Most people use their website as a hobby. Making money online is beyond their wildest dreams.
This is where dream maker Oscar Gonzalez answers the call. He is an independent, work-at-home consultant who serves as an internet marketer plus business coach and advisor.
Gonzalez talked with social media manager Carol Stephen about website monetization, for which she drew from her book, “21 Ways to Total Social Media Engagement: That Will Make You Look Like a Pro.”
“Many people start a website as a way to showcase their hobby,” Gonzalez said. “I’m of the opinion that you should monetize the website right away. The easiest way is to add an ad network, like Adsense.
“A better way is to use an affiliate program that promotes products you use in your hobby,” he said. “Most companies have an affiliate program you can use. As a fallback, try Amazon’s partner program. This allows you to do your hobby or craft with passion and not worry about selling products.”
Not quite a hobby, Gonzalez recalled how he turned parenting into a monetized venture with a blog in 2014. This was a prime example of all parties being enthusiastic about what they see.
“Strictly from a hobby standpoint, a good sign is when you get a lot of people interested and genuinely compliment the products,” he said. “Friends and family always say ‘You should sell these,’ but when a stranger tells you, take notice.”
He does not see Amazon as an obvious monetization choice.
“Their payouts are super low, and their cookies suck,” Gonzalez said. “I’d consider them as a cover-all and last resort.”
Those selling products such as widgets might wonder why they aren’t already monetizing.
“When we talk about widgets, we’re talking about the economics sense of the word in that you sell ‘something,’” Gonzalez said. “The answer is yes, you’re monetizing your website, but people often leave two to five times the money on the table.
“Look into expanding from one widget to a set, to a set plus companion,” he said. “Think about a recipe guide to get more use of the widget. Think bigger than the one thing you’re selling already.”
Work with partners
This especially applies when testing unknown waters.
“If you branch off into areas that aren’t your expertise, don’t forget to monetize them via affiliate or partnership programs,” Gonzalez said. “For example, I told someone who is a web developer that wanted to run web hosting, to not do it.
“Instead, partner up with web-hosting companies through their affiliate programs,” he said. “That way they get paid for web development, but also get a commission for web hosting. People stop at selling one thing but end up leaving money on the table. Always think bigger.”
Technical expertise for blogging, search engine optimization and analytics are not needed at the start.
“If you’ve had a blog for a while and you want to start monetizing, you should start immediately,” Gonzalez said. “SEO and analytics are good to do and learn as you go, but don’t let them prevent you from taking the first step, which is creating content and monetizing.”
A general rule is to go to platforms where the audience is and engage with them.
“Always drive consumers back to the website,” Gonzalez said. “Social platforms are great, but many don’t let you monetize. You can also use the one-content multiple-networks approach so you don’t duplicate efforts while always driving traffic to your own property.”
Business owners uncertain about selling online should seek help.
“Make companion products that are digital such as recipes or how-to guides,” Gonzalez said. “There are also accessories, classes and other things. Use social media, your website and your email list to drive sales.
“Another way to monetize is to add a private-club online membership that costs ‘X’ dollars per month for fans to join and be a part of,” he said. “Offer discounts, special events, special early sales and so on.”
Although selling on YouTube seems tempting, Gonzalez cautions against it.
“YouTube is getting harder to monetize,” he said. “However, you can use your video content to get better results on your website by increasing the time people spend on your site, which gets you better rankings.
“Use the description of your videos to link to affiliate products when appropriate,” Gonzalez said. “I get little views but make money from links in my videos.”
Small today, big tomorrow
People who make a lot of videos have found that views from the links can add up.
“A video that has less than 50 views today, landed me a huge deal for my business,” Gonzalez said. “It’s also not so much about how many views, but the right views. Do a good description, tags and title, and people searching for a product will find it.”
Stephen recalled one of her older videos has more than 100,000 views. She wishes she monetized it.
“Make sure you revisit it,” Gonzalez said. “Be sure the title is relevant, has a good description and includes at least a link to your site.”
He recommended using the “magic” of YouTube’s TubeBuddy for more assistance.
No one is perfect from the start making videos, and that’s OK.
“Mistakes hone our skills and make us better,” Gonzalez said. “If you’re not making mistakes, are you even trying?
