I’m going to start this post with a big helping of gratitude. I’m so grateful to the 1000’s of readers that helped me get into the field of Data Science and Machine Learning. I was a part-time blogger that turned my passion into a full-time gig in the AI Startup world. This post is my way of paying it forward to you. Read below if you want to learn how to make money blogging.
I started a blog back in 2006 writing about trading stocks and foreign exchange (Forex). I used my blog like the modern-day twitter / microblog than like a real blog these days. It was that, a weblog of what was going in my life. I used it like Twitter, writing short updates as blog posts, and ended up amassing 100’s of useless posts. I don’t regret that because that’s what the Internet was like back then.
The sad reality is that work can sometimes paralyze you.
My blog came into being because my work was boring. I was working at a transportation firm as a Civil Engineer and my work life wasn’t very exciting. Don’t get me wrong, Civil Engineering is a great career but over time it turned out that it wasn’t for me.
I had a hard time getting out of bed every morning and my mood was always sour by the end of the day. It was starting to affect my family life and that was like a major warning bell for me. I needed to make a change but what? I felt trapped at work, who would hire this 44-year-old man? I doubted myself and along with it, my confidence fell apart.
The sad reality is that work can sometimes paralyze you. You end up doubting yourself and your abilities. It’s damn right scary when this happens and I knew I needed to make a change back in 2007.
I needed to find something that matched my short attention span and was challenging. But what? The ‘what’ was starting a new blog in 2007. What I didn’t know that this blog would change my life over the next seven years.
I started Neural Market Trends right after my old blog crashed and I lost all my posts. I needed to create a new one and I got bored writing about general stock market stuff. I decided to apply Data Mining (aka Machine Learning) to the stock market and see if I could make market predictions and post about them. If I got them right the majority of the time, I could amass a following like Seeking Alpha or other blogs.
I had found my passion, my true calling.
Of course, I wanted to start trading these models and make a lot of money. I had dreamed of trading my way to freedom where I could start a new career as a stay at home day trader. These were all dreams I had while I worked in a constrictive corporate office. I was being smothered and I needed freedom to move around. I like to think, take naps (for creative purposes) and blur my work and personal life. I’m not an ordinary guy that can do a 9 to 5! I am not a standard interchangeable ‘labor unit’ and I knew that I was worth more then what I was being paid.
All these feelings and thoughts help me push ahead with my new blog. I started writing about trading models built with a powerful machine learning suite. I poured countless hours into this software, learning, building, and ultimately teaching. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was learning Data Science. I spent more countless hours, days, and weeks writing and sharing with my readers. Then suddenly, my readership exploded! I was being backlinked, cross-posted in other blogs, and ultimately invited to speak at the first RapiMiner conference.
Everything started to align 3 years after I started my blog. I knew right then and there that I wanted to get into this field. I had found my passion, my true calling. Yes, it took 3 years of working and writing to finally uncover my passion. I don’t mind that it took that long because some things need time to ‘gel’ in your mind. Sometimes you have to keep working to push through the obstacles.s
How do find the thing that makes you want to get out of bed every day?
Fast forward another 4 years and I switched my career into Sales Engineering at a Startup. I was offered a position at the Startup because of my blogging and communication skills, so in 2014 I said goodbye to a career that was stable and boring for one that was unstable and exciting. I found something that got me out of bed every morning, excited for the day ahead, and made me feel good when I went to bed at night. My mood changed, I rebuilt my confidence, and I became a better father and husband. I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming but life has been pretty awesome since then.
Ok, enough about me. Let’s do you.
Find your Passion and Work at It⌗
It took me 3 years to find my passion and another 4 years to execute on it. You could make the argument that once I found my passion I should’ve found a new job right away! Well, the job I had paralyzed me and I had serious doubts. These were the thoughts running through my head:
“I’m not good enough” or “No one will hire me, I’m too old” and even “What if I fail?”
I will not deny that those thoughts are real and YOU will face them but in the end, they are nothing to worry about. I’ll write about these thoughts later, for now let’s talk about YOUR passion.
Some people have summarized Ikigai into four questions, which is pretty helpful.
I found my passion by scouring the Internet for Machine Learning papers, reading some early blogs on the subject, and devoured anything I could find. I learned about Regular Expressions, taught myself Python, and followed every crazy whim I had.
