This is an interview with Marc from VitalDollar.
Hey Marc. Tell us about yourself and what you do.
I’m 40 years old and I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and our two kids (we have a daughter who is 6, and a son who is 3).
I’ve been self-employed as a blogger and internet marketer since 2008. For more than 10 years now, I’ve been blessed to be able to work from home and earn a living working on my own websites.
Over the years I’ve had websites/blogs in several different industries, including web design, photography, travel, and finance. The main reason I’ve had a lot of different sites is because I’ve sold several of them, and after selling a site I move on to something else.
My current project is a personal finance blog, VitalDollar.com, where I cover topics related to managing your money, different ways to save money, and different ways to make money. There are a lot of posts on the blog about side hustles and ways to make extra money, even if you have a full-time job.
What was your first side hustle and how did that go?
My first side hustle started in late 2006 while I was working full-time as an auditor.
I wanted to make some extra money, so I started designing and coding websites for small businesses. I had taken a web design course my last semester of college. It was really basic, but it got me interested in web design and I learned more after graduation by reading books and following online tutorials.
My first few clients were family and friends. In 2007, I decided to take it more seriously and look for clients aside from just people that I knew, so I created a portfolio site.
I added a blog to the site in an attempt to get traffic and exposure. I didn’t even know what a blog was, so I was just learning as I went.
The blog actually took off pretty quickly and as soon as I started to get traffic I got hooked. That’s really what I consider to be the start of my
Once I saw traffic coming to the blog I knew it was possible and I started putting time into the blog every day.
The blog actually did help me with my goal of getting clients for my web design services, but I found that I really didn’t enjoy that work.
I was having a lot more fun working on the blog, so I decided to focus on growing the blog instead of getting clients. I did take clients here and there when it was a good fit, but I put a lot more time and effort into growing the blog.
Since I wasn’t going to be making much money from client work, I decided to monetize the blog in other ways. For a while that was mostly just banner ads and AdSense.
Thanks to that side hustle I was able to quit my job in 2008, and since then I’ve been working on my own blogs and websites full-time.
How many sites have you sold and how much did you earn from that?
Here are the details of my blog sales:
- In 2010 I sold a web design blog for $50,000 (that blog launched in 2008)
- In 2013 I sold a web design blog for $500,000 (this was my first blog that I launched in 2007)
- In 2016 I sold two photography blogs together for $500,000 (launched in 2012 and 2014)
- In 2018 I sold another photography blog for $216,000 (launched in 2015)
The sale in 2018 was done through a broker, so after broker fees I got $194,400.
My wife and I also had a separate Amazon FBA business that we ran from 2015 – 2017. We sold that in 2017 for $225,000.
At what point in your blogging journey did you leave your 9 to 5 job to do this full-time?
I launched my first blog in the spring of 2007. The first few months I only published articles here and there without much effort being put in.
July of 2007 was when I really started dedicating time to it. And I quit my job in November of 2008, so it was about 1.5 years.
One of the things that made it possible for me to leave my job at that point was freelance writing.
I was making some money from my own blog by then, but I also wrote for several other blogs on a freelance basis. That income helped to bridge the gap and allowed me to replace the income from my job.
As the income from my own blog grew, I scaled back on the freelance writing until I eventually stopped it altogether.
I’ve also done freelance writing a few other times throughout the past 10 years. Usually it’s been after I’ve sold one of my sites and I’m trying to work my income back up.
What has been your most successful website so far and why?
Honestly, I would probably consider my very first blog to be the most successful (the one I sold in 2013 for $500,000).
I had a higher monthly income from that site at its peak ($20,000+ profit) than from any of my other sites. It also had the highest traffic.
But that blog also got a lot more of my time and attention than any other project. It was my full-time focus for about 5 years. Most of my other projects have had to share my time and attention with other things.
I also consider one of my photography blogs to be very successful because it did well with limited effort from me. The site only made $3,000 – $5,000 per month, but I didn’t put much time into the site.
