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9 Unsexy Truths about Making Money Online

Posted By Darren Rowse 15th of May 2010 Blogging for Dollars 0 Comments

Fast Luxury Cars, Parties with Sexy People, Dream Homes, Lavish Meals, World Travel, Book Deals and Pictures of massive Checks…. making money online is sexy!

Isn’t it?

As I sit here in my PJs alone in the front room of my house this morning – I wonder if perhaps the ‘sexy’ bit of what I do somehow bypassed me.


I was at a conference last year listening to one ‘make money online’ guru talking about the possibilities of making money on the internet. The picture he painted was certainly sexy.

He showed some of the things he’d bought with the money he’d made online, shared some of the opportunities that his business had opened up for him and told some of the story of how he achieved it. The first line of this post pretty much summed up a lot of his presentation – it was sexy.

As he shared two things happened inside of me:

  1. I got inspired (and a little jealous) – ‘wow, I gotta have some of what this guy’s got’. I think that was a pretty common reaction in the room (based upon the type of comments I heard after the presentation). I guess that was partly the purpose of the presentation – showing the possibilities of what could be achieved can certainly be inspirational on some levels (and can motivate people to buy all kinds of products and systems – as they did that day).
  2. I realised I was only hearing part of the story – as I sat listening to the story the reaction that grew bigger and bigger (and ended up being the main feeling that I had) was that the guy was only sharing part of the story. At least he was sharing a quite different story to the one I’d had and the one I’d heard in the quiet conversations I’d had with many successful online entrepreneurs.

While I have no doubt that the riches and success that this man shared about were true and I know for a fact that the life that some internet entrepreneurs lead can at times be very ‘sexy’ – the reality is that for the vast majority of those who set out to make money online that the story is anything but sexy.

In fact even for me – as someone who has had a moderate level of success in this game – this guy’s story had only fleeting moments where it seemed even vaguely familiar to me.

Perhaps that’s partly to do with my own personality, style, values and taste (I’d rather put my kids through a good education than buy a Ferrari and would prefer to help set up a feeding program for starving kids than rent a yacht and cruse the Caribbean for 3 months a year) – but I also think that quite often in our game the ‘unsexy’ part of what we do is not talked about enough.

Perhaps common sense to many – here are some of the ‘unsexy’ truths about making money online (with a few tweet reflections form my Twitter followers):

1. It Takes ALOT of WORK

When I mentioned the topic of unsexy truths on Twitter earlier in the week and asked for people’s feedback the overwhelming response was about the amount of work that it takes to build a successful online business. Here’s just a few of the response on this front:

“I would say the #1 “unsexy” truth is that it takes W-O-R-K despite what almost every sales page will lead you to believe!” – @ElysiaBrooker

“Well there’s the whole “work” thing that no one bothers to mention.” – @CindyBidar

“some days I’m too busy to even think about showering. MMO is more work than people realize, esp when starting out.” – @Allison_Boyer

“It still takes a lot of really hard work…and pajamas don’t go over well on skype calls you want people to pay for.” – @JonathanFields

The reality is that there is no escaping having to put in a solid amount of work if you want to make a living online (or offline for that matter).

The amount of times that I’ve seen people start blogs with the expectation of striking it rich and generating a passive income amazes me. I guess people want to believe that there’s a short cut and want to jump straight to the end (and sexy) results before working for it.

2. It Takes Time and Starts Slow

I love what @SamMartino (smart guy) responded to me on Twitter with:

“I’ve discovered it takes longer to get momentum… much longer lead times… but higher margins.”

This type of comment was echoed by quite a few including:

“only the get rich slowly by putting in a lot of effort schemes work” – @KarenMarree

“it takes almost 6-8 months before you see any respectable money” – @SkoolofLife

6-8 months might seem like a long time – but in my experience even that could be an under estimation. There are certainly examples of people who do it quicker – however the reality is that it usually takes longer – and even after a long lead time there are no guarantees.

While there are certainly some upsides (like Sam says there is often some nice margins to be made if you’re selling something online) my own experience was that I was putting in a lot of hours for a couple of years before I made a full time income. That meant working other part time jobs during the day and blogging at night for well over a year – while wondering all along that time whether it was going to amount to anything.

3. The Sexy Moments Happen – but are Often Few and Far Between

I’m a very very fortunate person. I feel incredibly lucky to have had some success in this field and to have some amazing opportunities open up. While some of those things I mentioned in the first sentence of this post have not been my reality – I’ve certainly had a few ‘sexy’ moments.

A book deal, being flown around the world to speak at conferences, some fun parties at these conferences, the opportunity to meet and interact with some amazing people, the chance to buy a nice house and give my family a comfortable life, appearing in mainstream media…. all of these things are beyond what my wildest dreams of blogging ever were.