What if you’re not as lucky as I was? What if you’re paralyzed in a crappy job or an oppressive career? How do find the thing that makes you want to get out of bed every day?
I’ve given this a LONG HARD Thought over the years and it comes down to a simple Japanese principle called Ikigai.
Ikigai is Japanese concept that means “a reason for being”. You can read more about in the link but the gist of it is, what gets you out of bed in the morning? It’s your reason for being alive, your meaning of life, and that what makes your life worth living.
There are 100’s of bloggers that post Venn diagrams of Ikigai and their methods of how to make it all work. You should search for it but you’ll find that it’s become too commoditized. They miss the point of the entire meaning in my humble opinion.
Some people have summarized Ikigai into four questions, which is pretty helpful. The four general questions you should ask yourself are:
1. What your good at
2. What you love to do
3. What the world needs
4. What you can be paid for
You’ll realize that these 4 questions are part of a greater whole. That whole is your being for existence, your Magnum Opus, your life’s work. When you answer these questions, honestly, and when all work together in harmony, you’ll be the happiest person in the world. There’s nothing that can describe the feeling when all four of those questions align for you, you will just know it.
Still, you have to figure it out. So how do even start?
Getting started is the first step and it’s the hardest step. Getting started means think about what you want and then making a plan to achieve it. The sad thing is that this is the biggest hurdle you have to overcome and the probability of failing is very high.
How do you NOT fail?
I found out a long time again that people fall into three main groups for learning. These groups are visual, auditory, and kinetic.
Mind map drawings are the perfect way for you to ‘download’ all the stuff that’s been floating around in your head.
Visual learners learn best through pictures, drawings, and slides. The majority of us are visual learners. Auditory learners learn best by reading or listening. The last group is Kinetic learners who learn by doing. They work at it in a physical sense.
My proposition to you is to either write your new life down (auditory), draw it out (visual), or go for a walk (kinetic). This will make sense below.
Write it down (auditory)⌗
I’m starting with the auditory learners because it’s my second method of learning. If it wasn’t then I wouldn’t be writing blog posts! The key thing to note is that Auditory learners love story-telling and reading. It’s their main way of learning. So let’s get started.
First, get a blank piece of paper and a pencil. You’ll write down some questions that you’ll ask yourself. These questions will be very personal and may take some time to think about.
If you don’t have any idea about what kind of questions to ask yourself, the following are a good start. Write them down and answer them.
“In my free time I like to do”
“My hobbies are”
“If I had a chance, I would like to do this for a living”
“If I more time to dedicate to this, I could be great at it”
“What will people remember me for?"
“If I could change the world, what would I do?"
Then I read them aloud and listen to them. I’ll even put the paper down and think about what I heard myself speak. Then I’ll read them aloud again.
If something doesn’t feel right, I’ll change my answer or ask a different question.
After a while, you’ll hear some interesting patterns in your answers. You’ll hear what your passion is. When you do, write it down and circle it. Put stars around it. Paste it to the wall and look at it every day.
Mind Map Drawings (visual)⌗
The next method is a visual way. This is my primary learning method and although I’m a terrible artist, I like to make mind map drawings.
Mind map drawings are the perfect way for you to ‘download’ all the stuff that’s been floating around in your head.
Here’s one I did a few years ago.
To get started with a mind map, get a piece of paper and a pencil. Then put a stick figure of yourself in the middle of the paper and draw circles around you. I usually do about 5 and then start filling up the bubbles.
What do you fill the bubbles with?
The Big Rock items.
Fill them with what’s important to you. Things like family, your life, relationships, and work. Fill them with what you like to do and want to do. Think about what you love to do, what the world needs.
Starting writing down anything that comes into your mind, it’s ok to edit and restart. Mind maps capture very fluid thoughts and subtle patterns. Some of these patterns are weak and others will be strong.
This exercise will take a long time and you might have to start over a few times but stick with it. You can even use the writing prompts from the Write it Down section about. If you get stuck, I recommend you do that.
Go for a Walk (kinetic)⌗
Going for a walk is a rather strange way to find your passion but it touches on the concept of ‘no mind.’
