Sadly—and gladly—this situation was not hypothetical. It was my reality. I say “sadly” because it was an incredibly stressful situation to go through, especially having a family to support while it was unfolding. But I also say “gladly” because overcoming crisis is an amazingly empowering experience.
Rising out of the pile of economic statistics
I was one of the millions of career casualties of the financial meltdown that you no doubt heard tell of from the news media and assorted talking heads. In fact, I was at the epicenter of the storm, working many years as a loan originator in the mortgage industry. (When I wrote in the first paragraph that “your entire industry is on life support” I’m sure you can appreciate that I wasn’t exaggerating!)
That was my situation at the tail end of 2008/beginning of 2009. But by the beginning of 2012 I had a career designation unlike any I ever expected to have in my life: professional blogger. Not a common job description, especially for someone over 50, but I blog and I make money doing it.
How much money? Enough to make a living! That’s plenty—for now—for a guy who based on age and career circumstances could have easily been considered to be “washed up”. But there’s something I’ve learned about blogging—something much more encouraging: it’s one of those fields where the farther you go, the farther you can go. Think of it as “success breading success”. It’s very real in blogging.
Oh, and here’s something else I’ve learned from this experience: you’re only washed up if you think you’re washed up. But let’s get back on topic…
Hundreds, maybe thousands of people are making money blogging—but what IS different in my case is my highly unlikely background. I don’t fit the description of the usual professional blogger, who is typically in his or her 20s or 30s, has grown up with computers the way people my age did with TVs, has few inhibitions in regard to “transparency”, navigates the social media with ease and confidence, and generally has at least some professional connection to the IT universe. I can lay claim to none of that.
For me, entering, continuing, and extending my blogging career has been akin to building a brick wall—one brick at a time. But the take away, I hope, is that you’ll see that you can turn something as casual sounding as blogging into a legitimate career. I’m telling my story in the hopes that it might motivate you if you feel trapped by economic or employment circumstances. There is a way out—there always is.
What do you do when all the doors are closing?
A career crisis is a disaster at any age but once you reach the half century mark all of the problems are magnified. You’re too young to retire, but too old to start a new career.
Going back to school to get a new degree costs time and money you don’t have, and the time horizon to use the new skills learned is too short if you could. Employers in new career fields are unwilling to take a chance hiring you into an entry level position when they can easily hire younger people who are uncorrupted by previous experience and generally willing to work for less money. And that jumping-into-a-parallel-field thing is vastly over-rated, especially in the “worst downturn since the Great Depression”.
And there’s one other thing that any refugee from the mortgage business will tell you: we were widely viewed as “damaged goods”. I even saw ads that said something to the effect of “If you’re coming out of the mortgage industry we don’t want you”. I’m not kidding!
When you’re facing a conundrum like that, you can either cave-in, lose your self-esteem and “settle for what ever you can get” to carry you to the day when you’ll be eligible to collect a meager Social Security check—or you can come out fighting.
I chose to come out fighting. It wasn’t even close. But one of the most difficult things for a suddenly disenfranchised person (a description I never thought would apply to me) to do is to find a way to think long term in a world where your economic underpinnings have been virtually annihilated. The only rational course in that situation is to make an end run around the immediate problem—the very real prospect of permanent un- or under-employment—and to take a chance on something completely new.
I chose blogging. In my world, that’s as new as it gets.
The 21st Century equivalent of the Wild West
Blogging doesn’t top the list of places to find career salvation—I’ll be the first to admit that. More typically teaching, government jobs, IT or “something in the medical field” come to mind when people look to re-tool. Then there are the usual mid-life rest stops: real estate, insurance and car sales, or the various assorted “franchise opportunities”—all of which seldom work for people who have no entrepreneurial background. But blogging has one quality that none of those have: it’s the modern equivalent of the Wild West. It’s a world so undefined that even a complete but determined novice like me has a chance make a go of it.
Chaos—that’s where I chose to cast my lot, but not without reason.
I think it was Ted Turner who said something along the lines of “If you want to make money, find the place where the action is, jump in the middle of it, and money will come to you”. That’s a very loose paraphrase and I might not have it completely right, but it actually makes sense when you don’t know what else to do—and I didn’t. Blogging seemed to be that place.
Being an analytical type, I actually sat down and did T-account analyses to determine what my next “gig” would be—positive qualities to the left, negatives to the right. If a given field seemed to have a much higher number of positives than negatives, it was in contention.
Some of the qualities the new field had to have were easy entry, low or no capital investment, abundant room for growth, ready adaptability to self-employment, geographic mobility, and little or no government regulation—I was coming out of the mortgage business and saw it regulated into oblivion, but that’s a story for a different day. Blogging came up better than any other field I could think of, making it the “logical choice”, if you can believe as much.
The new field also needed to fit my skill set, and that wasn’t as apparent. As I’ve already revealed, I didn’t fit within the blogging “demographic”, didn’t have any IT familiarity and came from a generation where bearing our souls (and personal information) to others was considered out of bounds.
But I did have some skills that I thought would help. Though I’d never made money writing at any time in my life, I always thought of myself as a closet writer. I’m also a deep and generally unrestrained thinker—that fits well in a Wild West environment. And I had business and finance related experience from my mortgage career, and an earlier stint in public accounting. Not a whole lot to go on, but it was a start. I figured that if nothing else, I’d get the content part of blogging down quickly.
And here’s one other seemingly unlikely factor I had in my favor: I literally had no place else to go. That can create a level of dedication that those with more options can never muster.
So I mounted my horse, and rode out into the sunrise of the modern equivalent of the Wild West. God help me in my journey—and I know He did!
