It’s great to have Chelsea Clarke from ‘Her Paper Route’ share her journey in online business with us in this interview.
Chelsea has multiple different online businesses, but she got her start in (and loves) affiliate marketing. She has able to build thriving communities with her sites and is big on email lists. She has some great practical tips on both how to be better at affiliate marketing, and how to be better at owning and running a business more generally.
I hope you enjoy reading her story as much as I did!
Hello! Who are you and what are your online businesses?
Hey! Thank you for having me here today. My name is Chelsea Clarke, I’m a niche website investor, growth-hacker, and Business Intermediary who helps people buy, scale, and sell online businesses.
I founded a community for niche site creators called HerPaperRoute.com, where I offer training and resources on content monetization and website growth strategies. And I also founded a marketplace to buy and sell profitable niche sites, called BlogsForSale.co.
The funny thing about my type of business is there is no set salary and no cap. My income fluctuates, and I never know exactly what I’ll earn each month. I’m cool with the element of surprise though, so it’s never been a concern.
In the past year, my income has ranged from $25,000 per month to $90,000 per month. It all depends on how many conversions I had on my affiliate links, how many digital products I happened to sell, and how many deals I closed in a given month.
At my marketplace, in the past year, I’ve put $1,000,000 in the pockets of creators, by helping them sell their websites!
How did you start making money online?
I started making money online way back in 2005, while at University for digital media and marketing. I started selling clothes on eBay, and soon after built my first website to sell clothing as well.
In the beginning, I was buying plain shirts at a local screen printing store at wholesale prices and then reselling them online. I had customers all over the world which was exciting for a college kid, but the time it took to order and ship inventory wasn’t worth the margins. So I later shifted to a 100% dropshipping model selling wholesale bathing suits from China.
The dropshipping business was my side hustle for a few years. I also had a daytime corporate marketing job at a business brokerage, and a nighttime bartending job. I also had a hobby blog, which I used to advertise my products a bit, but mostly just to share my stories as I traveled around North America.
Blogging was the thing I loved the most (I loathed being an employee with every bone in my body), but for far too long I didn’t make the connection between blogging, business, and my experience in marketing. There was a disconnect. It’s crazy, but I didn’t know you could even monetize a blog until the mid-2010s!
When I finally did make the connection, I was a few weeks postpartum with my first kid, and on maternity leave. I made the decision that I was going to make $1,000 per month with my brand new beauty blog and vowed to not return to my job once the maternity leave pay dried up.
Perhaps it was a risky move at the time, but I quit all my jobs and side hustles so that I could focus 100% on my niche site. And I am glad I did! I monetized that blog with affiliate links, promoted it in Facebook groups and Pinterest, and by the second month, I had reached my $1,000 goal.
Within 6 months it was earning $5,000/month. On that blog’s first birthday, I sold it for $50,000. I used the money to launch and grow what would become my main brand, HerPaperRoute: a place to help other content creators learn how to monetize and scale their niche sites into lucrative work-from-home careers, and then sell those sites for profit.
The meaning of the name HerPaperRoute is ‘Paper’ means money, and ‘Route’ means plan, as in, your plan to make the money. As well, back in the day, a paper route was often a little kid’s first job. It was my Grandfather’s first job, delivering newspapers in Vancouver as a boy.
My Grandfather was a big inspiration to me. Although he was a leading Political Cartoonist for a national magazine and newspaper and had even received the Order of Canada, the thing that inspired me most was the fact that he got to work from home!
When I was little, I always thought it was so cool that he didn’t have to leave his house to earn a living, and I wanted that for my future. So, the name is an ode to that, as well.
Why did decide to start an online business?
When I decided to quit my job and go all-in on niche site developing and selling, I had just given birth to my son. I felt an extreme aversion to the idea of putting him in daycare, in order for me to return to the workforce. If I were to do that, not only would I miss out on crucial new baby bonding time, but also, half my day’s earnings would just go to daycare costs. It wouldn’t even be worth the time spent.
I knew I had to make a big change, and not give myself any backup plan. I HAD to make that beauty niche site profitable, valuable and sellable so that it could lead to more niche site flips, and I could provide a good living for my family.
It was important to me that I solve this problem, and make this work-from-home career in blogging work.
Everyone thought I was crazy back then, they asked me why I was bothering with my “little blog.” I just ignored them and did the work. Nowadays they ask me how I did it.
But here’s the thing, it was not easy. Everyone who has tried blogging for the first time knows it is no cakewalk in the beginning. It takes a lot of trial and error, effort, testing, and time. It can help if you have a mentor, or at least someone successful to look up to.
When I was first getting started, I didn’t know anyone who blogged, I had no online blogging pals and very few connections. Plus I had no idea who my competition would be. I just had an idea and believed in it, so I went for it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t long after I started creating content and putting my stuff out there into the world, that my community grew like wild!
I had mentioned above that when I started in this business, I had zero blogging friends – and that has totally changed now! Nowadays I am fortunate to have a huge community of friends, investors, and collaborators in this industry.
How have you grown your business?
