How to Turn Your Side Gig Into a Full-Time Income, with Deacon Hayes
Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of Maple Money, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
Are you looking for ways to make extra money alongside your 9-5? Or maybe start a business that could someday replace your full-time gig. There are plenty of people who have done just that, including my guest this week.
Deacon Hayes is the founder of the personal finance blog, Well Kept Wallet. For Deacon, success didn’t come overnight. In fact, he tried a number of businessesbefore he stumbled into blogging. What began as a way for Deacon and his wife to document their debt payoff story, turned into a full-time income, after Deacon realized that he could make money blogging.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking to make a quick buck, blogging isn’t the way to go. It can take years to make an income, and many bloggers never do. As Deacon explains, there are more profitable side hustles. One way is to start a business using arbitrage. However, if you’re playing the long game, blogging has a lot to offer.
Deacon shares 2 keys to growing a money-making blog. Quality content, and consistency. It takes time to build traffic, and trust with your audience. Shallow, 300-word posts no longer cut it. Readers want content that’s informative, and helpful. But you need to stay patient. There is nothing passive about blogging. It takes hours to create great content, and then promote it through the right channels.
Deacon and I also discuss the future of blogging. In a world dominated by video (social media, Youtube), will there still be a place for written content 5 years down the road? According to Deacon, the answer is yes, but he advises that bloggers will need to be able to adapt to changing technology to stay relevant.
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- Deacon shares his early side hustle ideas
- What led Deacon to start a blog
- Different ways to make money blogging
- Why blogging is no way to get rich quick
- Other side hustles that can make you money
- Starting a business using arbitrage
- What blogging might look like 5 years from now
Are you looking for ways to make extra money alongside your 9 to 5? Or, perhaps start a business that could someday replace your full-time gig? There are plenty of people who have done just that including my guest this week. Deacon Hayes is the founder of the personal finance blog, Well Kept Wallets. Deacon’s success didn’t come overnight. Listen in as he discusses how he got started in blogging and why he thinks there are better ways to make money.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. You know that having a good credit score will help you get better rates on your mortgage, insurance and loans, saving you a lot of money in the long run. Our sponsor, Borrowell, will provide you with a free credit report along with monthly updates and recommendations to get started. Visit maplemoney.com/borrowell today. Now, let’s talk side hustles with Deacon…
Tom: Hi Deacon, welcome to the Maple Money Show.
Deacon: Hey, Tom. I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Tom: Glad to have you on. A couple of years ago you won an award for blog of the year. Obviously, leading up to that you were slowly working your way up there, right? It wasn’t this overnight success. Can we kind of just go all the way back to the beginning? One thing I was kind of wondering is did you have any previous attempts—any sort of side-gigs in the past? Before blogging, was there anything else you were doing?
Deacon: I tried an eBay business once. I had bought a bunch of product at wholesale and then I would resell it on eBay. It was a really good learning experience because I learned about the costs, the additional costs and not just the products. You have shipping, shipping labels, shipping packages. You have people return things. You have the fees from PayPal, fees from eBay. I started adding all this stuff up realized I wasn’t making any money. And I was driving everywhere so the cost of and mileage on cars—there were just so many things where I felt like I was doing a lot of work and not getting a lot in return.
Tom: I had a brush with eBay too. I bought some PLR (private label books) books, where you can resell the books. Ideas for Valentine’s Day was one I think I sold for like 99 cents. I’d have to look in my eBay account to see if I actually have history on that. But this was 2004 or maybe even earlier. I was always trying stuff like that but I never really found any success. I had various websites that never went anywhere. Did you have anything else? Did you go from eBay to blogging?
Deacon: Well, actually, before eBay I had a MySpace layouts website. MySpace used to have a way to customize your page—to put pictures and audio and all this different stuff on it so I would help people. Particularly musicians because they wanted people to come to their pages so they wanted them to look good. I had this site called, Layouts 4 Life. That was one website. I also had a movie quotes website. I had a couple of things before the eBay business but those never really took off.
Tom: They weren’t really Layouts 4 Life with the way MySpace went.(Laughs).
