Besides being a great travel companion, Joel has been able to do some incredible things both inside and outside of business like running 7 Ultras on 7 continents to build 7 schools for Pencils of Promise.
In this post, Joel shares some really awesome advice on how he started his own Hobby Hacking business that now rakes in six figures and helps people around the world stay healthy.
Take it away, Joel!
They’re not super-relevant posts to the content today, but I love the fact that he keeps them up. Why?
Because when I first started reading Location180 (now Location Rebel), the first thing that I thought was: if Sean can do it, I can do it.
I still credit Sean with being the one blogger that made it seem real. That made it seem like even I – Joel sitting in his parent’s basement – could figure out how to travel the world and run my own business.
But, like Sean, I want to help other people get started. I want to help people realize it’s possible.
So today, I want to share how I built a hobby hacking business that does multiple-six-figures while enabling me to spend the last year and a half traveling to 29 countries, visiting all 7 continents, all while raising a ton of money for charity.
And it all started on accident…
Step 1: Throw a Bunch of Stuff at The Wall
When I was first messing around with trying to add a business component to IMPOSSIBLE, I tried a few things.
One of them was a fitness challenge – get a six pack in 8 weeks. The blog turned out to be quite popular, and in it, I had mentioned that I adapted the paleo diet for my challenge and suddenly everybody had questions about the diet itself.
- What is the paleo diet
- How does it work?
- Will it work for me?
- Etc, etc etc?
Pretty soon, I was overrun with questions and was spending a ton of time answering questions about something I didn’t even have a product or service around.
Write down a list of things that interest you. Don’t worry about what they are quite yet, but write them down. If you have a blog, try writing about them here and there.
Again, don’t put too much pressure on yourself just yet. Experimentation is the key.
Step 2: Answer Questions on What Sticks
The chatter that came with the questions was unlike anything I had written beside cold showers. People were asking all sorts of questions – left and right – and I was writing 500-1,000 word emails responding to them.
After getting sick of writing the same thing over and over, I decided to set up a new paleo site and just copy/paste one of my emails there. That way, whenever someone sent me an email about paleo, I could just send them a link to that site instead.
This saved me a couple hours each week in random emails, but it also started to get popular. When I got a question that wasn’t answered on the page, I would add it.
While there’s plenty of SEO and blogging techniques you can learn, answering people’s questions is 80% of the issue.
Note: For 1000% transparency: this was NOT the first idea I tried. We tend to forget all the things that we tried out before things took off – so in the interest of full transparency, here’s a short list of things I tried that I failed miserably at:
- Photography business
- Wedding videography (shoot me now)
- Freelance writing
- Failed app idea
- Failed triathlon guide + tutorial idea
- Failed t-shirt design arbitrage.
- Adventure sports site
There’s a lot more, but my coping mechanism has been to forget about the most embarrassing ones.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but if you keep experimenting and keep your eyes peeled, you’ll start to become aware of what resonates.
Step 3: Paying The Bills
The site began to get traffic. Initially, it was from me sending people that were asking questions over to it.
Apparently, it was useful because more and more people started to visit. It was still early on in the “paleo” trend, so people started to find us via google as well and share us with their friends.
Find 3-5 products that sell well in the space that you’re in. Test them out and see what works. Don’t worry about making a Unicorn company yet – your goal at this stage is to make sure there’s some sort of “checkout” button on the site and cover your hosting bill.
Step 4: Figure Out A Way To Grow
As we started to get traffic, we looked for a way to grow. The main guide was good, but that was all that was getting traffic. We needed to diversify the traffic and build upon the larger opportunity.
I updated the paleo guide to be even more comprehensive, brought on a part-time nutritionist to help run the blog.
Today the site has hundreds of articles and research posts as well as over 400 recipes.
Start learning about SEO. Figure out what areas of your site you can expand into. Look at other channels like Instagram and youtube that you might be able to use to scale up and places where you might be able to strategically use micro-sites.
Step 5: Build a Moat
When people talk about micro-sites or affiliate-sites, they usually stop there.
But the thing about “affiliate sites” or “passive income” when most people talk about it is that they’re not usually that unique. That is to say – that’s there’s no much of a barrier to entry to someone coming in and ripping off your side.
Most affiliate sites are easily replicable and prone to market penetration by new players. This happens a lot in areas like diet and fitness, as soon as a trend starts to take off, you get hundreds of copy-cats.
If you just have an affiliate business, it’s very easy to be replicated. Someone else builds a site and gets that traffic and uses those same affiliates.
But, if you have your own products and services, it’s a lot harder. You can become the player that everyone else sends that traffic to.
In addition to the set of sites we built, we also built our own products
These took a lot more time and money to build than a simple recipe book we could sell as an affiliate, but as we began to build them, we created our own customers and began to build a bigger business that was harder and harder to replicate.
Look at both your site and the space you’re in and what current offerings are out there.
- What’s a product I could make that’s a cheaper lead-in for the Ain product?
- What’s a more expensive product that I could create that customers would like to purchase as an upset?
- What type of service could I provide that I could charge monthly for?
Once you’ve answered those questions, then start looking at how you can go about creating those products.
Step 6: Hiring a Team
Here’s the thing while traveling – it’s easier than ever to run an international business, but I ran into a problem. The business stopped working when I did.
Truly “passive” income is a myth – because like I said before – most sites are readily replicable.
So I brought on some help – and this was HARD. It’s hard to give up control of a site, but it’s also hard to lead and inspire your team towards the goal of the sites and the business.
However, once I learned to let go of the control-freak side of things, it started to pay off. It also made it so I didn’t have to spend every waking day on the site. I could look away from the site and it would still continue to do well.
But if your site already has traction, I’ve found hiring from your own readers can work better than almost anything (Liz might agree)!
Step 7: (Try to) Enjoy Life
One of the things I’ve always admired about how Sean runs things is that he optimizes for lifestyle. He’s very good at kicking back, golfing the hundred best golf courses, meeting Steph Curry or finding the best bar in the city.
I’m a bit different. It’s a bit tougher for me to turn my brain off. As a result, even when I’m in a crazy cool new location, I tend to be thinking about business unless I’m very methodically determined not to.
The important thing about a lifestyle business is the “lifestyle.” Whatever it is that you’re doing, make sure you’re doing it because you want to be doing it.
Start building your bucket list (or impossible list). Remember to check a new thing off every month or two. It keeps you interested, keeps you interesting and reminds you why you’re doing all this after all.
Reminder: Make Something, Do Something, Be Something
If there’s nothing else that you get walking away from this post thinking, I want you to know that you can do it.
When I first read Sean’s posts about happy hours in Portland and moving to Hawaii, I was unemployed and trying to get a job at Starbucks (they wouldn’t call me back). It’s been a lot of work, but I did it.
If it’s possible for Sean, and it’s possible for me, then it’s possible for you.
Go make something happen.