Finally, here it is… my big business takeaways from 2018 and tips for how to make money blogging. There were a lot of highs, lows, and lessons learned. My hope is that you walk away with a list of practical action steps for your own business. Or, maybe you don’t have a business and this will inspire you to start one!
Let’s get to it…
2018 Blog Year in Review
In March 2018, we welcomed our second baby girl. My girls are 5.5 years apart because I suffered from pretty bad postpartum PTSD the first time.
My goal was to 2x revenue over 2017. I thought, at the time, this was an outrageous goal considering I was having a baby and had no idea how postpartum would impact me.
I ended up 4x my revenue from 2017 in 2018!
Needless to say, I learned a lot through birthing a baby and exploding my business at the same time. The goal of this email is to share the highs and lows as an encouragement to you. Truly, if I can do this, so can you!
Revenue, Expenses, Taxes, & Profit
Nothing drives me more nuts than false or misleading income reports. I documented in 2017 why I stopped publishing income reports here: What No One Tells You About Blogging and Motherhood
I’m a very open person and firmly believe that it’s important for women to talk about money. When we help each other out, especially in business, the tide rises for all of us.
I’m not comfortable sharing exact numbers. However, I am comfortable sharing percentages.
Even more so, I think it’s very important to preface this with two points:
- I did not start blogging with the intent to build an empire. I struggle with this fact every single day because I know I can run a multi-million dollar company if I wanted to. The truth is, my kids are too young right now and I’ve decided I need to be more proactive in limiting my stress and my growth to a degree so I can still spend time with them. There will come a time when I will strive for an empire.
- This business provides an income to my family. The intention all along was to replace my corporate salary and contribute to the household. So many people do not share the reality of expenses and taxes in their income reports. I intentionally run a fairly lean business (especially for online marketing) and give a decent percentage of my earnings to the family. Since there is widespread misunderstanding of revenue vs. expenses vs. taxes vs. profit, I am going to share percentages and approximate numbers.
Revenue: Multiple 6-Figures and Under $500k
- Affiliate Marketing: 29%
- Digital Products: 70%
- Ads on Site: less than 1% (I removed these in 2019)
- Contract work (I still did work for a few people in early 2018): less than 1%
Business Expenses: 50% of Revenue
Major Expense Categories (% is of total revenue):
- Job Education (business coaching, courses): 14.8%
- Advertising (Facebook & Pinterest Ads): 7.2%
- Affiliate payouts (to people who recommend my courses): 6.6%
- Software (LeadPages, ConvertKit, etc.): 5.3%
- Travel (conferences, trip to Pinterest HQ): 5.2%
- Contractors (VA, graphic designer): 4.6% <– Yes, this means I do not have a lot of help in my business.
Looking at these numbers shows me I have some improvements to make. Most notably, I want to decrease how much I spend on job education and increase the amount I spend on contractors to help me execute on revenue-generating projects.
**This information on taxes is my personal understanding of the topic and does NOT substitute for legal or financial advice from a professional**
Taxes: 12.5% of Total Revenue
Taxes are calculated after business expenses. Essentially, taxes are calculated on 50% of my total business revenue which is why it’s such a small percentage as compared to my overall revenue.
I became an S-Corp this year which means I put myself on payroll. Please keep in mind my husband has a corporate career which puts us in a higher tax bracket. His withholdings also cover some of the taxes I have to pay at times as well. Taxes are complicated.
As an S-Corp, I pay payroll taxes on a salary I pay myself. This includes federal, state, and FICA taxes. I pay FICA (social security and Medicare) as both an employee and employer.
The remaining profit left in the business is passed through to our personal tax return. I pay federal, state, and FICA taxes. However, I only pay FICA as an employee and not an employer on this amount. Essentially, becoming an S-Corp is a legal way to reduce your tax burden.
Profit: 37.5% of Total Revenue
This is the amount that hit our family bank account that we could actually spend.
Phew, I have my masters degree in finance and geek out about this stuff. If your head feels like it’s about to explode, don’t worry. This is why you’ll hire a CPA!
My Business Timeline
It’s always easy to look at where someone is now and get discouraged. I don’t want that to be you! Let me set the stage for you on the business timeline for Redefining Mom. This did NOT happen overnight. However, it is also extremely possible to achieve if you put the work in.
- May 2010: Graduated with my Masters of Business with a concentration in Finance and Marketing.
- October 2012: Our first daughter was born.
- July 2013: Redefining Mom was born.
- April 2015: I had little time to invest in blogging with my demanding corporate career. I wasn’t making money off my blog. This didn’t stop President Obama’s staff from finding my small but mighty blog! I was invited to the White House for a Working Families event and got to meet President Obama and share my working mom story.
- September 2015: After leaving the White House, I was on FIRE to make a difference with my blog and turn it into my full-time career. I invested in Elite Blog Academy.
- January 2016: Still not making money, I quit my corporate job of 11 years and took a WAH job in the same field (tech) to bridge the income gap. I spent this time going through Elite Blog Academy and building a solid foundation for my blog.
