In episode 170 we talk with Debbie Gartner, blogger at Flooringgirl.com, because she knows a thing or two about how to overcome massive debt with blogging skills.
We cover information about how to leverage your work with affiliates to earn money and how important it is to diversify your income to keep your head above water if things change unexpectedly!
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Debbie’s been blogging about flooring, painting and home decor since 2011. Originally this was for her local flooring business. 4 years ago, she found herself $238,000 in debt. She decided to learn how to monetize her blog. By month 27, her earnings were over $20,000 in profit a month. At 3.5 years, she had cleared off all that debt.
- Give yourself realistic deadlines with real problems to solve.
- Break your debt or problem into solvable chunks to allow yourself a victory before moving onto the next issue ahead of you.
- Assess what you have, think about your skillset and what you can focus on to find success and create income. Brainstorm everything from opt-ins to printables, ebooks, courses, being a VA and products!
- Be willing to invest in yourself. If you can grow a skill that you’re interested in to build more of your business, search for free or affordable courses.
- When you give your blog the attention it deserves, new content, better SEO, your traffic will come.
- Learn how affiliates can help your customer by taking a course and then try working with a couple.
- Affiliates should always benefit the audience and be something you’re willing to stand by.
- Revenue diversification is so important. Ad revenue is just a small piece of the pie. Constantly be on the lookout for ways to build value for your audience as well as build revenue options to weather economic changes.
- Stay in your niche and niche down if you have to. This will help make your blog and recommendations and services more relevant and valuable to your audience.
Book recommendation: Profit First: Transform Your Business From A Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine by Mike Michalowicz
Click for full script.
Welcome to Eat Blog Talk, where food bloggers come to get their fill of the latest tips, tricks, and insights into the world of food blogging. If you feel that hunger for information, we’ll provide you with the tools you need to add value to your blog. And we’ll also ensure you’re taking care of yourself, because food blogging is a demanding job. Now, please welcome your host, Megan Porta.
Food bloggers. Hey, are you looking for new ways to make money as a blogger? If so, we have got your back. We have launched an ebook called Conversations On Monetization. Inside this resource, we take your favorite podcast episodes about monetization, and we put them all in one easy accessible package. We threw a few exclusive interviews in as well. Friends, there are so many ways to monetize your food blog. Inside this ebook, We have interviews with success stories like Todd Bullock, Alyssa Brantley, Kelly McNelis, Jena Carlin, and more. All of these examples have become successful through completely different monetization strategies. Whether you are a brand new blogger looking for your very first revenue stream, or you are a seasoned pro wanting to diversify, this ebook is for you. Go to eatblogtalk.com to grab your copy. And we can’t wait to hear your success story with monetization.
What’s up, food bloggers?? Welcome to Eat Blog Talk. This podcast is for you, food bloggers wanting value and clarity to help you find greater success in your business. Today, I will be having a chat with Debbie Gartner from the flooringgirl.com. And we are going to talk about affiliate marketing. Debbie has been blogging about flooring, painting and home decor since 2011. Originally this was for her local flooring business. Four years ago, she found herself $238,000 in debt. So she decided to learn how to monetize her blog. By month 27, her earnings were over $20,000 in profit a month and at three and a half years, she had totally cleared off all that debt, which is incredible Debbie! I just love this. I am excited to hear about your story, about how you overcame such a massive amount of debt. But first, we want to hear your fun fact.
Yeah. I’m not sure if it’s that much fun, but I know you have a lot of food bloggers here and I’m probably one of the world’s pickiest eaters. So when Harry Met Sally came out, so many of my friends thought that it was kind of based on me when I order in restaurants. The way I make my food. So that’s my little fun fact, even when I go to McDonald’s.
Oh, that’s so funny. You know, I often interview people who are food bloggers, who either say that they were really picky for a long time in their lives, or they didn’t even cook until they were 20 or 30 years old. So it’s always interesting people’s relationships with food and whether they’re picky or not, especially for us food bloggers because a lot of us love and devour food. What is your favorite food?
Oh, I love food. I totally love food and I love chocolate too.
If you had to pick one meal to eat for the next week, what would it be?
I guess what I’m currently eating is pasta with pesto sauce. I have this pesto sauce that I love and lots of Parmesan cheese. So I have that and I try to strain out the extra oils that are in there as those are probably not so good.
I love pesto. So delicious. All right Debbie. You did not come here to talk about being picky, but I appreciate you sharing that. I alluded in your bio to a pretty incredible story about overcoming debt in such a smart way. I’m so impressed that you were able to do that. I feel like a lot of people would have just thrown in the towel and pulled the blanket over their head and wanted to cry and never come out. But you tackled this and I am just intrigued. So tell us your story. Let’s hear it.
Well, thanks. I appreciate it. I don’t want to, you know, say that I went on this thing, like head-on with a whole plan. So I definitely cried my eyes out for months. At times I think I probably hyperventilated as well. So it was definitely very, very hard. It came as a big shock and I had 24 hours to make a decision and then pick up the pieces in my life. This happened just about four years ago at the very end of the year. Finally when I got to December 31st, I was like, it’s going to be a new year. I’m going to basically start over and start a new life and a new attitude. So I better pull myself together. So that’s what I tried to do. It was very, very hard and I would still cry every day, but only once a day, which was a step in the right direction.
To be honest, the debt was so overwhelming, I didn’t know how I would overcome it. I knew that getting a regular job was not going to solve all my issues, but one thing I did psychologically to help myself out, because $238,000 sounded impossible to me. I still can’t believe that I did it, but it really sounded impossible. So I faked myself out and I broke my debt into two big chunks. So the first big chunk was just $68,000. I had to get that paid down; I had four years, there was actually a deadline. I said I’m going to deal with the other chunk after. I don’t know what to call it, but not a long-term loan, but a mid term loan. That was coming due I think around five years or so.
I’m going to be like Scarlet and I’ll think about it tomorrow. So that’s what I did. So then it sounded more manageable because I just have to make $68,000. I mean it still sounded pretty impossible, but okay. Then I kind of charted it all out. I didn’t even have paper. I was so poor, which I’ll tell you about a second. If I had paper, I would have marked it out on a wall and done those markers of every step along the way. But instead I did stuff on a computer with spreadsheets. I love that. I broke out different things I needed to pay. Then every month I would keep taking it down. So I would see the progress month after month, but you can do it in the same way that you do a blood drive or something and you get to your goal.
