1 Michelle Schroeder-Gardner MakingSenseOfCents.com Michelle Schroeder-Gardner has much schooling under her belt. With that schooling came a lot of student loan debt. She started her blog in 2011 as a means to help improve her financial situation. After six months, she made her first $100 and has since gone on to make over $100,000 a month online. Today, Michelle is passionate about helping others improve their finances with blogging and affiliate marketing and has authored a course to that end. Caitlin: Well, hey, everybody. Welcome back to the Work-At-Home Summit. I m here with Michelle Schroeder-Gardner. She s the founder of Making Sense of Cents and Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. She helps her readers learn how to save more, earn more, and live more. Now, Michelle sold her house in 2015, so just over two years ago now, and she s been traveling full time since with her husband and two dogs inside her RV, and you ll notice that she is in her RV right now, you guys. In 2017, she earned over $1 million from her blogging business, all while traveling full-time in that RV. Michelle, welcome to the summit. Michelle: Hey, thanks so much for having me here. Caitlin: Yeah, I love that you re here. Your story is amazing, and I can t wait to dive into it. It s definitely inspired me, and I know it s going to inspire everybody else that s joining us today. You re super passionate about helping people get out of debt and making and saving money, and it s all it s about so people can actually live more, and that s part of your motto over at Making Sense of Cents. So tell us about your journey to getting out of student loan debt and starting your crazy popular blog, Making Sense of Cents, and how you got to where you are. Michelle: Yeah, so I started Making Sense of Cents back in August of Back then, it was all just a hobby. I didn t know that blogs could make money. I didn t really even know what blogs were, so I just started it because I was reading Cosmopolitan magazine one day, and in it, they actually featured a personal finance website, and that website is DailyWorth. It s a women s financial website. And I started reading that website almost religiously. I was reading all their articles. I started reading their comments, and I noticed in their comments it was all from other personal finance bloggers, and so back then I didn t know that blogs existed. I definitely didn t know that personal finance blogs were a thing, and I just kind of became super sucked into the community of personal finance blogging. So I started my own blog. It was completely anonymous. I didn t do it so I could make money or anything like that. It was just a way for me to talk about my money situation so that hopefully I could improve my money situation. I was living paycheck to paycheck back then. I was spending way too much money on things like going out to eat, clothing. I used to work in retail, and back then I would bring home a bag of clothes every single day that I would buy. That s how bad I was with clothes and spending money. So being open with it on Making Sense of Cents really helped me to overcome those financial problems, and it also opened me up to side hustling, and
2 that s how I started making money with Making Sense of Cents because I learned I could make money in my spare time. And around six months after I started Making Sense of Cents, I made my first $100 from it, and it all just grew from there. Caitlin: Yeah, I love that. So how did you make your first $100? Michelle: Yeah, so that was actually through a blogging friend of mine. So back then, since blogging was all a hobby, I had all of these blogging friends, and I still do. And a blogging friend actually ed me and said, Hey, Michelle, do you want to make a quick $100 off of a sponsored ad on your website? And I didn t know that blogs could make money, so of course she had to coach me through it. What does that mean? What do I do? What do they expect of me? And stuff like that, and she basically taught me how to make money through sponsored partnerships with other financial companies and stuff, and it all just started with that quick $100. And after that, it grew to around I want to say like $5-$10,000 two years after August of 2011, and that is when I actually quit my day job as a financial analyst to blog full-time. Caitlin: Wow, so yeah, August 2011 sticks out in my head because that s when I got fired, and I keep meeting people and around my same age range that their lives changed dramatically in August of And so I love that we have that alignment as well because things can change so quickly. And so once you got to about $5-$7,000 a month, did your whole world just kind of change because you were probably not working any harder than you were as a full-time financial analyst, right? And so was this whole new world what was that like? Michelle: It was definitely crazy. So to rewind a little bit, when I first started my blog, I actually was reading income reports. I didn t really know that blogs could make money, but when I found out, I started reading income reports, and I was seeing other bloggers making like $1,000 a month to $10,000 