Some people start businesses that they can’t get off the ground. Others – like Marc Andre – start hobbies, and turn them into million-dollar ventures. It’s an interesting story for anyone who has a hobby they’re particularly passionate about, and has ever contemplated the possibility of monetizing it.
Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. Marc wasn’t the classic hobbyist, like someone collecting numismatic coins or doing deep sea diving in their spare time. He had a hobby for sure, which was photography. But the million-dollar payoff came by applying certain business strategies to that hobby.
It’s a story worth telling, and even more worth reading.
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The Basic Dilemma: Photography Isn’t Where the Money’s At
Photography is often advanced as an example of a hobby that can be turned into a profitable business. But in reality, that’s a tall order. There are some high-profile photographers who make serious money, but the vast majority earn very little. The technology is more advanced than ever, but the competition is incredibly thick.
Anyone with a smart phone can take decent quality photos either for themselves or for others. And if you need a hard-to-find photo, there’s always a web platform where you can get it cheap or even free of charge.
Marc never did delve deep into the business of photography. Despite his ultimate million-dollar success, he never considered himself to be more than an amateur. He’s never even sold photos or done professional work for clients.
Rather than jumping into the trenches of photography, like weddings or taking pictures for clients, he chose to sell digital products related to the industry.
He spent six years launching and developing several different photography related websites. During that time, he states he made a combined total of $555,826 from the websites, which worked out to be almost $100,000 per year.
After six years, he claims he sold the blogs for $694,400. That gave him a total of just over $1.25 million in total revenues from the photography business. Along the way, he did have expenses related to running the three sites for six years, that totaled more than $111,000. But that gave him a net positive return of about $1.14 million – even though he never sold a single photo!
And since the photography angle itself is mostly incidental, Marc believes the strategy he used can be applied with just about any other business idea. That’s the main take away he hopes others will gather from his own experience.
Marc Andre’s Entry to the Photography Universe
Marc, who also runs VitalDollar.com, began his photography run in 2010. At the time, he had a web design blog on which he sold textures to web designers to use in their own products. The photography part mainly involved taking photos of various textures that can be used for graphic design.
But to take his photography to a higher level he needed to buy some camera equipment that would cost about $5,000. “I decided to start a photography related side hustle to see if I could earn the $5,000,” Marc reports. “As it turned out, I made that $5,000 in a few months, saw the possibility to grow it much further, and over the next six years I wound up making a total of over $1 million.”
As he was visiting other websites, he came to realize there were many different types of digital products being sold to photographers. That’s when his direction began to change in a radical way. He realized he could create digital products for sale instead of photos. That included marketing templates, photo overlays, and even courses and e-books.
With just a few hundred dollars, he hired others to create the products he would sell on his website. The products sold for less than $100, and could be instantly downloaded from his website. The low price point was intentional. He reckoned that the lower prices would generate impulse sales that would come more steadily than higher-priced items. He even created product bundles, enabling customers to take advantage of lower prices by buying in bulk.
Marc’s products were all being sold on what he considered to be a very basic website, one he created using WordPress. He even set up a simple shopping cart so that customers could easily make their purchases. (He recommends a an app called SendOwl for this purpose.)
What’s more, offering digital products on a website enabled him to automate his sales. That meant income could be generated while Marc was busy doing other things.
It started slowly at first, then gradually began to build into something more lucrative.
The Magic of Networking
Anyone who’s ever launched a website knows it can take a long time and a lot of effort to develop the kind of visitor traffic that produces a substantial income. The workaround, as Marc already knew, was to reach out and develop partnerships with other websites.
That started by connecting with daily deal websites that sold products to both photographers and designers. Much like a wholesaler providing products to retailers, Marc‘s digital products were available to those websites, splitting the take on each sale. That would naturally reduce the income well below what he would get if he could sell for full price on his own website. But until his site was generating that kind of traffic, partnering with other websites was a way to drive revenue.
Marc stresses the importance of selling on other websites. “These types of partnerships make it possible for you to make money from your own products even if you don’t have your own audience,” he advises. “If you’ve ever considered selling digital products but your hang-up is ‘I don’t have an audience’, there are ways around that.”
He carefully tested his marketing campaign on a small website initially. He made a few hundred dollars with that arrangement, demonstrating that there was a demand for the products he offered. From there, he began approaching larger websites.
Marc cautions that if you try the same approach, you’ll need to be very specific with the websites you choose to work with. Different sites have different target markets. For example, a site called AppSumo reaches the technology and software market, while MightyDeals is in the design niche. But there are websites for just about every market niche, and you can find them just by doing some light research.
Expanding the Product Portfolio
Research and test marketing take time, and don’t produce much revenue. But once Marc realized his products can sell on other websites, it was a matter of expanding his product line. This is particularly important for selling additional products to previous customers. To do that, he had to create a steady stream of new products.
Some of the products he created on his own, but for others he hired freelancers to get the job done. With the revenue he was generating from third-party website sales he had the funds to pay others. And with more products, he was able to increase his revenues even more.
Building His Own Blog
The revenue Marc was generating from product sales on other websites providing an income cushion to allow him to concentrate on developing his own website.
