Not long ago, Pete McPherson from Do You Even Blog shared his Failure Resume on his podcast and it totally clicked with me. As Pete shared the stories behind his many failed business ventures it helped me put my own failures in perspective.
A number of times Pete didn’t even have a reason for squashing a project. He just shrugged it off as “Ahh, I kinda lost interest.”
That literally made me laugh out loud on my commute home from work because it is so me.
Pete and I have a lot in common. We’re both guys full of ideas that we think would be fun and profitable, but we’ve had trouble sticking with anything long enough to see it through to fruition.
Inspired by Pete’s openness I decided to write a post about my own business failures and what I’ve learned from them.
Before we get to the lessons learned, let’s take a walk through my own failure resume of online business ventures that just didn’t work. I’ll also share my thoughts on why they didn’t go as planned. As you’ll see, sometimes the lack of a plan is exactly where things went wrong.
A Little Perspective
I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit in me. I inherited it from my dad who always had some kind of side hustle going on. As the sole provider for a family of five he had to work extra hard to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
This was a man without a college education doing the best he could to make ends meet and give his family all the things he didn’t have when he was growing up. He started a number of small businesses when I was a kid and while none of them was amazingly successful, they provided additional income streams that helped get our family through tough times.
It’s only now that I’m an adult with my only family to support that I truly appreciate everything he did for us. I wish he was still here for me to give him a proper thank you. I miss you dad.
Anyway, I’ve never been a fan of the rat race but I somehow found myself trapped inside of it. I have a full-time corporate job that I don’t hate, which is good. But I do hate being trapped there because I need the money.
I hate getting up early and leaving for work while everyone is still asleep. I hate traffic. I hate that I spend so much of my life away from my wife and kids because all I want to do is be with them.
These are the reasons why I’ve tried to find additional ways to make money. I want to pay off our debt and build up some steady revenue streams so I can enjoy my life and family. Remember, we only get one shot at this life thing. We need to make the most of this.
Trial and Error, and Error, and Error…
I’m not going to lie. This was a little embarrassing to write. No one likes to advertise all of their failures.
But you know what? It’s ok to fail. Everyone fails sometimes. Even successful people will tell you they failed countless times before they reached their goals. The important thing is they never gave up.
So today I choose to embrace my failures and free myself from their shadows. I hope you enjoy it and learn a little something in the process.
I’ve done my best to list my failure somewhat chronologically, but the exact order might not be correct and many of them overlapped anyway.
Virtual Wine Guide
I started my very first website way back in 2004. I know, it’s hard to believe. If you asked me then I’d have told you I’d be retired and living off of passive income by now.
But a lack of focus and a bad case of shiny object syndrome had me spinning my wheels and getting nowhere for a long time.
Anyway, my first website. A buddy of mine had created a site about tea and he showed me how it worked and his earnings from Google Adsense, a simple form of advertisement you can place on your site to earn money whenever someone clicks on them.
I was amazed at how easy it was and I signed up right away with an expensive website building tool called Site Build-It. I think it cost about $300 a year to host a single site, which is crazy expensive but I didn’t know any better at that point. These days you can build a website for about $4 a month!
I chose wine as a topic because I enjoyed drinking wine and I wanted to learn more about it. I figured as I learned I would create new content to keep the site growing. I put together about a dozen pages and I actually started getting a little traffic. But ultimately I kind of lost interest in wine and stopped maintaining the site. I ditched Site Build-It, went to a much cheaper hosting option and redid the site myself in the most inefficient way possible.
I could have just used one of the pre-made templates that that was already available, or I could have started it as a blog, but instead I decided I needed to learn how to code everything myself. So I picked up a copy of HTML for Dummies and learned to code very basic websites myself using nothing but Notepad.
Yes, Notepad. This is what I did with my time:
Seriously, there are so many easier ways to build a website. Today I use WordPress hosted on Bluehost, which is both dirt cheap and as simple as hell. I did leave Virtual Wine Guide active for quite a few years because it continued to earn some AdSense money but eventually I cut the cord.
