How I Finally Forced Myself To Focus on Just One Niche (Okay, Just Two Niches!)

[contentbox bgcolor=’f2f2f2′ border=’999999′ borderwidth=3 corners=10]This is a guest post written by Ellen Braun.[/contentbox]

The youngest of our three children was just three years old back in 2005 when I discovered Internet Marketing on the heels of a two-year long stint at one of those sell-soap-and-vitamins-to-all-your-friends businesses.  The concept of unlimited income potential, the flexibility of the web, and the idea of working from home without having any meetings or appointments were all too attractive for me to overlook — and I jumped right in with both feet!  Hours turned into weeks which turned into months, and all the while I was filling my brain with knowledge from various marketing forums, blogs, and ebooks.

It took some time for Robert Kiyosaki’s quote to truly make its way into my head:  “Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow“.  That was when I realized that it was time to drastically cut down on learning about Internet Marketing and start implementing my knowledge.  Quick as a flash, I disappeared from the forums, unsubscribed from the marketing newsletters and got to work.

As a mother of three, I decided to choose the broad niche of raising children, thinking that I would never tire of the subject.  Little did I know what the future would hold.  I dove into my website, typing out articles until the tips of my fingers were numb.  Then I researched keywords and acquired backlinks pointing to my site.  My next step was to create audio and video downloadable parenting products, as well as several ebooks.  Each product took several weeks and several hundred dollars to create.  The products sold well, and I had several 4-figure-profit days, however I found myself getting stuck.

Each time I created a new product, I found myself with a new set of overwhelming challenges:  Some customers had trouble downloading the video.   Other clients lost their password with which to access my audio.  Many people purchased my ebook (despite the clear verbiage explaining that it was an EBOOK) and demanded to know why they had not received the book in their mailbox!  As fast as I attempted to create new products, new obstacles and roadblocks occurred.

After years of chasing my tale around in circles in an attempt to build up my online business to a new level, I decided to invest in a team of outsourcing professionals.  I chose my virtual assistants and writers with care, and was excited about the exponential growth that outsourcing would bring my way.  However, my virtual assistant needed a lot of guidance, and she was often out sick leaving my clients’ emails neglected for weeks on end.  My writers wanted feedback on every paragraph, and my link builders had even more questions for me.  From morning to night, I found myself managing my staff, rather than growing my business.

It was then that I stumbled upon the Amazonian Profit Plan in the summer of 2010.  Although my Internet Marketing income was covering the mortgage and private school tuition; exotic vacations and major household renovations were still out of our budget, and I was continuously looking for that next magic bullet that would grow my business.  The Amazonian Profit Plan struck a chord in my heart, and I understood Wanda and Paula’s description of passive income to be the missing key to my business.

That was when I changed my focus from searching for various marketing methods to searching for hours in my week that I could dedicate to implementing Paula and Wanda’s ideas.  It was challenging, as my staff and customers from my prior business still needed a lot of my attention, and it was not sensible to ignore a viable business that I had built- albeit a business that took an enormous amount of time and energy to maintain.

I chose a few highly targeted keywords such as:  Product ABC, Product ABC reviews, Product XYZ, Product XYZ reviews, Product ABC vs. Product XYZ.  I did utilize many methods of backlinking:  blog comments, forum profiles, blog networks, article directories, social bookmarking, and guest posting.

I found that my time was best spent doing quality guest posting and improving my reviews while I outsourced the lower quality backlinks to people on sites such as backlinksforum.com.  As you can see, I targeted two products:  the ABC model and the XYZ model.  Incidentally, I found that a lot of people search for “product ABC vs. product XYZ” and “what is the difference between product ABC and XYZ” so I was able to rank well for those keyword phrases.

I am still struggling with my rankings for “Product ABC” and “Product ABC reviews” as the manufacturer of the product has the first FOUR listings in Google, so I am #5-8 most of the time!  I’m still working on outranking the manufacturer; however, I still get traffic for those phrases and related keyword phrases.  It’s an ongoing process like watching a baby grow:  You can’t see much growth day-to-day or even week-to-week, but if you look at the infant’s growth month-to-month you’ll see tremendous growth!  I started focusing on this in September 2010, so it has taken me about 6 months of learning, stumbling, and learning to focus to earn $786 from Amazon in March 2011.  At this rate of continuous growth, it ought to take me another 10-18 months to hit my goal of five figures in monthly profit from Amazon.

