For the eleventh episode of the DNQ interview series, I’d like to welcome Sharon Gourlay, founder of Where’s Sharon and Digital Nomad Wannabe. Before I started my nomadic journey, I randomly came across Sharon while browsing around Twitter. This was around the time I was extremely fanatical about the whole concept of working remotely and earning money online. It was then I learned about the term “digital nomad”. Not only did Sharon have the same name as me, I discovered she was essentially living out my dreams – so feeling as if it were destiny, I decided to reach out.
Sharon was kind enough to answer a bunch of my questions back then, which I posted about on my other blog MeWantTravel. Now that I am about 7 months in my journey, I decided to interview Sharon again to learn more about 1. her feelings through the process, 2. how her experience has been supporting her family while building passive income, and 3. tips on how she builds affiliate marketing income as well as income through her courses.
How Sharon Gourlay Earns Over $15,000/month Passive Income as a Digital Nomad Super Mom
Tell us about yourself!
Gourlay: My name is Sharon and I live in Melbourne, Australia with my husband and three kids (6, 4 and 5 months).
A few years ago I decided I was going to work online as I was sick of how much time my husband seemed to spend working with not enough quality time together. I also love travel (I’m just about up to country 100!) so the idea of being a digital nomad also appealed.
I had no idea how I would make money online but I was determined to make it work. I now have a successful online business with two blogs, wheressharon.com where I write about family travel and digitalnomadwannabe.com which I started to document my progress from deciding to work online until what I hoped would be me working online! It has lots of tutorials to help others copy my success.
I also have some niche sites which make me great passive income via affiliate marketing and advertising.
What does a regular day look like for you? How do you juggle taking care of your kids and working?
Gourlay: Honestly, it is really hard since having my third baby. We are struggling to get the right balance at the moment. I am hanging out for next year when he will start child care two days a week which will help a lot.
At the moment, my husband and I get 2.5 days a week each to work while the other does everything else. We work most evenings as well. I’ve recently started renting an office so I can get out of the house and work as I was struggling to get anything done.
The days when I am working I don’t even take a moment’s break to fit in as much as I can.
I’m trying to cut back how much travel we do as something has to give and I really want to focus on growing my business over the next year. It’s hard to cut it back when I am such an addict though! It’s pretty much impossible to get much work done while travelling with the kids.
How many hours do you work when you travel, or are you not working now because of the CRAZY amount of passive income you are making? And if you do work, do you alternate with your husband when it comes to being in charge of the kids? Or do you mostly work in the evening when the kids are asleep?
Gourlay: Before baby #3, I would work every evening when we travelled and try to have a day or two a week where hubby would take out the kids and I would work. We would intersperse travel with long stays in Penang where the kids went to preschool and we could get more work done.
Travelling with the three kids and a baby who doesn’t always sleep just wipes me out when we are travelling now and it’s hard for me to do anything in the evenings.
Hubby is currently working part time as a programmer and we try to do 50/50 with looking after the kids. However, something always seems to be up, like one of them sick, and then I tend to lose out on the work time since he has set hours.
A negative they don’t tell you about passive income is that because your effort doesn’t directly translate into a $ value, it’s easier for it to move down the priority list which I can find very frustrating.
I could not work if I chose since I do earn enough passively to support us – and I did take 4 months off earlier this year when I had my baby. However, I don’t want to go back to the position we were in two years ago when hubby was working all the time to support us. I was miserable and want to diversify my income more so that I am protected if I lose an income source. Unfortunately, being in Australia and living in inner city Melbourne means we need a crazy amount to live the life we want here which does add extra income pressure.
Is there a reason why you don’t road-school?
Gourlay: There are quite a few actually!
The biggest one is because it’s important to me to bring up our children bilingually. Since hubby and I don’t speak another language the best way to do this is through schooling in another language – which is what we do. My daughter spends 90% of her school time learning in another language. She’s nearly finished her first year of school and it’s amazing how much she can understand and communicate now when she knew zero at the start of the year.
I also simply don’t have the time for it. I already struggle with time for work and it wouldn’t be possible to school our kids, look after our baby and work, let alone travel. I imagine this might get more possible as they get older and its all less labour intensive.
The final reason is my daughter is just like me and absolutely loves the social aspect of school. Whenever she complains about school, I offer to travel again so she doesn’t have to go and I always receive a huge NO! in return. I’m also a happier mum with some time apart 😀
That is so great you’re raising your kids to be bilingual – I want to do this as well in the future. And your daughter is hilarious 😀
What was your timeline when it came to passive income? Did you create WheresSharon.com while your husband was freelancing? Did you already begin profiting from the site before you left?
