The Business of Blogging & Bootstrapping An Online Venture

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2011-12-2338

As you already know, I’m in the business of developing online content, also known as content publishing (and specifically, blogging). I’d like to cover a little ground on this topic today, sort of like a checkpoint for myself, at the end of the year. While I have many goals, one thing I particularly care about is making sure I provide a quality experience for visitors and readers while balancing the ability to make a living by doing what I like to do.


So this year, I spent a lot of time working on improving my site(s) and am now investing back in the business. I feel thankful that I have gotten to the point where I can grow this venture. Looking back, I’m just awed by all the people I’ve met through my blog, and excited about the things I’ve learned over the last couple of years. What were some of these things I’ve picked up? Here’s a quick look at my experiences and goals as a blogger and how some things have evolved:

What It’s Like To Run & Bootstrap a Blogging Business

1. You can choose to go full time or part time. There’s no set formula for running a web business. I’ve decided to go full time, but how did I get here? Well, I initially had a full time job and started blogging on the side in 2006. Less than 2 years later, I quit the full time job I had as an IT analyst and software developer to see if I can make a living doing something else. It’s worked out so far. While it’s tricky to try to earn enough to match the cost of living in this part of the world, it is doable.

Build a Better Blog
How it feels sometimes. Image by archiexpo.com.

2. Passive income on the web is hard to come by. “Passive income” is a misnomer. At least for me, being a web entrepreneur takes a humongous amount of work. While I believe that the effort involved is more than what you’d spend “working for the man”, it’s the kind of work that is very fulfilling. If you enjoy what you do, then it won’t seem like work!

3. You can successfully replace your 9 to 5 income. Replacing a full time income as a software developer here in the West Coast is a tough feat. It’s certainly a challenge, but how can it be done? By capitalizing on the stuff that comes most naturally to you and what gets you excited about getting up in the morning. For example, I can’t fake the fact that I love finance and business. I also love systems and technology. So I’ve been trying to marry the two. By doing what you love most, you may be surprised about what could happen. While some things are accidental or serendipitous, other things are not and will entail planning. In addition, it’s good to stay diversified. For instance, I try to be involved in a few projects so that not all our income comes from one source.

4. Anyone can switch “careers” if they’re determined enough. I did it because I had to make a choice — I couldn’t juggle everything and I was burning out. Other folks are able to carry on with several jobs and a family life at the same time, but I couldn’t. So I quit my job and decided to blog full time to try to replace my lost income. So far, it’s turned out to be the right choice for me.

5. To grow your business, you’ll have to invest in it. I’m working on this one. With higher income looms the specter of higher expenses. Why? Because I’d like to invest back into these online businesses to see them grow. Thinking about the future and working on a growth plan now requires investment and outflow. There are growing pains and they come with the territory.

6. You have to like what you do. I’ve alluded to this earlier — you should like what you do so you can keep on doing it. If you enjoy what you’re doing, it will increase your chances of longevity at your chosen field, activity or business.

7. You learn something new every day. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s also a lot of fun. For many years, I’ve pigeonholed myself as someone who did one thing (software development), and I built my professional identity on that long-term career — one which I went to school for. I’m changing those notions and my professional profile now, by taking on stretch goals and projects that are redefining who I am in a whole different business and “career”. And so I’ve discovered personally, that there’s life beyond the nine-to-five that we’re used to living.

8. Don’t take short cuts. Just like with anything else, you have to do a good job to get anywhere. Online businesses are just like real life businesses — they need to be run with strong quality control in place and with a lot of TLC. You’ll need to provide good service to your customers (or audience). It may even be more competitive to work in this environment than in a regular business setting just because the barriers to entry are quite low: it’s arguably easier to start up an online business than it is to launch a physical business.

How I’ve Changed Gears

I used to spend a considerable amount of time managing my stock portfolio. These days, I am spending quite a bit of time also reviewing our business portfolio. Here’s my financial plan in a nutshell: investing in both traditional investment markets and in business projects should help us conquer our future income requirements, as my spouse and I grow older and possibly become less employable in the technical field, no thanks to age discrimination in the workplace. (I certainly hope that’s not the case, but the technical industry values young blood!)

