It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole ten years since I last had to get up with an alarm just to sit in rush hour traffic in Los Angeles…all so that I could sit in a cubicle at a job that was fine in terms of cubicle jobs (and I did work at Warner Bros where there was a van painted up like the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo in my parking garage) but it was still a job where someone else controlled my time and freedom.
I’d like to say that I’d saved up loads of FU money and left the cubicle behind on my own terms. But that’s not how it happened. If you do the math, then you realize that it was right in the midst of the “Great Recession” and I actually got laid off.
Luckily I’d been doing MFA sites, sponsored posts via PayPerPost (still around and now going by “Izea,” I think) and freelance writing on the side, so I just transitioned into that full-time starting that very next week. By June, I had my first week where I doubled what I made per-week working as a Sr. Financial Analyst (at $55K annually). And, I haven’t looked back since.
My Biggest Early Successes
My undergrad is in English and Journalism, so doing freelance writing work was a natural fit for me in the early days of my cubicle freedom. And right at the point in internet history when eHow was really getting to be big, I discovered the content mill that powered it – Demand Studios (now going by some other name).
In those early days, there was no limit on the number of how-to articles that you could take and submit per-week and damn, were those shitty articles easy to write. That first summer of cubicle freedom saw me submit enough of those shitty articles to earn a cool $1800+ in just one week! And I don’t remember how long it took me, but there was no way in hell that it was anywhere close to 40 hours.
And while I now know that it was sort of, not exactly legal, my biggest early site wins were two one-page sites (on .infos no less) that I started in 2008 that sold a similar digital download – one sold fake doctor’s note templates and the other sold paycheck stub templates. That was probably some of the easiest money that I’ve ever made since I literally made the Word doc templates one time and the rest of it was entirely automated whenever someone bought one.
At their height, these sites made me $1200/mo, but most months it was around $750.
I went on to have several sites that sold various templates from budget spreadsheets to vehicle bill of sale templates, but none of them made me as much money as those first two that I mentioned.
How I Got Into Affiliate Marketing
My earliest start into site building was actually chasing AdSense money via a personal finance blog back in 2006. And I owe it all to that infamous Shoemoney check showing his AdSense earnings.
I didn’t really have the first clue of how to build a good site that made money from AdSense. So, I stumbled my way through that for a few years, while getting lucky along the way with the template download sites that I made.
While doing the whole personal finance thing I learned about the Amazon Associates program, cause all the PF bloggers were using it to recommend books on budgeting. At this time, I wasn’t making affiliate sites, but was instead just doing what the PF crowd was doing. So, we’re talking about making pizza money here.
Somehow I ended up on the old Wicked Fire forums after that, where I started to see people talking about affiliate sites. And that’s when I started making a lot of really shitty EMD affiliate sites using Amazon for monetization. But 2010 is when things really started to turn around for me and it all started to click and fall into place.
Back then, I never would’ve guessed that I’d have so much success with this model that I’d put out an entire course on making authority niche sites in 2016.
I Owe A Lot Of My Success To A Guy Named Dave
While I had two successful digital download sites paying the bills, I was having a hard time cracking the affiliate marketing game. I was devouring every resource that I could find – the problem was that some of it was good information and some of it wasn’t so great.
I don’t remember how in 2010 that I ended up on a site with the world’s worst domain name for quality online marketing information, but finding the blog posts at makingmoneyontheinternetfree.info was really a turning point in my affiliate marketing journey.
Somehow, Dave managed to take all the stuff that I’d been reading for months and put it all together in one place so that it just worked. He didn’t hold back anything and helped you if he was able to do so.
Combining what I was reading in Dave’s blog posts with the stuff I’d learned from other forums and blogs, I was finally able to make it all work in ways that earned me more than just pizza money.
Links was what I had been missing that whole time.
