Many years ago, my graphic designer/web designer husband was downsized out of his corporate job. We opted at that time to turn his side business into a full time business. We were blessed to land a very good client fairly quickly due to my teaching career connections. This company fed us steady work and became a huge portion of our income. It was fantastic.
Until it wasn’t.
The company had a major and unexpected shake-up. All of the people who kept us very busy were either let go or reassigned. We lost a huge portion of our income almost overnight. It was financially devastating because we were not prepared for it.
After that paradigm-shifting experience, we vowed we would never be that dependent on any one client or income stream again.
Truly Owning the Online Business You Build
Michael Hyatt wrote a piece in 2014 about building your online business that profoundly impacted how I do my work. He said:
What that means is that when it comes to your platform, you can’t afford to build your house on a rented lot.
In the article, he explains how algorithm changes on Facebook, Twitter, and such can drastically impact your business. If your business model depends heavily on any other platform, you are building your business on potentially shaky ground because you do not control it.
The same holds true for online businesses that have been devastated by Google algorithm updates, the most notorious of which were Panda and Penguin. I knew people who went from making thousands of dollars a month online to zilch due to one algorithm change. It can and does happen.
In the time since, we’ve seen the steady rise of deplatforming. This wasn’t really a thing in 2014, but it certainly has been the past few years. This includes social media as mentioned above as well as Instagram and YouTube. People have built YouTube followings and been demonetized or deplatformed with no recourse.
The bottom line is if you don’t control the platform, you are at the mercy of whoever does. This includes being at the mercy of the choices they make which you may not agree with.
Diversifying Your Online Income Streams
Because of my experiences, I’ve never again gone all-in on any one platform or organization. I have my own website with my own domain and hosting I pay for. I have all of my printable products on my own website in a WooCommerce shop.
I continue to research and look for additional ways to diversify my income. For example, the income related to my work online last month is coming from eight different sources. This does not include the work my husband does as well. The income he generated came from several other sources.
In this post, I will share a portion of what I’ve learned along the way these past fifteen years. If you are someone who is interested in building a small online business that is both diversified and profitable then this is for you.
Please note the word small in the post title. If you are looking to build an online empire, I’m not the person for you. My goal has never been to build a business that involves employees, travel, massive ad revenue, etc. I don’t have the time in my life to pursue something like that. My work fits in around homeschooling, homemaking, marriage, parenting, church, sleep, and trying to maintain some kind of personal life. I’m not getting rich off what I do here.
I do, however, make enough from the various income streams I’ve set up that it definitely makes a difference in our family life. It increases each year as I become more savvy and increase my skills. And, most importantly to me, it is diversified enough that while losing one stream would hurt us to varying degrees, it would not impact us in the same way losing our primary client did many years ago.
First Steps To Set Up Your Online Business
I have a category on this website where I am slowly adding posts about blogging and owning your own business. In particular, the post My Essential Blogging Tools touches on many of the important aspects of my own online business and also includes links to services and companies I use and recommend.
If I were to shorten it down to a bullet list of what I would advise you to do in order to get started, it would be this.
- Establish your own website with your own purchased domain on hosting you pay for. Do not set up your primary online presence on WordPress.com, Blogger, Wix, Shopify, Substack, Locals, Minds, Patreon, etc. You do not own them and therefore you do not control them. If you are going to invest in building something, purchase a domain and pay for your own hosting. Your own website also means you have something other than a social media page or group to depend on. I have used InMotion for hosting for reasons I explain in the essential blogging tools post. (I recently changed hosting, but it was not due to anything wrong with InMotion. I needed additional services they didn’t offer. I still highly recommend them.)
- Set up a way to collect the email addresses of people who are interested in your site. You want a way to keep in touch with people who like what you write and create. I have used many different services. I now use MailerLite. It fully integrates with WordPress and WooCommerce and provides lots of options at a great price.
- Set up an automatic off-site backup of everything you create. It isn’t enough to keep your files on a thumb drive or remote drive that sits on your desk. You MUST keep your files somewhere else such as a DropBox or other remote storage solution. I use and recommend iDrive.
If You Don’t Have Time To Do More
Even if you don’t have time right now to do more, I would still recommend buying your domain and setting up hosting. Put up a few helpful posts. (Turn off the dates so people can’t keep track of how long it’s been since you posted.) Doing this one thing gives you a place online. You have a place you own.
Your domain and website will also begin to “age” in the eyes of Google and not be brand new when you start to run with it in the future. This is important if you decide at some point you want to add AdSense or sign up for another ad service.
Even if you can only write one modest post a week, at the end of the year you will have 52 posts. One quality post a week is enough to keep your online home active.
