5 Harsh Realities of Making a Living Online

5 Harsh Realities of Making a Living Online

Reader Comments (83)

  1. Great article. When I decided to go into online marketing I went into it with open eyes. I had great expectations and dollar signs in my eyes. I was going to be a millionaire in two years. Then reality set in. But I love this business and I’ll keep plugging away. I may never get “rich” but I love what I’m doing and always learning something new and that to me is what rich is all about.

  2. Every time I read one of your posts I am inspired.

    I have been running several (off-line) businesses for years and am now starting out online to see what I can do. It may seem to others that I have no idea where I’m going but I have a plan 😉 What I do know is that there is no such thing as a successful ‘get rich quick’ way to do it. It requires lots of effort and hard-work. I’m not looking to be a millionaire (although it would be nice) but I’m happy if I can earn a decent living doing something I love. I know several people who have fallen for the ‘get rich quick’ gimmicks and have only ended up disappointed and disillusioned.

    O, and yesterday I taught myself how to do some things on my site using html. It was tiny but I felt great after it.

    Thanks for all the motivation and inspiration from your posts.

    • Glad to hear it, Denise. Those first few baby steps are scary, but when it starts working for you, it’s really exciting. Best of luck with the transition. 🙂

  3. I think the days of cheap easy money online are slowly drawing to a close. All the old exploits that people used to use are now closed, and more get closed every day. There’s a lot of intelligent people who join this industry every year who want a bigger slice of the pie for themselves.

    That being said though, if you’re willing to step outside of your comfort zone, create value and work hard, there will always be a place for those type of people to succeed online. It’s often the people who want to make money online that approach it from a position of strength that ultimately succeed, trying to start a business out of a position of weakness and desperation is where I think a lot of people fail unfortunately.

    • I think it’s about being committed. When I started, I was pretty desperate, but I really committed myself to learning how it all works and getting out there and doing it. A lot of people who fail are either so frazzled they can’t really focus or they already have too much going on in their lives to really get serious about mastering the craft.

      • Totally! I have 560 page (textbook sized) publication entitled: The Art of SEO, which took me forever to wade through (and is now, based on it’s 2010 publication date, probably out of date), and keywords account for about 8% of the books content.

    • The “cheap easy” days were owned by the pioneers who were willing to try stuff no one had ever done before. It wasn’t as easy as it looks now. Also, we have a lot of tools that didn’t exist then. I think it tends to come out about even when you look at all the factors.

      I agree with you that there is still tons of room for those who create value and work hard.

      • It takes an amazing amount of work and dedication to make almost any business successful but, for some reason, people continue to think that because you’re doing it online, it should be as easy as snap and happen in 10 minutes.

        When I’m writing up curriculum for my courses or editing videos or trying to figure out how all the “pieces fit together” and start wondering why all this stuff is so challenging, I think to myself, “Hey, that’s why most people won’t do this stuff!”

        Then I go back to work. Thanks for the post, it tells the truths that people usually don’t bother to mention.

  4. “Strategies like blogging and SEO and video marketing can indeed help you get all the customers you want without spending a dime to get them. Instead though, you’ll invest hundreds or maybe even thousands of hours of your time.”

    I actually just wrote my own blog post about this very idea. People think SEO is free, and while it’s true that you don’t have to invest in any software if you don’t want to (there are plenty of free tools available), you have to remember how many hours it takes to create a successful SEO campaign. Just optimizing your site can take several weeks. Link building could easily be 15-20 hours a month, a few hours a week is devoted to just straight writing (never mind promoting your content). You have to manage all your social profiles, build relationships with other bloggers and so forth. There are a lot of tasks that take up a lot of time each day and time = money!

    • Yeah, SEO is definitely the most misunderstood traffic strategy. Most people think it’s about optimizing their keywords, but that’s really only a tiny part of it.

  5. Jon,

    Harsh reality #3 has been the bane of my online marketing existence.

    Nothing hurts more in my online business pursuits than wrestling with technology issues associated with running my sites to reviewing new add on (i.e. plugins) resources to making sure I prevail against hacker attempts to insert malware into my wordpress databases.

    Still, beign a slave to it all has it’s perks … I know enough HTML and CSS to be dangerous and that’s saying a lot for a guy whose background was in financial derivatives.

