Time for another cliche New Year’s resolution post. If you read any other blogs, you’ve probably already seen at least one. This one will be a reflection on my life over the past 10 years and then a look ahead.

Where I’ve Been

I graduated high school in the year 2000, barely. I always hated high school, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I never enjoyed working for other people, and most of the jobs I had were short term, contract type jobs. After graduating high school I spent time jerking around, not getting a whole lot done. I took a couple semesters of community college for the hell of it, but it never amounted to anything. I managed to stay out of trouble, but not by much. Eventually, I realized something had to give.

I still didn’t have any clue what I wanted to do for a living, but I knew I wanted to be my own boss. After a lot of mulling, I finally decided that I would have the best shot at getting into business for myself if I got into computers. I settled on Brown College, and signed up for a computer programming Associate Degree program. The whole program took less than 2 years, and I excelled in basically every class, making the Dean’s List every semester. I gained a solid understanding of the basic principals of computer programming, and when I graduated, I felt I was starting to head in the right direction.

After I got out of college, at the age of 22, I took a low paying internship at one of the top web development firms here in Minneapolis. I spent almost 2 years working there – doing a bunch of typical intern-like tasks, and learning the trade at the same time. I didn’t even get to really touch a website until a good 6 months or so after I started the job. Eventually, I got my start – slicing up PSDs and turning them into HTML. I learned quickly, and enjoyed the work, and soon I was programming at least a website or two every month.

After 2 years of hard work, I had an opportunity to quit my job and move down to Fort Myers Beach, Florida to work in the family business in the hair replacement industry. At the time, I had been married for about 6 months and had just had a baby daughter. My lease on my apartment was about up, and my health insurance costs had just increased to about $500/month out of pocket, about 40% of what I was actually taking home each month after taxes. I knew I would be taking a risk making the move. I didn’t know anyone in Florida outside of the few family members that I would be working with, and the business I was getting involved with was fairly new, and not exactly the most stable choice I could have made.  After assessing the situation and agonizing over the decision for months, I decided to take the shot, quit my job and move down to Florida.  When I got down there, I moved into my parents’ investment property on Fort Myers Beach. The location was great, and after living in Minnesota my whole life, I enjoyed the beautiful weather. Business, however, was slow. Nevertheless, within the first 2 months of moving, I designed and coded my first website ever completely on my own. Before I had only coded PSDs for client websites at my company. Within the next 6 months, I created several more websites, including a fairly good size e-commerce site selling men’s hair pieces. The e-commerce site was a pet project of mine that I started to get some practice programming shopping carts, and at the same time get rid of a room full of hair pieces my parents had sitting around for several years collecting dust.

Within another 6 months my e-commerce business was starting to gain a little momentum, but the originanal work I had moved to Florida to do was very slow going. My wife was also just about due to give birth to our son, so the pressure was really on, as I knew I was going to need to be able to provide for my family. About a week after our son was born the situation with the family business was seemingly getting worse, and my wife and I were really missing our other family and friends back in Minnesota, so we made the very difficult decision to take what little we had, and move back to Minnesota.

My e-commerce business was netting me about $1000/month in profit when we moved back to Minnesota. We found a little 3 bedroom farm house about 30 minutes west of Minneapolis to rent for $800 a month. That didn’t leave us a lot to work with, and we had virtually no savings.  As soon as we got unpacked, and I got my computer set up, I got to work. I knew I didn’t want to go back to working at another company, so I would have to work my ass off if I wanted to stay self employed. I took a contracting job working remotely for a dating related website network doing website maintenance, which ended up giving me about another $300/month, or so at $12/hour. It wasn’t much, but it gave me confidence that I was headed in the right direction. In February of 2006, I started up my own Minnesota web design company in hopes of drumming up some more business. Several weeks later, I responded to a Craig’s list ad for a  $20/hour contracting job working on websites for a web design company in California. This was a huge break, and I was finally making enough money to start paying the bills. I also picked up a few more local web design clients, and things were starting to roll. About 6 months later, I hit one of my biggest breaks – I responded to another Craig’s List ad regarding some web design work, and struck up a wonderful relationship with a local business consultant. We enjoyed working with each other and he got me involved with projects for a lot of his clients, and gave me many other great referrals, the pay was also better too. For the first time ever, I actually felt like I was making good money.

