Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a little skeptical about making easy money online. The people who say it is easy are generally trying to sell you something. I have found someone that is proving me wrong. Pat Flynn created a $200,000 a year passive income stream in a few short months. It now takes less than 15 minutes a day to maintain. Pat offers extensive details into his business and his advice for online entrepreneurs in this interview.
Please tell us a little about your background.
Before we start, I just wanted to say thanks for the opportunity to share my story with you and your readers. Looking back, I never would of fathomed the idea of anyone interviewing me about anything, unless it was for a job interview or something like that. I am deeply humbled, and I hope I can provide you with some inspiring and useful answers.
My background is actually in the field of architecture. I went to school at the University of California at Berkeley and graduated with a B.A. in Architecture in 2005. I immediately began working for an amazing architecture firm in Northern California, doing a lot of CAD design and planning for multi-million dollar projects. I soon moved to Southern California, and worked in a branch office of the same company. Work was great, life was good, no complaints.
My plan at this time was to become as educated as possible in the field so I could eventually become a project manager and possibly start my own firm. It had been a life long dream of mine to start my own business, so I was really into getting ahead in my career so I could reach this goal as soon as humanly possible. Part of this plan included passing the LEED exam, which is an exam that is administered by the United States Green Building Council, who created LEED to steer people in the architecture and building industry toward designing green, sustainable and environmentally friendly buildings. My guess is that you’ve never heard of this program before, but they are doing wonderful things to make our world a better place.
So, without any intention of making money online or sharing my information with people, I used a blog to electronically write my study notes for this exam. Day after day, I’d organize my thoughts into blog posts, with certain categories and tags to keep track of everything for me. I’m really into being efficient with my time, so I would study from my online notes during my lunch hour, or during my breaks at my job. Needless to say, this helped me tremendously, and I ended up passing the exam. I was super stoked to hopefully work on some sustainable buildings in the near future.
And this is where my story really begins…
How did you get started with your online marketing ventures?
Life is funny.
Right when you believe things are going well, life can throw you a curve ball and things can go down the tube rather quickly. Like a head on collision at the peak of a hill, I was laid off from a job that I really did love.
It just didn’t feel right.
I put in so much hard work just to be let go. I don’t blame myself, or even my company, because soon after I was let go, the branch office folded and everyone was let go too. There are just times like this when you cannot control these kinds of things, and this was one of them.
I was devastated, but I soon realized that crying about it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. It wasn’t going to get my job back, it wasn’t going to pay me a salary, and it wasn’t going to help pay for my wedding that was less than 6 months away. I had to figure something out.
I went back to my blog that I created for my exam notes, and after some investigation, I noticed that a few hundred people a day from all around the world were visiting my blog. I didn’t even know it, but Google had picked up my notes, and when people searched for tips to help them study for the exam, they found my site. I had learned through some podcasts I listened to (on my commute to work), that doing business on the internet could be very fulfilling, and it was indeed possible to make a living online. So, I decided to go full force with my “notes site”, and turn it into a full-fledged LEED exam prep business: GreenExamAcademy.com. I made it my goal to provide people with an easy, organized, and helpful website to make passing the LEED exam much easier, and less of a headache for people.
When I look back and think about my lay off, it was actually one of the best things that could ever happen. A blessing in disguise.
You made more than $200,000 last year, please tell us how.
Most of my income came directly from my exam website. I had started off monetizing it using Adsense, then I moved into selling advertising space, and eventually I created my own information products, such as eBooks and Audio Guides, which skyrocketed my income. There are a few reasons why I think my business performed as well as it did:
1) First, because I had published my notes online, Google picked them up and I ranked really high for keywords relative to this niche. I spent zero dollars in advertising, since most of my traffic came from organic searches in Google and by word of mouth. Lesson: post keyword rich articles and blog posts related to your niche, and people will eventually find you and what you have to offer.
2) Secondly, because I had really good free content that was published frequently, I became an “authority” in this niche, meaning – I had become the “go-to” person for any exam help people needed. Because I was an authority, when I came out with my eBook and Audio Guides, they weren’t hard to sell. As you can see, it’s not that difficult to become an authority. I wasn’t an expert, but because I had published great content about a particular subject, I became the expert. It takes time and dedication, but those are two things I had with this website because it was something I was very passionate about.
3) Lastly, I believe that the more you can help others, the more successful and profitable you will be. My primary intention for this website was not to make as much money as possible, but rather to help as many people as possible. I knew that if I could do that, good karma would come my way, and I would be able to make a living as a result. Helping people is what I love to do.
You say that it only takes you about 15 minutes a day to earn that income, is that correct?
Because of how my business is structured, I now only need to work up to 15 minutes a day on this site, mainly answering comments and emails that I get from time to time. Let me explain a little more in depth. The way my business works is this:
People visit my site, either by finding me in the search engines, a link on another website, or by word of mouth. If they are interested in the information products I have to offer, they click an “add to cart” button, and checkout. After they enter their billing information, and press “ok”, an email is automatically sent to them along with a link to download their electronic product. At the same time, money goes into my account.