That’s essentially what I did. Obviously I cut down whatever costs I could, but I was already pretty low on everything. I wasn’t spending much on anything. I had no TV. I had no heating and AC, which sounds worse than it really is, because I live in a building. So there was like the baseboard heater, which I guess the building pays for. So I would not get freezing cold.
Oh my gosh!
The summer was really awful. We have a pool and that’s why I chose the building. So I would try to go in the pool at the hottest time of day and then soak my clothes and try to stay cool that way and put full towels on everything. I know it’s crazy.
Everything broke in my house; my vacuum cleaner, my microwave, like everything. It’s easy to laugh about now because now I’ve actually been through it. But I had so little money that I was afraid to even go to the coffee shop. So I would have to network with people at times, so I could try to get some jobs and stuff. I did not know if I’d have enough money to pay for the coffee or the gas that I used to pay there. But what I basically decided to do after cutting as much cost as I possibly could, and spending no money on myself, I started getting private label brands and all that sort of stuff. But I basically said, ok, I have a blog, right. I started this blog in 2011 and I already had a lot of traffic and I wasn’t even trying.
My blog was set up to help with my former flooring business. It did a good job, but I was getting well over a hundred thousand page views a month, without really trying very hard. I probably for a while did one blog post a month, so I figured out the hard part, now I just had to figure out all the other stuff. So I already knew how to do SEO. So I said, I’m going to learn this. I know it’s going to take awhile. So I can’t rely on my blog for my income. I need to get something else to supplement. So I basically took on two part-time jobs. So one was actually doing blogging and SEO for other people for local businesses. I did that. Then the other thing I did is I went to one of my painters who I used to refer flooring flooring customers to get their paint on.
He would do vice versa for those that needed their floors. I just begged him for a job. First he said no, because it was January and nobody needed to do home decor here in New York when it snows. But he came back a couple of days later and he said, I don’t really need you, but I know you’re really good with a customer. So I’m willing to give you a shot and I will pay you just based on commission. So if you sell jobs, you make money. If you don’t, you don’t make any. It doesn’t cost me any money. So that’s what I did. So I used that to sustain myself in parallel, trying to learn how to make money from my blog. I live in New York, like right outside New York City.
So it’s very expensive and I’m in a condo and selling it was not an option and blah, blah, blah, and all this debt. I went on Medicaid and all these things, but even so, I needed basically to make ten thousand dollars a month just to not go totally under. That way I figured out I’ll be okay, I can buy some time to pay the IRS with whatever taxes I need to. Hopefully I’ll have enough by the following April to pay everything. So that was kind of my going in attitude. I’m just doing this for the long-term but I need to make sure I don’t fall underneath in the short term, if that makes sense.
That is so inspiring. Debbie, I feel like I said this already in the beginning, but yes, you were sad. You said that you cried during the time when you were trying to figure out how to tackle this, but I feel like so many people wouldn’t have moved forward in the way that you did. I am so inspired and encouraged by you. I think that you have a strength that so many people do not have, and that took so much courage. I am almost in tears. Like I am just, that is so inspiring to me. So thank you for sharing that.
You’re welcome. The truth is I really had no choice. Like people have asked me this all the time. How did I do it? I don’t know. I had no choice because if I just gave up, I would have lost my apartment and all the money I’d put in for years and down payments and all that sort of stuff. That sounded like a really terrible option. I forced myself to get to work and do what I could and make sure I had a plan that at least logically made sense. Then it was okay to work at it and learn how to do it. I bought a course or two and I started to do blogging, I started to learn how to do affiliate marketing, and then I would crank out a post or two a week and it was slow at first.
It was really slow and disappointing, you know? You hear all these things about all these bloggers making all this money. I remember being inspired by so many people and (ENTER NAME) was one of my heroes. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t really know if this was even possible. The year before I thought, Oh, I’ll just slap in a few affiliate links on my posts and I’ll make $10,000 doing this. Then you make 2 cents; it’s frustrating. So the good news is I knew it was possible, but I also knew it would take awhile. I need to diversify my income essentially because I need some sure money coming in because the blog as it was beginning was not a sure thing at all.
It’s very, very slow. I had traffic. So as soon as I turned the ads on, I made money. I was happy, yay! Look, how much money I made. It was like $700 the first month. I thought, that’s awesome because I know it’s going to go up. Then it went to $1,500. I thought, Oh my God, if it keeps going up like this, but that’s not what happens. I plateaued, so I was making like $1,500 and then $1,300 and $1,500. Then later in the year, I think around August, I made around $2,000. I thought maybe this is the start of something new and great. Then I plateaued again. I thought, I’m going to give up. I told you that they had a job working with a painter. So in October of the first year, the painter went out of business. So I no longer had that income. I started to panic again and hyperventilate probably too. I remember in a blogging meeting with my networking group. They’re all local bloggers here. I was going to try to figure out what else to do. Maybe I can do some other work for people. I just bawled my eyes out. I could not stop crying.
They all started giving me suggestions. Ironically, I could see we weren’t getting as many appointments as we needed for painting. So I started to do a few blog posts for painting. I thought let me see if I can get some business. It was too late, he went under. So then I started to do some blog posts about painting and stuff like that. I just started working really hard and thought maybe I can get another job doing painting, but of course no one wanted to hire going into the holiday season. So I just worked really hard on my blog. In November of that year, I somehow made $3,100.
So I was like look at that, over $3,000. Let’s see what I can do next month. The next month I made $4,100.Let me just keep doing this. And then no, January is a terrible month. All the ad rates go down. But of course my website had crashed in December so it wasn’t really a fair comparison. In January I made $4,400. Then February is a short month. It’s only 28 days. What am I going to do, I got to find some more jobs. I somehow made $6,300. Then the month after I meet $6,600, cause I just kept writing more blog posts and I started to get the hang of affiliate marketing.
As I was getting more traffic, I made more on ads, but it also made more on affiliate at the same time. A couple months later I made $8,000 and then I made a few hundred dollars more. By July of that year, and I’m always talking about profit here. I hate when people just share their revenue and not profit. I made ’em $10,100. I actually made $10,000. This is actually a decent job. At least from my area; it’s hard to get by with that amount of money here. So then I hired my first VA part-time, I was very nervous. Then the next day on August 1st, there was a Google algorithm reset.
