Successfully Balancing an Online Business and a Full-Time Job with Tom Drake [Interview]
As I mentioned when I announced that I am taking a break from The Daily Interview, I am still going to publish interviews here from time to time.
Today, I’m excited to bring you an interview with a blogger who I admire, Tom Drake. He’s one of the models for how to succeed with your online projects while working a very busy full-time job.
Tom also has what I consider to be a pretty unique aspect of his business where he partners with other writers/bloggers and allows them to focus on what they’re best at. The end result is that the business becomes more successful and profitable because of the value that Tom is able to add to the relationship.
We talk about these partnerships, Tom’s background, and more in the interview below.
Check it out!
Tom, I understand you have your hand in several different projects online, including a personal finance blog (Canadian Finance Blog) as well as other websites that you’ve either built or purchased. Tell us a bit about your background and your current projects. How did you get into blogging? What are the types of things your online business is focused on today?
I wrote my first article online in 1996 and created my first website in 2000. Throughout my first decade online, I tried all sorts of ideas to try to make some money. The only remotely successful attempts included a site for Edmonton raves and selling PLR eBooks on eBay.
Then came 2009 – I was recently married, looking to buy a house, and knew we had our first child on the way. All this happening at once made me suddenly very interested in my personal finances. So I started reading five Canadian personal finance blogs and started to think I’d like to add my own opinions to the niche. I wasn’t sure if I could make any real money, but I had recently read Make Sure It’s Deductible, written by Evelyn Jacks, so I figured at the very least there would be some tax advantages to starting a business.
After Canadian Finance Blog, I stared looking to expand by creating new sites and buying blogs. These sites all served different purposes, whether they were to help grow the personal finance community or give me some presence in the US niche. As I became more experienced, my interest has also spread to online marketing, blogging tools and even productivity tips, so those are the types of topics I cover on some of the newer sites.
Since I already have quite a few blogs, I need to find other ways to continue to diversify my business. Something I’m focusing on lately is spreading beyond just the traditional blogging. I recently started a live show and podcast with four other bloggers called the Money Mastermind Show.
I’m also doing my first attempt at public speaking at this year’s FinCon and soon I’ll be getting published in print regularly in a Canadian magazine named Money Magazine. I think these are important ways to extend the business and my brand.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far with your online business?
I think the biggest success has to be the growth of Canadian Finance Blog. 2009 was a slow build, but then I started taking my site more seriously, networking with other bloggers, and looking for ways to improve search results and traffic. After the blog passed the two year mark, it was getting over 100,000 pageviews a month.
The site was pulling in enough money for a decent full time income, but since I was still working as a financial analyst, I put most of this money into site acquisitions and an army of staff writers to provide content for these sites. So not only did Canadian Finance blog succeed as a stand alone site, it was the cornerstone of me being able to expand the business of Drake Media Inc.
It’s impressive that you’ve been able to do a lot of this work online while still maintaining a “regular” job as a financial analyst. How have you been able to balance these online projects with your career in finance? Do you have any tips for people who may be in a similar situation and feel there is no time to build a business outside of work?
I work 60-80 hours in a week between my day job and my business. Gary Vaynerchuk said it best, “Work 9-5, spend a couple hours with your family, 7 to 2 in the morning is plenty of time to do damage.” Knowing the hustle he has, that quote is very inspiring. I heard that early on when I started my first blog and have pretty much kept that same schedule ever since.
Now of course it might not be great advice to tell people to run on so little sleep, but the best way to cram all that in is to be passionate about what you’re doing. If you’re not, it’s going to be hard to spend all your “me time” working on building your business, especially when it’s not making any money at first.
Tell us about some of the partnerships that you’ve built. How did you approach these bloggers/website owners (or have they all approached you)? Can you give us some specific examples of what you were able to do to grow their blog’s traffic and/or earnings?
The first person I partnered with was Jim Yih, and he deserves all the credit for the concept. Jim had been writing articles on his own custom made site for over a decade, but he didn’t like that the site had no ability to leave comments to interact with on social media, but any change to the site would cost thousands of dollars. So after writing for me for a few months, he came to me with the idea of a 50/50 partnership where he can focus on writing and I can handle the backend stuff like site design, SEO and monetization.
I immediately knew that this would be great for both sides, and now Retire Happy is bringing in 6-digit traffic, thousands of dollars a month in AdSense, and was named the best personal finance blog in The Globe and Mail; the top national newspaper here in Canada.
The next person I partnered with took a bit of work since she was used to getting paid upfront to write. Miranda Marquit is a well-known freelance writer in the personal finance niche, but she didn’t have her own blog. So I tried to convince her for months to start one with me, since all she would have to do is focus on writing, I could take care of the rest. I think I finally warmed her up to the idea when we first met in person at the very first FinCon.
So we started up Planting Money Seeds, which won a Plutus Award for best new personal finance blog. Since then, we’ve started up blogs touching on other topics, and Miranda now has 4 blogs and is also involved with me in the Money Mastermind Show!
The other partnership I’m in is with Kevin Mercadante, who was already running Out Of Your Rut for a few years, but wanted to be able to focus on his writing… both on his site and his growing freelance writing career. Kevin came to me asking if I’d be interested in partnering with him and I figured it was another great fit. Kevin is very similar to Miranda since they both primarily make their income from freelancing, and another great thing here is that his site had loads of content to work with already, it just needed some help.
So we got to work on new design and improved the SEO. The site had some problems with Google’s Panda algorithm, so I no-indexed some archive pages and deleted some unnecessary posts. We also changed the AdSense placement and made it blend better. On the next Panda update traffic doubled and the income increased almost 4x. This more than paid for the partnership for Kevin, not only could he focus on writing but actually ended up bringing in more money, even after the profit split.
In your experience, what are some of the biggest mistakes (or missed opportunities) that you’ve seen on other people’s sites with regard to monetizing existing traffic?
One of the missed opportunities that easiest to fix is ad placement. You can double your AdSense earnings by simply moving your block from the sidebar and into the content. Blend it similar to the text and links on your site and then start wishing you had done it earlier.
Also on the topic of ad placement, most affiliate banners in a sidebar or header are not going to convert very well, so why potentially distract a reader with them? If you want to succeed with affiliates, write an honest review instead, of even simple recommendations in other related posts.
Looking generally at building a business online: If you had to take your best advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
In a good business partnership, both sides will feel like the other is doing all the work.
What are your favorite online resources?
To handle as many sites as I do, I rely on a lot of tools. While I use some desktop and web-based software, most of the help comes from WordPress plugins.
A handful of plugins I have that help with social media include Digg Digg so readers can share, Hover Pin-It for popping up a Pinterest button on images, NextScripts for automatically sharing my latest blog posts, and WordPress SEO deserves a mention for supplying all the meta data to various social media platforms.
Some plugins can help improve the quality of your site, both for readers and as a signal to Google. Every couple months you can run Broken Link Checker, Plugin Performance Profiler, Plugins Garbage Collector, and Delete Revision, then disable them when not in use.
Finally, where can people find you online?
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Tom!
Have you had any experience partnering with other bloggers? What’s the experience been like for you? Leave a comment below!