Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Thank you so much for having me! My name is Ryan Robinson, and I blog over at ryrob.com where I (now) mostly cover blogging & marketing related topics. I started taking my blog seriously back in 2014 (after it was originally born during a marketing class in college a few years prior), sharing my journey in building a freelance business—and it remained a side project for several years before I began working on it full-time in 2018.
Alongside my blog work, I held many day jobs working as a content marketer for some of the world’s top startups and Fortune 500 brands like LinkedIn, Intuit, CreativeLive, and others where I learned the strategies I applied to my blog at the same time.
That kind of side-by-side work was instrumental in allowing my blog to really reach its full potential, where I now see around 500,000 monthly readers and generate anywhere from $25,000 to $55,000 in revenue each month through a combination of affiliate partnerships, sponsorships, and the sale of my own digital products like courses and books.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My blog has gone through many natural evolutions over the years, which tend to always reflect where I’m at in my own evolution as a person and business owner. From day one though, my blog began as a place to share about the lessons I’d learned from starting a business in college around my product, the iStash (one of my first posts).
Thanks to a clever title, that very early writeup on my blog went viral on HackerNews, on Twitter and I saw a massive influx of readers & people wanting to engage with me about business. It was in that moment that the idea of building a community around my blog was born—and that I could probably create a pretty cool business around sharing my own journey through the various side projects I wanted to pursue. My content topics today really continue reflecting that die-hard, open transparency to my audience and I’ve benefited immensely from creating those kinds of deep bonds with my community.
I’ll note here too that keeping my blog as a side project for a very long time while I padded my savings was instrumental in planning an eventually sustainable leap. Despite the fact that it would’ve been possible to make a full go of my blog for a couple of years before I finally made the jump, I benefited immensely by not having as much of a financial crunch to worry about once I did go out on my own—and that’s something I firmly believe has allowed me to continue creating much of my best work. Hence why I’m such an advocate of growing your business on the side for as long as you can handle it.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
It’s borderline embarrassing to showcase what my blog looked like in its infancy, but here we go:
When I first got started with publishing content on my blog, I honestly didn’t know what I was doing—at least not in the sense that I’ve learned through nearly a decade of experience since. I had a story to tell, lessons I’d learned from previous jobs (and businesses of my own)—and I wanted to share that with people who were trying to figure out how to acquire customers online for their own enterprises.
From day one, my blog has lived on WordPress. Upon the recommendation of a friend in the digital marketing space, I bought the OptimizePress WordPress theme and dedicated dozens of hours to learning the ins & outs of how I could customize the look and feel of my site. All the while, I began sharing stories of the lessons I’d learned in my previous businesses through long-form articles that also had a keyword focus to them—to rank well in organic Google search results over time.
Guest blogging is so great because you’re not only acquiring a quality link from a more established website, but you’re also creating an opportunity for short-term traffic spikes and building what could be a long-term relationship with someone who will likely be in your niche for many years to come.
I was fortunate enough to see a few of my articles get a lot of traction in niche communities like Inbound.org and Growth Hackers (which were big in the marketing space at the time) and that led to opportunities for me to write guest posts for notable brands in my industry like Buffer, very early on in my blogging career.
Before I knew it, some of my articles were being syndicated to major publications like Inc Magazine and I started developing strong relationships that eventually led to contributor columns on sites like Forbes, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and Fast Company. Publishing regularly on those high authority platforms helped solidify my brand, build priceless credibility and attract a lot of quality links to my site that’d prop up the organic rankings of my content for years to come.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I’d consider the formal launch of my business to be the day I started truly monetizing my growing audience by selling my very first online course in 2017. It was called 30 Days to Validate (since retired) and was based on teaching a validation framework I’d followed in launching my previous businesses over the years.
The launch was shockingly successful for my first product launch to an audience I wasn’t used to selling to, netting around $25,000 in sign-ups during my first few months of sales.
From there, I continued working down the path of publishing long-form content on my blog (to attract large audiences) and developing companion online courses that could take the learnings a level deeper through a combination of video instruction, more in-depth written lectures, expert interviews, tool discounts, and members-only extras. That’s really been the core foundation of my business model for several years now.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
To this day, I’m still strongest at my ability to quickly write high-impact, long-form blog content that can rise the ranks of organic Google search results in a matter of months for the target keywords I want to go after. Of course, there’s some variability on how long it’ll take me to crack the top spots for hyper-competitive search terms, but experience has taught me that just about anything is possible with enough time and promotion work.