    I’m anxious to hear how to put it all together. Great job spelling it out and really appreciate you delivering a great sermon to a convert like me so I can get my “Internet Soul” right :-).

    • Michael, if you haven’t checked out sucuri.net yet, they’re an awesome resource for WP security. We use them to analyze sites before we migrate them to our hosting solution, and they’re excellent.

      • Thanks Sonia,

        The good people at Midphase put me onto sucuri.net when I saw Google put a warning on my site.

        (I know you can imagine the horror of having the world notified that your site has “malicious code” on it ? ).

  6. It’s best if you do it for the lifestyle and not for the money. I’m a successful digital copywriter. I’ll never be a millionaire and I don’t want to be. I want to go on living life in my 5 room house, no kids, a car that runs well but isn’t fancy, and some spare cash to take a vacation when I really need one.

    In re: to item #3, I would love to see these things offered as classes in high schools. I think the way things are going, that would be a critical skill to teach our kids and raise the technological literacy of the entire world.

    • Our school curriculums definitely need an overhaul. Of course, the political climate in the US doesn’t exactly give me much hope of that ever happening. *sigh*

      • Jon, I don’t know if you’re still responding on this site. But when I read “Our school curriculums definitely need an overhaul” I had to leave a reply.
        1. Do you write school curriculum? If so, where is your website and what are some of your strategies for selling it?

        2. I’m an elementary teacher and in the process of writing homeschool curriculum. I will be starting a website in the next few months. Quite frankly I’m overwhelmed and any advice would be appreciated!

  7. Great article. Nobody likes to acknowledge these realities simply because they are harsh. Personally, I think it’s way worse to believe ignorance is bliss when it comes to making money online. Recognizing that these points are very real and very possible, make me more disciplined in my work.

  8. Excellent post, Jon. I agree with every word. In the 90s I ran a successful print ad agency out of my house. Made six figures a year for about a decade. Now I’m a regular working stiff who’s getting his toes wet online. No monetizing, but I’m building a framework for an online business that will hopefully take me into retirement! Thanks for the great advice. I’m passing this post on, believe me!

  9. Making money online becomes easier, and easier, and easier, Jon. Before it’s easy, it is kind of tough. Impossible? No. I hate programming people for struggle. Uncomfortable? Heck yeah, in the beginning because you likely break a ton of habits.

    I find approaches to making online money interesting. Some multi-millionaires tell you it’s easy, and really, someone’s buying in, a lot of people are, because these people become multi-millionaires. Yes, they are right. It is easy, but the point which is left out, is that you must follow simple steps every day, and most people don’t follow the steps. Most people give up. Most people throw in the towel after a few days, or weeks, or months.

    I keep a high energy, positive vibe when talking about making money online. If you work INTELLIGENTLY, it becomes quite easy. It is really easy, actually, but so few people act intelligently, it’s scary. Take my comments. If I write a really in-depth, value-packed comment on this blog, and on Problogger, my SEO juice goes through the roof, my blog reaches page 1 or 2 of google for a very competitive keyword, and I get 500 to 1000 hungry eyeballs on my blog, an any given day. Not bad for 5 to 10 minutes of offering my opinion, right? So for me, it’s easy to drive tons of targeted traffic to my blog, and make money. But if you scroll the comments section, most people do not act intelligently. No impactful comments. No click throughs. No backlink juice. Poor search engine rank.

    That’s just 1 example. We can dissect SEO or any other basic element of making money online, and see that if you act intelligently, and your acts are effective, you prosper with greater and greater ease.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Jon.

  10. Fabulous article Jon! I’ve been toying with the idea of being an Internet entrepreneur and I appreciate your no-holds-barred information. Thanks – this is yet another fantastic Copyblogger article 🙂

  11. Wow. You tell it like it is,bud. There’s no way you’ll ever make it as a politician ;D
    Now that this article has clarified several key points in my head- I am hoping that you cover exactly what and how much basic tech knowledge I will need to be “independent”. Because the tantalizing lure of just hiring someone to set it up and manage for me beckons.