It was about this time that I started to learn about affiliate marketing and making money online. I had added adsense to a site I had been playing around with over a year previously, but never earned anything and never really took any time to learn. Now, I was reading about people making a fortune using PPC and affiliate offers, and this sort of stuff seemed right up my alley. I put up my first affiliate-style site, a halloween site, and ran a small PPC campaign to it, selling Tom Arma baby costumes via a CJ affiliate program. The result? I made a couple hundred in affiliate sales, but also spent almost the same in PPC, so I pretty much broke even. Around the same time, I learned the guy I was contracting for in California was also making some money off adsense, and I started to get really interested in the whole process. I set up a couple sites and let it rip.  It took about 4 months to get my first adsense check, but it felt really good. I kept going. I started outsourcing articles and putting them up on pre-owned domains. Looking back on it now, I was so close to doing it right, but sadly at the time I had no clue how to really make money with AdSense, and I was spending a lot of money on niches that were too broad, competitive, and low paying. Nevertheless, I kept at it, and kept reading. I stumbled on an article, can’t even remember the exact link now, but it was on principle of marketing, which I don’t think even exists anymore, and it basically gave a brief overview of how to choose niches for adsense. In a nutshell, target high cpc keywords with a low amount of search results, rinse, and repeat. It was an absolute fucking brilliant article and totally changed my life and my approach. With a new, focused approach, I was starting to make more money and checks were starting to come in every couple months, then every other month, and soon I was making a couple hundred a month off adsense.

Looking back on it, it seems like much more than 2 years ago, but it wasn’t until April of 2008 that I first heard about PHPBay and the Ebay affiliate program. This was another life changing moment for me. I’m not one to spend a lot of money on programs, scripts, eBooks, etc, but the minute I heard about PHPBay I was sold. I instantly bought a copy, and got to work. It was probably one of the best purchases of my entire life. I installed PHPBay on my top earning AdSense site, an Apple related site. I created a whole mini “store” within the site selling a variety of different Apple products. This site was already getting about 200 organic visits a day, and I was absolutely floored at how effortlesslyI started earning, making a my first sale literally the first day I had PHPBay installed. From then on, I was hooked. I started putting up a slew of new sites. I made about $150 in my first full month of PHPBay, $300 my second month, and it kept going up from there. By fall I was making well over $1000/month.

Also in October of 2008, I had the great fortune of connecting with another local business consultant who brought me a ton of EXCELLENT new clients for my web design business. At this point, my e-commerce business I started out with was doing well, my web devlopment business was really taking off, and my passive affiliate marketing income was doing better than ever. I really felt like I was on top of the world.

In November 08, out of the blue my wife and I received a fairly nasty-toned letter from our landlord stating that we would have to face a fairly significant rent increase or put in our 2 months notice. In the spring of 08, we had participated in a program run by the State where you take 6 weeks of finance/home ownership related classes, and put $1000 into a savings account over a period of 6 months, and the program would match the $1000 x 5, for a total of $5000 back to put towards a house. We weren’t exactly ready to move when we received the letter in November, but we decided to go for it anyway, rather than face a rent increase. The rest of November and December 08 was virtually a blur, as we raced to find a house in our modest price range, big enough for a family of four, and within a reasonable distance from the city. Luckily we made it all happen, and after a hellish 40 mile move in sub-zero, snowy late December weather, we started 2009 in our first house, with things looking up.

2009 recap

The year started out great – I continuted to get big time work from my web development business and made some additional new connections. Checks continued to roll in. The first couple months of EPN earnings were fantastic, and my paypal account was getting extremely fat. I continued to roll out new sites, and things seemed to be getting better and better.

Around April of 09, I started to see a problem, a couple of my EPN sites were deindexed by Google, which at the time was inexplicable to me at the time. May of 09 rolled around, and again, more sites were deindexed. Then June, and the biggest chunk of my good earners were deindexed. My EPN earnings were down over 50% from January and February. Luckily I had many adsense sites still kicking, and my EPN earnings were still solid despite being cut in half. I kept going. I stumbled on the Keyword Academy in late June and jumped on the HubPages bandwagon.  July was a busy month for my web development biz, but I wanted to try to get my EPN earnings back on track, so I planned to take massive action, by creating my 100 EPN site in 30 day challenge for the month of August. I had been sitting on a fat paypal account for months from all the EPN payouts – totally stupid move in retrospect, as I should have been putting that money back to work immediately. I put a substantial investment into my 100 EPN in 30 day project, and while I didn’t entirely finish all 100 sites in August, I did finsh all 100 sites within 2 months. Funny thing happened, though, 2 weeks into the challenge I got the email from EPN regarding their change to Quality Click Pricing. This was the first setback to the challenge. I had created this challenge on the premise of my EPN sites working in the same way they always had, with the goal being to get visitors to click through to ebay, and plant an idea in their head that eBay would be a good place to buy their product, and hope that at some point they would make a purchase. With QCP, everything changed. Now, the goal would be to send relevant traffic that would purchase as soon as possible. Luckily this didn’t completely flip my plans upside down, but it was an additional challenge added into the mix, as I was always successful under their previous system. Even the move from CJ to EPN didn’t effect me much, which is why I didn’t mention it previously in this post. The second major setback to the 100 EPN site in 30 day challenge, basically all 100 sites were sandboxed. In a nutshell, this means they would not be getting targeted organic search traffic from google for a good 6-9 months at least.  Basically meaning my anticipated earnings when I started the project would not materialize until well into 2010.

