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Seven Silly Ways I Made Money On The Internet

We live in this really weird time in history where there is real life money to be made in the ether (i.e. the internet). I’ve been looking into (and trying) different things over the course of the last few years and I thought it would be fun to do a post about the weirdest ways I’ve made money online. (This is almost like a part two to my Thoughts On Passive Income post a couple months back.)

Seven Extra Moneymakers (With At Least An Online Component)

I sold a stock photo on Twenty20 for $2.

I take tons of pictures on my iPhone so for fun this summer, I uploaded a bunch of my nature shots (you need releases if you put photos of people online)… and proceeded to forget entirely that I did this.

Then I got this email…

As you see, this isn’t the most stunning photo ever taken. But someone still bought it, even after I’d forgotten it was for sale.

I told people to sell their extra jewlery on Worthy.com.

One of my friends got divorced several years ago. To give her a hand, I offered to shop it around to local jewelry shops. They all offered me less than $100 (I had the original paperwork for the $2000+ ring) so I held onto it. Then I saw Worthy.com and decided I had nothing to lose so I sent her ring in… And got her $600 for it.

Since then, I’ve told a few other people to do this (via an affiliate link) and have made $50. Note: they did not accept my engagement ring because it was too common of a style so I ended up going through a local jewelry store. In other words, look online and real life if you are trying to find the best price for your jewelry.



I wrote reviews on Capterra.com. 

You know, as much as I’d love to write reviews all day for free for giant corporations, I don’t typically. But if someone’s willing to pay $10 for my opinion on Quickbooks or Dropbox or whatever, I’m fine writing up a detailed review of my years of experience with it. Occasionally Capterra offers $10/review for up to 5 reviews. So I wrote 5 reviews and got $50 in Amazon gift cards. Think about it, Capterra owns my review and can use the content in marketing or for resale on their site so I don’t feel bad getting money in exchange for adding to their database of information.

Note: if you are a small business that I have a good experience with, I’m happy to leave a review gratis.

I am an Airbnb Superhost.

We could say I didn’t choose the Airbnb life, it chose me. I will say having people constantly in your living space can be a little draining (insert high strung dog and demanding day jobs for additional consideration) but it has been a good way to help pay my rent and generate some additional income for my landlord and myself. If you find yourself in Bar Harbor this summer and  want to check out the Golden Girl Palace (long story) for yourself, come on over. 

Airbnb is the largest paying part of the sharing economy. Click here to learn more.

I rent out my projector/screen setup.

My budget for starting Breaking Even was about $10,000. I used $1000 of this to buy a nice LCD projector and screen setup. I was doing a lot of presentations and was getting tired of relying on the venue’s technology. Then I met other people who needed stuff (most of what we rent this out for is family reunions and weddings with an occasional business presentation and kid’s birthday party). We rent it out for $50/day which includes any needed dongles/Mac converters, extension cords, table to set it on, etc. I estimate we rent it 3-5 times a year so we’ve more than paid back the initial investment, plus it’s a benefit we can offer our coworking space members.



I hosted an amateur comedy night.

I’ve been wanting to try standup comedy for awhile so I made a plan to really do it. When I realized I had to travel 4 hours and miss two work days to do it, I figured I had to host something local first to see if I liked it.

So I contacted a local venue and asked if they’d be up for it. We could charge a small cover, which would cover my time to organize and run the thing (and my help with marketing) and they could sell food and drink. So I made a Facebook event and talked about it a little online and then showed up that night and ran the event for two hours. It went great and I walked away with $300 in covers.

I guess the moral is, if you want to do something, see if you can find a way to do it in a low risk way and partner with a venue that has a complimentary audience.

I made and sold courses on Teachable.

You too can buy my SEO course or my online shopping card course! Basically, if you are a consultant type (or heck, any industry where people have to like you to do business with you) an online course is a low risk way for prospective clients to try you out. Plus if you naturally like public speaking (see amateur comedy night), it’s not that much of a stretch. I will, however, be moving these courses to my own domain to avoid the monthly fee, now that I know people are theoretically interested in them.



