How This Real Estate Broker Became a Blogger (+ the many failed side hustles on the way)

This is an interview with Michael Morris of Pursuit of Passive Income.

Hey, Michael. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

Hey Lidiya, thanks for the opportunity to share my story with your audience! Fresh out of college, at 22, I started my career as a commercial real estate broker, and while I was able to complete over $100 Million in transactions my first 5 years in the business, I was facing a lot of stress. 

Being in a 100% commission based role, it’s really tough to budget and plan financially. The big paychecks are rewarding, but they’re followed by 3-4 months of zero income. It was hard to know when my next paycheck was coming. 

So I started looking for ways to make some passive income that I could rely on month after month. I FAILED. I started and shuttered so many different businesses I can’t even go into all of it here.

But eventually I found blogging, and started Pursuit of Passive Income with the goal of helping people achieve financial independence with a passive income stream of their own. 

There is so much to learn from failure, and I think that’s what our PPI readers gravitate towards. I’ve always allowed myself to be vulnerable, which is something I think is rare in the world of online content. 

All you hear about these days are things like “This TikTok star makes $1 Million Per Post” or “YouTuber Generates $450,000 A Month From 6 Different Income Streams”. And while that content is interesting and engaging, there’s no mention of the struggle we as entrepreneurs go through to ultimately reach a certain level of success. 

What’s your professional background and how has it helped you in business?

In the commercial real estate business, I talk to and meet with business owners every day. Being around entrepreneurs all the time allows me to identify traits of those that are successful versus those who fail. 

If I had to pick a couple defining principles of a successful entrepreneur, the first is the ability to adapt and pivot when necessary, the second is their ability to overcome failure, and the third is the ability to think in terms of a year, 3 years, 10 years down the road. 

What were your first attempts in online business and how did they go?

You’re welcome to get the whole run down on the blog, but in college I actually tried to create my own iPhone app when that was still a new thing. I had some developers working for me in China that I might have paid $100 to build this thing. When I first downloaded it on my phone, it was clear I needed a lot more money to make something that was functional. 

But my first real go at starting a business was a social media marketing agency (SMMA). I’m not even sure this business had a name. While I knew how to use social media, I had no clue whether or not I could get results for any clients. 

Another mistake I made was targeting eCommerce companies as well as dentists. I really didn’t know much about eCommerce at the time, but I figured dentists had enough money to blow on a social media strategy to bring in new patients. 

The problem is, getting a dentist on the phone or reaching them via email is nearly impossible. Forget getting a meeting. So I stayed up ‘till 4 AM one morning creating a slide deck and mailed it to a bunch of dentists in my area. 

No response. I was discouraged and didn’t feel like I had enough value to offer, so my SMMA business was dead in its tracks. 

What kept you going after not seeing profit from some side hustles?

I’ve become obsessed with failure, to the point I would probably annoy you if I keep talking about it. 

But failure is temporary, and it just means you are one step closer to success. 

I grew up playing sports and love everything about them. I’ve always been ultra competitive and was fortunate to win most of the time. But there is no better motivating force than defeat. 

No one likes to lose. No one likes to fail. But you learn things about yourself (and your team) that ultimately make you better. 

How did you get into dropshipping and what results have you seen?

This was my next phase. There were all these gurus out there preaching about the success they were having with dropshipping stores, scaling to $30K per day, this and that. 

So my first online store was a massive time suck. I spent countless hours designing this website with a bunch of different products, writing descriptions, editing photos, who knows what I was doing…

The plan was to run Facebook Ads to the site, and I paid someone on Fiverr to create an ad for me to run. This ad still haunts me as I’m writing this, it was so bad. 

Needless to say, I was shortsighted at the time, spent something like $20 thinking I was going to make some money back, and walked away with a big goose egg. 

Next I went through Instagram influencers and actually might have made a little bit of profit selling a few products here and there, but it wasn’t scaleable. 

I cut my losses again (FAIL) and started a 1 product dropshipping store, BeardRover. I sold a heated brush for men to style their beard. 

At this point, I had learned a lot from failing with my last store, and managed to make a ton of sales, something around $100,000 in 4 months

But I took a step back and looked at the numbers and realized I had made almost no money. Between product costs, shipping expenses, and ad spend there wasn’t much left over. 

Then I started having supplier issues. People weren’t getting their products or they were defective, so now I have a customer service nightmare. 

People were somewhat upset and it wore me down to the point where I gave people their money back and shut Beard Rover down. 

Finally, there was Blowout Brush. This one did about $275,000 in sales and was doing about $5,000 per day when my Facebook Ad Account was shut down for no apparent reason. 

This was happening a lot at this time and no one really knew how to get it back online. I got impatient, tried SnapChat & YouTube ads, but eventually shut this one down too. 

Why did you step away from dropshipping? What are the challenges of that business model?

It seems like you might already know why I gave up on dropshipping. The customer service is a complete nightmare (I hired a customer service rep and that didn’t even really help) but more importantly the margins are razor thin. 

A good profit margin in the dropshipping business is around 20%. The bigger companies are able to achieve this. 

