I love watching people succeed through hard work and talent. I often say that we live in amazing times, because anyone with focus and dedication and rise to the top. Corbett Barr is one of those people that I have admired since his blogging beginnings just over a year ago. He has managed to build two popular blogs, start several other business ventures and live location independent in Mexico for a good portion of the year. Corbett has the talent and dedication to accomplish big things. If you want to track the progress of a rising Internet celebrity, than I recommend watching and learning from everything he does.
Please tell us a little about your background
I’m a 30-something former careerist who traded salary and perks for doing what I love and living anywhere.
After growing up in typical American suburbia, I jumped on the career hamster wheel and ended up as a management consultant working for Fortune 500 clients. I traveled across the country and worked on projects that helped giant corporations make more money or become more efficient. It paid well and everyone I worked with was whip-smart, but I never felt fulfilled or completely satisfied doing it.
Eventually, I gave in to that little voice that said, “you’ll never really enjoy a ‘normal career,’ why don’t you start working for yourself so you can live how you really want to?” I started a venture-capital backed startup in Silicon Valley, learned a lot but didn’t succeed wildly, took a sabbatical and realized what I really want is a lifestyle business built around things I love to do. It’s been a long journey, but I’m far more satisfied and happy now, even though I’m earning less and have less traditional “status.”
What type of work does your wife do?
My wife is an artist. She paints big expressive landscape paintings and shows them in galleries in San Francisco, L.A. and other cities. She and I both really love traveling and have pretty similar thoughts about what makes a fulfilling life. We’re both also big on having a central “home base” for 6-9 months a year, as opposed to traveling indefinitely.
Where do you live?
We live in San Francisco for most of the year, although we’ve spent about 11 of the past 16 months traveling throughout Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. We just returned from a 3-month stint in Mexico for the winter.
San Francisco has been home for the past 5 years, and we love it here. It has great weather, progressive people, a small but close-knit fine art community and lots of fun things to do. It is an expensive city, mostly when it comes to housing, but if you really want to be here, you can find a way. We have offset the cost of living over the past year and a half (while I’m getting new businesses off the ground) partly by living in Mexico.
You seem to be constantly experimenting with new business ideas can you please talk about your successes and failures
You’ve noticed I have a lot of projects going on? That’s partly by design, and partly because I change my mind a little too often. I started blogging about a year ago (at FreePursuits) while we were on sabbatical. I didn’t really have any goals for the blog, but found that I really enjoy it and have been able to connect with a lot of awesome people.
Once I started blogging, I saw potential for it as the foundation of a business, but wasn’t really sure how to make it happen. The past year has been an intense learning experience, and I’ve experimented with quite a few different online ventures and business models (blogging, affiliate marketing, email-based Spanish lessons, a Q&A site, etc.). I’ve taken the approach up ’till now of throwing a lot at the wall to see what sticks.
What I kept coming back to is that I really enjoy the process of starting something new and building an audience. Finding customers/readers/visitors once you’ve started something online is what would-be Internet entrepreneurs struggle with most. That’s what ThinkTraffic grew out of. It’s a business focused on helping people build high-traffic websites and blogs. I’m pouring my soul and everything I have learned over the years about building audiences into it. The response has been fantastic so far.
My primary business goal at this point is to do something I love in a way that allows me to live a great lifestyle. It has been just over a year since I made that realization, and I’m finally getting close to where I want to be. I think anyone who decides to make such a radical shift in business/life goals will go through a long period of experimentation and learning. Luckily I already had a foundation in online entrepreneurship (through more “traditional” startups), but someone just starting from scratch might have 3-5 years of learning to do.
Your sites all have a great design and layout, are you doing the design work?
I’m a big believer in attractive and functional design. I don’t have a background in design, but it’s definitely one of my interests. For FreePursuits, I hired a designer named Andrew Lindstrom to develop the design, and I implemented it on top of Thesis. For ThinkTraffic, I created the design from the ground-up myself and built it on top of Thesis as well. Design is one of those things that you can learn on your own (especially given all the fantastic free information on the web) but that takes a long time to get good at. I’m finally starting to like my own designs.
In one of your posts you alluded that lifestyle design is not a good niche to make money can you please explain?
I think a lot of people come to blogging about lifestyle design in the same way that I did. You have a realization that you want to live your life outside of the conventional house/career/kids/suburbs definition, and the concept of lifestyle design appeals to you. So you start blogging about it, without really connecting the dots about how blogging about lifestyle design will help you achieve your own lifestyle design.
There’s a chicken-and-egg problem there. If you’re giving people advice about how to achieve their own ideal lifestyle design, should you have achieved yours first? So, most lifestyle design bloggers have to find a way to attract and retain an audience by talking about lifestyle design without having much expertise.
The success stories in the lifestyle design blogging world are usually people who had prior experience to share, or who went at it in a different way. Chris Guillebeau is probably the biggest success story (aside from Tim Ferriss), and he has been self-employed for life, lived in Africa for years, etc. Not too many others are making a real living from blogging about lifestyle design that I know of. Karol Gadja is starting to have some success, and he has never worked a “traditional” job in his life. He has 10 years of supporting himself online to draw from. Adam Baker is also doing well, but he decided to come at “lifestyle design” from a different angle entirely (personal finance).
