How do people make money online?
That was my first frantic Internet search minutes after getting fired from a job I loved. Up until this point, everything in life felt pretty awesome. And then suddenly everything smacked me in the face with the full force of suck.
I spent the first few weeks burning through savings. I moved out of my nice apartment and “downsized” into a one room studio. Since I could no longer afford cable television, the only option I had for entertainment was my internet connection and a half-broken laptop computer.
I spent my days looking for work. I went to interview after interview, but like a lot of folks, I just couldn’t get a break. This led to many depressing, lonely nights…
I’m From A Small Town
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and graduated high school with like 89 other people. And when it came to making money, you either worked at a factory, farm or you figured out how to sell something. I opted for a fish farm and spent my high school years literally shoveling fish poop in the hopes we would have a plentiful annual harvest of at least half-a-million hybrid stripped bass.
At the time, I worked with this guy named Smitty. He had gone to college, dropped out, went back and finally finished his degree. He was presently thirty years old and had a lot to share in terms of life lessons and how you can always strive for more. He suggested books to read and places to visit. Over time Smitty also convinced me that a college education would offer more than farming fish.
College life was great. I don’t remember much about academia, but I do remember getting introduced to this new thing called the Internet. I took some computer classes and learned how to make basic websites. In my downtime, I searched for ways to make money online. And while I would love to tell you I was one of those kids who created a multi-million dollar company from my dorm room, I got distracted.
Working In Hollywood Was My Focus
I always had a fascination with the Hollywood movie industry. And during my senior year, my school offered a class where you could buck up a few hundred dollars and make a short film. This was one of those ah-ha moments. Of course! I could make a living as a film producer in Hollywood. In the days that followed, I wrote a short movie script and ended up convincing everybody in the class to let me produce and co-direct it. Suffice it to say, I caught the film bug.
After graduation, I took some odd jobs in PA, saved up money and eventually moved to New York City. There I found work, working alongside an indie film producer. At first, I mostly fetched coffee and ran errands. But over time, I started getting invited to important meetings with prospective film investors. During that time, I learned about writing business plans and how to solicit private investments.
My time in New York only lasted a year. We were going into production on a million dollar film. But one morning over breakfast, the producer told me that our investors pulled out and the whole project fell apart. And just like that, I was out of a job and money.
My First Filmmaking Job Didn’t Work Out
Later that week I packed my car and headed back to Pennsylvania. When I arrived home, I was surprised to see my mom had turned my bedroom into a Mary Kay studio, complete with pink walls and lots of cosmetics. I was down and out in rural Pennsylvania.
I wanted a career in the movie industry. Los Angeles was the place for that. So one night while staring at myself in the pink vanity mirror, I came up with a game plan. I decided to apply for jobs selling cell phones at a local mall. I would then save up ten-thousand dollars and move across the country.
My ego was also a driving factor. In my time away, I had been written up a few times in my local paper. But with the failed film project, I no longer felt like a New York big shot. I didn’t want anybody from my high school to spot me selling cell phones. So I applied for and eventually took a job in a run-down mall kiosk an hour away from my hometown.
Selling Mobile Phones In The Mall
I jumped into the job with a major dose of enthusiasm. I literally pitched phones to every person who walked past. “Hey. You need a phone?” Even the retired mall walkers. It didn’t matter. And in the process, I came upon a profound life lesson that has since informed my worldview.
Regardless of the job you take, if you commit to making your goals big enough, you won’t notice the day to day crap. Within weeks, leveraging this attitude and drive, I rose in the ranks, beating out seasoned veterans to become one of the highest performing sales guys in the company. And as a result, our little kiosk became one of the top locations.
But that was just the beginning. One day something miraculous happened. This lady and her husband approached my booth and asked about phones. I did my usual pitch. But she stopped me half-way and was like:
“You should come work for my company.”
“I’m sorry. I’m moving to Los Angeles.”
She then smiled at her husband and was like:
“That’s amazing. We have an open position in Los Angeles.”
Money Does Not Make You Smart
Two weeks later, I was in my new job. The company was a growing bank, specializing in supplying colleges and universities with student loans. My whole job was to simply “make friends” with the decision makers. This was done through taking these folks to lunches, extravagant dinners and sporting events.
Compared to shoveling poo at the fish farm or selling cell phones in a mall kiosk, this was a dream come true. I had an expense account and spent my days flying from Seattle to San Diego, living in hotels while racking up travel points and frequent flyer miles. And because I was so gung-ho, the deals started to flow.
Within months, I was once again one of the top producers in the company. And as a result, I also got a taste of big money. For example, one of my first big commission checks was just over $30K. (That’s almost as much as a full year selling phones!) In retrospect, I should have saved the money or purchased a home. But the money went to my head and I started thinking I was smarter than I was.