It grew an email list and sold digital products with only minimal effort on my part. It was the closest thing I’ve had to a significant passive income.
Why did you sell websites that were earning you money every month?
That’s a good question. The situation was a little bit different with each sale, but the one constant that was a major factor in each case was the ability to free up my time to do something else.
I usually have a few different websites or projects that I’m managing, and if I want to dedicate more time to something, I need to free up that time somehow. One easy way to free up time is to sell one of the other websites/blogs that is taking up my time.
With the blog that I sold for $500,000 in 2013 (my first blog), another major factor was that I wanted to cash out while I knew the site had some value.
I had worked hard on the site for 6 years at that point, and I had made a pretty decent income during that time. But being able to get $500,000 for it was huge for our family.
I was mentally ready to move on to something else. I could have held on to the site and outsourced everything, but there’s a good chance the income would have slowly declined if I wasn’t actively engaged with the site.
I decided to sell while the profit was still growing and while the value was up.
I have a few friends who have held on to sites too long and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to what they could have sold for a few years earlier. I’ve learned that if your heart is not in it anymore, it’s usually better to sell and be done.
I really didn’t want to sell the photography blogs in 2016, but I felt like I needed to.
My wife and I were running an Amazon FBA business that was growing quickly, and I just didn’t have the time to do a good job with everything.
I felt the photography blogs were a year or two away from being much more valuable, but I didn’t have the time to do what was needed with them. I had a guy I knew who was willing to buy them for $500,000, so I decided that was the best move considering the circumstances.
Read also: How Jim Wang Sold a Finance Blog for $3 Million
How did you find a buyer and what platform did you use to avoid risks?
Most of my sales have been done privately, without a broker. Both of the $500,000 sales were private, and I knew the buyers.
They were people that ran other blogs in my niche and we had known each other for a while. Since there was mutual trust, we didn’t do a whole lot to protect ourselves (buyer or seller) aside from signing a contract.
With both of these deals the buyer sent me a wire transfer, and once I had the money I transferred the website to the buyer. The buyers took a greater risk than I did.
I didn’t get the full payment up front in either case. With both of those deals I got the final $100,000 a year after the sale.
To protect myself, the contract stated that the final payment was not conditional on the performance of the website and the buyers also signed personal guarantees. At first, I wasn’t crazy about delaying part of the payment, but it actually worked out better for tax purposes.
If you’re looking for added safety in a transition you can use escrow.com or another escrow service.
The buyer will transfer the money to an escrow account. Once the money is verified they’ll notify you (the seller) and you’ll transfer everything to the buyer. Once the buyer receives everything they will acknowledge the receipt and the escrow company will send you the money.
The website that was sold in 2018 was done through a broker. The broker found a few potential buyers and I had a couple of solid offers the first week the site was listed. I accepted the best offer and we used escrow.com for the transition.
I’ve always been hesitant to use brokers because the fees can be pretty high, but I had a great experience with the broker.
Even after the fees, I got a sale price that I was very happy with. I would definitely consider listing with a broker again.
How should bloggers decide what to charge for their site?
This is one of the hardest parts of selling a blog, and it’s also the most confusing for people who have never been through the process.
Of course, there are a lot of factors that can influence the value of a website. In reality, the true value is whatever someone is willing to pay for the site.
Every buyer is going to have their own process for determining what they are willing to pay, so there is no exact formula. However, by far the biggest factor will be the amount of profit that the website is making.
In general, buyers care about profit. Potential is nice, but they’re usually not willing to pay more for it.
Many sellers focus on potential when they are talking about why their site is worth a certain amount. But typically a buyer is going to multiply the monthly profit by some number to determine what they are willing to pay.
For example, one buyer might be willing to pay 24 times the average monthly profit, and another buyer might be willing to pay 36 times the average monthly profit.
When I listed my blog with a broker in 2018, I provided a spreadsheet with all of the financial numbers.
