This is the story of how I accidentally became a professional blogger and started Dane Carlson’s Business Opportunities Weblog. This tale has been a long time coming, because it’s not really something I ever wanted to share. I was always afraid that if I told my startup story I’d just create more competition for myself and everyone would find out how I fell into my business without any planning or foresight. But, I’ve been at this for a nearly a decade and have pointed to and written about thousands of other entrepreneurs and their startup stories. If it was all right for me to share their startup experiences, it’s now my turn to share mine. I just hope that my experiences and foibles will be helpful to others.
Ten years ago when I told people that I was a blogger, no one had any idea what I was talking about. Even me. Today, not much has really changed. Many still don’t quite understand what I do, but I do, and that’s all that matters. I still struggle with explaining my business and sometimes just say that I work on the Internet or am a writer. But that’s not really true. I actually went through a phase were I was very upset that I couldn’t explain to people what I did and just wanted to quit and become a plumber or something because at least everyone understood what that was.
In late 1997, I’d been surfing the Internet for about four years when I discovered a new method of publishing called “weblogging”. At the time it was just a very small niche hobby, that only acquired a name in December of that year.
A weblog consists of short links and editorial presented in reverse chronological order on a webpage, with the newest content at the top of the page and the content growing older as one scrolls down the page. Each individual addition to the weblog was called a post, and could stand both alone or in context with other posts on similar topics. Dane Carlson’s Business Opportunities Weblog functions in exactly that way today.
It was the perfect medium for me. When I was a child I’d always dreamed that I would grow up and sell information. I must have watched too many James Bond movies, but I imagined that I’d work out of a shadowy office in Istanbul and people would come to me for information about all kinds of things; tidbits like the price of wheat in Pakistan in 1934, or what musical instrument has the largest tonal range, or where to find Passover Coke during the winter months. Somehow I’d make a living providing this kind of information. Childhood dreams sometimes have a way of coming true, I guess, because blogging was exactly like that… except without the money or the shadowy office.
I setup my own personal blog in November 1997 and proceeded to write about and link to all kinds of random topics. For the most part, though, I wrote about interesting business ideas and small businesses. I’ve always been enamored with hearing about how people started what sound like crazy businesses. A story that still sticks out in my mind from those days was about a farmer who moved to Nevada and realized that nothing would grow in the alkaline soil, so he started working with a new type of livestock: lobsters. That’s right, there was a farmer raising lobsters in the middle of Nevada!
In those days, the only people who read weblogs (or blogs as they started to be called in early 1999) were other bloggers. At first, we were a relatively small and insular group, but as time went by, our numbers slowly expanded. Because we linked to each other’s posts and pointed to each other stories, we inadvertently created websites that were perfectly search engine optimized and we all began to rank higher and higher for every single topic that we posted about.
In a nutshell, search engines like Google determine the order of the results that they return based on the number of topical links a specific page has from other pages. Because bloggers created new pages every day and repeatedly linked to one another’s posts from their own posts, blogs quickly rose to the top of the search engine results. This brought more readers and eventually brought blogging into the consciousness the general public because the mainstream media finally figured out that one couldn’t search for anything without finding a blog post about it.
I was able to make a post about something, like “Why was Good Friday called good?” in the morning and by noon, Google would be sending visitors to my blog looking for the answer. The power was awesome, but I didn’t yet understand the real world applications.
At about this same time, my father and I had a small business in Modesto, California called Nickel News. We published what we called a “news-less-paper”. The publication was an 11″x17″ folded sheet of gray paper with jokes and humorous stories, surrounded by advertising. We distributed the issues for free in local restaurants and waiting areas and supported it with advertising from local businesses.
Selling local advertising door to door was hard and not a path to huge profits, so after I got married in early 2001 and brought my very intelligent wife onboard, my father, my wife and I decided to expand the business by licensing our publication to small business entreprenerus and non-profits in other cities across the country. We edited, did layout and published the Nickel News for their community; they sold the ads and distributed it locally.
To license our publishing opportunity, we needed a way to promote our business to people all over the country. Here’s where my blogging expertise came in: since by then I’d realized that blogs ranked highly in the search engine results, I set about to create a weblog about business opportunities. The whole point was to get in front of people that were Googling for business opportunities. That was the start of staging.lonely-lettuce.flywheelsites.com.
I didn’t even really write much in the early days. My father, my wife and I just posted information about different bizops and franchises in a weblog-like format and then included information about Nickel News on every page of the website.
The results came in pretty quickly and dramatically. Overnight we had interested people contacting us for more information about Nickel News and we licensed a bunch of them all over the country. I was able to talk to hundreds of different people looking for a small business opportunity. Although we didn’t sell to all of them, I learned from them that there were other people like me out there â€” people who were on the lookout for a great idea to build something out of.
After a while, though, the early 2000s recession took its toll and the number of new paying customers and licensees slowed down. Since I was newly married I decided that I needed to do something else, so I got a “real job” with a local shower head manufacturer and I built websites for them for the next few years. When I wasn’t writing HTML and PHP I was still blogging and finding interesting business ideas and stories. I was also still attempting to convince everyone of the benefits of blogging.
Although not many people listened, because as I mentioned earlier, no one understood what a blog was, Loyd Schutte’s Yosemite Blog was one early result of my blog evangelism. Loyd started a blog about Yosemite National Park that is still going strong today.
