We get this question a lot.
“If you had $10K to invest, what would you do to get to $3K per month?”
“If you had to start over, what would you do similarly/differently?”
“Can I still make money building sites as you’ve outlined in your guide?”
“What’s the best way to get to $2K/$3K/$4K per month?”
This post is a resource for anyone looking to get started and willing to put the work in, but doesn’t have the $60K to invest to purchase $3K per month worth of sites from our marketplace. This is a Do-It-Yourself guide for those looking to build their way up rather than buying in to niche sites.
I’m also going to assume you’ve already read our guide, “Building A Niche Site Empire”, are familiar with the exact process we use to build our sites, and are looking for a growth strategy that will get you to the position where you can “earn a living” with niche sites. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with our method for niche site creation, you can download the guide by signing up here:
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I can’t make any guarantees this will work.
Even more clearly, I have no idea whether this will work out for you. Maybe the skillsets Joe and I brought to this are what made it work out us. Maybe your approach will perform better…or worse. In any event, I will share for you exactly how we went about building our niche site empire and then will lay out the exact process I would use if I had to start all over again today.
One last thing – I’m sure there are better, cheaper, and/or faster ways of earning $3K per month online. While I run across ebooks and methods every day that claim to deliver the goods, I’m sure there really are methods out there that may be better overall or at least better suited for you.
How We Did It Last Time
Phase 1: Getting Started – First 60 Days
In November of 2010, I started testing the process outlined in our guide with the intention of building niche AdSense sites. I was building these sites personally and even wrote some of the content myself. (Mind-numbingly boring – I wouldn’t recommend doing this for long!)
I made some critical mistakes:
- Targeting BROAD rather than EXACT match search on the first 4-5 sites – Oops!
- Not adding a Privacy Page to the sites (An AdSense ToS violation)
- Using a no-longer-supported WP theme that looked a little wonky when I added Ad Units, content, etc.
Ultimately, I ended up creating (on my own) around 8-10 fully-built sites from scratch. (Another 6-8 were only partially created) In December 2010, I decided to recruit a few people from our team to help me. We have an outsourcing company here in the Philippines, so it was much easier to take current staff and add them to projects than it might have been if I had to hire from scratch. (If you’re looking for a VA to help you, we’d highly recommend using Virtual Staff Finder if you’ve never hired a VA before.)
To start, we had two of our Virtual Assistants writing the primary and secondary content for the sites via email requests from me. By the end of December or early January, I’d recruited another agent to help with site set-up, but I was still doing all of the keyword research myself. I’d put together a very simple spreadsheet to track what we were working on.
Phase 2: Growth – Next 120 Days
At some point in Jan/Feb, I recruited my business partner to continue to roll this out to our team. I trained him on the process, had him create a couple of sites himself, and then he went to work on fleshing out our keyword research spreadsheet, our site tracking spreadsheet, and optimizing the process.
Joe and I traded between KW research and Content Management responsibilities each week. Here are the changes we made during this period:
- Established process best practices using the Tracking Spreadsheet (Google Doc)
- Handed over Content Management to our team (They would now order, edit, and publish content from HireWriters, iWriter, etc.)
- Assigned agent to initial, objective KW research (We continued to check/verify the keywords and purchase domains ourselves)
It was towards the end of this growth phase that Joe and I started to sell sites. (Reflected in our April and May income reports) We still weren’t raking in the profits, but we’d reached the point where we were no longer spending more than we were pulling in and we knew we could continue to ultimately make this profitable.
Phase 3: Maintenance – 180+ Days
It was in June, July, and August that we finally made our money back on initial investments and became profitable, leading to our more than $26K in revenue in September, 2011. While we were still expanding the number of niche sites created, we also put additional systems in place and removed ourselves even further from the process. We looked for efficiency improvements that would cut our costs and improve profits.
While we continued to list auctions on Flippa, we’d had quite a few requests to sell sites privately without releasing the URL publicly, so we significantly expanded our “private sales” during this time with the Buy Our Sites page. It was extremely simple – we started with an uploaded spreadsheet and a “Buy Now” button you had to scroll over to see!
It was during this phase that we were able to reap the benefits of our earlier work and this provided a launching pad for a host of additional profit streams to come. (Including things like our Products & Services, Consulting, etc.)