The path forward isn’t usually a straight line
Blogging has only been around since roughly the early-2000s, so it’s very much a field that’s still in its infancy. Because of this newness, it’s very much a blank canvass, a place where a novice is free to take chances, and quite literally as many as he wants. You can even mess up, and still move on.
This is very unlike the current employment scene where work flows and procedures are becoming increasingly precise and technocratic, even in the simplest of jobs. That’s the whole reason blogging appealed to me. We all have hidden talents, and blogging looked like the place where I could tap mine.
But chaos has its price too. I read as many blogs and published sources on the business of blogging as I could find, and one thing became clear in the early going: blogging is NOT an exact science. What works for one blogger won’t necessarily work for another. Damn—no road map!
You should gather all the information you can, especially from successful bloggers—some of it WILL work for you, just don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t. Blogging is a work-in-progress and much of it will depend on plain, old trial-and-error.
What DID work for me
Finding success is often a matter of creating order out of chaos, and that seems to be the general rule in blogging. This is not the easiest climb in the business world, but here a few pieces of advice if you’d like to make the trip yourself:
Drop any thoughts of “get-rich-quick”. When you’re down and out there can be a tendency to look for quick solutions and you might begin thinking in terms of rages-to-riches scenarios. Don’t waste your time and your money. Get-rich-quick and building a business are not at all the same thing—especially when it comes to blogging. With that thought fresh in mind…
Adopt a LONG-term view. I didn’t start making even a few hundred dollars a month until I was blogging for at least a year. It took me two years to hit the $1,000 monthly level, but it’s grown quickly since. Some people start making money after just six months, but understand that these are exceptional cases. The vast majority of blogs never make any money at all, and most fail within the first year. I didn’t fail because I didn’t quit!
Find a way to support yourself while you’re building your blog. I was done with the mortgage business, but I took all kinds of temporary and contract jobs while I was building my blog. Some of them interfered with my blogging, but I needed the money. There’s a definite “starving artist” quality to building a blog, but if you think of the outside jobs as supporting the building of your business it can actually turn it into an adventure that also provides you with material for writing content. Footnote: I still work side jobs when I can.
Be open to what ever comes your way. I’ve been describing blogging as chaotic and while that can certainly confuse and even sabotage your efforts to succeed, it also presents opportunities. Once your blog begins to get traffic, others in related businesses begin to notice. Advertising and affiliate deals, partnerships, networking arrangements—you name it—will begin showing up in your email. Many of them will be a complete waste of your time, but some will be serious and profitable.
Carefully consider as many as you can. Because the web is wide open, blogging can take you in all kinds of directions that you never expected. For example, about a year after I started my blog, Paul Van Lierop at Fiscal Geek offered me a paid staff writing position for his site. I accepted, and within a few months I had paid writing gigs on several sites and was making a nice side income. Today, most of my blogging income is from freelance blog writing, which has turned into an incredible way to build my blogging income from multiple sites.
Network, network, network. Part of finding success on the road into the unknown is finding people to make the journey with. One of the greatest blessings of the blogging world is that there are so many people you can team up with. I’ve met dozens, and I’m going to say without reservation that this is the greatest group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. All are succeeding in their own ventures, all are entrepreneurs, and all need one another to make it work. I’m in a networking group now where we think of each other as “co-workers”—with all of the benefits of co-worker support, but none of the burdens. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Be relentless. If I could pick one quality that separates success from failure, it’s definitely this one. You have to become almost single-minded, blocking out and even ignoring distractions. No matter what, keep moving forward! While I was working in contract assignments—and enjoying the money of the moment—I never lost sight of the fact that the assignments were temporary but my blog was permanent! Constant forward motion has a way of getting you to where you want to go, even if it takes longer than you expect.
That may seem like a lot to summon up, especially if you’ve never built your own business in the past. But as difficult as it seems, the payoffs of succeeding are even greater. Here are some of the many benefits I’ve gotten from my blogging venture—you can expect the same if you decide to give it a serious try.
- I have my own business. An income generating blog is a legitimate business—some are even selling for substantial amounts of money. In today’s economy, being self-employed is more secure than being on someone else’s payroll—especially as you get older.
- My future is unlimited. I’m making money blogging and I haven’t even ventured into wide areas like affiliate marketing or multiple site ownership. While other people my age are worried about keeping their jobs, I’m working on growing my business. At an age where so many are planning on folding up their tents, I’m contemplating the infinite possibilities…
- I love what I do. I’ve never been able to say that about any job or career I’ve had in the past. When you love what you do, it doesn’t even feel like work.
- I don’t have to retire. The whole idea of “putting in your time” to retire at a given point never sat well with me. If I retire I want it to be because I want to, not because I have to.
- Blogging flows with my life. If another opportunity comes along, I can slow my blogging to a side business—or ramp it back up if the opportunity turns into a bust. I can take time to tend to family or personal matters, and I don’t have to ask HR for permission. All I need to do is pack up my laptop and go.
- I have geographic mobility. Since I’m no longer job dependent, I can live anywhere in the world that has electricity and an internet connection. No office to report to, no buildings to maintain, no inventory or heavy equipment to keep—my entire business can be “stored” in my head or on a flash drive. And both are portable.
I’m here to tell you that you can make money blogging, even if you don’t have any “prequalifications”. Or even if you think you’re too old. I was 50 when I started and I’m no whiz kid of any kind. But here I am, working through my mid-life career crisis with a plunge into what was—until three years ago—the complete unknown. If I can do this, so can you.
Blogging is more “art” than “science” but you still need a road map if you want to do it quickly and effectively. If you’re stepping into blogging or plan to soon, check out this step-by-step series from Bob Lotich and Jonathan Milligan, two of the best bloggers in the business. It will guide you through the process from start to profitability:
Have you ever thought about blogging as a business? What keeps you from moving forward with it?