I created several rules for myself to help me grow my passive income, and I hope they will inspire you to create your dream Internet Marketing lifestyle:

1.  I must write two articles every morning prior to lunch.  They can be articles for my own site or articles to be used as guest posts to obtain backlinks.  Oftentimes, I find myself near starvation at 2:00pm, and I hurriedly type up my required articles so that I can eat some pasta!  This little rule that I created ascertains that not a day goes by where I have not written two quality articles to benefit my passive income business.

2.  I met a friend on a forum who lives 5,000 miles away and shares my goals and methods.  Each evening we post the five important things we must do the next day, and the following day we check off the items we have completed.  Having a peer look over my shoulder from afar within a shared document is tremendously motivating.

3.  I set small goals every week.  For example, on a recent Monday I set the goal of having ten new posts about a specific topic on my website and pointing ten contextual backlinks towards each of those articles.  If I were to finish this goal by Thursday evenings, then I would be allowed to go to the mall on Friday.  (I did, and I bought a beautiful black dress!)

4.  I forgive myself when life happens.  When a family member was recently ill, I let go of my business for several days while I attended to his needs.  I let go of the stressful feelings of ‘needing’ to work on my business and allowed myself to relax knowing that I was making the right decision in these challenging circumstances.  Being happy and content with my choices about how to spend my time eliminates anxiety and gives me additional energy to focus on the task at hand without worrying about other things that I might also want to do simultaneously!

5.  Facebook, email, and news websites may only be checked at the top of the hour.  Some of you may feel that this is a lenient approach; however, it has worked wonders for me.  I used to check these sites every seven seconds, so minimizing my distractions to just a few minutes at the top of each hour has made me a far more productive Internet Marketer.

Ellen Braun is a stay at home mother of three who is extremely focused on one particular Amazon niche.  However, she is so fascinated by the marriage of Prince William and Princess Kate that she has recently launched a website about Royal Wedding souvenirs and Princess Kate wedding dolls as a side project!  When she isn’t busy with her side project, main niche, or family, she can most likely be found catching up on lost sleep in Baltimore, MD.

Easy Money is a Tough Road and a Real Gamble – A Success Story

[contentbox bgcolor=’f2f2f2′ border=’999999′ borderwidth=3 corners=10]This post is a guest post written by James from The Average Genius.[/contentbox]

Recently, I had the rare opportunity to take my wife and our 7 kids to a friend’s cabin to Cascade, Idaho. The scene was surreal: the blacktop was white. The pine trees were dusted with fluffy, freezing, playful snow.

We had just walked into a post card with our tired family van chugging along. This time we weren’t just driving through, we came to play in this stuff.

It was my wife’s birthday, and the entire trip was long overdue. See, we don’t take vacations normally. But that was in my old life…

The Flop: Struggle, Strive, Sweat And Ache

I’m James, a.k.a. “JamestheJust” online, former freelance writer on Elance (that turned into a golden training ground to learn the ropes while getting paid).

I blog at The Average Genius and tell it like it is. It’s still something I’m getting used to (I get paid a passive income? Say what?).

Unlike many success stories, or perhaps like the cliche story you might expect – I come from generations of struggling, hard-working folk.

Money has been that elusive character in someone else’s play, I was raised convinced that only other people ever had any.

My dad lived and left his life as one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.

My mother comes from the Philippines, where most internet marketers hire cheap labor for English web content.

See, both of my parents worked…

They worked long, hard hours, mom still does.

My grandparents were in various blue collar jobs from construction to rice threshing.

Needless to say, hard work is in my DNA. The family has viewed money as a slippery, wriggling fish that escapes every time you grab hold, real enough to tease but never real enough to linger.

Money meant struggle, strive, sweat and ache. Regular hours were reserved for banks and the filthy rich. I knew from the start: I was born to work to provide for my family.

For 16 years of marriage, that’s what I’ve done, and it’s meant nothing but struggling, striving, sweating and being bone-aching tired.

  • Overtime (usually left unpaid, that’s always “fun”).
  • Leaving when it’s dark outside.
  • Coming home when it’s dark outside.
  • Cramming down dinner and working some more at another job.
  • Sleeping 6 hours, working 18.

That was life, and the way to provide, right?

The Turn: A Glimmer of Hope, Or Fool’s Gold?

In 2009, I was embroiled in a family business owned by my in-laws here in Idaho. The job went from “reasonable hours” to You have got to be kidding me, I’m a man, not a machine!