A lot of my traffic came from there. I also do very well on Pinterest too, but I was just devastated. I just worked hard for 18 or 19 months in a row and now it’s all ruined. I could not believe it, but thankfully there was another Google algorithm update on September 27th. Yes. I can remember these dates. Then I started doing better than before. I realized, oh, this was a setback, but you know what? Things change. I just kept working at it harder and harder. Then from there I made like $11,000 and I made $12,000. Then the next month I made $14,000. So after a while, once you figure out what’s working, it becomes rinse and repeat and you just have to do it more and more.
But until you get to that point, this blogging thing can be so frustrating because you’re working really hard. You’re not getting much money. Later that year, the very end of my two years, I created my first ebook and that did really well. I was totally surprised. My income shot up on me like $18,000. Then the next month I somehow made $24,000 and this was the month I was working towards to try to figure out how to pay whatever I was going to have to give to the IRS. I didn’t know how much it was, but I thought it was pretty bad. On March 31st, my CPA called me and he told me how much it was. I didn’t even know what to say. I was speechless. I asked, are you missing digits?
He’s said no. This is $25,000 less than what I thought it was going to be. Then he reminded me of all this other stuff and these accumulated losses I had. Everything was legal, but I totally forgot; this is the power of having a really good CPA. They know how to actually save you money. They’re not really a cost, even though it feels that way; they’re really an investment. That was the point I started screaming. I realized that I was done with that $68,000 in debt.
Gosh, that’s so amazing. That had to be such a huge relief for you and so amazing that you were able to do that.
Thanks. At that point I was so happy. In this Facebook group I had a sale going on and I just mentioned I got out of the $68,000 in debt and now I’m leaving my book up for sale for another few days to help you guys out because I’m so happy, blah, blah, blah. Then I sold more and made $24,000,
Man. That is amazing. You’re on a roll. It was like the momentum just built. Your amount of money that you were seeing come in, just kept growing, which we all want to see the growth. That’s incredible.
Exactly. At first I thought, this is a fluke. It’s not going to be that good next month. Of course the next month was not as good, but it was still very good. I forget $20,000 or $21,000. Then the next several months, it was like $22,000. But at this point now for me, it’s been 22 months in a row, all with at least $20,000 a month in profit, not in revenue, in profit. You’re right. The snowball was building and I just kept paying off the debt more and more. Then as the debt went down, I was paying less interest on it and it got better. Then I could actually invest in some stuff. At some point I bought a few little things for me. My back was uncomfortable while I was sitting on my bed. So I got one of those pillows that would be more comfortable. I would do all these things where I’d say, okay, if you get this amount, you can treat yourself to coffee for a month or something like that. All these little things that meant so much.
The self rewards are huge. I do that for myself too. I follow Profit First strategy. It’s a book.
I finally read that book. I read that actually during Christmas time. I think that I unknowingly had done some of those things in a way that I would do my bank accounts and put the money aside for taxes and not spend money on this. So as I’m reading I realized I kind of did this myself.
That’s really cool. Good for you. It is a really smart strategy. One of the things I like that the author talks about is using the profit as a self reward. So you pay yourself a profit. Every time you get paid, you put a certain percentage of profit aside. Then at the beginning of every single quarter, you take that profit and you treat yourself to something; it’s a way of saying good job. You did amazing. So that’s just one of the strategies, but I love that you do that. I think a lot of us are the same way in that we are motivated by those little things. You mentioned coffee, Debbie, me too. That’s what I do. I decide, if you meet this goal, you can get coffee for yourself. That’s something that I don’t treat myself to all the time. Just that one little thing, coffee out, is just so extravagant and can motivate us so much?
It would be lots of little things like that. One point I bought a new vacuum cause my vacuum didn’t work. So it’d be these little things that just ended up meaning so much to me. They just motivated me to make sure I reached whatever that target was that I set for myself. Except I would do it then at that point every month. But it would be a small little thing.
Yeah. I think that was very smart. So just a couple of things that you said, you said so many good things that I want to touch on before I ask you how you strategize. I think everyone listening is probably thinking, okay, great. You made all this money, but tell us how to do it. Tell us how to get started with affiliate marketing and all of that. But first I just want to point out how awesome I think it is that you broke it into chunks because seeing that big debt or anything, it doesn’t even have to be a debt, but seeing a big problem can be so overwhelming that we can absolutely freeze and not do anything. I deal with this almost every day with my son. He gets very overwhelmed by his schoolwork and how his brain works more so than others, he gets extremely overwhelmed.
I have to sit with him every day and say, how do you eat an elephant? He says just gobble it down. No, you have to start with one bite. Just taking a chunk of it is all you need to do. You focus on that one thing. Then when that’s done, you’re like, Oh my gosh, nice work, good job. Now we move on to the second thing. That I think for any problem, whether it’s in business or just your life in general, that is such a smart way to go about it because otherwise we would all be like, Nope, sorry, I’m going the other way.
I was also gonna say I had to get creative with some things, which I forget about this until things come up. I was so broke that my computer was crashing all the time and I did not have money to buy a new computer and I’m using my computer in order to blog and make money and to blog for other people where they’re paying me by the hour. So it was really a mess. I remember one of my friends, who had faith in me, and I think this was supposed to be her idea because I never would have come up with it, but I needed $800 for a computer. So she said that I could borrow it from her and pay her back gradually. She was not in a rush and that meant so much to me because I could actually write a blog post and whatever I needed to do without losing all my work and having to redo it. That was a big help. The other thing is, despite this big mess that I was in, I’ve always had really good credit, which I think is important. I paid my mortgage on time as well. I had from years ago, a credit card that I got back when things were pretty bad, like maybe 2010 or something. So it was one of those things where if you paid at least 10% of the balance by the due date, then you only had to pay seven and a quarter percent interest rather than the 25% of the bank credit cards. So I would do that each month and then use the other money to pay off the things that were higher credit as well.
I got creative with some of the places that I owed money to because there’s only so much credit that I had, but I said, look, I will pay this back to you because I got this $5,000 bill two months after I was into this whole thing. I was devastated again, but I called them. I said, look, can I pay you $1,000 now, I’ll pay you a thousand dollars each month because you can put it on this credit card. Because as I pay the money off, then there will be more credit and you can put it on there. They were willing to work with me because I guess they must’ve done one of those, what are those people called when they come after you for the money?
