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If you’re interested in participating in the Wins and Losses Series, please send me a note here (you don’t have to be a blogger to participate!)
This week we have: Marc from VitalDollar.com!
Take it away, Marc:
My name is Marc and I’m a personal finance blogger at VitalDollar.com. I’m 40 years old and I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and our two kids (6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son). I’ve been blessed to be able to work from home for the past 10 years, which has been awesome for our family.
The best experiences of my life have been marrying my best friend and the birth of our kids, but those are obvious choices, so the wins mentioned here cover other things.
I’m really excited to have the opportunity to participate in this interview series, and it’s been challenging to decide which moments and experiences to share. I’m grateful to have had many more positive experiences than negative experiences, so deciding on the wins was especially hard. In the end, I chose professional experiences, but there were several travel-related experiences that almost made the cut.
Win #1 – Quitting My Job to Pursue Self-Employment
Back in 2007, I started a side hustle designing websites for small businesses and organizations. I had created websites for a few friends and family members and I was looking to make some extra money by branching out and finding more clients.
My wife and I were married in 2006, so we had been married less than a year at the time I started this side hustle. We were living in the Philadelphia suburbs and I was working as an auditor for a financial company. My job was comfortable in terms of being relatively low stress, but my pay wasn’t great and I worked on a very small team (just me and my boss) with no real opportunities for growth.
Originally, when I started the side hustle, I was just looking for some extra money. But pretty quickly I got hooked and I made it my goal to replace the income from my job so I could quit and pursue my own business full-time.
At first, my plan was to design websites for clients. In order to get clients, I added a blog to my own website where I published articles about web design and related topics. The blog actually took off really quickly, thanks mostly to some posts going viral on social media.
I did land some web design clients as a result of the blog, but I realized pretty quickly that I enjoyed working on the blog a lot more than I liked designing websites for clients. At that point, I kind of changed my approach and focused strictly on growing the blog. My plan was to make money from ads instead of client work.
Within about 6 months the blog was getting 100,000 visitors per month, and it was growing every month (getting traffic back then was easier than it is now). By the end of my first year working on the blog, I was making somewhere around $1,000 per month from ads.
I also started doing some freelance writing for other blogs to supplement what I was making from my own blog. I had a few clients that hired me to write articles every week or every month, so I didn’t have to constantly look for work.
As my side hustle income increased, my wife and I started to talk about our strategy for me to leave my job. By now it was 2008, and the economy was pretty rough. My employer had just laid off about 25% of its workforce, and there were very few companies hiring at the time. We wanted to be careful because I knew once I left that job it might be hard to find something else if the whole self-employment thing didn’t pan out.
In October of 2008, one of my highest-paying clients asked me to write a lot more frequently for them. At first, I almost said I couldn’t do it because of a lack of time, but then after running some numbers, I thought this extra freelance work might make it possible for me to replace my job income.
So at that point, my wife and I decided it was time for me to leave my job and start working on my business full-time. I put in my notice at work and looked for a little bit or extra freelance writing work to help out.
In mid-November of 2008, the same week I turned 30 years old, I left my job as an auditor. After working hard for 1.5 years on my side hustle, it felt great to make that leap. It was definitely one of the highlights of my life.
I didn’t know exactly what the future would hold (we never do), but it was exciting to be able to create my own path and make my own opportunities, rather than sitting in a cubicle all day with no real hope for career advancement.
Ever since I graduated college and started working full-time, I’ve always had the goal of retiring early. Working for myself and having unlimited income potential gave me the confidence that it is possible, and I started on my journey toward financial independence.
Investing in myself and my business was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s had a huge impact on the level of satisfaction I have in my job and life in general, and it’s also been great for my wife and me financially.
If you have a desire to pursue your own business, I would definitely recommend it. We took the safe route, which meant I didn’t quit my job right away. We waited until we were confident that it would work. Building an online business on the side of a full-time job is realistic and achievable, but it does take some sacrifice.
Win #2 – Selling My Blog for $500,000
That first blog that I started in 2007 continued to grow for several years, and it provided a nice income for us. As the income from my blog increased, I scaled back and eventually stopped freelance writing.
