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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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Brasilicana March 21, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Woohoo, I’m glad to see the first installment of this series! Perfect someecard for the topic :-p

Well, I’m right there in the trenches with ya, although I still think my muse has potential but needs to be optimized. Let’s look at some numbers:
# of unique visitors since Jan 1 launch: 8080
# of them who have signed up for my newsletter: 550 (sweet!)
# who have bought a product from me: 3*
# who have started to purchase and abandoned before paying: 75 (crap!!!)
* …and that was when I also had Facebook ads pointing straight to the sales page :-/

Incidentally, I e-mailed every single one of the abandoners helpfully informing them they hadn’t completed their purchase, giving them a discount coupon, and asking if they needed any help with the process. ONE responded (and she didn’t end up purchasing).

Lessons learned and next actions:

– Something about paying with PayPal is either too hard or is turning people off, and I need to find out what it is, or else optimize the payment process somehow. (My target audience is not native English speakers, so maybe the whole checkout thing’s a little complicated). Those 75 who started to purchase and then stopped are really bugging me!
Action: Consider investing in a payment system that’s as easy as humanly possible… no friction.

– It’s not just traffic that matters. It’s traffic to your sales page that matters. In my general site, the product for sale isn’t that prominent, it’s just one more link on the top nav menu. So a visitor who finds my site through Google is kinda unlikely to go click on it (especially if they’ve scrolled down to the bottom of the page).
Action: Make the product more prominent – perhaps at the bottom of each post. (“If you liked this post, you’ll LOVE our online course…”)

– I need a unique twist on my niche. Without it, I’m just one more English-learning site among zillions, some of which are poorly designed and organized yet rank highly on Google because they’ve been around since like 1998.
Action: Already created a nichier site within my niche, which I think packs more of a punch. Paid product to be launched there in April.

Sorry for the post-length comment!

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afheyne March 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Brasilicana,
Those are actually great numbers for your product (is it the online class you were talking about?), especially your traffic and subscribers.

But it’s also good that you realize that there’s some sort of disconnect — you are getting traffic, and even a lot of subscribers, but not enough conversions. At least your problem is specific! A conversion issue gives you just one specific thing to focus on and fix. That’s a blessing compared to what some other people are working through ;)

And no worries about the post-length comment, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear!

And it also gives me a TON more respect for people because you realize what they have actually gone through once you’re trying to do it yourself — it’s insanely different in reality.

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Brasilicana March 22, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Clickbank’s checkout process is much simpler – I’m in the process of switching over as we speak, and I’ll let you know if that was indeed the blockage in conversion!

What I didn’t tell you about the traffic – I was posting twice a day and promoting the HECK out of my posts in the beginning. But out of 2000 FB fans, only 147 would see my posts and maybe 25 would click. Of course, I’m thankful for every single one of those visitors, but still… it felt like screaming in a crowded room and having no one pay attention. However, I’m encouraged by something Glen Allsopp of Viperchill (and others) have written, that building the initial momentum is ALWAYS the hardest.

(No, I don’t post twice a day anymore – that was exhausting :-p)

Lindsay March 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Thanks for your honest post! I agree that there are many “rags to riches” stories out there. It makes it seem easy to replicate the success, but there’s a lot of hard work and persistence that goes behind every success.

Besides, nothing is overnight. Those case studies or stories don’t usually talk about all the failures, all the attempts that didn’t go well, all the dead ends.

I love the quote from Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises, “How did you become bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.”

I think the same is true of success. No one is an overnight success. They were taking steps, learning from failures, pivoting and finding their way. It looks sudden to others, but never is.

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afheyne March 22, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Lindsay,

Yeah the rags to riches stories are easy to suck you in. And “a lot of hard work and persistence behind every success” is definitely an understatement I’d have to say ;).

And I totally agree, there are a ton of perceived overnight success stories which in reality had years of suffering and hardship behind them.

I think part of it is due to the “news” factor — it’s only once a startup, or blog, or writer is successful do you hear about them.

Just a reality check for some of us !

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Steve Rice March 22, 2012 at 12:33 am

Alexander…thank you for your post. I appreciate the specifics with which you outline your “failure” and the thought process behind the choices you made. Is very helpful.