  12. Excellent article, with one glaring omission. In addition to having your readers like, subscribe, share, digg or stumble upon this article, you need to have a *PRINTABLE VERSION*. It’s so easy to do, and, trust me, readers like myself would really appreciate having a notebook full of neatly printed articles to refer to. Maybe a small thing to you, but it would be huge for the folks who need this material. Many thanks. fb

  13. I appreciate your honesty about the time it takes to actually start seeing profitability.

    Too many people come into this game thinking “Heck, I’ll just put up a website, and it’ll start rolling in” and it couldn’t be any further from the truth.

    From what I’ve found, the people who spend the due diligence in “research mode” months before they ever launch their website are the ones that seem to have the most success right out of the gate.

    However, and sadly, most people don’t take the time to get to know the market ahead of time.

    I really enjoy your story Jon, and I look at how you’ve built a following for yourself over the years well before you ever launched your own “online marketing” blog. You’ve got several years of research on your audience before you ever started your own platform, and because of that, I’d say BBT is already (and will continue to be) a huge success.

    Thanks for keeping it real, and I can’t wait to see what you do 🙂

  14. FINALLY!!!! Some sensible advice about making money online (this is why I like CopyBlogger)!

    I’m always happy to tell my readers that making money online takes time and a lot of hard work. I think this post excellently sums up the difficulties of making it online, but also the benefits if you can stick with it and make a success of it. I know from experience that the hard work is needed, but I’m now starting to see the fruits of my effort.

  15. Boy, do I love when people cut out the BS and tell it like it is. Thanks Jon! I went into blogging last summer fairly naively, thinking because I was tenacious, a great writer, and a professional marketer that I could run laps around everybody else. Well like most, I’ve been humbled, frustrated, confused, frustrated, perplexed. I’ve tore things apart and put them back together. I’ve cursed aWeber and used four-letter words about WP, not because they were doing anything wrong, but because I couldn’t figure out code and how to make things work as a one woman band. Oh the joys. I’m not giving up. I have my nose to the keyboard and will attend your webinar. Thanks for the frankness.

  16. This is refreshingly true. I know many people (myself included) have dreams of working at home, making a living online, and everything will be all unicorns and rainbows. It’s not. It’s hard work.

  17. Do you know me? You’ve captured my life. Always at war with the technology. Never, never enough time to do for myself what I do for my clients. Money isn’t the sole focus, but it sure is a motivator. 🙂

    Trying to balance it all.
    Great post.

  18. Best article I’ve read in a long time. I’m be traveling to Kiev on Monday so I’ll miss your webinar – but I’m sharing this with lots of folks who should listen in. Your point on technology is SO important. We learned way more than I ever thought we would on front-end, back-end and everything in between. There are so many people out there willing to build you a website – it’s important to know what you’re getting and what you own and that it’s original work. It’s amazing how many people don’t know how important these issues are. Thanks Jon for the inspiration this morning.

  19. Jon, I just found your website, and am so grateful I did! I’ve had a blog for over 3 years now, but am just taking it to the next level. I’m floored by how much there is to learn. I think your analogy of the puzzle is spot on. There are so many pieces to put together. I agree that to succeed, that it’s all about marketing. I’ve seen this time and time again, whether it be with books, shows, movies. Yes, the content and quality have to be there, but if there’s no quality and intelligent marketing behind it, it will flop. There are brilliant ideas, books never published or made bestsellers, all because they lacked the right marketing tools.

    I say this, having no experience myself, with online marketing, I just know through observation that it’s a true principle of success, and right now I’m in the stage of learning how to fit all the pieces together, one of the biggest pieces being marketing.

    I do appreciate your hard knocks approach. Not convinced if there is any good in making everything as “easy!”. In regards to the comment above from Ryan about being positive: I think we all want it to be fun, cheery, easy, quick, etc. etc. But the reality is that the facts and knowledge, applied wisely, is much more useful than some cheery motivational speaker. Thanks for keeping it real, that is what is going to be what helps us achieve success in the end.

    Thanks for the post, I’m really looking forward to your webinar!

