“My site prospered during the pandemic, and I don’t know why.”
Mike Miller, florida-backroads-travel.com
Retirement Business Lessons: Mike’s site is in the travel niche. So you’d have thought that his online business was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, it wasn’t. Instead, his income has increased significantly since 2019. How did he do it? What are his “retirement business lessons”?
Let’s find out together.
1.Your site florida-backroads-travel.com is in the travel niche, which was hit hard by the Covid pandemic. What impact did the pandemic have on your business and how did you cope with it?
My site prospered during the pandemic, and I don’t know why.
The only coping I did was try to point out on Facebook posts that my website was great for “armchair travelers,” those who like to learn about places without actually traveling there.
I see two reasons. The first one is that Mike’s site isn’t a typical travel site that only attracts tourists. In fact, the majority of his visitors are Florida residents (i.e., local people) who want to learn more about Florida’s history, culture and attractions. Clearly they were still interested in these topics during the pandemic even though they could only be “armchair travelers.”
In addition, people chose areas close to them for their travels during 2021, as traveling long-distance was still difficult.
The second reason is how Mike earns income from his site. His main income stems from advertising, followed by book sales and speaking engagements (see his answer to question #2). Unlike a traditional travel business, he does not rely on hotel bookings or selling tours.
As long as enough visitors kept coming to his information-rich website, reading his content, clicking on ads, and buying his books, he kept earning good income.
Watch our 2020 interview with Mike to learn more about how he weathered the pandemic.
2. In our 2019 interview, you listed three income streams: ad income, selling your books, and speaking engagements. How does your monetization mix look today? Overall, did your income increase or decrease?
My monetization mix now is about 85% website income primarily generated through programmatic advertising by Mediavine.
Book sales account for about 10% and speaking engagements about 5%.
My total income has increased significantly since 2019.
While passive monetization options typically have lower profit margins than more active methods, they have one big, “set-and-forget” advantage: you set them up once and they keep earning money, even in your sleep!
Of course you have to put in a significant amount of work upfront. You need to create high-quality content, and lots of it! It’s also not a 100% “set-and-forget” model, as you have to promote and update your content and build up a relationship with your audience.
But it certainly gives you more freedom than, for example, selling services or hard goods.
And freedom is a worthy goal to achieve, especially when you start your online business after retirement, like Mike did.
3. With over 120,000 followers and great engagement, your Facebook Page is doing really well. What’s your “secret”? Did you have to adapt your posting strategy or is it still the same as a few years ago?
I don’t think my posting strategy has changed. Every morning I schedule 3 Facebook posts using their own scheduling tool. I post at 11:00 am, 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm ET.
My Facebook posts are always a brief sentence or two. When people click on the photo, they’re taken to my website. I also use this opportunity each day to update my existing web pages, which are the ones I post on Facebook.
Once in a while I will post a new article, but that’s the exception. My several hundred “evergreen” articles are the inventory that I dip into each morning to share on Facebook.
An example of Mike’s simple Facebook posts that achieve his main goal: driving people to his site.
Mike, however, sticks to his simple, yet effective, posting strategy. He posts three times a day, always at the same time. Each of his posts focuses on his main goal: getting people to click through to his web pages.
Could this consistency be his “secret”? Not just the consistent, predictable posting schedule, but also that he always posts in the same format. Food for thought before jumping on the next Facebook trend!
4. You’ve been sending a monthly newsletter to your 14,000+ subscribers since 2009. Recently you made some interesting changes to your newsletter system. Can you tell us more about these changes and why you made them?
About one year ago I switched to Substack (a free email service) from Solo Build It!’s own email marketing module. The main reason for switching was the great ease in making a Substack mailout.
The other reason is that Substack archives all of your mailouts so that new subscribers or just random internet searchers can find your posts and access them.
My newsletter goes out 4 days/week and has a simple format: A title, a brief description of my article, a map showing where the feature is in the state of Florida, and a link to my website article about it.
I now have 14,800 subscribers and an open rate of 45%. About 25% of the openers click through to my website article. Mediavine revenue from these posts averages about $75 per newsletter or $300/week.
He has a real knack for developing simple methods that work. Could this be a welcome “side effect” of his many years as an engineer? Possibly.
If you’re like me and tend to overthink and overcomplicate things, take some time to study Mike’s strategies. What could you simplify in your approach to building a website / online business?
5. Florida-backroads-travel.com is a large site with more than 800 pages. Do you have a system in place to update your content? Do you still write new content and if so, how often?
