Occasionally, I come across interviews that really go above and beyond my expectations. This interview is one of those – a treat, in my opinion.
Today’s guest is Kevin Muldoon, an internet entrepreneur who has done a ton of different things online (dating all the way back to 2000, which is a long time in internet years). He has built and sold blogs, he’s made $20,000 a month in affiliate commissions in the gambling niche, and he’s done a lot of freelance writing/blogging.
This interview is jam-packed with lots of good advice and wisdom. To start, Kevin walks us through his journey, which is really interesting in and of itself. He also explains how he built large audiences for his blogs, and goes in depth about how (and why) certain writers can command over $100 per article.
Once again – lots of great content here – make sure you give this one a read.
Kevin, I’m a big fan of your blog at KevinMuldoon.com. In particular, you have a lot of great content about blogging/freelance writing, getting the most out of WordPress, and I really like how you publish income reports (something I’ve personally always done too). Tell us a bit about your background and journey. How did you get into blogging? Across all of the different things you do (writing, consulting, etc.), where do you spend most of your time currently?
I am glad you like the blog. To be perfectly honest, I have never been able to devote 100% of my time to the blog. I have always focused more on other projects, or, more recently, on freelancing for others.
However, my blog remains an enjoyable place for me to write about anything and everything. I have a lot of plans on how to develop it over the next few years. Here’s hoping I make the time to put those plans into motion 🙂
I am glad you like the income reports too. It is not something I ever envisioned doing and I only started doing them because readers kept asking me to do it. What can I say – I am susceptible to peer pressure!
With regards to my experience, I won’t bore you with my whole journey (you can read about that on my blog’s about page if you have a spare 20-30 minutes), however I will explain briefly how I fell into blogging.
I first started working online back in 2000. Initially, myself and my friend Eddie registered some domain names, as we had heard that you could make some money by selling them. After realizing that the name I registered was not going to sell, I developed a website for it. An online shopping directory that I built from scratch using notepad. Looking back, it was crazy what I did to keep that website updated. Changing one small thing in the sidebar meant updating over 100 HTML files manually!
Still, I was extremely focused on improving, and after picking up some affiliate commissions through the directory, I was encouraged to develop more websites. I developed dozens of content websites and forums over the following three years; making more money by selling those websites than anything else.
I then moved into the gambling niche and made a lot of money through that. At one point, I was making over $20,000 a month in referral commissions. Commissions decreased after that due to me traveling and not devoting my full attention to the website, however I was still earning money through those referrals until as late as 2010.
I first caught the traveling bug in 2003. In 2006, I was setting off for my third adventure. This was before websites such as Facebook were popular, and everyone just shared photos and updates via email. However, I chose to update friends and family through a blog. I also added a blog to my poker discussions forums and built a few other small websites using blogging software.
I soon realized how great blogging platforms were as a content management system (CMS), so in early 2007 I launched BloggingTips.com; a website that I later sold in 2010 to Zac Johnson (who continues to update it to this day). Before I sold BloggingTips, I had already started planning my next blog WPMods.com; a blog that focused solely on the WordPress platform. I sold that in 2012 to WPHub.com. One of the main reasons I sold that blog was that I was going travellng around all of South America for a year and did not want the responsibility of maintaining a blog every day.
When I returned to Scotland a year later, I started freelancing to boost my income until income from my own projects increased. It was never something I planned on doing long term, however I have been enjoying it and I am lucky to have some great clients. I am in a position now where I have to turn down clients regularly, so I may have to increase my rates soon.
At the moment, I mainly divide my time between three things:
- My Blog – I write for the blog myself and have one or two writers that occasionally write articles for the blog too.
- Freelancing for Clients – At the moment, this takes a large percentage of my time.
- Rise Forums – My internet marketing discussion forum. This is my main project at the moment. Over the next year, I will be investing a lot of time, money, and energy, into the forum.
I also have to make small updates to several other websites I own every now and then.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog and online business?
From a job perspective, I still feel very lucky to do what I do. I first started working online in 2000 and was fortunate enough to make enough money from it in 2004 to become self-employed through working online.
I am currently responding to these questions to you in Santa Marta, Colombia. The fact that I can do work from the Caribbean Coast still amazes me. When I first started traveling in 2003, I had to spend hours sitting in internet cafes in Asia, trying to update my websites through a 56kb connection that I shared with 20+ people who were checking Hotmail and Yahoo.
Today, it is possible for me to pick up a $300 laptop anywhere in the world, download a free text editor such as TextPad and graphics program such as GIMP, sync important files from Dropbox, and start making money. It still amazes me that I can do that and I am fortunate that I still love what I do.
So, the fact that I am still making a living through the internet is a success to me.
However, to be more specific, my internet poker forum TexasHoldemForums.com was my first real success. From 2000 to 2003, I had made thousands of dollars through affiliate commissions and building websites and selling them. In hindsight, this period was a great learning experience and I still rely on the skills I learned during that time, but I didn’t have too many successes.