Fast forward to late 2011, and Dave had changed the domain of the site and he opened up a private forum….that I was hesitant to pay $10/month for (oh, what an idiot! lol). That private SEO forum really helped me to take my affiliate marketing to the next level. If you can find a good one, then I highly recommend joining it (sadly, Dave ended up closing the forum a couple years back).
Not too long after that, I started making Squidoo lenses and raking in the cash from those. For a while, I stopped working on my own sites and just focused on cranking out those Squidoo lenses for that sweet revenue share. By this point, I was covering all living expenses with Amazon affiliate money – mostly thanks to Dave and that private forum, which was full of great people who shared and inspired.
Luckily for me, I started working more on my own sites before Squidoo came crashing down. Cause when those Squidoo lenses got moved to Hubpages after that buyout my income from those dried up to nothing. Fortunately, I’d learned enough by now that I didn’t need to rely on Squidoo for income.
Selling My First Site
Early 2014 was when I sold my very first affiliate site. I was earning enough from sites by now that I had a year-long round-the-world trip scheduled and the money from the $20K site sale was just icing on the cake.
Seeing how much you can earn from selling sites, I made a plan to focus on site flipping as a business model.
Since 2014, I’ve sold a lot of sites all monetized by the Amazon Associates program primarily. I don’t know exactly how many it’s been now, but I’d guess maybe around 30.
I’ve used Empire Flippers, FE International, Flippa, private Facebook groups and forums to sell my sites.
And this is still my main business model focus to this day.
The All Is Lost Moment (and taking on Goliath)
In late 2015, not long after returning to the US from my big RTW trip I was on track for my biggest month ever. It was November, just a few days before Black Friday, and all signs pointed to me having a REALLY big month…I’m talking on track for $20K and Black Friday wasn’t even here yet.
Then my business partner got that dreaded email – that Amazon was closing the account and keeping all the money. We already had around $12K in locked commissions, plus what was piling up for November.
Surely this was a mistake, I thought. Since I’d been extremely careful about adhering to the operating agreement and Amazon’s terms. I’d even seen people in the Amazon Associates forum get their accounts back due to a mistake. But alas, even after emailing Bezos, they told me that it was no accident and that they were, indeed, keeping all that money.
I knew that I’d done nothing wrong.
And when you know that you’re in the right, then you fight for yourself. I don’t take shit from anyone, whether it’s some random dude in India or one of the biggest companies in the world.
Not many people know this, but we sued Amazon in small claims court for closing that account and keeping the money. On our own, without the assistance of a lawyer. And we won.
We fucking won!
The judge ruled in our favor and that they had to pay the amount we’d sued them for in small claims. Plus, they had to pay our court costs.
Oh the stories I could tell you about facing off against them in court.
For instance, we learned in court that the manual reviewer just didn’t like the looks of our site and deemed it ugly. Yet, they came with zero copies of this “ugly” site to back up any of their claims. (not that having an “ugly” site made it legal for Amazon to close accounts and keep money)
Shortly after that win, Amazon stopped sending people emails saying they were closing the account and keeping the money. That’s when they started sending out emails to fix the “problems” with your account within five days, or after that period they would keep your money.
Just think – all it took was one person saying “I’m not taking this shit from you when I know I’m right” to stop this money stealing routine that they had going on for years.
I just wish someone before me would’ve stood up to them so that I didn’t have to spend so much time on going to legal aid seminars and preparing exhibit books for court.
It took several months to work this through the court system. In the interim, I was using Skimlinks on my sites. They pay a pittance in comparison, but it was the best option at the time.
Having the court rule that the account never should have been closed (nor should Amazon have kept the money) was really only a slight consolation knowing how much the site was on track for that holiday season. And, the monetary limit at small claims court was lower than the amount Amazon actually kept meaning that they still profited off of being wrong.
Expanding Into Agency Work
Since I give zero fucks about preserving the feelings of the gurus in the industry, I started getting a lot of inquires related to SEO service through this site. People wanted recommendations and I had nothing to give them.
I started this very site for really two reasons –
- I was tired of all these SEO roundup articles showing only men and I wanted to show other women out there that yes, there are women doing SEO.