Guest blogging has been hands down the absolute best, repeatable strategy I’ve used to get meaningful results for my content over the years. I have an in-depth guide that explains my exact process over on my blog, right here. The short of why guest blogging is so great is that you’re not only acquiring a quality link from a more established website, but you’re also creating an opportunity for short-term traffic spikes and building what could be a long-term relationship with someone who will likely be in your niche for many years to come. Some of my best creative partnerships have come from those friendships that started with a cold email pitch to a guest post.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The primary focus of my blog today is on the diversification of traffic and revenue streams. For the first many years with my blog, I leaned very heavily into my greatest strengths of long-form content and high organic search rankings.
While that’s still my #1 way of bringing a steady stream of readers and customers to my site, the constant Google algorithm core updates do send spikes in volatility a little too often these days, so I’m working hard to lay foundations for other traffic sources like YouTube and Twitter to keep a more balanced diet of incoming traffic.
The same goes for revenue from my blog. Due to the nature of the content topics that really took off the quickest on my blog (like my guide about how to start a blog), I very naturally scaled my affiliate revenue to pretty insane heights in a short period of time. Now, I’m rebalancing my efforts to diversify my income through more of my own flagship courses and books that’ll be coming out in 2021, while still working with the occasional larger-ticket sponsor when the right kinds of win-win deals come along.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Absolutely. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned (and still sometimes re-learn) is that pursuing an opportunity solely for the financial benefit it could have, just doesn’t work for me.
Get started and carve out as much time as you reliably can, to begin building your craft, connecting with your future audience, learning about them, and solving the challenges they’re telling you they have.
I know that kind of motivation can work for some people at some times in their lives, but it took me a while throughout my 20s to come to the clear realization that I have to stay very closely connected to my purpose for why I started my blog in the first place—to genuinely, authentically help people to achieve similar goals that I’ve been fortunate enough to do myself.
Today, I’m able to stay very tuned into when an opportunity doesn’t perfectly align with my purpose, whether it be a blog post topic, partnership, product I could build, or otherwise. I truly believe that solidifying this principle for yourself is a necessary foundation for long-term success and interest in your business for the many years to come… when you’ll undoubtedly experience ups and downs. Understanding and nurturing that deeper purpose is what will keep your effort sustained through the darker times.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My entire business revolves around my blog, and WordPress is the backbone of powering that. I owe a lot of what I’ve been able to do over the years to the incredible team at Automattic that maintains such a powerful open-source tool for people around the world. They deserve a lot of praise for that important work!
Beyond that, I’d give a shoutout to ConvertKit because they’ve been instrumental in not only empowering me to monetize my audience but also (through their founder, Nathan) in teaching me many of the foundational authentic strategies that were informed how I choose to work with my audience to release products & services that benefit them in a way that’s meaningful to their lives and goals.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Oh wow, I’m an avid reader! This collection of business books will always remain near and dear to me, but I’m also a huge fan of the 99% Invisible podcast with Roman Mars because it’s not strictly “business,” yet they really strive to cover deeply important stories in a unique fashion that makes listeners want to think outside of the box too.
I draw a lot of inspiration today from non-business oriented content, where I tend to find a lot of deeper insights than in your typical “make money” kinds of books.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Taking the first step and just starting to write and publish content regularly on your blog is by far the best thing you can do. Most new bloggers psyche themselves out of making a habit of writing and publishing—some out of a desire for perfection before hitting publish (which I hate to burst your bubble, will never be attained!), others out of the fear of being judged, for reasons of time constraints or otherwise.
My best advice is to just get started and carve out as much time as you reliably can, to begin building your craft, connecting with your future audience, learning about them, and solving the challenges they’re telling you they have. Do that well over the course of days, weeks, months, and I can all but guarantee you measurable results that’ll set your blog down the right path. Check out more of my blogging advice (and pointers from the world’s top bloggers) here.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m always looking to connect with talented writers to help scale my content production and SEO professionals that can help me stay ahead of the curve.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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