I love stories where internet businesses are created almost by mistake.
You start a blog for fun. Pretty soon, it catches on, and more and more people begin reading it. Before you know it, you have a massively successful website that receives 5 million page views per month and allows you to quit your day job to work full-time on it, while hiring 7 part-time contractors to help you grow and manage it.
Okay, that isn’t everyone’s story. But it IS the story of Jason Leake, who helped his wife grow her blog into a legitimately successful business. In this interview, Jason tells us all about his story of how he helped monetize and grow his wife’s blog, which allowed him to quit his corporate job. He provides a ton of great data and tips in this interview, and the overall story is very inspiring.
Give it a read, and enjoy.
Jason, I really enjoy the tips and advice you provide at Pro Blog School. While many blogs focus primarily on building content and growing traffic, I like how you’ve taken a special interest in monetization (and for good reason). Tell us a bit about your background and journey. How did your online career begin, and what led to you quitting your corporate job to focus on your wife’s blog? How did Pro Blog School ultimately come to be?
Thanks Eric. My background is mainly mechanical engineering and technical sales, but honestly I jumped from job to job looking for something fulfilling my whole career. In May of 2010, my wife started her blog, 100 Days of Real Food, with no intention of monetizing it (at that time we had no clue you could even make money with a blog!). I was supportive but guarded my time, so acted as editor only back then.
After about a year, Lisa attended a blogging conference and subsequently started working with some ad networks. Six months later, the blog had grown to 500k page views a month, and she just could not do it all on her own. I worked nights and weekends to help, taking over business operations and trying to optimize ad revenue.
I started dreaming about increasing our revenue to the point where I could quit my corporate job, which was a powerful motivator.
Three months later, we learned about Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income and his $50k+ monthly earnings. That’s when Lisa and I got on the same page with the goal of me quitting my corporate job to help her full time, but only if I could prove it was possible. We started putting my paycheck in a savings account and lived off of blog income for six months. Then came the glorious day in July of 2012 when I got to quit. Words cannot describe how happy that made me.
Fast forward to the summer of 2013, and we were traveling Europe for a month. Here’s a picture (on the right) of us at our farmhouse in the French countryside right after Lisa drove massive traffic to the blog from a Facebook post (that’s Google Analytics showing 3,223 people on the site at once). Working remotely was kick ass (well really it was 30% work and 70% vacation)!
Anyway, I had been guest posting for Lisa from time to time, but I started feeling the need to connect with my own audience and wanted to talk about the things that interested me most, namely biz ops and monetization. There was no blueprint for a profitable blog at the time, at least that I could find, so I learned through trial and error and by applying brute force (i.e. lots of hours). I thought it would be a good idea to spend say 6 months documenting all I had learned in an online course. I mean, why should other people reinvent the wheel?
So we talked it over on a hike between hilltop towns in Cinque Terra, Italy, overlooking the Mediterranean. Lisa suggested I just start a bare bones blog first and just see what happens – it really is important in business to get out of your head and just take action. So at the next town, I managed to remember my GoDaddy password and bought the ProBlogSchool.com domain name on my cell phone over some sangria. We took a picture to document this moment since it felt like the start of something special.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog and online business?
My blog is really in it’s infancy, so I’ll talk about 100 Days of Real Food. Here are the things I am most proud of:
- Um, I quit my corporate job. Just about every day is awesome now.
- The blog helps people and we get touching feedback from our readers about how it has changed their lives for the better.
- Traffic has grown to 3.5 million page views per month on average (2013). In January of 2014 we broke 5 million for the month.
- The Facebook page has grown to 1.3 million likes.
- We’ve built a team of 7 core part-time contractors (see our team page, not everyone is pictured).
- We stay true to our ideals (for example, I estimate we forego about $60k a year in income by choosing not to run processed food ads).
- Lisa has a cookbook coming out in August of 2014 (available for pre-order now).
- The business journey has spurred personal development.
You have a lot of experience testing different ways to monetize a blog – what have been the most effective ways that you’ve found (understanding that this will vary depending on the type of blog)?
Our revenue is pretty evenly split between ad networks, sponsorship packages (ads and blog or social media mentions, sold through our sales manager), and the Amazon Associates program (affiliate commission on products we recommend). In January of 2014 we sold our first digital product for two weeks only and were floored at the sales.
We hope to develop and sell more products, but our contract for the upcoming cookbook is somewhat restrictive. Selling your own product is a great way to make good money without a lot of traffic.
Was there a form of monetization that really failed to meet your expectations? What was it, and why do you think it didn’t work out the way you thought it would?
We spent about $1,000 creating some videos to test on YouTube. Adsense earnings on those are pitiful. I have done some research and have ideas on how to make videos work, but frankly the resulting commitment is a turnoff so we are focusing on lower hanging fruit right now.
Most people are familiar with the “plug-and-play” ad platforms like Google AdSense. They’re easy to implement and can be very lucrative if you have the right amount of traffic in the right niches. However, I think people leave money on the table when they don’t attempt to sell advertising (directly) themselves.
What’s the best way to find these advertisers? Do you prefer to reach out to people/businesses, or do you take a more passive approach and hope people contact you?
Haha we outsourced this pronto. Find a good part time sales manager and pay him or her to do the work for you. 25-30% is a good ballpark for commission pay, assuming s/he is full service (prospect, traffic ads, invoice and collect payments, etc.).
While this may be roughly 25% of our income (depending on the month) and is definitely important, it also brings with it the most overhead in terms of contract review, commitments on sponsor shout outs, inventory management, and so forth.
Looking generally at running a successful blog: If you had to take your best advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
Stop planning and start doing – you will be amazed at how experience, results, and happiness will build upon themselves. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources for growing a blog?
Attend blog conferences (maybe 1 or 2 a year, no need to go overboard). Form a mastermind group…talking with other entrepreneurs is critical. Personally I’m on a pretty low information diet, but I do get a lot of value out of Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast.
Finally, where can people find you online?
You can find me at ProBlogSchool.com, and I encourage your readers to subscribe to my email list to get updates as I develop more resources. For example, I am super stoked about my upcoming blog income calculator!
So many people are delusional about how much money they can make online, so this will allow them to find out what is possible using current or hypothetical traffic. I think it will be a big help to newbies and seasoned bloggers alike, and I’ve found nothing like it on the internet.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us today, Jason.
What did you think about this interview with Jason? Do you have a blog that you plan to use to help you escape your “regular” job? Leave a comment below!
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