I strongly believe that income and quality (of product or service) go together. If you offer something that is in demand (or answers a demand) and you do so in a unique and effective fashion, and with an emphasis on quality, then you can expect to do reasonably well.

Created April 13, 2010. Updated December 23, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

John @ Curious Cat Investing Blog April 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Yeah it is hardly “passive income” when it requires so much work. But like you, I enjoy blogging, even thought it does eat up much of my time.

Paul April 13, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Kudos to you!

It’s people like you and blogs like yours that encourage other bloggers to pursue blogging full time.

cheers!

The Personal Finance Playbook April 14, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Congratulations on making it as a pro blogger and way to go! This is a great blog. You’ve earned your success.

Eden April 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Very cool! So the *secret* is hard work, eh? Isn’t there a button I can push to turn on the Making Millions feature of my blog?

oxford April 15, 2010 at 7:45 am

The power of blogging is unsettling. I’m not at your level yet, but hope to be there soon. One odd thing…I generate more sales from my blog than I do my website. I’m not sure that’s good though!

Trevor @ Financial Nut April 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Way to walk away from “the man.” Honestly — I am very, very impressed.

Shadox April 18, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Congrats! I love your blog and considering that my blog is about the same age as yours and that Money and Such has seen less than 5% of your traffic, you should give yourself a big pat on the back.

black celebrity April 24, 2010 at 8:48 pm

The truth is, your blog is hot and clearly written.

Michael Harr @ Wealth…Uncomplicated April 25, 2010 at 4:58 am

Congrats, SVB! You’ve met great milestones for sure, but I suspect an even more fulfilling validation of your choices. It’s been a real treat following your blog and learning about your story and I appreciate the effort that you put into The Digerati Life. Hats off to you:)

Dan May 15, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I love how you actually explain that it takes work to be successful at this. I have read a lot of posts in other blogs that say “I have been blogging for two months now and not making any money yet, what should I do?” I say,” Become a person of value to others and with persistence you will succeed.” Congrats on the success!

Silicon Valley Blogger May 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Thanks all! The magic formula for success at anything requires that we put in hard work, dedication, commitment and patience. For a few folks, luck played a huge part. It really helps to start out liking what you do because it can take a long while before you get anywhere. That’s why we hear a lot of success stories especially on the internet, of people who do well because they pursued what they liked to do unwaveringly without money as their motivation. If money were my sole and pure motivation, I’d have quit ages ago…. ;) since for the amount of work I poured in, the money did not seem commensurate to the effort. But I found a lot of reward in meeting others online and learning from what I was doing. To me, it makes all the difference.

Jamain May 20, 2010 at 9:47 am

I’ve made the fundamental mistake which was not to write a plan for my goals, so I just sit on my computer all day long without accomplishing anything, I would just surf and surf. Hmmm.

ray@octagonfury July 8, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Congratulations is in order given the goals you’ve reached and I hope to celebrate these accomplishments myself someday. Good luck in the future and happy blogging.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 1, 2010 at 9:52 am

On the topic of online business, I also wanted to plug the activities of a fellow blogger whom I’ve gotten to know. I like Kosmo because we share certain eccentric interests, which you can read more about in his blog, The SoapBoxers.com. Well, I was truly honored when Kosmo contacted me with an idea that he had — which was to offer a service that allowed him to critique my site. Hey, this was a chance for him to pick on me ;-). I figured that he may notice something about my site that wasn’t all too obvious to me. I therefore took him up on his offer, and he ended up providing me with a web analysis of things I could improve upon. His service is called: Sparks by Kosmo.