My system for updating content is to check my Google rankings. If my article is on the first page of Google search engine results, I update it if it ranks 5 or lower.
These are the ones I update first. Then I identify articles that rank anywhere on the second page of Google search.
The way I update them is to use a tool called RankIQ, which costs $49/month. It’s a tool that scans the leading search results and gives me easy-to-implement ideas to improve and expand my site content.
It also helps me identify topics for new pages that I can rank for. I’ve been using it for several months and its results in increased revenue are far more than the monthly cost of the tool.
I haven’t kept track of the frequency of my new articles, but I would guess about one per month. Too much of my traffic comes from Facebook and my newsletter, and not enough from organic search. It’s probably 60% organic search traffic and 40% other sources, so I am trying to increase my organic search traffic.
Rather than picking pages to update randomly, he starts with the pages that rank high, but not highest. By updating and improving these pages, he might be able to push them even higher on Google, which in turn increases the number of clicks they receive.
The more traffic Mike drives to his pages, the more he earns from Mediavine.
By the way, you don’t need a tool like RankIQ to apply this strategy. Google Search Console gives you much of this information as well. That said, if your site earns good income (as in Mike’s case) it makes business sense to invest in a tool that helps you streamline the process and save you some of your most precious commodity — time.
6. What advice would you give to folks aged 50+ about starting an online business?
First, pick something you like so you won’t have difficulty writing about it.
Second, use Solo Build It! and other tools to make sure you can make decent money for your efforts.
Third, give it some time and don’t get discouraged. Use the SBI! forums as your support group.
Also, if you get stumped or need some help, use the SBI! Pros. Their rates are very reasonable. I use the pros for coding issues or help with Google Analytics and Search Console.
On second thought, his advice seems indeed even more important for people over 50, i.e., people getting closer to retirement.
In retirement, we finally get to do what we really want to. At least that’s the idea of a happy and healthy retirement.
We also might need more technical help than the younger generations. As a Solo Build It! member, you’ll have access to our 24/7 support team and to a super helpful community in our forums.
And if there’s a task you can’t or don’t want to learn, you can outsource it to our experienced team of SBI! Pros. No need to waste precious time looking for competent help at places like Fiverr or Upwork!
In summary: You’ll have access to all the support and help you need for building your online business in one place. Usually, this type of convenience comes at a premium price.
Not so with Solo Build It!. You can get started for as little as $34.99 per month or $329.99 per year.
(Mike once calculated that it would cost him almost $4,000 per year if he had to buy all the tools included in Solo Build It! separately. Talk about a bargain!)
7. And finally: If you could go back in time to 2009, when you started your site, is there anything you would do differently?
Yes, there is: I would have started hiring some good content writers to help me increase my updating volume. Up until now it has all been me.
I think I could have achieved quicker income results if I had farmed out some of the writing.
Only recently I’ve started using a Virtual Assistant to help me update my existing articles.
In the beginning of your online business journey, it makes sense to do everything yourself for two reasons: One, you need to learn and understand the whole process and two, your business doesn’t earn enough to pay for outside help.
But what’s holding solopreneurs back once their website generates a steady cash flow?
Possible reasons are:
- Not wanting to lose control (“Will someone else do things exactly as I want and deliver high quality results?”).
- Concern about training the person (“How long will it take me to teach this person everything they need to know?”).
- Not knowing where to find the right person, especially when it’s about writing content (“Where do I find someone who writes well and is knowledgeable about my niche?”).
I was curious to hear about Mike’s experience with finding his Virtual Assistant and content writers. He told me:
“My virtual assistant is provided by SBI! Pros. I have used no other, and only recently began using her to help me update my existing content.
I have had no luck in finding reliable content writers. RankIQ has a mastermind group on Facebook and they have content writers. They have some good ones, but in my case their lack of knowledge about Florida has led to some mistakes I don’t want to have repeated. The same has been true of my trials with Fiverr and Upwork, so I am still looking.
One idea I’m considering is a search for writers among my 14,000 plus subscribers, offering them a chance to write for me.”
Mike’s idea of searching for writers among his community is excellent. The chances of finding a person who has both knowledge of his topic and writing skills are much higher than at freelancer platforms.
If you also struggle with outsourcing, this article might help: 5 Easy Steps to Hiring the Perfect Virtual Assistant for Your Business.
I feel incredibly lucky that I found a way to create a content-based online business. I would have gone crazy if I had not been able to work on something that challenged me and stretched my mind.