How We’d Do It Today
Obviously, the easiest way would be to just buy my way into a $3K per month profit stream, but let’s say I didn’t have the $60K – $70K capital to invest upfront. Instead, I’d go the DIY route and plan on coming out of pocket at least $10K to get the ball rolling. Here’s how I’d do it…
Phase 1: Getting Started – First 60 Days
After reading the guide, “Building A Niche Site Empire” I’m going to want to make sure I’m properly tracking the sites I’m creating, so I’d make sure I setup the keyword research spreadsheet and tracking spreadsheet as a Google Docs.
While I could get started from scratch and save myself the cash from having to buy tools, there are a few that I know will significantly cut down my initial time investment like keyword research software, website themes, hosting packages, and URL’s.
While all of these are available separately, you can also look at picking up the Premium Empire Starter Pack which bundles these together at a discount and includes:
- Tools: LongTailPro, IntelliTheme, and a hosting package
- Sites: 3-4 sites earning $20 – $22 per month
- Domains: 10 keyword-researched domains + secondary keyword research completed for each
This gives me all the tools I need, allows me to reverse-engineer already created/earning sites, and gives me 10 ready-to-go keywords and domains I can use to start building niche sites on my own. I’d likely write the content from scratch for two of the sites I’m creating, and outsource the rest through a service like HireWriters.com, costing me around $15 – $20 per site.
Once I’ve got my first 10 sites started, I’d perform my own keyword research using LongTailPro and try to find suitable targets. (Specifically targeting 4-5 keywords/domains that I think may work) I’d then purchase a 10 KW research package and ask on the order form that my keywords/domains be vetted. If they’re suitable, they’ll be purchased and transferred to me. If not, they’ll be replaced so that I have another 10 niche sites to target.
Towards the end of the 60 days I’d feel confident enough to start targeting my own keywords and purchasing the domains myself. I’d find another 20 targets, purchase the domains, and get the content and sites set up myself.
Sites purchased: 3-4
Created Sites: 40
Estimated Cost: $2,100
Estimated Earnings: $50
Phase 2: Growth – Next 120 Days
I now have a really strong grasp as to how to create niche sites from scratch, but a significant portion of the tedious work is still done by me. The next 30-45 days will be spent looking to replace myself in the process. I’ll be looking to create 40 sites per month during this period.
Assuming I don’t have much experience hiring offshore VA’s (or don’t want to spend the time required to list ads, dig through them, interview, etc.) I’d look to hire two VA’s through Virtual Staff Finder. This would cost me $790 to start (And approximately $700-$800 per month) and would include two positions:
- Intial KW research + Site Setup – Primary responsibility would be to purchase domains, setup hosting and WordPress, install plugins, and get the site ready for publishing. The secondary task would be to perform primary KW research and store those initial targets in a spreadsheet for me to review each week.
- Content Manager – Primarily responsible for secondary keyword research, content ordering/receiving/editing, and publishing the content on the sites.
This would effectively remove me from the most time-intensive work and leave me with only selecting the keywords/domains to use each week and as a manager that QA’s the overall process.
In addition to the tasks I have left, I would look very closely and critically at the sites I created in the first 60 days, tracking their value month by month to ensure they’re on track in terms of earnings.
Sites purchased: 3-4
Created Sites: 200
Estimated Cost: $8,000
- VSF: $790
- Agents: $2,400
- Domains: $1,600
- Content: $3,200
Estimated Earnings: $1,900
- First 20 sites at $200/month
- Next 20 sites at $160/month
- Next 40 sites at $240/month
- Next 40 sites at $160/month
With a total of approx. $10,100 invested and $2,000 in total earnings, I’m getting pretty close to my maximum investment in the project. The good news is that at 200 sites completed and an average earning of $10/month, I know that in a few months, I should be pulling in around $2,000 per month with the sites if I did nothing else.
The problem is that to maintain my team and the 40 sites created per month, I’m looking at around $2,000 per month in fixed costs. I have a choice: I can either invest more cash ($10K? $20K?) until the earnings start to overcome the expenses, or I can look to front-load my cashflow by selling off sites and realizing their earnings ahead of schedule.
To keep from going out of pocket further, I’m going to sell the sites.
Selling The Sites
Sometime towards the end of Phase 2 or at the beginning of Phase 3, I’m going to review the sites created in Phase 1 and pick out those that have the best chance and opportunity to sell. (i.e. better/stable earnings, growth opportunity, stable rankings, etc.)