If you’re stumped about where to go with your site and would like to see things with a fresh pair of eyes, then I believe Kosmo can do a wonderful job for you. He can give you a few options for receiving his analysis: he’ll either give you a quick run through or a full-fledged formal report of between 500 to 3,000 words. I appreciate the fact that he’s used me as a guinea pig. :)

I look upon my site as a work in progress and I’m constantly figuring out ways to make it better. I’m hoping that by next year, you’ll see some substantial changes here, which will incorporate Kosmo’s ideas and critique.

cauna December 3, 2010 at 3:01 am

I haven’t been blogging much successfully…but to be honest, what I’ve learned from blogging is that if Content is King, then a Custom Looking Template is sure to be the Queen! Your unique look (Template & Logo) makes your blog separate, different and memorable, plus brandable. Then it’s all about your content: it depends on how well you write or how good your content is. Based on that, visitors stay or leave! :)

Arohan December 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm

SVB, as a content publisher myself, I can fully sympathize with you regarding quality control. I have had situations when I had to remove an article that was already published and ban the writer due to certain aspects of the work I discovered later. Then, and this is really funny (or sad, depending on how you look at it), I have had 4-5 “different authors” submit the same article for publishing, hoping that at least one of them will get through the editorial review.

I love what you are doing with this site and I am sure your business will continue to prosper.

Financial Samurai December 9, 2010 at 12:25 am

The average engineer income I know in Silicon Valley make around $140-$180,000. Hence, if you have surpassed that, or are close to that, that is awesome!

Best of luck to you in the new year!

Silicon Valley Blogger December 9, 2010 at 12:53 am

Thanks for your comments. We have a lot of ongoing projects that span various niches. Both my husband and I were software architects in our previous careers (and still are). And we do a mix of both product and service based ventures….. The difference is that we do our own thing these days and have the flexibility, while taking the risk of going solo.

Now for an engineer to make $180,000 — that’s pretty sweet. I’d be curious to know where that kind of salary is being offered.

Kosmo @ The Soap Boxers December 9, 2010 at 7:44 am

Thanks for the plug, SVB. Gang – if you have emailed me and haven’t heard back, rest assured that I will contact you tonight, after I get home and the kids are in bed for the night. I do still have some open slots for reviews in 2010, even with Christmas bearing down.

I definitely echo your sentiments about quality control. At The Soap Boxers, I use a variety of independent contractor writers under a profit sharing agreement. Since the writers don’t get a regular paycheck, it’s not uncommon for them to miss a deadline from time to time (which I’m OK with). One of my writers never missed deadlines and always submitted excellent articles.

One day, she submitted an article about how the British government treated computer scientist Alan Turning during World War II (hint: very poorly). It was a great read the second time — just as it had been when I read it for the first time, one day earlier on CNN! A quick check of her earlier articles turned up identical articles on a variety of other sites. Within minutes, her content was gone from my site.

The kicker? She denied stealing the work of others and insisted that I had an adverse reaction to her article because of homophobia (Turing was gay), this in spite of the fact that I had written articles in defense of gay rights several times on my site. I guess I didn’t occur to her that the plagiarism might be the reason why I was upset.

@ Arohan – Funny about people submitting the same content under 4 or 5 different names. Maybe they think you have big mood swings and might hate an article one day and love it the next.

Jake Vargas December 9, 2010 at 10:25 am

There’s nothing special about having a business on the internet vs a traditional business in terms of who makes it work or not. What i mean is that there is always a 1 in 10 chance of succeeding in any form of business and that does not change even if you are operating a web type business.

Remember: 50 percent of businesses fail in the first year and 95 percent fail within five years.

Manshu December 9, 2010 at 10:27 am

Congratulations on coming this far on your blogging journey, and best wishes for the years ahead!

IRS Hitman December 9, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Congratulations on your success. I always enjoy reading stories where people succeed against the odds. Any plans to write important points from the “Sparks by Kosmo” review? That would be interesting to read.

Your story reminds me of when I left the IRS; I was “bullying” people into paying every day and it was killing me. Now I work on the other side helping people, I get hundreds of e-mails from my blog and website readers and really provide solutions to their problems. It’s obviously much more rewarding, and I enjoy writing about this subject and helping others every day.