Luckily I didn’t put all my eggs into 1 basket with the 100 EPN site challenge. At the same time, I was also working on developing several hundred hub pages and info barrels, about 20 new adsense sites and several large authority sites. In October, November and December, I started focusing on buying quailty pre-owned domains, began working with the Amazon affiliate program and  kept plugging away. December was the best Adsense month I’ve ever had, and I’m more sure than ever I’m on the right track, because I believe Adsense is the hardest program to actually make a LOT of money off of. Anyone can make $5/day with a couple months work, but scaling up and staying diverse and safe at the same time takes a lot of skill (in my opinion).

Overall 2009 was an interesting year. I did very well as far as my web development business goes, my e-commerce site did OK, and my affilate business didn’t quite get to where I thought it would be at this time last year, but the main thing I think I really came away with was a wealth of knowledge I didn’t have before.

Some of the things I implemented in the last year that have really helped me:

Trial and Error – I really had to flip the script after the 100 EPN site in 30 day challenge didn’t meet my expectations. Now, I’ve been testing everything and finding out a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. If I ever do a big challenge again, I will absolutely test it on a small scale first so I know exactly what to expect.

Diversification – I started out 2009 expecting my EPN income to continue rising each month as it had for each of the previous 8 or so months. Boy did that blow up in my face. Now I know that I need to be – AT A MINIMUM – balanced between AdSense and EPN, and once that happens I need to focus on Amazon for an equal balance between the three. Once I’m making enough off that, I’m going to put money into something completely unrelated to the Internet, like real estate or something to that effect.

Lists – probably one of the most important things I’ve ever done is start using immense to-do lists. Ever since I started working out of college, I’ve always kept a huge pile of scratch paper on my desk. Early in 09, I started getting so busy, I needed a way to prioritize tasks better, so I started writing to-do lists on my scratch paper, prioritizing each item, and trying to cross off as many things as possible each day. I will continue adding and crossing off items from a piece of paper until it’s completely filled up with nothing but crossed off items. Then I’ll slide it into the recycling bin and start a new piece of paper. I can honestly say, one of the best feelings is recycling those pieces of paper filled with crossed off items. It really comes with a great sense of accomplishment, it helps me stay focused on what I actually need to get done, and most importantly helps me prioritize things.

Organization – The other really important thing I picked up from the Keyword Academy was employing better organization skills. I’ve been keeping track of all my new projects in an Excel Spreadsheet, and the results are indisputable. Everything from my 100 EPN site challenge, to individual page SEO on my authority sites, to my SEO clients is kept and tracked in it’s own spreadsheet, and I try to record every detail possible. I hope to share more specifics about this in 2010.

Reflections from the past 10 Years

Looking back, I think the past 10 years, for me, has really been defined by a few crucial decisions along the way. It started when I was out of high school, doing nothing with my life. I could have very well ended up selling pot, or just wasting away doing nothing, but I was fortunate enough to have a moment of clarity and realize that I needed to get into school. Making the decision to go to Brown College for Computer Programming, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a computer programmer, was definitely a big move for me. The next decision came after I graduated and got my associate degree – I could have gone back to Brown for 2 more years and earned a Bachelor’s in computer programming, but instead I decided to take a low paying internship and pursue web design. If I would have gone back to Brown College, I probably would be working for some huge company right now doing some boring shit like punching numbers on an AS/400, or some other lame, monotinous work. Instead, I took a shot on the web design Internship, and it absolutely changed my life. My next big decision was to quit my job and move my family to Florida. This may have been the biggest decision of my life. Although things didn’t work out the way expected in Florida, my life changed forever, and I learned things I never could have learned working for a company. The last big decision was to move back to Minnesota on a $1000/month income with a wife and 2 kids. Everything pretty much fell into place after that. Overall, I can honestly say I’ve been really blessed by everything that has happened to me over the past 10 years. I have a great family – my kids are healthy, my wife hasn’t had to work since she gave birth to our first child, we’ve got a nice house, and I’m doing what I love for a living. If the next 10 years are even half as good as the last 10, I’ll consider myself lucky. The biggest things I’ve learned are that sometimes you’ve got to set goals for yourself in life if you really want to go anywhere, and you’ve got to take risks sometimes to reach those goals. Big thinking and hard work really do pay off.

