How I Failed Miserably at Creating a Side Business To Travel the World: Duff Ups and the Myth of Overnight Success, Part 1

by Alexander Heyne · 22 comments

Ever wonder why every success story seems to be the same from the outside?

“I was eating Ramen noodles every day and couldn’t even afford my daily Starbucks. Living in my parents’ house on the couch watching season after season of How I Met Your Mother.  I started < insert project > busted my ass and  after < X amount of time > I was eventually making bank and had enough to live out on my own doing whatever the hell I wanted! You can do it too…”

Wait what? You were eating Ramen and then inserted Hard Work and out came success?

So Ramen noodles + Hard Work = Success?

If only…

Sometimes case studies are amazing and amazingly useful.  Sometimes they blow and don’t get you any closer to your own success. You’re inspired for a day but after that you can’t extract much practical value.

How many people do you know that got inspired after reading The Four Hour Work Week? 

Okay, now how many people do you know that read the book and created a successful muse? Probably none.

That’s why I’m going to start publicly recording and analyzing each and every muse of mine.  Previous side hustles, current hustles, and future hustles.

I want to give people inspiration but also a dose of reality — I don’t want anyone quitting their job and thinking in 6 months they’ll have a side biz that makes $10,000/month. It just doesn’t normally work that way.

Detour: This is how the plan went, or: things always sound great in theory

This here is pretty much the plan of action I have been taking financially.

Build up a source of income + automate as much as possible ==> use the newly found free time to build up another source of income + automate as much as possible… etc.

Once your assets (your income-producing ideally relatively low-maintenance side projects) produce enough income that they cover your expenses (rent, car/health insurance, food, etc.), for the moment you are financially free.

You have time to sit down and think and re-evaluate your situation. Most people get stuck because they are forced to work to pay their rent and living expenses.. and then don’t have much left over. Classic rat race trap, the hamster wheel, whatever you wanna call it.

That’s where most of my friends are. That’s exactly where I don’t want to be.

The point is this: build income producing assets that cover your “life” expenses. Then you can sit down and figure out what you really want to do next.

You aren’t in the rat race.

The following is exactly what not to do.

What not to do

And that’s pretty much the goal for me.  Create one (or several) income sources that cover my rent/gas/food expenses, so that I have time to sit back and think and no longer live in fear of the almighty “shit-I-need-to-pay-my-bills-again” cycle.

Most people when they get their paycheck spend it, right?

You get paid, you go out. You buy shoes, you buy an expensive dinner, you go to the mall.

I have friends in this country that are immigrants busting their ass to make it and be successful and support their family back home, but they constantly complain to me:

“This country sucks, the more money you make the more you spend! I just want to escape, get away from all this, and go back home.”

Well, it’s not exactly this country.  It’s about where you’re placing every dollar you get.

Rich Dad Poor Dad is a book you should read immediately, but in case you haven’t there is one basic rule repeated throughout the book:

Invest in assets not liabilities.  Meaning = when you get paid, don’t spend your money on stuff that can’t potentially return money.

There are tons of people making bank but they have horrendous financial intelligence and thus end up financial slaves their entire lives.

Lottery winners are classic examples:

Business Insider: 10 Lottery Winners Who Lost it All 

Stories of Lottery Winners Ending up Broke

Rags to Riches to Rags

Or how about the classic story of a person inheriting a large sum of money and ending up broke a few years later?

To avoid being stuck in the cycle of working to pay the bills, I currently put aside 50% of my paychecks into an account I only use for investments into assets (aka potentially income producing investments).

My last investment was into an affiliate marketing course, and below is my story as to why I failed, and what I’m doing next!

My Initial Failure at Affiliate Marketing (“Muse” #1)

I went through an affiliate marketing class that was ~$100 with the hope that I could make a semi-automated mini website (or multiple sites) that in total produced $500 / month.  In my head I was thinking 1-2 hours of work a day for 6 months would be enough to get that done.

That amount would be sufficient to cover rent and some other living expenses like transportation.  It would give me the time to stop scrambling for extra money, sit back, and make a plan of what I wanted to do.

