This is a guest contribution from Joen Rude Falsner.
Most of us have been there: we’ve all had this job where the financial compensation was the absolute single motivation to even show up.
Luckily for most people this, usually, low-compensated, uninspiring and numbingly boring job is characterized by being temporary. Something we do only for a short period of time.
Not for me.
For five full years I was rocking the position of a full time phone supporter specializing in assisting surprisingly helpless people with their TV setup and broadband service subscription.
“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
I hated it. Oh my God, how I hated it.
A little bit about me
So I’m Joen. A 28-year-old dude from Denmark who has an opinion about most things in life.
Whether the topic is bear hunting in Alaska or how to keep tropical flowers alive in a costal temperate climate, I will find a way to ask questions that I am genuinely interested in knowing the answers to while also insisting that I know a thing or two about the subject.
The struggle of saying no to the system
This is who I’ve been most of my life. In my mind I have always had all the answers, but never when the topic landed on me. When the topic was ‘Joen’, I instantly became mute.
I was okay with this for a few years, but then I started to realize that my friends were moving up in the world.
Everybody around me seemed to be thriving with fancy degrees, fancy grades and eventually fancy titles. They had their life paved already, while I was digging my own hole deeper and deeper using faulty modems and TV boxes as a shovel.
At age 25, it would be fair to describe me as a rather depressed individual primarily due to the fact that I didn’t seem to have much of a bright future.
I didn’t have any formal education other than high school and a 2-year-short piece of garbage degree in marketing that was worth nothing more than a seat behind the register in your nearest supermarket.
See, that’s the thing. I never wanted a formal education, because it simply wasn’t for me. I just couldn’t care less about it.
I wanted to create. They wanted me to read.
Saying no to the system was a huge deal that I am forever grateful I did. It was also something that was incredibly difficult. Everybody expects you to do what society expects you to do.
Because if you don’t do what society wants you to do, then what are you going to do?
Entering the digital universe
Regardless of my state of depression I was eager to dig my way out of the hole.
My close friend, Frederik, who is kind of a SEO and PPC hero told me about blogging and affiliate marketing. He actually introduced me to the whole digital universe a few years earlier, but it took me two years before I summoned the courage to act on it.
Finally, I decided to start a blog.
February 7, 2014, I started Stayclassy.dk, a fashion and lifestyle blog with focus on quality over quantity and the good life.
I was determined to be successful.
From dinosaur to digital dude
Back in 2014, when I started my blog, I think it would be fair to say I was kind of a dinosaur.
Of course I knew how to work my way around a computer and I have always been pretty handy with ‘basic stuff’, but I had no idea just how big the difference was between casually using a computer and understanding the incredible opportunities the Internet offers.
Getting started with blogging
When I started blogging I was only familiar with basic tools.
I knew that it was important to make a keyword analysis in order to identify the best keyword for an article so that it would be easier for it to rank. I also knew it was important to create a lot of content.
Quality content of course.
But that was pretty much it. Those were my tools. Creating content and using the right keywords. Looking back, I actually like the simplicity of my starting point.
Because creating content is really the most important part of getting started with blogging. Forget link building, guest blogging and what else you got.
There’s no point of reaching out to people if you haven’t already built a solid platform to show.
My goals when I started the blog
I’m not gonna lie.
Getting into blogging was mainly incentivized by the possibility of earning money. I wanted to get out of my day job badly and in order to do so I had to earn money.
I started the blog while also working my full time job. In other words, my schedule just got a lot busier. It was three hours of blogging before work and 3-4 hours of blogging after.
All together that made my average day ~3+9+3=~15 hours long.
The goal from day 1 was to create one quality article a day. An article that had to be at least 1000 words long.
I knew that text heavy articles weren’t necessarily a goal in itself, but setting this rule was important as I was also forcing myself to write.
You have to remember that when I started blogging my only writing experience was chatting to girls on Tinder. I had zero experience, although I’ve always been all right at putting together a sentence or two.
By writing an article a day, and sometimes even two, I knew that in a year I would have 365 articles in the bank. That’s 365.000 words or the equivalent of 3-4 good books. I liked the sound of that.
Content before anything.
That was my basic strategy to begin with. It wasn’t until I had +45 articles that I began thinking in terms of getting links.