Beaches of Aruba
Jeri and I went to Aruba on our honeymoon and we absolutely loved it! So what better topic for a website? Beaches of Aruba talked about everything you can do in Aruba, reviews of the Aruban restaurants we ate at, etc.
I even used some of the pictures I took on our vacation. It was a neat little site that brought in some ad revenue for several years but lack of attention caused it to slowly fade away and I eventually stopped renewing it.
Build A Successful Site
Shortly after I launched Virtual Wine Guide, I received my very first affiliate sale! At the bottom of each page on the site was a note that said “Built with Site Build-It!” Someone out there on the interwebs clicked on that link and made a purchase, and I earned a commission on that sale.
Naturally, I thought to myself “This is so easy!!” And I built a site just to promote Site Build-It. It didn’t go well.
I failed to realize that random affiliate sale was just a stroke of luck which had nothing to do with anything I had done.
I also didn’t understand affiliate marketing at all (where was Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing when I needed it) and all I did was copy over a sales template provided by Site Build-It and direct it towards their home page.
Making matters worse, I actually dropped about $200 in advertising the site through Google AdWords before I realized there was no way this was going to work.
So yea, $200 gone and no sales to show for it. Oops.
At this point I decided the only way to make money online is to have your own product. So I sat down and wrote my own ebook.
The content within the ebook wasn’t all bad, but it was amateurish. I even made the cover myself using some crappy software I found online. I’m embarrassed to even show you the cover but here it goes:
Are you done laughing?
Seriously, you’re hurting my feelings.
Not surprisingly, Saving 101 was not a huge success. I sold exactly one copy. I wish I knew who bought it so I can see how crazy you’d have to be to spend money on that crappy looking ebook. I hope he at least got some bit of knowledge out of it.
Rather than giving up on the ebook dream I decided I needed some content to get people to a site where they would then be overpowered by the sheer awesomeness of my ebook cover.
So I started saving-money-and-living-debt-free.com. Doesn’t it just roll off your tongue?
Basically this was a small site that shared frugality tips and pushed readers to buy my ebook. After a bit I ditched the ebook concept and set up AdSense instead.
I now had a handful of tiny sites and each were making a couple bucks a day through advertising and the occaisional affiliate sale.
Rather than continuing to build them up, I went off on a completely new road.
Selling PLR Articles
PLR is short for Private Label Rights. When you buy PLR articles, you are free to make was many or as few changes as you want and add your own name as author. You don’t have to give credit to the original author, and you can use them just about any way you want.
I wrote up a bunch of articles on various topics including babies, mortgages, green living, and weddings and offered them for sale by promoting them on forums devoted to marketing and online business.
This site did ok and I started making some money. But I made a lot of mistakes too.
I wasn’t capturing my customer’s email addresses which is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. And I didn’t really find it fun at all. People would contact me asking for articles about very niche topics like silk scarves or DIY chicken coops, but I really wasn’t into writing about those topics.
Sales slowed and eventually stopped as the PLR craze faded.
About this time I read a report called Bum Marketing. It was really just a form of article marketing in which you write lots of content and publish it on free article directories (which at the time were ranked very highly in Google).
The creator called it Bum Marketing because he said it was so easy he could take a bum off the street, teach him the method, and he’d be making money in a matter of days.
And you know what? It worked!
I wrote a ton of articles and posted them on a bunch of article directories. I had them pointing to a handful of new sites that promoted affiliate products like reverse telephone lookups and instant background checks.
I was earning around $1,000 to $1,500 a month and it was growing every month.
And then Google tweaked their algorithm.
Suddenly those article directories lost all their rankings and I lost all my traffic. I was 100 percent dependent on those sites so everything I had built was gone instantly.
Back To Creating My Own Products
After seeing my traffic wiped off the face of the earth I decided I should go back to creating my own products rather than relying on article directories.