There are plenty of success stories about people using affiliate marketing as the first path to earn a little side cash via the internet.

It’s “relatively easy sounding” (Careful there..) and it sounds like it’s mostly automated income from the outside — sounds pretty good right?

What I Did: 

I tore through the class in a few hours and immediately set out to research a couple niches and experiment.

The idea is essentially that you set up a website for a specific problem and offer a specific product as a solution, usually going through Clickbank to search for products that are on the market to offer.

I experimented: I set up 4 niche sites.

1 niche was high traffic, high competition, high pay off + something I was interested in and had experience in

1 niche was low traffic, low competition + something I could care less about

1 niche was moderate traffic, moderate competition + something I had experience in and moderate interest in

In other words, I thought I was covering all the bases and those initial experiment swould provide valuable feedback for the future.

The recipe for getting paid in all these affiliate programs is pretty similar —

You build a website around an idea.  You offer an affiliate link after talking about a product that can help fix something “Jenny’s plant Xtreme really cleared up my constipation !!”

You then make a commission, usually up to 75%.

The trick, as usual, is ranking high in google.  The difference between ranking #1 and #2 is pretty astounding in google, the first search result getting 4-5x more traffic than just being #2.

One of the key ways to get your site to rank higher is to write articles for article directories like Ezine articles which then provide a link back to your site. The individual articles can also rank in google search results themselves.

So, for about 2-3 months every day my work looked like this:

Daily 1-2 hrs: 

  1. Write 1 blog post,
  2. Write a copy of it and submit it to Ezine, Goarticles, and others
  3. Closely monitor the traffic and how quickly Google picked up on it, and the placement in Google (using Firefox’s rank checker  tool)

I basically just wanted to experiment first, see what caught on, and what didn’t. I would go with whatever got traction and ditch the rest.

Long Story Short –

After about 2 months I had ditched two sites that hadn’t caught traction and ended up sticking with two left over:

One was dealing with a particular pregnancy complaint (haha), one was another “how to get a six pack” type niche.

Pregnancy I obviously have no experience with, fat loss and healthy dieting I have lots of experience in and I love the field.

It’s pretty easy to guess what I stuck with here and which one I went with.  They both started gaining traction, but one was beginning to be such drudgery.

One day I literally told myself “There is no freaking way I can write another bloody article about pregnancy. Good god this is getting repetitive.”

So I just stopped. It wasn’t fun, and I knew I’d need to invest about 3 months of work to see even a small consistent income, so I thought this was pretty much like putting myself through the same slavery as being a slave-wage, except worse. I wasn’t going to see a return for a while.

So I dropped all my sites except 1: the health/fitness one because it was something that I was actually interested in.

I continued with the daily regime for another 1-2 months just with the fitness site until I got to the point where 3-5 days of work wasn’t making it budge in the Google search results.

I hit a wall.

Or, regarding #shitentrepreneurssay , It was time to pivot.

I needed to change something to sex it up, evolve, or stop.

I chose stop. 

I was in probably the most saturated niche in the market, and somehow assumed that because I *actually* had experience in the field (unlike 95% of the scammers who were making the most money), it would allow me to be successful.

I would just exude genuine-ness on my site and people would stop by, email me, and I’d have clients off the bat.

Haha, woops. That didn’t work out too well.


Following is how you can save some time, and not screw up when making your own gig.

4 things you should take note of when starting any sort of side hustle..


#1 If you’re a young dreamer, know that it’s 400x harder to make a successful size-biz than you think.  Seriously, it’s way harder. 

In a recent article called The Myth of Overnight Success, it’s pretty well summed up how only the successes of a startup, business, or individual are emphasized, and not the often numerous failures that came beforehand:

Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game. They spent eight years and almost went bankrupt before finally creating their massive hit. Pinterest is one of the fastest growing websites in history, but struggled for a long time. Pinterest’s CEO recently said that they had “catastrophically small numbers” in their first year after launch, and that if he had listened to popular startup advice he probably would have quit.

You tend to hear about startups when they are successful but not when they are struggling. This creates a systematically distorted perception that companies succeed overnight.

