The following is an email interview of James, who is a 24 year old online marketer that had one of his Internet businesses backed by a 1 million pound investment. James is the branding director or inbound.co.uk and has quite the interesting story. I hope you enjoy the interview…
*Please note that because James is from the UK every time he mentioned money it was in the “British Pound”, but for some reason my wordpress theme wouldn’t let me use the pound symbol (so I changed it to the $ sign). That makes the investment even more impressive as 1 million pounds is closer to $1.5 million USD.*
#1 – When and how did you get into “internet marketing”? And can you give us a little background on what exactly you do to make money online?
Wow it’s a LONG story but let me give you the quick summary. I originally got into Internet marketing when I was around 18 (I am 24 now) – a friend and myself set up the poker forum (pokerisrigged.com) because we were both really into poker at the time. After mainly having conversations with ourselves for around 3 months with different aliases we finally started to see our first few members. I remember after about 3 months we had our first affiliate payment of around $50 and we went straight down to the bank to set up our business bank account and really didn’t look back since. The forum plateaued at around $1k per month while we were still studying and neither of us had the knowledge of the time to really push it forward further than that but I was hooked to internet marketing.
If we fast forward a little bit, I joined PAL (pokeraffiliatelistings.com) in September of 2009 and learnt the foundations of how I currently run my business day to day from there. It might sound like a shameless plug but the people I met on PAL and the stuff I learnt there really allowed me to have the success I enjoy today.
From a combination of luck, pure determination and ability to adapt/learn I co-founded two businesses in 2010 (both of which have rebranded since). One was what is now Inbound Digital Marketing and the other being Mum Network. At this point in time I was 22 and had managed to found two businesses which both received outside investment – Mum Network was backed by a $1 million pound investment.
I hope that all makes sense, as I know I confuse a lot of people when I tell them about it face to face. In terms of how I make my money online now, there are a lot of different arms to my business. However the easiest example would be to look at babynames.co.uk – that is one of Mum Networks flagship sites and is monetized through a CPM model. We love the CPM model because unlike the classic affiliate model it gives us an incentive to provide the best user experience and engagement, so users stay on our site and keep coming back. The site makes its most money when we sell in private advertising to some of the UK’s largest baby companies.
#2 – Did you dive right in full time? and if not when did you decide to make the switch to full time? Was switching to full time a tough decision? Any advice for when/if to make the switch?
I really had the luxury of being able to learn while I was at university so I definitely wouldn’t say I dived in full time. I turned “full time” when I graduated and those were some of the most stressful months of my life. For a while I had to scrape by, doing freelance work for other people while trying to build up my own projects.
I find Internet marketing is a lot like poker in the way that you always feel like you know more about it until your deep enough in to understand how much you don’t know.
My best advice would be to only go full time once your 100% positive about how much you don’t know. If you are at the stage where you think you know everything and you have been doing it for 1 year or less I would hazard a guess that you shouldn’t go full time just yet as you have a lot more to learn.
#3 – How many websites do you run right now? What type of sites are your biggest money makers? Did any get hit by the recent Google updates?
I probably have around 5-6 large websites that I will devote a lot of my time to. Then maybe another 10-15 smaller sites that might have been set up on the spur of the moment and they are just aging or waiting for something more to be done with them. I prefer having a much smaller website portfolio than your average webmaster as it allows me to concentrate a lot more on quality and size of just a few sites rather than building lots of smaller niche sites (a model that I think is slowly dying with each Google update).
My biggest earners are my CPM sites (babynames.co.uk, pregnancy.co.uk, babies.co.uk etc) because it allows us to sell in premium advertising to large companies. We also make a good amount of money from buying and selling domains – as a sort of side to our business we own about 200+ premium UK domains and we are constantly rotating our portfolio sales and purchases. Domains that we have bought (some are now sold) include Gold.co.uk, Accessories.co.uk, s.co.uk and Mum.com/.co.uk.
I have been hit by some of the latest Google updates. Pregnancy.co.uk most notably got absolutely demolished in the last one (the EMD update) and I am still working out the reasons for that currently. I also was hit by the original Panda on a couple of my first sites and penguin hurt us a little as well. All I will say is that with each update as a network we still remain pretty strong and what these updates force you to do is look at your sites and improve your strategy. Ultimately I am moving away from caring about Google and simply putting my user first. Doing this is actually a pretty good strategy for ranking well in Google anyway!
#4 – What is a typical day in your life (when working)?
I have 3 different businesses I am a shareholder of now. The one I run full time is Mum Network and my typical day looks like this:
Wake up around 9-10ish, grab a shower and a coffee, have a morning Skype call with the guys that work full time for us organising content, coding and designing.
Drive into the office around 11-12 ish- catch up on my emails, check stats and look around a lot of the large Webmaster forums to see what’s going on.
I normally do a catch up call with our advertising company to check what competitions; private campaigns are being run that week/day.
Then I will get on with whatever is on my to-do list, which is mainly pushing forward our content strategy.
#5 – What is the toughest part about working for yourself?
Though this might sound generic, the hardest part is motivation each day. With Internet marketing I could do nothing on a Saturday or Sunday and we would still make money – in fact I could take a whole month off and we would still end up making the same amount of money as we did last month. Continuously pushing your business forward is what is tough and requires hard work. I solve this by surrounding myself with extremely motivated people, whether it is those people that work for me or my friends I network with – they all share the same ambition I do.
You need to have people with the same goals and beliefs as you to push yourself forward both in your business and personal development. Speaking with people that can challenge your views and strategy is extremely important as well.
#6 – What is your biggest piece of advice to other affiliates/internet marketers?
The biggest thing I have learnt over the last 6 years is at the end of the day we are all content marketers. When I first started out, I would put up mediocre content and build links to it in the hope that it would rank. Sometimes I got lucky and sometimes I didn’t but building links to mediocre/sub par content is a short-term strategy.You will ultimately always get hit by any Google update if you’re content isn’t worth ranking. When your sites are doing well look at the other top sites in your market and see if you deserve to be ranking among them for the content you provide. If you don’t then it is worth improving your content to the point where you can happily say you deserve that ranking. Complacency with content is the biggest reason people fail.
Having good well-organized content also allows you to grow your business in different ways. For instance we are launching a book with one of the UK’s largest publishers on baby names on the 22nd of November. So you can see that if you consider yourself a content market first and everything else second the quality of your content should compliment all the other goals you have in your business.
Thanks for the interview James. I enjoyed it and I’m sure my visitors have as well. Good luck in the future!