Everyone wants to know how to make money online these days, figuring out a way to start their own business. Makes sense, too, considering there are millions of ways people are utilizing the resources that the Internet has to offer. From becoming a YouTube star, to becoming a paid social media influencer, to selling old stuff online on Amazon, to, well, you get it, there are lots of opportunities out there for people to play around with. Problem is, consistently knowing how to make money online is a skill. It takes discipline. It takes extreme work ethic. It takes patience, as it rarely happens overnight. To be blunt: it’s not for everyone worth trying.
One guy who has done it — and quite successfully, in fact — is Nat Berman. The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Uncoached Media, Berman knows all about the struggle of finding unique ways to build a brand from scratch, grow an audience, utilize his skills and resources around him, and then actually turn a hobby into a full-fledged business. To help anyone who’s wondering how to make money online, Nat Berman sat down to talk with us about his own journey, while offering up some advice to help set expectations if you’re ballsy enough to try something on your own.
Shut Up & Hustle: Was Your Background In Media, Or Did You Sort Of Just Fall Into It?
Nat Berman: “Weirdly enough, I started my first site in 2001 on Yahoo! Geocities; which shows how dated I am. I never even knew what the hell I was doing at the time, and it only lasted a few weeks. After that, I was a recruiter in New York City for 6.5 years and completely fell into this by chance. A buddy of mine told me about a blogging platform called Blogspot. I just started posting random stuff because I’ve always liked to write. I then heard about WordPress, began writing on there, and eventually learned how to put up a website of my own. When that site began picking up traffic, I learned about a little thing called Google Adsense, and, after that, I was completely hooked, learning everything I possibly could about growing a website and how to make money online from it.”
Shut Up & Hustle: What Made You Decide To Pursue A Career in Such A Competitive And Ever-Changing Industry?
Nat Berman: “The fact that I was my own boss was by far the No. 1 selling point. Like I said, once I learned how to make money online from doing this stuff, I was hooked. It took a good six months to a year for me to earn enough money to take a real chance and quit my full-time job.”
Shut Up & Hustle: And You Did All This On Your Own?
Nat Berman: “Yep’ although I have to say that with a caveat. While I was alone, I can’t begin to thank all those that helped me along the way. Back in 2007, the Internet was a different place and people actually responded to cold emails. Sites were much more closely connected then, so we all learned from each other. I must have emailed thousands of people asking questions, and most were actually kind enough to respond.”
Shut Up & Hustle: When You First Started, Describe The Publishing Process And How You Maintained Creating Consistent Content.
Nat Berman: “I just wrote about anything I thought about. If I started a site today, I’d have a much clearer and concise plan’ at least from a subject standpoint. But back then, and even today, when you first start a website, it takes a good while (3-6 months) to really develop a ‘theme.’ Eventually, I broke my site down into categories and turned it into something very consistent, posting a certain amount of content in a certain vertical each day; similar to regular programming on a TV channel. You kind of see what sticks, what your audience likes and, eventually, you start to formulate topic ideas.”
Shut Up & Hustle: Was There A Singular Moment Where You Thought, ‘Damn, I’m In Way Over My Head?’
Nat Berman: “For me, I think it was when I quit my full-time job, because I was definitely a little nervous. I decided to pursue this full-time when I first earned $2,000 in a month. At that point, I was living in New York City and rent was over $3,000, not including all other expenses so that was daunting. At the same time, I think that I knew I was onto something, especially that I was now doing it full-time, meaning I could spend as long as I wanted to each day to learn and try to drive traffic. It was a calculated risk, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous as all hell for the first couple of months.”
Shut Up & Hustle: How Were You Able To Scale And Start Working Smarter And Not Harder For Results?
Nat Berman: “Unfortunately, that one took a long time. In hindsight, I probably should have done it way sooner, but it was a trust issue. It’s virtually impossible to scale a business alone, so, for a very long time, I was the sole writer and operator of my properties. It wasn’t until I found other writers, as well as resources, that I could do operational tasks that led to more websites. At the same time, I’m a stickler for money, so I always had these ‘rules’ — like, I couldn’t hire out any help until I was making a certain amount of money. When you work alone, you really need to watch out about going into debt. Personally, I think you should always do this, but in Digital Media, large companies go into debt all the time; not saying it’s right, but it’s very common.”
Shut Up & Hustle: What’s The Audience Look Like Now? How Were You Able To Grow It?
Nat Berman: “The audience is a mix, given that I have properties in different verticals like Entertainment, Finance, Home and Design, Pets. In regards to growth, it’s been virtually all SEO and organically driven. I used to purchase traffic, but that’s not my model anymore.”
