Who Said Making Money Online is Easy? How Shortcuts Have Set Me Back

This is a guest post by Mike Collins who is here to share his story about making money online. Mike is obsessed with building sustainable streams of income online and achieving financial freedom so he can live life to the fullest with his wife and three amazing children. Read more about his adventures at WealthyTurtle.com.

Many people are under the impression that making money on the internet is as simple as tying your shoes, and that all you have to do is throw together a website and then sit back and watch the money come pouring in while you do nothing.

mazeI hate to burst your bubble, but the truth is making money online takes hard work, determination, and perseverance. All those stories you read about overnight success and instant riches are just a myth perpetuated by people hoping to sell you something.

They make grand promises so you buy their $27 ebook that claims to share a secret formula to unlimited online income. Of course, common sense should tell you that if someone did have a magic formula for generating huge amounts of cash with no work they sure as hell wouldn’t be selling it for only $27.

If you want to earn a significant amount of money online you need a well thought out business plan and a willingness to work your butt off. It took me several years to learn this lesson before I finally settled down and realized I needed to act like a business owner instead of a hobbyist.

Let me tell you a little about my online endeavors so you can get an idea of what I mean.

Trial and Error…and Error, and Error…

I built my first website way back in 2004. It was a cheesy little site about the different types of wine that I started strictly as a hobby. It was nothing special and there were plenty of wine websites much better than mine, but when a friend of mine suggested I place some Google AdSense code on the site, I was surprised that I started making money right away!

It wasn’t exactly a mint. The site was only generating about $10 or $15 a month, but to me it was just the beginning. I figured if I made the site bigger and better I could get it to earn $10 a day. Then I would create another site, and another, and another.

Editor’s Note: The idea of building an army of small, crappy sites that make a few bucks a day rarely works. If you put out junk, you’ll receive junk in return. Plus, it’s much more difficult to maintain many sites as opposed to focusing on one and making it successful.

I imagined having hundreds of sites pumping out cash faster than I could count it. My online empire would be huge and I’d need a money bin like Scrooge McDuck to store my vast fortune.

Alas, I learned the hard way that building profitable websites is not so easy.

After creating a dozen or so keyword based mini-websites on random topics including web hosting, orchids, reverse telephone lookups, baby monitors, and quarter cup bras, I realized I was burnt out and struggling to write content on subjects that I wasn’t even interested in. Even worse, none of the sites was earning anywhere near ten dollars a day.

Related: Starting A Blog Vs Niche Affiliate Site Vs Online Store – A Comparison Of 3 Online Business Models

Frustrated with my slow progress I started spending hours a day on webmaster and marketing forums searching for the key to instant success. I read more ebooks and “special reports” than I can remember and each one would set me on a new course.

One minute I was going to get rich as an affiliate marketer promoting other people’s products, and the next I was convinced I needed to create my own product in order to hit the big time. I wrote my own ebook called “Saving 101 – One Hundred One Ways to Save Money” with plans to release a whole series of ebooks. I had no idea what I was doing and I sold exactly one copy.

More Shortcuts, More Failure

I built crappy review sites that were nothing more than affiliate links in disguise and submitted hundreds of garbage articles to article directories to build links to those crappy sites. I tried AdSense arbitrage and failed miserably.

I built a site selling PLR articles and then I started another one selling ghost writing services, but I didn’t stick with either of them very long. I launched even more AdSense sites targeting “low hanging fruit” keywords that everyone else was targeting too.

In November 2009 I started a personal finance blog and I finally found a measure of success. The site was ranking for some very good keywords and the revenue was steadily increasing. Unfortunately I was still looking for shortcuts and I got greedy.

I allowed the quality of the content to deteriorate as I sold as many text links and sponsored posts as I could. While the money was great for awhile, it all went away when Google penalized the site. AdSense, affiliate commissions, and private advertising disappeared overnight.

While many other bloggers who had been penalized blamed Google for all their problems I took a long, hard look in the mirror and realized that I was the only one to blame. All my get rich quick schemes and shortcuts had led me nowhere. I wasted years spinning my wheels when I could have been building a real business for the long term.