I was given unreasonable hours and expected to turn up unreasonable results in marketing…so for three months in my final, desperate winter in the business, I pounded the pavement so to speak.

I would market for “bonus money,” but the trick of it was I had just suffered a loss of $12,000 annually, or $1,000 a month paycut, right before winter.

To make up the loss, I was offered the “opportunity” to market the business – so I jumped through the hoop and marketed like a Fury.

I marketed my way out of a $12k annual paycut in the worst of my personal recession, while the evening news told of similar sob stories all over the U.S.

Layoffs and foreclosures were happening all over my neighborhood, I was no exception it would turn out later. At the time, I bit down and faced the music:

I had to work harder, longer hours, for less money. Either that or get fired, so I was told. It worked, for my in-laws anyway. I built their business and gave all I had to give to my now thankless job.

Family ties were strained to breaking, and in the midst of my financial crisis, my boss / brother-in-law told me about Elance, and the XFactor AdSense buisness model.

The XFactor model was to build many miniature websites that would make $25-$100 a month extra. At the time, you must understand: every bit counted!

I had just lost $1,000 a month and didn’t have room to breathe in my budget – I didn’t know how I’d feed my family.

I figured I’d need 20-50 websites to make up the deficit…but the money was slow in coming for AdSense. To make matters even more desperate, for the first two months on Elance I got nothing…

I was met with rejection, disappointment, and panic. I was paying Elance a membership fee to bid on jobs but I received no work for all my frenetic efforts, I had no idea what I was doing.

In the precious few hours I had left to myself, I looked at sleep as a luxury I couldn’t afford. I bid like crazy on Elance, lowering my price until I found a sweet spot – I needed work and I hit bottom.

It was desperation time.

My first gig was for a lawyer in L.A. for $8.33 / hour, transcribing her free ebook to build her email list. I worked until I was bleary eyed and it was unhealthy and unsafe – but my kids liked warmth in winter and dinner on the table, so I knew what I had to do.

We decided long ago my wife would stay at home with our 7 kids. That meant I had to figure something out, and quick.

I had no choice – I needed the street cred on Elance so I asked my client if she’d give me a positive review if I dropped my prices.

She agreed. The next 5 jobs were similar: working for a referral and chump change.

Without those referrals, I couldn’t get a gig – they were my golden ticket.

The money wasn’t “good” at first, but every little bit counted. Then I’d raise my prices slowly as the referrals came in.

I began refusing work and became choosy, only working for better wages.

Then something funny happened.

I watched the AdSense grow on my one website – and it took 96 days before I got that first precious $100 AdSense check. I thought I had won the lottery.

The Problem With Freelancing

Freelancing was working, but it took all my time, I didn’t have time to build my 20-50 websites. Instead, I rushed my half-baked content out and slapped up a few skinny sites.

As I watched the AdSense total keep growing, it proved that the making money online dream was slowly chugging along and coming true – I just needed to find the throttle and let ‘er rip.

This had to work – I needed passive income to come in so I could do away with my active income (my job at the time, freelancing). Passive income was the road to freedom…but I needed more time.

Desperation and frustration drove me to work at a frenetic pace, and I channeled all my aggression into two very distinct, intermingled goals:

1) I had to prove to everyone watching, waiting for the next pathetic shoe to drop, that they were wrong about me. I began to feel trapped, backed into a corner and a brick wall in front of me.

With a family in tow, that’s a recipe for divorce, for drug abuse, alcoholism – all bad news. I had the tenacity to choose hard work and wild hours.

Everyone thought I was crazy. I worked like I was.

2) I wanted to put legs under my wife’s claim that she had a husband she could be proud of, I wanted to change that sad, forlorn look in her eye from desperation into a gleam of hope.

She was tired of worrying. I was just tired of it all, weary to the bone – but it wasn’t time to lay down. It was time to fight for our future, even in the worst economic turmoil we had seen.

Our kids weren’t sure what was “wrong” with me – I was gruff, distracted, determined…but I was in it for them.

They deserved a better life than the hand-me-down, beg-along life I’d given them. I was sick of it…

…Tired of the charity case claim to fame.

I didn’t want to work until I had arthritis into the long and lonely hours of the night as a security guard because retirement wasn’t an option. It had to stop.

“I’m a writer. I’ll re-write the script and my part in the play,” I told myself. “My wife’s going to be proud of what I’ve done, once the dust settles.”

That, more than AdSense and riches, more than vacations and more than luxury cars, is what drove me.

It still drives me.