Oh, a debt collector?
Yeah, so I had a debt collector calling me because I had this $5,000 bill that I did not know about. It went to my old office where I had shut it down. The letter never got to me, but they were probably at that point happy to be able to get the money that I owed them. I said, look, I’ll get it to you, I just need some time to get it to you. So they were willing to work with me. So I did some creative things like that. My aunt would always get me a birthday present. I mean, not expensive, but you know, small things. So I’d say, oh, I want you to invest in my blog. You know, maybe you can invest in a course that I want and give me the money for that.
Or you can give me a month’s worth of coffee that I can get. So remember I told you I had no air conditioning? It was horrible, but in the library they had air conditioning. So I would go out during the day in the air conditioner. But you can’t just sit in the library and not order anything, or at a Starbucks or whatever. But I used my birthday presents to do that. So I would do that in July and August to make it through those months. Our swimming pool had got remodeled so it was closed for a year. It was just one thing after another.
Well, you are resourceful. Oh my goodness. As you’re talking, I’m thinking, wow, you are just the most resourceful person I have ever met. That’s incredible. All the ways that you’ve thought through things.
I’m not the most resourceful but when you’re desperate, you start to realize things that you didn’t realize before. Oh, let me try to figure out a creative way to do this. Did you receive a video on the Four Hour House?
I don’t think so.
So I must have seen this a long time ago, in some brainstorming session, they’re trying to like open up your mind. Like how long does it take to build a house? Six months. What if you do really quickly, Oh, four months or maybe it’s down to three months. You say, what if I said the challenge is to build a house in four hours? How do you do that? They showed this video of how they do everything. They completely do everything differently. It’s like in that movie Witness, with Harrison Ford, the Amish they built a house in one day. It’s the same thing. You just break down all the things that were the previous barriers to your mind and your thinking. Until you do that, you often don’t realize what’s actually possible. So that’s sometimes where the ideas come from, when you’re pushed to the extreme. It’s not that I’m creative because I’m not.
That is a good way to frame it. So when you need to, you can really accomplish something extraordinary. I always encourage people in the Eat Blog Talk community to push themselves with just getting tasks done more quickly than they think they can, because this is how I work. I’m super efficient because of that. I will give myself the smallest window of time to complete a task where most people would say, that’s impossible. You can’t do that. I’m like, watch me and anyone can do it, it’s not just me. If you sit down and you give yourself 20 minutes to do something that takes most people three hours, you can do it. If you are determined, you can get it done. The Four Hour House I had not heard of, but it’s that same principle where you remove certain things that are not necessary from the process in order to make it happen.
Right. You’re bringing up a really good point because I feel a lot of times because I don’t have that same pressure, I can be very inefficient with my time and with my blogging, I’m a very slow writer. I should start doing more of what you’re saying and giving myself those timeframes. I just took a course over the weekend and she actually cranks out a new course every month, once a month. Not only that, I think she does it in about 30 hours worth of work.
So I want to start trying to do some different things like this, and maybe I need to artificially create this pressure myself, just like I had a few years ago. So thank you for inspiring me.
I just wanted to bring that up because that’s such an important point. Most people go into things, like what you experienced, Debbie, not having a choice and just having to make it work. But what about the people who go into something that don’t have a deadline or a pressing debt to pay or something, how do they make it work? It’s along the same lines, as what we’re saying is that you have to use self-imposed pressure and self-imposed deadlines. Because without that, I feel like it’s so easy just to say, well, I don’t really need to do that. I could do this next quarter and you can always push things back, so many of us do that.
I do too. I’m really impressed with all these moms out there. I don’t even have kids but they’re juggling kids and now homeschooling too. But they always say like, if you want something done, give it to someone who’s busy. Some of those moms are super, super organized and super efficient with their time. Even myself, when I had those two part-time jobs, I did not have as much time to get all my stuff done. That probably forced me into getting it done because I had less time. Because I know that every day that’s going by, I’m getting charged interest on that. So just make it happen.
Right. You just make it happen. There you go. That’s the theme. I also wanted to touch on just one other thing really quick before we hear about your strategies and how you feel like people should move forward. The ad plateau that you mentioned. I think that is such a real thing that people don’t realize getting into display advertising, and maybe going through an ad network. But it’s so true. I just want to warn anyone listening that you will go through those times where you’re like, Oh, it’s not going up. It stays the same for a really long time. That is part of it. Just not to be frustrated by that process because everyone deals with that. I just wanted to point that out because I thought you said that so well, just the fact that there’s a plateau.
It’s so true. There are many things that happen. I really believe in diversification for so many reasons. Obviously ad revenue is just one of them, but there’s another aspect, which is with ad revenue, it’s basically, the ads on the page, right? Your media strategy, which you give to a media company, but then it’s also traffic. So traffic, there’s only so much of it that you can create. For me, I was getting maybe around 150,000 page views a month, 160, and I couldn’t really get much past it. It turned out that one of my biggest barriers to that, and I had no idea until later, it was my hosting. So my site has always been slow and I had used HostGator for years, and I would make incremental changes and upgrade to this but they were small incremental changes and it was really frustrating.
Then I changed to Big Scoots. Not that people have to use Big Scoots, but the point is I went from a shared hosting plan to a managed hosting plan. When I went there, it was really scary at the time because I was barely able to pay my bills. It was going to be a hundred dollars a month, but at the time it was only $35 a month, but that felt scary to me. Then they improved my site speed, they did a bunch of things. I’m not good at this tech stuff at all, but they knew what they were doing and I was paying them to do it, you know? Then a month later, my traffic went up and then I went up and up and up.
So I think within like three or four months, my traffic kind of doubled or maybe it was up 92% or something like that. So I’m continuing to write blog posts, but because of the speed, I didn’t realize that my host was holding me back. So they were basically throttling my speed, but I didn’t realize that that was a problem. Once I saw the problem solved, I realized I should have done this six months ago. So I’ve had so many times during these four years where I ask myself, how could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I realize this? Why didn’t I discover this from someone else? I’m just so down my pathway of this is what I did, what I do and just do it in rinse and repeat, but you have to start over time to fold those other things in. When I started to create products as well, then my income started to go up. When I started doing affiliate marketing and I was more focused on what that was, my income started to increase, if that makes sense. But you kind of learn some of this after the fact. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, just do this, like listen to your future self.
