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How I made money online for the last 20 years

How I Made My Money Online

Since I was just 12 years old I have worked in many jobs. These have been; multiple paper rounds, sales assistants, data entry clerk, cinema popcorn seller, ticket office, desktop publisher, web developer, affiliate marketing, and business owner.

During this time I have rarely been employed full time only really when I first finished school at 16 for 2 years. Ever since I have worked as a freelancer or in companies, I have either set-up myself or with business partners.

Looking back over this 20-year period is astonishing and something I would never have predicted when I was a teenager, or even when at University. I briefly discuss some of this journey on my about me page.

At times it’s been hard work, with plenty of uncertainty. Other times seemed like I was earning “easy” money from what appeared to be overnight success.

Make Money Whilst SleepingI wouldn’t have changed this for anything though. The prospect of working for a boss full time has literally scared the shit out of me. Having financial security to avoid being a worker bee has been my motivation since leaving University.

Not having a boss has meant I have enjoyed long periods of travel and the holy grail of “making money whilst I sleep” – how much has this statement been flocked to death by gurus eh?

More recently, I have had 18 months off living in Malaysia with my family without financial worries. In fact, the only worry has been that I actually want to be doing something again.

So, what and how have I made money online working for myself over the last 18 years?

Web Development Contractor

After leaving University and experiencing some backpacking I was keen to follow a nomadic working life. At the time I was thinking of being able to live the “laptop lifestyle” is what I wanted to do.

I began learning how to build websites and understand how to program in Active Server Pages (ASP) and to communicate with databases such as MSSQL.

Whilst building up my knowledge from working on small sites from local companies I got my biggest break from my friend ( Brooky ) who introduced me to a company in London who was looking for a company to develop a fairly large content managed website (content management system – CMS).

I got the contract, which meant I would earn almost a year’s income for 3 months’ work, although it wasn’t easy as I needed to hire and manage another developer to work alongside me. The job was made even more challenging by the project manager I liaised with kept on changing his mind, causing delays and additional work.

The site successfully launched and made me the “go-to” web guy for lots of their projects going forward. I worked with the then CEO on and off for nearly 8 years! Was I simply too cheap or just a nice, easy to work with guy? I would say bit of both 😉

CMS Software Company

Brooky introduced me to a guy called Matt, a very gifted programmer who had developed a Content Management System (CMS) that wasn’t quite commercially available yet.

His software was around 80% completed but had no customers yet, so I suggested we formed a company and used an upcoming project of five websites as our first client. We could then complete the software and have a portfolio of sites to show other prospective customers.

Whilst the software was at the time very impressive, it was not easy to roll out to new sites and required a reasonable amount of programming. At the time WordPress had only first started was not as sophisticated as it is today. However, it was gaining popularity of free CMS software like Mambo that made it difficult to convince some small businesses to pay for our solution.

Sales weren’t our strong point and so we struggled to get enough paying customers to sustain the business as it was, so we pivoted and looked at developing other software as a service (SaaS) offerings.

Spawtz Software

Matt played a lot of softball matches and in some netball leagues, who struggled with managing their teams and fixtures. So, we met with one of the league organizers and started developing an online league, team, and venue management software for Netball in London.

It was a hard slog to earn enough money to support both of us whilst developing this software from the ground up. Eventually, though we got a few paying leagues that got us some money, it wasn’t enough for both of us.

At this point, whilst I was confident in the software, I wanted to have time out and go back to be a solo freelancer, with the freedom and flexibility of working and playing hard when I wanted too.

So, Matt and I went our separate ways and he still owns and runs this company today. I am very happy for him, he worked hard to get the software doing a decent turnover and supports hundreds of teams and leagues around the world.

Although at times working in this business was tough, Matt and I had an amicable business separation, with both of us happy with the outcome.

Behavioural Profiling Company

Behavioural profilingI was enjoying working by myself again and spent time in Germany with my girlfriend at the time, then back to the UK went it all went Pete Tong (rhyming slang for wrong)!

When I moved back to London, I started doing web development for an old client and met a father and son team who had developed a unique behavioral profiling model. They were trying to get this online and migrate from a consultancy only based business to a SaaS model.

My old client had invested in their company and was financing this development and I began working with them for 4-5 months until the parent company began to struggle. I was close to not getting some of the money owed but thankfully was fully paid in the end.

The end result was the Profiling company split away and started out again on their own. They needed a tech guy to develop their online part of the business and approached me to be an equity partner.

The deal was for me to work on a retainer basis and sweat equity to be 10% shareholder of the business.

Whilst it started out great, within a year the company was struggling and the promise of raising venture capital never happened. It got so bad that they desperately needed funds and after re-mortgaging and health issues, the company was in bad shape.

I could see that there was a good chance of failure and so had not fully invested my time into the business and had spread my risk in doing other work too.

They Screwed Me!

Getting screwed overThe end result was being screwed over by the father and son.

Behind my back, they brokered a deal with another company to buy the assets of the company and employ the son for 2 years on a salaried package. To top it off, the new owner tried to use bully boy tactics to get me to work for a fixed price to do further development.