I focused on a popular topic: getting more traffic to your site!
I wrote one ebook called Web Traffic Secrets Exposed and another called Answers Domination, which was a guide to generating traffic through Yahoo Answers. I had some good success myself with YA so it made sense to share my knowledge.
Unfortunately, I still hadn’t learned that just putting together a website wasn’t enough.
And I was always so busy worrying about my next big project that I never put in the proper effort to get my current projects going properly.
Damn you shiny object syndrome!
In addition to the ebooks, I registered a site called Silver Platter Niches. The idea was that I’d research various niches and sell a report full of keywords to target, affiliate programs to promote and other resources someone would need to make money in the niche.
I think there is a need for this type of service but I lost interest before I even got started. I never even launched the site.
AdSense – Part II
At this point I still had my sites about wine and Aruba and they were earning me money day in and day out.
So I had what seemed like a brilliant idea.
I’ll create 100 sites! Then I’ll monetize them with AdSense and affiliate links.
Then I’ll quit my job and live on the beach full time!
In other words I built a bunch of crappy websites on all sorts of topics like baby monitors, orchids, mesothelioma, laptop carriers, industrial workbenches, reverse mortgages, quarter cup bras and more.
They were all thin sites without a lot of content and if you read them you could tell I didn’t really have any interest in the topics. I just found a keyword I thought I could rank for and built a micro site around it.
Some of these sites made a little money but most were complete failures.
I decided that one big site would be better than lots of tiny sites so I started building a review site that covered all sorts of baby gear. Almost immediately I realized that writing reviews of video baby monitors and shopping cart covers just wasn’t for me.
My First Blog
For a long time I resisted the idea of starting a blog. When I heard the word blog I thought of someone’s personal journal, and I didn’t even realize you could make money blogging.
But in the Fall of 2009 we had our third child and money got really tight. We had some complications during the pregnancy and we were hit with a bunch of medical expenses, plus all the standard costs of having a baby.
So shortly after Liam was born, Saving Money Today was born as a chronicle of our family’s finances and our tips for living on a budget.
I had a pretty logo and a tagline I was proud of and I had no problem creating content. I started interacting with a number of other bloggers and even got to meet a number of them at a meetup in Manhattan.
Things went well and I was making good money. After 2 years I was earning about $2,000 a month blogging and it looked like SMT was going to continue growing.
And then I got greedy.
I started focusing on the money instead of my readers and the quality of my content suffered. I sold too much advertising and the blog began to look spammy. Then I launched 2 other personal finance blogs thinking I’d triple my income.
Unfortunately, when you split your energy in too many directions you wind up undercutting yourself and I ended up with 3 mediocre blogs instead of one fantastic one.
Once again a Google algorithm update hit me hard. Google decided my content was thin and that I had a bunch of unnatural links and SMT’s traffic nosedived.
Discouraged, I stopped updating the blog and it slowly withered away.
Freelancing and Blog #2
While SMT was dying on the vine I did some freelance writing to help cover the bills. I wrote for about a half dozen personal finance blogs and also did a little ghost writing.
The money was ok but I just didn’t find freelancing as rewarding as owning my own content.
But SMT was a mess and it was going to take a ton of work to fix it with no guarantee I’d ever restore it to its former glory.
So I started over with a new blog called Wealthy Turtle.
Wealthy Turtle is all about ignoring the get rich quick schemes that waste people’s time and money. Instead the focus would be on ways to build income and wealth slowly but surely (like a turtle).
I loved the idea behind WT but it just never gained enough traction to take off. Growth was certainly a lot slower than it was with Saving Money Today and it got pretty frustrating.
In addition to my getting discouraged at WT’s slow growth, I was also super busy at my day job. I was deeply involved in two major projects and going through a leadership development program, and then I was promoted to manage a team of my own and that brought new responsibilities.
Between everything that was going on at work and evening sports and activities with the kids, I had little time to even think about blogging. I published new content only sporadically and I didn’t have any plan whatsoever.