From the start, my main growth strategy has been to focus on email marketing.
Every blog post has to have an opt-in lead magnet freebie. Every lead magnet page has to have pins driving traffic. List growth is mission-critical for me! It has paid off. Within the first 2 years, I had grown my email list to 20,000 bloggers.
To explain why that is important, the majority of my income is generated by that list.
It comes through:
- Sales from affiliate promotions
- Course launches shared in my email campaigns
- From connecting with subscribers who then buy and sell websites at my marketplace
But of course, for people to actually visit my blog and see those opt-in freebies, they need to come from somewhere. We need traffic! And for that, I like to combine good on-page SEO methods with active off-page promotion.
Although, my promotion efforts look a little bit different now than they did 4 years ago. In the beginning, I did a lot more manual promotion of my content than I do now. For example, I used to spend a few hours a day posting links in Facebook groups and manually pinning to Pinterest. I really don’t do much of either of those things nowadays.
These days my content promotion strategy involves:
- Speaking in virtual summits
- Hosting workshops
- Collaborating in product bundles
- Being a guest on podcasts and Youtube channels
I still pin to Pinterest when I have a new blog post, and Pinterest automation tools can help too, but I no longer stress over pinning every day. It’s a great feeling to be off the hamster wheel of Pinterest!
I should mention that paid advertising has never been a focus for me. I have run a small handful of Facebook ads or promoted pins here and there, but the ad spend has always been minimal.
What is your favorite way to monetize a niche site?
My favorite way to monetize a niche site is with affiliate marketing.
When it comes to affiliate marketing, I don’t get fancy. Just practical. I figure out what my audience needs or is struggling with and then I show them products that solve that pain point.
Where I get creative is in the way I present the offers. Something that has been successful in my experience is to create a course showing how to use an affiliate product, and then I give the course away for free.
When students enroll in it, they get a special coupon code to buy the product, using my affiliate link. Although creating courses takes longer than just writing one review post, it is going the extra mile for people and giving them added value that matters most.
What have you learned through building your online business?
Never assume you’ve “made it.” As soon as you start to get comfortable, or feel like you are successful, it’s entrepreneur doomsday! There are 1000 people just below you, more hungry, who are ready to overtake your place.
I keep this fact close to heart, and I constantly remind myself to stay hungry. There are habits I practice to help stay on track with this, and one is that I don’t keep much money in my personal accounts. So I never feel “rich.”
I pay myself a tiny wage, so that after I’ve paid my team, business expenses/investments, and paid into my family’s savings, I just have enough money each month to cover the mortgage, bills, and meal kit subscription. All the other income just stays in my corporation’s account and isn’t touched or looked at.
Now when I said “stay hungry,” I wasn’t talking about food, but this tip is too good not to mention: the meal kit subscription. This has been a lifesaver for my business. I highly recommend subscribing to a meal kit, to any creator!
Each week we get our groceries delivered, with all the ingredients portioned out for specific recipes. Being able to completely eliminate grocery shopping and deciding what’s for dinner has saved me so much time and brainpower. Which in turn has allowed me more time to focus on the two important things: spending more quality time with my family and spending more productive time on my business.
Another element that I believe has been instrumental in building an online business has been leaning into the power of public speaking and networking.
Four years ago I was incredibly shy and introverted and experienced extreme anxiety when invited to speak on podcasts and at summits. I had to overcome this fear of putting myself out into the public space – and it was not easy at first. But with practice, public speaking became a little bit less scary.
With each new speaking engagement, I made new connections and friends in the industry. And now I love public speaking! Participating in virtual events really helped my business grow. I would say if you are nervous about this – just start saying yes to invitations, and you will surprise yourself with what you can handle.
Yes, it will feel scary at first, and yes, you may “mess up” your words. But that is ok. It really does get easier the more you do it.
What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is that I get to help so many people receive a big payday, by selling their blog and business for them.
In the past year, we have sold sites spanning many niches, including:
- Easy-prep meals niche site sold for $150,000
- Homeschooling niche blog sold for $52,000
- Crafts & printables niche site sold for $105,000
- Bullet planner niche blog sold for $15,000
- Yoga niche blog sold for $38,000
- College niche blog sold for $40,000
- Mom blog sold for $41,000
- Amazon FBA business sold for $69,000
And many more, which you can see here.
How long did it take you to start earning with your niche site?
When I started my first for-profit niche site (the beauty blog), I went into it from a business perspective. I was not looking at it as a hobby that might earn income ‘one day.’ I was determined to make it profitable and monetized it with affiliate links and partnerships from day one.
It took only a few days to make my first affiliate sale. I wrote a few review posts about specific products, and then I went into Facebook groups that were for fans of those products, and I shared my review post links there. I followed this same formula of active Facebook promotion, as well as sent a weekly newsletter with affiliate links, and the conversions increased.
Within a few weeks, I had a good feeling that I was onto something that could surpass my old employee salary. And within the first year, it was proven.
My primary source of income in 2021 is still affiliate marketing, across various niche sites that I run (travel, tech, education, personal finance, health) and selling niche sites. Selling digital products is another source, which is smaller but mostly passive.