The River of Dreams: Script’s Re-written

I lost my job in July of 2010. It was an underhanded surprise.

Before that nefarious, calculated event – things were getting better.

I was paying down debt. I was working my nerves into Carpal Tunnel Syndrome after putting in overtime in the “family” business, getting a “solid” 4-6 hours of sleep on weeknights and burning the midnight oil on Elance…

The money was getting better as I was able to attract better clients…

But there was one problem: more time was being given to Elance than to my own websites and passive income network of websites. I only had 10 or so websites up – mostly with mediocre, original content and AdSense.

Still – it was working out until July 2nd, 2010, when I was told I had a week left. I had been replaced with someone more desperate, willing to put in the 14-16 hour days now that I was “only” doing 10-12.

In the meanwhile, I had played “good student” in my own personal college. I was dissecting my clients’ requests for my writing, and developing relationships online.

I’d ask so many questions I thought I’d pushed my luck and welcome a few times. Then I’d ask a few more.

My appetite for more information was voracious: I needed to learn how the big players were making their living…

I had worked nearly 3 years serving big names in Boise, Idaho – the big wigs who were making a killing online.

I have seen their homes. They’re castles.

These people hired guys like me to build their thriving websites, I just had to figure out why my websites weren’t raking in that kind of money.

I listened. I asked. I studied. I learned:

  • How to backlink…
  • How to SEO content…
  • How to research keywords…
  • How to write convincing content that resulted in conversions…
  • How to target products to sell that made me real profits and not chump change…

I began reading. I found Paula and Wanda. I found other internet marketers’ blogs. I began asking more questions, finding people I could trust – hard to do in this business, but not impossible.

Learning Is Like Bowling: Always Follow-Through

My blue collar upbringing saw that I was son to a pair of bowlers – as in “Bruinswick, 10 pins and smoky bowling alleys,” not funny-looking hats.

As my dad would say to me at 6 years old, “It’s all about the follow-through, son. Always follow through.”

I didn’t have money for every ebook in town. I’ve only read two: the XFactor AdSense ebook and Amazonian Profit Plan – I didn’t need to buy every ebook out there to learn – and learning can become a habit in itself.

It’s pointless if it’s never followed through with action…

Once I learned something, I put it into practice – if I felt I had time. Then it dawned on me: I wasn’t taking action because I never made time for MY buisness.

Then I forced myself to work my own business.

It didn’t matter that I was swamped – it was either work for myself and make perpetual money, or work for others and get perpetual gigs.

I treated myself as if I was a client that had a real deadline. I committed just a few hours every week for research and writing.

Stupid Things I Believed and Did

If I wanted more money, I was stuck: I had to freelance more, right? That was born out of panic. It kept me back for a long time from breaking through…

My attitude tanked and wrists burned from the mad typing. Long hours grew longer, even though I was working for myself entirely with no “real job” to distract my efforts online.

My dilemma: freelancing provided the “right now” money, and my passive income wasn’t large enough to wait for.

It’s not like you get paid every week or two, most affiliate programs pay out every 30-60 days.

I let my fear control me – I kept thinking, “If I lose my clients, I lose the ability to provide…” But I wanted off the train to Nowhere.

I cared more about my clients’ quality when I’d write than my own websites – that was stupid.

I bought into the lie that “more is better: more sites, more pages, more writing…” when less is more.

I was stuck between chasing the AdSense many mini-sites method, or changing my entire approach and focusing on affiliate sales – my mistake was trying to do both.

I bought more domains. “Money’s in quantity, gotta have those Exact Match Domains before they disappear…” That’s a load of guano.

The truth was: I regularly made $400-$850 with one particular web page at the time, my first site. Then I “wised up” and began following the herd mentality of churning out dozens of sites…

But the math didn’t add up. I didn’t have time to develop such a massive empire of 200-500 websites – nor the resources to outsource: and I couldn’t fathom paying a writer when I AM ONE.

I was relieved when I devoured the Amazonian Profit Plan and read that quality counts, and you can make thousands from 10-20 webpages, even less.

See, my ears perked up at reading Paula and Wanda’s “How Much Did We Make in November” post – and I read it dozens of times.

My stupid mistake:

I was following a crowd and nobody was doing what Paula and Wanda were doing. I didn’t believe, down where it counts – so I didn’t act on it.

Then I read Dave of Making Money On The Internet Free, and learned that I wasn’t far off the mark – I just needed to do more of what worked:

  • Choose good products.
  • Focus on and compose great reviews – like I did on my first site.
  • Get traffic / rankings to those reviews.
  • Repeat.

