First, let me start off by saying I never talk about money on this blog. Never.
So why now?
Well, I see so many bloggers trying to make all of their income from ads and sponsored posts alone. While that works for many, many people, it's not the only way to earn a six-figure income. If you have a skill that you can teach, you should STRONGLY consider creating a course or other digital product. Even promoting other peoples' products by becoming an affiliate is a strong avenue for additional income. With the limited amount of time I spend on my business, there's no way I could have earned that six figures in a year just from ads and sponsored content.
Second, six figures seem to be the magical threshold people want to reach so it felt like the right time to share. I mean, I can't lie. I shed tears of joy when I hit $100,000 for last year's income. I've been in blogging world since 2009 so it seemed extra momentous! That being said, remember this is my GROSS income. Oh, I'd love it if I got to take home over 100 grand!
(This post contains a few affiliate links.)
In this post, I want to show you that you CAN earn a sizeable income from your online business, even working as little as 5-10 hours a week. (And many of these tips are for those of you without a digital product too so keep reading.) It's about working smart and not wasting time on things that don't matter. My online business is my side hustle (I work 32 hours a week for a major brand). Here are five keys to my success in making a side hustle, six-figure income from my online business last year:
1. I Worked in Sprints for Maximum Productivity.
This tip can work wonders, whether you have a digital product or not!
Sprints are 1-2 week long pushes where you work on a single project. They're based on the sprints done in agile project management, which really I know nothing about. Haha. But I was introduced to the idea early last year and started mapping out projects I wanted to accomplish. No, it doesn't mean that I didn't write blog posts or interact on social media during this time. But the majority of my time I spent on my blog during a sprint was on that single project.
Working in sprints kept me laser focused because I worked towards a deadline. It also kept me from bouncing around from project to project, extending how much time they took to complete. When you only have about 5-10 hours most weeks to work on your side business, you really have to maximize the time you spend. To work around my day job, I often work early morning and after the kids go to bed. Most weekends, I squeeze in some time too, but it's never consistent.
Tip: List out your meatier projects and rank them in which ones have more money-making potential. Start with those and plan out three months of sprints at a time. I like sprints to be 1-2 weeks at a time. For longer projects, I will break them up into 2-week increments and add short one-week sprints in between to avoid burnout.
2. I Wrote Fewer Blog Posts and Sent More Email.
In the past, I always thought more pageviews = more money. If you're bringing more people to your site, they'll learn about your products and you'll sell more, right?
Perhaps. But again, don't believe that there's only one single path to earning more.
As I plan content for this year, I looked back at how many posts I wrote last year. Wanna guess?
Twelve blog posts. T-W-E-L-V-E. I was shocked at how few posts I published, especially because I had wanted to do more and felt like a blogging failure for my lack of new blog content. Despite my frustration with myself, it didn't hurt my income one single bit.
Instead, I sent emails to my email list on a regular basis. They got free stuff, inspiration, and tips to help them grow their online presence. Providing value to your audience and building a genuine rapport with them builds trust. And when you build trust? They're more likely to spend money with you. With only 5-10 hours a week for work, I found that it was more profitable to write emails than blog posts.
When I had a course sale or promoted an affiliate offer, I wasn't afraid to send out multiple emails to remind people of the offer. Thanks to ConvertKit, my email service provider, I could also tag people who clicked a link to the course pages. That way, I wasn't annoying people who weren't interested with those “just a few hours left!” type emails.
Tip: Focus on building your email list. Send them tips, inspiration, links to your latest blog post, links to tools or articles you think could benefit them. Be HELPFUL. And when you want to promote your products? Don't be afraid to send more than one email.
3. I Had a Team of Affiliates Helping Me Sell Courses.
Oh, what would I do without my affiliates? They're like having a sales team!
Affiliates are people who promote your products to their audience and, in return, get a percentage profit from the sale. While I actually have hundreds of affiliates, only a small fraction of that actually made sales. Last year, I paid out nearly $6,000 to about 40 people. They're amazing and I credit them with helping spread the positive word about Blog Clarity courses.