The success of my poker forum allowed me to go self-employed and generate a passive income that generated income for several years.
My blogs BloggingTips and WPMods.com, sold for $60,000 and $80,000 respectively. At the time, it was the right thing to do as I got a good price for the websites at the time. Though I would hate to say that selling them was a success. I view the development of those blogs as successful, as I put a lot of hard work into making them as popular as they were.
When I sold BloggingTips, it had over 2,500+ published articles; and I had written around 1,000 of those articles (pages and posts). It was getting a few thousand visits per day. I was a more experienced blogger by the time I launched WPMods, and with zero investment, I managed to take it from nothing more than a domain name to a blog that generated $2,500 per month within two years.
Perhaps my success stories are not as inspiring as other bloggers; as the growth of all of my websites have been slow and steady. Though they are evidence that if you work hard and treat your blog like a business, it will become successful.
When you first started blogging, what were some of the primary tactics you used to build an audience?
I stopped updating the blog that I had added to my poker discussion forum, and the other websites I built using blog software were small content websites that were not updated regularly. Additionally, the travel blog I had created in 2006 was only for family and friends.
Therefore, I consider BloggingTips.com to be the blog in which I first started blogging seriously. I tried a lot of different things to build an audience within the first year.
Firstly, I was enthusiastic. I really enjoyed what I was doing and this came through in my articles. I was also a prolific writer that published articles at least once a day. Sometimes I would publish twice or three times per day.
I had launched Blogging Tips while I was living in Auckland, New Zealand. We had a great little apartment that was located diagnostically across from the iconic Sky Tower. Our three month lease was coming to an end and we were setting off for a 6 week bus journey exploring the North and South islands of New Zealand.
To ensure that my posting frequency did not drop, I wrote a blog post for every single day that I was away. This ensured my blog did not lose momentum while I was traveling. It was this kind of dedication that helped me build the blog.
Content was not the only thing that I worked effortlessly on. I also actively commented on other blogs to help network with other bloggers.
I had many great WordPress themes developed too. Rather than sell them, I offered them free of charge through WordPress.org and through my blog. I had a unique mascot designed at the time to promote my blog too and I paid for several reviews of my blog on other blogs. This helped promote my blog further and establish a reputation for myself.
Later on, I wrote several useful eBooks and released them free of charge to my newsletter subscribers and did some guest posts for some larger blogs such as ProBlogger.
Over the first year or so, I tried anything and everything. I networked, I published a lot of content, and I did everything I could to promote the blog. Some things worked, some didn’t, but I look back on that period as a time when I improved my writing and became a better blogger.
I know freelance writing is a bit of an art, and everyone approaches it differently. What intrigues me so much about freelance writing is that the business has SO many different segments. There are people who essentially write garbage for $3 an article, and then there are others who are amazing writers and can command $100 or more for a blog post. The thing that I find most interesting is that there seems to be demand for each of these segments, so each has its place in this world.
“Natural writing ability” aside, what is it that you think makes the $100+ per article writers so successful? What’s the #1 thing holding everyone else back?
There is a famous advertisement in the UK for the Royal Marines that states that “99.9% Need Not Apply.” The same should be said about blogging.
I know that I am not going to win any popularity contests by saying that, but the vast majority of people who are making $3 an article deserve to be making so little money; and the ones that are making good money deserve to be earning a better rate.
I first started working with bloggers through my blog BloggingTips in 2007. I have since hired bloggers to write for me on over a dozen blogs and websites. At one point on BloggingTips, I was receiving a couple of guest post submissions and emails about paid work every day. Sadly, 99.9% of the submissions I have ever received, are garbage. Pure garbage.
If you look back at my older blog posts from 2007, you can see that my writing has drastically improved over the last eight years. Therefore, I do believe writing is a skill that can be improved and polished.
For years, many website owners did not care about the quality of an article as they were only focused on getting keywords indexed on search engines. I was approached by many website owners over the years who expected me to write high quality articles for them for pennies. They were under the impression that anyone can write.
Technically, most people can write. It doesn’t take any experience to arrange a series of words and submit it as an article. However, there is a big difference between writing an article and writing an article well. Quality was never a concern. Thankfully, the recent changes on search engines such as Google has placed a higher emphasis on high quality articles. As a result, website owners are realizing that good writers are hard to come by.
You may be wondering why I have such a negative view of the quality of work submitted by bloggers.
I soon realized with BloggingTips that most submissions were terrible. They were full of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and had little to no point put across to the audience. As a result of this, I never accepted any guest posts on WPMods.com. I only approached good writers who were paid for writing for me. I continue this policy on my personal blog.
Despite paying writers to submit posts to my blog, the quality of submissions remains very poor.