The other issue with earning money by focusing on lifestyle design is that it (LD) can have very different definitions from person-to-person. At it’s core, LD is about living how you want to, instead of by society’s traditional rules. It’s a very broad topic. If you wanted to create products or services around the topic as a whole, it would be hard to come up with something appealing and different enough.
How many months do you spend in Mexico every year?
We spent 3 months in Mexico this year, and about 6 last year. I have a feeling we’ll be returning to Mexico again next year, at least for a month or two.
What is it like to stay in Mexico?
Mexico is a fantastic place to live. People are friendly, the food is good, it’s inexpensive and there are some gorgeous beaches. It’s also super easy to get to from the U.S.
We like to live at the beach (I took up surfing last year). Typically, we rent a small apartment or house (with Internet access, of course) and like to move around as little as possible.
What is your cost of living Mexico?
Rent in Mexico can vary widely, depending on where you are, and who you’re renting from. A basic apartment in a small beach town might run $300 to $800 per month, although we have friends who have paid as little as $150 per month. Meals are typically around $20 U.S. equivalent for two, including a beer or cocktail. On the whole, Mexico costs 1/3 to 1/2 of what it costs us to live in S.F.
How do you earn an income?
I mentioned earlier that I’ve experimented with quite a few different projects over the last year. My income sources have changed quite a bit as well as I’ve sold or moved on from project-to-project. Over the past few months, my income has been about half through affiliate marketing (both through Free Pursuits and other standalone affiliate “minisites”), and half through consulting. I’m about to take on a bigger client through Think Traffic and launch a new product, so that mix will change again.
Do you make much income online?
Honestly, I’m not making enough to fully support our lifestyle yet. San Francisco is expensive, as I mentioned, and we haven’t cut back much in how we live. We’re fortunate to be in a position where we can supplement our income with savings and investment for a while. That has shaped my decisions considerably. If we couldn’t support ourselves in this way, I would probably have taken on far more consulting gigs right away and focused more on affiliate marketing.
As for the possibilities of affiliate marketing and blogging, they’re almost unlimited. Darren Rowse mentioned this month that he’s making nearly 7 figures from blogging. I heard Brian Clark of Copyblogger mention that his online businesses gross something like 2.7 million a year. There are countless affiliate marketers making a full-time living. Anything is possible.
Knowing that you can make a full-time living or better as a blogger or affiliate marketer, a better question might be at what cost can you earn such a living. How long does it take to start earning a full-time living? How much effort do you have to put into it? What kind of lifestyle does it lead to? The most insidious part of the whole lifestyle design topic is the belief that someone can create a “passive income” business in a few months, and spend 4 hours or whatever working per week from a beach in Thailand. It takes much more effort than that, and most people want to enjoy what they do for a living as well. Don’t get me started.
My advice? Figure out what you’re passionate about, what you wouldn’t mind putting 2-3 years into, and build something you’re proud of that supports you financially. Then, you can start looking into ways to run parts of the business passively. Trying to build something with the sole goal of working only 4-hours per week is undoubtedly going to lead to failure.
How easy do you think it is to make a living blogging?
I read a piece at Daily Blog Tips this week where Daniel asked some of the most successful bloggers about their work habits. The average blogger on the list worked something like 60-70 hours per week. Some worked up to 100 hours per week. I’m not saying it can’t be done in less, but that’s your competition. You’ll have to put in some serious effort, at least up front.
You are not selling ebooks or membership programs, are they coming in the future?
I have a new product in the works now. It’s a complete beginner’s course in affiliate marketing. The goal of the course is to walk newbies through the entire process of building a profit-earning affiliate marketing minisite from the ground-up. Affiliate marketing is probably the easiest way to get started working online, and everything you learn about creating an affiliate marketing site will help you in any other type of online venture.
There’s no question, if you’re trying to monetize a blog, creating your own product is an absolute must. Advertising is the worst way to monetize a small blog, and creating your own product (ebook, membership site, etc.) is the best. I’m behind my original goals for creating my first information product by a few months. Procrastination and getting distracted by other projects is to blame. That and the warm surf of Mexico.
Do you have any plans to move to another country?
We currently travel with our dog (an 11-year-old Vizsla named Kinsey), and Mexico is an easy destination to bring him along to. We definitely have plans to travel elsewhere for short stints (3 months or less each), but don’t plan to move to another country anytime soon.
What can we expect from Corbett Barr in the future?
Watch for my affiliate marketing for beginners course to launch soon. Beyond that, I’m building ThinkTraffic into the go-to resource for learning how to attract an audience and create raving fans for your website or blog.
ThinkTraffic Helps its clients and readers build high-traffic websites and blogs
FreePursuits Corbett Barr’s blog about life as a digital nomad and what it’s like to live part-time in Mexico
Follow Corbett Barr on Twitter