I’m not including my ‘passive’ income experiments here.

A couple months ago, I did an experiment where I did much more than this stuff. I took surveys, I joined Amazon Mechanical Turks, Google Adsense… You name it, I spent a month trying anything anyone considered passive income. It did make me some money but not a ton (See this post for more information.)

The thing with any of this online money making stuff is you have to understand:

  1. There is a learning curve, during which you clearly aren’t earning money.
  2. It’s not any money I can count on (at least for now) because it’s so variable. For example, I might sell 10 SEO courses one month and 0 the next month.
  3. Most things start online but have an offline component to be truly successful. If you want to sit in your basement and not talk to anyone and be completely anonymous, the reality is very few online opportunities will exist for you.

Now I could do more to expand these. For example, I keep meaning to email all the local caterers and other event venues about our technology setup so they could upsell/rent it for their events. I could get multiple peoples’ jewelry and shop it around for them. In other words, any of these things could bring in more money if I let them… but since most of them happened by accident, I am only thinking of these ideas now.

In other words, as long as you treat online income as a fun experiment that may or may not make you money, you’ll be able to do these (or others) with a spirit of fun and excitement (versus desperation and drudgery). You might not be able to quit your day job, but at least you can get random emails in the middle of the day that will notify you that you made a couple unexpected dollars while you were doing other things.



Thoughts on Google AdSense

After starting up my own personal blog, I started thinking about ways to make it a bit of a side hustle (oh, and Side Hustle School was inspiring as well). One of the ideas that kept coming up was Google AdSense, a way to display ads on your website.

The whole moral dilemma of whether or not to place ads on my blog is something I’ve grappled with and is ultimately a personal choice. Maybe someday I’ll decide to go back to being ad-free, but for now, I’m intrigued to see how lucrative this might be (for a fairly small website, I’m not anticipating a full paycheck but some rainy day funds would be cool).

The thing about AdSense — as with a lot of things pertaining to Google — is that a) it changes every so often, and b) you don’t necessarily have a lot of control over it.



To get started, you need a website, a Google account, and to visit Google AdSense. Fill out some preliminary information (name, website, etc), and Google will give you a code to copy and paste in your website’s header (don’t worry — they have some tutorials to help). Then, Google will ask you to confirm that the code is ready so they can “review your site.” Although Google tells you the review process can take up to 3 days, I heard back within day 1.

After that, you get taken to this lovely-looking dashboard.



So Google AdSense offers a few different displaying options for the ads. The relatively easy ones to add are Text & Display ads, In-Feed, and In-Article.

In-Feed and In-Article Ads are the ones you’ll see in between a list (feeds) or paragraphs (article). Arguably these are less distracting to your readers, but I have been confused by them before.

My first ad was a Text & Display Ad. This type of ad is probably the easiest with which to get started since all you have to do is copy and paste the code and add it … wherever! I chose to put my first one in my site’s sidebar, but I can play around with it or add more ads later. Sure, you could shove an ad in your footer, but the point is for people to see/click on it, so placement is important. It’s a fine line between putting it somewhere that isn’t completely annoying but remains somewhat attention grabbing.

This is what it looked like on the front end of my site. Yay Birchbox!

Other types of ads are Page Level ads. Anchor ads appear at the very bottom of a mobile screen, while vignette ads will appear while pages are still loading on your website. Quickstart ads are for both desktop and mobile. This cluster of ads will only appear on your website or a page on your website a) once you have added the code in the right spot and b) whenever Google thinks it’s a good time to show them. Meaning, Page Level Ads appear entirely at Google’s discretion.