a month. And I specifically remember someone making $20,000 a month and thinking, whoa, that is crazy! I know I ll never make that amount, but if I could just make $1,000 a month, that would be life changing. And I just thought I could never make that amount, but maybe I ll just try for it, and eventually I was making $1,000 a month, $5,000 a month, $10,000 a month, and it just kept growing from there, and now I m making anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 and up each month, and it s really crazy to think about because I never thought I was going to be a business owner. I never thought I was going to be a blogger. I went to school to become a financial analyst. I have three finance-related college degrees so that I could work in corporate finance, not so I could become a full-time blogger talking about money. So it s definitely crazy to think about how much life has changed in just six years. Blogging is just so crazy, too. Six years ago, people said how long will blogging last? And I always tell people now blogging is still going strong. It s stronger than ever. Companies are just only recently realizing how important blogging influencers are. So affiliate marketing is just really now starting to come into play for all these bloggers and all these companies. Caitlin: Yeah, and so affiliate marketing that s one of the ways that you re able to travel around the US completely debt free in your RV with your two dogs. So anybody right now who
3 has a blog and they are where you were six years ago and you re like, I don t really I have this blog. It s fun, whatever, or you re thinking about starting one but you have no idea how to make money, affiliate marketing is the way to do it, so let s talk about what exactly affiliate marketing is. Michelle: Yeah, so affiliate marketing is really easy to understand, so if you promote some kind of product, say on my blog, I wanted to promote the Instant Pot. I always talk about that because RVers love Instant Pot, and I feel like everyone loves Instant Pot right now. So if I wanted to promote the Instant Pot, I would probably go to Amazon, find my Amazon affiliate link for it, and I would probably place it on my blog, and I might do a review on the Instant Pot, or I might just link to my favorite RVing products. So if someone purchases the Instant Pot through my link, I then earn a commission for it. The commission ranges vary from company to company. It could be as little as 1% or it could be as much as a couple thousand dollars depending on the product and the company that you are promoting. So it s a great way to earn a living just because, I mean, you could do it through your blog. You can do it through your social media accounts. There are so many different ways to make it make money through it, and it can be pretty passive once you actually create those blog posts and are able to maintain that traffic to do it down the line. Caitlin: So does it work for any niche? Anything that you re blogging about, can you be an affiliate marketer? Michelle: Yeah, definitely. I heard that question a lot. Well, I m in so-and-so niche; I can t make money through affiliate marketing. No, it is great for any blogging topic. It works well for personal finance. That s the niche I m in lifestyle mom, family, travel definitely. It could work for anything. There s always something to promote, and a lot of people think, Well, I don t ever promote anything. Well, you should probably talk about something on your blog. If you don t talk about anything, then I don t get what are you talking about then? So, I mean, you re always talking about something. There s always something you can promote, and if you re ever confused about what to promote, ask your audience. That s always the number one thing I recommend because if you have an audience, there s probably something they want you to talk about that you might be skipping over. Caitlin: Yeah, I love that advice. I call it the magic of asking, and so people come up to me and will be like, What service can I offer when I want to work at home? And I m like, Well, why don t you ask some people? What kind of stuff are you starting with? What are your problems in your business? And that way you can actually get business ideas and ideas for things that you can learn how to do to serve those people, and that s really all you need to start a business. And I think back to when I started doing affiliate marketing in my blog. I started my blog in 2014, November 2014, and I started doing my first affiliate marketing in August of 2015, and it was Ben Robinson who contacted me, and he s like, hey he has a bookkeeping course that I know that a lot of people watching have heard of. And it s a really great course, and he contacted me, and he s like, Hey, I m interested in maybe doing an affiliate partnership. I m like, I can t talk about bookkeeping on a proofreading blog. Well, I ve been doing it ever since, and I took a
