Case Study: Reducing Debt Makes Money for Debt-Tips.com

After my call in a recent newsletter for people who would like to submit a case study to help other affiliate marketers, Kris Bickell contacted us.

Kris has built a useful income using the web and has some heartfelt insights to share with everyone. I particularly like his statement that you need to “understand it is actually a business and not just a website. The website is simply the place where you do the business”.

Kris is a good example of someone who started using the web to build another stream of income while he and his partner were still working. Not many of us have the luxury of time to start a new business.

Personally, I used to get up at 4.30 am, work till 7.00 am, go to work, come home and work through till 11.00 pm every weekday. But as Kris points out, it was worth it! Being able to be around your family, or who ever you like to spend your time with, is priceless!

Welcome to Kris’s Debt Busting Business!

Hi, Kris and thanks for taking the time to share your experience with the members of AssociatePrograms.com.

There are a lot of readers who will enjoy the look inside your business.

First, can you give us some background on yourself? Tell us a bit about your career experience before you first got started online.

I’ve spent most of my “day job” career in education, working at various schools and universities.  Even though I’m not a full time teacher, I do like to teach and coach, so developing a website where I help others find solutions and information is a natural fit.

Over the years I tried many times to start a business, often with bad results! I ended up in debt, then got out of debt, and figured I could teach others what I learned. There’s no better way to learn than the hard way, which I’m a master of doing, unintentionally.

At first it was hard putting my personal story online for all to see. But I figured I needed to do this to accomplish my goal of creating a trustworthy site for helping people avoid getting ripped off and find high quality, honest help.

I also figured that if I could profit a little from helping others avoid my mistakes, all the better.  So here I am!

How long as your site been on the Web?

My website, Debt Tips has been online for about 10 years, but it took me a few years to fully understand it was actually a business and not just a website, with the website simply being the place where I did the business.

debt tips affiliate program

Is it your first website? If not, how many other sites have you had?

It was my first website, and although I have built 3 others since then, it is by far the most successful. Probably because it deals with a problem that is very common and a solution that is much in demand.

It’s not just a temporary fad.

Can you tell us where the idea for your current site came from?

I dealt with a lot of my own debt from trying to start a few other businesses. It got to the point where I needed help, and I had read a lot of horror stories from people dealing with debt relief companies.

I took what I learned about getting out of debt, and what I learned from dealing with some of these companies, and started to share my “tips” online.

How did you go about developing the website? Who set it up for you?

From the beginning I did it all myself. I read a lot about html, website design, and marketing, and as I didn’t have a huge budget I gave it a try. Over time, I’ve borrowed ideas from other websites and have also used some low cost website templates.

I’ve thought about paying for a professional redesign, but I’m torn between keeping the small business informal look and feel, or moving to something more formal. I prefer to keep the site more “personal” and less “corporate” so visitors will feel like they are getting honest information.

What is your target market?

People in the US needing help with credit card debt, handling finances, saving money and fixing credit problems.  Having such a large target market allows me to keep coming up with new niches and marketing angles, so neither the site’s focus nor I get stale.

Why did you make the choice to run your business on the web?

I needed something I could do part-time so I wouldn’t have to miss out on all the family stuff, and I definitely needed to keep my “day job”.  Also, when I started the business, my wife was working on an opposite time schedule.  This meant that I had some free time at home, and running a business online was very appealing.  Plus, my efforts with more traditional businesses didn’t work out so well, which is why I ended up making www.debt-tips.com in the first place!

What kind of revenues are you earning? Where/who from?

I refer people to several companies with good ratings and track records. I then get a referral fee for each person who requests a consultation or buys a product, depending on which type of help they are looking for.

The key here is to provide helpful, honest information from the perspective of someone who’s “been there done that”.  Of course, earnings fluctuate from month to month due to changes in traffic, buying patterns (the holidays are very busy), effectiveness of marketing and SEO (the search engines constantly change). 

But, it’s always nice to get an extra paycheck a few times a month!

Can you give us some insight into your favorite marketing strategies?

Right now the most effective is guest blogging, where I ask another website owner to publish an article or blog post written by me, with a few links to my site in the article. I’ve also been commenting on other blogs to make myself more visible, both to readers and the blog owners. I tend to think of it as being like traditional networking. 

I also use article marketing where I submit articles to directories like ezinearticles.com. When given the chance, I do some link exchanges with high quality sites, too.

What kind of traffic are you seeing to the site (visitors a month)?

Right now the site is getting about 10,000 unique visits a month. But a key focus of mine is not just getting more visitors, but more of the right visitors. Lately I’ve been focusing more on “buying” keywords (when people are about to buy a product) rather than just the popular, high volume searches. Those visitors convert better, and take less effort to get.

Where are people finding you?

Mostly on the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing), free report subscribers, and other personal finance blogs. Over the years, there are lots of small traffic sources that add up.

Do you use SEO to build traffic?

Yes, that is the primary method of marketing I’ve used. A few years ago, it was easy to get high rankings on search engines like Google, and didn’t require a lot of effort.  But that has changed, so now it takes consistent effort to keep the traffic coming in.

It’s easy to think that your site is great and should be ranked #1.  Sadly, that’s what everyone thinks. I’ve learned that consistently writing articles, posting to my blog, contacting other site owners, thinking of new ways to reach people needing help – and thinking “out of the box” – keeps the business running relatively consistently.