Some things to keep in mind if you’re considering using AdSense:

  • If you’re a control-freak, this might not be a good option. While you can limit where the ads appear, you don’t necessarily get to control what’s being advertised (you can set up some restrictions, but this is another “Google decides” thing).
  • You may have to deal with code. Getting page-level ads to display on my website was a bit of a hassle because I had no idea where I was supposed to add the code. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who have decided to share their wisdom with the internet, so I figured it out with some research.
  • Once it’s set up, it seems fairly easy. Like anything, I’m sure I could do more, crazier things to optimize my Google AdSense. If you’re just looking to set something up and “coast” for a bit, that’s totally an option as well. (Keep in mind, Google likes to change things up every now and then so you may have to revisit every so often).



How Do Mom Bloggers Make Money?

Until recently, I was under the impression that most moms who blogged did it just to hear themselves talk. But now that I have my own personal blog and will soon be a mother, I’m realizing that isn’t the case at all.

Most mom bloggers are actually making money with their blog. Plus, it allows them to stay at home most of the time, do something they enjoy, and raise their kids. I definitely see the benefits.

These women may also be looking to make some money during maternity leave, which is not always paid for in the U.S. (I just read an interesting article about women who are using crowdfunding to allow them to go on maternity leave without worrying about money).



But how does a mom blogger make money? There are a few different options:

Ads. Back in the day of mom-blog Dooce, bloggers made a good chunk of money using banner ads. This article explains why that became basically extinct as a money making option, thanks to the rise of mobile.

Today, tools such as Google AdSense, BlogHer, and Media.net work as middlemen, connecting you to companies looking to advertise. The flipside, especially when using tools like Google Adsense, is that you’re at the mercy of how they decide to set up the advertising. For example, Google Adsense just gives you a code to copy and paste into your website’s header. You don’t have any customization options (or any control over whether Google decides to display any ads at all).

Want to learn more about the different types of online ads in detail? Check out our Online Ads 101 blog post series!

Sponsored Posts. Sponsored posts have become popular in recent years with mom bloggers looking to generate income. The posts usually are formulated after a larger brand connects with a blogger to create some sort of offer, in exchange for product/service promotion. A lot of these brands also have programs that bloggers and others can apply to participate.

Most sponsored post bloggers are paid to write the post (which may have to meet certain rules/guidelines), no matter how many sales are generated afterward. Many bloggers will disclose to readers at the beginning of the blog post if it is sponsored (some consider this a matter of ethics). This article explains that a sponsored post’s primary goal is brand awareness; actual sales are secondary.

Aforementioned mom blogger from Dooce discusses her personal reasons for not going the sponsorship route: “The problem is I have to give my readers what they want, I have to give the brand what they want, and I have to be authentic to who I am.” Pleasing everyone in this instance can be tricky, and it makes sense that this model is not for everyone.



Affiliates. Affiliate programs’ monetary arrangements differ from sponsored posts. The blogger is usually given a specific link or code for their readers, and if someone makes a purchase within a certain timeframe (often 7-28 days), the blogger gets a certain percent of the sale.

This might be more mutually beneficial because payment only occurs when a purchase is made. The blogger may also have a bit more freedom when it comes to sharing the affiliate link.

As with a sponsored post, the writer could create one or more posts dedicated to the affiliate brand, sharing the unique offer at the end of the post. If that feels uncomfortable, they could also create a widget/button on their website that links to the affiliate. Another idea for multiple affiliates is to create a landing page of all affiliate websites (which more or less just shoves them all in the same area).  As long as the blogger is within the guidelines of the affiliate program, there can be more wiggle room in how it’s marketed.

Another idea for multiple affiliates is to create a landing page of all affiliate websites (which more or less just shoves them all in the same area).  As long as the blogger is within the guidelines of the affiliate program, there can be more wiggle room in how it’s marketed.

Creating a Product/Service. This involves a more active approach to generating income, meaning there has to be some product or service offered to readers. In order to make it profitable, the readers, in turn, have to perceive the product as something valuable.