Yes, I’m with you. There are so many things that if I could go back to a past Megan, I would definitely tell her to do this. Don’t do that. But you know what? The past is the past. I always say this too. That was my story. For whatever reason, I needed to learn those lessons the hard way, because I learned a lot of blogging lessons the hard way. I feel like I worked at it harder than a lot of other people, but that’s just my story. Maybe that’s what makes me a good podcast host. I don’t know. Maybe it adds value to Eat Blog Talk in some way. I just have to believe that because it makes me feel better.
I’m sure that’s true. Sometimes we’re just like little kids. We don’t even listen to what’s obvious or listen to what other people are telling us until we hear it enough times. That’s the thing is I also listened to a bunch of podcasts and read a lot of things. So you have to constantly be learning in this business because that’s how you get better and you improve and whatever method that is for you, whether it’s listening to a podcast or taking a course or reading blog posts, I don’t really care. Just keep learning, be a constant student, just keep learning, keep learning and growing.
That is such great advice. I feel like the title of this episode should not just be affiliate marketing because we’re covering so much other good stuff, Debbie, that you have tapped into in the past four years when you just found the need to make money in a huge way. So I appreciate all the extra stuff that you’re delivering. Let’s talk about affiliate marketing because I know people will probably dive into this episode wanting to get started with affiliate marketing. What is the best way? If someone has no idea, they don’t have any previous experience, what’s the best way?
I do recommend taking at least one course for affiliate marketing, whatever the course that is, but it’s very, very helpful to learn it that way because you see lots of examples. I didn’t quite get it. When I started to see other people’s examples, even if they weren’t completely different categories, it really, really helped me. But the first thing you want to do is really, as always, focus on the customer, who is your target audience? What is your niche about, how can you serve and meet those needs? The customer or consumer is always first. I used to work at P&G years ago. It was always focus on the customer, focus on what they need.
Don’t worry about your competition. There’ll be, but learn about what your consumer needs. If you follow that everything else will fall into place. So a lot of people ask the wrong question at the beginning. What are the best affiliate partners like? That is the wrong question. The right question is really, what do my customers need and how can I tell them the right things to get and advise them, consultation, whatever you want to call it. Then who are the affiliates that have those products. For me personally, I started with Amazon. I think that Amazon can work with a lot of niches and a lot of stuff. Then it’s about finding the right products on Amazon or wherever. I’m not saying people need to do Amazon, but I just felt there was an easy one to get started with because most people buy from Amazon.
They know them, they trust them, but it’s not just Amazon. So for me, I started with things that are good for my audience. So I write about hardwood flooring, which unfortunately is not really sold on Amazon. So I’m sure you can imagine that it was kind of hard, but I said, well, what do they need? Well, my customers always ask me, what’s the right cleaning product to use. So I can write a blog post on that. What’s the best cleaning product for hardwood floors? What’s the best vacuum do you use? What’s the best, whatever. Just figure out those things that are right for your customers. So that’s what I think you should do. It’s not about being with a broad affiliate network, like Share Sale or Impact Radius. You’re welcome to check those out.
But at the beginning I kind of made this mistake and I think a lot of others do, you try to do too much at once. You’re spending all this time applying to networks and asking people what are the best affiliates and what are the best products? You go in there and then you have to get accepted again to another program within a program, got to keep track of all your passwords, blah, blah, blah. It’s very frustrating and it’s not productive. So instead go the opposite way, which is what does my customer need? How do I write a post about what my customer needs and what are going to be items and where can I find affiliates for that? Does that make sense?
Yeah, that does make sense. You’re right. I think that a lot of people go about this the complete opposite way, but this just simplifies it for us too. It takes that stress out of it. I think that the stress involved in keeping track of it all and okay, I’m going to put this product out to my audience today, but do I really stand behind it? So it’s just getting down to like, maybe that one thing to start with, what are they needing for me. As you were talking, I was thinking through, okay, now what would my people need? The one thing that people ask me about all the time, that it’s my number one seller through Amazon associates, is a cake pan that fits into an Instant Pot. Because I have an Instant Pot cake recipe that requires a smaller cake pan. Because the normal eight inch version does not fit inside.
So they’re always asking, how do I do this? That six or seven inch cake pan is a number one seller. So maybe I could just really dig into that, write a blog post about it. That’s such a great idea. Instead of just putting a link inside of your recipe post, you could write an entirely separate article about it and say, this is what the pan looks like. Here’s how it fits and just going through why it really is necessary. So just starting really simple, basically.
So I did a combination because I already had an existing blog. Now my blog was written for a different purpose. My blog was written to try to find local customers to call me to get an appointment. But I took those blog posts that people were already reading. Then I’d say, where do my links naturally fit in there? That helped, but it did not get me a ton of money. It’s when I went to the next level of what you just said, what do they need? How do I write a specific post on that. So if you often think about this is not just for Amazon, but for anything, what’s the best X for X. Let’s say I had a sports blog or something. If I just write, what are the best sneakers and people search for that?
I am never, ever, ever going to rank for that. Unless I’m like a huge power blogger already which is not where any of us start from. It’s also not very helpful because even if I did rank for that, think about all the people that are coming to that and they need different types of sneakers. So if I substituted ‘what are the best sneakers” and instead said, “what are the best sneakers for people with flat feet? That’s totally different. Or what are the best, I don’t know, soccer cleats. I’m not really a sports person anymore, but the point is that there are different needs for different people. So when you can say what’s the best blah for blah and the second blah is basically the type of person or the need, you know, that basically solves whatever the problem is, because this whole blogging thing is about solving people’s questions and solving people’s problems. What are they going to search for on Google? That’s where you want to write something about.
That makes complete sense to me. You spoke through that so well, so I appreciate that. Do you recommend people start with Amazon? Is that a really easy place to start? Or maybe they have something that really would fit the need for their user and it’s not on Amazon? What are your thoughts?