- A large percentage of bloggers make spelling mistakes and basic grammatical errors in their initial email to me
- A large percentage of bloggers go through the whole process of being hired as a blogger; but then never submit an article
- Every article that has been submitted to me over the last year has had many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors
- Most are poorly researched and do not link out to relevant articles
- Most do not include images
- Despite asking all bloggers to read my formatting guidelines (use of header tags, images, links etc), most bloggers advise that they will do so and then submit an article that breaks those formatting guidelines
As a blog owner, I am always on the lookout for good bloggers. However, as a freelancer, I can see quite quickly when someone is cutting corners.
For example, I recently had a submission in which the article did not follow my writing guidelines. I asked the writer to quickly change the formatting details. He replied that he had, when he had not. He did this a few times and made one or two small changes per time, while leaving all the other mistakes there.
That kind of thing takes up a lot of time for a blog owner. One or two spelling mistakes in an article is not a big deal, however an article is full of mistakes highlights that it was rushed. If the blog owner gives you a second chance to address the issues, you need to get it right the first time. They shouldn’t have to go back and re-check your article three or four times for you to resolve an issue that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Good writers spend a lot of time making sure an article is high quality. Each article they write is written for a specific website and topic; however each article is also an advertisement for their services.
I have not had to apply for a writing job in a long time. All my clients have found me through reading one of my articles on another website and then contacting me about writing for them.
You originally asked what is holding everyone else back. I believe it is because writers:
- Rush their initial email to the website owner
- Do not research articles thoroughly
- Do not take a pride in their work – Every article you write should be an advertisement for your services!
- Do not spend time learning basic English grammatical rules
- Do not adhere to the guidelines set out by the website owner or editor
- Do not proofread their articles
The last point is perhaps the biggest issue. Every good writer reads over their articles once or twice to pick up any mistakes that slipped through.
I read over every article that is submitted to me and within a few seconds, I can usually tell whether the writer has taken the time to proofread their article or if they just spewed out 1,000 words and clicked “SEND”.
The reason writers like me can charge around $0.20 per word is because spend a lot of time ensuring the quality of an article is high. It is not uncommon for me to spend five hours writing a 1,000 word article, as I need to research every point I make to validate whether they are true.
I hope this hasn’t come across as too negative, though in my experience, the quality of articles that are being submitted to website owners is atrocious. On a positive note, this means that you can stand out from the crowd by taking the time to improve your craft and submit high quality articles.
For someone who is just starting out wanting to get paid for blogging or freelance writing, what advice would you offer? What do you wish someone told you about when you first started?
If you have no previous experience with blogging, I believe the first thing you should do is launch your own blog; even if it is just a personal blog that you have no long term plans to develop. You need a place to put down your thoughts and get into the habit of writing every day.
Reading books and other blogs, and writing more frequently, will help you improve your own writing. It will not happen overnight, but you will soon start to notice your writing improving, particularly if you review English grammatical rules again (which, no doubt, you have not reviewed since you were at school).
You should also try and publish several articles online to demonstrate your writing ability. You can do this through your own blog or through blogs you have written for in the past. Ensure that your name is attached to any articles you publish or the website owner cannot verify that the article was written by you.
If your articles are good, it should convince a website owner to take a chance on you and hire you, and once you have one client, it becomes easier to secure your second, third, fourth, etc.
I wouldn’t focus solely on the money aspect of blogging. If you focus more on becoming a good writer, the money will follow.
If you are unsure of anything, don’t be afraid to pick the brain of a blogger you like. They may be willing to give you advice if you approach them in a polite and professional manner 🙂
What’s your favorite inspirational quote (either from someone else or one that you came up with)?
I grew up loving Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Chuck Norris.
Bruce Lee always spoke about “taking what is useful from every discipline and throwing the rest away.” It is the key concept of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.
Take what is useful from every discipline and throw the rest away. [Click here to tweet this]
I think this is great advice for any aspiring blogger, web developer, or internet marketer. You could look at where I have found success and try and duplicate it. Though the road I walked down is not necessarily the road for you. However, if you can take what you do find useful, and then apply it to your own business, you will adapt and find success on your own.
What are your favorite online resources as a blogger?
However, one of my favorite resources is Amazon. Or to be more specific, Amazon Books. For around $50, I can buy around 10 to 15 books on a subject and gain enough knowledge on a subject that I could write a book on it myself.
As the saying goes, Knowledge is Power, and there is a wealth of knowledge available on Amazon. You could become an expert on almost any subject by buying good books and spending time reading them.
That is powerful, and as a blogger, that is a quality that is going to set you apart from others.
Finally, where can people find you online?
I publish my thoughts, and share advice, through my personal blog KevinMuldoon.com. I have social media accounts for Google+, Twitter, and Facebook too. While I do check them every week, I am not very active on any of them.
If you want to get in touch with me and ask me some questions, drop by my internet marketing forum Rise Forums. The forum is free to join and it has many active members who are bloggers, developers, designers, affiliate marketers and more. I hang out there every day, so it is the most practical way of getting in touch with me.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Kevin.
What did you think of this interview with Kevin? What’s your experience been like getting freelance writing jobs? Leave a comment below!
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