My Story: The good, the bad, and the ugly
So I decided to tell my story, how I ended up working online and how I ended up in the internet marketing business.
Marketers like to tell the story of their struggle to do well. They tell it to try to inspire people. Honestly inspiration is not really what I’m after. I hope people can take something from it but really I’m just telling this story because its mine to tell. In it, as you read through the steps I went through to become the person I am today, you’ll probably notice that some things are good, some things a bad, however all of it is true.
So I guess the big question is where do I start? My childhood has little to do with anything so I guess the best place to start is when I was a young adult in my late teens and early 20’s.
While I wish I could say that these where good years the sad truth is that they where some of the worst of my life. After turning 18 and finishing high school I decided to leave my parents house, go out on my own, and start making my way. However ‘my way’ quickly turned into the wrong way as I forgot any youthful ambition in favor of the pleasures of the world.
By the time I was 21 years old I was drinking a lot. I was working at random dead end jobs that came and went through temp services. I chased girls. I fought guys. I had zero ambition and no future and I didn’t care one bit. I did what I wanted, when I wanted. I had no responsibility which was actually a good thing because its not like anyone could have counted on me anyway.
The apartment I lived in was a total dump. One large room and a bathroom. The kind of place that you rent out by the week. Below is a picture of what it looks like today.
Unfortunately it did not look any better than that when I lived there 17 years ago. The arrow is pointing to the window that use to be my apartment window. To the lower right is the security door with a broken lock that one used to enter the building after climbing over my drunk neighbor sleeping on the steps after leaving the dive bar that was, and still is, down the street.
Of all the things that where bad about that time of my life, probably the worst was the lack of ambition. I’m ashamed to admit that I had none. Though I worked just enough to pay the moderate rent at my apartment ($40 per week), buy booze, have fun and get just enough food to keep myself alive (because that was a waste of money) beyond that I cared nothing about improving myself. Honestly looking back on it now, I really don’t know why. That’s just the way I was I guess. A total waste.
By 23 I ended up meeting the girl who I would eventually marry at a birthday party held by a mutual friend. I think it must have been a testament to my charm that I somehow convinced her that I was a decent guy. Or perhaps she just saw a potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. Or perhaps she was just young and naive. But either way, we began dating and several months later I left the dump I called my home and I moved into her much nicer apartment in a different section of town.
With the new home and new relationship came a new outlook. I was still drinking like a fish, but for perhaps the first time I had a sense of wanting to improve myself. I had a sense of self respect. I stopped working temp jobs and became a apprentice carpenter, working under a master and making hardwood caskets by hand. Below is a picture of where I worked.
I worked hard. Went in early. Stayed late. I offered to work Saturdays when no one else wanted to. Over time I worked my way up the pay scale and began saving money, an effort which was assisted by the fact that I was now living in a household with two incomes and being young we had little expenses and no debt.
My newfound ambitions did not stop with working hard though. After a while I found I had a fair amount of cash saved and I promptly looked for ways to invest it. I opened a computer repair shop and hired a old high school friend who had graduated with a degree in computer science but was unable to find a job to run it for me. But that still was not enough for me. I opened an ice-cream parlor (and would eventually own two of them), a sub shop, a digital print shop, and invested money into a partnership venture in a pawn shop.
All this time I was making a good living but I was not living good. I was living minimally in order to save as much money as possible so I could invest it into different ventures. The one thing I lacked for sure was stability, I was all over the place, doing all kinds of things. I just didn’t feel like I found what ‘my thing’ was yet. Before I knew it a few years had passed and I found myself married and soon to be a daddy.
There where two big realizations that led me to the next stage of my life. The first was when I was working one day and I noticed that the master carpenter I worked under was always rubbing his hands and fore arms. Years of laborious work had given him constant aches and panes. In that moment I realized that what I was doing, the skill I was learning, was not the future I wanted.
The second was when my son was born. At 26 weeks of pregnancy he came into this world via an emergency cesarean section weighing 1lb 13oz and without a heartbeat. The doctors, acting fast, revived him, stabilized him, and flew him by helicopter 40 miles to a larger hospital that was more able to deal with the needs of a premature baby. Below is a picture taken of one of the first times I ever saw my first son. (who recently turned 12)
I don’t know if I made my decision in that moment, shortly before that moment of shortly after. But it was in that time, during the three months or so that my boy was in the hospital that I made up my mind. It was time for a change. I realized that while I was investing my money, I was not investing in myself or my family. I had put money in a few different business ventures besides my job. But those where just ‘interests’, I earned money from them, but I couldn’t run them personally if I needed to. After all this time I still did not find ‘my thing’ yet. So I decided it was time to improve myself, it was time for stability. I finally quit drinking and started taking night classes.
When I was young, about 12 years old or so, my father bought me a IBM computer with a 386dx processor running at 40 mhz. It was a paltry machine by today’s standards.,about 1/300th as powerful as most peoples smart phones today, but at the time it was quite expensive and he must have saved any extra money you could put away for quite a while to get it for me.