To generate traffic to his site, he began posting articles related to photography. Not having a full understanding of the topic, he hired freelance writers to write tutorials that he could sell on the website.
As he began adding content, web traffic began to grow. Visitors were drawn to the content, but some began making purchases through the ads included on the pages. Gradually, he began seeing an increasing number of direct sales from his website, which meant he didn’t need to split the income with anyone else.
Perhaps because the topic of photography is visual, he found Pinterest to be a good source of web traffic in the early going. Eventually, the flow from Google began to grow as well.
Still another source of additional revenue was affiliate sales. These have become popular across the web. He began promoting the products provided by other companies on his own website. That expanded his product offerings, and produced additional income.
An even more effective strategy to generate more web traffic – and sales – was giving away freebies. This involves providing certain information available in his digital products for free. But whenever a visitor signed up to get the freebie, he or she was added to Marc’s email list.
In the web marketing business, an email list can be a wellspring of revenue, providing an opportunity to sell new products to previous customers. He used a service called OptinMonster to create opt in forms and offer the freebies to visitors in exchange for their email addresses.
Leveraging Related Websites
Soon enough, he began offering links to his free offers to other websites and blogs. The links were specifically from photography resource pages. Those links drew traffic to Marc’s website.
But it got even better.
As free offers on Marc’s website began to grow in popularity, other websites began linking to them as well. There was no sales or marketing approach on Marc’s part at all. Websites were beginning to realize the value he was offering with his free products, and wanted to get on board.
While it may seem like financial suicide to give away product, the opposite is much closer to the truth. Not only did the freebies draw people to Marc’s website, but at least some of the people who took advantage of them eventually became paying customers. The free product offers enabled Marc to build credibility with a wider audience, resulting in more sales.
By giving away free products, as well as providing valuable information in the blog posts on his website, Mark was turning the site into a resource site.
This is a critical concept in web marketing. Unless you’re a large company with household name recognition, like Amazon, Walmart or Target, people don’t come to your website looking to make purchases. They come looking for information. They get that information from articles, and pick up a freebie or two along the way. In that way, your site becomes that information source.
Once it does, sales increase.
Putting Success-Breads-Success to Work
Once Marc was satisfied with the revenue stream being generated from his first photography site, he set out to build another. Using the same business model for the second site, he sold slightly different products than those he offered on his original site.
Once again, he added blog posts providing valuable information, and began giving away free products. The combination enabled him to build his email list for the second site, so that he could offer new products and promotions to previous customers.
The results on the second site were similar to the first. The site began generating web traffic and sales.
What did he do next? He started the third site. That happened just a few months after he launched the second. To mix things up a bit, he designed it to be a niche website, focusing on a very specific type of photography. And in another change of direction, the third website offered higher-priced products.
Hitting Pay Dirt in Year 3
Marc launched his first photography website in 2012. By 2015, he had three up and running, each generating revenue. By the end of that year, the sites were generating revenue of between $15,000 and $20,000 per month.
Equally remarkable was that Marc was working in an unrelated business at the time. The photography websites were mostly just part-time ventures.
One of the big advantages of selling digital products is that once you develop a steady stream of web traffic, the revenue basically takes care of itself. Visitors come to the website – looking for content and freebies – and make purchases. When they do, they make the payments online, then download the digital products.
Each sale required no direct hands-on contribution from Marc. Each website represented at least a semi-passive revenue stream. Marc’s only job was to manage the website, and create the content and products – which he often subcontracted out to freelancers.
The semi-passive revenue stream isn’t the only benefit of an automated website.
Cashing in on His Self-Sustaining Websites
Something else happens when you create automated websites, as Marc did: the websites become legitimate businesses. A website that provides a steady revenue stream can be sold, just like any other business. True, a website has no physical assets. But it does have a cash flow, and that’s what others are interested in buying.
In 2016, Marc sold two of the websites, and claims he received $500,000. But in 2018, he finally sold the third website for a reported $194,400. Marc states that websites typically sell for between two and three times the annual income they generate.
While he was sorry to lose the revenue the websites were providing, he felt he had taken the photography websites as far as he wanted to, and was ready to move on to something else.
Selling a website you build from the ground up can be a difficult decision to make. But when you realize you can take the success from one website and duplicate it with another, the realization can set in that you’re better prepared for whatever you might do in the future.
Marc doesn’t recommend that anyone try using photography to replicate his success. “Although there were a lot of sites selling downloadable products to photographers back in 2012, there is exponentially more competition now,” he warns. “Instead, apply the principles to another hobby, service or product line.”
Why Marc Andre’s Story is So Compelling
What impressed me most about Mark story with that he used a hobby idea to create a business that didn’t even exist in 2012. But just six years later, he collected well over $1 million in website revenue and from the sale of all three sites. His initial investment was no more than a few hundred dollars, and for most of the time that he owned the websites, they were no more than a part-time venture.
This is an example of wealth generation at its finest. Starting with nothing, Marc built three income generating websites that provided a substantial cash flow. And when he decided it was time to move on, he was able to sell all three sites for a combined total of nearly $700,000.
It’s the kind of story that shows what capitalism is all about. With little more than imagination, creativity, and a willingness to step into the unknown, Marc generated more than $1 million practically out of thin air.
It’s an example worth following.