How’s this for an online success story? A young architect just starting out in his career decides to keep an online blog of his exam notes so he can refer to them while travelling. After completing the exam he forgets about his site for a few months, only to return and find he’s getting 5-6000 visitors a day. “Wow!” says Pat – “so what do I do now?”
Following some sensible advice he simply collates a bunch of material from his site into an ebook, markets it with a couple of posts and a promotional page, and before he knows it he’s a highly successful internet entrepreneur pulling in as much as $30,000 a month! (Pat made about $8000 in his first month.) All from exam notes for a single exam (the ‘LEED Green Associate’ exam) – you don’t get much more ‘niche’ than that!
This recent 2017 Let Go: Expanded Edition of Pat’s original book published in 2013 includes the story of how he continued to build his online business after his great initial success in 2008-2009. There’s eight new chapters giving details of what he learned running his business of online marketing and lifestyle entrepreneurialism.
The story of how Pat was able to turn his little exam notes blog into a virtual money-printing machine makes for a great read, and will surely make most readers think hard as to whether they could come up with a great niche idea of their own.
I also found Pat’s story of how he came to monetize his blog interesting to compare and contrast with that of Casey Campbell whose ebook I previously reviewed. Pat made most of his profits from his ebook whereas Casey has done best from running ads on her site (though Pat also did well with ads.)
It’s become clear to me after reading about and investigating many successful bloggers that there are many different paths to financial success, though most involve some combination of ads, affiliate marketing, and selling your own products such as ebooks and courses. Podcasting and ‘vlogging’ are becoming increasingly popular, and many also profit from well paid speaking engagements at conferences.
Pat’s success is also an excellent demonstration of the power of Google, as most of his early traffic came from the fact that his site had risen near the top of search results for relevant keywords such as “leed exam” and “leed ap exam” etc, all without Pat paying any particular attention to good SEO practice.
Apparently it came as a big surprise to Pat: “I had never mentioned my website to anyone except the people in my office. I thought maybe no more than twenty people knew about it…”
Of course after his initial success Pat didn’t stop with just an ebook: “In January 2009, I added an audio guide to my product line, which was just an audio version of my ebook. In that month alone, the website and its products earned a total of $19,114.13. Except for a few shopping cart and PayPal fees, virtually all of it was profit.”
In later chapters Pat describes how after a few years his business seemed to be spiralling out of control, with his email burgeoning and going mostly unanswered, and Pat starting to feel the symptoms of burnout. Fortunately he had a good network of people to give him help and support, and they advised him to hire some assistants and generally build a team to help run his business more efficiently and profitably.
He describes how he had a scare in 2009 when the people who ran the LEED exam came out with their own study guide – he thought his business would be bound to go bust. He was in for a surprise though when his sales actually increased. On surveying his customers he found that they felt a personal connection with him, rather than with the relatively faceless examination institution, and thus were more inclined to pay for Pat’s guide.
He also created a new website ‘Smart Passive Income’ to give advice to other bloggers and online entrepreneurs on how to run their businesses more efficiently. This is the site with which he is most commonly identified today, where he gives advice on affiliate and email marketing, podcasting and blogging.
Pat explains how affiliate marketing quickly became his biggest source of income: “I’ve made millions of dollars by recommending other people’s products, services, and tools. But I’ve learned a lot along the way, and there are rules to doing affiliate marketing the right way. It’s easy to do, but hard to do well.”
Some Niche Site Experiments
Pat also branched out into other niche sites, such as security guard training for those looking to make a career in the industry. This particular site was created as a challenge against a friend: “I was able to get the site to rank number one in a Google search in seventy-three days and start generating a few hundred dollars a month through advertising. That eventually grew to a few thousand dollars per month, and continues to provide that same level of income today.”
Obviously Pat wasn’t just a ‘one-hit wonder.’ Another niche site he created was FoodTruckr.com, giving people advice about creating and running a food truck. “It’s still making a few thousand dollars a month through ebook sales.”
Some other sites he tried were for people looking for wedding invitations or looking to buy trumpets. He soon gave up the niche site strategy though since, “a lot of other people were making niche sites that weren’t actually aimed at serving an audience, but simply taking advantage of algorithms and black hat strategies to draw visitors for ad revenue. That sort of approach just didn’t sit right with me, and it wasn’t something I wanted to be associated with.”
He describes a ‘Denial of Service’ attack in early 2013 that targeted his websites and cost him several days of effort and worry before the problem could be resolved. According to Pat, he was saved by his email list, “if I hadn’t had my email list, I’d have been completely lost. I would have been done.” As many successful bloggers commonly attest, “The money’s in the list!”
Being the CEO
Pat also talks about how he came to see himself as CEO of his company, and delegate tasks and projects to people who could do them more efficiently than he could himself, thus freeing up many hours each week to work on more strategic matters.
“The way I like to think about decisions is similar to the law of conservation of energy. This law states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed from one form into another. My energy, my time, and my focus can neither be created nor destroyed. They just shift from one form to another, and so if I say yes to one opportunity, it means I’m also saying no to something else.”
Running the Machine
It’s interesting to read about the processes and stages Pat’s business passes through as it continues to rapidly grow, with Pat gradually handing off more and more responsibility to employees, gradually building up a well-oiled machine to handle the running of his podcasts, content management and other projects.
In that way his book reminds me somewhat of ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ by Tim Ferris, who also found himself handing off more and more responsibilities to assistants as his business grew. As Pat says, “I’ve let go of the idea that I have to do everything myself or that I know everything, because I don’t.”
As with many other highly successful bloggers, in more recent times Pat has gravitated to online courses and lucrative speaking engagements as major sources of income. “Online courses have been huge for me and my development, and I’ve started building and offering a couple of my own courses.”
He’s also given app development a go, starting an iPhone app company in 2009 with an old school friend. “That business, while it lasted, was a lot of fun. We did very well, and ended up grossing over a million dollars from the apps we created.”
‘Let Go’ doesn’t go into any great detail about how to build a successful online business, but rather gives the ‘broad brushstrokes’ of how Pat managed to achieve what he did.
It also works well as a motivational book as you realize that you don’t need a huge amount of expert knowledge to replicate Pat’s success, but instead just find your own niche and attract and retain your own audience.
The fact that Pat was able to replicate his original success with other fairly random niche sites is testament to the fact that he’s hit on a winning formula that anyone can follow if they adopt the right mindset.
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