Gourlay: I actually created my travel blog a looooong time ago. I have been blogging for 11 years! It’s been three years now since I started turning it into something more than a travel journal, but I really had no idea how to go about earning passive income and that took a bit longer. It’s only since the start of last year that I started earning passive income (primarily from affiliates on that site).
I tried earlier but I had no idea what I was doing and had no real strategy. I then came to the (very misguided) conclusion that affiliate marketing didn’t work!! Thankfully, I later revisited it and had much greater success.
I did start earning money from my blog (non passive income streams) a bit over two years ago. It wasn’t much and I reinvested it all into learning more.
I was making passive income from my niche sites two years ago, not much but enough to convince my husband that I knew what I was doing and to quit his job at the end of 2014 and for us to head overseas for an undetermined amount of time.
We had enough money saved from my husband’s regular job to live for 4 months in Malaysia and we hoped by the end of that that we would be earning enough to support ourselves overseas. We thankfully hit our goal!
Wow I did not realize you were blogging for so long! I guess it’s all a journey, and I should learn how to be patient. 🙂
Were there any times you felt stressed or worried? I have exhibited random doses of fear as I’m transitioning from active income to building passive income. I always want to make sure my income covers my expenses. Can you tell me more about your experience with fear? And what you did to handle it?
Gourlay: Oh gosh yes. It’s definitely the biggest downside of taking this path for me. I have managed to minimise how anxious I feel about this as time goes by but I still have regular bouts especially when anything goes wrong in my business. It’s stressful to know my family is dependent on me and what I do isn’t 100% guaranteed to keep working.
I just try to stop thinking about the things that worry me (not easy) and I am working to diversify to help protect me. I would like to have at least another income stream that is enough money to support us so if the SEO+affiliate marketing thing I do now stops working, we are ok.
Conversely, I am also trying to save enough money so if something happened, I would have 6 months to build up a new business.
We always have the fallback of my husband returning to a regular job, but I would be devastated if this happened. I was not happy as a full time stay at home mum and will do what I can to avoid it.
I’m surprised at $15k/month it is still stressful – but I understand that diversifying your income streams is important and I’m trying to do the same as well.
I hear that this entrepreneurial journey is always exponential and not linear. At what point did you start seeing decent passive income come in? And were there any steps you took that really made a huge difference in the amount of money you made?
Gourlay: Yes, my earnings seem to have exponential growth, then they flatten out for awhile, they they are exponential again. In less than a year of concentrating on earning passive income, I was earning more than enough to support the four of us to travel full time. Six months after that, I started to see really big numbers.
I think the biggest factor for me was the fact that I always concentrated on the medium term and avoided as much as possible doing tasks for short term gain which means avoiding things like sponsored posts and sponsored travel – sometimes I had to do things like that at the beginning, but now it has to be a super good fit and give me (or save me) a lot of money for me to bother. It’s just not a good use of my time.
I’ve read your reports and see how you try to balance both – I think that’s the right choice when you need money now as well. Over time, you will be able to shift to just focusing on the passive.
I have had bloggers tell me I’m lucky for being able to make passive income work and this annoys me. I have worked hard for this and I see the same people travelling a lot and filling up their sites with sponsored posts. I’m not lucky, I just devoted my time to it and didn’t get caught up with other things. The reality is most people just don’t want to spend large amounts of time working on something unless there is an immediate reward which is their choice. Just don’t tell me I’m lucky because I worked hard at another path.
Thanks for checking out my reports 🙂 Prioritizing is a good tip. During the journey I had found it hard to make time for focusing on my passive income streams, but now I’m essentially going all in on the passive side of things!
Based on your past income reports it seems a lot of your income is derived from affiliates. Currently, I don’t really make any money from affiliate sales. What are your biggest drivers and methods for this? For example with your travel site, do you create list posts on best hotels? What kind of pages and posts would you recommend making?
Gourlay: You need to think about who is going to spend money via an affiliate link and how you best attract them to your page to do this. Best hotels is a good example – if you can find someone who is looking for the best hotel in Hong Kong and provide them the answers they are looking for on your site, there is a good chance they will click on one of your affiliate links and use it. After all, why would they be looking for best hotels in Hong Kong unless they were looking at going there.
So any type of product review (whether it’s a tangible product or an online product of travel booking) is going to be a good way to go. The real trick is getting the people to your post at just the right time when they want to make a purchase. I recommend reading about the buying cycle if you haven’t already.