At its peak, the blog got just over 1 million visitors per month. After a Google update I lost some of that traffic, but fortunately, it didn’t impact my income because I had added some other monetization methods like affiliate marketing and selling my own digital products.
For a few years, that blog was my sole focus and took up all of my working time. I always knew that I wanted to sell the blog someday, cash out, and move on to something else. Late in 2012, I was starting to feel like the time to sell the blog was approaching. At this point, the blog was doing pretty well, and I thought it had a decent value if I were to sell it.
Part of my challenge at that point was finding another source of income to support our family after selling the blog. Our daughter was born in November of 2012 and we were planning that my wife would leave her job once her maternity leave was up. That meant that we would be going from a dual-income family with no kids to a single-income family with one kid.
Late in 2012, I started a side project by creating a photography blog. I was really interested in photography, but certainly not an expert. I thought I might be able to create a profitable blog that would support our family after selling my web design blog.
That photography blog started making money pretty quickly. I created some digital products and it showed a lot of promise to be able to turn into a full-time income. While I was working on that blog, I was also scaling back the time I was putting into my web design blog in preparation for selling it.
When I decided to start looking for buyers, I emailed a few people who owned other sites/blogs in the web and graphic design niche, and one of my contacts was very interested. I wound up selling the blog in May of 2013 for $500,000. I was hoping to get more for it, but I had known the buyer for a couple of years, there was a lot of trust between us and I knew he would be easy to work with, so I decided to sell.
Although the sale price was $500,000, I only got $400,000 up front at the time of the sale. The agreement involved a final payment of $100,000 a year later. Initially, I wasn’t very excited about delaying that payment, but it worked out well. I owed less in taxes by spreading it out, plus the check for $100,000 a year after selling the site was pretty awesome.
The day that I had $400,000 wired to my bank account was definitely one of the better days of my life. It wasn’t enough to retire on, but it was a life-changing amount of money for our family. We were able to save and invest the majority of it, so it was really important for our early retirement goals.
After selling that design blog, I was fortunate to be able to work on the photography blog for the next few years (actually, I created a couple of other photography blogs as well). I’ve never been a professional photographer, but I was able to earn a living working in the industry and I got to learn and improve my skills by doing it.
I consider some of the best working days of my career to be the days when I was out on a photography trip. I love nature and hiking, so managing a photography blog gave me the chance to get paid for something that was a lot of fun.
In January of 2016, I sold two photography blogs together for a total of $500,000. And in August of 2018, I sold my last photography blog for $216,000. The days I sold those blogs were great too, but neither matched the day in 2013 when I had my first big sale.
Including the money that I got from selling the blogs, I was able to turn my photography hobby into more than $1 million.
Simple online businesses can have real value. When I left my job as an auditor I got my final paycheck and a handshake. After that, I never made another dime for the work I had done for the past 3-4 years (and that’s the way it is with most jobs). When I was done with my blogs, I sold them and made a couple of years worth of profit.
Using that money, we were able to give a big boost to our retirement savings and pay off our mortgage.
Loss #1 – Missing My Senior Year of High School Basketball
I feel kind of silly including this because in the grand scheme of things it seems so trivial, but it was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve gone through.
When I was growing up, sports were my real passion. I played basketball and baseball for years, and basketball was definitely my favorite.
I began my senior year of high school in 1996 and I was really excited about basketball season. I had played with some of my friends since 7th grade and we were excited for our chance to play together one final year.
My junior year, our team had won our conference, but 4 of the 5 starters were seniors. Heading into our senior year we knew we would win the championship again, but no one else expected us to be very good since the best players on our team had graduated.
In summer league I was starting and playing better than I had ever played. Four days before practices started in the fall (yes, I still remember the exact dates), we had a day off school and a bunch of my friends were meeting at the school for a pickup game of football. I had played sports my whole life and never been injured, so the possibility of getting hurt wasn’t really on my mind. I broke my wrist tackling a kid that weighed 300 pounds. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know it was broken right away.
The next day I went to the doctor and he told me that it was broken in two places, and one of them was bad. He said I’d be in a cast for 12 weeks and a splint for another 6 weeks, and that I could forget about playing basketball that year.