  20. The Mythbusting is much appreciated. It’s a gold rush out there. WWW might stand for wild wild west. This article frames up the challenges and reminds us that it’s the reality on the ground that gets us up the mountain. A similar myth is the one about writers and riches. I found a good article by an old fantasy novelist and reworked it into a post you might enjoy. http://ow.ly/a6pn3

  21. When I saw the title “5 Harsh Realities of Making a Living Online” in my Google Reader I was very happy. I agree with you, not enough people talk about the fact that it’s NOT EASY. It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and energy – and even then you are not guaranteed the results you want. It’s basically just as risky and time consuming as building a business in the “Real” world (i.e. not online.) For some reason, people think that being “online” makes it easier – but it doesn’t.

    I’m fairly new to internet marketing and trying to “make money online.” I’m tracking my niche site progress on a blog – both as a motivation for me and to get some feedback on what I’m doing. Copyblogger is definitely a huge help (and I love Genesis!).

  22. Thanks for the comments. Ironically, this post showed up in my RSS about 10 minutes after I asked myself why I was not getting the conversions I expected. If nothing else, it was encouraging. I get several thousand hits to my blog each year. My problem is that I get hits from all over the nation and my industry (health insurance) requires a state license. I can only offer general advice to people in Califonia. In order for me to earn any money, my prospects have to live in one of the states in which I am licensed and have a competitive product. I have tried advertising on Facebook for hits in my state but have been underwhelmed. I need more state specific hits. Does Google advertising work or would you have another idea for building state specific readership.

    • Facebook and Google should both work for you. If you’re not getting results from them, you should probably get some extra training on how to use those two tools. Also, it’s important to set up your funnel correctly to convert that traffic. That’s something we’ll be talking about on the webinar.

  23. Our studio has everything in house for creating online businesses and it’s still not easy. We know how to do the market research, design sites, SEO, SEM and create content. Even with all this in house, you still can’t throw it all up on the wall and hope it sticks. It takes total focus. After that you have to constantly make adjustments and decisions based on profitability and ROI. I couldn’t imagine how tough it must be for those who have to constantly outsource these items.

  24. Hi Jon,

    Great post on a subject that is so right on the money about the fallacies of starting an online business and nailing the how to steps it really takes. Well done, as always. I’m someone who absolutely falls into the category of knowing a lot of the tidbits of information out there on how to do put together an online business but has stuggled with the roadmap of proper steps to put it all together and make it work for me.

    I knew about this post already because I was on your “private” webinar and signed up for your course. I am really looking forward to getting rolling with you! I know you’re moderating these comments so if you do allow this to go public I would say to anyone who reads this, who is signing up for the webinar to ABSOLUTELY sign up for your course!! It is a very much needed service to a lot of people searching for answers to how to do it right online (no I don’t get paid for that). Thanks for your always informative and straight shooting insights.

  25. I think easy is the new way of saying hard.
    Want easy way to get more traffic? Be ready to spend hours and hours going through articles talking about A, B, Q, R, Z, X. Yes, some of the articles just leave you so confused, and so you spend more hours researching, trying, cursing, playing expert, patting yourself on the back, comparing yourself with other newbies.

    Want the easy secrets n how to make money? They are easy to access for free or at a fee. The problem is you can easily get addicted poring over the content promising riches and success when you should spend time working on your little venture ‘every day’ of the week. ‘Easy’ sounds sweet, and unless one works really hard on their project, they’ll just keep on reading, watching or listening to people making progress.

    I liked this piece Jon Morrow. I remember Jon Chow once saying that we are sometimes our own worst enemies when it comes to succeeding online.

  26. Thanks a million for this wonderful post. In fact; you are very correct. I had labour for years in vain ; wasting money & time all to no avail.
    Not that I didn’nt work it out, but I just don’t have the necessary tool…thank God , I finally found Ken Evoy ; who thought me the basis.

  27. Good information, Jon. Nothing like reality.
    We also believe that you must give, give, give til it hurts and give some more. Got to get by the you-are-the customer-I-am-the-store relationship. There is a LOT of room in the marketplace for serous relationship building. In fact, few big brands think about relationships. They are revenue driven.
    Also, every contact is a useful, important touchpoint. We find that identifying personality types enables us to zero in with highly targetted personality-specific messages along the path to purchase. So that when the moment is right they “feel” right and choose to buy from our clients. People decide differently. Personbality marketing can guide their thinking.