A couple years ago, I wrote a book. The intent was to do more of what I love (public speaking). I thought that a book would give me instant credibility. It probably does…a bit…if someone actually reads it.

So, after the initial few hundred copies sold (or were given) to friends and family, sales dropped off. I hadn’t built a platform or “tribe” eager to hear what I had to say.

This year, I “started over” by launching my new site. I’m excited because this is the work that I call my “important work”–the work I know I was meant to do in the world.

At the same time, the spiritual/self-help niche is flooded with everyone else who has a passion to help others and wants to make it their life’s work.

My path this year is to set myself apart and become remarkable by actually making shit happen for people in massively amazing ways.

It is a process of growth and perseverance for me, because I tend to be the type of person you classify as “young dreamer”…I’m just not as young. But I still dream.

I’m learning to make better plans, build better community and listen to the “market” more effectively.

Thanks so much for sharing this. Can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

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afheyne March 22, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Steve,

Well honestly kudos to you for having the cojones and perseverance to write a book and get it published! Most people never get that far..

And there’s nothing quite as fulfilling as doing your life’s work eh? To me there is no competition — doing something that gives your life meaning is pretty much the most gratifying thing I can think of. Like you said, the spiritual/self-help niche is very saturated, but that’s no biggie — differentiating yourself is the fun part. Even your personality is differentiation you know?

And as a guy who has been meditating since I was 12, and has spent time meditating with no food in the sahara desert.. I can tell you that helping “spiritual ” people take action is definitely differentiation and will set you apart.

It’s a notoriously low-action niche for some reason — if you can really get them to take steps, get shit done, and make a change, your reputation will get out.

Definitely interested to hear your future updates!

Alex

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TheRewardsTraveler March 22, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Alex,

Awesome stuff man! Valuable insights and experiences! I’m really looking forward to your future projects.

I just recently started marketing my sight in a very high competition, high traffic market with a couple industry moguls. I actually just got accepted into Examiner and recently finished my “freebie” product per one of your articles on problogger.
http://www.problogger.net/archives/2012/01/02/why-i-haven%E2%80%99t-made-a-dime-from-my-blog%E2%80%94and-how-you-can/

I’m in it for the long haul. I’m dedicating at least 3 years to this to see what develops. My main goal is to become a subject matter authority which I hope will help me in some future projects. Although a couple bucks off my affiliate links wouldn’t hurt. :)

The funny thing is I actually started hosting for airbnb a few months ago and have been averaging a couple hundred bucks a month from that. I wasn’t really expecting that to do much. But maybe I should put some more effort into that or cross market it a bit.

Any other suggestions for a fledgling blogger?

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afheyne March 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Hey man,

Definitely saying “you’re in it for the long haul” is the attitude to have. And I think if you’re doing it right, you won’t even need 3 years. I have made a TON of mistakes, in fact, every mistake.. and then some.. haha.

That’s great Re; Airbnb. That one advertisement pays you a couple hundred bucks a month?

You know I’m actually strongly considering putting up Ads on this site, even if it’s just for 6-12 months. $500/month would go a really long way for me.

If you’re the right type of site (and I think yours is), you can make a ton off advertising alone. Probably hit the 1k-2k mark just on advertising.

And then if you are promptly affiliates intelligently, and if you have you’re own product or class, you can realistically consistently make 2-10k a month.

It’s not easy, and most people never get there. But if you’re willing to constantly start over (re-do it all, no matter how many times) you will no doubt see some measure of success.

My only suggestion would be this: If you can answer these 3 questions, you’re pretty much guaranteed to succeed as long as you put in a ton of hustle:

#1 What problem do you solve (The problem you think your audience has is not always the problem they have… find out DEFINITELY what problem the have, what pressing, emotionally charged issue you help them with)
#2 What concrete result do you provide for your audience, the proof in your pudding

Most blogs (including mine) fail to clearly answer those 2 questions, and never succeed.

If you can say (Example): “I help people attain financial freedom so they can live their lives” BY “Teaching them to get more clients and get paid for skills they already have” it’s much easier to succeed.