Where I’m Going

So this is a little more than your typical New Year’s resolution post, but that’s still the gist of this article. Going back to what I was saying above about lists, I think putting New Year’s resolutions in a list is a good idea, so that’s what I’m trying this year. I’ve also focused on smaller goals with a clear conclusion, so that I can constantly work to cross them off my list. Ideally I would like to have all the items on my list of resolutions crossed off within the first 6 months of 2010, so that I can work on a new list.  So without further ado, here are my top 10 resolutions for 2010:

1. Reach $50/Day in AdSense Earnings

This is actually a pretty reasonable goal, as I’m already close to this, so I would like to get this one knocked out quickly so I can work on something bigger.

2. Reach $50/Day in EPN Earnings

This is another relatively reasonable goal for me, as I was already making well over this at one point. My 100 EPN sites should be out of the sandbox between February and May and I’ve already done extensive backlink work on them, so I am confident I will shatter this one without even having to do much additional work. I just need to play the waiting game.

3. Reach $200/Month in Amazon Earnings

Again, this is a pretty reasonable goal, and one I should probably be able to knock out in a couple months – hopefully. I just want to get to the point where I’m earning SOMETHING from Amazon consistently, so I’ll have something to build on. I think this will be a good start.

4. Lose 20 Pounds in the next 2 Months

I’ve always been up and down with my weight. Before I started working in 2003 or so, I was an atheletic 175 pounds and I played several hours of basketball every day. By 2005, I weighed over 300 pounds, and in 2007 I lost a large chunk of it again, and I’ve been between the 220-250 pound range ever since. I think being physically healthy is an extremely important part of life and I plan to continue eating healthy, as I have been, and also work out at least an hour every day.

5. Complete a Web Development Project I’ve Been Planning for 6 Months

In addition to affiliate marketing, I also want to expand my web development business by starting new web development companies targeted towards specific verticals. I have my first one mapped out and ready to go, I just need to put in some serious work to launch it. Once I get this first vertical done, I have several more I can move into if the first one does well.

6. Get My E-Commerce Site into the Top 5 in Google for a Very Competitive Keyword I’ve Been Targeting

I’ve been working on SEO on and off for my e-commerce site since 2006. I’m in a very competitive niche, and while I do very well in terms of organic search, I want to finally start cracking the top spots for some of these really competitive hair loss related terms. My main term I’m targeting, in particular, I’ve finally gotten into the 12th spot for, and it’s taken me 3 and a half years. This year it’s time to quick fucking around and finall get into the top 5. I know I will be able to get this one crossed off my list.

7. Double Daily Organic Traffic to My E-Commerce Site

This goes hand and hand with the above. Basically my E-Commerce site does pretty well, but I know it could do better if it were ranking at the top for some of these keywords. I want to get out of the “just being profitable” range and really blow up this business. I’m partnered with my Mom on the project, so I would like to be able to see her cash in on this deal too. I’ve got renewed focus on this project this year.

8. 20 x New Micro Niche Sites

I’ve been working on these “micro niche sites” ever since my EPN sites all got sanboxed last fall. I started a split test in early December and have some interesting results already. I plan to expand on that, and pop out 20 new micro niches. I plan on this probably being the first thing crossed off my list, as it should be done before the end of January, and I will be elaborating more on that in coming posts.

9. Get a Really Nice Sound System Installed in My Lincoln Town Car

I know this is not much of a resolultion, but my car badly needs subs and 6 x 9’s, and I’ve got a tight ass deck sitting in my garage. I had a great Bose sound system and deck in my previous car – an Infiniti J30, but the tranny blew on it last December and I’ve been rolling in the Lincoln ever since. It’s a great car, but the speakers are total shit, and subsequently, I only really listen to sports talk radio. I think this will probably end up being the second thing I get crossed off the list, and I’ll be happy to get this done.

10. Post at Least 156 New Posts on This Site

Last but not least, I really want to ramp up my efforts on this site, if for nothing else but to help myself organize my thoughts. I’ve also started to make a little money off this site too, which makes me happy, andI know I’ve got people out there who actually like reading what I have to say. So I’m going to try my hardest to post at least 3 times a week, maybe more, and make this site as good as it possibly can be. Right now I’ve got 71 posts – this will be 72, so I’ve got a hell of a way to go.

Last Goal: Complete this list as soon as possible, start new list.

Well it has taken me quite a while to write this. If you’ve read it this far, hopefully you’ve found it a little more interesting and insightful than your typical cliche New Year’s Resolution post. Now that I’ve published it here, I’m accountable.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous 2010.

What are your resolutions?

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