How did you get started in business?
My plan was never to start a business, actually. In 2009, I discovered blogging and the possibility of making money on the internet and fell in love with that idea.
I was in my early twenties, at the stage where I didn’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life. What I did know was that I didn’t want to work for anyone else. I had a few jobs, but they never lasted long. I hated the idea of being somebody’s robot. No freedom, the obligation to show up at 9 on the dot and stay until 5, and having to go to work even when I’m feeling burned out.
The idea of making money while I was sleeping was so attractive to me. I wanted that life. And as I did more research, I learned that there were people out there making money from their blogs, building real businesses online. I never considered in the past that the blogs I was visiting everyday could be making money. Turns out they were making more money than I thought possible. That’s the model that attracted me most, and so that is what I pursue.
So I guess I never actually set out to build a business. I just wanted to find something that gave me freedom and the life I wanted.
What’s the story behind you’re business?
I started RankXL in January of 2015. It was born out of a new years resolution/goal in a way. By that point, I had already quit my job and was making money from blogging. But the income level was much lower than I would have liked. I was also starting to slack off a lot, as working from home can quickly turn you into a lazy procrastinator if you’re not careful.
RankXL was started as kind of a personal diary of my journey to grow my blogging income. In the forums I used to visit, people would post threads about their journeys. For example: “Follow My Journey To Grow A New Blog To 100,000 Visitors In One Year”. These were some of the most popular threads in the forum. I loved reading them myself.
The initial idea for RankXL was to do something like that, but on my own platform instead of a forum thread. So I started to write about my journey on RankXL and I would link to it from the forums I was active in. That allowed me to get my first few readers and email subscribers.
Did your background prepare you for this venture?
I would say so. By the time I started RankXL, I had already been working full time on my blogs for about a year and a half. I had also been doing SEO (search engine optimization) for around 5 years, and even worked at a large SEO agency for around a year, where I learned a lot about how to grow website traffic.
Describe the process of launching the business
With a blogging business, it’s as simple as it gets. That’s one of the things that attracts people to give it a try. It can cost as low as $10 to launch the business. All you need is to get a domain name and hosting plan.
It was the same thing for me. I just put up the site and started writing content. Again, the goal when I started RankXL was not to build it into a business. It was to share updates and just build a personal blog where I can write things I wanted to write.
What obstacles have you had to overcome to start and grow your business?
This is a great question. Up until I started working on RankXL, my business/revenue model for my blogs were very different. It was all based on generating a ton of traffic, and making money through ad revenue.
For RankXL, that was not going to work. For one, I didn’t want to plaster ads all over a personal blog. That would be a bad user experience. Second, the marketing and SEO niche is way too competitive to generate enough traffic to make ads profitable. Third, there are better ways to monetize a marketing blog.
I had to learn how to build an email list and optimize my entire blog around that. Learning email marketing was brand new to me. I had almost zero experience with it. Having to learn email marketing, and the things that come along with it like product launches, product creation, and building sales funnels was a long road of trial and error.
How long did it take you to make your first dollar?
At around the 5-6 month mark after starting the blog. I was getting a lot of emails from readers asking for coaching. That’s not something I was interested in doing, and it would just take me too much time out of my schedule to do it right. So instead, I decided to create a course around what everyone was asking me about, which is how to grow blogs with SEO. The first month it was released, it made around $10,000. And it continued to sell well for the rest of the year generating 6-figures by the end of the first year. That was a real eye-opener for me. RankXL was generating about a tenth of the traffic I get on other blogs. But it grew to 6-figures faster than any other blog I’ve worked on. And that’s because I had an email list and a product. Since then, I’ve been working on optimizing email and products into all my other blogs.
What tools do you use to help you run your business?
Right now, I’m using ConvertKit and Sumo for building my email list, and Teachable to build and sell digital products.
I also use various different research tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, and BuzzSumo.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
RankXL as a business today is still very much a passion project. I do whatever I want, and there are no set processes/systems/schedules. I have no employees.
Going forward, the goal is to turn RankXL into more of an actual business. I’m going to be working on building processes and systems.
If you had to start over, is there anything you would do differently?
Not really. I wish I could give a better answer here, but I would do everything the same, haha. Every mistake was a learning curve that helped me in the future.
What would you do the same? What’s been really helpful?
Build an email list from day 1. I had read a lot of interviews with successful bloggers before starting RankXL. They all have the same regret: Not starting their email list sooner. Without even know much about email marketing, I blindly followed their advice and started collecting emails from day 1. That was a great move, and is ultimately what allowed me to have a nice product launch so early on in the blog’s life.
Do you have any words of advice for people thinking of starting a business?
Building an audience before building a business makes things a lot easier when it comes to building a blogging business.
Too many people start new blogs and start hammering their visitors with affiliate offers, ads, or sales pitches. That’s the #1 way to drive people away and never build an actual audience of readers/fans.
There’s no rush. Offer value, prove your worth and expertise, help people. In the future, you’ll get much better results when you finally do monetize. Also, when your blog is tiny, it’s not even worth trying to monetize anyways because the returns will be so small.
Build the audience first.
Please include anything else you would like to say
I’ve now been doing this for 10 years. Along the way, I’ve tried to help many people, including personal friends I know in real life to build businesses online.
Some people just don’t have the mindset for it.
By mindset, I don’t mean that they’re not smart enough. They just don’t have the drive and desire to hustle and make it work. For most people, they’re going to have to start a business on the side and try to grow it before being able to quit their jobs and go at this full time. That means sacrificing other leisure activities. That’s something I realized some people are not willing to do. They may get excited and try it for a week or two, but that excitement is short-lived.
I certainly slack off and procrastinate myself. However, I’ve also made a lot of sacrifices. When I was working a full-time job, I took vacation days off so that I can work. For example, I would ask for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday off. And then I would spend Wednesday to Sunday just working nonstop. That was extremely helpful. And of course, on weekends, my #1 priority was working – not going out to party with my friends.
You can argue that this isn’t healthy. But sometimes, it’s what’s necessary to get to your goal faster.