROM. I started out using Lulu.com and then later moved to a dedicated printer.
Another nice boost was that a trade school took notice of my offer and decided it would be great for their students. This trade school was my first bulk sale. They literally ordered hundreds of the CD-ROM at once. I gave them a bulk rate on it, but every time they renewed their inventory it was a sale worth a few thousand dollars to me. And they came back and reordered several times.
As CD-ROMs started to go away and DVD technology took over, I moved into that space as well. I and an employee at the time actually filmed video tutorials. He created screencast tutorials of how to use Ubuntu Linux and we sold those on DVD. We also created a DVD on building a PC, taking that original tutorial I wrote and actually did the whole thing on video. We actually set up a video set right in my living room. I was the “on screen talent” and I built a computer right there on the set while he filmed it. Good times. 🙂
Packaging As An Upsell
As I had a few different training products now, I realized I could make more money by bundling things together. For instance, I had now taken the Build Your Own PC product and created both a book version and a DVD. Why not bundle them together for a higher-priced package? And that’s what I did. By this time, I had an actual ecommerce store (powered by software called X-Cart) and was regularly selling various physical training products online. My printer was sending inventory to my house and I was hiring my then sister-in-law to actually package and send the orders.
But, things evolved again. Technology was changing. CD-ROMs were already considered old. DVDs were still OK, however internet connection speeds were increasing so digital content delivery was becoming much more common.
Plus, digital delivery was much higher leverage. It meant I didn’t have to screw around with inventory or the post office (which loved to just “lose” orders sometimes). It practically turned my profit margin into 100%.
So, I began a transition into digital training.
My Very First Membership Site
My first membership site was comprised primarily of the digital content we had already made. We took the DVDs and the books, digitized them and made them available as online courses. At the time, the notion of being able to create a full membership site with WordPress was just non-existent. So, I started off using a learning management system called Moodle. Moodle was a beast, but it did the job. I can’t say I remember the mechanics of how it worked or how it hooked into my shopping cart, but the point is… it did the job.
It also made sales. It would do better when I ran actual promotions and I would increase transaction size by offering one-year memberships. I did smaller sales… like the time I did an evening Ustream.TV broadcast where I made a special offer just for the time we were broadcasting. The content was just Q&A and community building… no structured presentation at all. But, for that hour I had the link to the offer shown on-screen and I told them they had to buy it before we shut down the broadcast. Made over $700 that evening. See, I was doing webinars before it was hip. 😉
And there’s the larger promotions, like the structured promo I had set up in advance to run while my wife and I went on a cruise. Ended up making over $12,000 in sales that week… while I was on vacation. Honestly, the money wasn’t even the coolest part about that. It was the fact that it ran more or less on automatic while I wasn’t even there. THAT… was cool. 🙂
But, it wasn’t all sweetness and light. I also remember the difficulties of selling membership to the tech market. And it got harder over time – especially as the perceived value of information dropped and there was more and more of it available.
Monetizing A Tech Blog In An Information-Bloated World
As time proceeded, it became harder. There were two issues at play here:
- I was personally losing interest. By this time, I had started the site which would eventually become the Blog Marketing Academy. My interests were shifting. I guess over a decade of talking about computers will do that to you. 🙂
- The technology niche has grown up around me.
In the early days, I was one of the “big dogs” in the online tech media. Fast forward 12 or 13 years later and things had changed. The niche was now dominated by huge media companies like PC World, Mashable, Techcrunch, etc. So much was happening so fast that it became more of a news business, where companies with huge budgets and hundreds of reporters were pumping out multiple posts per day and sending people to every launch and conference around. Not only could I not compete with that… but I didn’t care to.
Tech had evolved into much more of a “throw away” culture. People didn’t really build PCs much anymore. They’d use it till it broke… then just buy another one. Things were switching more to tablets and phones and apps. And all I could do with a tech blog was talk about them, but even then not nearly as well as the big media players could.
Tech information was a commodity now. Tech blogs were a commodity. My site… was a commodity.
To go along with that, ad revenue wasn’t nearly what it used to be. Even ad inventory had commoditized and my site was just another pool of page views – and not even a larger one when compared to something like Techcrunch.
Tech training had lost perceived value, what with Youtube offering tons of it for free and sites like Lynda.com selling it for peanuts.
I still was making money. I had evolved the membership into an Insider digital magazine, where we offered some exclusive content and some curated stuff from around the web for a low annual price. Had about 800 members on that program at one point. But, it was a tough sell, I gotta admit.
I had plans. Things I could do to increase revenue. Pretty sure it would have worked, too. Problem is… I didn’t want to do any of it. I wasn’t that much into it anymore. I finally realized I had passed the point where this entrepreneur needed to move on and let somebody with more energy and passion move forward with it.
And that’s what I did. 🙂
Lessons From My Tech Site
I never intended for my first tech site to turn into a business. I started it off as a hobby. My timing to the market helped open some revenue opportunities to me and I was smart enough to take them and see it through. Learned a lot along the way that, ultimately, that little hobby site I began in 1998 ended up shaping what I am doing for a living all this time later.
Those lessons in running that blog also led to a lot of the background that I bring to my training here on this site and inside the Blog Monetization Lab.
… the fact that I was very early on teaching the importance of not focusing in on banner advertising. I had seen that income stream at its highs… and its lows. I know how undependable it can be, and I know how most blogs are commoditized now so much that ads pay barely peanuts.
… the fact that the best markets are the ones where the people are trying to achieve something (a transformation). The tech niche used to have that going for it. Today, much more difficult.
… the fact that you can sell very well with time-based events and webinars. I was doing webinars way before GotoWebinar existed. 🙂
… the fact that your email list is your #1 asset. The only reason I was able to sustain income from that tech site as long as I did (and grow it to the six-figure level) was because of email list.
Today, I take all that I’ve learned and I now use and teach a model which is FAR more efficient than what I was doing with my tech blog.
Things have changed alot. 🙂
I’m in a unique position to see it, too. I’ve been at this a damn long time now. What’s odd to me, too, is that many of the bloggers trying to monetize today are doing it using techniques which I was doing 10 years ago. They worked then but I literally watched the effectiveness of much of it wane over time. I experienced it.
What I do today is far more efficient. It doesn’t require as much traffic. Doesn’t require as much content creation. And it makes growth far more predictable, not something where you’re overly dependent on forces outside your control.
Anyway, that’s the monetization story of how I got started with my tech site and how I made six figures with it annually for several years.
OK, this is going to be fun. And perhaps a little embarrassing for me.
Up above, I mentioned my first membership site. And I also mentioned the promotion I ran which generated a little over $12,000 while my wife and I went on a cruise. Well, I’d like to show you the entire campaign I used to run that promotion.
Now, to be clear… this is a wee bit embarrassing for me. 🙂 I mean, the promo did work. But, here I sit 6 years later and I cringe a little at some of the stuff I did on video. It is definitely a blast from the past! 🙂
So, what you’re going to get is a PDF where I show the promotional emails that were sent while we were on the cruise. I also have a video where I show the pre-promotion videos that led up to it as well as me talking through why I did what I did. So, between the pre-promo videos (essentially a pre-launch sequence) and the promo emails themselves, you’ll have the entire campaign I used to generate $12K in a week.