Our coach was really gracious and allowed me to still be a part of the team, even though I had nothing to contribute. He was a tough, intense coach that pushed us and demanded a lot of us. His idol was Bobby Knight, and if you were a basketball fan at that time I’m sure you’re familiar with his coaching style. Our coach was basically Bobby Knight without the cursing and without physically assaulting players.
Despite being an intense, competitive guy, I think he felt bad for me in the situation. He told me a story that I’ll never forget. When he was 18 years old he was all set to join the military after high school. Before that happened, he broke his neck and he obviously wasn’t able to join the military. He told me that if that hadn’t happened he never would have met his wife and his life would have been completely different. He told me that God has a reason for everything (I went to a Christian high school), even if we didn’t understand it at the time.
After the 12 weeks in a cast, I was able to join the team for the tail end of the season. I had a hard plastic splint that kept my wrist from moving forward, but I was able to wrap that up and play. My first game was our final home game of the year and I got a few minutes of playing time.
After that, we went to the playoffs and won our conference championship. We went undefeated in the conference. I’ve never had such mixed emotions. I was excited to win the championship, but it was hard to not really be a part of it. It was also hard to accept that it was final.
One of the lessons I learned through this experience was to enjoy the good things in life while you have them. Although I loved basketball, I don’t think I fully appreciated the opportunity to play until I lost it. Sometimes you’ll hear athletes say you should play each game like it’s your last, and I can definitely understand that mindset more after going through this experience.
But on a much bigger level than sports, the same thing can apply to other areas of our lives. As a father of two young kids, I am trying to enjoy this stage of life while it lasts and while I have the opportunity.
Loss #2 – The Depressing Job Situation
In 2002, I graduated from college and started working full-time. The first couple of years after college were extremely frustrating for me. I had three different jobs for one year each, but none of them worked out. I was pretty much always looking for another job, something that would give me a chance to grow and build a real career.
My first job was in the Philadelphia suburbs, near where I had gone to college. I had done an internship with a tiny business consulting firm (I was the first employee), and I wound up staying with them full-time for that first year after college. The pay was bad and I was looking for a better job most of that first year.
Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to live near Philly, so I moved about two hours west to central Pennsylvania, where I had grown up. The next two years I worked for two different financial companies, but neither of those jobs wound up giving me the potential that I had hoped for.
That last year (2004 – 2005) was a pretty depressing time for me, and it was probably the lowest point in my life. I had been working hard, but I just couldn’t seem to get ahead. My job made me miserable, and my constant job search wasn’t producing anything better. I really didn’t understand why I was struggling so much.
After a long time of not being able to find a better job, I eventually decided to start looking for jobs back in the Philadelphia area. I didn’t want to move back there, but there were more jobs available in that area, so I felt like I needed to.
In April of 2005, I came across an online job listing for an auditing position that I thought would be a pretty good fit. I applied, got an interview, and was offered the job. I quit my current job and started looking for an apartment. In early May of 2005, I started that new job. Most of my friends from college had moved out of the area at that point, but I did have a few friends who were still around. One was a girl that I had stayed in touch with, and we started spending a lot of time together. In July of 2005, we started dating. In April of 2006, we got engaged. And in September of 2006, we got married. We’ve now been married 12 years.
One of the things that I remembered when I was so frustrated about my job situation a few years earlier was the story my high school basketball coach had told me about how he would have never met his wife if he hadn’t broken his neck. As a Christian, I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for my life. Looking back, I can see that if I hadn’t reached that point of frustration and desperation with my jobs, I never would have moved back to the Philadelphia area, and I would never have started dating the woman who is now my wife. My plan was to find a job that I liked and work there for the rest of my career. God’s plan was different (and better) and part of that plan involved going through some hard times that made me change my course in life.
I am stoked to have Marc participating in the W&L Series, and really took a lot of lessons from his experiences. Namely, the fact that great highs can come from deep lows – or that taking a gamble on yourself has the potential to pay huge dividends (something we have great interest in these days!). What were your takeaways? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll keep this discussion going!
Thanks for reading!