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April 2015 Income Report

After a glorious month in March, unfortunately April has been the toughest month for me yet. It has been incredibly stressful, primarily thanks to a cash flow problem and getting kicked out of the Commission Junction affiliate program through no fault of my own.

This has had an affect on my earnings and, more importantly, my state of mind. It’s hard to keep working so hard just to get a big kick in the face like the situation with Commission Junction. There is more information about this below. I think its important to share my hurdles as well as my successes.

We spent half of April in our home in Penang and half travelling around Sri Lanka. This means that there has not been much time to work in the latter part of the month. I have just been adding content to my travel blog about Sri Lanka over this time.

Cash Flow

A big problem for us has been cash flow. Like any small business, having enough cash can be a huge issue and this is made even worse by the way we are currently living our lives.

We have been planning a few months in Europe. Since we will be on a very tight budget for Europe (AUD$3500 per month), we are relying on travelling slowly using holiday rentals. To get a good deal on a holiday rental, it is important to book in advance. Payment is required in advance too. This means we have paid a lot of our living costs upfront. We currently have our accommodation paid for until late August! And a month later in the year as well. We would never be paying our living costs so far in advance at home.

This, along with a whole lot of flights, has totally decimated our savings.

With our earnings, just about everything is paid in arrears. Often a long time after the work.

Our income reports can look impressive but we have still not received a lot of the money posted in the March income report.

A big chunk of my income is from Amazon. They don’t pay until two months after the end of the month. This means a commission I earn today (May 3), will not be paid until late July/early August. Because I am Australian and do not have a US bank account, this can take even longer as it has to come via cheque and then clear.

Thankfully, I found a solution to this latter part and recently opened a Payoneer account (use that link to open your own and we will both receive US$25). Amazon can deposit earnings straight into there and I can then transfer it into my Australian bank account or they have given me a debit Mastercard that I can use to access the money from wherever I am. It has a 1% fee and an annual card fee, but this is well and truly worth it in my opinion.

Because of all the hassle involved in getting paid by cheque and me only recently discovering Payoneer, I only JUST received my first Amazon commission – after earning them for 9 months! You can see why cash flow becomes an issue.

We have also had problems getting paid for $3000 of freelance work. It is very stressful. We are also owed over US$500 from commission junction which I am still waiting to see if they will ever pay…

Commission Junction

Commission junction is an affiliate program I use primarily for hotel booking sites and other commission programs I use on Where’s Sharon.

I have been doing well on here and was averaging over US$20 a day at the beginning of April, primarily from HotelsCombined with Expedia, SkyScanner and TripAdvisor all contributing.

Out of nowhere I received an email saying my account had been deactivated. There was no more information than that it was because of “non-bona fide transations”. I could not log into my account. I tried ringing them, but they wouldn’t discuss it on the phone. All I could do was communicate with them via their support centre.

They ended up telling me that:

We found that the majority of the leads are generated from the same IP addresses.  Multiple leads from the same individual, entity or IP address are considered non-bona fide Transactions.  Unfortunately, non-bona fide Transactions are considered a breach of the CJ Publisher Service Agreement.  As a result, your publisher account was removed.  The commissions generated by your account are subject to reversals by all relevant Advertiser programs.  Any remaining balance on your account that will be eligible for a payout, will be paid out to you at the next payout cycle, which is on or about the 20th of next month.

They wouldn’t consider re-activating my account and made it very clear that I am unable to open an account again.

I have nothing to do with the problem they stated and I find it quite ridiculous. I imagine the problem is with HotelsCombined transactions as I just wasn’t earning enough from anyone else to have this happen (I assume).

HotelsCombined have told me they had nothing to do with this removal and that it is normal to have multiple transactions from the same computer (as you could expect if you know how HC works). The cookies last for 60 days so if I have readers planning big trips, then I could see that this would happen and it would be quite legitimate.

I could not get anywhere with them and the whole situation had me in tears and feeling incredibly nauseous. All this hard work for nothing! It is a lot of work to change all those links and optimise them again for a different program. Most hotel booking referral programs also take a long time before you start seeing payment, so this is not an income stream I can probably rely on for at least 6 months, unless I working directly with HotelsCombined works.

I have changed some of the links to HotelsCombined directly to see what happens. They have a notorious reputation for shutting down accounts when payment is due. I made sure I changed enough links to hit the payout amount for April so I will find out in a few weeks if they will pay me or not. If they do, then I will change the rest over. Otherwise I will have to go with other sites and I won’t see any money for a long time.

A lot of companies only use Commission Junction for their affiliate programs which means I can no longer be an affiliate for companies such as Expedia, TripAdvisor and Skyscanner. It is a huge loss and I am incredibly disheartened and frustrated.

To have this taken away so suddenly and so unjustly also makes me worry about how easily I could be removed from other affiliate programs.

Update: 6th May. I received another email from commission junction today out of nowhere saying that they had done a further review and that it had positive results and I was back in! All very strange and unexpected.

It has left quite a bad taste in my mouth but I would be silly to stop using them with the success I was having. I am also going to be paid the US$526 that is owing for March and April later this month. It’s just a shame that I lost out on nearly a month’s commissions when all this was occurring. And it is a massive job to put the links back that I changed.

Where’s Sharon

I continue to focus on this site to grow its income. My primary aim is to increase affiliate income as I want passive income.

My hotel commissions were increasing nicely until I hit the problem described above. My Amazon commissions have been increasing too and the effort I put into SEO for these articles has really paid off – they are some of the best performing posts on my site now – more hits than my home page! That is the power of SEO and Google.

