What Happened and How The Heck Did I Get Here?

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Paul Franklin SideGains

Updated: 2nd October 2019

My name is Paul and I am from the UK.

I’d say I’m a technically minded online marketer who has been making a living online since around 2005.

Sometimes this has taken the form of side projects. Other times I’ve made a good living directly through my own online activities.

At the moment I work for myself creating websites and advising companies how to increase their Web traffic. Sometimes I actively help them to do so.

My Background

I left school when I was 17 with no real direction in life and no clear passion for a specific career. I worked for a couple of years in largely unskilled manual roles to fund a backpacking trip. This is something I highly recommend for directionless young adults. 

With some very hard earned cash saved, I set off to Australia, passing through Thailand and Indonesia along the way.

A year and a half of backpacking later taught me many valuable lessons. Mostly though I had an awareness that the world truly offered opportunities for incredible experiences.

With my new-found inspiration, I decided I would travel again but this time to Latin America. However, first I decided it would be good to learn some Spanish to help me.

The Benefits of Learning

I enrolled in language classes at my local college and to my surprise progressed quite quickly. . It also made it seem easy.

While I studied I also worked a very manual job in a factory and saved money for my South American adventure.

During a year of devoting myself to learning Spanish an unexpected thing happened.

The paid work was I was doing was really unappealing. Without a major change of fortune I understood this would be the type of work that I might do forever.

So… I thought that perhaps I should try get a higher qualification. I figured this would help me more than being able to say a few words and phrases in Spanish.

So instead of going to South America, I suspended my plans and thought more about further study.

University

I studied (and worked menial jobs) for another two years to meet the educational entry requirements to university. The work paid off and I accepted an offer of a 3-year degree course in Modern Languages and Information Systems. 

This was another eye-opening experience and one that I took to well. Again I was highly motivated and this is something that made a huge difference in terms of my desire to succeed.

Although I had put my South American travels on hold, my degree course included a 6 month placement in the city of Malaga in the South of Spain. This was ideal as I was able to satisfy my desire to travel to a Spanish speaking country. I would also be able to study at the same time.

During my time at university my thoughts about what I might do after graduating evolved.

The Benefits of Education

I was aware that having a degree qualification would open up employment opportunities that I had not had before. As a result, I began to think about what I might do as a career.

My degree was language focused (Spanish was my passion), but I’d deliberately chosen a course that would give me IT skills.

Towards the end of my degree, I postponed my plans to travel and began to consider a career path instead. Since I would have a degree, I realised I would have access to higher paid employment than before.

With this in mind I applied for graduate training schemes with large corporate businesses. This was an ideal way to develop practical and commercial skills. I’d also be paid for it!

Several applications and a passage of interviews later, a telecoms company offered me a 2-year role as a technical trainee. This position would lead to a permanent assignment when the scheme finished.

I remained with the telecoms company for 8 years, towards the end of which I came across the concept of making money online.

Making Money from Websites

I already had a passion for building websites, picked up from my university studies and the placements I had during my graduate scheme. But finding out that you could make money from a website, just by publishing content was pretty attractive to say the least!

My first venture into making money online was using Google Adsense to monetize websites I’d built. If you’ve never heard of Adsense, it’s one of the simplest ways to start earning money online. If you want to know more about this process, read my article about how to set up an Adsense account.

While I never became a millionaire using Adsense, I learned a very valuable lesson. It was actually quite simple to create a website that had the potential to make money.

Affiliate Marketing

Having discovered Adsense and researching more about making money online, I came across affiliate marketing.

The concept behind it seemed straightforward. You promote a product for someone on your website and earn a commission if it leads to a sale!

But of course you had to have people visit your site in order to have a chance to promote that product in the first place. 

My first websites had generated traffic completely organically. I’m not talking about a deluge, but I was getting visits and earning some extra money from Adsense.

I felt like I was on the road to making it big with only a handful of visitors to my sites every day. Working under idea of if you build it, they will come, I felt I would automatically start to attract visitors.

What could be more simple?

Generating Traffic

I soon learned that in order to make more substantial sums than the $20 I was making in Adsense each month, I would need to scale things up. 

But how do you get more visitors to your website?

Up to that point I was  assuming that traffic would just grow naturally without having to do much to make this happen.

A little more reading online taught me there were methods you could use to boost the number of people coming to your website. And the methods? Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click advertising (PPC).

I learned that SEO was a long-term approach that worked over time with sustained effort, whereas PPC could drive traffic immediately.

Since I wanted to move fast, PPC seemed VERY appealing. So I began to learn about Google Adwords (now known as Google Ads) and Microsoft adCenter (now Microsoft Advertising).

PPC

Of course PPC demanded a leap of faith and some money to invest in buying clicks to your site. 

Unlike optimising content for keywords to drive people your site, PPC provided a way to identify and target people quickly by bidding on those same keywords to make your website appear at the top of the results. You then monitored this to see if these visits resulted in a sale.

During my research into affiliate programs I felt I might promote, I came across a company that paid website owners to generate leads for them.