“I still make tons of mistakes,” he said. “I just try hard to learn each time and not repeat them. Mistakes still happen, and sometimes different scenarios make you repeat them inadvertently. Yet, we keep improving. Onward and upward.”
Overall, monetizing products and services online is not a given.
“It’s hard to make money directly on social media,” Gonzalez said. “Use it instead to increase product and brand awareness, and try to drive people to a website or blog or landing page. Use the big ones: TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.
“On some of them, you can buy advertising that works really well,” he said. “The trick to getting traffic either paid or organic is to learn the nuances of the platform. What works on Linkedin probably won’t on Instagram.”
Although it seems as though the only way to draw attention is with pictures of cats, baby bumps, engagement rings or stories about survivors, Gonzalez said not to despair.
“Consistency, nuance and clarity beat all of those — except for sex. Sex sells,” he said. “Be consistent. It takes time. We often see others sell a lot ‘overnight’ when they’ve been hustling for months or years.”
Website a must
Those who have money-making ideas need to know where to begin.
“Start a website — basic two or three pages,” Gonzalez said. “One of the pages should be an interest form even if you’re not ready to sell. Send paid traffic to the site: $100 to $300 should be enough to start. Gauge the interest and if results are positive.
“You could also list your product on a marketplace such as Etsy,” he said. “See how that does before you invest heavily in developing your product or brand. If it’s an idea, give kickstarter or GoFundMe a try — but always have a website.”
Taking first steps online or off can be lonely without potential customers.
“Audiences are everywhere now — and cheap,” Gonzalez said. “You buy them on any network. The test is whether they’re interested in the product and whether you can market it well. The ‘big whales’ I know sell millions each month, and you would not know their name.”
He advises not putting money into mailing lists.
“They are not audiences and are the option you shouldn’t buy,” Gonzalez said. “However, you can buy ads on every network and build up an audience there through Facebook likes and YouTube views.
“Buy ads that work to build your own email list,” he said. “Technically, you can buy email lists, but 99 percent of them are junk and ineffective. Better to buy a mailing campaign from a partner if you’re going to go that route.”
Even if people have already been selling items such as T-shirts or other merchandise, Gonzalez said the door is still open.
“I cringe whenever people say something is ‘saturated,’” he said. “If people are buying something, it means they want it. Sell it to them. The market is rarely saturated. You don’t have to be first or the biggest or anything. You just have to deliver well and uniquely.”
No free lunch
Gonzalez emphasized that buying ads is a good thing.
“People have forgotten the art of advertising because they think all traffic should be free,” he said. “Yes, work on organic reach, but also fine-tune your ad buys. At some point, you should be able to spend $1 and make $1.50 or more. Then why wouldn’t you?
“Don’t just throw money away, and don’t do one ad and cancel after three days,” Gonzalez said. “Spread out your budget to last a few weeks or months. Look at analytics, fine-tune and adjust. It should give you a positive return on investment if you give it time and a true chance.”
Rather than buy ads from Google or other social media platforms, Gonzalez prefers purchasing from the network or a certified partner such as Adroll if doing a multi-network campaign. The object is to buy ads to make money.
“Buying ads means buying those that send people somewhere,” he said. “It could be an ad on Facebook sending people to your Facebook page, your website or a specific product. Buying traffic is the same as buying ads, or clicks. You’re paying for a bit of attention from a prospect.”
Think like big business
Gonzalez said entrepreneurs should get over qualms about buying traffic.
“How do you think Google and Facebook got to be where they are?” he said. “By selling what exactly? Both Google and Facebook and smaller players have direct access to your buyers and know them. It’s up to you to really understand those buyers and target them correctly. Ads work.”
Knowing when to launch a merchandise line is somewhat of an art.
“This is tricky because too early and people think you’re narcissistic, too late and they’ll call you a sell-out,” Gonzalez said. “It’s wise to experiment early on and see how the product is designed and received. Engage your audience in the process.
“I have seen lots of people with small audiences make a killing with T-shirts or mugs or other merchandise because they struck gold with a phrase or quote or funny quip,” he said. “That’s definitely worth exploring.”
Indeed, putting a good tweet on a mug or T-shirt could be fun and profitable.
“Give it a try,” Gonzalez said. “Brainstorm a bit look through your analytics. Think about what you tell your clients a lot, and give it a shot. There are many places where the investment is zero or minimal, and they print on demand.”