4 chance, and it s been really, really successful because I realized that not everybody that comes to my blog, proofreadanywhere.com shameless plug is a good fit for proofreading. And so what about those people, and how can I serve them? And really it comes down to affiliate marketing is not just promoting just for the sake of promoting just to make money. If you choose products just like you choose services for all you guys wanting to work at home by providing services, if you choose products that actually serve your audience in the same way you choose services to serve your clients, then you ll be much more successful. So I came about it in that way when choosing to promote different online courses. I don t necessarily promote products as heavily as I promote online courses because my whole platform is built on services and things like that and learning how to provide services to make money. But that was exactly my struggle when I first started with affiliate marketing. I was like, Oh, I have a proofreading blog. How can I fit into affiliate marketing? I was totally thinking in this inside this tiny box. My blog had been going for a little while. I had an list, gosh, probably about 30,000 people at that point, and so I made some sales quite easily. But what about Michelle, what if someone is a new blogger or maybe they ve been blogging for years and they don t have an list yet? Can it still how do they get started? What are the first steps that they would have to do to be able to start doing affiliate marketing? Michelle: Yeah, so it really depends on the specific blogger, but the number one thing I always recommend, and it s the easiest thing to do, is I call it updating your top ten. So if you are a brand-new blogger, this won t necessarily work, but I mean if you have just a couple of blog posts, you can start immediately, and if you re an older blogger, you probably have a ton of blog posts. Just go into your Google Analytics. Find your top ten most-visited blog posts, say, in the past 30 days, and update it. It doesn t have to be all about affiliate marketing. Update it so that you are proofreading it. Update it so that you re adding relevant links to your other blog posts that they might be interested in. Just go through all of your affiliate links that you think might fit best in that blog post, and add them. So many people don t monetize their blog posts at all, so once they go into their top ten, they might realize, Oh, my God, I m not doing anything to monetize this. I just need to go in and add something. And adding just one can make such a life-changing difference because your top-ten blog posts, I always say, are probably what drives probably 90% of your traffic. I know for me that my top ten drive almost all of my traffic, so it can go a long way, and that s definitely the number one tip and the easiest thing that I always recommend that everyone do. Caitlin: What about if somebody is brand new and they don t have ten posts? Would you recommend that the first step be to create those ten posts? Does it have to be ten? Could it just be maybe three to start? Michelle: Yeah. You can start anywhere. So for your first blog post on a blog, I always recommend introducing yourself. It doesn t exactly have to be affiliate marketing related. So, I mean, just start off with that simple blog post, and eventually make a topic a list of different blog posts that you could talk about on your blog, and throw in some affiliate reviews or just some casually, organically, and make sure it s high quality of course. Just
5 naturally include talking about products that you want to start promoting. So it s really easy to start, and if you re a new blogger, you could also just start promoting on social media, too, and that s a great way to start, too. Caitlin: Yeah, what about finding those products? What do you recommend in terms of finding great offers that you feel good about promoting? Michelle: Yeah, so if someone is looking to find affiliate products to promote, my top thing would be to survey your audience, as we talked about a little bit earlier. See what they want you to promote. I get so many different ideas from my audience, and so I have a Facebook community for Making Sense of Cents, and I will just ask them in there. What do you want me to talk about? And I get so many responses. I did that last month, and I think I got like 100 different responses of things that people want me to start talking about more. So I will go through that list, and if there s more than one response to something, that is definitely something that I will probably talk about eventually. Another great thing to look at it is go to your top ten. Is there something in common there? Is there something that you could promote a product with to those blog posts, something that fits great with those? So there are tons of different ways to find those products, and one thing that I always get is, Well, how do I know that there s an affiliate program? There s probably not an affiliate program for what I want to promote. There is an affiliate program for almost everything out there, so if you can t find it, I recommend going to a big affiliate network like Commission Junction or ShareASale and seeing what they have that you could promote because they each promote 1,000 over 1,000 different products, so there s always something for a blogger to