The Art of Building and Selling Websites to Earn a Full-Time Income
Marc is the author of the personal finance site Vital Dollar. He has been self-employed as a blogger and internet marketer since 2008 and has built blogs in a variety of different industries over the years.
Recently I got the chance to catch up with Marc and ask him some questions about his experience with self-employment and how blogging has impacted his progress towards financial independence.
Zach: For those who aren’t familiar with you or your blog, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Marc: I’m 40 years old and I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and our two kids (ages 6 and 3). I’ve been self-employed as a blogger and internet marketer since 2008, and I’ve had blogs/sites in different industries like web design, photography and travel.
About a year ago I started a finance blog, VitalDollar.com, where I write about topics related to saving money and making money.
Zach: What was your motivation for starting your first blog?
Marc: My first blog was on the topic of web design. I had created websites for a few friends and family as a side hustle and I decided to start a blog to try to get visitors to my website. The goal was to convert some of those visitors into paying clients who would hire me to design a website.
I started the blog in 2007 and it took off pretty quickly. I didn’t really know anything about blogging, I was just reading a lot of articles about social media and SEO and trying to do whatever I could to get traffic.
I was able to land a few clients for web design projects, but I realized pretty quickly that I liked working on the blog a lot more than I liked creating websites for clients.
So I decided just to focus on growing the blog, with plans to eventually make money in other ways, like ads or affiliate programs.
Zach: How long did it take for that side hustle to turn into a full-time income, and what was that transition like?
Marc: It took me 1.5 years to get to the point where I felt comfortable leaving my full-time job. At that time I was making a few thousand dollars per month. It wasn’t a huge income, but it was growing and I felt like the time was right. I did some freelance writing for the first year to make money while my blog was still growing.
To be honest, growing the blog in 2007-2008 was easier than it is now. There weren’t nearly as many blogs competing for attention and for search engine rankings. There were also some social networks that could send big waves of traffic.
It took me about 6 months to reach 100,000 visitors per month. By the time I quit my job, I was getting a few hundred thousand visitors per month, but I don’t remember the exact amount.
Zach: How do you typically make money from your blogs?
Marc: I’ve used several different monetization approaches over the years including banner ads, affiliate marketing, selling my own digital products, membership, sponsored content, and services.
The first couple of years, most of my blogging income was from banner ads. Today, ad revenue is probably my least favorite monetization method, but it can still be good in the right situation. You do need a lot of traffic though.
I didn’t like the fact that I always felt pressure to increase traffic when I was mostly monetizing my site with ads. It gets really draining just constantly chasing higher traffic.
My favorite monetization methods are selling digital products and affiliate marketing. The majority of my income the past five years has been from digital products.
I think affiliate marketing is probably the one monetization method that is a good choice for almost every blogger. Even if you create and sell your own products, there are probably some complementary products that you can promote as an affiliate without creating any added competition for your own products.
Zach: You’ve sold a few blogs in the past. If you have a blog that’s consistently making money, why would you sell it?
Marc: Just to give some context, here are the details of the blogs that I’ve sold:
- In 2010 I sold a web design blog for $50,000 (I started this blog in 2008).
- In 2013 I sold a web design blog for $500,000 (I started this blog in 2007, my first blog).
- In 2016 I sold a photography blog for $500,000 (I started this blog in 2012).
- In 2018 I sold a photography blog for $216,000 (I started this blog in 2015).
My wife and I also ran an Amazon FBA business as a side hustle from 2015-2017. We sold that in 2017 for $225,000.
There are a number of reasons for wanting to sell a blog or online business, and there are also a number of reasons why you might want to hold on to the business.
With most of my sales, the biggest motivating factor was freeing up my time to work on something else. I like to work on different things rather than just running the same blog or website for years. Every time I’ve sold a blog I have had some other project that I wanted to pursue, and I needed to free up time in order to do it.
The other big factor is taking the lump sum of cash. When you sell a profitable blog you’ll typically get something like 2 or 3 years worth of profit as the selling price. My older sales were at the lower end of that range, but there are more buyers now and the market is better for sellers than it was just a few years ago.
The way I look at it, if you have a profitable blog or online business there is some level of risk in selling, and there is some level of risk in holding on to it.
If you sell, you risk selling too soon and not getting enough money for it. If you hold on to it, you risk a drop in profit that will decrease the value of the site. I try to weigh those risks and see which one feels greater to me.
I try to hold on to the blog until I feel like it has turned the corner and reached its profit potential. If there is still a lot of untapped potential, I’d prefer to hold on and work to increase the profit before selling. If I feel like I’ve taken it about as far as I can, I’ll consider selling.
I have a few friends that held on to blogs too long and missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars because their blogs slowly faded over time and lost a lot of value.
But, of course, one of the biggest keys is that you have to be able to replace the income that you’re losing after you sell a site (unless you get enough money to retire).
For example, the first blog that I sold for $500,000 was making a profit of $20,000+ every month. Getting the $500,000 was nice, but what really determined whether that was a good or bad decision was what happened afterwards. In that case, I was able to build up another blog fairly quickly.