Better Late Than Ever

While it would be easy to whine about years of missed opportunities, I prefer to look on the bright side. Failure is not something to fear. As long as you learn from your mistakes, each failure brings you one step closer to success. My years of failure taught me some valuable lessons…

Overnight success is a myth. Behind every success story is years of hard work. Many entrepreneurs give up as soon as the going gets rough and they never get to see their ideas bloom into a successful business.

You need a plan. If you constantly jump around from one idea to the next you might eventually get lucky. But a well thought-out business plan can help you stay focused and on course as you build a business that lasts. Don’t look for shortcuts and don’t be afraid to ask for help from a reliable source.

For example, Steve’s online course is great place to get information on starting an online store. Steve doesn’t promise instant success, but he does give you the tools you need to build a profitable online store.

Running a business is much harder than being an employee. Working for someone else can be stressful, but at least you only have one job to worry about. As an online publisher I write content, edit staff writer submissions, monitor email, perform routine site maintenance, manage social media channels, network with other publishers, track income and expenses, and manage site promotion. That’s a lot of hats and balancing time spent on each task takes some practice.

The internet has lowered barriers to entry and made starting a business easier than ever. The cost of building a website is insignificant and if you’re not dealing with physical inventory your expenses will be minimal. But that doesn’t mean you can build a profitable site without a great deal of work. Having highly-focused goals and an action plan to reach them is absolutely essential.

photo credit: FutUndBeidl

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32 thoughts on “Who Said Making Money Online is Easy? How Shortcuts Have Set Me Back”

  1. I am in the situation to get many requests for guest posts myself now. And i have to be tough not to push them too much. I am also afraid to get penalized and destroy the reputation i already earned.

    thank you for your thoughtful and honest article. I think many people share the same experience!

    Good Luck :)

    1. Hi Rico,

      It is very tempting when you start getting offered those sponsored posts. It’s good money to just paste in some text and click publish, but in the long run it could cost you a lot more. It pays to be picky.

  2. I just wrote a post in the last week or so about how things I did when I first moved Money Beagle from Blogger to WordPress, done in November of 2011, are still having impact now (and not in a good way).

    1. I’m a fan of WordPress so hopefully you made the right decision in the long run. I’m sure it wasn’t easy making the switch as there are a million things that can go wrong.

  3. Mike,

    Wow, very well said.

    Like you, over the years I have “tried” being a website business mogul…with little success. During that time, I had many interests but nothing that I was overly excited about. I managed to make enough to pay the bills, but it was hard work and I felt like I was shorting my customers – and potential customers – real value and service. So I scaled down my interests and stuck with just one site. Which, if I may say, is pretty successful now because I am able to devote all my time to it.

    I treat my website as my business. Lessons learned.

    1. Hey Kathleen,
      Biting off more than you can chew is always a concern. I always had a million ideas and just enough time to each of them half-assed. I actually let a bunch of domains expire and dropped them so I can focus on my main blog. I do have a few domains registered with plans for the future but right now they’re just in a holding pattern.

  4. Mike, you have the best attitude of anyone I’ve heard of who got penalized by Google. Instead of crying about how unfair Google is, you’ve been honest with yourself and taken matters into your own hands to get yourself back on the right path.

    Best of luck with Wealthy Turtle going forward!

    1. About getting penalized by Google…I had to censor out all of the curse words from the post as I didn’t think it would be appropriate for my audience:)

      1. HAHA!! No worries Steve…I kept your family-friendly audience in mind.

    2. Thanks Robb, I appreciate that. It’s easy to blame the world when things don’t go our way but we have to look at ourselves too. I realize I made a mistake and it cost me, but I don’t mind admitting it because I learned from it and came back stronger.

  5. Great post, Mike. I tell people all the time that the reason most internet businesses fail is because they don’t treat it like a real business.

    There is so much snake oil/get-rich-quick solutions on the internet. Thanks for telling people the truth about succeeding online.

    And thanks, Steve, for showing with mywifequitherjob and bumblebeelinens that you CAN succeed, but it takes LOTS of hard work.

    1. Glad you liked it Colin. You’re right, there is no shortage of snake oil salesmen just waiting to get their hands in your pockets.

  6. Great piece. Making money online certainly isn’t easy. It’s a simple concept but it requires tireless hard work. You have to be committed to be in it for the long haul and treat it like a real business not just something to make a quick buck.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this topic with our BizSugar community.