Leads had to be very well qualified in order for them to convert into a sale, but the company paid a good commissions for this. So I created a website and PPC accounts with Google and Microsoft and began a new adventure.

Through a combination of research, a little effort and good luck (never to be underestimated) my website started generating leads.

I was ecstatic!

After my first month using PPC to drive targeted traffic, I received a check for £700! This was almost half of what I was earning from my paid employment at that time.

Of course this wasn’t £700 of profit as I had paid around £400 for the PPC advertising, but I saw potential.

Time passed and I streamlined the search terms I bid upon in PPC. I excluded those that didn’t convert and focused on those that did.

This completely changed the ratio of spend versus commission earned. As a result I could afford to risk increasing my spend to drive more targeted traffic to my website.

The rinse and repeat nature of PPC search term bidding, analysis and tweaking of bids over several months saw my profits grow steadily but surely.

Fairly quickly I arrived at a point where I was earning more from affiliate marketing than I was from my full-time job. So after around 6 months I was able to quit so I could concentrate full-time on my affiliate marketing journey. 

Self Employment

I maintained a very good income from my website for over a year but things took a turn for the worse at the end of 2007 when the credit crunch arrived.

I’d gone from a position of earning a clear £10,000 profit on my best month, to earning practically nothing.

In a matter of 4 months my revenue halved month on month until it became an amount I couldn’t survive upon.

It seemed impossible that after building a good revenue stream for a year and half, it could all end so suddenly. There is a very hard lesson to learn here.

This was a very scary time for me. Prior to September 2007 making money online had felt very easy. Not easy in the sense of not having to work… so perhaps straightforward is a better word to use.

I built a couple of websites, all of which generated money (albeit a small amount in the case of Adsense) and this seemed to be the norm. Build a website, monetise it and move on to the next one.

When my main lead generation website stopped delivering enough money to pay all my bills, I panicked. As a result I probably made the incorrect decision to look for paid employment immediately.

I had a little bit of money put aside but I was frightened to risk it. Especially as news about the economy was getting worse day by day.

Losing My Nerve

Driven by fear, I started looking for employment in IT again and shelved my desire to make money through online marketing.

With a little luck, I found a role in another telecoms company, which I took after being offered it.

During this period I licked my wounds and tried to plan my next move. I still had around $150 a month in side money coming from Adsense and still had the aim to make a living online. But didn’t know how I was going to grow my side earnings into a liveable wage.

After two years back in paid IT employment, I’d had enough and needed another challenge

Through blind good fortune, someone I knew wanted advice about online marketing for his business.

Over the course of several months giving advice, he offered me a position within his eCommerce business as a Search Engine Marketing Manager.

In this role I would be responsible for the multilingual SEO and PPC campaigns promoting his products throughout Europe. I would have a substantial budget, but of course I would also have to hit targets.

This offer had practically come out of the blue… and so I accepted it!

Opportunity

It was a good move as it turned out. There was a lot of opportunity for growth in this niche at that time and I was able to play a major role in contributing to this.

The company grew by a double digit percentage year on year for my first two years of employment. This attracted the interest of a larger business that was looking to make an acquisition in this market.

Terms were agreed and my employer was VERY happy! The business was going to be sold.

I played a major reporting role during the due diligence period carried out by the potential buyer. Things went relatively smoothly and the company changed hands in the summer of 2013.

The change of ownership was bumpy though.

Many changes were implemented to the existing eCommerce systems, some of which severely impacted the growth of the business. Sadly, around a year and a half after acquisition, redundancies hit the team in early 2015. I was one of the many affected.

My Next Move

Though completely unprepared for this sudden change at work, good fortune knocked on my door again.

In early 2015, a friend of mine needed a freelance PPC expert for the company where he worked. This led to me creating my own online marketing consultancy business: OK 200.

OK 200 has been running now since June 2015 and I have had steady work since. As with any business, it’s not without stresses and challenges. But I am happy helping businesses in a variety of ways at various stages in their growth cycles.

Looking back to 2005, I see now that I was extremely lucky. 2005 was not quite the start of PPC advertising, but it was certainly the early days. At that time, competition from other advertisers in practically every niche was relatively low.

Hindsight

With the luxury of hindsight, I should have looked for other niches when the credit crunch first hit. Instead I bailed when the going got tough, through shock, self doubt and anxiety. Self-doubt has always been something I’ve had to deal with and I lacked the self-belief to take a risk at the time.

I also had a 1 year old daughter to consider and that of course also affected my decision to return to employed work.

I suppose looking back I’d just been super lucky to find a very good niche at an opportune time and was able to enjoy the fruits of this for a good while.

Having said this, it wasn’t just a case metaphorically doing nothing but counting up the cash at the end of each day. PPC advertising can be tough and requires much testing and tweaking, especially in competitive niches.

… and Now I’m Here!

So anyway, now I’m here… but rather than adding to this already long post and explaining what the SideGains project is all about, I’ll leave that to the About SideGains page!

Thanks for reading.

Paul

Please share your own experiences in the comments section below or feel free to ask me a question.

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