The broker took the average monthly profit from the past 12 months, multiplied it by 36, and that number was used as the listing price. The offer that I accepted was about 95% of the list price, which I thought was really good.
There are also other factors involved that can influence the price, like the amount of time required to run the site. If the site is completely passive and requires little or no time, its value may be higher. If it requires a lot of time, the value may be lower.
The value can also be impacted by things like the diversity of traffic and diversity of income.
If the site gets 90% of its traffic from Pinterest and ad revenue is the only source of income, the valuation will probably be lower because it’s risky.
Almost every broker will be willing to give you a free consultation and give you their opinion on the price that you should ask for the site. This can be really helpful if you’re not sure how much your site is worth.
Empire Flippers has a free valuation tool that you can use to get a rough idea of the price. And if you’re looking for a broker, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the broker I used.
Do you think every blogger should have multiple sites and why?
No, I don’t. There are pros and cons to having multiple sites.
I like to have multiple sites because it’s hard for me to pick just one that I want to work on. And I also like to have multiple sites as a backup plan.
The downside to having multiple sites is that it splits your time and attention. If you’re giving all of your focus to one site it will almost certainly grow faster.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong approach. Just do what feels like the best option for you.
Read also: How Abby Lawson Turned Her Hobby into a 6-Figure Family Business
What’s your favorite blog monetization method?
My favorite monetization method is selling digital products, with affiliate marketing being my second choice.
In my early blogging days, banner ads and AdSense accounted for most of the income from my blog. The biggest thing I don’t like about that approach is that you’re constantly under pressure to increase traffic, or at least keep it steady.
If you’re traffic drops, your income is almost guaranteed to drop. After a while, I found it to get really exhausting always focused on growing traffic.
The past 7 or 8 years, a big part of my income has been from selling digital products. I like this approach because it’s more lucrative than most other monetization methods and you don’t have to constantly worry about
Even if your traffic drops, you can still increase your revenue by launching a new product, running a sale or promo, partnering with new affiliates, or just promoting the products more effectively.
I also like the fact that a good digital product can be sold over-and-over for several years (although it may need some updating here and there).
Affiliate marketing is also a good option that can be very lucrative as well. The nice thing about being an affiliate is you don’t have to create the products or handle the sales and customer service.
Another great things is that there are affiliate programs in just about any niche you can image, and even if you’re using another monetization method with your blog, you can probably find at least a few products to promote as an affiliate.
One reason I like selling digital products slightly more than affiliate marketing is that as an affiliate you’re helping someone else build their customer list.
They may make future sales to that customer and you might not be compensated for it. With your own products, you’re building your own customer list that will continue to be an asset going forward.
How do you go about content creation?
I typically start by identifying the core pieces of content (or pillar posts) that will serve as a good foundation for the blog.
These are usually in-depth pieces of content that will be of interest to many of your readers, and hopefully will be relevant for several years. These are posts that you can link to in your sidebar, promote from main pages on your site, or mention to your email subscribers in a follow up sequence after they join your list.
The biggest thing is thinking about the target audience and determining what content they will like, and what will help them the most.
Sometimes I’ll also do keyword research to find ideas and to look for keywords and search phrases that will give me a chance to rank on the first page of Google.
Social media can also be a good source of traffic, so sometimes I’ll choose post topics because I think it has a chance to get shared a lot.
As far as creating the post goes, I write down all of my thoughts and ideas and form that into an outline. After I have the outline, I’ll write out the entire post.
Depending on how much research I need to do, I’ll usually do that during the outlining process. If all I need is a source or two, I’ll usually just do that while I’m actually writing the post.
I’ve hired freelance writers for some of my blogs in the past. To find writers I’ve either checked other blogs and proactively contacted people that I thought would be a good fit, or I’ve listed an opening on the ProBlogger job board.
What are your main traffic sources?