No mind is a state of being where your body does something without thinking about it. It’s like the martial artist that practices the same moves every day, over and over again. On the day of the fight, he/she executes the moves without thinking.
Your mind becomes calm and all the daily chatter goes quiet. Going for a walk helps clear your mind and allows you to be open to receiving your passion. It will happen in a flash. It will seem magical but it’s not, its been inside you the entire time.
Once your walk is over, take a piece of a blank piece of paper and write down any flashes of inspiration you had. If there was no inspiration today, then go for a walk tomorrow or try a more vigorous form of exercise. Keep repeating this method until inspiration hits. If it doesn’t, then try adding the writing prompts or mind mapping exercises above.
By the time you’ve run through this section, you should be able to find something that excites you. A ‘seed’ of passion at the very least. If you don’t, then keep working at these exercises till you do. This step is the hardest and fraught with a high failure rate, don’t stop.
I touched on the concept of Ikigai, a great starting point to help you frame your existing and future life. Remember those four questions from above?
1. What your good at
2. What you love to do
3. What the world needs
4. What you can be paid for
Want to know what my answers were? After mind mapping, lots of walks, and writing every down I came up with these answers and key points.
What am I good at? Public speaking, writing, and communicating.
What do I love to do? Solve problems and communicate.
What does the world need? AI Transformation, automating processes.
What can I be paid for? Being a Sales Engineer.
What are my hobbies: Blogging, photography, reading.
What are my Big Rocks: Family, writing, personal growth.
You Found Your Passion! Now What?⌗
I’m so happy you found your passion, what do you do now? You will waste all your effort now if you don’t make a plan and execute it.
I didn’t have a plan in the beginning and that’s why it took me 7 years to change careers! I’m not sure if I could’ve done it sooner but in hindsight, I shouldn’t have let this slip.
A plan is a set of measurable smaller goals that keep moving in the right direction. Your passion is what will drive you on.
The weird thing is that as you make your plan execute it, your passion might change. That’s ok, you might evolve and what got you excited in the beginning might not be the thing that you end up with!
The reality is that can’t go cold turkey overnight. I’m a big fan of easing yourself out of your old life into your new one.
It all starts with a blog and we’ll focus on that.
Start at the beginning - Set up a blog⌗
Now, let’s get to the blogging part of this post. You’re going to need a blog if you want to “blog your way to a new life.” The good news is that setting up a blog has never been easier. There are so many ways to do it, you can sign up for a Blogger or Tumblr account or you have host it yourself.
The best way is to host the blog yourself. If you use a 3rd party blog provider like Tumblr or Blogger, you can be removed at any time for the smallest thing! This has happened when malicious readers decide to ‘mess with you’ and it can cause weeks of headaches. YOU should be the Master of Your Domain!
Once your blog is ready, you’ll have to start writing about your passion. Now comes another problem, understanding the difference between writing and making content.
Anyone can write content but making great content is hard. If my passion was to make a sourdough bread baking blog, I could write about a recipe and post a few photos. That would be writing content and if I did that, I wouldn’t get very far with my blog.
There are 1000’s or even 100,000’s of bloggers that do that. They write some words, sprinkle some images, and call it done. Then they wonder why they have a very mediocre site in the end.
Making content is HARD and it will consume a lot of your time. Do not skimp on this. If you ever think “Let me skip this step so I can post faster,” stop what you’re doing and take a step back. Don’t skip because the difference to your readers is in the details.
Readers can discern a half-assed post over a quality post in the first few minutes of reading the post. They’ll bounce on your videos in seconds if it’s too kitschy or passes over your link in the search results.
Your blog will become your online resume and your brand. You need to protect and cultivate this from the very first day you launch your blog.
Let’s take the Sourdough Bread Baking Blog idea from above.
Making content would look like this to me:
1. Well lit photos of different parts in the sourdough making process
2. A video or two of you kneading the dough and a timelapse of the bread rising as you’re baking it
3. A short video for Instagram on you cutting through the bread so people can hear the crunch and see the crumb
4. An infographic of your recipe
5. A detailed post of the recipe with a link to another post on how you made your sourdough starter
6. Sharing the infographic on Pinterest
That’s a lot of work and it will slow the frequency of your posting down, but it will be worth it in the end.