I am not needed at all to complete a transaction, as you can see. There is no need for me to be on the phone to collect orders, or stand behind a cash register. There’s no need for me to take a physical product, package it, and stand in line at the post office to ship. My business is totally location independent, and I can literally make money in my sleep. That’s the beauty of doing business online. Your online “store” is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year (even on holidays), to anyone in the world who has access to the internet.
There are many services that you can use to build this type of passive income business online. In particular, I use e-Junkie.com to make this all happen.
How many hours in total did it take you to set it up originally?
I’m glad you asked this question, because setting up a business like this does take a lot of time.
Remember, I had my blog up with my notes for a few months before traffic started coming in, and before I even began monetizing it. I setup the blog entirely on my own, which took a good 2 weeks because I really had no idea where to start (and this was before I began writing any of my notes!). I wish I knew that I could outsource this kind of work, because it probably would have been done in a day. To be honest, it was just a WordPress blog with a free theme, that was on a self-hosted site. In total, it cost less than 100 bucks for a year’s worth of hosting.
After I decided to turn my blog into a business, it took about 3 weeks to really optimize it for everyone who was visiting the site. I created more charts and helpful tips for the exam, and laid out a very clear study plan for people who were absolutely lost on where to begin.
When I finally decided to write my own study guide (I really wish I had done it earlier!), it took about 1.5 months to complete the entire thing and get it from my head onto the site for sale. I can’t really say how many hours that is in total, but I hope you can see that this was definitely not a “get rich quick” type of deal.
Once I had some money coming in, I began to reinvest in my business. I hired a Search Engine Optimization specialist (via elance.com) to optimize my site for certain keywords, as well as a graphic designer to design a custom WordPress theme.
That being said, $200k after one year is a great payoff for all of that initial hard work. That is what earning a passive income online is all about. It’s about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later.
How long do you think you can keep making money from GreenExamAcademy?
I believe I can continue to generate an income from this site because, as I said before, I have established myself as one of the authorities and leaders in this particular niche, and I don’t see it going away anytime soon. When you get to a point where you know people are telling others about your site via word of mouth, which by definition for some people is actually considered “going viral”, you’ve got great potential for a long term stream of income on your hands. In addition, I’m always looking to improve the site and add new things and adapt as times change, because I really do care about providing the best and most helpful information to people.
I do, however, anticipate a slight drop of sales in the future, mainly because the USGBC is coming out with their own study material. Although this will obviously take some customers away, I actually see it as a good thing, because it gives people more options to help them study for their exams, and I’m pretty sure that because I’m a one-person team, my price point will be much lower, so I will still have that advantage in comparison. Additionally, some people just naturally like to help “the little guy” like me out and since I have a trusted and proven brand, I’m sure I’ll continue to see an income.
Now that you have done it once, can you duplicate this success, or was it a lucky break?
I do consider myself a lucky person, however I don’t consider my success entirely lucky. I was shown an opportunity and I acted on it, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today without the hard work and determination I put in up front. Maybe it’s because I had no choice but to succeed, because of my lay off, but as I mentioned before, my lay off was a blessing in disguise. It actually unveiled what opportunities I actually had in front of me.
As far as duplicating my success, I’ve actually begun to do quite successful in a niche that is over-saturated, that many people say to stay away from: the “making money online”, or “internet business” industry. Just like I did before, I started the Smart Passive Income Blog with the primary purpose of teaching myself and others about internet business, using my other blog as a model. For over a year now, I’ve consistently provided people with great content, tools, tips and tricks to help them succeed online. Just as I saw on my other site, my traffic is growing more and more each week, and I’m actually at a point where I feel I do have a bit of authority in this niche, where I could possibly introduce some kind of product. That being said, I don’t believe I’ll be coming out with any products to sell anytime soon. Why? Because I don’t need to. I am happy with the money and lifestyle I have now. I get to work 15 minutes a day on my exam website, and a couple hours writing blog posts and making videos every other day for the other, and I spend the rest of my time with my family at home, or going to the gym, and doing many of the things I wouldn’t be able to do if I was still working a 9 to 5 job.
Do you have any advice or secrets for people looking to make big passive income?
There aren’t really any secrets to success anymore. I think we live in a time where many of us do know what it takes to succeed, we’re just too scared, or too lazy to actually do it. If you really, and I mean REALLY want to succeed, you’ll naturally find out exactly what you have to do and you’ll crush it.
My main piece of advice would be to get something started now. Like I always say, every day you don’t have something online for sale is a day of potential profits lost. It takes time to become successful online in the way that I did, and the hardest part is knowing just that. I’ve seen so many people with so many great ideas fail because they just don’t see results right away. If you’re selecting a niche or market to get into, look into the future. Do you see yourself still being passionate and excited about what you want to do 6 months from now, 1 year from now, 5 years from now? If not, then you’d better try something else that you know you’ll stick with. Why wouldn’t you?
Lastly, don’t worry about being perfect. Nobody is perfect, but for some reason we all think everything has to be perfect in order launch a blog, sell a product, or become successful online. You don’t have to be perfect. So many people will work so hard trying to get every part of the puzzle in place, and what usually happens is that because of this, so much time has passed that they missed their window of opportunity. Get something started now and put content online, and worry about perfection later.
If anyone has any additional questions, or you just want to say hello, feel free to come by my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/smartpassiveincome. Thank you again, John, for the wonderful interview questions! It was a pleasure!