After I turned down his less than attractive financial offer, he attempted to get me to work for free on aspects of the software he believed wasn’t working as he wished. That was never going to happen.

The dire financial circumstances of the father meant that at the end I only received 55% of what I was supposed to receive from the final low asset sale. He used the money to fund his living expenses.

To say that I was incredibly disappointed with the outcome is an understatement. This was two-fold in that the business did have potential, but especially disappointed from the actions of the father and son. Throughout my time working in the business (2-3 years) they were constantly reassuring me that “we’re in this together” and “you will be paid”, all the promises were empty-handed and ended up being meaningless.

A conservative estimate of around £120k+ of development work, I probably received less than £20k in total. I had been burned, big time.

The biggest learning outcome for me was that no matter what background (race, religion, or financial) when push comes to shove people mostly think about their own financial interests. A very sad fact but one that was certainly true in this instance.

Truly my worst experience of working with anyone and a big lesson learned. More on this in another article, but in short – ALWAYS have an exit plan and ALWAYS ensure a proper agreement in place before committing time and/or money into a joint venture!

Affiliate Marketing

For ages working as a developer I would now and again read stories of solo affiliates earning thousands of dollars per day, the classic earn money whilst you sleep mantra.

Whilst I read a little of the guru blogs, I never really delved into affiliate marketing until I joined a UK network and started to work with them.

At the same time as working with UK based clients, I spent 50% of my time learning about affiliate marketing, choosing to focus on searching engine marketing (SEO) in particular.

Moreniche LogoAfter working closely with Moreniche and their team in the UK I managed to earn some money every day. What started off as $10-30 USD per day turned into consistently $200-300 USD per day, making a nice $6k-$9k per month – not too shabby!

During this time, I met a few other affiliates and worked with a few as joint ventures. It was teaming up with one other affiliate that we decided to work on some joint projects that grew to be a business in its own right.

My own affiliate sites did well for a few years but with changes in the Google algorithm and my lack of focus due to working on other projects they began losing traffic. It was great still earning money from the sites for 18 months without doing a single thing.

You can read about the bumpy road of being an SEO affiliate and navigating Google Algos here.

Digital Marketing Agency

I got on well with another affiliate and our skillset complimented each other. With me being more technical and him having online marketing tactics. It worked well in the beginning, especially as most affiliates tend to be very cloak and dagger whereas we were more transparent with each other’s work.

So, we decided to team up and establish a digital marketing agency, with the focus on a few external clients, our own affiliate sites, and creating some of our own internal brands.

This grew to be a 10-person team with employees in-house and a team of freelancers.

Some of our projects were successful and others failed. Looking back, especially with the power of hindsight it’s easier to see why some did well and others didn’t.

Whilst we had some good success with revenue, we began to realize that our vision for going forward wasn’t the same, and so decided an amicable split would be best.

My business partner bought me out and then I decided to have a break from work and I enjoyed a mini-retirement break for 18 months or so.

Malaysia sunset

Super Greens Supplement

If you have been following my blog, you will have seen that recently I have begun developing my own greens powder supplement. This started out of frustration from not finding a Greens supplement fitting my needs, namely; full ingredient transparency (knowing what’s inside) and having the ingredients I wanted inside.

This project has been fully funded by me with a lot of the web development work done personally. I have hired freelancers to do design work and writers where necessary too.

This, along with my blog is what occupies my “working” life now. Although in reality, it’s fun and most of the time it really doesn’t feel like work.

Flying Solo – Solopreneur Lifestyle

Solopreneur LifestyleWriting this post was a real blast from the past, following the journey of how I started working online and have treasured being what I call “self-unemployed”!

I hate the thought of being employed by anyone – in fact I think I am pretty much unemployable!

I cherish the freedom of being a solopreneur.

It’s not all plain sailing though. At times can be a little alienating without colleagues to bounce ideas off. This is why I have made a concerted effort to network more in the last 18 months.

On the plus side, there is no pressure of ensuring the company has sufficient turnover to support everyone. It may sound selfish but not having to worry about the financial position of everyone in the company is a liberating feeling.

For me after a few occasions of being in business partnerships, I realize that I am most comfortable this way. Okay, I may not generate and grow a company to be 8 figures, but I am okay with that… The 7 figures are fine! 😉

With the right technical set-up, procedures and virtual staff in place, there is no reason why you cannot run a 7-figure business as a solopreneur.

Adam Author

About the LifeHacker Guy

Hi, I'm Adam the founder of the LifeHacker Guy.

I have a First Class Honours degree in Sports Science from Brighton University, specialising in exercise physiology and nutrition. In my youth I was a competitive Triathlete and long-distance runner placing top 10 in most triathlon races I completed.

Since suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I moved into web development, after a couple of years I then moved onto developing a number of online businesses. I've recently taken a sabbatical and I'm now looking to make big changes in my life, hopefully this may resonate with you - join me in my journey!

1 comment

  1. Very interesting article, especially to a computer/ web dunce like myself.
    I would love to work and travel around the world with my laptop.

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