Deacon: Yeah, I guess it was kind of more like layouts for just a few years. (Laughs).
Tom: Let’s fast forward to when you started blogging. What led to this? I know with me, I didn’t expect much of it. It was kind of a hobby thing. I just wanted to get into doing this. Was it similar for you?
Deacon: Well, what’s more was I needed an outlet. When I started the blog I was actually selling wood flooring. But I wasn’t really excited about wood flooring. It’s a commission field. There was potential for making a lot of money. Potential for flexibility because I could make my own hours and that kind of thing. But I couldn’t see myself doing that long-term. I was interested in personal finance though. My wife and I were paying off this debt and I thought if I could have that outlet to kind of share our story of paying off our debt… that was kind of how I got started.
Tom: How much debt did you have at the time?
Deacon: We were $52,000 in debt (outside of mortgage debt). I actually had three mortgages at the time, I think.
Tom: Oh, wow. I’m assuming this wasn’t an overnight success? How did it go those first few years?
Deacon: Well, the reality was I didn’t really know I could make money with the blog so I was just writing stuff like, “Hey, my wife and I sold my brand new car for less than it was worth and here’s how we went through that process…” And, “Hey, we bought two beater cars for under $5,000. We had $5,000 and bought two cars with it. And here are the pictures of the cars we bought…” Then I wrote about how we went through that process. It was kind of like just documenting and sharing how we were doing things to get our financial life in order. For the first few years it (the blog) made no money until I had a buddy reach out to me. He worked for a SEO company and told me he had a USAA client that would like to have a link in my sidebar and they’ll pay me $150 for three months or something like that. I said, “Are you serious?” I know who USSA is so I took $150. I had no idea what was going on. But for me, it was one of those things where I could actually make money with this website so I started researching ways to do that.
Tom: I know when I started my site in 2009 I put AdSense ads on it immediately. They didn’t make any money. It took me six months, actually, before I reached the threshold where they’d pay out. Did you not have ads on your site at first?
Deacon: I don’t think I did at first. I did get AdSense eventually. But like you said, because I had no traffic we were talking about pennies a month. I could look back. I’m sure I had it earlier on. We started in 2010 so I’m not sure where it came into the mix but I don’t even think we hit that $100 mark or that benchmark before you get a payout.
Tom: After this link that you sold in the sidebar—
Deacon: Google, if you’re listening, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.
Tom: (Laughs) Where did you go from there? How did this spark what you did next?
Deacon: I just wondered why someone would want to pay me to be on my site. Ultimately, there are multiple different things we talk about with SEO but its advertising. How do I make my site valuable to advertisers? You’ve got to get more traffic. And how do I get more traffic? At the time, I think it was Google and Facebook. Those were the big players as far as getting traffic. So I started researching SEO (search engine optimization) to figure out how to drive more traffic to the website and I was able to do that. I started figuring out how to get more people from Facebook to the site. Then Pinterest came along and I tried to figure out how to get people from Pinterest. It was just kind of adapting with the times; where does traffic come from and what’s most valuable. But overall, traffic from Google is the best and it still is for us, in converting. It’s just kind of learning how to do those different areas and get really good at them. So that’s really been the key.
Tom: With this traffic, can we go into how you made money with the blog? I have people ask me all the time—I think we sometimes forget because we’re in it but some people don’t understand how blogs make money. The way I normally suggest is that it’s kind of like a magazine(to keep it in a traditional perspective). You’re selling ads or you’re giving those brands access to your readership. It does seem similar to magazines and newspapers to me. Can you go into how you turn this traffic into something that these companies want to work with?