I seriously considered pulling the plug.
But I really missed blogging, so when my work life settled down a bit and I had some more time and energy available I knew I wanted to start up again.
At first, I started to revamp WT. But as I looked over the archives I realized I was writing with no plan and the topics were all over the map. And much of it didn’t really match up with what I want to write about now.
One night over dinner I convinced Jeri to try working together with me on a blog. I told her it would be more fun to do it together and it would be easier to stay focused if we were supporting each other through the journey.
Maybe it was the wine, but she agreed to give it a shot!
We wanted to start a new page with a new blog and at first we registered a domain called Family Finances Life.
But I hated the name. It just sounds like one in a billion sites people will never remember. I wanted something short and memorable that could look good on a T-shirt.
As Jeri and I sat on the couch together brainstorming names, our cat Jasmine jumped up and laid down right between us. Fate had spoken and Budget Kitty was born.
So what’s different this time?
I mean, what makes me think this project will be a success after countless others have failed?
Well it all boils down to what I’ve learned from previous failures.
Lesson 1 – You can’t do it all on your own.
Yes, much of my working time is spent sitting alone with my laptop. But that doesn’t mean I have to be a hermit. My most successful times were when I was blogging at Saving Money Today because I was talking and networking with other bloggers all the time. Interacting with other bloggers is really important.
Also, up until now Jeri has never had anything to do with my online businesses. It just didn’t interest her and her eyes would glaze over when I started talking about plugins or article ideas.
This time she is involved and helping. I do most of the writing (with her input) and networking but she helps brainstorm topics, do research, and offer opinions and suggestions. I’m hoping as the blog grows she’ll gain more confidence and play a bigger role, but it is already amazingly helpful to have some one at home that I can count on to be supportive and bounce ideas off.
Lesson 2 – You need goals and a plan to reach them.
If I’m being completely honest, I never did much planning when I launched previous projects. I was always in a rush to get started so I just through a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what would stick.
I never set any firm goals either. Without specific targets to shoot for I was wandering around aimlessly.
This time, we do have specific goals and our blogging plan is designed to help us reach them. That forces us to be more thoughtful in everything we do and to continuously ask “Will what we’re doing right now move us closer to our goals?”
Lesson 3 – You need FOCUS.
Looking back at my failure resume made me realize I’ve always had a problem staying focused. I’d get a great idea and quickly rush to do something with it, but before I made any real progress I’d get another great idea and start working on that too.
Getting a case of shiny object syndrome and dividing your efforts among multiple projects is a recipe for failure. That’s why I killed a bunch of smaller sites and we’re focused strictly on growing Budget Kitty.
Oh, I still have a few other domains registered (someday I want to build an awesome blog about beer) but those are locked up in the attic somewhere and will only come out if Budget Kitty has grown so big, profitable, and hands off that I can spare time for something else.
In the meantime I just keep reminding myself of what happens when I try to chase more than one rabbit at a time.
Lesson 4 – You need to find your tribe.
In previous blogs I wrote about anything and everything that popped into my head. There were some really good articles that I was very proud of, but there was also a lot of crap that should never have been published.
And when you write about too many topics you never really find an audience. You’re trying to write to everyone and in the end you write to no one.
Now, I’ve learned that you need to have a specific reader in mind and all of your content should speak to them as if you were having a conversation over coffee.
Lesson 5 – You need to add value.
I’ve spoken a lot about the importance of goals and plans and that’s all true. But if you’re only focused on reaching your own goals you’re missing the most important ingredient.
A blog is nothing without its readers and they should always come first. I’ve listened to podcasts and interviews of successful people like Rosemarie Groner and Darren Rowse and they constantly talk about adding value to your reader’s lives and imagining the positive change your blog will have on them.
That is a super-useful exercise and it completely changed the way I see my readers. I’m not just publishing content, I’m helping real people solve problems and improve their lives.
That change in mindset makes all the difference in the world.
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