However the day to day of my life isn’t sexy. The above things are special (and I’m grateful for them) but they’re not what my life is all about. Rather they punctuate the sometimes mundane daily routine of sitting alone in an office, writing content, answering emails, making videos, responding to customer queries….. etc

I enjoy what I do – but I think it’s important to keep some perspective – most of the successful web entrepreneurs spend most of their lives doing normal and ordinary things – just like everyone else.

4. There are No Guarantees

If there’s one thing that disturbs me most about many sales pages for ‘make money online’ systems it is the guarantee element of them. ‘You WILL make money’ – ‘Make $10,000 in 30 days’…. the list of claims that are made at times goes on and on.

  • A + B doesn’t always = C
  • Processes and systems don’t always work.
  • What works for one doesn’t always work for others.

No two blogs that I’ve been involved with are the same in terms of building traffic or monetization. They have all been so unique and so to claim that you can apply a ‘system’ or ‘process’ that is guaranteed to work in every instance is just not realistic.

There is a lot that can be learned from some of the make money online systems and teachers on the web but don’t allow yourself to be sucked into any product that claims that it works for everybody – there are too many other elements at play (including your own dedication, natural ability, niche, levels of competition etc).

“What works for one blog, won’t work for another.” – @JewelrySecrets

5. You’ll Fail More than You Succeed

The other factor that comes into the ‘no guarantees’ point above is that in every successful entrepreneur’s journey there is a string of failures left in their wake.

I’ve started 30+ blogs over the last 8 years – 3 of them remain. I’ve started a long list of ventures, products, companies etc – only a few of them were profitable.

In time I’ve been able to increase the rate of success that I’ve been having and have learned to tell if an idea is failing and whether I should kill it early on – but in order to succeed you may very well need to fail a few times first.

6. Some People Just Won’t Make It

I hate to include this one as part of me does think it’s possible for almost anyone to have at least some amount of success in making money online…. however I have to take note of the stats that I’ve seen every time I survey my readers about this – some people just won’t make money online.

“Some people just aren’t going to make it. They’ll put in a lot of time and spend more than they earn.” – @SHerdegen

For some the reasons for not ‘making it’ are to do with elements I’ve mentioned above (not willing to take a long term approach, work hard etc) – however I guess there are other reasons. Some people just have a certain ‘mojo’, talent, skill level, set of experiences or circumstances that propel them forward faster than others. Conversely – some don’t.

Much of this can be overcome in time however I guess the reality is that for some people they find themselves in circumstances where it’s just too hard.

7. It can be Lonely

It’s funny how lonely ‘social’ media can be sometimes.

I was chatting with one blogger recently who quit what was a growing online business to get a ‘real job’ partly because she needed more face to face interaction. She put it down to her personality type and living in a reasonably remote location where she couldn’t meet those she worked with face to face – but in the end it just got too lonely for her.

For introverts like myself this might not be a massive problem (although I try to do some face to face stuff with a few others most weeks) but I know for quite a few people working alone in the front room of their house all day is enough to make them start to lose it.

8. Increased Success Can Bring Increased Critique

In Australia we’re known for suffering from Tall Poppy Syndrome. Something wikipedia defines as:

“a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.”

By no means is this just an Aussie thing, other cultures around the world share it. One of those ‘cultures’ I suspect is the web. I’ve seen it numerous times – as blogger begins to grow in their influence and reach only to find that closely trailing the rise in their own success comes a rise in ‘critique’.

Critique can be a helpful thing at times – however it can also move into a my sinister and destructive place where those that it is directed at often feel quite damaged.

In time I’ve had my share of negative attention. While I have learned to deal with it a little better than I once did – I do look back on periods in the last 8 years and see times where I think it led me to become quite depressed, stressed and once even to the brink of giving up on blogging.

I guess in time one gets thicker skin – however it’s a constant issue many bloggers have to work with.

9. Scaling it Sucks

If you do stick with things for the long haul, work hard and push through the tough times there is certainly potential for success in the online space. In fact some times get easier the bigger and more successful you become. Momentum grows and you can get to a point where the opportunities that keep coming your way are quite amazing.

However along with the opportunity and success comes the challenge of scaling up what you’re doing.

This can be particularly tricky when you’re basing your business around social media where there is a certain expectation that you be personal and interactive.

Tough choices need to be made around whether to stay smaller and keep being personal, whether to outsource some of what you do and how to manage the growing demands that you face.

These are the issues I’m seeing quite a few people dealing with right now – if you know the answer to it, please let me know. In the mean time, I’ll tell you it can be very unsexy :-)

Your Unsexy Truths

Earlier in the week when I tweeted on this topic quite a few other unsexy truths were suggested. You can read them here and here. Before inviting you to share yours… I’ll finish with this one from @BeyondBeeton:

” the “internet” doesn’t just spew out money. you need a good idea, a plan and an ability to deliver what people want to pay for.”