Deacon: Yes. Let me give you an example. AdSense really did pay off one time in one occurrence. I was on a local Fox station in Arizona talking about us paying off our debt and in the segment I was talking about how I created this spreadsheet called the “financial game plan” which was one piece of paper where I had our income, expenses and our debts and assets. It was one sheet that you can look at and to see your whole financial picture. And the news guy asked if he could film it. So he was filming this sheet on my website and all of a sudden I started getting all this traffic because they syndicated that local TV show to all these other states. I had a huge amount of traffic come to the site and I made about $1,400 in three days. I went from making pennies to making $1,400 in a few days. So I started to see the correlation of getting a lot of people coming to your website. They’re viewing those ads and that’s very valuable to advertisers. Unfortunately, when you have low amount of people come to the site you make nothing. But when you can figure out how to get lots of people to come at once or even in a short period of time that adds up fast. It’s kind of a numbers game. It’s like you said with a newspaper or magazine, it’s how many people are reading it. Advertisers will pay based off of that readership.
Tom: If someone wants to start a blog, how do they start? If they think this is the side-hustle for them… Sometimes I actually try to steer people away from it a little because it’s not exactly the make-money-fast kind of a road to riches.
Deacon: I think the thing is it has to start with something you’re actually interested in. Because if I wasn’t interested in personal finance and the subject matter, I wouldn’t have stuck with it. A lot of people don’t. They want to make money off of it and that’s the main reason versus being truly interested. I’ll take multiple pictures of something and put it on the site and I’ll take time editing and researching and that kind of thing because I’m interested in it. That natural interest makes it easy to say, “Hey, I’m going to just keep doing this even for fun and then figure out if there is a market for it—to see if people coming to my site are engaging in it,” that kind of thing. So it’s just focusing. There are so many things to write about. I have a buddy who writes about swimming pools. You can have all sorts of things. If you have a knowledge base or an interest, just start writing that content. Like you said, it’s not a get-rich-quick thing. You’ve got to invest a lot of time so you might as well do something that you’re actually interested in and passionate about.
Tom: Yeah, I don’t think very many people have seen it work out in the first year but you can certainly start to see traction. It’s definitely a long game.
Deacon: Yes, so you start with what you’re interested in and then it’s just a matter of setting up a hosting account. You can do it free on regular WordPress until you start getting some traffic and move it over to self-host on WordPress. There are a lot of steps in between but the idea is just getting started with writing. Even if you started in a word document and just mapped out some ideas.
Tom: I think it is just easier to start a blog now than it was before. At the time, even with WordPress you had to be a little bit technical. You had to log into FTP and extract a folder and all that stuff. Nowadays, I think with most hosts you just click a button to get a WordPress site and you’re kind of set up.
Deacon: Yeah, one click install. It’s definitely a lot different now.
Tom: There’s not a lot stopping someone from having a blog. I like what you brought up about it truly being an interest in not doing it for the money because I’ve seen a lot of people start blogs for the money and it’s really easy to fade when you find out you’re not making any money.
Deacon: Yes, because what’s going to happen is you spend all this time doing something that you don’t like. Say you want to write about the best breastfeeding pumps or whatever. Eventually, you get really bored and you’re not making any money because it’s a long game. Then you are going to give up and get mad because you spent all this time doing something you weren’t interested in. It’s not worth it.
Tom: And when it comes to making money from a blog, I know any topic someone’s interested in they can find a way. We’re in personal finance but maybe someone really likes fishing or something like that. There’s always an opportunity to do something like install AdSense at the very least, or find different affiliates. An affiliate is a commission-based model, right?
Deacon: Yes. And that’s the primary way we make money now. I’m glad you brought that up. We have partnerships with brands like Uber, Airbnb, etc., and if we send them leads they’ll pay us a certain commission for those leads. There are all sorts of things. I saw a website where a guy was just doing subwoofers for cars. Another one where they were just doing photography backpacks. If you have something you’re really interested in and it’s unique, there’s an opportunity.
Tom: Working with any of these companies in whatever niche and you kind of settle on, there is certainly a lot of need to build trust. You’re building this readership. You want them to listen to you in general. But for these companies to work with you, they really need to know that you’ve kind of built up this trust with your readers?