But for an individual with a dropshipping business, you’re looking at about 10% margins. So to make $100,000 per year you have to sell $1,000,000 worth of products. 

It’s hard to sustain and frankly, I wanted to make a lot more than $100,000 a year. 

What income streams do you currently have?

So one thing to note is that I’m still involved in the commercial real estate business. I’ve been able to pick and choose the clients I actually want to work for and get rid of the headaches I dealt with when I first started. 

I’ve also moved over to the development side, and we are building a veterinary hospital as well as a Starbucks at the moment. 

Then you have the blog, which currently operates solely off of affiliate revenue. I have plans to include ads on my site which should bring in revenue that is completely passive and eventually create a course on how to start and operate a profitable blog. 

Right now I offer a free course, Affiliate Marketer Pro, as a way of collecting emails while providing an actionable way for people to start their own business. 

Read also: Make Living as a Blogger: 4 Most Profitable Blog Monetization Methods

How long did it take you to start earning from your blog?

It took me about 4 months to make my first cent from the blog. I probably could have cut this to 2 months, but there is a certain amount of setup required and I wasn’t spending 100% of my time on the blog from the beginning since I was building it on the side of my full time job. 

In what ways have you monetized your blog?

Again, right now the blog is generating income from affiliate marketing. I recommend blogging tools and affiliate marketing tools to my audience that I use and get value from. 

Going forward, I want to implement ads, an online course, and start a YouTube channel. 

What are the key metrics you track as a blogger?

Honestly, the only metrics I track are related to my funnel to get people signed up for Affiliate Marketer Pro. So I track Website Visits > Email Signups > Course Registrations

What’s your main traffic source? How did you grow it?

In the beginning, most of my traffic came from TikTok Ads, which I’ll talk more about later on. But I’ve always been focused on SEO to grow my Google Organic Search Traffic. 

Once you’re able to get your blog featured on the first page of Google Search Results, you’ve made it as a blogger and should be able to maintain it as a source of income that is truly passive. 

I’m getting Google Search traffic but still growing it with highly focused keyword research and on page SEO. 

Do you think bloggers can succeed without social media?

Sure. The only social media channel I maintain for Pursuit of Passive Income is a TikTok account because I think it provides some social proof to have an account with a decent following (10K+ Followers). 

Pinterest is a large traffic source for a lot of bloggers but I’d rather focus on improving my Google Search Rankings. 

Can a blogger earn full-time without an email list? If so, what are your best tips?

Yes, of course. What I’ll say about an email list is that everyone starts from zero. An email list is super important and with all the tools out there to collect emails, there is no reason to avoid it. 

Read also: How Quinn Made $32K in the First 4 Months of Her Business (without a Strategy, Funnel or Email List)

Are you using paid ads? If so, how does that work for you?

Yes, TikTok Ads. I have plenty of experience with Facebook and Instagram Ads but right now, TikTok offers the cheapest conversions. 

Once I create an online course, I will likely use both Facebook and TikTok Ads because the leads on Facebook are generally better. 

A common mistake people make with paid ads is they don’t track every step of the funnel. Where are people dropping off? Are they clicking on your ad initially? Are they providing their email? And are they buying your product or service? 

Good key metrics to use are as follows:

  • 1-2% Click on Your Ad
  • 20-25% Provide Their Email
  • 2-3% Make A Purchase

These aren’t perfect but it’s a good place to start

What are some major mistakes you see new bloggers make?

This one is so easy. New bloggers or any aspiring business owners are afraid to spend a dollar to get started. 

The beauty of starting an online business is that you can literally start today, and $1,000 is all you need to survive your first 6 months. 

What other business can last on $1,000?

You can start a blog in 10 minutes. But there are people that are worried about committing to spending $5/month. It makes no sense to me. 

Any investment you make in yourself or in your business is generally the best use of your money. 

What books, podcasts, courses or mentors have helped you along your business journey?

I’ve always loved Entrepreneur on Fire, Smart Passive Income and The 4-Hour Workweek.

I’ve taken roughly 6 online courses and most of them have been good, but my favorite is Course Creator Pro by Parker Walbeck. There’s something about the way he’s grown his business and team that is inspiring and something I want to emulate. 

What’s your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to break free from the 9 to 5?

Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself or in your business is #1, and learn as much as you possibly can. We as humans need new experiences and passions to become better versions of ourselves. 

Secondly, expand your time horizon as far as what you are trying to achieve. Instead of telling yourself you need to be making $10,000 3 months from now, focus on making $1,000,000 in the next 5 years. 

This will allow you to look at your business at a high-level and ultimately focus on the most valuable actions to take in order to achieve success. 

What’s next for you and Pursuit of Passive Income?

We are focused on growth for sure, which is centered around helping as many people as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to determine the best way to do that, but we will keep improving each day. 

Part of that is hiring a couple of writers to put out more content and as I mentioned, eventually release a blogging course. 

I truly believe blogging is the best business model as far as achieving passive income, and the fact that it is location independent makes it a true lifestyle business that I think makes a lot of sense for this younger generation of entrepreneurs.