2020 was one helluva year, but from a business perspective, it was by far the best year of my life.
Granted, I’ve had a pretty cush life. I’ve not been forced to deal with unemployment or sickness this year (like so many others have), and for that, I’m exceedingly grateful.
I’m also more convinced than ever that the online digital media business is one of the best models out there.
Compared to, say, a restaurant, the content business is basically pandemic-proof.
Anyway, here’s the big picture for Q4 and 2020 as a whole:
As you can see, Q4 income was higher than Q3. In fact, it was the best quarter my little digital media business has ever had.
I’m excited to dive in and explain everything in more detail, but first…
Why publish income reports?
I put together these income reports for a few reasons:
- People seem to appreciate them.
- I like being transparent, especially about the taboo topic of money.
- They force me to take a good hard look at the numbers and figure out what’s actually going on in my business.
If you like these reports and want to learn more about starting your own content business, be sure to subscribe for free tips.
If you read my Q3 2020 income report, you’d know that top line revenue and Blog Passive Income were both up from Q2, which was awesome.
Let’s see how things progressed in October, November and December…
Blogging Income for Q4 2020
By blogging I really mean digital media business, which includes content websites, YouTube, social media, email lists, etc.
Other than Full Time Blog, which doesn’t make any money right now, I have one other profitable brand: The Modest Man (TMM).
(I have a couple of other new-ish websites in the works, but they’re not making any money yet, so I’m not including them in this final 2020 report).
TMM started as a blog, and it’s evolved into an authority site around men’s fashion and lifestyle.
I also have a YouTube channel that’s housed under the same brand, at least for now, as well as all of the social media accounts you’d expect (FB, IG, Twitter, Pinterest).
From the outside, the YouTube channel and Instagram account look more like an “influencer” type of operation, but I view myself as a the owner/operator of a digital media business.
Here’s how much the business made in Q4 2020 (then we’ll look at total annual revenue compared to last year).
You know those side bar and sticky footer display ads all over websites – the ones you probably ignore or thwart with an ad blocker extension?
Yeah, this sort of programmatic advertising represents an increasingly large portion of my business’s revenue.
I also see some revenue from YouTube ads:
In total, this is a 49% increase from Q3. Both YouTube and AdThrive revenue increased, but AdThrive revenue was way up due to Q4 RPMs being so high (holiday advertising spend is always through the roof, especially since everyone is shopping online right now).
This goes to show, website views are WAY more valuable than YouTube views (at least in this case).
AdThrive revenue is directly tied to traffic:
More pageviews = more ad revenue
You could build a huge business just on organic traffic and display advertising alone.
Affiliate programs let publishers earn a commission from traffic and sales they generate for e-commerce brands.
For example, say you read my guide about the best cameras for fashion bloggers. If you click a link in that article and make a purchase, Full Time Blog will earn a commission from that sale.
Affiliate revenue, like ad revenue, is totally passive. I’ve been making a concerted effort over the past year to increase affiliate revenue, and it’s great to see it continue to climb.
Here’s a breakdown of my affiliate revenue from both the TMM website and YouTube channel:
In total, this is a 20% increase over Q3. It’s due to, well, pretty much every affiliate program I use. Affiliate revenue was up across the board!
Just like with display ad revenue, more traffic usually means more affiliate revenue, especially for “buying guide” type content (roundups, product reviews, etc.).
For example, an article about the best small EDC knives has a lot of potential to generate affiliate revenue, as anyone who Googles “best small edc knife” is probably going to buy one soon.
Given this revenue potential, many sites only publish “affiliate content” which is a very bad strategy. Purely informational content is great for readers, SEO and ad revenue, even if it doesn’t generate any affiliate sales.
Sponsored content may not be passive or scalable, but it’s still pretty. lucrative, even from a “time for money” perspective (the effective hourly rate is very high).
I take a quality over quantity approach to sponsored content by only working with brands that are a great fit and have the right budget.
In Q4, I did very little sponsored content. In fact, this was the lowest revenue quarter (for sponsorships) in 2020.
This is a 46% decrease from Q3, which could be interpreted as a bad sign, but here’s the thing:
I don’t actually care if sponsorship revenue increases.
It’s the least passive revenue stream I have going, and it doesn’t contribute to my long term goal of increasing the potential sale value of my biggest website.
So the fact that sponsorship revenue was down almost by half from Q3, but overall revenue was still up slightly, is a VERY good sign.
My only digital product, The Modest Man Style Guide (a $27 ebook) generated almost the same amount of revenue in Q4 as it did in Q3, which is to say…not much :/
These sales mostly come from TMM’s email onboarding sequence, which is nice because it covers the cost of ConvertKit (and then some).