Could Have Bought A House But Didn’t
This was around a time when Lehman Brothers was in full swing in the mortgage backed security business. During the peak, Lehman wanted to diversify their holdings with student loans. And our small bank was promptly acquired.
In addition to the vested stock options, the next year was a whirlwind. With Lehman’s backing, we quickly became a major player in the student loan space. This accelerated my personal success and got me on the radar of corporate. At one point a managing member of our Lehman division flew across the country to spend a few days in the field with me. Afterwards, he offered to “get me on the manger fast track.”
Despite the job success, I still wanted to produce movies. My filmmaking friends and I spent a lot of weekends making short (one-to-three-minute) films. But we wanted more. We were sick of asking Hollywood for permission to make “real” feature films. So instead of investing in a real estate or the stock market, I tapped into my savings to help produce our first feature film, a silly zombie movie.
Endless Summer Ended Fast (That Sucked!)
My decision to make an arguably risky investment in independent film came easy. At the time I was experiencing so much momentum, that I was literally mapping out a five year retirement plan. If success is a season, this was definitely my summer. In hindsight, had I read the popular bible verse from Ecclesiastes (the one rehashed over and over in popular culture) I may have taken enough pause to realize seasons change:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…
It was mid-September when we we got a call from the president of my division. He explained that Lehman Brothers was bankrupt and we were all fired. That was a major shock. Like most people, I thought we were too big to fail. I loved my job. I loved my clients. And most of all, I loved my lifestyle. As my former teammates disconnected from the call, I remember one yelling into the void, “wait, I have a question…”
We went from summer straight into winter. And it was about to be one of the coldest on record.
You Can Actually Make Money Blogging?
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this painful experience was revealing another success lesson. Once you get accustomed to a higher standard of living, your brain has a magical way of propelling you into action so you can retain your comfort zone. Given the circumstances of the recession, this meant many manic sleepless nights searching internet job sites.
I did okay getting job interviews. But because I was still depressed about Lehman, it was difficult to drum up the necessary mojo to sell myself. At one low point, I actually applied for a job selling cardboard boxes. I lost that one when I mistakenly used the word cardboard. “Actually the correct terminology corrugated…”
One silver lining in all this was our silly Zombie movie. Despite getting a few crappy offers from small Hollywood film distributors, we decided to forgo the deals and release the film ourselves via Amazon streaming. This was a time when video on demand was still in it’s infancy. And the novelty of our distribution approach prompted several filmmakers to reach out with questions: “How do I apply a similar model to my filmmaking?”
Sharing Your Knowledge Creates Value
Because I had time, I responded to the questions with long emails explaining ways filmmakers could leverage modern tools to make, market and sell independent films. After a few of these conversations, it dawned on me that most aspiring filmmakers asked the same questions. So I decided to put the info on a website and simply direct filmmakers there. I called the blog Filmmaking Stuff.
My blogging philosophy was simple. I aimed to share ideas on how to leverage modern filmmaking tactics. And I made a goal to write and publish at least one article per day. Over time this paid off. With each article, I attracted new visitors. Soon my traffic grew to fifty visitors per day. Even though my audience was small, helping people gave me purpose.
In addition to attracting readers, my articles also captured the attention of other bloggers. One day a popular filmmaking blog linked back to one of my articles. As a result, my traffic spiked and surpassed one-hundred visitors for the first time! This was a major milestone. If I could attract one hundred visitors in a day, why not get a thousand?
Grow Your Authority (Fast)
When it came to blogging, I realized I knew nothing about Search Engine Optimization, online advertising or any sort of fancy blogging strategy that would help me pay the bills. I knew people were making money online but I had no idea how. So instead of looking for jobs, I went into a mad dash hustle researching everything I possibly could about internet marketing, including:
“How do I make money online?”
“How do I start an online business.”
“How to break into Info Marketing?”
“Can you really make money blogging?”
I quickly found the Internet is full of get rich quick schemes pandering to the lazy. But over time I also identified several legit marketers who freely shared actionable strategies. The one consistency I found that delineated the pros from the wannabees was an uncompromising adherence to an age old direct marketing dogma: The money is in your list.
I had an epiphany. Most blog visitors are busy. Like you, they are raising a family, holding a demanding job and worried about bills. Life is extremely distracting. As a result, the moment someone clicks away from your blog, they may forget about it. But if you focus efforts on growing email subscribers, then you have the opportunity to stay in contact, build a relationship and eventually make a sale.