Kosmo @ The Soap Boxers December 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm

@ IRS Hitman – I have included some of the points in my introduction of the service over at The Soap Boxers – http://www.thesoapboxers.com/introducing-sparks-by-kosmo/

Bear in mind that both of the examples shown are snippets, not the entire report. I believe SVB’s review was roughly 500 words and the Mommy’s Recess one was about 1000. I only asked to quote an excerpt, in order to allow the customers to retain any competitive advantage they gained via the report.

I expect quite a bit of variety in the reports.

Investor Junkie December 10, 2010 at 8:26 am

Sam,

$140-180k the average engineer makes in the valley? Hardly. That’s more the top end.

MD December 12, 2010 at 11:03 pm

This is a very insightful post for someone like myself that has just finished college and is considering entrepreneurship. I’m just curious as to how you deal with the income fluctuations and productivity issues? As I type this I’m literally trying to force myself to do something productive lol.

Mrs. Accountability December 13, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Thanks for mentioning Kosmo’s service, I have requested a report and plan to do a follow up review at my site. Your success with your blog gives me hope that I can do the same with my own. Thanks, SVB.

Chris Parsons December 15, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Seeing that you were able to replace your fulltime income online is very inspirational for me. I’ve just started blogging and venturing into the online business world and hope to do the same.

I just put together my list of goals for 2011 in what I like to call my Anti-New Years Resolutions (because I’m actually going to keep them). Part of that is spending money to give my online ventures a better chance at success.

twentysomethingmoney December 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm

This is a great post — my goal is to ultimately quit my job too, and become a full time internet entrepreneur by developing valuable web properties. (not the get rich quick ones, that are everywhere). I figure if I start investing an hour a day, I can develop a couple blogs into fairly successful properties — but we shall see!

Nathan Woodbury January 11, 2011 at 6:55 am

Do not run after success, run for excellence and success will run after you. Success in online business is not because of hard work alone. The most important thing is you like what you are doing. I think that’s the reason for your success. I hope it’s not to late for me to congratulate you. Good job. Keep it up.

ben david February 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Inspiring post! Recently started a blog, very intrigued by this way of life and I want to learn all I can in order to get better. Thanks for sharing and congrats!

Markus August 13, 2011 at 6:58 am

I like your comment on the magic formula for success. Blogging is a lot of work that requires consistent effort. I have a list of activities that I do to help promote my blogs. Once I started to do this on a daily basis, I started to see more traffic.

Trevis December 23, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Inspiring work, good luck in the new year!

Funny about Money December 26, 2011 at 9:54 am

This stuff is so inspiring! You were the first blogger I followed who announced she was quitting the day job, and I was sooo amazed! That was what eventually led me to monetize my site.

You might add to the list that the would-be entrepreneur should have a LOT of energy and an ability to focus it sharply.

Best wishes for an even more successful 2012. :-)

Silicon Valley Blogger December 27, 2011 at 10:56 am

Thanks Funny About Money! Many personal finance bloggers have made the leap to full time blogging, but the key is to see how long you can last as a “full timer”.

krantcents December 30, 2011 at 11:21 am

Blogging for me is to keep me stimulated and engaged after I retire from my full time career. I do not want to work on it full time, however I love doing it.

SB @ One cent at a time April 6, 2012 at 4:24 am

There are a million bloggers and only a few survived after quitting. I am now at one year mark with my blog and I can’t even think about quitting. Congrats on your blog success.

Silicon Valley Blogger April 6, 2012 at 9:57 am

Thanks SB. I have been thinking of things more generally these days. Instead of saying that “I love blogging”, what I really enjoy is working on online projects. So I’ve been participating in different types of online or internet-based projects as part of my online business. It’s a good way to diversify revenue channels if you are serious about trying to make a living via the web.

So a little bit of content publishing plus a dash of software development here and there can make things quite exciting for a good long time!

jem alvarado May 22, 2013 at 8:20 am

I am now blogging in three years and I am happy that I am earning from it but it is not that easy. You really have to be determined. I am still with my regular online job and do not have plans of quitting it. With blogging sometimes I am bored but I tried to cheer up and blog again.

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