The following post is a part of the weekly interview series with various full time internet entrepreneurs. If you’d like to be interviewed please contact me here.
Where are you from? How old are you? What’s your blog address and Twitter account? Any other personal details you’d like to share with us?
I’ve lived all over, including several years out of the country, but I’m definitely from the Southeast U.S. and I’ve lived in Atlanta for over 12 years now. I Twitter (occasionally) at @ShanePike, and I blog (also occasionally) at AskShane.org. I’ve also just launched a new site for those starting out making money online called Retire In Five Years. I’m 37 years old (as long as this gets published soon), and I’m not a big fan of long walks on the beach (or short ones).
How did you get started making money online? When did you realize the full potential of owning and operating an online business?
I’ve been building websites since 1995, but my first foray into making money online was in 1999. A good friend of mine found out that big sites like Amazon, EggHead, etc. didn’t stock and ship their own electronics products. They just used one of the two or three big distributors in the U.S. to dropship for them. So he talked me into building an online computer store. We launched in 2000, and by 2001 we were doing more than $1,000,000 in annual sales. Problem was, our margins were next to nothing. That $1,000,000+ netted us about $60,000. We shut down just a few months later.
It was a great learning experience, but it burned me out so badly that I didn’t get back to doing my own thing until 2005. By then, though, I had spent the last 18 months buying and improving sites as part of my day job and had seen the incredible potential in it — not only how successful it could be, but how the model I was using worked every single time. When I decided to leave my job, I immediately looked for a site to buy and rehab for myself.
What type of online business model do you currently run? (i.e. websites, blogs, membership sites, product creation, web services, affiliate marketing, etc.)
I run a blog and the new membership site mentioned above (though you don’t actually have to pay to be a member). I make a living with sites that sell classified advertising, though — jobs specifically.
Do you have any employees or business partners? If so, how many do you have and what do they accomplish in your business?
Not for any of my current projects. I do work closely with a group of investment bankers who support me and we’re always working on some new concept, but we’re not working on anything together right now.
What markets / niches would you like to expand into in the near future? Why?
I’ve been dying to do something local for years — mainly, I think, because it’s so easy to find out where your audience is and they’re so concentrated. I think that would help keep me focused, and focus is constantly a challenge for me.
What online promotional methods do you currently use? Any favorites?
Virtually all of my success so far has come from buying sites that Google already loved, turning them into quality sites, and then making sure they stay that way and are always giving Google what they’re looking for. I never do anything that’s going to make me lie in bed at night worrying about whether I’ll wake up and find that Google has discovered my tricks and eliminated my sites.
Do you perform any offline promotional efforts for your business?
I’ve tried a handful of things, but nothing has ever really worked — primarily because I didn’t do it right, though, rather than because offline doesn’t work. I think for some segments particularly, offline is both huge and drastically underutilized (which makes it an incredible opportunity).
How do you adapt to the constantly changing online marketplace? Any advice?
In the 5 ½ years I’ve been on my own, I really haven’t seen it change much. I guess that’s because I don’t stay on the very leading edge, though. Social media has become huge during that time, but I haven’t tried to leverage it for any of my sites yet; I just haven’t seen other sites like mine figure out how to use it effectively — it’s more people using it because they think they’re supposed to.
And I guess that’s more the reason: I’m definitely one to see what works and then apply it to my business(es). I’m not very often out front blazing a trail.
What was your biggest business success and what did you learn from it?
So far, it’s definitely been my nursing job site. I learned a ton from it, and that’s where virtually all the content on my blog came from. I wanted to write all those things down so people didn’t have to learn them on their own.
What was your biggest business failure and what did you learn from it?
I’ve never failed at anything in my life.
Ok, kidding. I fail all the time. Rather than try to over analyze whether something will be successful or not, I prefer to just go do it and see. You never can tell. History is full of stories of some of the weirdest things taking off and some of the most surefire things failing spectacularly.