With that machine, a couple of 2 inch thick manuals, and its 14 inch monochrome monitor, I learned MS-DOS, GWBASIC, BASICA, and QBASIC. My very first operating system and my very first programming language. I really enjoyed coding. I had a talent for numbers and for logical thinking. But more than that I felt a sense of creativity when I was coding. For me it was almost a form of self expression.
It was that feeling from my childhood that I wanted again. The feeling that I was creating something. Something that no one else could have made quite the way I did it, because it was dreamed up in my head and made real with my knowledge. So when I decided to go back to school it was with the intent of becoming a software engineer.
It wasn’t long before online freelancing took over and I was earning my full time living from it. I worked from home, often at night, and I felt I was ‘making my living online’. Time passes fast and before I knew it I had 3 children and a wife who I was slowing becoming more and more estranged to.
I recall very clearly the moment the next stage in my journey happened. I had always been an avid motorcycle enthusiast. I love riding them and at the time I liked working on them as well. I had a couple of them in my garage. One day, I was up early, and in the garage when my wife came in for our car on her way to go shopping with her sister. She said to me in the most calm and normal voice “Hey Brett when I get back I want to have a talk with you quick”. I think I might have muttered something, or nodded my acknowledgement, I’m not sure honestly, but I do remember I didn’t think much of it.
A couple of hours later she returned, pulled into the garage, handed me a letter and said: “I want a divorce”. I would be lying if I said I was surprised. I had been sleeping on the couch for the last five or six months or so and she had become more of a roommate than a wife at that point. Still I had made a vow, so I asked her: “Is there anything we can do?”, the answer she gave before walking away into the house was short and clear “I’m sorry, no”.
The kids where in daycare at the time so they where not there for me to say good by to and while technically it was my house as well as hers and I didn’t have to leave there is no use staying somewhere where your no longer wanted. So I grabbed a bag with a few things, jumped on one of my bikes, a 2001 YZF-600, (which years later I would crash at the Tail of the Dragon) and left.
Now I’m embarrassed to say that I remember almost nothing about the next 3 days. Its all a bit .. fuzzy honestly. I was not surprised that I was getting divorced, what surprised me was how much the realization that my marriage was over hurt me. But life goes on, and after 3 days I found myself staying in my mothers spare room. I was to proud to ask a friend to put me up.
At this point I was making about $50-$60K a year as a freelancer ($5000 a month or so) however with the separation my situation changed. I took nothing from the house and of the money we had saved I only took $1000. The logic being that since she had the kids she needed it more than I did. But there where still bills to pay, my kids still needed to eat, have clothing, go to the doctors, and everything else. Not only that I now had to pay my own bills in addition, I needed to get an apartment, I needed to furnish it. I needed to in essence provide for myself while still doing my share to provide for the children. In short I needed more money.
Now for anyone who is not familiar with how freelance sites work. You get jobs by bidding on them. Every person interested in the job writes a proposal and puts in a bid amount for the completion of the job. Well I came up with a brilliant idea. At least I though it was brilliant at the time. I contacted two other freelancers and made them a proposal. What if we all bid on jobs separately and if either one of us got the job we would do it together and split the money the job paid. This way we would not only get more jobs, but we would get them done faster since we where working together, and in the end we would all make more money.
It worked well and we all made more money. Well it worked well until Rent-a-Coder realized what we where doing and kindly informed us that it was against their TOS. Now the be totally transparent I knew it was against their TOS. People are allowed to work together as a team but they had to bid on jobs as a team. Each team member could not submit a separate bid. But I thought it was a silly rule, and hey the customers where all happy and giving glowing reviews of the work we where doing, so I figured no big deal right. Wrong. Rent-a-Coder did not see it that way. In their eyes we broke the rules that was the end of it. Two of the three of us where caught and banned from the network. Though to be fair, their decision to follow the TOS so strictly might have been influenced by the fact that part of their rules said if you break their rules they get to keep any unpaid funds in your account. So they had a financial incentive to be so strict.
Now I was in an even worse situation though. Not only did I have more expense. But I basically just lost my source of income.
There are other freelance sites though. One of which is Elance. I created an account and started all over again, going from a top rated freelancer to a totally unknown one. In about 6 months or so I built myself up once again to being a top rated worker.
This time though I was very careful to follow the rules. My experience is also one of the main reasons I constantly tell people if your using any kind of service be it Fiverr or Facebook Ads, or whatever. Read the rules and follow them no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. Don’t learn your lesson the hard way like I did.
So life was once again pretty good. I was back to freelancing. I had built up my reputation again. I was making enough money and I was seeing my kids every weekend. Then one day my now ex-wife tells me that she is getting remarried (to the guy she had been dating since about a month before our separation) and wants to move to Ohio. But Ohio was 500 miles away. There is no way I was going to be 500 miles away from my kids, so I moved to Kentucky to be close to them and once again started all over. She ended up not liking Ohio after about 6 months and moved back, and I came back as well for the same reason I left and ended up starting all over a third time.
One of the people who had hired me on Elance liked my work and offered me a full time job. He even paid the Elance ‘buy out’ fee so that I could work for him directly and not through the Elance network. The job paid $650 a week, which was less than I was earning as a freelancer but he promised more money as time went on saying he would eventually move me up to a percentage share of the income that my work was generating. This seemed like a good opportunity. Frankly freelancing was getting old. A lot of a freelancers time is spent looking for the next job and this while less money in the beginning would offer more stability and eventually promised to offer more money. I took it.