  28. I would love to see harsh reality #3 on the front of the SP support forums. Having great tools like a Genesis Child Theme, Premise, Scribe … that is a good start, but I can have the best tools and not be a good carpenter. You need to take time to learn the tools.

  29. Hi Jon,

    I really like point #1. So many people I talk to are excited about their idea because nobody is doing it or else they don’t want to do something because someone already is. I’m a believer that no competition is a worse sign than a lot of competition. If you were mining for gold back in the day, would you rather be near San Francisco where everyone was finding gold, or would you rather be in New Mexico with no competition (assuming nobody found gold in New Mexico)? The analogy is a little weak, but it gets the point across. Thanks for the great post, and keep up the legendary work.

  30. You spoke to me, Jon. I’ve had my blog for seven months, and I’ve been trying to make it a business for about five. I’ve spent countless hours of time and very little money to build up a very strong audience both on the site and Facebook. I was a “digital marketer” before, but there are so many things I’ve had to become an expert in that I wasn’t before. I feel like I’m a completely different marketer now than when I started. And it hasn’t been very long.

    Of course, the puzzle pieces are still laying on my desk. Some are together. But I definitely feel like I’m fumbling in the dark sometimes. The final pieces aren’t there yet: Monetization.

    I keep thinking I’m a half step away. Part of it is that I should be happy with how fast I’ve come in a very short period of time, but I can’t keep waiting. Gotta make it happen.

    Thanks for the insight.

  31. Your analysis of website challenges is right on the mark. I have found your previous webinars and several of Copyblpgger services to be excellent. Thanks for your work!

  32. Ain’t that the truth? And what people also need to realize is that even if they do succeed, once they’ve “arrived” so to speak, there are still going to be those times when they get their nose bloodied a bit. Kind of get their you know what knocked in the dirt.

    But they have to do like all other successful people do. Get up, dust themselves off and keep plugging away. Great post Jon. One I’m definitely forwarding and also bookmarking.

  33. Thank you for the reality check! I’m both an online and offline content developer (speaker / trainer) coming from the corporate world. So many of my peers sit in corporate day-jobs thinking, “I need to get out of here so I can make my millions.” Then we leave (yes, I was one of them!) and find out that we can’t just tomorrow put our shingles out, say we’re speakers / consultants / online marketers / whatever, and expect the masses to flock to us. Your article is good in that it is reality, yet not discouraging. In fact, you say what DOES need to be done in order to make it. So thank you for the reality check. I’m passing this on to some starry-eyed folks bent on making their millions tomorrow.

  34. Jon,

    I think you nailed it here. Excellent post. I’ve found that once you get the puzzle pieces somewhat worked out, you still waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel. I’ve made it my life’s goal to get better at re-using scripts, re-using pages, and to develop other more repeatable processes. That’s one of the biggest challenges I have today. Once that’s solved, then it’s time for more traffic generation and relationship-building! Thanks for the great post.

    • Definitely Tom. That’s why having a mentor is so important. They can tell you what works and what doesn’t, so you don’t end up reinventing everything.

  35. You wanna know reality? I can write a book. Ebook that is. Here is my journey, if you good folkes will indulge me.
    Here are some the businesses I’ve owned, in no particular order:

    Built, sold, serviced computers.
    Sold ink cartridges online.
    Sold coffee in the streets (gourmet of course)
    House painter ( one job only)
    Carpet cleaning biz.
    Tee shirt business

    I’ve probably forgotten some.

    I’m sure many of you have been involved in numerous ventures as well.

    I’m sharing this because this article is exactly right.

    It takes a lot of time and effort to become an overnight success

    After 17 yrs and these various businesses, I’m not rich.

    I just cannot and will not give up being a trep. I love it. I’m a junky trep…or trep junky 🙂
    Perseverance is the key.

    I feel exausted most of time due to the constant Trep thinking and fighting.
    Anyone who climbs in this arena thinking it’s a piece of a cake is in for a smack down from my good friend, mr reality.

    Thanks for your good work. And thanks for listening.
    Trep On

  36. Thanks for the brutally honest advice. It’s just the wake up call so many people need to hear, and never want to be true about their business.

    Something else I notice is too many entrepreneurs think small and as a result get small. If you want your business to thrive and prosper, it can’t be based on a plan where the reality of the situation does not meet the expectations of the owner.