Deacon: That’s huge. That’s changed a lot over the past few years as far as it’s so much more necessary now where it wasn’t back in the day when you would just say, “Hey, I’m just starting a blog about paying off my debt.” I’ve kind of figured out what some credibility builders are. For us, it’s hiring writers that have written for big publications; Forbes, New York Times, Business Insider, Bloomberg, whatever it might be. And then putting that on their author profiles to show these people know what they’re talking about. They’re quality writers who have worked with editors. They’re not just saying, “Hey, here’s my opinion, reader. This is really well-researched stuff from a credible source.”
Tom: Yeah, because I remember what affiliate sites looked like 10 years ago. There were a lot of really shady things going on. You couldn’t tell who wrote it or why they were writing it. It was just like you land on a search term in Google and there’s a list of options. They’re normally based on what makes that affiliate more money.
Deacon: And that’s another thing… I just found out that there’s an FTC or at least there’s a guideline that says that you’re supposed to disclose how you rank different affiliates now. So if you are saying, “Hey, I’m taking this because it pays me the most,” you’re supposed to disclose that on the page. Yes, there’s a lot more transparency now than there was back in the day.
Tom: I’m actually more familiar with FTC rules even though it’s American. There hasn’t been a lot of guidance that I’ve seen in Canada. There is around email spam but not so much about what you do online. I just follow the FTC guidelines. It’s all straightforward stuff. It’s just being kind of transparent and honest with what you’re doing. That way people kind of respect your opinions.
Deacon: And it’s giving you a baseline to say, “This is best practices.” If you’re going to do this, this would be a way to make people trust you and make you a credible resource because you’re doing the right things.
Tom: You mentioned most of your money comes from affiliates today. Is that where you would start off if you’re someone listening the show that wants to start blogging? Would you just drop straight into affiliates or how would that work?
Deacon: That’s a really good question. I think it depends. Your friends and family are more than likely to buy something based off your recommendation so it’s possible that if you’re writing about something that your friends and family are interested in and you provide them you affiliate link or whatever, they’re going to do it. I think once you get outside that though it’s harder because people don’t know you. You have to build that trust factor. I’d say just starting off really, it’s building the traffic. Don’t expect to make the money up front. Figure out how to get traffic to the website; which social media platforms the best for your idea, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter—probably not Twitter. Just make sure you’re learning those different avenues and getting really good at them so you get the traffic sources and get the ad revenue. Start off with AdSense then work your way up to something like Media Vine that pays a lot higher. Then go from there.
Tom: Again, if someone’s looking to start this, what sort of a reasonable expectation should they have? I guess one of the obvious answers is that you just might not make any money at all.
Deacon: Yeah, but I will say I’ve seen it done in two years. I’ve seen proven people that said, “Hey, I’m going to put some time into this after my regular 9 to 5 job,” and they’re able to make a decent living. Sometimes it’s a side income. Sometimes it’s a complete full-time income within two to three years. But you have to have a plan. You have to know that there is a market. You have to do your research. You have to put in your time. It’s definitely not passive income right at the beginning. It can become passive income for sure. But at the beginning, it is a lot of work to kind of build it up to get it to where it will just continue to bring in revenue.
Tom: I like they bring up that it’s not passive income, basically. If someone’s looking to make money sooner and they accept that almost nothing is going to be passive income when it’s a side-hustle sort of idea, are there things people could be doing that may be better than blogging?
Deacon: The thing that I think is the easiest for anybody is arbitrage. You’ve got to find where that opportunity is. Basically, find stuff to buy for a lower price and sell it for a higher price. I’ve done that on Amazon. I have a buddy that just did that. On Amazon Prime Day all these cameras were on sale for super cheap. He bought $23,000 worth of cameras for $600. And he’s going to sell them on eBay. He’s not going to sell them for full price because, obviously, there’s other people out there that did the same thing. But the idea is you can go to thrift stores, yard sales—there are lots of places where you can find stuff to basically flip. The problem is you’re always going to be trading dollars for hours. That’s why I love blogging because, yes, you’re trading that time for dollars but eventually, the dollars will just keep coming and that time was already spent. So you don’t have to spend additional time if you don’t want to. Or you can limit the amount of time; five hours, 15 hours. So the arbitrage thing is something that someone could do today. Listening to this they could say, “Hey, I’m going to go to a yard sale. I’m going to go to a thrift store or do whatever,” and do that process. But yes, blogging is definitely more of a long-term play.