promote. Caitlin: Yeah, and I think what s been interesting in watching your journey over the years, and we ve been friends since, I think, January of 2016, so coming up on our two-year anniversary of being blogging friends. One thing that s been interesting is that you had a really organic evolution of growing your business. So you were doing affiliate marketing, and then people were asking you to teach them how to do affiliate marketing, and so you started doing another thing that is great a great way for bloggers to make money, and that s teaching, and that s selling your own products. And so you created Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, and now you have The Beginner s Guide to Affiliate Marketing that s included in Work-At-Home School, which is really cool also shameless plug. And that s just been a natural progression. I did things a little backwards in my own blog in that I had no idea that I could even be an affiliate marketer. I didn t even know I was a blogger until I was a year in. I was like, I m selling an online course. That s what I m doing. I m not a blogger. And so we have these preconceived notions about ourselves and what s possible, but a lot of times when we just get started, we are doing taking small steps and small steps, and those little small steps build on each other. And I think a big mistake that I see people make is they hear a story like mine or like yours or Rosemarie Groner. She s another speaker here on the summit. And they hear these stories of this tremendous growth, and they re like, I m never going to be that be there. And so what would you say to somebody who is sitting there just afraid to get started because they think they re never going to be able to get the results that you ve gotten?
6 Michelle: Yeah, so I mean that s completely normal. I used to feel the same way, and I still do. There s definitely tons of bloggers are still who are bigger than me, and I think, Oh, that would be nice to be there one day, so, I mean, I think everyone is always striving for the next best thing. Everyone has to start somewhere, though. You shouldn t compare your beginning to someone else s middle or end. If you re a beginner blogger, don t compare yourself to me right now. I ve been blogging for over six years. I ve dedicated thousands upon thousands of hours towards this blogging business, so, I mean, your beginning is yours. Do your own thing. Pour yourself if you want to look at my income reports, I use those as motivators. I look at other people s income reports still all the time, and they re definitely my favorite pieces of content that I read all the time. And so instead of comparing myself, I looked to those as a learning experience, a way to motivate myself, a way to improve. So if you re new, definitely don t let these negative misconceptions stop you from blogging because everyone has to start somewhere, and you are in charge of your own journey and future. Caitlin: Yeah, and really there s room for everybody. We all have a unique story. We all have a unique something to add into this community. I mean FinCon is a great example. FinCon was started by a personal finance blogger, ptmoney.com, Philip Taylor, and tons of finance bloggers there. I was there in You were there in 2017, tons of us, and we don t look at each other as competitors. We look at each other as teammates and collaborators, and a lot of us are affiliates for each other s products because there s so much overlap, and we can t I can t teach affiliate marketing. You can t teach proofreading, and so we work together, and then we all went. And so that s kind of one of my favorite things about online business and business in general is that it s all based on collaboration. That s why I started Work-At-Home School. That s why I m doing it this way, this summit. We re bringing experts together so we can work together and change lives together because we can raise the bar so much easier when we re not raising it alone. And so that s just a big thing that I m all about, and so we re glad to have you on board. So you mentioned briefly a few minutes ago about passive income. Can you explain what passive income is, and do affiliate marketing and blogging really fit into that? Michelle: Okay, yeah, so passive income is it s really a tough thing to define because it really depends on the person. Some people think passive income is you just make money and you don t have to do anything at all ever, and I don t agree with that definition because there s not many things where you could just do nothing and earn money through it. So affiliate marketing is passive income, yes and no. It all depends on your definition of passive income. Affiliate income is great because you can create a post, a review, an and so on and so on, a social media post, too, and earn money from it for years down the line. And that s great because usually minimal work is needed to maintain it, to maintain the traffic and so on and so on, but it s not entirely passive. You still need to build a following, publish content consistently, build trust, improve your list and so on and so on. But it can be passive if you know what you re doing, and that s something I teach in my course that I m providing through the Work-At-Home School, so it can be passive. For me, I m earning money during this video
