In 1994 I left my job at the university computer center to try my hand as an entrepreneur. By 1998 I was unemployed and had proven beyond any reasonable doubt that I did not know how to sell. Even worse, my computer skills had gotten dated and rusty.
Between 1994 & 1998 I taught myself how to renovate and repair mobile homes. As an academic I found it really frustrating there was almost no good information about mobile home repair in the library. A simple question like "How much water do I add to a pail of drywall compound to make it blow through a sprayer and spatter properly?" had no answer. The experienced drywall guys I talked to would only say "Add water until it looks right." "Add water until it feels like toothpaste."
Getting back in the game
I decided a good way to polish my computer skills & fix the lack of mobile home repair materials would be to write down everything I had learned about mobile home repair and publish it as a website. Keep in mind that in 1998 if you told someone you were building a website they invariably said "What's a website?. Thus Mobile Home Doctor was born.
I paid $120 to a company to register this three word domain because I wanted to be sure it was done right. This at a time when three character dot com domains were easily available for registration fee. Now they sell on the secondary market for thousands.
Once written I mostly ignored the site for several years. It only cost $10/mo to keep it published and I could afford that. I almost dropped it at one point, but noticed the site had gotten 3,000 visitors in the last month & decided to keep it. Note that at that point the site had not earned a dime.
I had thought about starting a newsletter so I told visitors to send me an email if they would like me to send them one when/if I got around to writing it. Email addresses were easy to collect in those days and I eventually accumulate about a thousand. I didn't want the commitment a regular newsletter requires so I eventually deleted them. 🙁
In 2005 I heard about Google's AdSense advertising program and added that to the site. I was shocked when the site earned $175 the first month! I wrote a few more articles but mostly traffic to the site grew organically from the original articles. At it's peak I came very close to earning $2,000 in a single month. Cumulative earnings are approaching $150K.
Fat, dumb, & happy
Passive income like this is really addictive. There was some maintenance to keep the site healthy and I did make an effort to answer reader questions. Although at one point I had answered 1,900 of 2,900 questions. It really felt like "found" money.
I felt like I had written everything I had to say about mobile home repair but that "easy" money was attractive so I started looking for other ways to increase my AdSense income. For several years mini sites with exact match keyword domains did really well. I bought a copy of an 1987 woodworking tools catalog, ran it through an optical character reader and published it as Old Woodworking tools. There were months when it earned $125.
A whole industry developed around "Made for AdSense" websites. Non-native english speaking writers were hired to pump out content. Spinning software would go through the text of these articles and replace enough words with synonyms to look unique. You may remember reading articles where the word choices were just plain weird. That would be spun content. It got so bad Google eventually did an update that found these kind of sites and dropped them from the rankings.
Bright Shiny Objects (BSO's)
I became a buyer of what are known as Bright Shiny Objects. That would be software and systems that promise to make you quickly rich with little or no effort. BSO's are still very popular today. Unfortunately, they only make money for those selling them.
The coming of wisdom
At age 70, with three grown kids, and 9 grand children I think the hardest thing to recognize is your own gifts. I spent much of the last 15 years searching for the great insight upon which I could build a successful website. As part of that search I registered (and let expire unused) several thousand domain names. I built little WordPress sites in the days when you had to install it by hand. I tried selling on Ebay. I tried Amazon's FBA program. I flipped a few domain names.