- Most of the SEO bloggers are really just members of the mutual admiration society who never want to shit on anyone or any service in the industry- I wanted to read real SEO blog posts without the bullshit and I couldn’t find that, so I created it.
And like I said, I was getting regular inquiries asking for recommendations on agencies they could hire to do SEO work.
So, in 2017 I got a small team together here in Vegas and started offering the very service people kept asking me about. I didn’t announce it anywhere. I just started giving out my agency URL when I got those requests for recommendations.
It wasn’t until late 2018 that I even publicly mentioned my agency, and I only did so in a post about linkbuilding. (I still don’t advertise it anywhere or build links to the agency site.)
Since starting the agency, we’ve worked with a variety of sites from a regional real estate company to an international ecommerce company to small affiliate sites.
Until last month, 100% of our clients were happy with our service. While most of our client work has been link building jobs, we’ve also done full-service SEO, PPC management, and content creation.
I don’t ask clients to review the service, or to give me testimonials, because I’ve never intended to make agency work my primary focus. If I wanted to deal with other people all week long, then I’d get a cubicle job with benefits.
A few weeks back I wrote about dealing with my first problem client, a guy who signed a contract and then didn’t want to abide by the contract terms. What I didn’t share were the borderline extortion emails threatening to leave bad reviews about me and my agency all over the internet.
As I mentioned earlier when talking about taking on Amazon in court – I don’t take shit from anyone when I know that I’m in the right. So, I didn’t give that angry client what he wanted – though I did give him some of his money back when I didn’t legally have to do so. I regret doing that since the bad reviews he threatened to leave everywhere ended up being only half truths.
In case you missed it, you can find his complaint thread on Facebook in the Proper PBN Group.
I hope you go and read it. There’s always two sides to every story, so read both and believe what you will. The only thing that I have left to say on the subject is that if I was going to be doing the ole switcheroo on people and give them PBN links disguised as guest post links, then the delivery of those links would’ve been hyper fast. Shit, I could get the 6-months worth of links he ordered (a total of 90 links) in less than a week’s time – saving me and my team loads of time and money in the process.
The funny thing is that I’ve actually got more requests to work with my agency now than I did before the controversy.
What’s In Store For The Next 10 Years
As I write this, I am one week away from moving out of Las Vegas and over to Europe.
Living in Europe full-time has been a goal that I have been working towards for at least the last 15 years. When I first made this a goal, I thought working at an international company and getting transferred was my only way of getting there.
But here I am, having more success than I think I would ever have had in a traditional career path. And, that big goal of moving to Europe is actually happening.
I’m still doing affiliate marketing, but I’ve been working towards using programs other than Amazon for a few years now since they pay better and generally have longer cookies.
This year I’ve started a few new sites in super competitive niches, so I’m really excited to grow those in the coming years. And they’re actually in niches that I find interesting instead of something like baby gear or golf.
I’m also still flipping websites, and expect to continue doing so for many years to come.
As for my agency, I’m not really sure how long I will continue running it simply because it’s not really something that I’ve ever enjoyed doing.
I’ve also decided that a lot of the SEO industry is kinda toxic and not really something that I enjoy being a part of right now. I may write more on my thoughts about this at a later date, but don’t expect to see much of me sharing my knowledge in the popular Facebook groups/forums or in blog comments.
Once I get settled in Europe, I’ll be looking for opportunities to take on some other business ideas that I’ve been working on.
Considering that I could have spent the last 10 years sitting at a cubicle, with more of the same on the schedule for the next 10 years, I have to say that I feel pretty good with the way things have turned out and where I’m headed in the immediate future.
Latest posts by Shawna (see all)
- Celebrating A Decade Of Cubicle Freedom - April 18, 2019
- Why Running An SEO Agency Sucks Sometimes (It’s The Bullshit!) - April 2, 2019
- Review: I Bought 75 Links From Authority Builders in 2018 - March 15, 2019
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