With 45+ articles I had something to show. I had already created a blog that I was really proud of. People would also take my blog seriously and that made my link-building effort a lot easier as more of my guest post enquiries were granted.
Along with the consistent output of quality articles I started getting links. My blog started to become authoritative-ish.
I remember how much I hated the link-building game.
I thought it was so lame that links were the all-important factor in getting those much desired organic rankings. This was also one of the reasons that I didn’t put too much effort into it at that point, which, in hindsight, was a really bad decision, but more on this later.
Affiliate blog posts for the win
That was my mind-set.
If I wanted to earn money, I had to monetize as much as I could without of course making my blog appear spammy.
So the majority of the articles I wrote were affiliate blog posts, however I would complement them with lifestyle blog posts of various sorts in order for my blog to maintain a dynamic range of content.
Mainly it was affiliate articles in the fashion department where I had one particular affiliate program that would turn out to perform extremely well.
I already knew that, as this was the online go-to-fashion retailer for most Danes, but I didn’t know that it would become ~70% of my combined affiliate income almost three years later.
Spending a lot of time analyzing all the available affiliate programs as well as testing them out has been of great importance to the success of my blog.
If you don’t keep a close eye on this, you will consequently earn less money. Less money that over time will accumulate to a huge loss.
Earning my first dollar
Exactly 14 days was how long it took me to earn my first affiliate dollar after having started the blog.
My first sale was worth exactly 7 euros.
I was ecstatic. Just two weeks in and here I am already living the passive income dream.
Okay not really, but I could immediately see that this “earn money online blogging”-thing wasn’t just a fairy tale pipe dream.
It could be done if using the same technique as Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption (best film ever by the way), who dug a hole through the wall by applying only pressure and time.
Pressure and time
That is all it really takes and although there isn’t any hole to be seen right away, you will eventually hit the other end of the wall.
Although I was seeing dollars only two weeks after getting to work, things were moving slow. Painfully slow actually, but it was easy to stay on track as I continued to grow my audience month after month.
The first dot on the screenshot above marks the very beginning of Stayclassy.dk with virtually no traffic. Eleven months later the dot had jumped 16,193 steps in the right direction.
This was the time where I finally quit my beloved phone supporter job.
And not only did I quit. I moved to Australia. Away from icy Denmark and on to the deliciously warm continent where endless summer is always thriving.
I was not earning a full time living by any means at that point, but it was enough to get by as I also had saved up a bit of money.
Suddenly Joen was moving up in the world. Life was looking up. It felt great, to put it mildly.
Affiliate Marketing is great, but…
… it takes time and an abundance of hard work to get there.
Being one year into my blogging journey I was still not making enough to fully rely on it. Far from it actually, but I was okay with that. I knew it was only a matter of time, if I kept doing what I was doing.
Nonetheless, it was time to diversify my income stream.
So I engaged in sponsored content. I was getting more and more enquiries from businesses who were seeking promotion.
This was terrific as I was able to supplement my affiliate income with a tangible here-and-now income. They would pay me immediately as opposed to the hundreds of affiliate articles where I was still waiting to reap the true benefits of my hard work.
Given my blog’s good image I didn’t even have to approach businesses. They approached me. That was a solid pat on the shoulder and a strong indication that I was doing something right.
So I carried on.
The digital dude
That’s who I was starting to feel like. After a year of hard work, I was beginning to get a real grasp on blogging and this digital universe in general.
I was suddenly able to have “academic discussions” with my friend, Frederik.
I knew what was going on in the world of blogging and the wide variety of things you need to consistently keep an eye on.
After just one year I felt like I had learned incredibly many things that no school could ever teach me.
The main reason for this was that every time I wanted or had to implement something on my blog, I had to learn about it. Combining theory and practice was apparently the way to go. At least for me.
Becoming a successful blogger
So basically, in year two of my blogging career, I was kind of living the dream. I was travelling around Australia living in Darwin (not that much of a dream spot by the way), Cairns and Melbourne. I also spent six weeks in Bali and a month in Thailand.
Was this it? Had I made it?
I think most people would agree that I had indeed become a successful blogger, but to me I was only getting started. I was comparing my blog to a successful start-up. Things were going just fine, but it was nowhere near enough.
In short I kept maintaining the outlook of treating my blog as a real business: that strong growth was the only acceptable outcome. I think this has been an essential ingredient in getting to where I am today.