It’s basic business, but most bloggers seem to overlook it. And they never get paid. Again — myself included! I have lots of re-branding and work to do.

Edit: I’m also going to be writing a big beast of another guest post for problogger so I’ll send it your way when it’s live.

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TheRewardsTraveler March 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Alex,

Sorry, I didn’t clarify the airbnb thing. I’m actually hosting guests each month at my house. That’s what’s making me a few hundred a month. Actually, I made $507 this month. I’m not sure if that will be typical though seeing as I don’t have a long history of doing it. And summer is coming quick and brutal (I live in Arizona) so I can’t see many people staying during then, but who knows.

Thanks for the further suggestions. I think those are some excellent questions to try to focus my efforts. I really dig your stuff. I’m looking forward to the problogger beast. Keep up the good work!

Laura Kimball March 29, 2012 at 1:10 am

“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.”

Really glad someone said those exact words. Thank you for sharing this post, Alex. Really insightful — very excited for your next projects to launch!

Reply

afheyne March 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Hahah maybe it’s just me, but I definitely feel like a royal dumbass when I constantly hear success stories but can’t seem to emulate them myself. Or I can’t seem to find others that have also attained that success.

It’s like Tim Ferriss — great, he’s done all that stuff. But how many people have used his book to create a successful muse? Obviously way less than 1 %, which is discouraging when you look at it.

There is obviously some disconnect going on with all these people who have “made it” – either they aren’t good a teaching it, they didn’t use the methods they’re teaching, or a loose formula really doesn’t exist t create wealth and it’s way more variable than we think.

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Laura Kimball April 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm

A few things are going on between those who have made it and those who are reading their books and trying to recreate it. The difference is those who have “made it” usually did something no one else had done before at the right time (in history, economy, etc.) and had a little bit of luck on their side.

I could do everything that Tim Ferriss and Corbett Barr did, except I’ll be that there are a lot more people trying their recipes for success out too.

What’s the morale of the story? Learn what you can from those who have already “made it,” combine what you can take-away from their stories to your own life and what you’re working on. What you’ll have left is your own success story.

Sean King January 15, 2013 at 12:56 am

Dude- I really dig this post. You’re writing style is awesome… plus sometimes, I learn more from “failure” stories than from “success” stories. I like what I see :)

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Alexander Heyne January 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

Haha thanks man. Yeah I for sure learn more from failures. It’s kinda interesting though because we often overestimate how much failure will set us back. In the past year I went from knowing NOTHING about entrepreneurship and business, to being in the process of building an online business I know is going to be a hit. And I only figured that stuff out from the past year of testing a LOT and failing. So i’m with you there haha.

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Beth January 18, 2013 at 1:53 am

I make money on the side as an artist on etsy.com running two shops. It doesn’t pay all the bills but allows for some spending money. My shops are successful but not enough to quit my day job. Your blog is very interesting, I have enjoyed reading it!

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Alexander Heyne January 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Beth that’s awesome! Is Bethnouveau.com your etsy site?

Totally curious to hear more

Thanks for stopping by —
Alexander

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brad March 3, 2014 at 6:16 pm

I have and know multiple muse businesses and all of them are offline. The only online one I know to be fast to market is drop shipping for high end high profit products.
Consultancy is another great way to have an internet ‘muse’ business.
in talking about service businesses that are mobile and where your services advertised online are pre paid before booking. This includes waitering, catering, photography in some cases, event management, equipment and technology hire, tutoring and educating, and standard service agency from accounting to law to web design and dev to plumbing and cleaning. Its really simple run a ppc campaign and a small marketing plan, charge.rates and then hire people to do work. I’ve done this before and it takes 3-6 days to setup.

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afheyne April 2, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Yeah that’s the tough part about reading success stories. And that’s the deceiving part.

I feel like there have to be certain principles that work better than others — maybe my thinking is flawed, but being a science dude I like to think that everything in the universe runs on certain repeatable principles. Even if they are really vague principles, I think they’ve gotta exist.

But in any case like you said, I guess you should just take away as much as you can and try your own recipe. Learn fast is pretty much the only good advice these days hahaha.

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