Tom: I like the idea that you’re building something with the blog. You truly are building a business that can—it sounds cheesy, but you literally make money while you sleep because people come in on Google at any time of day. And any page view has some value to it whether they’re seeing an ad; clicking an affiliate link or various other kinds of campaigns you can do that with these companies and everything. So I like that idea that it makes money all the time.
Deacon: That’s what I love about it. And I didn’t really know that until I kind of got through the process. And that’s why I kind of brought the eBay business because it would be very hard to automate that business. You can do drop shipping but then there’s a lot of things that can happen in that business. There’s a lot of overhead. But with bloggers it’s low overhead and higher reward. While in a product business is there’s high overhead and minimal reward. Or at least minimal compared to blogging. So you kind of way out those different options is figure out which was the best one for you.
Tom: I think everybody has to find their own natural skill sets. People find out that I have a business online and they start asking me things about how they can sell on Amazon and how to start an e-commerce store. And I just don’t know. It’s just something I haven’t dealt with and mainly because of this idea of holding inventory and stuff. It’s not really for me to buy all those cameras and then have to sell them.
Deacon: And there’s risk involved too. They get damaged in shipping, someone doesn’t like them. I sold something on eBay, a Rock Band Wii game with the guitar and drum set and all that stuff and they said it didn’t have the end of the guitar. I took it off to put it in the box, but I know for sure that it was in that box. They probably threw it away because I had a bunch of wrapping paper in there and stuff. I got a violation from eBay and had to deal with all this stuff and I didn’t do anything wrong. Someone just threw it away and I had to suffer for it. I didn’t want all those headaches. With blogging you have less of those. You have your own headaches but they’re a lot different.
Tom: Well, I think blogging is nice for most of us. In our nature we’re kind of introverted. You don’t have to deal with that kind of level of customer service that you have to with these stores so you can kind of just be in that bubble almost where you’re writing what you want to write. There’s no one really telling you how to do it. And if people like it, they like it and if not, they leave. But you don’t really have that kind of customer service level of hassle.
Deacon: Yeah, I agree.
Tom: Where do you see blogging going in the future? I’m not looking for some big prediction. But is this something that people can still get into now and see some future to? Is it still going to look the same in five years?
Deacon: I think it will look different but here’s what people need to consider; voice, search and response. There a study done in 2018 that said 49 percent of people actually clicked on something in Google. But what happened to the other 51 percent? Well, they got their answer in the Google results. Whether it was the snippet at the top or an audible response or whatever it might be. They will just be more in tune with what they can write that people are actually going to click on and read. The other thing to think about is I’ve got a Google Home and it will show stuff on a screen. Or you’ll have stuff at home where you can do that on your TV. We’ll have to adapt whether it’s going to have video, audio and blog content. But yeah, I still think it will be around. People are going to want to read the different options of for retirement, mortgages. You’re going to have people that are going to want to read and be educated on that stuff. But if it’s simple like, what’s the weather today, it’s going to show you the weather and you’re not clicking anywhere. Just understanding that the landscape changes and adapting with it. There is definitely opportunity the next five years, for sure.
Tom: So don’t start a weather site or a movie quotes site like you had?
Deacon: Oh, my gosh! I had an Episode Guides website. For people that don’t know, the TV show Scrubs, I’d rank the episode number one. It was this TV show about doctors. But then Google changed their algorithm and they actually showed you the episode in the search result and my business model just disappeared overnight. So just factor that in. Could you easily answer this with a snippet? If the answer is yes, don’t do that business model.
Tom: That makes sense to truly work towards that authority whether it’s like my example where you may want to start a fishing site or something like that. But if you’re providing unique opinions, it’s hard to replicate that. I don’t think Google will ever fully change that. But when you want to know the weather, that’s a pretty straightforward answer.
Deacon: Yeah, yeah for sure.