- August 2016: I ditched my W2 paycheck for good! In my first several months, I was making $1-2k a month. Definitely not a replacement for my corporate income yet.
- February 2017: I realized early on the money was in growing my email list. My sole focus was on email list growth at this point. This was my first $10k month. I also launched Pin Practical Masterclass.
- July 2017: I found out I was pregnant with my second baby. Pregnancy is hard for me. I reduced my work hours from 36 to 20. For most of 2017, my income remained between $5k-$10k/month. I was thrilled with this considering I cut my work hours in half and did not have help.
- November 2017: I was convinced by several blogging friends to create a beta course on promoted pins (Pinterest Ads). I named it Pin Practical Promotions. I was hesitant to take on this project because I was entering my 3rd trimester and ready to nest. I didn’t feel my head was in the game. However, this would prove to be a very key decision in my business trajectory.
- January 2018: Pin Practical Promotions launches to the public.
- February 2018: I closed my calendar and prepared my business for an 8-week maternity leave.
- March 2018: Our second daughter was born!
- April 2018: I made over $14k without working! Prior to going out on maternity leave, I set up 3 sales funnels and ads on both Pinterest and Facebook to drive traffic. I spent less than $2k on ads and made over $14k this month. At this point, I knew I was on to something.
- June 2018: I returned to work and decided the best way to cope with my postpartum anxiety was to schedule wayyyy too much travel which led to a near mental breakdown in late Fall.
- October 2018: I led the affiliate leaderboard for the Genius Blogger’s Toolkit. I was right behind my mentor and Elite Blog Academy creator, Ruth Soukup, who literally has an email list 1000x the size of mine.
- November 2018: I blew my revenue goals out of the water with a super successful Black Friday/Cyber Monday special.
Boiling it down, the four major things that led to my business growth over time have been:
- Email list
- Sales funnels
- Leveraging ads to drive targeted traffic
- Investing in education and joining masterminds/coaching groups with women further along in business
Practical Tips for Evaluating Your Own Business Performance
The best way to make wise decisions about your business is to evaluate the numbers. Numbers don’t lie. The problem is figuring out what exactly the numbers mean for your business and how to use them to make meaningful goals for 2019.
I started a fairly basic spreadsheet divided out by month with a summary tab so I could see the numbers for the entire year. I used my bookkeeping software to come up with the numbers.
- What earned me the most revenue and dollar amount
- What cost me the most money and dollar amount
- Email list size
- Email list focus
- Best performing email including date, subject line, and open rate
- My launches and revenue
- Affiliate launches and revenue
On the summary tab, I pulled in revenue, expenses, and profit. Underneath the numbers, I made a row for big wins, losers, and necessary (i.e. hiring a business coach).
This process made it abundantly clear to me what worked in my business and what didn’t in 2018. Using this information, I’m armed to make educated decisions for 2019. As they say, 20% of where we spend our time creates 80% of our profit. This couldn’t be truer! In 2018, I started to spend more time where 80% of my profits came from and guess what would happen? A lot more money!
What Worked in 2018
1. Creating a Signature Course
As I mentioned earlier, a few blogging friends of mine pushed me to create a course on promoted pins (Pinterest Ads). I have a knack for analyzing data and it was evident there was a lack of resources on how to properly leverage promoted pins in the market. I use promoted pins to drive targeted traffic to my sales funnels. In January 2018, I officially launched Pin Practical Promotions to the public. Throughout 2018, I used this course to explore multiple marketing avenues such as live launching, live challenges, joint ventures, and webinar training. By far the two most successful methods were live challenges and joint ventures. (It’s on my list to create a resource guide on the multiple strategies I used to grow this course to over 700 students in a year).
Creating a signature course allowed me to leverage my professional skills from corporate and marry them with something I am truly passionate about. Win, win!
2. Affiliate Launches
I created an entire course documenting my experience with affiliate launches called Pin Practical Influence. I’m not talking about Amazon affiliate links here, I’m talking about open/close cart launches that pay out 30-50% commission. In order for this to work, the product has to be closely related to what your audience needs. My top affiliate launches were Elite Blog Academy and Ultimate Bundles. I was on top of the leaderboard for both.
It’s no secret that I have a love affair with Pinterest ads. What surprised me in 2018 was my love affair with Facebook ads! I’m passionate about bringing targeted traffic from ads on to my email list and nurturing them into paying customers. I use Pinterest ads as a low-cost, effective way for growing my email list. Facebook ads have proven to be wicked successful for flash sales and feeding my live challenges with quality leads. I even ran a successful Facebook ad campaign for my Family Budget Spreadsheet.
I know I’ll get asked… this course taught me everything I know about Facebook ads.
What Didn’t Work in 2018
1. Underinvesting in Support
I am not happy that I invested more in job education and coaching than I did on execution support inside my business. I keep telling myself I am a terrible delegator and it’s really holding me back from going to the next level. This is something I intend on changing in 2019.