Zach: How has your approach to building and selling websites impacted your progress towards financial independence?
Marc: Selling blogs has had a huge impact for my wife and me on our journey towards financial independence. Getting lump sums allowed us to save and invest and grow our net worth.
When I quit my full-time job I got my final paycheck for 2 weeks of work, and that was the end. When I’m done working with a blog, I can sell it and get 2-3 years worth of profit. There are not a lot of jobs that will pay you 2-3 times your annual salary just to go away.
Blogging has been a pretty good source of monthly ongoing income, but just the sales alone have accounted for over $1 million in the past 6 years.
Zach: Can you tell us about your experience running an Amazon FBA business? What led you to start that and how long did it take to grow?
Marc: My wife and I had talked about working together in some way for a few years, but we never really had any specific ideas. When I learned about other people selling private label products on Amazon, it seemed like the perfect business for us to work on together. My wife liked the idea, so we decided to try it.
It took us a long time to decide on a product that we wanted to sell, but when we did eventually launch our first product, it started selling almost immediately. We ordered 1,000 units for our initial inventory, and we sold out of that in less than a month ($15,000+ in sales).
That product went live in late July of 2015. Through the first few months we struggled to keep it in stock, but eventually we got enough inventory so we weren’t missing out on sales. In the 30 days leading up to Christmas we had $50,000+ in sales.
We added several new products in 2016. None of our other products sold as well as our first one, but they were all profitable and added up to a decent business. For the total year of 2016 we had right around $500,000 in sales.
We stopped adding new products after we launched our 7th one because we didn’t want to have any more money tied up in inventory.
Ultimately, we decided to sell the business because we didn’t really enjoy it and we didn’t want to invest the money that would be needed to take it to the next level.
When you’re looking at Amazon businesses (and other e-commerce businesses for that matter), the numbers can get pretty crazy. But there are some things you need to consider if you’re comparing it to what you could make with another type of online business.
First, sales and profit are two different things. We did about $500,000 in sales in 2016, but our profit was something like $150,000 – $160,000. Inventory costs, shipping costs, and Amazon fees are significant.
Second, it’s harder to actually get the cash out of an e-commerce business because you constantly need to buy new inventory. It can take a month or two for the products to be manufactured, and if you ship it by sea it will take several weeks, or longer, until that inventory is actually in Amazon’s warehouse and available to sell.
You usually need to pay for a few months worth of inventory at a time, and it will be a while until you start to get that money back. Also, if you’re growing, you will need to invest a big portion of your profits into inventory for new products.
There are some really awesome things about the business, but the cashflow situation is completely different from running a blog or some other type of online business that doesn’t involve physical products and inventory. I didn’t really like having big amounts of money tied up in inventory.
Zach: What was your motivation for starting Vital Dollar?
Marc: I’ve been interested in starting a finance blog for several years, but I never really had the time for it. After selling the Amazon business I started to plan for the site and I launched it in February of 2018.
My main goal with the site is to help others who want to improve their financial situation. I want to write about the things I’ve learned related to managing money and saving money, as well as some ways to make extra money.
Another reason I wanted to start the site is to continue to learn more about money and investing. I’ve found that running a blog is a great way to learn about something, because you completely immerse yourself in the topic.
Zach: Do you think blogging is a good side hustle?
Marc: I think blogging can be a great side hustle, but it’s not for everyone. My life is much different (in good ways) than what it would be like if I had never started blogging as a side hustle. I’ve been blessed to be able to work from home and focus on things that I enjoy for more than 10 years now.
If you’re looking to make money quickly, blogging is not the best side hustle. Many successful bloggers didn’t make any money for the first 6-12 months or more. You have to be willing to put in a lot of time and effort before you start to see the results. But once things start to grow, there is a ton of potential.
Creating a successful blog also takes consistent effort. If your schedule would prevent you from being able to do anything on your blog for days or weeks at a time, you’d probably be better off with another side hustle that could be done whenever you have some spare time.
One of the things I love about blogging as a side hustle is that it has potential to turn into a full-time income, if you want it to. Of course, you could run a blog as a side hustle just for extra income, but the potential is there to make a full-time income from it.
If you’re interested in a side hustle but unsure about what you should do, I have an article on my blog that lists 150+ ways to make money that might help to give you some ideas.
Zach: What advice do you have for others who might be interested in using a blog or online business as a side hustle, or even a full-time business?
Marc: My favorite approach is to choose a hobby or something I’d like to learn more about, and see if there is a way to incorporate that into a blog.
Blogging takes a lot of work, so if you’re writing about a subject that interests you, the work will be a lot more enjoyable. If it’s boring, you’ll probably give up pretty quickly.
There are a lot of ways that you can make money from a hobby, like offering a service, writing an ebook, creating a course, promoting products as an affiliate, or even just generating traffic and using ads on the blog.
I think it’s important to have a long-term focus. Go into it with the understanding that you probably won’t make any profit the first year, and that can help you to avoid frustration when you’re not seeing results right away.
Even with a long-term focus, it’s important to have a sense of urgency and to do something every day to help grow your business. If you work consistently and stick with it, you have a good chance for success.