7 call, while I m sleeping, on vacation and so on and so on, and it s all about having the right strategy. Caitlin: Yeah, you ve got to put in the time. It s not an overnight thing. It s a skill just like anything else, and it s the same, as you know as well, with online courses. You can build things once, but if you just leave it there to sit and rot and you don t make any improvements; you don t listen to what your audience is saying; you kind of let your list go to nothing; you don t do anything with it; you don t nurture your audience or you don t work on it. You re just like, Oh, you know, it s passive income now. It s just going to keep running on autopilot, and you don t have any systems in place to improve it. Then it can just basically rot. Final question for you, Michelle: Is it possible and we kind of touched on this a little bit, but I ve got to hear it from you, and I know that there are people out there that want to hear this is it possible to make a full-time income from blogging strictly using affiliate marketing, or do you have to do VA stuff on the side, virtual assistant services? Do you have to do sponsored posts, add things like that? Michelle: I definitely think it s possible to go full-time blogging just through affiliate marketing. I definitely recommend that someone be diversified, so if you are just going to do affiliate marketing, that you diversify your income sources through affiliate marketing. So you definitely want to promote more than one product if you can if that s going to be your sole source of income through your blog. But, yeah, it s definitely possible. I earn over $50,000 a month through affiliate marketing, and that s through over ten different sources each month. So, I mean, it s definitely possible. It s definitely a great way to earn money living money blogging. Yeah, so it s definitely something I would recommend and something that a blogger could definitely do. Caitlin: And it s interesting that you say that it s through ten sources because it s some I think it s a mistake people make thinking that to make that much money you need to have one hundred different affiliate products that you promote. But it s all coming back to that concept of going a mile deep instead of going a mile wide, and so if you go deep with a few different things instead of trying to sprinkle influence and a ton of affiliate products, pushing to your audience, that confuses people. You don t get to really you can it comes off as if all your posts are, for example, just a long list of affiliate links and stuff, it comes off to your audience as you re just in it for the money, whereas if you have a good five to ten different products that you promote and you promote them passionately, then that comes across as, oh, my gosh, Michelle is actually an expert in this, and she actually believes in this. You can take some time to create some review posts on it and stuff like that, whereas if it s just a long list of links and there s a time and a place for that. I think that those posts can be really helpful, especially if it s RV products or whatever. Those are really good, but if that s all you have or all any blogger has, then it just becomes a money grab-type game, and so I love that you re doing things the right way. And I want to say thank you so much for being here, and I know that everyone watching was super inspired, and especially you getting to travel with your husband and your two dogs and still making some serious money through your blog. And to you guys watching right now, it
8 might all seem like a dream, and in many ways it is, but you have to work for it, and I can tell you firsthand I know that, Michelle, you know this, too it is not overnight, and again just like with any skill, affiliate marketing takes work to learn, but it is absolutely worth it. I can tell you that as well. Just for tuning in to the Work-At-Home Summit today, you can click below this video to get Michelle s free affiliate cheat sheet where you ll learn how to make an affiliate income from your blog. These tips will help you rapidly improve results and increase your blogging income in now time. And, guys, Michelle is also an instructor here at Work-At-Home School, and if you re interested in affiliate marketing, going there, going big, we ve got exactly what you need to get started. Michelle s foundational course, The Beginner s Guide to Affiliate Marketing, is included inside the Confident Curriculum package within Work-At-Home School. This course will teach you exactly what affiliate marketing is, really expand upon it, how affiliate marketing works, how to find the affiliate products you promote, step-by-step instructions, and all the rules and laws around affiliate marketing that you have to follow to stay legal, and so, so much more. Link, as always, is here below this video. Thank you again, Michelle, for being here today. Michelle: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I love talking about blogging and affiliate marketing.