Almost always, when you learn the backstory, you find that behind every “overnight success” is a story of entrepreneurs toiling away for years, with very few people except themselves and perhaps a few friends, users, and investors supporting them.

Startups are hard, but they can also go from difficult to great incredibly quickly. You just need to survive long enough and keep going so you can create your 52nd game.

After working on your first project, which often fails to meet your own expectations of just how “easy” success seems, you’ll have a ton more respect for successful entrepreneurs and people running startups.

A ton more respect.

#2 How ambitious are you really?

A recent NYtimes article talked about the Six Attributes of Successful Entrepreneurs and one really stuck out to me. Ambition.

I mean, I’m an ambitious son of a bitch. Everyone that knows me knows I’m ambitious. People that don’t know me quickly learn I’m crazy ambitious.  But sometimes you need to make ambition your bitch and really honestly ask yourself just how ambitious you really are.

Ambition, in other words, has little to do with aspiration.

It’s all about what you’re actually getting done – the work you’re putting in, the hours, the classic blood, sweat and tears.

How ambitious are you really?

Most people believe they are ambitious, I think. But there is ambitious, and then there is 70-hour-a-week obsessive, driven, hungry ambitious. Can you make it if you are just kind of ambitious? Probably, in some cases. But most successful entrepreneurs I know paid some serious dues. They did not want to be successful, they needed to be successful.

Thinking you’re ambitious or having lofty aspirations don’t make you ambitious. Not even close.

If you can pay your 70 hour a week dues you’re getting closer to understanding what serious ambition is.

#3 If it’s something where you won’t get paid for a while you better damn well find the process at least somewhat enjoyable

The scary thing about my (first) foray into affiliate marketing is that I’d bet it’s pretty typical of the results most people get. And I’d also be willing to be that me setting up 4 niche sites was more than most people did.

And I’d be willing to be that working 1-2 hours a day for 3-5 months if way more than most people do before they quit.

But I still failed for the moment.

The thing is this: you need to know yourself well. If you know you can put off enjoyment and eat bitter in the moment for the payoff later, then maybe you can pick a field that you aren’t into at all.

But if you know that you like bouncing around, that you’re somewhat of a multipotentialite, you like trying varied things and you like changing your mind , then stick with something you enjoy.

The only way to guarantee your success in this case is to find meaning in what you’re doing, and money, although useful and great, isn’t inherently meaningful.

#4 View failures as guaranteed, “breaks” as OK, but quitting as unacceptable

A while back I was talking about how it’s easy to start something -- the hard part is pulling the trigger and executing day after day and finishing what you started.

Entrepreneurs fail for the same reason that marriages failure: no ever says “Okay, this < business project / woman / man > is worth it, I’m going to do whatever it takes to see it through to the end.”

But that’s how we should be talking.

I consider all 4 of the sites I set up failures.

But when you hear people like Corbett Barr, Glenn Allsopp & many others talking about how they attained some financial freedom via affiliate marketing it makes you feel like a dumbass that you haven’t succeeded too.

Right now I’m not touching those sites — I’m watching them, watching their analytics, and gleaning as much information as I can to go ahead and set up my next one.

Use those periods when you want to quit as meditation time.  Get as much useful information as you can, take as long as you need to regain your focus, but keep going.

What’s next?

I have two upcoming projects — one is another affiliate site and a great niche to get into. (Top secret, duh.)

I’m going to ensure I have a higher success rate by doing a couple new things:

  1. Sticking with a niche I know something about
  2. Sticking with a project I actually like and can talk about
  3. Analyzing the top 1-2 reasons why each of the other mini sites didn’t go well

The other project is something I am doing with a friend — which will be designed in the next 1-2 months and launching soon after, so stay tuned ;).

What about you?

I always love to hear those “I’ve got a little side business that funds my travels and permits me to do pretty much what I want whenever I want, and wherever I want” type stories.

Sad thing is – I almost never hear them!

So I am extremely interested in hearing what sort of side business people have going that provides them freedom to do what they want – even if that’s just $500 extra a month.  Right now, that would be enough to pay for the rent and give me enough freedom to reconsider my work status.

So if you do have a little muse, or just a muse failure story like mine, hit me up!


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