Being a successful blogger isn’t a static thing. It’s a constant battle that requires a continuous effort.
Very quickly things can go the wrong way. You can get hit by the Google bus (yes, that was a metaphor for losing rankings) subsequently affecting your income. There can be a drought where businesses are not interested in having sponsored content on your blog.
So many things can go wrong along the way.
I’ve been through all of this.
Several times. Up and down. Down, down and then up, up and up. It’s a never ending rollercoaster that will sometime make you feel sick and other times euphoric.
Dealing with the hardships of blogging
So yeah, blogging is no walk in the park. I have been through quite a few hardships.
Oh God, the discipline…
Call it what you want, but I call it hardship. One of the biggest challenges I have faced, and still am facing, is discipline.
It is so much easier to get up in the morning when you have a boss, who expects you to be there at 9am sharp.
When you are your own boss, it is so easy to allow yourself to sleep way past 10am. It is so easy to browse through hilarious cat photos instead of doing what you should be doing.
I have definitely not solved the problem of procrastination. I have, however, become more self-disciplined. I am constantly trying to improve my self-discipline by the use of various techniques.
Because life seems so long, it is really hard to work towards your goals with a sense of urgency.
The mind seems to think that there always is plenty of time to do something else, which is why it is okay not to do what you should be doing right now.
I tell my brain every day that I need to have a better sense of urgency. This actually helps me with being more disciplined.
Everybody talks about motivation. “You need to stay motivated”. “Read this book so you can get motivated”.
Of course motivation is a good thing, but I have come to the realisation that motivation is something that comes and goes as it pleases. It is a temporary state of mind and you have no control over it.
Instead, I have learned that the key to becoming a disciplined blogger (and person in general) is to work on your mental toughness.
Convincing yourself to write when you reeeaally don’t feel like it. Convincing your mind to finish a blog post although it tells you to stop right now. You get the point.
It is a draining exercise that will only be fruitful if applied repetitively.
It is a quite complex topic that I am by no means an expert on, however I have found it easier to work on my mental toughness when combining it with meditation and cognitive behavioral self-therapy.
Yeah, that was a pretty advanced word, but it’s actually not that complex.
In essence, it is about analysing your own thoughts and rationalising the why and what’s: why am I feeling this lack of doing anything productive? What is the consequence of not doing this work and what is the positive outcome if I do? By working right now, I will move closer to my hopes and dreams.
This exercise is really helpful as I simply get more shit done.
It’s about working hard now and then at some point later be rewarded. It makes sense, but the waiting time can be daunting. And it usually is.
At least for me as I am notorious for being impatient. When I hit publish on a blog post I want it to rank immediately, but fact of the matter is that it usually takes months before it sits on page 1, IF at all.
When getting into blogging you really have to be okay with delayed gratification.
I have been dealing with this hardship by always celebrating the small victories. It can be a little improvement in my rankings. It can be a few new e-mail subscribers, new fans on Facebook, a little increase in affiliate sales and so on.
Don’t be too hard on yourself just because you have yet to reach your big milestone.
Surviving ‘the dip’
You are probably familiar with Seth Godin’s terrific book, The Dip. Basically it addresses how every new project, business and hobby is all fun and games in the very beginning.
It’s exciting and you are as motivated as can be.
Pretty fast, though, the excitement fades. Suddenly obstacles are starting to build up. It’s not as easy as it was yesterday and you actually have to work hard.
Few people are lucky enough to avoid the dip and I sure as hell wasn’t one of them.
When I started the blog I had already read Seth Godin’s book, so I was aware of the concept.
That was a good thing as I therefor was expecting the dip. I was prepared for it and knew that this was simply just a state I would have to hustle my way through.
By keep telling myself that surviving the dip is an essential part of becoming successful, I was able to power through.
Having to do everything yourself
Most bloggers who start out have very limited resources. That means they have to do everything themselves. Outsourcing is generally not an option.
Right from buying the domain, setting up the first blog post to sending business proposals to potential partners, fixing various technical aspects and understanding how SEO works, everything is on your plate.
And you have to be really hungry if you are going to chew your way through all of it.
Having to do everything yourself has been one of the most valuable things I have had to do. You learn so incredibly much so incredibly fast simply because you have to.
The downside, however, is that you easily will find yourself overwhelmed. You don’t know where to start and it all just seems too much.