In this Penny Hoarder article, mom blogger Suzi Whitford discusses how she gave up her engineering job to be a stay at home mom, but still wanted to contribute in order to offset household expenses. So she started her version of a lifestyle blog, but with a spin (honestly, I think this could easily be an episode of Side Hustle School). She first created an ebook to help people start their own blogs, and later created online courses. People could purchase these on her website.

There are plenty of options for mom or other lifestyle bloggers when it comes to making money. Part of the decision-making process is knowing what type of experience you want to provide readers (i.e. if you want them to experience an ad-free website), and being clear about your mission.

Stay tuned for more posts about mom blogs and bloggers coming this month!



Courting Controversy

A few major brands have waded into some controversial waters lately, leveraging our current national discord in order to send what is hoped to be a positive message. The results have been all over the map. Here are three recent examples:

    1. Budweiser, Born the Hard Way”

Described as “the story of our founder’s ambitious journey to America in pursuit of his dream: to brew the King of Beers,” this cinematic Super Bowl commercial drew criticism from certain folks for a perceived pro-immigrant bias, especially given that it was released around the same time the president issued an executive order regarding immigration. The hashtag #boycottbudwiser (sic) started circulating before the commercial even aired.

However, as Mashable notes the boycott largely failed, in that “The boycotters … missed the larger historical context of the Budweiser ad.”



      1. Pepsi, “Live For Now”

      What can be said about this ad that hasn’t already been said? Pepsi and Jenner were raked over the coals by, well, everyone, including SNL:

      The biggest complaint was that ad was tone-deaf in how it co-opped imagery from Black Lives Matter and other earnest political movements. The thinking that beautiful people drinking sugary beverages will solve the world’s problems is also flawed. In any event, “Live For Now” didn’t live for long. Pepsi wisely yanked the ad a day after its release.

  1. 3. Heineken, “Worlds Apart”

OK, so, if we take the lessons learned from both Budweiser and Pepsi, the message seems to be: Stay away from topical material to avoid ridicule and boycotts. But then along comes Heineken with this ad that takes a huge risk and somehow manages to pull it off.

Writing for The A.V. Club,Gwen Ihnat notes that by using real people, as opposed to models and actors, Heineken “very simply and succinctly accomplishes what Jenner and all those hundreds of Pepsi street-activist extras could not.”

Heineken’s strategy isn’t exactly new, argues Sarah Rense in this piece by Esquire: “It uses the reliable trope of Real People seeing something and/or someone for the first time, and then having their minds changed, mixed with a healthy dose of social awareness.” Rense also notes that, in the wake of the Pepsi debacle, Heineken had a low bar to clear: “By itself, it’s just an ad meant to sell a thing. But compared to the Pepsi ad, it deserves a Cannes Lion. Makes you smile a bit, too.”

Tapping into a nation’s divisions to sell fizzy beverages isn’t necessarily groundbreaking. Coke may have done it first with “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” way back in 1971.

Horribly cheesy? Yes. A cynical attempt to use flower children to sell soda? Yeah, probably. Offensive? Well, I didn’t see anyone in riot gear, so not really. Actually, the jingle was so successful that it was reworked into a full length song and became a hit on the Billboard charts.

I’m going to end this by recalling an earlier BEC post from 2016 regarding ethics in marketing.

In that post, we outlined a few steps on how to be ethical in marketing: Do the research, Be objective, Be the good, and Get better. We can also cull one other lesson in marketing the Heineken ad: Take the time to get it right. This is doubly true if you’re using a societal issue to spread specific message.



Online Reviews: An Introduction

Last year, I packed up my family and moved us to a new apartment, a process I liken to having a root canal, only with less sitting, fewer painkillers and far more cursing. I hired movers for the job, and was pretty impressed with their humor, chill attitude, and the fact that one of the guys kept right on working despite needing to bandage a wound on his palm with paper towel and duct tape.

Yes, I tipped, but then they told me that if I was really happy to give them a review on Facebook. This was a first for me, but it made sense. This was a Maine micro business at its core, just starting out. Online reviews were pretty critical in generating good word-of-mouth.

