Note: This article was first published in PowerHomeBiz in May 2002
Majority of the web sites that compose the millions of sites on the Web are operated by enthusiasts and hobbyists. They create web sites to talk about, share, and interact with like-minded individuals regarding their interests and passions. Hence, you have sites about seashells, guardian angels, hamsters, mind you, even octopus and anything under and including the sun.
However, after developing thousands of web pages and attracting millions of users to the site, hobbyists starts asking: “How can I now earn money from my site?” Server and bandwidth costs increase as visitors pour in. Plus, as content adds up through the months and years, they figure that it must be worth something. Perhaps the site that they’ve nurtured through the years can support itself (at the very least) or be a source of income.
Darnell McGavock started Soul Food Cookbook http://www.soulfoodcookbook.com), a collection of recipes from the Black/African American, Jamaican and Caribbean cultures, as a hobby but with a goal to turning it into an income generating venture. Learn how Darnell was able to refocus his web site SoulFoodCookbook.com from a hobby into a business:
Q: When and how did you start SoulFoodCookbook.com?
I started the site in January of 1998. It was originally an extension of my personal Home Page and did not yet have the SoulFoodCookbook.com domain name. In May of 1999 I moved the site to the SoulFoodCookbook.com domain. I moved it to a meaningful domain name to better compete with other cooking sites.
Q: Why did you start this site?
It was originally a way to help me (a single guy at the time) to learn more about cooking and preserve recipes normally passed from person to person. I also developed the site to make money, because I knew people would continue to use the site. And, as was the thinking in the dot-COM-BOOM of the late 1990’s, everyone thought a site that is getting eyeballs would make money. So I felt it would be a great way to make money and do something I would enjoy.
Q: What were your expectations when you started this site? Was it simply a venue to present, discuss and perhaps find like-minded enthusiasts, the subject that you are passionate about — soul food cooking? Or did you begin the site thinking that this could be a way to earn money?
Both! Before making the site I was thinking of a money making web site I could develop based on something I would enjoy. I had already created another web site (Radioblack.com), but I never felt that site would make much cash. So in coming up with the Soul Food website concept I intended to make something that I and others could enjoy, but I also intended for the site to be a money maker. I fully intended for the site’s revenues to surpass those of my other site.
Q: How has your site grown through the years? Give some milestones/achievements of the site.
Well I personally was happy when even 100 people a day began using the site. To me that was a major accomplishment back in 1998. By January 1999 the site had won an award from an African-American search engine called “Soul Search”. It was one of their Top 10 sites in January 1999. This award was meaningful because users of the site voted to have it in the top 10. Which proved to me that users were enjoying the site. By July 1999 the site was the site of the week at the “Black Families” web site (BlackFamilies.com is now a dead-.com but it was a major Black portal then). Recognition from that site and other major web sites used by African-Americans gave the site some good brand recognition.
Q: How are you marketing the site?
Currently, the site’s high search engine rankings and word of mouth promote the site. I used to buy targeted advertising on various web portals and search engines until the site was popular enough and continue its growth via it’s own reputation.
Q: What are the costs of running and maintaining SoulFoodCookbook.com?
The costliest recurring expenses are web hosting, advertising (when I choose to advertise), the cost of goods sold, shipping and various bank charges (for processing payments). Some other costs are for hardware like printers, computers, CD-Burners and items of that sort.
Q: When did you begin to take a hard look on how this site could earn? And what prompted you?
I originally felt the site would make money off advertising and I wanted to sell a book one day, but never moved on making a book till times got tight. In 2001 advertising revenue was so low that I thought I would have to shut the site down, unless I came up with another way to make money. That’s when I took a REALLY HARD LOOK at how to maximize the site’s earning potential.
Q: What revenue models did you employ on your site? Affiliate program? Banner ads? etc?
Originally I only used advertising and affiliate programs. Then I later developed a CD of recipes and after that an actual cookbook.
Q: What worked best for your site?
Selling my own goods, namely the CD and cookbook have proven to be by far the best way to generate revenue for the site. Now advertising and affiliate program earnings are lesser methods to earn revenue.
Q: Yours is a content site. How are you leveraging your content?
By selling some of the site’s content. Originally I used to show all the recipes on the web site and not charge users a dime. When I needed to start selling goods I needed to encourage users to buy and giving it all away was not encouraging many people. So I pulled back about 20%-30% of the site’s content and then made it “CD Exclusive”. Then I was only selling the CD and for users to get all the recipes they had to purchase the CD. Now the recipes are also in the cookbook. The cookbook was needed because when you run a site named “Soul Food Cookbook” selling a cookbook is an obvious must. It was simply easier and less costly to develop the CD first.
Q: What level of success are you enjoying with the shift of your site’s focus?
I will say it has proven to be a great success. I would have made the changes sooner if I had to do it all over again.
Q: What advice can you give a person running a small hobby site on how to turn the site into a moneymaker?
Well first you need to be sure your hobby is something that the world really enjoys. If so, people will pay money for it. (No matter if they say they would never buy a thing on-line.) So even today, building up an initial following is a good thing. Then depending on the site’s content you have to slowly make the conversion to selling some of it. Make a product or subscription area that offers the site’s content and more not available elsewhere on the site. Then to encourage sales make some of the site’s best content part of that fee based product/service. Now is not the time to lose personal money giving everything away to the world. There are enough dead-.COMs and sites losing cash.