Go To Market Strategy⌗
I touched on this in my Sourdough Bread Baking Blog idea but it’s worth expanding on. When you’re making content you need to think about how it will be consumed.
This ties into how people learn (auditory, visual, kinetic) and what channels you’ll use.
At the beginning of this post, I wrote about Finding Your Passion and how people learn in different ways. The same is true for those types of people when they consume information. If you want to reach a lot of auditory learning people, consider adding a podcast version of your post. If you want to reach visual learners, consider making an infographic. If you want to reach kinetic learners, consider making a video of you doing whatever it is you do.
This extra content is what I call companion content and is important in your Go To Market strategy. This is about finding the right group of people to consume your content and build your brand. You need to always think about what the easiest way your readers will consume your content.
The last thing you should do is add a companion video for your blog post. This way can highlight key things in your blog post and the video for people to pay attention too.
By creating a video you’re also increasing your consumption channels. Your blog post will only show up in one consumption channel, search! If you make a companion video with your blog post, your post will show up in search AND YouTube. You’ve doubled the chance that someone will see your content!
The same goes for other social media channels like Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Not every channel will be best for your niche but you should consider each on its merit.
Time is all you need⌗
I wrote that it took me seven years to turn my passion into my new life and I suspect it will take some time for you as well. I don’t know how long it will take but you need to stick with it. There will be highs and there will be lows. It’s NOT easy.
Many bloggers will say “stick to a posting schedule” and that has some merit if you’re only writing content. When making content you should always focus on details and great content. It will take all the time it needs but in the end, it will make a deeper impact.
Don’t worry about posting frequency and instead focus on quality.
Over time you’ll notice that your blog will start gaining traction on the search results. People may start sharing your posts on Twitter or Facebook. You’ll get comments on your posts or likes on Instagram. Once that happens, KEEP GOING!
This will be hard to but keep making content. It will feel like a second job and it will drain your energy but that means your life is starting to change. You’ll start to be known as the “Bread Gal” or “Mr. Fix It Dad.”
Let’s face it, if your passion project, your blog, starts to feel like a second job, you should start earning income. I turned my passion into a full-time job offer with a big raise to my salary at the time. It was a no-brainer for me to take the offer and the rest is history for me.
Your experiences will be different. You might get offers to join startups or something else. Consider those offers if they make sense to you. If not, then consider monetizing your blog.
There are several ways to monetize your blog and I’ll touch on the big ones here.
1. Google Ads
3. Affiliate Links
Google was once a sure-fire way to make a lot of money if you had the traffic. Then there were the ‘me too’ clones that promised more CPC and revenue as Google Ad competitors. This was all fine and dandy until one day the ad killers came. The Ad killers were either browser addons or built into the browser itself that strip the ads out of your posts. The reason why was that ads clutter up your content and people like reading clean content.
You can still make money from Google Ads but I wouldn’t rely on it as the main source of your income. People will use browser add-ons to cancel out your ads.
YouTube has a way to monetize your videos if you have enough subscribers and view time over a year. This is not an instant money maker but if you grow your subscriber base and have high view time, you can make a lot of money.
YouTube is great for people who make things. Bakers, Cooks, Travelers, and many more can make great video content and post it. In time you’ll notice which topics in your given passion are popular and you can tailor your content to it.
I like Affiliate Links because they’re unobtrusive and they’re reader-friendly. Amazon has affiliate links, Dreamhost and Bluehost do as well. These links cost nothing for the readers. When the reader buys a product or service from the Affiliate, the blogger gets a cut of the ‘commissions.’
This is a win-win situation but abusing affiliate links is very common. Many ‘Sploggers’ will write some crazy content so they can rank on Google and then try to get you to click on the link. This isn’t very cool, period.
Affiliate links only work well if you become a trusted blogger and content creator. You use the products you recommend or have used them in the past. For example, I’ve used Dreamhost in the past and still use it for managing my Domains. It’s a great hosting platform for starting new blogs. If people click on my affiliate link and start a hosting plan, I earn revenue.
Putting it all together⌗
In the end, blogging yourself to a new life is hard work. Nothing worthwhile will ever be easy BUT it’s so rewarding. Imagine waking up every morning and doing the thing you love and make money at it? You’ll never be unhappy again!
Please feel free to share this infographic if it’s helpful to you!