What I have done in order to not go down Overwhelm Lane, is to break down the tasks in what is super important and what is not so super important.
Then I will start with the number one super important task and solve it. When I have somewhat solved it, I move on to the next one. And then the next one.
It’s so much easier this way as opposed to starting from scratch with five different things you have zero grasp on.
From successful to thriving blogger
Even though I felt like a successful blogger after only twelve months of blogging, I wasn’t thriving. The blogging hardships were still of too great proportions.
I was still waiting for the blog to properly take off. I also still had so much basic stuff to learn.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2017
2 years and 10 months later I am still blogging away. I have written more than 700 articles. I have published more than 700,000 polished and edited words.
Stayclassy.dk has become the largest men’s fashion and lifestyle blog in Denmark with more than +60,000 monthly readers.
Blogging is my bread and butter, but my blogging income allows me to eat steak and béarnaise – and quite often actually!
I feel like I am thriving. I understand the blogging business. I know how it works. I generally just find it easy to connect the dots. Getting to this point has also sped up the growth of my blog.
The most valuable tools I use
It might seem self-explanatory, predictable and whatnot. I don’t care. Consistency carried out with persistence is by far the best path to destination successfulness.
And everybody knows that, right?
I think they do. The problem is that most people don’t understand just how important it actually is.
Or maybe they do.
They just don’t have the stomach to stay on course by moving one feet in front of the other every day. Because it is by no means an easy tool to use. It requires self-discipline on a daily basis, and yeah, we’ve already been over that.
The most incredible SEO-research tool available
Right up until six months ago I have been a cheapskate when it comes to the many online research tools available. No way I was paying $200+ a month just so I could look at competitor backlink profiles and keyword rankings.
Boy, has this been a poor decision, and not only a poor decision, it has also been an expensive one.
I’ll tell you why.
In the jungle of SEO-tools I was referred to Ahrefs.com by a friend of mine who was doing an unbelievable job with building links and domain authority for his own site.
I signed up with a paid profile and started looking at backlink profiles of competitors and people in the Danish SEO-industry, who I knew were building lots of links.
Immediately, I saw how many quality links that were just laying there. Up until July 2016 I really hadn’t done much about building quality links to my blog, so I figured it was well overdue I put in an effort.
And so I did.
I picked all the low hanging fruits to begin with, however sticking only to relevant and natural ones. I moved on to approaching strong websites where guest posting made sense.
Quickly, I got into the game of doing white hat link building. So many strong websites were suddenly pointing to my blog and then, BAM, I saw the effect.
The annotation next to July 2016 marks the day I started putting effort into link building. Two months later my blog took a massive jump. And then again.
Essentially I had doubled my organic traffic. This naturally had a pleasant effect on my affiliate income.
It was great to see this boost in traffic and earnings, but I am still cursing myself for not putting in this effort much earlier. I wonder how much money I have lost.
Expensive lessons are sometimes the most valuable ones. And here the lesson was that links are ever important, whether you like it or not.
I know that everybody knows this. I’m not sharing any wild information that will shake the blogging or SEO industry. I just want to remind people that as ridiculous it can seem to spend an entire day on getting a single link, it is most likely worth it.
Another great thing about Ahrefs…
… is that their ranking system works as daily motivation for me.
Being able to see your Ahrefs rank, but also domain rating and organic search movements is fantastic.
It makes me want to work even harder as the daily effort I put into my blog translates to these Ahrefs statistics. Everyday they are updated.
Here is one of the Ahrefs graphs I follow religiously. Notice how it started going upwards in July, when I signed up.
What blogging has given me
Getting into the blogging business was in many ways a desperate measure.
Back in 2014, I would never have guessed just how many good things that would come out of it.
Because fact of the matter is that blogging has done so much more for me besides giving me juicy do-follow links, a bunch of traffic and a passive income.
I’ve become an independent dude
Almost three years of experience with running my own business has made me very independent to the point where I will never work for another person.
The joy of seeing my own business grow and grow is more fulfilling than anything I can think of.
The independence has also given me clarity.
I am more focused on what I want to achieve with my time on this little planet of ours. I will always have doubts about the decisions I make, but I have become confident enough to follow through and take the risks regardless.