Selling Digital Products On Your Own Website
The best way to make money and keep control over what happens with your products is by putting them on your own website. I sell my products in my WooCommerce shop. I chose to focus my efforts on sending people to my website shop via Pinterest and SEO rather than sending them to other marketplaces. In the big picture and in the long run, I wanted that link juice pointing to my website rather than other platforms. Yes, it also means I have to deal with the occasional headaches related to my own shop. But the trade-off is worth it in my opinion.
Selling via WooCommerce gives me the opportunity to block sales to particular countries or states. For example, I have a plugin that stops people from ordering in the EU so I don’t have to deal with VAT. There are also plugins available that allow you to block sales to particular states. So for sellers who are concerned about reaching a tax nexus in a particular state, it is possible to track your sales on your site and stop selling to a particular state in order to avoid reaching a nexus that year.
But perhaps the greatest advantage to opening your own shop is that you receive your money instantly and there is no fee taken out other than the percentage required by PayPal or Stripe. I have buyers dropping money into my PayPal and Stripe accounts all day, every day with my own shop. This is a huge advantage over selling on other platforms.
I am an entrepreneur so I have tried quite a few different online marketplaces over the years. Some have closed and some I chose to leave for a variety of reasons. Overall I have not personally had success with them to the point that it was worth the time to continue to add and update my products there. I have not tried platforms like Shopify because of the monthly fee and the fact that I did not want my shop to be dependent on another platform.
There are a staggering number of affiliate programs available. I could write an entire post simply about this!
The most commonly used one is Amazon because it is easy to use and everyone shops there. Amazon has changed their terms in recent years so it is much less lucrative than it was in the past. But it is still a way to add a small income stream to your online business. If you create products, teach, homeschool, or love books there are definitely ways you can link to Amazon products and try to capture affiliate revenue.
The best way to add affiliate income is to promote things you like and talk about when writing. Do a little checking and find out if your favorite online stores have an affiliate program. Does your favorite homeschool curriculum source have a program?
Affiliate income is a huge topic and there are literally thousands of companies to sign up with. It is definitely a way to add a bit more income to your life with a little effort.
People have strong opinions about advertising on blogs and websites. I have used ads and taken them off more times than I can count. It’s not an easy decision for some bloggers. Google AdSense is the easiest option and best way to go when you are starting out. Again, this could be an entire post or discussion. There are other options like Ezoic which I am now using as they have greatly improved their opportunities. You won’t make much, but if every little bit helps in your situation then by all means find an ad company to apply to and put them on your website.
If your site grows in terms of traffic, you will have the option of applying to MediaVine or AdThrive, two of the largest and best companies. However, be aware that ad revenue is down dramatically across the board and there are more changes rolling out this year regarding cookies that will make it even more challenging. That’s not to say there isn’t money to be made with ads. There is. But when you are starting out, it will be small bits here and there.
Generating income through advertising is also an option for people who want to create products and not deal with state sales tax and nexus laws. Some website owners do very well offering many free printables that generate large amounts of traffic which then translates into ad revenue.
If you are good at writing reviews or are willing to do a little learning, this can become a another income stream. You can contact companies regarding writing reviews for their products earning anywhere from fifty dollars to thousands of dollars for one post depending on the size of your readership and mailing list. If you want to pursue this, start by writing really great reviews of things you own or like so you have examples to show the companies when you send them your ideas.
Selling a Course
If you can write and produce a video course, that is an excellent opportunity for a steady income. There are many ways to create and host them so it would take some research as to what would work best for you. But once you set them up and make them available, they are there to add to your income every week as you sell them.
If you like working one-on-one with people, then offering consulting services could bring in money for your website. If you are particularly skilled and knowledgeable about a particular topic, you can offer your expertise at an hourly rate. Even just selling one consultation a week at $50 or $75 would add $200 or $300 to your family income. That can make a big difference.
There are many platforms now that offer recurring subscriptions. They include places such as Patreon, Locals, Substack, Minds, Clouthub, SubscribeStar, etc. If you can draw an audience and charge each person a small amount each month, it can bring in another source of revenue. The downside is that you are building an audience on another platform so you need to make sure you are also connecting with them in some way via your homebase website. But these services do offer another option!
Some bloggers do very well selling to their email list. They send out emails with affiliate links to services, links to their own new products, affiliate links to events, affiliate links to subscription services, etc. A mailing list can be another source of income. Don’t be shy about settling up a mailing list. This is one area where I failed early on. Don’t make my mistake.
Those are just a few ways to create income from a small profitable and diversified online business. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to use my comment area. Or keep going and check out My Essential Blogging Tools where I discuss in-depth the various services and products I use and recommend.
Lastly, if you would like professional help in setting up and/or maintaining your online presence, my husband would be happy to talk with you. David is easy to work with and very knowledgeable which you will see by the reviews we have at David and Sallie.
Best wishes as you begin your business journey!