Based on your recommendations, I use Amazon Associates and HotelsCombined for affiliate sales. Do you have other recommendations? And do you reach out to products/services you regularly use and ask if they can create an affiliate model for you if they don’t have one already?
Gourlay: I also make reasonable money from Booking.com but I had some problems with their affiliate program paying out so I am not using them via affiliate window. Crossing my fingers that works out better!
I haven’t reached out but I know I should and I know others have been successful with this. Time is just such an issue!
How well do your own products profit? I know you have a course on digitalnomadwannabe.com. Do you have other products/services that are great for passive income? I am thinking about building an ultimate book and course for digital nomads or freedom fighter seekers. I think it will take really long but it might be worthwhile.
Gourlay: I currently have one product – which I’ve decided to remove in a few days time actually! It made me a few thousands dollars to start with but then stopped. I really don’t do anything to market it though so I haven’t given it a proper go with that one. I literally describe the strategy that makes me most of my money in there and I am sick of people whinging about having to pay for it or asking me questions about how “worth it” it is to buy it. It’s also priced far cheaper than what it should be and all I’m really doing is giving myself more compeition so it’s not feeling worth it.
However, products are going to be my focus for the next year. It seems like the best way to diversify my income and actually online training courses have always been the number 1 thing I have wanted to do online. I was a teacher and I enjoy teaching. It’s just about finding the time now as I do have an appropriate audience. That and convincing them they should want to spend money on creating the life I have. The latter part is what keeps turning me off actually. It’s frustrating to have people think I just want to scam them when I have spent three years sharing so much for free on my digital nomad wannabe blog.
How did you create your course? Are there any programs or platforms you recommend for creating your course?
Gourlay: I have started using Teachable to set up my next course. My existing product is a presentation and pdf so didn’t need anything special.
How did you scope what the course would look like? What was the most challenging part about creating this product? How long are the videos you created for the course?
Gourlay: My existing product is a 45 minute presentation and notes. It did take quite awhile to make the presentation – it’s what I presented at Tbex in 2015. Turning it into a product was quick and easy.
Have you tried using Udemy for courses? What is your thought on that?
Gourlay: I was actually just looking at them for the first time the other night. I really don’t know much but it seemed to me like everything was too low cost. I don’t just want to produce run of the mill courses – I want them to really transform life for the better for people taking them. And this is not something I can do for $18. Please tell me if I’m wrong, I’d love to know more 🙂
Side note: In terms of Udemy, I’ve heard a good strategy is to offer some mini courses on it and then direct them to your master course or website. Udemy is a popular platform so you wouldn’t have to market your mini courses too much and you can get sales and new people on your site through this channel.
I’ve watched your DigitalNomadWannabe site grow and get redesigned. Did you redesign it yourself?
Gourlay: Yes. Apart from my logo on Where’s Sharon everything has been designed by me for better or worse. I HATE design work. I am missing the creative gene!
I think I am pretty good at making things functional though. I was a web developer a zillion years ago.
I actually really love the design of DigitalNomadWannabe which is why I asked!
I am trying to achieve $10,000/month passive income by October 2017. It might be kind of ridiculous as I am only at about $500/month right now (and this income is from Etsy). My plan is to build my 2 blogs mewanttravel.com and digitalnomadquest.com and create a course and book. Do you have any advice for me?
Gourlay: I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all. I’m trying to remember when I hit $500/month in passive income but I would have gone between $500 and $10000 per month in around a year – and the last few months of that I was so sick from pregnancy that I didn’t really do anything.
My biggest advice is to keep working hard and smart. Reinvest in your business where you can to take short cuts. Don’t work on anything unless you can see clearly how it gets you to your goals.
Any closing thoughts or advice for beginners?
Gourlay: I absolutely love having an online business and all the freedom and flexibility it has given our family. What I always hope to get across is that there is nothing special about me – I’m just someone who worked hard to get where I am. I didn’t have any special skills or advantage (except for being born in a rich country). The people reading this really can do it too.
My biggest advice to them is to be really clear in their goals and how they are going ot get there and not to be swept up in the millions of things – both online and offline -that can distract you from them.
Wow, I am super happy with this interview, and thank you again for speaking with me! I love how in-depth and transparent Sharon’s answers were, and I’m also happy to know that turning down some active income for passive is a good way to go and that $10k/month is achievable. Sharon really gave some actionable advice with this interview, and I hope you will all benefit from this as well. I even bought her old course after our chat. Be on the lookout for her future products in 2017!