Tom: You mentioned things like Google and Alexa. We should probably also mention other similar sources. I’m thinking Podcasting or YouTube. These are different skill sets. It’s not writing but it’s still kind of the same idea. You’re providing information to people and hopefully getting some kind of monetary benefit out of it so you can keep doing it. You can only go so long on motivation alone.
Deacon: I think that’s a good point. I’m podcasting. You could do the same model essentially. You get a certain amount of listeners. You can sell sponsorships on those podcasts. You can also mention affiliates depending on the relationship you have within the podcast and get commissions for that. There are ways to do that. With YouTube you won’t make a lot of money on display ads because I have a lot of friends that make money off of ads, but you could have sponsors for those videos. You could also mention affiliates in those videos. So yeah, you’re right. You just say, “Hey, what’s the one that’s best for me? Is it the written word? Is it video? Audio?” Pick the route that makes the most sense for you and your bent.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. It’s a different delivery but ultimately you’re still picking a niche and going for it. We kind of discussed already how someone can just start up a WordPress blog but do you have any other advice on sticking with it to hopefully see some success and maybe what they can do to help that along?
Deacon: There are two things; quality of content and consistency. I think the challenge is that you can’t just write one article and think, “Hey, I’m going to get lots of traffic to it.” You’ve got to come up with a plan to write maybe 10 articles—one a week for the next 10 weeks. They’re going be at least 1,500 to 2,500 words about whatever that given topic is. When I started I was writing 300 word articles that were just kind of my opinion and didn’t have a lot of value. Eventually, I took them off because they really weren’t that valuable. Who’s going to take the time to read them? They’re not going to get picked up on Google. They’re not going to stay on the site long from Facebook or anywhere else so it’s really just quality content and being consistent about it.
Tom: I love that. I also had that kind of shallow content that was more opinion than helpful. No matter what niche someone picks, if they’re actually going to provide an answer to what people are looking for, then it’s going to start to work out for them no matter what. I like your advice of roughly 1,500 words just so they’re fully answering that question. It’s not as simple as what’s the weather today? It’s someone looking for something deeper. They really want that expertise and that full opinion on a question. The more you provide that, I think it works out for people more often than not.
Deacon: Yes, and there’s only a couple examples where that’s not true. I want to say you can do it with a few hundred words. There is up-worthy where they just talk about positive stuff. Stuff like, “Hey, this person helped a homeless lady across the street,” so they watch the video which is only 30 seconds then they leave. And there is only 100 words on the page. There are news sites that say, “Hey, X, Y, Z happened today,” but that’s not blogging. Those are just either click baby or people just trying to get eyeballs and traffic. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. How long will that fad last? How long will someone watch that video or care about that story, right? Then they’re on to the next thing. So really, just sticking to that quality and consistency I think is the way to go.
Tom: With up worthy it seems like this constant grind to me where you have to keep putting out content, more like social media. It’s kind of this temporary thing (as you hinted). You’re not really building a business unless you can kind of keep pushing up with this. I’ve seen people have a Google news strategy and it’s just constantly the latest thing you’ve got to push out that day.
Deacon: And that’s tough because as soon as it goes away, your revenue goes away and you’ve still got to pay your bills. Just having that evergreen—when I say evergreen I mean something that lasts forever and not just being trendy, I think really helps.
Tom: This has been great, to give people some motivation and a bit of caution towards blogging as a side-hustle. It certainly worked out for you and it’s been working out pretty good for me as well. Can you let people know where they can find you online?
Deacon: Yes. The best place is wellkeptwallet.com. And then I’m also on Twitter if anybody’s there. It’s just @wellkeptwallet.
Tom: Okay, thanks for being on the show.
Deacon: Yeah. Thanks, Tom.
Thanks Deacon for helping us understand what goes into turning a side-gig into a full time income and for sharing your tips on building a moneymaking blog. You can find the show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/deaconhayes. I want to give thanks to the Maple Money Show Facebook community. I’d love to hear from you there. Feel free to ask a question or share a recent money win to encourage others. Head over to maplemoney.com/community to share with the group. As a reminder, please join us next week as David Stein and I discuss whether or not investing is simply another form of gambling.