    It comes down to knowing your market and its potential before you get started. If you don’t know what is possible, or overestimate the actual return, you can spend years learning how wrong your early decisions were. That’s because you will have some encouraging success early on only to wake up later and realize it’s not what you want, and that you aren’t going to get there without painful and expensive (in time and money) changes. Changes, that with good, deep research, could have been avoided.

  37. This was seriously profound. Yes, we are bombarded daily with the usual get rich hooha. 99% ends up in the junk mailbox as it is nothing but hogwash. None of them are realistic to say the least and some are just downright bullsh#t. This was a great sobering article. Well done!

  38. Thank you for telling it how it actually is John, it’s refreshing to hear it that way and surprisingly motivating. I do believe that having enough of an income to support myself is more than enough compensation for escaping the ‘boss’ and having the freedom to provide value to your audience. Millions would be nice, but not essential for it to be worth it. I look forward to your webinar. 🙂

    With gratitude

  39. I’ve read elsewhere the optimistic messages of making money online, and understand the points in your post here too. Setting realistic expectations is important. I think my problem is being paralysed by fear of both success and/or failure. I’m afraid to be successful because it means putting myself out there (chronically shy), and scared shitless of failure for obvious reasons (generally around life security). This keeps me paralysed from doing anything… and in the end, that’s the greatest failure of all I guess. Well, that’s my takeout from what’s written here – perhaps that wasn’t the message, but it’s what I heard 😉

  40. I read a lot of blogs, articles, listen to Webinars, but this is going up in front of my computer. Great info. and encouragement.

  41. Jon,

    Thank you for contributing such a wonderful post. As usual, you have conveyed a profound truth in simple language, that is, there is no substitute for hard work. Persistence pays, so never give up. And if one course does not work, take a detour. If your on-line business is not working, find another angle to work on it, but don’t give up. This is the message I got out of your write-up: a true inspiration. In your case, the hours and hours of struggle have paid off, so continue to educate us, your fans and readers. Wish you the best and three cheers to your success. Cheerio.

  42. Having entered the arena a mere 70 days ago, this post is quite interesting and an eye-opener.

    When I decided to take plunge I knew that it won’t be an easy ride. Having done quite a bit of research, it seems that one can make a living. One of the biggest factors in my opinion is not giving up, but biting through those tough times (coming from someone really new in this business).

    #4 concerns me bit. How do you go about converting from being a stranger to someone who is trusted and respected?

    I have also registered for your webinar and am really looking forward.


  43. WOW, this post sums up exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. Being about 1 year into the internet marketing game I have found that time is definitely a critical asset. What you save in money will definitely cost you in time AND in order to succeed there is a certain number of hours required in preparation. No shortcuts! I could “amen” this post all day.

  44. Great, you’ve made a good case for your webinar. It’s free. I’ll even click the link.

    But that brought me to a 404 page? Now I need to search? Do I need to be a member to view that content? If so, don’t show a 404 page. Did I miss it? Were all the seats filled? What could’ve happened that would bring me to your site (a running server, it wasn’t crashed by the Copyblogger feature) but there was no content to re-hook me?

  45. Lol, you say you would guess less than 1% of online entrepreneurs become millionaires?

    Are you kidding me? 1 in a 100?

    Try more like WAY less than 1%. More like 1 in a 5,000,000 and you’ll be getting closer to the truth. Do you have any idea of how many hundreds of millions of blogs are out there? That’s just blogs. Not all websites. Add in other websites and you’re looking at trillions.

    Other than that, great article.

    • Sure, but the post isn’t about bloggers, it’s about entrepreneurs who run online businesses.

      In 2009 there were 7.8 million people with a net worth over $1 million in the U.S, with a population of a little more than 300 million. So one millionaire per five million online business owners seems unnecessarily pessimistic. 🙂

    • “less than 1%” = “WAY less than 1%”
      It’s still less than 1%
      Just thought to point that out 😉

      And something tells me that Jonathan knows how many sites are there.

  46. Very well said. I think that making money is easy as long as you’ve established some networks and connections at the very beginning. Of course, it takes a lot of creativity and determination to achieve a number of network, not to mention time that’s why just like any other businesses, the ladder to success will take a thousand steps to reach the top.

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