2. Traveling Way Too Much
From late August-early November, I was gone for 6 weeks. It’s literally nutty to do that right after having a baby. Plus, I am a very routine oriented person and it takes me several days to get back into the swing of things when I get home. I had a major case of FOMO and I feared that I would slip into postpartum again so I used travel to avoid my feelings. It really didn’t work and I never intend on traveling so much in a short period of time ever again unless my family is with me.
3. Free Facebook Groups
Mine and other people’s groups. Listen, I’m going to give some tough love here. Facebook groups drain your energy and are a time-sucker. The number one issue I have with most groups is the whining from people who are too busy complaining and not actually doing the work. It sucks me in and derails me. Either I find myself defending something which is pointless or I catch myself falling into comparison traps. In 2019, I’ll be shutting down my free group and leaving many other groups. Some groups are amazing and I intend on giving a list of groups I recommend joining when I close mine down. Moral of the story: Spend less time on Facebook and more time working.
4. Ads on My Site
I call myself the anti-blogger, blogger. LOL, tongue twister! It’s true though, I don’t follow most conventional blogging advice. I hate writing blog posts. I actually loathe it. I prefer nurturing my email list, creating useful digital products, and building sales funnels. I view my blog as a vehicle for people to find me. I did what I needed to do as a blogger to make my blog work for me. This makes display ads pretty pointless for me and I don’t like how they clutter my site. This month, I turned them off.
5. Slow Email Growth
This is exactly why it’s so important to do a yearly review. I was shocked by how little my list actually grew in 2018. When all is said and done with unsubscribes and deleting inactive subscribers, I only gained about 15,000 new subscribers in 2018. Part of me is okay with this because I was focused on building foundational blocks like my course and solid funnels. However, now it’s time to really ramp up the number of people going through the funnels that are successful. This will be a huge focus for me in 2019 as it is the #1 way I hope to grow my revenue.
What Was Necessary in 2018
1. I Became an S-Corp
Reference the above section on taxes, this saved us thousands in taxes.
2. Investing in High-Level Business Coaching
This is a constant struggle for me because of the high expense. However, there is no doubt that every experience I’ve had with mastermind programs or business coaching since late 2016 has had a meaningful impact on my business. Sometimes the program itself turns out not to be that great but the connections I’ve gained have been invaluable! In 2019, I invested in Elite Blog Academy VIP and I am confident this will literally be a game-changer in my business trajectory.
3. Maternity Leave
Did you know Redefining Mom started because I was furious about the lack of maternity leave policies in the US? It took me 3+ years to process the fact that my postpartum was way worse because of the lack of support offered to new working moms. It’s a huge reason why my kids are 5.5 years apart. I was unwilling to have another baby and be forced back into 10+ hour days within 12 weeks of having a baby. I built my business specifically so I could have another baby and dictate my own maternity leave. And, I did just that! I fully funded 8+ weeks of maternity leave from my own business profits.
When I started working again, I hired an amazing Nanny so I can see my baby whenever I want all day long. This business gave me control of my circumstances. It has allowed me to find the balance I so desperately craved between work and home while I was in corporate. I cannot express to you enough how amazing this is. My business was primarily funded through my promoted pin sales funnels during this time.
Last but not least, I pumped breastmilk and shipped it home on every single one of my business trips in 2018. Breastfeeding was such a struggle for me the first time and I am super proud of myself for doing this during a hectic and stressful period in life.
4 Ways I Intend on Growing My Blogging Business in 2019
I was late to buy into this concept but I’m ready to now. I will be shutting down almost all of my courses and my free Facebook group this year. I fully intend on embracing the concept that 20% of my effort makes 80% of my profits. It’s time to put more focus on the 20% and cut out the noise from things that simply are not working. This also means I will be launching a few new projects but they will be strategic and cohesive to my overall mission. Something I’ve learned a lot about in the EBA VIP program.
2. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
It’s time for this anti-blogger to put on her big girl britches and stop ignoring the number one search engine in the world… The Googs! My VA will be helping me implement this strategy. The first course we will be working through is Adventures in SEO by Lena Gott. You can get on the Adventures in SEO wait list here if you’re interested.
3. Email List Growth
This really goes hand in hand with my next point on advertising. It’s time to ramp up the leads I bring through my sales funnels now that I’ve proven that they work. I intend on doing this through targeted ad campaigns and through a new super-secret project I’ll be announcing next month! Haha, suspense!
4. Pinterest and Facebook Advertising
I’ve tripled my budget for ads in 2019. Yep, you read that right. TRIPLED! I don’t intend on this cutting into our family profit either. I intend on being an ad ninja and using my tripwires (limited-time offers) to pay for my ad spend. Speaking of tripwires, I geek out about tripwires inside my promoted pins course. I might even be launching a special course on how to set up sales funnels and tripwires later this year. Fist pump!
DO YOU WANT TO START AN ONLINE BUSINESS IN 2021?
Learn more about the exciting new programs we are offering over on how to build your own digital product business at Empowered Business.
I hope you found the information I shared useful on your own blogging/business journey.
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