What would you add to this list of UnSexy Truths of making money online?

I think most people who’ve been at the business of making money online for even a few months know that the ‘sexy’ image of making money online is not a reality for most who attempt it.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. For me, being in music and an Indie Label. I find that it is a CONSTANT search for opportunities. The more I am out there “online” the more people are commenting and people are just not very nice. Tyra called them online haters. Maybe it’s because you are doing what they wish they could. I don’t know, but I tell you, it is not sexy!

  2. Even the sexy show business is not so in the back stage.

  3. As you said, this is about time and scaling, there is no sudden results as most people will be investing a lot of time creating online presence and after that will need to escalate researching how to grow what has been achieved.

  4. I like to think that I put out quality content so the actual writing and editing take the longest for me…. I don’t focus on over posting (spamming) for SEO purposes… I know in the long run if you have a valuable product then it will sell itself..

    Getting Rich Slowly,


  5. I agree with all these…these are really scary but true …thanks for exposing these in this post…

  6. Spot on. I wrote my very first blog post on this topic:


    |t’s nothing special, but I had to start somewhere :)

  7. this post is so amazing to be true
    every word is perfectly right and i strongly agree with everything you said!!

  8. These are great contents. Surely you can use some or all of them whether you are new to blogging or not.

    Keep it coming man. Problogger has become a guide book for me as I build my own platform.

  9. Time is the most important factor. It takes ages to write quality post and publish it. Its hard to get PR in the beginning. The only thing bloggers can do is keep posting and keep waiting

  10. Great post!

    I’m especially glad you talked about “how much work it is” and “how lonely it is”. These two things combined surely suck. But it’s a long road that few can handle.

    I think it was Hugh MacLeod who said (in one fo his drawings):

    “You’re either the social sheep, or the lonely wolf.”

  11. I want to add this advice even though it seems to be the opposite what many guru:

    First make sure you get a day job if you haven’t one already!

    Worrying about your income and struggling making ends meet will destroy the strongest weapon you might have for your on-line adventure: your creativity.

    A day job forces you to use your valuable time better when you are on-line. No unnecessary stumbling etc.

  12. @Arsene – Great point, and isn’t funny how so many of us in the ‘social web’ are lone wolves!

    @Mario – I agree in the sense that you have to get your needs met, but sometimes ‘going for it’, Ie quitting the job, is what makes *room* for creativity to breathe and grow. I absolutely had to quit my day job in order to take the internet business seriously..

  13. I’ve read every blog I thought I could read to learn and get a leg up when I launched mine. While the reading was great and I think gave me a good base to start at. However, I’ve learned that there is nothing like getting in and learning the ropes.

  14. I just agree that it takes a long time to build up momentum and over a year to see profitable gains. Once you have that momentum thought it becomes more of a habit and is hard to quit and you seem to just keep going. Blogging is my life!

  15. Great article. Most people seem to think it is easy money, but fail to understand that online or off, it requires a lot of hard work.

  16. I don’t think that there is much to add here. This is pretty concrete already. I would go for the “hell lot of work” element. This is severely important and can help a person reach success.

  17. I laughed a lot on that picture :)))

    Good luck :)

  18. these are all true..unfortunately marketers don’t always say this when they are peddling their products…many are caught in the riptides of lies and are suckered into buying products because it seems to be so easy …making money offline or online takes work..but you will have more leverage online ..but it is not that sexy…

  19. I would say this was a great read if it wasn’t so deflating :(

    I hope I have a different idea of what other people consider an online success.

    For me I want to earn a bit more money then I currently do in my day job, meaning I can work full time on my own projects.

    I’ll happy if blogging gives me even a glimmer of a chance of becoming a super rich web rock star and in the meantime do enough for me to provide for my young family etc.

    I know it’ll take hard work which I’m willing to put in but I don’t see myself leaving my day job anytime soon.

  20. Great post. We all need a bit of a reality check sometimes. And carpal tunnel is not very sexy.

  21. Regardless if it’s political or religious views, race, size, or orientation- everyone deserves to be and become who they are. Let’s not make anyone feel bad they’re something else.

  22. Making money blogging is a lot of work but it should be a lot of work. Anyways, I would rather make money blogging than by working 9-5 but am not ready to quit my day job just yet.

  23. Oh, thank God! You’ve provided me with the explanation I’ve been attempting to give my significant other about what’s really involved in working (and playing) online…the learning curves, the trial and error, and the reasons it’s just not the same for everyone – it’s utterly different, for each person, each niche, each blog, each website, etc..

    Appreciate your honesty, Darren, and hopefully it will help encourage some people to keep going, and others to quit by realizing they are not willing to do what it takes – hey, if that’s the truth best to face it! :)

    I wish you continued outrageous success with ocassional sexy moments,


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