This story was contributed by Tyler Tafelsky, an entrepreneurial blogger, freelance writer, and SEO strategist.
It doesn’t take very long for any blooming professional to quickly realize that conventional employment is just not for them. Whether you want to call it a deep sense of independence, an unwillingness to take orders, or a self-directed mindset, some people are just destined to be entrepreneurs. It’s only a matter of time before they actualize that version of themselves.
For me, all the above couldn’t be more true. Just two years into my first real job as a copywriter and it dawned on me that I needed to create something of my own. That was in 2013 when I started my own blog based on my passion at the time, the sport of triathlon. I called it Better Triathlete because I wanted it to be a place where athletes could learn and grow. I immediately acquired the domain BetterTriathlete.com and built a simple blog where I could share my ideas and experiences.
This is my short story on how I turned this blooming side hustle into a thriving online business. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. And it took a lot of trial and error. But in hindsight, I am so grateful for my past, ambitious self for simply getting it started.
Start with a Passion and Evolve From There
At the time, Better Triathlete was merely a passion project. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a side hustle yet because I wasn’t making any money from the site (yet). I would write blog posts based on YouTube videos I found interesting or effective new exercises that I discovered. A lot revolved around injury recovery and rehabilitation because that was what I was going through at the time. And I felt the need to share what was working for me.
The common denominator that kept the blog alive and sustainable was pure passion. Triathlon was a sport that I was deeply obsessed with at the time. And while today I am less active in the triathlon community, I still have a passion for endurance sports and compete professionally in ultra-distance gravel bike racing. Although my interest in triathlon has waned, the sport itself is tremendously popular and actually quite niche. That’s another characteristic of this emerging side hustle that I am grateful for – it was niche.
Carve a Niche Within a Niche
Any successful blogger or online entrepreneur will tell you: you have to go niche with your project. I was lucky that I started my blog naturally in a very specific sports niche purely because I was enthusiastic about the topic.
To give you another example that underscores the importance of carving a niche within a niche, a few years ago I started another blog with a focus on protein powder. In the world of performance fitness supplements, you might think protein powder was niche enough. But it wasn’t. Because I was also experimenting with a vegan diet at the time, I positioned my blog all around vegan protein powder products. That side hustle, which goes by the name Vegan Protein Powder Review, has yet to become as big as Better Triathlete. But it’s a blog that’s growing fast and a testament to carving a niche within a niche.
In pivoting back to Better Triathlete, it wasn’t long before I started seeing gains in traffic. It wasn’t a lot – maybe 50 to 100 visits per day – but it was enough to raise my eyebrows and get me thinking about how I could eventually monetize the blog into a profitable side hustle.
Get Creative with Monetization Strategies
With blogging, the opportunities for monetization are limited to just a handful of potential avenues. There’s affiliate marketing, display ads, and sponsored content, to name a few. I would eventually tap into these avenues. But where I initially started Better Triathlete’s monetization strategy was triathlon coaching.
I thought for sure that I would end up becoming a triathlon coach. So naturally, it made sense to create a specific type of content and conversion funnel that would attract the athletes looking for a triathlon coach. I used my SEO and digital marketing skills to make it happen. To this day, if you search Google for keywords like “online triathlon coaching,” Better Triathlete shows up near the top of the search results.
Long story short, I did not pursue a career in triathlon coaching. But, I was still getting a bunch of leads from athletes who were looking for a coach. The idea shifted to creating a coaching network on the site where I would onboard triathlon coaches and connect them with the athletes who best aligned with their specialty.
Of the handful of coaches that work with me today, I’ve worked out an agreement where they will pay me a fee for every lead they convert into a coaching client. For some, it’s a small donation. For others, it’s a solid $250 fee. Scale that across several athletes and coaches per month, and now the money-making wheels are turning.
Grow Traffic Organically (and Mindfully)
If you’ve been reading this far and are curious how I am actually building traffic to these blogs, the answer lies in knowing how to do organic SEO. Not social media. Not paid ads. But writing and publishing great content that gets ranked in Google’s organic search results. It doesn’t cost anything more than time and patience.
I was fortunate to learn and adopt SEO skills early in my career, which was also the catapult to creating my own side hustles like Better Triathletes. So after the coaching network was established, I was constantly thinking about what was next.
The obvious next priority was to keep pumping out content and growing the site’s organic traffic, with display ads being the next order of business. I researched high-volume keywords in the triathlon space and built out content around these search terms, like “triathlon distances” and “how long is a triathlon.” This effort helped build some serious momentum that doubled the site’s traffic in less than a year.
As I started getting traction with display ads and the coaching network, I continued to explore other ways to monetize the Better Triathlete. The one major area of blog monetization that I had yet to tap into was affiliate marketing. And yet, this was the most lucrative channel. It was then the blog evolved from a side hustle to an actual business.
Tap into the Power of Affiliate Marketing
In short, affiliate marketing is more product-focused. The idea is direct visitors to products (either on Amazon or through other affiliate partners) and collect a commission based on the sales they earned, as referred to by my blog.
Affiliate marketing, or affiliate sales, is a common business model used by SEOs, social media influencers, and digital entrepreneurs alike. But I’d argue that the conversion rate generated from organic SEO is substantially higher because users are actively looking for what you have to offer.
Being in the triathlon space, I was in the perfect niche to be tapping into the various avenues and brand partnerships with affiliate marketing. Not only is the athlete demographic for triathletes high income, but the space is fast with many high-dollar products that athletes are searching for. Ranging from items like triathlon wetsuits, bikes, shoes, wearables, and other forms of gear, the opportunities to expand the blog’s content were vast.
As a result of this newfound focus, I pivoted Better Triathlete’s content strategy to include conducting product reviews and research posts. I’ve expanded into (and taken ownership) of popular triathlon product categories, such as aero bars, triathlon bikes, triathlon wetsuits, and triathlon shoes. And I’ve even expanded into the cycling technology space, including equipment like indoor bike trainers, shoes, and pedals, road bikes, gravel bikes, and helmets, to name a few.
Pursuing opportunities in affiliate marketing has catapulted the brand to become a profitable side hustle and a legitimate business. There’s still ample potential for growth, so the ambitious goal is to double traffic and sales year-over-year at the end of 2023.
To achieve this, I am branching out into the trending world of electric bikes, or eBikes. I’ve built a dedicated section on the site that’s intended to be a library featuring the best electric bikes by brand where users can explore various makes and models. The idea is to enlighten and educate users about eBike products they might not be aware of. In the instance they make a purchase, the commissions are generous given the high cost of these sales.
Become an Online Authority in Your Space
By balancing the informational and resourceful content (like coaching, training, and basic learning) with more product-driven content (like reviews and posts on triathlon technology), Better Triathlete has quickly become an online authority in the triathlon space.
Although the competition in the search results is becoming increasingly saturated and difficult to beat, organic SEO stands to be one of the best ways for emerging entrepreneurs and startups to get traction in the marketplace. Building and publishing great content that provides value is one of the most accessible and efficient ways to be found. Sure, having both SEO skills and time/patience is helpful. But with few resources, you can build a blog or business with very little money invested. How you monetize your website or blog depends on your niche and the content you’re aiming to produce.
Lastly, if you have an existing side hustle or are thinking about starting one, consider thinking about ways you can monetize your efforts without requiring hours of your time. In the gig economy, it’s easy to get trapped into thinking you need to be providing a service to make money. But if you can develop a marketable product or platform, be it digital or not, you can more easily acquire real wealth that requires less of your precious life.
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