The year was 2008. I was still in my full-time job as a financial services recruiter. However, my website endeavors were starting to bare fruit. In 2007 I had begun a website (oddly enough, this one, which was VERY different back then). In a span of six months it started to earn money and I was closing in on an amount of money that would potentially allow me to leave my job. I wasn’t quite there yet but I was getting close. The plan was to have at least six months worth of savings. But instead of me leaving my job on my own accord, I had a little outside “help.”
My bosses sat me down one day and gave me the reality of the situation. Given that we were in the middle of the financial crisis, they told me the next year was going to be extremely hard. At that time they told me that it would be extremely difficult to make money and that I’d be on commission only (they had been paying me a draw to that point). Essentially they were incredibly nice about it and told me I could use the office to do whatever I wanted while we continued to try to stay afloat.
At that point I continued working on my websites (which I started in 2007). Within about a month’s time after that conversation, I decided to take the leap and just go for it on my own. While I’d like to credit myself with having the guts to take a shot, I’m also “grateful” for the financial crisis. Of course I’m not happy about what was going on at the time, but I’m also grateful to my old bosses for being so understanding and honest about the situation. Like I said, while I’d have left eventually, the combination of the financial crisis and my bosses giving it to me straight enabled my transition to a greater degree than just simply me making the decision on my own.
The point is that sometimes you have to realize that there are many blessings out there in disguise. And without these little “blessings” we might not be where we are today. I’m not a huge karma guy but I will say that it’s to our benefit to take a step back once in a while and truly assess all that’s going on around us. And that assessment needs to be open to the idea that even in tragedy we might find a better “other side.” That said I’d like to share some additional examples of where this came into play in hope that whatever’s going on your life, you can use it to plot your next move or make an acknowledgment that it’s all happening for a reason.
The story of Google updates
So what’s a Google Update? Any website owner will tell you about how much they hate Google updates. I mean sometimes Google Updates can be amazing. But most times website owners are shitting their pants every single time they even get a sniff of a rumor that a Google Update is about to happen. A Google Update is when Google decides to tweak their algorithm so that search results provide a more accurate and better experience for the user. However, often times with these updates comes massive fluctuations in traffic. It’s one of the absolute worst feelings as a website owner. Whether you’re on a better or worse side of an update, the days leading up to it are absolute hell. Either all the hard work you’ve been putting in will pay off, or it will feel like a complete waste of time.
Personally I’ve been on both sides of a Google Update. I’ve gained at least 50% traffic on some sites and I’ve also lost 50% of traffic on some sites. Literally in the blink of an eye we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. But this is all part of the game when you run a site that’s completely dependent on search. But here’s the thing: I’m grateful for Google Updates. Not because of the stress they cause me. Certainly not because of the money I make or lose on them. But a Google Update is the staunchest reminder that some things are simply out of my control and if I stick to the fundamentals I’ll likely be OK in the long run. As long as I know I’m creating solid content on a daily basis, no matter what the Google Update is, my sites will likely be OK in the end.
These updates are “forced” reminders for me that there are no shortcuts and that I always need to keep an eye on the primary objective: good content. Everything else will fall into place. You know what a Google Update reminds me of? A market crash. If you’re a disciplined investor, a market crash won’t phase you at all. It reminds you that you need to stick to the plan you originated. The crash is merely a blip in the long term. It’s tough to take at the moment but the sooner you realize it is in fact a blip, the better off you are.
A massive withheld payment
One of the worst periods of my life was a 2 week period where I was waiting on a $250,000 payment that was completely up in air. Up in the air as in me and my partner had no clue whether we would receive this payment or not. The reason is because our websites were in possible violation of a layout rule of one of our clients. We didn’t know this and we were working very closely with them the whole time to resolve it. Still though, it did cross our mind that if we didn’t get this problem fixed we’d be out an amount of money that could literally put us out of business. Also, the reason the amount of money was that large was because at the time we were doing a lot of arbitrage on the sites. Arbitrage in the website game is when you buy traffic to webpages that can pay more money on advertising than the money you spend on the traffic. For example if you are earning $10 for every 1000 visits to your site but you’re only paying $8 for every 1000 visits, you take in the difference. It was extremely popular back in 2010-2015.
The issue with this model is that you have to spend a ton of money to make a lot of money. That’s all well and good but if you owe the companies you are paying for traffic money every 30 days but you’re only getting paid every 60 days you’ve got a cash problem. Rather than bore you with the details I’ll just say that while this model can be very lucrative, it’s extremely stressful and one I’ll never, ever do again. Which brings me to my lessons learned. While I love having invoices of $250,000, the prospect of not getting paid is something I never, ever want to happen again. It absolutely scarred me for life. Along the same lines? I never wanted to have cash issues again, so a couple of years later I completely got out of the arbitrage game altogether, not to mention went off on my own without a partner. Who knew that a two week period like this would completely alter my perception on what I wanted out of my career? It sure as hell freaked me out at the time but looking back, it was one of the best things to happen to me.
Worst investment decision I ever made
I’ve actually written about this before in an article called “Why a $20,000 loss was the best investment I ever made.” For the full details of that story I’d suggest you read it but for the purposes of this article I’ll sum it up in one paragraph. Back in 2009-2010 or so, a buddy of mine gave me a “tip.” It was a stock tip that he received from none other than Jim Cramer. At the time my buddy worked for Cramer and Cramer was very bullish on some stocks. I didn’t have much money back then but I think I had around $50K in the market. What did I do? I put nearly all of my money on one stock. Within a month I was down around $20,000 and I just couldn’t take the pressure. I sold and took the loss. It was easily one of the best lessons I ever learned about investing. And that lesson wasn’t even “do your own research” or “never take stock tips” (although yes, those were lessons). The lesson was really “take ownership of yourself and everything in your life.” And that’s exactly what I did. After that massive loss I never took a stock tip again. Sure I’ve made some impulse buys but for every single one of them, I’ve completely owned up to them, good or bad. And I feel fantastic about it.
The ability to see these as they happen
If there’s one thing I’d take out of all these catalysts we encounter in life it’s that those that have the ability to see these for what they are while they’re happening are the ones who truly succeed. Sometimes it’s truly difficult to step back in the middle of a tragedy and say yourself “I’m learning an important lesson here.” However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to take those deep breaths, stop, and reflect, even while the shit is hitting the fan. The more you can do that, the more sane, and in control you’ll feel.