Being a good writer is incredibly valuable
I will probably never be the Mark Twain of the 21st century, but I think that I have become a pretty decent writer in the course of the last three years. A writer that keeps improving.
One of the things that I have realized and thought a lot about lately is how valuable it is to be a good writer.
Writing not only allows you to tell a compelling story, it enables you to reach out to other people with a much higher rate of success. Here I am talking about creating appealing proposals to businesses, but also communication in general.
Additionally, writing has made me much more creative simply because I have forced digital ink on the screen every single day. Coming up with blog post ideas and putting them to life is one of the best ways to exercise your brain’s creative muscle.
Freedom to do what I want to do
Although blogging is no 4-hour-work-week gig, it comes with a tremendous amount of freedom.
Yes, you have to spend a lot of time in front the screen, but having the freedom to choose where in the world you want to sit and when is priceless.
In many ways it is the ultimate thing in life. Being able to do what you love from anywhere in the world.
As I’m writing this I am sitting on a roof top bar in Melbourne with the sun in my face.
Well, actually the sun is in my back, but yeah, no complaints.
I moved back from Australia to Denmark in December last year as I wanted to have a steadier base to work from. That hasn’t stopped me from bringing my laptop around the world.
In the last 12 months I have brought my laptop to Dubai, Italy, Greece, Berlin, Switzerland and now Melbourne where I am spending two months before moving onto an epic road trip around the southern parts of Australia.
The doors that have opened
Blogging has opened so many doors for me. It has led me to bigger and better on a continuous note. I get to work with amazing companies.
One of the best experiences was a company that wanted me to do an article on their insane collection of whisky, rum, cognac etc., where I was literally paid to taste some of the most expensive drops in the world. Is this real life?
I have established a network with talented, interesting and reputable people that stretch much further than the blogging environment.
My blog has given me a strong résumé that makes a formal education irrelevant. Although long educations in Denmark are free, I have also saved a lot of time and money by not wasting the last three years on a bachelor degree that won’t serve me.
Most importantly, blogging has made me a happier dude
And not just happier. Happy.
Blogging has given me a sense of purpose in life. I feel like I make a difference doing what I do, which is a feeling that gets emphasized by the many messages I get from inspired readers.
Okay, I’m gonna stop now with the happy camper poetry. It gets a bit much, doesn’t it?
Is blogging for everyone?
Certainly not. And I don’t mean that as in ‘not everybody is talented enough’. I am pretty sure most people could create a blog with decent content.
The problem is just that blogging is much more than creating content. As we talked about earlier there are so many strings to pull, if you want to become successful.
Of course everybody can blog on a hobby level. Nothing is stopping you from writing about your love of gluten free unicorn shaped candy, but if you want to make a living off of it, you will have to go beyond the content.
You will need to treat it like a business. Are you up for starting a business?
For me, you might ask? Only three years in, I still have a lot to learn. I feel like I am still just getting started. After all, three years really isn’t that much.
But to answer your question, I will continue to create content relentlessly although things are beginning to head in new directions. Directions where the format isn’t necessarily text-based, or at least where I don’t have to create all of it myself.
This means that I am in the process of expanding the team from 1 (me) to 2 or 3. This would allow me to take things to the next level and move closer to the ultimate goal, which is becoming the leading fashion and lifestyle magazine in Denmark.
Right now I am in the early phase of starting a vlog.
Something that scares the shit out of me. Putting myself in front of the camera and figure out how to tell a story. Am I even interesting enough? Hardly, most of my friends would probably say.
But I don’t care.
It’s time for Stayclassy.dk to work on even higher engagement. In a world where people can’t seem to get enough of videos, it is increasingly difficult to keep your audience interested only via text formatted content.
People want variety.
Although I have zero experience with recording I decided to jump straight into the vlogging world. I bought a Canon 70D, Røde VideoMic, various tripods, lenses and the whole shebang.
I am on really deep water, but I think I will manage to find my way to the shore.
This is the first vlog of Stayclassy.dk. One of many adventures to come.
Remember, though, it’s not about the word count. It’s about the message.
I’m sure you got what it takes to become a successful blogger. Really all it takes is to get started, be consistent and passionate, and carry on.
Joen is the guy behind Stayclassy.dk, which is the biggest fashion and lifestyle blog for men in Denmark. He writes articles with the main purpose of inspiring his readers to become the best version of themselves. Connect with him on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.