    Ti

    1. You said it exactly Ti! Making money online isn’t really complicated, but it takes a lot of hard work.

  7. I have done my share of chasing keyword-based sites.

    I’m not sure how I ever got convinced to spend so much time chasing pennies.

    And the slap happened.

    It’s gotten a little better, now. I’ve found some quality products to promote, and am trying to start my own e-commerce store.

    But we’re still not quite there. I realize I have a few more molecules in my brain that need to evolve before I quite chasing every guru and actually create a true business.

    Good post. I hope it opens some peeps eyes before they $27 themselves to death.

    1. Hi Quinton,
      I still feel the temptation to launch a new site every time I hear a success story or read a well-crafted sales pitch, but I’ve learned to suppress it. Focus is very important.

  8. Great Post, dude. We internet marketers have to realize that online it’s not easy but it takes work. Everything is a formula offline and in the internet marketing world.

    1. Thanks Felix. It is important to learn than it takes hard work to succeed at anything.

  9. Hey Mike, in my honest opinion, hard work, crystal clear view, and uber focus will only help build a business that can make money consistently. Everything else that talks about a magic pill or a push button is seriously BS. Thanks for the wonderful post. And oh, yes shortcuts – they’re a real set back. But most of us fall into that trap hoping to save some time and money and end up losing them a LOT :)

    1. hi Jane,
      You’re right about shortcuts. All too often they lead us in the wrong direction and end up costing us a ton of time.

  10. Wow, Mike, your story is almost exactly the same as mine!!! How have I not run in to you before on the forums? Seriously, I started in 2005 and have tracked a similar pathway. With all the failure I have met with in my various online projects, I have to agree that focusing on one business is the best way to achieve success. Right now, I am researching and planning my next online business (the reason I am here on Steve’s blog!) so that when the time is right and I have a clear vision, I can get to work. Thanks so much for sharing your story, you’ve encouraged me!

    1. Hi Eunice, wow…I’m glad to see that my article encouraged you! You have a good attitude and I’m sure your online business will be a success.

  11. Dang, and I just bought the Laptop Millionaire! lol….. We do work hard for little pay – we being bloggers. Hard work pays but working smart pays more – and apparently I’m not yet working smart…

    1. LOL…I haven’t read that one. Blogging is definitely not the way to quick riches, but keep in mind that most offline businesses aren’t profitable right away either. As Pat Flynn says, “It’s all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later.”

  12. Just like they say, “Good things come to those who wait. Better things come to those who are willing to work hard for it.” Instead of making all those easy, quick, and overnight success shortcuts, work hard for it little by little. Sure it can be a long process but they are fail-safe processes.

    1. That’s right KC…slow and steady wins the race. Be the turtle.

  13. LOL…I haven’t read that one. Blogging is definitely not the way to quick riches, but keep in mind that most offline businesses aren’t profitable right away either. As Pat Flynn says, “It’s all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later.”

  14. The trial and error, error, error stage seems to last an extremely long time. In fact its often difficult to see past the long string of continual errors, but it does slowly over time get better, and if you can just keep going and not give up you will eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    (By the way, when I was a kid I always wondered what it would be like to jump into a giant money bin and swim around in it like Scrooge Mcduck. I guess in reality it would be like the Peter Griffin version where you just hit the deck hard and break several bones. But it does go to show that I have been dreaming about money for more than a quarter of a century already now – was 34 years old yesterday!)

    This post does read like everything I have done in the past, so I can tell you have been where I was.

    Thanks for sharing this, you give a lot of people the hope to carry on with it all.

    1. LOL…that was a great Peter Griffin moment. Love that show.

  15. Enjoyed this! Honest article that hopefully will save a lot of people money and time on their entrepreneurial journeys. Setbacks, challenges, and even failures are actually a “necessary part” of entrepreneurial success.

    Once I got this, I actually expected them to come up and when they do, I get excited because I know that they are just a step that- gets me one step closer to my business goals. By changing your view about them and realizing that success only comes from many adjustments along the way, you will succeed faster and have more fun along the way.

    1. You have a great attitude and mindset, and that’s important to keep you on target and moving towards your goals.

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