Assuming that half of the earnings from those first 40 sites are from low-end earners, I’m going to assume I have approximately $200/month worth of sites to sell. (Either individually or through package sales)
Selling through the EF Marketplace, I know that I’ll get 17x monthly revenue in a sale, so I can assume $3,400 in total revenue from the sale. Due to the fact that I’ve been creating around 40 sites per month (and assuming those sites are averaging $10/month) I can reasonably assume I’ll have around $200/month worth of sites to sell each month going forward, bringing in approximately $3,400 per month in site sales.
While I’ll start off selling sites on the EF Marketplace, I’ll ultimately sell some sites at auction on Flippa.com as well. While I might end up with a lower revenue multiplier on the sites at first, it is good to build my reputation and trust in a secondary marketplace as well.
Phase 3: Maintenance – Next 180+ Days
Now that I’ve started selling sites, I’ll begin realizing a decent profit each month:
+ $3,400 Site Sales
+ $1,500 AdSense
- $2,000 Costs
= $2,900 Net Profit (approx)
The AdSense revenue will continue to creep up month after month from the lower-end sites that you’re not selling, but this upside will probably be eaten up by domain renewal costs you’ll have to cover for performing sites the next year.
I’ve mostly removed myself from the process and am now only involved in final keyword selection/purchase and overseeing the entire process. I have a few options here:
- Buy My Way Up The Chain – Use the profits from the sale of my sites to purchase larger niche AdSense sites. I can then use them as a model to start developing the types of sites mentioned in point #3 or I can look to purchase sites that have an alternative monetization method. (Amazon sites, Affiliate sites, etc.)
- Slowly Expand The Niche Sites – I can reinvest $1K per month to slowly expand the process of niche site creation. While I won’t be able to realize those returns for another 6 months or so, when the sites are up and earning, I’m reinvesting in a process that I already know is profitable.
- Start From Scratch On Larger Sites – I’ve already proven the method and model with smaller site creation, so I can recreate the same exact steps with a slightly different keyword research and content model. (Following methods laid out by Pat at SPI through his Niche Site Duel or Spencer at NichePursuits.com)
- Enjoy The Profits – $3K per month is a fantastic side income…even enough to support a great lifestyle in a place like Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc.
If this were only side income for me, I’d likely look to go with Option #1 and diversify my portfolio through purchases. Over time, I’d probably add another agent via Virtual Staff Finder for maintenance and/or Customer Service on those purchased web properties.
If I were looking to live off this income, I’d likely go with Option #4 and take a slow-growth approach to #3, creating 2-3 larger sites per quarter. I’d know that I was probably 12-18 months away from a return on these sites, but I’d also know that they offer much more potential in terms of brand value, varied monetization methods, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
#1 – What about failure rates, non-performers, and sites that don’t make anything at all?
I’ve baked that into the $10/month per site estimate. Somewhere between 20% – 30% of the sites we create aren’t even worth renewing the domain the following year. Still…some of our sites easily earn $100 per month or more, making up the difference with those that don’t earn anything at all.
#2 – Can’t I do this without buying any packages, tools, hiring Virtual Assistants, etc?
Definitely! There’s always a trade-off when it comes to Time Vs. Money. On the one end of the spectrum, you can save yourself a ton of hassle and just buy your way into sites. On the other end, you can use the Google Keyword Tool for research, check the SERPs yourself for “Chance To Rank”, write the content yourself, etc. It’s going to come down to how much time you have available and want to spend, your openness to risk, etc. I just wanted to share with you (from my perspective) the best balance between the two.
#3 – What if my sites don’t perform at that level?
There’s definitely some risk here and that risk is more pronounced when you create fewer sites. With only 20 sites created, it’s more likely that you won’t get the one or two “breakouts” that make up for some of the losers. This is the reason many choose to buy our “winners” from the marketplace. They prefer sites that have already proven their marketability and their success in the niche.
#4 – There’s got to be better/faster/easier ways to get to $3K per month than this, right?
There are many different paths you can take – choose one that’s best suited to your interests and skill sets. – Click To Tweet!
This is just one of many…
#5 – $3K per month (net) after 6 – 8 months is not that impressive. I can crush it with (insert model here).
Awesome – it sounds like this post wasn’t for you. :-) While I readily admit that $3K per month isn’t exactly crushing it, most would find it to be a pretty awesome side-income and many are living extraordinary lives abroad or just doing what they love at similar levels of income.
With a fair amount of work, I do think this can be accomplished on the side by just about anyone with some dedication and after-hours focus.
So – does this model interest you? What’s holding you back from getting started today? Let us know in the comments below or feel free to reach out on Twitter – we’d love to hear your thoughts!