Digital selling tools like e-Junkie, SendOwl, Gumroad, and others all offer you the ability to create an affiliate program. If you sell courses (or want to sell products in a course platform), my course platform Thinkific also has a built-in affiliate program. And if sell products via a WordPress site, you can use the powerful Affiliate WP. I used that for years before I moved to Thinkific, who has a built-in affiliate platform (though not as good as Affiliate WP).
Tip: If you're JUST starting out with digital products, I wouldn't create an affiliate program just yet. Make sure there's demand for your product (which hopefully you did that before you even created it). Let your first 25-50 sales happen, then ask them to promote you! If they liked your product, they'll be happy to tell others about it (especially when they make commission off of it).
4. I Ran Special Promos and a 5-Day Challenge (but not Webinars!).
Some of the most profitable times of the year came from special offers.
I ran a few sales throughout the year and encouraged my affiliates to share as well. I know a lot of bigger course instructors don't offer sales, but I don't see why you shouldn't! As long as you don't run them so often you become like Kohl's (never buy anything regular price there).
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the 5-day challenge we did for Pinterest. Last July Anna and I (she's the co-instructor for the course) ran a Pinterest Summer Challenge to get people ahead of the curve for Pinterest during the holidays. We created a highly-valuable FREE challenge for bloggers that included a workbook, emails, and Facebook Lives.
I've always felt like I wasn't ready for webinars. Too many technical challenges, too much prepwork, too many emails to send out afterwards, etc. So I went with the challenge instead. It probably ended up being about as much work as a webinar would have been, more in fact since we did FIVE days of video instead of one. FB Lives just felt more casual to me.
Without any paid advertising (and an email list of about 5,500 at the time), about 715 people signed up! And how much did we earn from sales? $20,000! That was all within a week of the challenge.
Tip: Plan out periodic sales or an event where you can provide LOTS of value for free, then pitch your product. Even if you don't have a product, you could use an event to promote an affiliate. For example, everyone loves the InstantPot. Maybe do a cooking demo, then share your affiliate link. Pitching doesn't mean turning into a slimy salesperson. It DOES mean showing participants how much deeper they can learn or go with the paid offering.
5. I Hired Help.
This one's a tough one because you're spending money to make money. That being said, you have to spend money or time to grow. Since I lacked time, spending money won out!
But you don't need to HIRE OUT ALL THE THINGS! You can take it in baby steps. A few years ago, I started using Upwork for here-and-there help on my business. It's a great way to get some things done without committing to someone you have to pay monthly.
Then, I outsourced the most painful part of my business: bookkeeping. Looking at Quickbooks Online about makes me cross-eyed, so I hired that out to someone local. When you spend hours doing something that someone else (who knows what they're doing) could do for way faster, do everything you can to hire it out.
Finally, the last six months of the year I finally took the biggest leap of all and hired a VA. It's only 8 hours a month, but that's 8 more hours I can work on other projects.
Tip: Hire a VA or contractor to help with some tasks that you don't want to do. Make a list of things you do every week for your business. Then, circle the things you hate doing or that you don't feel comfortable doing. Those are the things you should hire out.
If you can't afford to hire help right now, try day batching.
Day Batching refers to setting aside blocks of time each day to work on a single task or project. Some things you can batch: writing blog posts, creating Instagram images, editing photographs, pitching brands, scheduling pins, etc. You can also batch time to work on bigger projects that might change from week to week.
Research has shown that although you might waste only 1/10th of a second switching back and forth on multiple tasks, doing this many times a day can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity. FORTY PERCENT!
Grab the free day batching sheet below to fill in your tasks for each day of the week. Keep it handy to help you stay on track and crush your productivity.
Get Productive with Day Batching!
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Hey- I'm Melissa! I'm a mom, side hustler, online course instructor, and brand marketer. I run a 6-figure blog helping online biz owners find their a-ha moments with can-do tips, tutorials, and online courses. I also work at Burt's Bees as the assistant manager of Brand Engagement (yep, it's as cool as it sounds). Jump start your biz productivity with my free worksheet!