I would say in general, if Amazon can work, try that first. If Amazon can’t then try whatever you think is most relevant for your customer. But the principles are all the same. So with Amazon, some bloggers say, Oh, that’s crap. You can’t make money on that. You’re going to make 10 cents a year, 10 cents there, whatever. But the truth is you can make a good amount of money. So I make on Amazon, four to $5,000 a month, even with the reduced commissions. It’s a few different things. So it’s basically getting SEO traffic so that your blog posts rank, and then it becomes a whole volume thing. So even if I’m making a dollar per item that people buy on average, if I’m selling 10,000 of those a month, but you get the idea. Then you say, okay, can I do the same thing and instead of it being sneakers, which I don’t know how much sneakers cost now, but let’s say they cost a hundred dollars. But now can I find something like that that’s in the $200 range. Then if I do the same principle, then I’m making more per transaction, but I’m rinsing and repeating the same process. What is the best blah for blah. Even though the commission percent may be low, there are many people out there in the world who buy sneakers or buy whatever. Versus if you talk about blogging products, which is a whole other ball game, but a lot of people, when they’re new, they’ll start to try to blog about blogging; drives me up a wall. But anyway, they’ll say, I can make $65 selling this hosting or $50 selling this hosting.
That sounds like a high commission item, right? Compared to the dollar I’m going to make on Amazon. But, if you don’t rank, you’re never going to get anywhere. If you don’t have the right target audience for that, you’re completely irrelevant. So on my blog about flooring and painting, I’m never going to put something on there about how to start a blog or the best hosting. It doesn’t make sense. I mean, I get over 600,000 people a month coming to my site and what percent of them are interested in blogging? Less than 1%? I mean, so relevance is totally important. You have to think about who is my target audience, who are the people I’m trying to reach, who are the people coming to my site already and what do they need and want? If I’m blogging about food, then it can be talking to people that want to cook or want to eat.
Sometimes there’s overlap between the two. But what is it that they need? What is their problem to be solved? Am I trying to find ways that they can see their food in the freezer or batch their cooking for a week or whatever. You know better than I do. I’m not a food blogger, but you know, what are the tools? What are the appliances? You know, where can people get the best food or the organic food, whatever it is that they need. So many of those things have affiliate partners. You may just not realize it. Even on Amazon, there’s Amazon fresh and all that stuff. Pretend there’s no affiliates out there that are good or bad and just say, what does my customer need? Let me try to find an affiliate that fulfills that need, and then let me try them out and recommend them.
That is really great, solid advice. Do you have any thoughts on how many affiliates people should juggle at once, especially if they’re just getting their toes in the water?
Less is more and there’s only so much we can juggle. I’m making this up because I have not really thought about it, but maybe four or five at the beginning. The point is, start with a few. Get your feet wet and after you start making some money on some of them, then start branching out. So with Amazon, they have a bizillion items on there, right. But that’s still one affiliate. So I can write hundreds of blog posts, theoretically, just with Amazon. But then you want to branch out and diversify not only to grow, but also to stabilize your business. Amazon is really good because they have a very high conversion rate and people always look at how high is the commission, which is only you selfishly looking at how much money you make, not, not what your customer needs.
But there’s the other part of the question, how often does it convert? If it doesn’t convert, it doesn’t matter if I get a thousand dollars per commission or a hundred dollars or a dollar. Zero times a hundred is still zero. It’s zero. With Amazon in March of 2017, they dropped their commissions. This was around the time that I started. I started probably the very beginning of January 2017. End of December I was closing down my business and I was crying and I didn’t know which end was up. I didn’t know what I would do. I didn’t know if I would lose my place or anything, but January was starting. Then this happened three months later. I remember seeing people in a group and they said, Oh yes, this happens all the time.
I was so happy because at that point I was getting up to 7% commission on Amazon, because the way it used to be is as you would sell more, it would go up and up, and then would go up to like7.5% and then 8% and then up to 10% or something. So I felt like I was ruined. So if I know that this is common, I have to make sure that I diversify my business. I need to think about this like the stock market. You would never buy this one stock. Because there’s tons of variability in the stocks. Instead you buy multiple stocks to diversify and then you grow and then things go down. When a company messes up or has a violation or whatever, or COVID, we’ve got that now too, which we can talk about in a minute.
But these things happen all the time. So you stabilize by diversifying in many stocks or mutual funds or ultimately diversifying your asset allocation. Put some in real estate and put some in small cap and large cap and bonds and whatever. When you get older, when the stock market goes down, it’s a big deal. But if you’re 20 or 25, Oh, this is good because now I can buy more stock and I will make more in the long run. It all depends on where you are in life. But if you diversify and smooth things out, it’s going to keep building. Then when stuff like coronavirus happens, you’re less devastated. Obviously Corona affects all of us in many, many different ways. But if we talk about it from a blogging perspective, obviously if I was in the travel industry, that would have been devastating for me.
But I was lucky that I was at least in home decor, but none of us went through this thing scott free. For me, my ads of course went down. I made a lot less money on ads and that happens basically in any recession. There were recessions every few years. So you can’t just be dependent on ads. You have to have more affiliates. Even though it’s bad, it’s not so bad because I’m still making money on those and ad revenue changes throughout the year, right? November, December, are awesome RPMs. Get to January, it’s like half the amount. Everyone’s all surprised if they’re a new blogger, but it happens every year. We see it happen all the time. So if you’re prepared, it’s not as bad. When you have affiliate marketing, my Amazon commissions do not go down that much when I go from December to January. People buy some more stuff for holiday gifts and things, but I’m still on track to probably make, I think I’ve made $2,400. $2,500 or so for the month and we’re slightly over half of it. So I’ll still be within my range, even so. Of course when this whole thing happened, affiliate commissions got slashed, which was very painful. So the commissions, I used to make a lot of 8% commissions for home decor. Then that went down to 3%. So that was more than a 50% decline, but it didn’t stop there. So one of my partners, they just completely shut down and it was for paint samples. I asked, why are you shutting down?
People are painting. They’re stuck at home and the stuff is like taking off like gangbusters. They said, but we need paint for the paint samples and our paint supplier is shut down because the Coronavirus, Oh my God, I didn’t realize that. Then I had something else where the commissions went down too. Everything when I added in the ads and the Amazon and the other affiliate was down like $12,000 a month. You know I still have all this debt because at that point I forget what I had, but I still had a lot of debt. I’m so close to my goal, this can’t happen, but I have products too. The products were the ones that were most stable and you have the most control over your products because you own them.