I laid aside trying to build dozens of AdSense mini-sites altogether and began focusing on what was working: just 1 main website, selling affiliate products on Commission Junction and Amazon.

The revolution in my mind snapped into place: I was chasing the AdSense dream because I didn’t think I could do any better.

Besides: November 2010 was looming, and the summer had been dismal in terms of my online sales (my rankings weren’t stellar, the niche as a whole doesn’t do well in summer).

I had to act fast to get more content up, more reviews. Then I had to rank them in Google – but I knew how by then.

I just needed to make the time.

Identifying and Conquering My Barriers to Success

My big problems were: time, need for immediate money, and the emotional elephant that was sitting on my chest. It was hard to shake off the self-pity, and self-pity doesn’t pay the bills.

I was being eaten alive with the frustration of being fired and going down in ignominy, scratching along with 7 kids and the threads of a strained marriage with a beast of financial burden pressing on my back like the world on Atlas.

I would listen to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” track over and over again. I made a playlist of nothing but Eminem, he seemed to hit the nail on the head and kept reminding me what I was doing and why.

“Success was my only option…Failure’s not” more or less summarizes and sanitizes his lyrics that soon became my mantra.

November 2010 Changed My Life

November is a great month for sales in general – it was life-changing for me. I cleared over $2k in passive income, and made additional money on Elance.

My efforts finally paid off!

I had taken Paula and Wanda’s advice and I focused: one site.

A few quality products with a solid payout per sale.

Write a handful of well-researched, story-type reviews.

Get traffic to them.

For me, it meant backlinking my reviews until they ranked in the top 5 in Google or better. In my case, my reviews are at #1 in Google.

The sales rolled in then and now.

February of 2011 has been, thus far, my best month online ever – and I’m through worrying. I’m relaxed, I can breathe…and the old frustrated Eminem lyrics don’t tell my story anymore.

In February of 2011, I made just under $4,000 in passive income, counting my last Elance gig my total is over $4,000.

My wife looks at me with a glimmer of hope and a rested assurance that she’s going to be well taken care of…our kids had one hell of a Christmas…and my family business is now exactly that:

My family business.

How many websites? I have 13 developed. The majority of my income stems from 2 websites, my making money online site, The Average Genius, and another website in the health “niche.”

Funny Story About Amazonian Profit Plan

Yes, I’m an affiliate and this is ebook is a treatise on making money with Amazon – and I was asked not to hype or even really talk about the APP for this post, but it’s part of my story.

After reading it, I begged my wife to read it. She finally acquiesced once she saw the turning point in our income…

She now out-sells me in Amazon regularly, though I’m still selling primarily through Commission Junction with the same principles in the APP.

We earn 100% of our income in affiliate sales, in purely passive income.

Neither of us have to “work.”

She only writes product reviews when and if she wants to. With 7 kids, she’s busy enough. :)

With the investment of studying what works, learning SEO and reading successful internet marketers, to deconstructing my competition and analyzing top money earners’ strategies – I’ve put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

For 20 hours of work, I’ve made nearly $1,000 an hour – without any impressive university degree. In April I’ll get another $1,000+ bonus check for my sales in February.

When the chips were down, and sheer need and a stubborn hope were all I had to go on – feeding on the real stories of others’ success pulled me forward.

Seeing my wife and children and their needs pushed me beyond limits and made the goal worthwhile.

I was driven.

I had to see it was real. It wasn’t hype. Making just a little bit in passive income gave me a spark of hope.

Reading successful people make a 6-figure income just fanned the hope into an inferno.

Hope – not hype – changes lives.

Real, honest people who take time to answer questions are priceless, and they’re easy to find.

That’s what helped me most in 2010, and Paula and Wanda, and yes the Amazonian Profit Plan, are a definite building block in my foundation.

They are a real, visceral part of my success story.

I don’t freelance anymore except on projects I believe in – like guest posting here, to say this is the real deal.

This isn’t hype, it’s not just someone else’s dream.

Go ahead. Open your eyes. The money doesn’t disappear when you wake up.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, James has released his very own ebook all about SEO. If you are interested you can read more here – Duct Tape SEO.


Note from Paula and Wanda: We loved reading James’ story and  feel very privileged to be able to share it with you. We hope it helps to give you the inspiration and motivation to keep going. If you would like to read more from James we highly recommend checking out his website at The Average Genius.