Making your own business available to online reviews is a double-edged sword. The folks at Yelp acknowledge this on their guidelines for responding to reviews: “Negative reviews can feel like a punch in the gut. We care deeply about our business too, and it hurts when someone says bad things about our business. For you founders and sole proprietors out there, a negative review can even feel like a personal attack.”

Sometimes a business can do everything right, but there may be no pleasing a customer who has had a terrible day, perhaps because he’s just spent the entire week DRIVING AROUND A MOVING VAN THAT GETS 5 MILES TO THE GALLON AND WOULD IT HAVE KILLED YOU TO INCLUDE THE EXTRA SAUCE IN HIS TAKE OUT ORDER LIKE HE ASKED?!?! ONE STAR!!!!!!!!

Sorry about that flashback.



The point being, is it worth buying into online ads? Yes, but it takes courage.

Unlike traditional print reviews written by critics, online reviews keep coming, and coming and coming, so long as internet-savvy folks keep using your products or services. The advantage of this is that each day is another day to get it right, to improve your weaknesses and build upon your strengths. Here are a few more popular choices to get you started in this brave new world:

Yelp is enormously popular, having garnered more than 115 million reviews last year. Making money off ad revenue, Yelp is free for both the business itself and for consumers. Seemingly everything — from local restaurants to doctors, from prisons to showgirl supply stores — gets reviewed through their website or mobile app.

The company uses an algorithm to  weed out fake reviews or reviews written by owners about their own businesses. Yelp’s relations with small businesses hasn’t always been rosy, as owners have complained that the algorithm weeds out positive review and leaves negative ones. Yelp admits its algorithm isn’t perfect, but the company has become so ubiquitous, so popular since its 2004 founding that utilizing Yelp makes still makes sense.

Facebook reviews are a pretty organic extension of your existing business’s page. And it makes all the sense in the world to utilize this free service. As we’ve noted before, 79 percent of American adults who use the Internet use Facebook.

Like Yelp, you can respond to reviews positive and negative. Search Engine Journal also notes that Facebook reviews will be giving Yelp a run for its money, in part, because Facebook is already integral to our everyday lives: “Facebook is a platform that nearly everyone uses on a daily basis. We use it to document our lives, connect with friends through Messenger and check into businesses. It’s the one-stop shop for us to get everything we need to get done, from collecting information about our friends, finding news and stories to read and to watch cat videos.”

Google, like Facebook, is seemingly everywhere. Similarly, it only makes sense to integrate product and service reviews with the search engine giant, especially considering how powerful and important Google Maps has become for finding, well, anything.

Our theme for February is “Loving Your Favorite Businesses Online.” Leaving a review, whether on Yelp, Facebook, Google, or elsewhere, is one way to give a business a boost. Stay tuned for other ways you can share the love this month!



Facebook Live And Facebook Ads: An Experiment

Rumor has it that advertising/boosting Facebook Live videos is less expensive and more beneficial than other types of Facebook Ads.

Of course, we wouldn’t just rely on a rumor. So we ran a little experiment where we boosted two posts (a Facebook Live video and a blog post we wrote) with the same amount of money for the same seven day period. (Like any good experiment, you should only change one variable at a time!)

facebookadvideooutcomes

 

facebookadvideooutcomes2



Some interesting things we can see right away.

  1. The blog post I promoted wasn’t styled sexy. I could have worked a little harder to make it visually compelling, especially for mobile.
  2. The video got way more direct engagement (clicks) and reach (views) than the other post.
  3. The blog post got more comments and shares, which we could argue is more ‘deep’ than someone liking or viewing.
  4. We didn’t use tracking links or any real call to action (ex: email newsletter signup) to see if these drove actual business. So not an entirely amazing experiment on all fronts.

One experiment can’t definitively prove anything, but our results show that Facebook is making Live video ads a cheaper prospect to those willing to give them a shot. (I will say, it is cool Facebook let’s you pick your thumbnail; don’t settle for the one they give you!).

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