You create them. Which means I can create more products. I can figure out how to market to my email list better. I just created more. So I created more products, so it ended up stabilizing things. When I was looking to be down to maybe 14 or $15,000 in April, I ended up making $28,000, despite all these problems happening. Then I created another product. I just need to pivot. I think I pivoted four months in a row, just like so many other bloggers. Do this now, this is going down. The more you’re diversified, the better off you are. Diversified means many things. It can mean I can diversify my affiliate partner. So I’ve several affiliate partners. Rewardstyle is my second largest one.
I tried to double, double up on that or double down what the right term is, because they did not cut the commissions. Let me just work on getting the blog posts that are already done and getting those to rank higher or getting my links to convert better because I can make some more money there and let me do more products. Then I started to do some more printable or create printables for my home decor stuff as well. With my home decor stuff, I started to do some SEO and blogging about blogging stuff because that’s what I was doing this whole quest to get this debt down. I have these two SEO books and then I created more as time went on and then I can market it in that way.
I can market other people’s affiliate products as well. So you can also diversify by asset allocation is kind of like affiliates versus products versus ad revenue. But I can also diversify by having multiple blogs. So many people will do multiple sites, have new sites. They then started doing a homeschool blog. You can totally do that. You just have to keep thinking. I think about this like layers, think about the winter, what are my layers that are going to keep me warm when everything gets really bad and they can’t peel off all the layers from me. The more layers I have, the better off I am. I just keep trying to look at things like that. It’s another layer, another income stream, and it just keeps building up.
What a great perspective and what a great visual too, thinking about it like layers. Yes, I am with you. I told you my story before we pressed record for this interview, but I relied on ad revenue for so long. It’s one of those things that I was referring to earlier. If I could go back, I would have done things so differently, but now it’s clear now and that’s all that matters. But now I see the importance of diversifying and I see people wanting to get ads on their sites really badly. I get it because I was there too for a while and it’s important and it’s a good baseline. Ad revenue is really good, I always call it just a baseline income, but you cannot rely on it 100% because like you said, Debbie, there are times of the year when things are not good and the RPMs tank.
It was always the summer months, when June would roll around, I was making like half or less than what I made in Q4 and it was devastating. Every year I’d be like, okay, but this summer I live in Minnesota. We love summer. We love hot weather and now we can’t do anything because we can’t afford it. It was every year I was going through this. I feel like this whole world has opened up where it’s not all about the ads and there are so many different things to do. It’s really easy to get started with. We could go onto the topic of so many different things, affiliate marketing, for example, or creating an ebook. This is why we created our monetization ebook for Eat Blog Talk because we want people to know this, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can do it and you need to do it.
I see ads as usually being a starting point, it’s certainly not the end point. But it’s the starting point and that’s all it is ,the starting point. Then how do you stabilize things over time? My flooring business was exactly the opposite. So in the winter and come the holidays, nobody wants to do their floors. Once you have a Christmas tree, the floors can be done until the Christmas tree is removed. Then when it snows here, as it does where you are, people don’t want to do their floors. They don’t want to paint, they don’t want to do all this stuff. They don’t want people coming in with the snow or anything like that. Even if it’s not snowing that day, they don’t know because some days it will snow. Now I have to wait until March.
So I wanted a business where I wasn’t taken in by these seasons all the time. I wanted to make sure that my blog was more weatherproof. So if we had snow days and the flooring jobs got canceled, I wouldn’t be panicking, asking how are we going to reschedule this job? I need a much more uniform sort of income coming in. Your downtimes are the summer, for me, the down times where the winter, and the holidays. Now given everything that I’ve done, I don’t notice a ton of difference. My baseline or my waterline, it’s higher than what I needed to be at, over $20,000 a month. Then I’ll have some months where it’s like extra high. November is always a very, very high month for me because of black Friday and stuff like that.
But I am still doing really well during almost any month. Even this month, January, which is a pretty sucky month for me, I’m probably going to be $21,000, you know, which I think is good. Then you use your other forms of income to get by. Now the truth is when I was first starting, I told you I was basically freelancing doing blogging and SEO, but I was making a steady $4,000 a month from that. Even when the blog income was lower in January, I at least still had that other income. That’s another way that people can supplement, is doing freelancing or VA work or any sort of thing. You can even choose to up that through your lower months and decrease it during your higher months. The world is your oyster. You’re running your business, not vice versa. The business doesn’t run you. You know ahead of time, where are my low points going to be? What am I going to do about that to avoid that?
Oh, that’s all so smart. I love how you think, Debbie, you just think through things in such a way that just makes sense. I love listening to you talk about all of this and not just affiliate marketing, but how everything kind of plays together. You touched on this a little while ago, but you were talking about affiliate marketing, it’s great, but affiliate marketing is even better when you focus on SEO. Ad traffic is great, but ad traffic is even better when you focus on other things. So it’s not just about affiliate marketing, it’s about seeing the whole business and how every piece of it can come together to kind of help the other pieces out.
Exactly. I do a lot of SEO stuff so that I don’t have to keep pumping out articles all the time. I made four to $5,000 a month on Amazon. I also make four to $5,000 a month on RewardStyle, which seems to be really good, it’s good for food bloggers too, but home decor, fashion, food blogger, stuff like that. So I’m constantly bringing that in, but it’s not like I’m producing lots of content at this point. I have maybe 300 articles on my site from over the years. My first two years, like 2017, 2018, I tried to pump out a lot of content and refocus because I wasn’t focused on affiliate marketing. But once I got to that point, I had a lot of traffic. Then it’s more like maintenance and continues to grow a little bit.
So in 2019, I only did six articles. One every other month. Then last year I only did five. I was attempting to do six, but I decided, I’m too tired, I don’t feel like it, I don’t need it. So I didn’t do it. So I still have an article waiting for me to review that someone else wrote. So I had to put that on, but you don’t have to keep pumping out lots and lots of content once you get to a certain traffic level. I don’t know if there’s a magic traffic level or anything like that, but once you’re at a good point in your income, I guess I would say, you can start to be more choiceful about what you do and what you don’t do. The other thing, aside from that, that helps affiliate marketing can be an email list.
I’ve made so many mistakes, but this is one of my bigger mistakes I think, is that I didn’t do email sooner and all these people would say, Oh, I should’ve started email from day one. I honestly think that that’s a really bad plan too, because if I had started email day 1, then I would have given up on it a long time ago and it would have been a chore and I would have sucked at it. But I started doing it a year and a half ago or so. I did it for my SEO list and I was like, Oh, you should start doing it. I can’t keep that up. SEO is a key. The truth is these are all building blocks in the whole framework.