Unfortunately the gentleman I was working for, while a very charismatic person, was a terrible business man. The software I wrote consistently generated money and he consistently spent it faster than it came in. Several times my pay was late. A few times I did not get paid at all. Often I had to dip into savings to pay my bills. In the end I quit and went back to freelancing.
So here I was back to freelancing. Hey at least I was making money. But my experience with Rent-a-Coder did teach me another thing besides be sure to follow the rules. It taught me that while I paid taxes as a self employed person, I was not really self employed. What I was doing was little more than working at a job. I could be ‘fired’ at any time.
Now one kind of person who often hired me was internet marketers. I was writing the plugins and the software that they where selling. At this point I was billing myself out at $75 per hour which made me a good income but I could not help but notice that they would take my work and make 50X what they paid me from it. Also they where working for themselves, they had a true business. This is what I wanted. So I started asking them questions. Not all at once. But as I was working with them creating their products I would throw in a question or two which most of them gladly answered.
After a while I had a good understanding of how internet marketing works and I decided to try my hand at it. I made my first software product in my spare time and put it on the Warrior forum as a WSO. The first day or two it sold 5 or 6 copies. Then one night I woke up to a couple hundred sales from an affiliate called simply BBC. Funny that I had no idea who that affiliate was but I was sure glad for the sales I was getting. Later I would learn that BBC is JVZoo and I had gotten picked for JVZoo product of the day.
This was when things clicked with internet marketing. In one night I made more money than I did in almost 2 weeks of freelance coding. Also I was making ongoing money because new people where buying my product through the WSO. So I took a risk. I quit freelancing and made more software products for WSO’s. For a good while I just kept bumping my WSO’s. People would ask questions, I would answer fast and help as much as I could. I did updates for free to the products I was selling, I got good feedback and before long I was making the same money from these WSO’s as I did from freelancing. Only I was not coding anymore, because I had already written the products I was selling. I had built assets instead of just selling my hours.
The fact that I was making money from the WSO’s and only had to answer questions and do support meant I had a lot of extra time now. All of these new people buying my WSO’s where also giving me a buyers email list so I figured hey why not try my hand and affiliate marketing. The problem was that I knew very little about affiliate marketing. So I started looking at what other people where doing.
I noticed that one thing people where doing often was reviews and interviews. I did not want to do interviews but I figured I could do reviews. Especially software reviews. I would be good at that since I’m an experienced developer. Now when looking at the reviews other people where doing I noticed just about everyone would always say the product they where reviewing was a good product. I thought to myself, how in the world could that be? Everything is great? That’s just not possible. It was at this point that I realized that there was almost no one who gave blunt in your face tell it how it is reviews. I figured there was a real need for that kind of thing. I also figured I would be a good person to do it. So this very blog that your reading right now was born.
Running a blog like this is not easy. Product vendors understandably tend to get a bit peevish when I publicly point out flaws in their products even though I always try to tell them about any issues I find (and if possible help them fix them) before I publish my review. The responses I have gotten from vendors whose products I have rejected has been wide. Some simply refuse to talk to me afterwards. Some have threatened me (legally, professionally, and even physically). Some have tried to discredit me. Some have tried to get me ostracized by other people in this business and some have ostracized me. But through it all, after two years now of doing this, I have stuck to the same principle as when I first started. I say what I think about the product I’m reviewing, good or bad, without holding back.
Now I review several products a month. When I approve a product, because believe its a worth while investment, I do put an affiliate link at the bottom of the review and this is how I’m compensated for the hours of testing I put in to make the review. When I don’t approve the product there is no affiliate link and instead I’m compensated with the knowledge that I may have helped save someone from potentially wasting their money.
Besides doing product reviews I do also create the occasional software product myself. I do this for income but also because I’m still a computer nerd. I still love to code and I still get a lot of personal satisfaction from creating something myself.
When I started on the Warrior forum years ago I remember seeing a sticky post from the original owner of the forum that said “Treat the WSO section like gold, because that’s what it can be. Believe it or not people have started $20,000 a month business from here.”. I remember thinking “yea right” when I read that the first time. But its true, people have, I know this for a fact because today I earn $20,000+ a month over all and yes as I said my personal IM experience started with the Warrior forum. Below is a screenshot of my gross payments received last year.
So that’s my story. Its the shorted version obviously as going over every little detail would take a very long time. However that’s what happened basically and the things I experienced in order to get to the point where I’m at today. If there is one thing I have learned so far its the number one thing is taking action, its having motivation and believing in yourself. Its first having the desire to want more for yourself and then having the drive to make it happen. When I was young I lacked that however as things in my life changed, and I got older, I gained that drive and while it was not the smoothest road it was a road that eventually led to me doing better than frankly anyone, including myself, ever thought I would. But that’s not the best thing. Money is great and all, but for me the best thing is that I’m now doing something that helps people. I have earned the respect of people who trust me. To me that’s the greatest accomplishment of all.