Shut Up & Hustle: Were There Certain Strategies Or Platforms You Utilized To Help Build That Audience?
Nat Berman: “Tons. In the early days, I was a big user of sites like Digg and Reddit to drive traffic. Today, my main medium is definitely organic traffic and referrals from sites like Facebook. Whether it’s paid or not, Facebook is still a very big traffic referral for websites; despite them curbing reach year-after-year. In terms of strategy, sure, I’d do link-building and things like that, but I never really pushed anyone to link to any content, it was more of a ‘if they wanted to’ approach. Today, I usually just post content, hope it gets found and gets linked to. It’s probably not the greatest strategy in the world, but I don’t need to do outreach quite as much as I used to; which I’m thankful for.”
Shut Up & Hustle: Talk About The Importance Of SEO And Distribution Outside Of Just Social Media.
Nat Berman: “It depends on your strategy. If you’re a website that does a ton of arbitrage, SEO means very little. If you can buy traffic and make more money online than you purchase it for, then you don’t need as much organic traffic. However, that model is solely based on the margins. If those margins shrink, you make zero dollars. If your model is solely driving traffic from organic search, then SEO is the lifeblood of your business. For me? SEO is very important since I don’t purchase any traffic. As important as SEO is, retaining users and trying to build up direct traffic that’s not reliant on the search engines is huge. That’s by far the hardest and most valuable traffic you can acquire.”
Shut Up & Hustle: Do You Spend Money On Social Media At All? If So, How Have Results Been? If Not, Why?
Nat Berman: “Not anymore. I used to purchase social media traffic, but that ended nearly three years ago. Back then, the results were great. Today, that’s much harder to do, and, as I said, is a completely different business. If I could spend money on social media and break even, I’d do it in a heartbeat to grow brand awareness. So far, though, I haven’t been able to find a way to do that.”
Shut Up & Hustle: Describe Some Of The Struggles You’ve Experienced And How You Overcome Those.
Nat Berman: “I could probably spend days talking about it, since every business has its struggles. Over the years, one of the biggest struggles I’ve had is just how monotonous things can be. You have to do virtually the same things day after day after day to get the results you want. I’ve easily been taken off the path numerous times because of boredom or the hope of achieving a quick buck. Those things never, ever work. The hardest part of of owning a website and figuring out how to make money online is keeping your head down, doing what needs to be done and avoiding all the other crap. Other than that, sure, there are operational struggles — like a site going down or ads that don’t work — but that’s out of your control. Doing the right thing, day in and day out, and not taking any shortcuts gets tough at times.”
Shut Up & Hustle: Any Regrets, Or Anything You Look Back On And Think, ‘Damn, That Was Really Stupid’?
Nat Berman: “I mean, yeah, I’ve done some really stupid stuff over the years. I’ve made terrible hires, gotten involved in the wrong business relationships and not done things the right way plenty of times. But to say I regret them? At the time I may have said ‘yes’. But today? No way. Each one of these mistakes was something to learn from and have been an integral part of the entire experience. Without them, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today, which is a pretty happy place. It’s much better to make a decision and totally screw it up then to not have made a decision at all.”
Shut Up & Hustle: If There’s One Lesson You Could Tell Someone Who’s Wondering How To Make Money Online And Doing It Alone, What Would It Be?
Nat Berman: “Discipline. People think that working from home or by yourself is this dream job. It’s not, and never will be. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to go into an office day in and day out with a set schedule and responsibilities to follow. When you’re given the freedom to do whatever you want, you can easily get caught up in watching TV, napping, and all that stuff. I’ve been fortunate enough to hold myself extremely accountable over the years. If you don’t put in the work and put it in consistently, you’re screwed. That said, if you do put in the work, that fun flexibility to work less and have more fun can, and does, happen. For me it took a while, close to 10 years, but it was worth it because I pretty much enjoyed what I was doing all along.”
Shut Up & Hustle: Where Do You See The Brand Going From Here, And Do You Ever Foresee Adding More Employees?
Nat Berman: “Tough question. Personally, I could see myself doing consulting, speaking on panels, writing more. As far as the sites, I’m more interested in building communities these days, so I’m trying to utilize tools to capture interested users that I can get from search to create more of a committed user base. The reason being, you just never know when search can take a big bite out of your site. Overall, I’m pretty happy with where my properties are. I certainly want them to always be in growth mode, but I’m not breaking my back to make that happen. With regards to more employees, I would add them if I needed them, but never just for the sake of making it seem like I have a growing enterprise. I’d add an employee in two cases: if it was totally necessary, or I wanted to free up more of my own time by allowing someone to handle some of my responsibilities.”
This article originally appeared on Shut up and Hustle