Google has been the leading source of traffic for most of my blogs. Pinterest has also been a good source for some of my blogs, especially the photography blogs.
Some of my blogs have done pretty well with referral traffic from other sites. The most successful approach I used for this was creating free resources and getting links from other websites and blogs that led visitors to those freebies.
I like to have some diversity in traffic rather than relying too much on any one source.
Usually, if you actively work on a blog for a few years, Google is pretty likely to wind up being the leading source of traffic in the long run.
What blogging tools do you rely on?
I’ve used a lot of different hosts over the years including Bluehost, SiteGround, LiquidWeb and BigScoots. I’ve used many other hosts as well, but those are the ones that I’ve been happy with.
I currently use ConvertKit for email marketing, but I’ve also used Aweber and GetResponse extensively in the past.
I use Tailwind for managing and scheduling on Pinterest.
I use VaultPress for automated backups, even if my hosting plan comes with backups. I’ve never had to restore a VaultPress backup, so I can’t say how well it actually works, but knowing that it’s being backed up makes me feel safer.
What are your goals for Vital Dollar?
I hope to make the site a great resource for people who want to improve their lives financially. I want to help people find ways to save money and get the most out of the money they have.
It’s also important to me to be able to help people who want to find ways to increase their income.
My goal is to be able to make enough money from the site to support our family. I’d like to run the site for a long time and I have no plans to sell it anytime soon.
I’ve enjoyed selling other sites in the past and being able to move on to other things, but starting over is hard and I’m not eager to do it again anytime soon. I’d like to run the site until I reach financial independence.
How has your financial life changed ever since you became a blogger?
When I started blogging I was 28 years old, had been married for less than a year, and had no kids. I didn’t make a lot of money in my 20’s. My wife and I were doing ok.
We had no credit card debt or student loans and we owned a small condo that was perfect for just the two of us. But we definitely weren’t getting ahead as quickly as we wanted to.
Starting my own blogging business had a huge impact on our finances. My income increased drastically, and the money from the blog sales allowed us to increase our net worth by over $1 million in less than 10 years.
My wife stopped working 6 years ago when we became parents, which wouldn’t have been possible on the salary from my old job.
What are your best tips for those who want to make money from a hobby?
There are a lot of different ways to make money from a hobby (offering a service, blogging, selling products, YouTube channel, etc.), so it kind of depends on the hobby and what you want to do.
In general, I think it’s good to find a way that you can start making money quickly, because that will give you some excitement and keep you interested in moving forward. Plus, you can re-invest some of that money and use it to grow a legitimate business out of the hobby.
In many cases, I think offering a service is a great way to monetize a hobby.
This could be something like giving music lessons, taking photos, working as a graphic designer, freelance writing, working as a personal trainer, or anything else.
Services are good options because you can start making money as soon as you have your first client, and you’ll be getting paid for the time you put in.
The downside to offering a service is that you’re trading your time for money, and it can be hard to scale up. So if your goal is to really increase your income from the hobby, I think it’s good to look at adding a revenue source that doesn’t involve trading your time for money.
Something like starting a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel offers a higher upside, but it will require putting in some work before you start to make money.
Selling digital products is also a great option that allows you to break free from trading your time for money.
For example, if your hobby is playing the guitar, you could start off by offering some one-on-one lessons locally or online (there are a few platforms for this). That allows you to start making money quickly, and then you can try to scale up by creating a video course that you can sell online to people who want to learn to play the guitar. The course offers a much higher potential and may allow you to get to a full-time income.
Another thing to keep in mind is that not all hobbies offer the same income potential. Some hobbies are easier to monetize than others, so you need to consider this when you’re deciding which hobby to pursue.
If you’re looking for ideas, I have an article that covers many of the best hobbies that make money.
Where can people find you?
People can find me at my blog, VitalDollar.com (link to the contact page is in the site footer), or reach out to me on Twitter. Thanks for the opportunity to do the interview. It’s been great!