How I felt when I made my first real $ online.

person putting coin in a piggy bank

Another backstory post today, where I take you all the way back to 2012 when I started to make decent levels of income through “online” work. Here’s how I felt, and what was contributing to my income.

How did I feel?

I felt good. Everything was still a side project at this time. I was “working a day job” which meant 9-5 in an office plus a daily commute each way of about 1hr (or worse if bad traffic or set off late). It felt really good to be making real money “online” without needing to 1:1 trade my time for money.

To this day, it still randomly sells a copy here and there. Which is crazy to say the effort in writing the content was done over 10 years ago – but the tips still ring true to this day.

The surprising route I took into making money online

This is about 6 months after the surprising route I took into making money online. I’d gotten hooked, and spent a lot of time teaching myself WordPress, how to set up websites and how to try to grow an idea.

I’d taken “Make Your Offer” from being a website for my own books, to being a social network of authors. I was using WooCommerce to sell digital copies of my books, selling them in PDF, epub, etc.

I wanted to become a “Middle Man (like the film)” where I could help others sell their content (ok, not porn) but follow the same business route. Middle Men (the film) was a film that changed my outlook. So I went about setting up something similar for eBooks. I’d create and maintain the platform and take a small commission from other authors also selling their work via “Make Your Offer”.

Actually inspiring

Through doing this, I learned how to setup and use WordPress really deeply. I then started doing a bit of freelance on the side over on PeoplePerHour to help people set up their websites (one person paid me £20 a pop, to setup and install WordPress for his affiliate network of sites – I later wrote him a guide and saved him that £20 a time, since setting up WordPress is a quick 5 minute install, it just needed a new instance creating on his hosting panel).

I was saving everything I was making online into a company, and only the 20% corporation tax (which is 19% now). It felt really good to be building that up into a place that I could use in the future.

What happened next with MYO?

I was growing the number of authors on the platform, but so far hadn’t managed to make a single external sale. I looked into possibly having “accounts” where each person signing up would get 2 bitcoins (back when the price was $5.27 a bitcoin) – how I wish I’d have done that as I was planning on buying about 100 bitcoins to be able to give them out as people joined.

That would have cost me $527 at the time and be worth $4,306,240 today (yikes!) but also I’d have likely have given it away to 50 random sign ups as a sign up reward. It did however mean I invested in Bitcoin a bit later (just around the Silk Road scandal time) – but that’s a story for another post.

Silk Road Scandal

One of the authors on my social ebook platform was putting out a new book and had messaged me on the platform asking me if there was a way to put up a gallery of the potential book covers and let the other authors like and comment on the image – just like on Facebook photos.

I was using PeoplePerHour to bring a bit of extra income in to help fund the side project bookstore, so I posted my own job up there to build a WordPress plugin – a job which I awarded to Woody (who I now work with to this day at Automattic).

What did I use to start my social eBookstore? You can do the same too.

  • WordPress (obviously) – check out WordPress.com.
  • WooCommerce.
  • WooCommerce Multi Vendor.
  • BuddyPress for the social aspects.
  • Custom coding for the “make your offer” price.
  • Social Gallery (the plugin born from customer feedback).
  • Pics Mash (a plugin I wrote myself, to rank which book cover on the site was best).

I didn’t have the funds to pay for the plugin development ($1k+ eek), so instead Woody agreed to build it and we put it on a marketplace with him taking 85% and myself 15% of any sales the plugin made.

That plugin went on to make over $150k on the marketplace and not only did it kick start making real money online – it got me into plugin development and I built up a portfolio of my own plugins.

Epic Plugins was born and you can see the sort of levels of income I got it to in one of my transparency posts over there (before we split “ZBS” into its own company).

Shutting down MYO.

Rewind back to 2012/13. I won’t lie, my social e-bookstore never took off. I got about 100 authors signed up to the platform. They were uploading their works in .doc format and I’d go ahead and convert each one to PDF, ePUB for the downloads. It was a manual process and took quite a bit of time per book.

I needed to automate the process, which would have involved a nodeJS script and probably a heroku install to act as the server running the script and a fair bit of tinkering to get them into the WooCommerce listings (multi vendor) afterwards.

Not to mention monitoring the quality of the work submitted and checking for anything bad (such as a JS script embedded in a piece of work, or something else nasty that automating a system like that would have brought with it).

The main issue was everyone was using a kindle, and purchasing on Amazon got the book automatically sent to your kindle. With MYO you had to purchase, download and then transfer it to your kindle. There was too much customer friction and I hadn’t done anything to actually attract customers. My key take aways from the MYO project were

  • Listen to people, even without customers I understood the needs of authors (and, other website owners).
  • Attracting “customers” is as important as attracting suppliers (authors) – I thought that just focussing on authors would mean people would buy other authors books – but that didn’t happen.

Try, and even if you fail you’ll come out the other side with some valuable skills which can be applied to other projects.

What was I left with?

I was left with understanding WordPress deeply, and being able to develop WordPress plugins which I continued into a bigger side business. This eventually allowed me to “quit my job” back in May 2016 and focus full time on product development.

Through just starting my ideas, I learnt a lot along the way and ended up with new skills in product development which I continue to use to this day.

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