Do you use pay-per-click advertising?

No. The PPC debt market is WAY too expensive for me, and requires a lot of micro-management. I just don’t have the time or budget right now. 

I did try some PPC in the past and just found this market to be too competitive. It’s not that it couldn’t work, but these days it can be a very expensive learning process to become profitable with paid clicks.

Have you built a mailing list? How big is your list?

Yes, I offer a free report on “Getting out of debt” that visitors can subscribe to. Right now there are about 4,000 subscribers. However, I am in the process of writing a new report that will reflect the changes in the debt industry, and help people avoid getting ripped off.

With so many ads on TV/radio/online for help with debt, there are many companies out there who put making money first, and customer service second.

But I believe that building a mailing list is essential for long-term business success.

What kinds of challenges exist for people in your market?

Lots of competition! But even worse, lots of bad information and lots of companies that are just in it for the money. They don’t bother to educate their consumers properly on the different kinds of debt relief and the risks associated with the different methods. 

Not everyone can “get their debt reduced by 50% quickly and easily” like some of the ads would lead you to believe. So the challenge, other than just the sheer number of competitors, is to find ways to stand out. I try to do that by keeping my site informative and educational, and providing information in my more personal style.

Would you say there are any mistakes you've made along the way?

Oh yes, there are many. The first was thinking that it is easy making money online. There may be ways to do it without working hard, but I guess most of those are not sustainable in the long run.

The second was looking at this as a website and not a business. I kept looking for ways to get better rankings, rather than looking for ways to offer better service.

Third, when I stop working the site stops earning. I don’t work on my business 7 days a week, but I’ve found that consistent effort over time wins out over a big push and then no action.

Could you tell us 3 tips that you wished you had known or learned when you first started your site?

  1. Don’t just focus on one site, one marketing method, one way of doing business. 
  2. To make money you need to run a business not just build a website.
  3. Things will change - SEO will change, online marketing will change, affiliate programs will change - so what works today might not work tomorrow.


What are 3 things that have made the most difference to the success of your site or improve the cash flow?

  1. Without a doubt, approaching this as a business and not just a website.
  2. Consistent work week after week, month after month. The methods change but the need for regular effort does not.
  3. Don’t give up, don’t give up, and don’t give up. Really! When business is down, think of ways to make it better and it will improve.


If you had a complete newbie sitting down in front of you right now, what advice would you give them as they're just getting started on the Web?

Start by doing some research to learn about the various online business models. Then pick the one that sounds like the best fit for you. At that point, stop reading about all the other models, and focus on making your site, your business, the best it can be. Then pick 3 or 4 different marketing methods, and get to work!

The worst thing you can do is listen to all the “experts” who pop up every day with the latest, greatest secret to making money online.  Most will be gone in no time, and only make their money by selling their get rich quick products, most of which don’t work.

Take a good look at your competitors to see what they are doing. And, if they are still a competitor in 6 months or a year, you know they are doing something right. Borrow ideas from them.

Finally, set a goal for yourself, and write down the goal and the steps you will take each day, week, month to make it happen. And, don’t quit until you reach it!

Finally, how would you say running a website based business has affected the way you live your life now?

The best part is that I can make money without leaving the house and I can work the hours I want.

Although I still have a “day job”, I don’t have to miss out on any family games, parties, or other events just because I have to work to make extra money. It’s also nice to know you’re helping people. Personally, I find it fun meeting others who work online too.

Lastly, I honestly enjoy sharing what I’ve learned about debt and money, so it’s fun work!

In Conclusion

Thanks Kris! You took quite a bit of time to answer our questions and get them back to us. I know that your honesty is not only helping your own readers but also your friends online like the readers of AssociatePrograms.com.

I always find that reading of other peoples success and their experiences pushes me forward on my journey and I wish you the best of luck as you keep growing your business.


Are you earning over $500 /month from your online marketing? Would you like to submit your story to help and encourage other AssociatePrograms.com readers? Please go to http://www.AssociatePrograms.com/pages/Contact-Us and ask for the “Case Study Questionnaire”. Fill out your answers and you could be the next story we publish. Remember that you can remain anonymous if you wish.

Case Study Facts

Site Name: http://www.debt-tips.com
Owner:  Kris Bickell
Launched: 2000
Traffic /mth: 10,000 unique visits
Revenue /mth (roughly): $1,500 (but can be as low as $500 and as much as $3,000)
Target Market: U.S. consumers with credit card debt
Theme/Topic: Tips for getting out of debt
Top 3 Marketing Strategies:
   1. Organic SEO
   2. Article marketing
   3. Guest blogging

September 16, 2010

Comments (3)

Said this on September 16, 2010 At 11:00 am
Great tips from a "regular" person who's making it online. I love reading success stories like this.
Randall
Said this on September 16, 2010 At 09:34 pm
Great tips for a regular guy like myself. Thanks
Said this on September 17, 2010 At 07:54 am
Brilliant ideas. The three take home items for me are:

1. there's no way you can build a business without putting work and effort in it. You will make money while you sleep, but you put in a lot of work while you stay awake;

2. focus on what works for you, don't waste your time searching for the latest tip from just another guru;

3. things keep changing, so monitor the effectiveness of the marketing methods you are using and stay abreast of all the changes.

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