Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, we are the husband and wife team of Steven and Jenny. We are digital nomads and run our portfolio of online businesses from outside the UK. We started our life abroad in Southern Spain and we are currently based in Andorra. We think we will end up in Portugal but we are debating a move to Asia for a bit or maybe the US or Switzerland.
In this article, we are going to tell you about one of our blogs, carblog.co.uk. This is one of several blogs we run which generate income for us and pay our basic bills. This allows us to travel and develop other businesses. The income we have earned from carblog.co.uk has varied over the 10 years we have been running the blog, sometimes we earned a lot from AdSense or direct advertising and at other times we have earned from PR articles. At the moment it generates about $870 per month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
About a decade out of university we lived in deepest darkest Yorkshire and we had a decision to make. Did we buy a bigger house in a fancier part of Yorkshire and commit to being mortgage slaves for the rest of our working lives or were we going to do something different? Mortgage slavery did not appeal to either of us so we opted for the ‘something different’ route.
We fancied living abroad, somewhere nice, hot, and sexy and we settled on the Southern coast of Spain. We identified Malaga and the international airport there as the region to focus on. We bought a rough guide and planned a three week driving holiday in which we would visit the towns and villages that were within an hour of the airport. It was one of the best holidays of our life - but that’s another story - and we identified a pretty mountain village as our new home.
OK, so now we knew where but not having won the lottery we needed to work out how to fund our alternative lifestyle. Neither of us spoke Spanish, Jenny was a UK qualified Accountant and Steven worked in business support. That didn’t exactly provide us with an obvious transferable skill set!!!
However, we had a 12-18 month plan to get us ready to move. Jenny continued to work whilst Steve gave up his job and tried to develop his hobby (the internet) into an income-generating business.
Believe it or not at the time the internet was pretty new. Steve spent most social occasions ‘educating’ his friends and family (i.e. boring them to death) about how amazing the internet was and how it would change all our lives in inconceivable ways. Most people laughed and patted him on the head (and who's laughing now?).
Steve had been writing websites for some of his business support clients for a couple of years and he had also started a couple of online businesses selling biochemicals. Now he focused on these ventures full time, building his skillset and reading constantly to learn all about the intricacies of the rapidly developing worldwide web.
Because it wasn’t clear how the internet would develop or how people would use it he decided to build a wide portfolio of possible income streams; web development, online shops, domain names, website hosting, and the very new SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). This would mean he would be learning about pretty much every area of the internet and he could grow the areas that had the most opportunity.
12 months later we sold most of our possessions, packed what remained into our VW Bora, and headed to our new townhouse in Spain. We had a small Spanish mortgage, a few grand in the bank, and a business that generated less than £1,000 a month to pay for us both. It gives me cold sweats thinking about this now but at the time it seemed like a really good idea!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Once we landed in Spain, Steve worked on getting more clients and upping his rates whilst Jenny started to teach herself all the things Steve had learned in the preceding three years. As it turned out Steve has ended up specializing in the field of SEO and Jenny focused on developing technical skills such as PHP, HTML, and WordPress development. We still have a large portfolio of different income streams.
Our SEO consultancy is now our biggest business and domain sales make uneven but worthwhile contributions to our profits. Our blogs have always steadily earned revenue which is nearly 100% profit - nothing outstanding but they generate a decent income which has paid our basic living costs. As such they have made an invaluable contribution to becoming successful digital nomads and they have remained a reliable income source for many years.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When we first emigrated from the UK we were buying and selling quite a lot of domain names. Some of the names seemed good and we decided that rather than sell them all we should develop a few ourselves. Jenny could write some content and Steve could work on the SEO aspects of the sites so that they were easy to find.
Our first blog was diy-tips.co.uk which we started in 2009 and then the following year we created carblog.co.uk. Since then, many more have followed and we now have a large portfolio covering topics in many areas from ecology to fashion and everything in between.
We started the blogs by putting up a WordPress site with a basic free template. We have an attractive logo designed for us via a site like Odesk or Fiverr. Then we wrote about 10 original and high-quality articles selected to target key terms which we knew would bring us traffic but were not overly competitive. We did some basic on-page SEO, ranking, Adsense income, and then advertising inquiries followed.
SEO was really important to us in terms of gaining traffic. Steve was already something of a specialist in this area so we were able to traction his skills to get results. It is worth noting that 10 years ago the internet landscape was very different and not as competitive. With a strong site and 10 years of history, our blog does perform well in Google and new articles benefit front of his site authority. However, this does not mean you can’t succeed with new blogs. We have started several in the last few years and they have also succeeded.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our initial plan was to earn income from our blogs via Adsense. In the early days, Adsense was simple to run and the income you earned was relatively high. Google Analytics also gave you really good data on which search terms you were getting traffic and revenue from. This information is not available anymore and Adsense has become increasingly complicated to run with rapidly diminishing revenues. Today we don’t focus on Adsense in any real way and we just earn a bit from legacy campaigns.
Luckily, about the same time Adsense started to go downhill businesses finally woke up to how crucial the internet was to them. Online marketing and SEO became a big business almost overnight and hundreds of people were on the lookout for websites on which they could publish content on or advertise.
We had established blogs in lots of areas that performed well in the search engines. We started to get lots of requests for article placements and advertising which opened up a new income stream for us replacing and surpassing what we had earned from Adsense.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today our blogs are still going strong after all these years. They tend to perform cyclically - we will get loads of action on a few blogs and then they will go quiet and then we will get action on another subset of blogs.
Search success and traffic to your blogs are entirely controlled by Google. As long as Google believes that your blog delivers read-worthy content they will continue to provide traffic and advertisers will want to work with you. However, your blog posts must be of high quality and follow Google's webmaster guidelines.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The internet is constantly changing and you can’t create a blog and then not invest time in it. Google and advertisers want to see current up to date content. Having said that you can get away with more if your blog is in a niche area.
Just remember that the internet is a competitive area and you do have to be actively maintaining your websites and developing interesting content if you want to continue to earn from your websites.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Carblog, and all our other blogs, are run on a WordPress platform. We don’t think there is better website software out there.
WordPress is easy to use, secure, and updated regularly and it has loads of quality plugins, many of them free, that will allow you to add functionality to your websites literally at the click of a button.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
For us, there isn't one or two. Google guidelines are essential reading and Google Search Console is a core tool to monitor site health and organic traffic.
We are always using online forums to help with technical queries and as a sounding board - Google has its forums and we also use digital point and Sitepoint as well as many others.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
There are countless blogs out there - in fact, millions. If you want one that is going to get real human traffic and earn you money then you have to commit time and energy to it.
You can’t just stick a couple of pages of thin, verbose content on there or pay a few people on Fiverr or similar to write interesting articles.
You should have real expertise or a passion for the topic of the blog. That way you should find writing interesting and original articles easy, possibly even enjoyable! If you are genuinely interested in your blog topic it will be a breeze finding things to retweet or share on social media.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We made the decision not to employ staff in any of our businesses to keep things simple and mobile. It's hard enough negotiating employment law and taxation in England in English the thought of trying to do it in Spanish or Catalan was too much! However, we do use contractors and we also accept high quality and unique articles on our blogs.
Sponsored posts have to pay for inclusion but budding writers who just want to be published can submit to us for free. If the article is well written and interesting then we are more than happy to publish it.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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