Build Authentic Relationships (At Scale)
While growing site traffic was still an important goal, I also started focusing on getting my visitors to subscribe to my email newsletter. To achieve this, I signed up for a 3rd party email marketing service and added an opt-in form to my site so I could collect the names and email addresses of my visitors. After a few months, I had a few hundred subscribers. I was amazed people took the time to read my emails!
As the weeks went on, I published dozens of articles and gained more subscribers. I refined my email newsletter to include a digest of my weekly articles and blasted it out every week. In response, many subscribers forwarded my newsletter to friends and colleagues, which expanded my reach.
One day I got a call from a friend congratulating me. As a result of increased popularity, Filmmaking Stuff was included in MovieMaker Magazine’s list of the top fifty blogs for independent filmmakers. Aside from the validation, this gave me an idea. Why not write for MovieMaker? So I immediately emailed the editor and pitched an idea for an article.
MovieMaker Magazine bought my pitch. And while the compensation was only a few hundred dollars, the article gave me additional authority in the indie filmmaking space. I could now reach out to anybody and say “I’ve written articles for MovieMaker Magazine.” (I could also walk up to any newsstand and find my article, which was also pretty cool.)
A Blog Without Income Is A Hobby
Despite the excitement, I was over a year into blogging and Filmmaking Stuff was not making money. Behind the scenes I was working crappy jobs to pay bills and I desperately wanted to change my situation. I once again spent my nights researching how to make money blogging.
Turns out there are three primary ways to make money online. You can sell advertising, promote other people’s products and services for a commission, or you can sell your own stuff. While there are pros and cons to each model, selling my own stuff seemed most appealing. The problem was, I didn’t yet have a product.
I knew from researching other successful filmmaker blogs, there was a market for “how to” training around making independent films. Since I had dozens of articles on the topic, I decided not to reinvent the wheel or try to create the perfect product. I simply took my most popular blog articles (filled in some gaps and added additional value) and then merged the content into a step-by-step eBook, a workbook and some audio downloads. I called this training system The Filmmaker Action Pack.
The product launch was straightforward. Around 9AM both myself and a few other filmmaker bloggers (who had previously agreed to promote The Filmmaker Action Pack for a 50% commission on sales) sent out an email blast. I then spent the next ten minutes literally staring at my email inbox… And then I made my first sale!
At the end of the day, I generated close to $800 dollars. While this amount was not the millions that many internet marketing “gurus” boast about online, it was enough to pay my rent for a month. Suffice it to say, this proved you could turn your words into cash. And I was hooked!
Speaking Gigs Add Value
After my first sale, I repeated the process. More content production and products attracted more traffic, which led to more email subscribers, which led to more sales. This enabled me to scale up my blogging business.
Over time I started getting invitations to speak at various film festivals, including a panel discussion at the Sundance Film Festival. If you do not know this, Sundance is the most popular film festival in the world.
In addition to Sundance, I also spoke at a bunch of local meetups for filmmakers. The added speaking gigs resulted in (you guessed it) more subscribers and more sales!
Writing My First “Traditional” Book
If you study successful bloggers, you’ll notice that many eventually publish a physical book. Having a book creates credibility beyond the blog. You go from being a blogger to an author. And at the very least, having a physical book is the one business card people won’t throw in the trash.
The problem is, writing a book is a pain in the butt. It takes discipline, time and the unwavering courage to overcome blank page anxiety. For these reasons alone, most aspiring authors give up before they start. But bloggers have an advantage. When you spend years writing a blog, you’ll have lots of content you can rework.
In my situation, I had over one-hundred articles. So I simply grabbed the content and reworked it all into one flowing document. Within a few months, I had my own physical book. And instead of waiting for a traditional book publisher to grant me permission, I simply self-published on Amazon and emailed my subscribers. A lot of people bought the book. And I was very happy.
Landing The Hollywood Dream Job
When I started my filmmaking blog, I was unemployed and scared about my future. I never had a plan. I just wanted to share ideas and keep myself sane. But in addition the subscribers, the info product sales, the speaking gigs and the book… An interesting thing happened.
As a result of my blog authority, I was offered an executive position with a Hollywood distribution company. The position not only paid well, but it also allowed me to cement my credibility as a trusted authority in the independent film space. The results of which have opened the door to more speaking events, more subscribers and more info product sales.
While all of these wonderful opportunities did not come easy, they are all a result of my blog. I share my story with you, because I want to add inspiration to your life. Had I not gotten fired from Lehman Brothers and suffered the loss of comfort, I may have never have gotten creative…
I am now turning my story over to you. Whether you are going through a major life change (like I did) or you are just looking for some ways to make extra money, I am here to help. I want to show you how to convert your words to cash.