Sponsored Travel

I did not have any sponsored travel this month – Sri Lanka is cheap so we have been able to travel here on our usual budget. I try to avoid sponsored travel where possible because it is a lot of work and doesn’t earn me income.

I have been putting a fair bit of effort into lining up some sponsors in Europe though for more expensive destinations such as Scandinavia.

Traffic

Page Views: 68,614 (up from 61,102)

Another great increase primarily thanks to google search and SEO. I am starting to taste the 100,000.

Costs

PayPal fees – $24

HootSuite – $12
I use this for twitter scheduling

Writing – $100
An article written by my brother.

GetResponse email service for managing my subscribers and autoresponders – $19
You can read more about the different email subscription services here.

MassPlanner – $13
This tool does post scheduling, follow/unfollow, liking and commenting and a million other things across all the social media that I use. I have been trying it out and so far I am very impressed. It is very powerful and an excellent price for something that does pretty much whatever you need on social media.

Kraken Image Optimizer – $6
This tool optimises all the images I upload to my sites

Tailwind – $20
Pinterest scheduling

Total Costs: $191

Income

Advertising – $1079 (up from $563)

Direct advertising – $866

Google AdSense – $213 (strangely exactly the same as March)

Affiliates – $1021 (up from $725 )

I made $290 from Amazon (up from $217) and $63 from an Australian retailer. I also made $50 in a SiteGround hosting sale.

Update 6th May: I made $341 from Commission Junction for hotel commissions in April.
Update 28th May: I made $277 from HotelsCombined directly for hotel commissions in April.

After the problems above, I was reluctant to include these hotel commissions until I actually receive the money – I have now.

Total Income: $2,094 - $191 = $1,903 (up from $1,704)

Digital Nomad Wannabe

Page Views: 5,114 (up from 4,459)

As I stated last month, I am only working on my income reports and niche site updates for the time being. I am actually reconsidering even doing this. Although I love helping others and the support I receive on this site, I do get a lot of people asking for help with very little in return, not even a thank you.

It’s interesting to see the different types of people who contact me and how they differ in their approach.

People who are interested in niche sites generally share info with me, swap links and are happy to reference me on their sites. Conversely, travel bloggers just try to get whatever information out of me as possible, share as little as possible with me, never reference me and even present what I have told them as their own knowledge.

I have read on many internet marketing blogs how the best way to get links, social media, love etc, is to help others and they will give it back. These people have obviously never worked with travel bloggers. Many do not give at all, not even with a thank you. This is obviously a generalisation, and hopefully I am not offending everyone with these comments as you don’t all deserve it.

The way I see it, if you find something I have written useful, why not share it? If you are going to quote something I told you, why not reference me? If you want to see my sites and pages that are earning money, why not offer to link to them? It’s much nicer than just firing 20 questions at me for quite personal information then never talking to me again. And if only 5% of people who contacted me did one of these things, I might feel inspired to keep writing these posts!

I made affiliate income from SiteGroundLong Tail Pro (my favourite SEO tool) and Kraken Image Optimizer.

Income: $98 (affiliates - up from $60)

Niche sites

They continue to grow. You can read a full update here.

Costs

Writing – $100

Hosting – $3 (cheap hosting for PBN)

Payoneer – $14

Total Costs: $117

Income

I made $2,202 across my niche sites. It was great to crack the $2000 barrier!

Total Income: $2,202 - $117 = $2085 (up from $1223!)

Freelancing

This area did not go well this month although there is more work lined up for next month.

Income - $250

Earnings Total: AUD$4,342 (USD$3,334)

Down from USD$4,085 in March. Our goal is to make at least our living costs of AUD$3,500 so we did it!

Although this is less than last month, I am happy to say that I made the majority of it and just about made our goal of $3,500 with just my sites (and no freelancing). This is the best month yet for me. Hopefully, I do receive the hotel commission money owing and this will go up even higher.

Passive Income

This is the most exciting part of this income report for me as my big goal is to make enough money for our living costs via passive income which is what I consider affiliate and AdSense income to be. How did I go this month?

Average passive income per day for April = $117 (up from $76)

I am so happy to have met my goal of $100/day – and even meet the $3,500 budget that we keep to per month. Now to get it just a bit higher so that it covers all our living costs – we still have a mortgage at home and in reality, we also pay for flights and some other costs on top the $3,500.

The best part is that this increased throughout the month – I finished the month much higher than this. During this period, I wasn’t even online much and was travelling around Sri Lanka. This is the true value of passive income.

Plans for the Next Month

I am still finding it tough to get my head in the right mind space after the CJ disaster. Without hotel commissions, all the work I am currently putting into Where’s Sharon does not seem like the best use of my time.

While I am waiting to see if HotelsCombined pays me, I want to work on a couple of more affiliate posts for Where’s Sharon. 

The biggest thing I need to do is gain some more links for my niche sites. It has been awhile and I feel a few more links will help take their earnings to the next level. Now that I have exhausted my own network and don’t want any more PBN sites, I think I am going to have to approach some blogs myself and see if I can pay for links on them. This will be interesting!

I would love to hear any other ideas given I don’t want spammy links. These sites are earning well for me, so the more legitimate the links look, the better.

Did things improve? You can now read my income report for May 2015.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, tips or advice.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

About the Author

Sharon Gourlay is passionate about working online and helping others to follow in her footsteps. She left Australia with her young family at the end of 2014 determined to grow an online business. She succeeded and now supports her family of 5 to live their dream lifestyle.

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