Over the next couple years, my wife and I had our first child and I continued my personal blogging. Occasionally I’d build a new website that would generate a little revenue, or build a site for someone else, but for the most part my blogging was just a hobby. I still tried to sell everyone I could on the power of blogging and what it could do to generate exposure for their business, but I never had any real success translating my excitement into something concrete. All the while, the site I’d built to promote Nickel News, staging.lonely-lettuce.flywheelsites.com was still online, just sitting there, and still getting traffic.
Google AdSense completely solved both of these different problems. Small advertisers only had to go to Google, select the keywords or phrases that they wanted their advertising to appear next to, input their ads, select a maximum amount of money they we were willing to pay per click and viola they were off and running. Almost immediately their ad would show up on pages highly targeted to their keywords. Since advertisements were targeted to the words on a page, and not to the site as a whole, different ads would show up on different pages. This meant that web surfers wouldn’t necessarily see the same ads over and over again. The ads actually complimented the content on the page and offered an additional resource to the reader.
But I didn’t really understand this fully at the time and I didn’t have high hopes for the program, but I gave it a try and included the AdSense code on staging.lonely-lettuce.flywheelsites.com on Thursday, June 19, 2003.
While writing this article, I read up on the history of AdSense. It was announced on June 18, 2003, only one day before I put the ads up on my site.
Three days later, I logged into the AdSense reporting system to see how much money the system had generated. I was expecting that at most I’d have a dollar or two total for the few days that the ads had been running.
You can imagine my surprise when I saw that the first full day that ads had run I made $28.83 on 24 clicks! The second day netted $33! All of this from a website that had just been sitting there for a couple years! In two days I’d made back more than I’d spent paying for the domain registration for all those years.
A quick back of the envelope calculation showed that 30 days times $30 totaled $900. $900 was more than my rent and my utilities combined! This was like I’d just won the lottery. That “free” $900 was the best thing that could happen to me at that point in my life. It meant that my wife would never have to get a job and could stay home full-time with our son. I still had to work at my “real job”, but it was like I was generating two incomes! That first half-month, the site, which I still wasn’t updating, generated over $400 dollars.
In the next month, the AdSense revenue continued to grow but unfortunately I was a little too eager and experimental for my own good. I began to click on my own ads, in violation of the AdSense terms of service. This was totally wrong, but I wasn’t doing it in an attempt to generate more revenue. Instead, I was just trying to determine how quickly the Google AdSense reporting system updated and how much money I was getting for each individual click. I don’t think I clicked on more than 10 ads, but that was enough to trigger an email from Google that my account had been put notice for potential click fraud.
The email from Google stated that if any more of the clicks on my account were suspected as being fraudulent they’d kick me out of the program and not send me any of my earnings. Since Google paid thirty days after the month ended, I hadn’t yet received the $400 I’d earned in June, or the nearly $1000 I’d already earned in July, so I did something very drastic: I removed all of the Google AdSense from the site.
I kept AdSense off the site until I had received both the check for the first month and the check for the second month. September 2, 2003 I put AdSense back on the site and have been using it pretty much non-stop ever since.
Since I was one of the very first sites on the internet with AdSense on them, I really missed out not having the ads on my site for those two months it took to receive both of my first two checks. At the beginning, it seemed like everyone was clicking on AdSense ads just because they were new and webmasters in the program made a lot more per click than the do today. By the time I put the AdSense back on the site, the click through rate had fallen off noticeably.
In early 2004, after experimenting with Google AdSense on other websites and not having the kind of luck I’d had on staging.lonely-lettuce.flywheelsites.com I realized that it wasn’t just the blog format that was special about the site. It was the content. Advertising related to business opportunities and franchises were much more expensive, and therefore more profitable, than any of the other niches I explored. I should have figured this out myself since every newsstand is covered in magazines for business opportunity seekers, but I really had no idea what I was doing. I still wasn’t regularly updating the site, so I decided that it was time to start blogging on the site again since it was likely that the only direction that traffic and revenue could go was up. I took a backup of the old site before I started blogging again, just in case things went down. My plan was to revert to the backup if things went south.
Things didn’t go poorly, and it was at this point that I realized that I’d accidentally become a professional blogger. I started regular blogging on the site in February 2004 and have been at it ever since. Shortly after realizing that I was professional blogger, I imported all of the relevant posts from old personal blog into Dane Carlson’s Business Opportunities Weblog and turned off the old site. In those early days I had no idea what I was doing. I just blogged like I normally would, only more about business and less about other random topics. The checks kept arriving in my mailbox.
Since then, I’ve changed how I generate revenue so that I’m not dependent on Google AdSense anymore and have been able to quit my day job and work on the site full time. We now have three sons and I’ve been able to work from home for the entire lives of the second two. The website even built me a house way up in the mountains of Mariposa, California where we now live.
In the last few years, the blog has been redesigned a couple times and I’ve changed hosting companies and backend software more than I’d have liked. I eventually brought in other bloggers to help, but for the most part the site has stayed the same.
I still blog because I want to share the interesting finds I happen across on the web and not for the money. At its heart, Dane Carlson’s Business Opportunities Weblog exists to document the interesting businesses and ideas from around the world and to inspire other would-be entrepreneurs to get out from behind their computers and get to work doing something.