Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I’m Zack Nicholas - I run a martial arts and fitness blog.
While my day job was still in IT, I was always passionate about fitness and martial arts which started with boxing and weightlifting then went on to include wrestling, Muay Thai, and eventually Brazilian jiu jitsu.
My dad initially got me into weightlifting through his passion for bodybuilding, and soon after I got into boxing and karate. Since I was a tall, lanky (and unconfident) teenager I needed all the help I could get!
I soon found some confidence in self-improvement and my progress in martial arts, however little progress it may be. I learned quickly that the more time I spent training or learning, the quicker I improved. This is a lesson that I brought with me into creating my own business in the form of a niche blog on martial arts and fitness.
While my blog, heavybjj.com, has only just hit the 1-year mark, I am currently set to make ~$500 a month through ad revenue and affiliate marketing (mostly Amazon affiliate marketing, and referrals through other martial arts gear and apparel brands).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I felt I was always very disciplined in my hobbies and passions, but I always struggled with bringing that same discipline and passion to my day job.
During college, I chose a safe major in Information Technology (IT). I thought that I would be able to get a decent job after college and begin paying back my school loans.
However, I always found the dream of working remotely for myself and being able to travel whenever I wanted extremely alluring. So I began toiling away at a help desk job in IT and began slowly working up the ranks in my career. Eventually, I found a position as an IT manager at a small health firm. I liked the people I worked with, and I didn’t find the day-to-day work too stressful or taxing.
I was making ~$85k a year at my IT job which was a solid wage even considering the higher cost of living in California. It was during this time that I thought “Is this it? “Should I just work this IT job until I retire and then begin enjoying my life?” (a common and cliche scenario for many, I know)
I had so many hobbies and passions (like fitness and martial arts), but I just didn’t know how to make them profitable.
I knew if I just had an idea or small side hustle I could be disciplined enough to work at it every day…I just didn’t know what it could be.
Enter my friend from my hometown back in New Jersey. We caught up when I was back visiting family for the holidays. Throughout our catchup chat, he kept mentioning that he runs a site that makes him 3 thousand dollars a month, and he has to do very minimal work on it.
I dismissed this notion as something I could do myself as most do when they come across an idea worthwhile. It wasn’t until a month or two later that my job increased my duties since we were understaffed, and I began looking for a way out.
I reached out to my friend, and he sent me some basic info about how he started his blog and the overall blogging process. Intoxicating flashes of a future where I don’t have to answer to a boss came to me over and over again.
The only issue he said is that you’ll have to work on this site for about a year until you’ll begin to see any revenue at all, and that, generally, most sites “pop” at the 2-year mark when real revenue begins to come in. I didn’t care - I was motivated and passionate and already knew what my blog topic would be.
With blogging and starting a new site, you, generally, have to wait ~8 months until you start to see any real traffic come in.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
So I started my martial arts and fitness blog named heavybjj.com. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) was and still is one of my most passionate hobbies. After training in BJJ for over 5 years, I knew I could provide some value and insight to those who were interested in starting the martial art or who may have just started.
BJJ has an extremely tough learning curve and a high dropout rate, but if people just stick with it, after a couple of months they often get addicted since it involves intense problem-solving, and learning, and has some very clear rewarding highs and frustrating lows.
I began writing down a basic plan for my blog with probably close to 100 blog post topics that I could hit. Topics and questions that I knew about and questions that I had when I first started BJJ.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After I accumulated almost a dozen posts in google docs. I felt confident to go live and start my site.
It was at this point that I worked closely with my friend to get a better understanding of SEO, blog topics, categories, formatting posts, and content creation.
So I laid out a couple of hundred dollars to pay for:
- the site domain name
- domain email
- WordPress theme
- (and other monthly subscriptions like Canva)
It probably all accumulated to ~$200-300 dollars which is an extremely low startup cost when compared to other businesses. It can probably even be lower too.
Finally, I created a plan for myself to hit a certain amount of posts per week. Within this plan, I tried to create routine habits during my weekdays and weekends.
It’s not to say that I hit the exact goals that I set out for myself, but I was still making some solid progress (even though it doesn’t feel like that in the beginning).
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Again, with blogging and starting a new site, you, generally, have to wait ~8 months until you start to see any real traffic come in. Those first 6 months or so can be dark for some since you are spending so much time writing posts, and you aren’t sure if anyone will ever read them or if it's all just a waste of time.
I know on weekends the first thing I have to do in the morning is work on my site. I drink some water, grab my coffee and sit at my desk - ideally, finishing a post before breakfast.
Luckily, I didn’t let these thoughts creep in too often and kept my head down and continues to write more posts expanding to:
- fitness topics (like weight lifting and dieting)
- muay thai
Below is a screenshot of my Google Analytics from the start (July 5th, 2022) to today (June 18th, 2023):
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
At this time, I am pretty excited about where the site is at. I make the majority of my monthly income from Amazon affiliate products related to martial arts gear and apparel and some income from running ads from Ezoic.
This month I should hit $500 from both affiliate and ad revenue.
I am looking to continue to expand the blog in clusters to hopefully hit every popular martial art as well as mixed martial arts (MMA and UFC).
While I still have my IT job, the goal for me right now is to continue growing the site, optimizing content creation, and eventually leave my job in 1-2 years.
At the two-year mark of the site (July 2024), I’m hoping to make 5,000 dollars a month which would more than replace my current IT salary.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
For me, creating daily habits and routines has been the most beneficial for my productivity.
For example, I know on weekends the first thing I have to do in the morning is work on my site. I drink some water, grab my coffee and sit at my desk - ideally, finishing a post before breakfast (...whether breakfast happens at 9 AM or noon will, of course, depend on the post).
I wish I had something less cliche to say but for anyone starting their own business, I’d recommend just keep grinding, reward yourself, and look back at all the progress you’ve made.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The tools I use for my site are mostly:
Mediavine (word press theme)
Discord (for chatting with friends and other blog-focused communities)
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Hmm, that's a tough one. I enjoy fiction books, but if I had to pick some books that have personally helped me they would be:
- Atomic Habits
- Think and Grow Rich
(I know this is a classic and a lot of it may not pertain to today, but I fondly remember drinking coffee and reading this book and letting my mind daydream about small businesses to start. So for me, it inspired.)
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The biggest advice I can provide is to find someone or reach out to someone who has experience or success in a certain area. While many people can just dive right into the unknown of starting their own business or side hustle, I needed clear and direct proof that a side hustle will work.
My friend showed me his financial figures, and how much he was making each month so I would be a fool to ignore them.
Another general tip is to know your strengths and weaknesses. Not in a job interview type of way, but try to figure out what you’re good at.
For me personally, I knew that:
-I get obsessed with a hobby and am willing to work hard at it day in and day out
-I wasn’t passionate about working for someone else and didn’t do well with negative reinforcement or intense pressure.
Finally, I would sit back and think about what you wouldn’t mind doing day to day for work, and what you would dislike doing for work.
For me, I knew that:
- I wanted to be remote
- I didn’t want to answer a boss
- I wanted to make my schedule
- I wanted minimal interaction with customers
If I just found a profitable side hustle that fits all of those, I would be disciplined enough to work at it every day. For me, blogging hit all of those.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Right now, I’m probably looking for a blog writer, and ideally, someone who can help me manage the site and handle things like:
- updating posts
- formatting posts
I’ve found that I spend most of my time editing and updating posts so I’m always looking for someone who is an excellent writer and editor who can help out.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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