So I’m not sure what would be my biggest failure since they’ve all failed pretty early on. I’ve learned lots from many little failures.
Actually, no, that’s not true. The computer store was definitely my biggest failure. The lesson there was that you can’t compete on price with competitors who are much better equipped to beat you at that game. I also learned, as my good friend Warren Bare said, that if you’re giving stuff away, there will always be someone who will take it.
What’s your favorite thing about running an online business?
Oh, gosh. That’s easy. The freedom. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I think everyone has in their mind how great it will be to have that kind of freedom, but most of the things in life we think that about don’t really end up being nearly as great as we thought they would be. This is completely the opposite. As awesome as I thought it would be, it has been so much greater. I don’t even have words to describe it. It’s totally worth killing yourself for a few years to get to that point. No question.
What’s your least favorite thing about running an online business?
The often crushing stress of being 100% responsible for the well-being of you and your family. My risk isn’t shared by a company or even a small team. It’s all me. When things aren’t going so well, you really start to feel that — especially when you’re the sole breadwinner for your family. It’s still an acceptable trade-off for everything else you get, but it can be really bad.
How many hours do you spend per week working? What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
Man, it really varies. That’s what’s nice. If the kids have something going on that week, I can take off a day (or more) to just go hang out with them. It’s been well over a year since I took a real vacation, but I feel like my whole life is a vacation.
Working is what I do for fun. I’d love to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I have an absolute blast doing what I do. It’s like a game with real rewards, huge ones. I don’t play video games like you nerds 😉
(Actually, the reason I don’t play video games is because I can’t do it in moderation. Having a family relying on me keeps me “sober,” but if I were single again and had the freedom that I do right now, I could easily end up like Shoemoney used to be. Most people who have never been there probably think we’re joking, but it’s serious. I stay away from games like that because I know how I’d get sucked in.)
How long do you vacation for each year? Any amazing places you’d recommend people to visit?
We just had a baby a little over a year ago, so we haven’t had any vacations recently 🙂 Probably the last cool place we went was San Francisco for Elite Retreat. I had always heard how cool it was, but man I didn’t expect to love it like I did. I could totally see us living there someday.
I went to Seattle back in 2004, too, and enjoyed 3 absolutely perfect days. That totally had me thinking of moving there. Then two months later it rained for 27 days straight. Guess I won’t be living near guys like you and Neil Patel anytime soon 😉
What is your favorite conference to attend and why? If you don’t attend any why not?
I generally don’t attend conferences anymore. I can already get so much of the content online, and the main reason to go to conferences is to network — which I haven’t needed in the last few years.
That said, if you’re looking to network, you can’t beat Shoemoney’s Elite Retreat and dk’s Think Tank. Definitely worth the entry fee if some serious networking would benefit your business.
If you weren’t in this business what would you prefer to be doing?
Wow, good question. I’d love to be involved full-time in Neil Cole’s organization, Church Multiplication Associates. I think the Western church today just bears amazingly little resemblance to the Jesus the Bible describes. Guys like Neil and your boy Mark Driscoll are willing to stick their necks out to try to turn that ship.
What else do you want to accomplish with your business? Any long term goals?
I’m probably different than many people in that my businesses right now are mainly about just supporting me and my family. I’m not trying to retire yet or get crazy rich.
With Retire In Five Years, though, I’m definitely getting much closer to actually being a useful resource for people trying to do what we do. I started that with my blog, but it was very sporadic and the content was all over the place. Someone would have to take all the pieces and figure out how to put them together. Retire In Five Years changes that. Now all the pieces are put together for them in a very easy-to-consume format.
What is some parting advice that you can give to someone that’s just starting out online?
It’s really hard work and you will fail more times than you can count. It will take you a few years to really figure everything out, so don’t get discouraged — that’s totally normal. One day you’ll wake up, though, and find that things are suddenly making sense and you’re actually making a little money. That’s when things really start to get good. If you quit too early, you’ll totally miss how awesome the rewards are.
Ed Note: Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions Shane!