I also organize an annual business bundle for bloggers, which is a collaboration between a group of awesome content creators. We each contribute one of our best online courses, bundled together in one low-priced resource library which we sell for one week only.
What is your philosophy or strategy when growing your business?
My philosophy for growing a business is just “do the work.”
Get up, spend the first part of the morning doing something creative: write a post, think up ideas, create graphics, whatever it is. Simply do something that is just for yourself, before looking at your inbox or letting anyone else’s voice into your head.
Now, “do the work” does not mean “do it all yourself.” Because, it’s important to get comfortable delegating work to your team, and trusting them to handle it. Yes, you *could* do everything in your business, but you shouldn’t!
As the CEO of a company, your mind should only be focused on the things you absolutely love doing – and the things that make the most money. Everything else can be delegated.
When I say this, I am referring to all of the tasks that are directly related to your business, but also the outside tasks in your life too:
- Hire a cleaner to keep your home tidy
- Hire someone to water your plants
- Get your groceries delivered
Delegate as much as you can to allow yourself to fully step into your role in your company, while also freeing up your time to spend with your loved ones, and do the fun things you enjoy most, outside of business.
How do you know when it’s time to sell an online business?
There are a few clues that it may be time to sell your business/blog.
If you have been:
- Feeling called to other projects or passions
- Feeling a loss of interest in your business
- Finding it’s more of a chore than it used to be
These are really strong indicators that it may be time to switch paths.
Many of our buyers decide to sell their niche site because they have had a change of heart and want to focus on other projects. Another reason is the fact that you could get up to 36x your monthly revenue when you sell – that’s a nice payday for many, and a great motivator to sell.
Some creators build their niche site with an exit strategy in mind. They always anticipated they would sell it one day and have been building up the site with the intention to sell from day one.
Other times, sellers have come to a place where they feel they have taken their business as far as they can, and know that a new buyer with a new perspective could grow it further.
What can you do to prepare the business for sale?
The things you should take into consideration when preparing a business to sell are things you are probably doing already!
- Keeping accurate records of your profit and loss
- Ensuring that Google Analytics is tracking your traffic
- Keeping your site and social media updated
Some other things to keep in mind when you are thinking of selling is that you may want to remove any personal photos of yourself or your family from your website and social media. This way, the business doesn’t have your persona on it and the new owner can add their own persona.
Next, you will look for a broker. Working with a broker will ensure that you are protected in the sale. Not only do they connect you with buyers and handle all the paperwork and Escrow steps, but they also have your back to make sure you don’t get screwed.
If you would like to sell your business with a broker at BlogsForSale, we offer free website valuations, which will give you some insight and suggestions for getting the best sale price.
What can you do to prepare yourself for the sale?
It is true that it can be an emotional experience to sell your business – especially if it’s your first business.
I think that once you make the decision that it is the right time to sell, and you see the offer on the table, the joy of knowing the lifestyle freedom you will receive on the other side (as well as the money) overpowers any emotional hesitation.
I would say, enter into the listing/selling process being open to possibility, and remind yourself why you wanted to sell in the first place Imagine what life will be like once you have sold. Know that you can always start (or buy) a new business, too!
What keeps you going when things are tough?
When I am having tough days, I acknowledge that it’s not my day, and I close my laptop. I walk away from it, take a breather. I will run around with my dog outside or do something completely mindless, stupid, and opposite from my business – like watching trashy, funny reality shows! No shame there.
Taking a step away from the grind once in a while does wonders, believe me!
You’ll come back the next day feeling refreshed and much better prepared to put out those fires from yesterday after separating yourself from the issue.
Advice for other online entrepreneurs who want to get started?
My biggest advice is that if you have even a tiny idea bouncing around in your head – try it! Take action and just see what happens.
As a newbie, it’s common to feel scared or to feel pressure to succeed before you start a new venture. But you can’t let that fear stop you from actually trying something because you aren’t sure if you’ll be successful at it. Honestly, that’s terrible! You don’t have to be successful at it, You don’t even have to be good at it. The point is that you try things. You experiment, allow yourself to learn and grow and figure out what you do like, through testing out ideas and seeing what you don’t like.
Something I have learned is that entrepreneur success is not a straight road. There are so many turns, setbacks, and surprises. And that failing is part of success.
With every “failure” you are given the opportunity to improve, learn and get better. Think of mistakes as a blessing allowing you to grow. I tried and “failed” at multiple startups and side hustles for about a decade before I discovered that the thing I loved most was something I could turn into a lucrative business.
Every lesson and failure I learned along the way helps me be successful now. I don’t think I’d be where I am now, had I not tried a million other things first.
There will be days where you are beaming, proud, happy, and excited by your business. And there will be days where it feels like the hardest thing you have ever had to do, and you will consider throwing in the towel and going back to a regular job where you can count on a paycheck. But I encourage you to stay focused and keep building your dream.
If you do come to a point that you want to switch gears and try something else, you can always sell your business. You don’t have to give up on entrepreneurship entirely, just pivot and try a different type.