SEO is key. IOnce you are getting that strong SEO traffic, then you can get more and you can get better email subscribers. So SEO will free up your time. So then you can focus on how to make products. How do I get more email subscribers? How do I create funnels to get them into my products? It’s all related. I just see SEO as the first step, because that’s attracting the right target audience to your blog, to then sign up for your opt-in, which I’m pretty bad at, on the home decor side of the business. But on my other part of the business, it worked like clockwork right away and I could see the potential. So now I’m like, all right, how do I take this learning for the last year and a half? And how do I apply that to home decor?
What are the products and printables I can make? What is the opt-in and how do I create funnels for that to get them in there? So if I want affiliate marketing, I can either get them in from SEO because people have a need or a question for something, type it into Google. Then hopefully my blog post shows up, they find it and then they may buy when appropriate. Or I have a trusted audience with my email list and they know me and they like me and they trust me. Over time I can recommend things to them because they know I’m not in this just to sell the highest item with the biggest affiliate commission, right? That’s a really poor strategy. If you’re always just selling to your list and trying to make money off of them, and you’re not helping them, you’re gonna lose their trust.
You can’t operate that way. But if you always start with the customer, what do they need? What’s right for them, what’s the logic. Then I can fill that. I don’t try to sell high priced blogging courses because I just think many of them are overpriced. After going through trying to get out of debt, I want to try to be more conservative with the money and invest wisely. I try or imagine that a lot of my email subscribers are the same way, you know? Because they came with me on this whole get out of debt journey. Every month I would publish my income report. Then I said, here’s how much debt I have left. It would just keep going down and down. People were like, we’re rooting for you, we are on your side.
I got out of debt on July 14th and I couldn’t believe it. Of course we’re all stuck at home with coronavirus. I can’t even go on vacation. I was supposed to go to the Jersey shore, what happened? But hopefully, this year I can maybe do that and get a vaccine because I’m immunocompromised. So I had to be more careful, but I’m hoping that this summer will be my summer. I haven’t had a vacation in five years. So I really, really want to do that. I really need some time to get out of my apartment.
You deserve it, you deserve it and it’s going to happen. I want an email about how amazing it was because I mean, goodness, the story is so incredible. If anyone deserves an amazing vacation in 2021, it is you Debbie. Well thank you for sharing all of this. My brain is just absolutely swimming with ideas and with inspiration and encouragement, insights and all of that. I did not expect this conversation to be so well rounded and not just about affiliate marketing, but about so much more than that. It really is about just looking at your business as a whole, instead of just piece by piece, piecing it together. Everything really is connected. You just explained all of that. So well, so thank you so much for being here. If there’s one takeaway that you would impart to food bloggers about really anything we’ve talked about today, just one bit of encouragement for their business going into 2021, what would that be?
Well I think you just need to get started and do it and be committed. I guess related to it, is figure out what is your niche? What is your point of difference? One big mistake that I see people making and I was tempted to do it at one point too, was they just blog about lots of different things. So they do what’s called a lifestyle blog or a lifestyle niche, but it’s not really a niche. So you can’t be everything to everyone, you can’t. It’s just the opposite of marketing. Instead choose who is my ideal target audience and what are their needs and how am I going to solve that. So I think one of the reasons that I’ve been successful is I have a blog. It’s mainly about flooring and painting and yes, I do some other home decor stuff, but I try to focus on it.
Then what are those questions that people have? So my advice would be either niche down or choose a niche in the first place and go deep rather than wide. You will ultimately go wide on your ways that you’re making money, but you will take that one step at a time, if you narrow what it is that you were an expert in and that you can provide value for your customers, people will trust your advice and like your advice and you will be an expert, even if you’re not one yet. When I started my flooring business, I actually knew nothing. I couldn’t even tell you what was real wood versus fake and that’s how stupid I was. But now I can tell you like all the different species and the colors and this, and how to stain your floors and how to do this and that. You learn and you become an expert and you become passionate about it.
That would be my advice is find one area that you are really, really good at and dive deep into that and then think about all the different ways that you can monetize and do not worry about doing it all the first year. In fact, don’t, you will probably fail if you do that. I told you before, I’m glad I didn’t email at the beginning. I really am because I would have been really bad at it, but now I can see all these other people that do really well with it. Now I get it. It becomes more incremental versus at the beginning it would have been a daunting task. So you gotta take this whole thing incrementally, every month, what’s going to be one more thing. So I guess that’s my advice.
Don’t say sorry, because that was amazing. I think that is such solid and great advice. So thanks for that, Debbie. Just thank you so much for being here. It was such a pleasure to talk to you. You’re so fun to talk to. I know this is going to resonate with a lot of people listening. This is going to be a great one. We’re going to put together a show notes page for you. So if anyone wants to go peek at those, you can read the transcripts there. You can grab any resources that we talked about. You can find those at eatblogtalk.com/DebbieGartner. That’s spelled with a T – G A R T N E R. Debbie, why don’t you tell my listeners the best place to find you online? Also, I feel like you had a video series. Why don’t you talk about like anything that you feel might help food bloggers with SEO? You have some SEO information that you put together too.
Yeah, exactly. So I guess the best place to find me is theflooringgirl.com. Then when you go there, if you want blogging resources and stuff like that, which I have hidden on my site, because it’s not relevant to my people, you can only find it on the home page. So if you go to the home page, there are eight blocks. The eighth one says my books and courses, and you can find everything that I’ve created there. So I have two really popular SEO eBooks that you can take a look at. I also have a free SEO course that people can get started with. I can give you a link to that too. I of course have an Amazon course as well, which people can read and they can listen to the videos on there. I share all my tips and tricks of what I’ve learned from Amazon over the last several years. That course has been very, very popular as well, but you can find everything in there, probably everything except how to subscribe to my email list, which is really funny. So I should probably create that at some point, but not to worry. I think if you get the free SEO course, that is in there, then you will eventually join my email list. And you’re welcome to unsubscribe if you think my advice is awful and that that’s totally fine. But that’s where you can find me theflooringgirl.com and then look for the link for books and courses.
Well, thank you Debbie again for being here and thank you so much for listening today, food bloggers. I will see you next time.
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