But the ebook is not a big part of the business, and to be honest, I don’t think it ever will be.
|TMM Style Guide (ebook)||$637|
I know that many content sites make a whole lot of money with digital products – books, memberships, courses – but I’ve never cracked the code for The Modest Man.
It would be great to have a higher-end ebook or course that readers thought was valuable enough to purchase, but I’m not sure how lucrative that is in the men’s style niche.
Then again, I know other people who are doing well with this model, so it’s probably just something I haven’t yet figured out.
An income report without expenses doesn’t really show anything, especially if you’re self-employed (because your profit = your salary).
2020 has been an expensive year, as I’ve increased the content budget. hired lawyers for some backend stuff, bought some new gear and gave my assistant a pay increase.
All of this is money well spent. Here’s a breakdown of these expenses in Q4:
|Geniuslink||$0 (had credit)|
|Canva (how to use Canva)||$39|
In Q4, I spent almost $4,000 more than in Q3. Half of this went to a new law firm that helped me make sure all of my legal mumbo jumbo was above board (well worth it IMO).
I also added a new VA to the team and paid a relatively premium price for video editing (again, well worth it).
Also, I bought Link Whisper, a WordPress plugin that helps with internal linking, and I’m seeing really great results after some very brief initial testing.
But, I did cut some unnecessary expenses. I switched from Evernote Premium to Apple Notes, which is free, and canceled Calendly, which I had pretty much stopped using.
I also moved my sites from a $90/month WPX to a seemingly faster $43/month Cloudways plan. Basically, TMM starting getting too much traffic for WPX to handle, and the site started experiencing periodic downtime.
WPX’s support team couldn’t fix the problem, so I had to move. I’m very happy with Cloudways so far.
Adding everything up, here’s what Q4 2020 looked like:
|Per Month Profit||$18,665|
Keep in mind, the monthly profit is pre-tax. At the end of each month, I transfer 30% of that profit to a high yield tax savings account and 30-50% of the profit into my personal checking account. The rest stays in the business checking account for expenses.
Also, as a self-employed person, I have other expenses like travel (well, maybe someday…), utilities, entertainment, health insurance, etc. Since these aren’t associated directly with the business I’m reporting on, I don’t list them here.
They’re also not too significant compared to the expenses listed above.
Blog Passive Income
I mentioned above that I wasn’t worried about sponsorship revenue being down in Q4 because it’s not passive.
Rather than worrying about generating as much possible revenue each quarter (in which case it would make sense for me to do as many paid sponsorships as possible), I’m mostly focused on one type of income:
Blog Passive Income (BPI) = revenue from the website (no YouTube or social media), not including sponsored content
From what I understand, it’s much easier to sell a website that generates passive income from ads and affiliate programs than it is to sell a YouTube channel or influencer business (i.e., one that relies on paid partnerships).
So I track BPI to get a better understanding of what my actual websites are worth, minus all of the hard-to-sell revenue streams.
In Q4, BPI was $16,763 per month, which is a 30% increase over Q3.
Assuming a website is worth 25-40x monthly profit, my main site is worth roughly $369-591k right now (assuming a buyer didn’t include sponsorship revenue in their valuation).
My #1 business goal right now is to increase that BPI number every month until I have a website that’s worth seven figures.
In the meantime, I’d also like to get a couple of other sites off the ground – maybe even buy one? – so I have something in the works if the big site sells.
2020 vs. 2019
Total annual profit was up 58% year-over-year. The crazy thing is, in 2019 I was working in a part-time position that brought in the equivalent of an entry-level salary (while running my business at the same time, but not dedicating nearly as much time to it).
When I left that position, I was a little worried about losing that steady check each month, but in hindsight, focusing on themodestman.com and my YouTube channel full time again was the right move.
2020 was all about creating scaling up: creating processes, hiring great writers, assistants and editors, and trying to spend my time doing things that I’m uniquely qualified to do (instead of trying to do everything).
I spent so much time this year vetting and training contractors, many of whom didn’t work out. But this really paid off in the end, as my business is operating with fewer bottlenecks and friction than ever before.
I’m not often stressed out by work, and I’m excited about the future. All in all, things are looking fantastic!
Phew, that’s a lot of math!
My fingers hurt. My eyes kinda hurt too, and my knees (I’ve had my desk in the standing position for too long…).
These reports are slightly painful to put together, but they definitely help me get a firm grip on the numbers each quarter. I hope you find them helpful too!
The cool thing about this sort of digital media business is the fact that there are so many different ways to earn revenue.
Building an audience is hard, but monetizing traffic is relatively easy. So if you haven’t built the audience yet, start there.
And if you need help with that, sign up for my email list, and I’ll send you some tips 😉