Starting From Scratch: 2016 Review ($0 to $2,000 per month case study)

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In February of 2016, I started coaching Jim Horner with the goal of making $2,000 per month from niche sites.

Anyone that has a niche site knows that it’s a challenging task to reach $2,000 per month when your site has exactly 0 visitors.

Jim made a ton of progress over the last 10 months, and he literally started from scratch. You can read all the updates here.

Interested in creating your own niche site? Watch for my premium course Five Figure Niche Site. Coming soon! Sign up for the waitlist here.

I asked Jim to write a summary of the year, a review, sort of like mine. It’s cool to see the progression over the year and to hear it straight from Jim. He talks about:

  1. The uncertainty of it all
  2. Being lost like a newbie
  3. The Niche Site Roller Coaster
  4. A Summary of Traffic, Earnings, Rankings
  5. Top 5 Affiliate Marketing Things I Learned in 2016
  6. Things that didn’t work
  7. Launching a new business: Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA)
  8. Goals for 2017

Thanks to Jim for working with me in 2016 and I’m excited for him to make $2,000 per month in 2017.

Here is Jim…

What a year! 2016 was a pretty big year in terms of learning, taking on new challenges, and growing my business. I made some mistakes, got some wins, and learned A LOT along the way.

Back when I started I had a lot of the same concerns that everyone feels when they’re starting out:

  • Will this work?
  • Can I actually earn real money?
  • What will my friends and family think?

After almost a year of working on this I can safely say that, while sometimes confused, everyone has been really supportive of what I’m trying to accomplish. And while I’m not at my initial goal of $2,000/month yet, I’m getting closer and I know a hell of a lot more than I did even a couple months ago.

Like many a new niche site builders I was pretty lost on my first attempt at a new site. My niche was competitive, keyword research was almost nonexistent, and all the ancillary stuff just went to wayside. Those first steps that you take turn out to be pretty important but if you don’t take action and try then even those steps don’t matter. If you want to succeed then you have to at least try.

My site has grown in content, visitors, and revenue.

blankWhy? Because I followed Doug’s Content Traffic Profit Sprint plan, keep the vision and trust the process. Working with someone who has a solid foundation and proven track record in this business is pretty huge. The more you learn the more you earn.

It all hasn’t been sunshine and roses though, I definitely felt the highs and lows of the Niche Site Rollercoaster and while the lows have smoothed out I still have bad days where I get frustrated with the site and how much I’m making.


credit: Social Triggers. Used with permission.

Something that really helped my attitude was to reign in my expectations. After a couple of months on my first site I wanted to have a huge portfolio of sites only to find out that it’s not really a realistic approach this early in the game.

Launching a New Site

blankI saw my site growing and making a little money and I thought “Hey! I should crank out 10 of these and really make some money!” After building 1 good site and 1/2 of another I now realize how much work this would be.

All of that work folded back into one site can realize as much, if not more, realized potential.

Clear the clutter and focus and you’ll see that a calculated precise approach will win the day.

My initial site is strong, healthy, and doing well and I’m using that to my advantage in expanding what my site covers. Initially it was pretty seasonal (chock it up to being a first time niche site builder) but with Doug’s help we realigned for the off months and I’ve been working on filling in the gaps.

I didn’t shut down all new work and I launched a new site a few months ago and it’s doing well especially now during the buying season. It’s not huge and I’m not making tons of money but I am making some money and have done my due diligence.

I’ve got a lot of good keywords, some good guest posts out there and I’m excited to grow this one more in the future as time and energy allows. Right now though I feel that my energy is best spent on my original site because I can see the biggest gains with it.

During the last update I had a few goals that I wanted to run down, more of the old standard: Content, Traffic, Profit but like we’ve said in the past being flexible is paramount to your mental health.

Did I meet all my goals? No.

Did I get a lot of work done? Yes and I’m stoked with where I’m at!

I got 10 new seasonally redirected articles up on my original site and 5 more up on the second, 3 more guest posts for the first site and worked really hard on my other side project (hint: more details on that later in this article).

A Graphical Summary of the Year

blank blank blank blank blank blank

Top 5 Affiliate Marketing Things I Learned in 2016

These are some of the best things I learned throughout my first year as a full-time affiliate marketer. Some have to directly with work and some with the personal side of things.

>> Want 15,000 Keywords from PROVEN, Profitable Amazon Niche Sites? Click here. It’s free.

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

Prioritize! Just ask yourself “Is this going to help my business?” and give it a score out of 10, 10 being super important to your affiliate marketing business. Things like site design, while it might seem crucial, should rank lower on the scale than keyword research, content, and outreach.

Don’t Get Discouraged

I know, easy to say, harder to do but this might be the most important thing I learned this year. The first time I got a nasty reply from a guest post email I got pissed off, watching traffic slow down is hard, writer’s block sucks, passion waxes and wanes. Remember this is a marathon, keep your vision and trust the process. Find others to talk with who know what you’re trying to accomplish and share you experiences.

It’s A Numbers Game

You’re not going to send out 1 guest post email and start ranking tomorrow, you’re not going to publish 10 articles and retire, the more time you invest the faster your business will grow. This game is a numbers game, the more articles you write the more chances you have of converting, the more GP emails you send the better your odds, the more time you invest the faster your site will develop.

Focus On Wins Not Loses

Find a reason to say “I’m good at this”, “Being my own boss suits me”, and “I’m excited to work on my site”. If you associate positive energy with your site, guess what, you’re going to be stoked that you’re an affiliate marketer and you’re going to start seeing more wins. Will you get more wins? Maybe, maybe not, but you’re going to have a better outlook and the wins will seem more frequent, if not then the loses will seem bigger and more pronounced.

Step Away

Close the computer. Go for a walk, go to the gym, hell, go on a vacation. The point is, being your own boss you can develop some pretty negative self-talk and you come down hard on your employee (read: You). Some R&R can go a seriously long way for your mental health and when you come back you can hit the ground running, fully rejuvenated, and stoked to get back to work.

Things That Didn’t Work

For the most part I tried to follow Doug’s advice and coaching but I did try a couple of my own approaches and got burned a little.

Multiple sites

Being this new to the game I found that I really benefitted from focusing my attention on my first site and not getting bogged down with too many sites all of which would pull me in different directions. Too little butter over too much toast kind of thing.

If it seems too good to be true…

A $5 guest post on a DA 90 site that get written for me??!?!?!? Don’t, just don’t, it’s going to “cost” you a lot more than you might think. If you want gray hat then do you homework on PBNs. I haven’t tried PBNs but if you know what you’re doing then you might be able make them work for you. Operative phrase – “If you know what you’re doing”, if not you very well might watch your hard work get flushed down the tubes. You know what works 100% of the time? Hard work, diligence, and patience.

Being hard on myself

Coming from a management background I thought I knew how to get the most out of myself, I did not. I kept telling myself that I could’t slack off, that I needed to do more, and that should be farther than I was.

This saw me develop a bad relationship with myself. Having done this for a little bit now I’m beginning, beginning, to understand how to get the most out of me.

By being flexible, understanding and patient I’m making bigger gains than I was when I was really pushing myself hard.

All the lows that I mentioned up above were triggered by none other than me, I needed to start developing a working relationship with myself. I still get bummed now and then but they’re getting further apart and less intense, I just know how to roll a little better.


Call me a serial entrepreneur but I even launched a side project with another buddy of mine. I went FBA on all you and wadded through that minefield of:

  • supplier relations
  • imports
  • freight forwarders
  • getting an LLC setup
  • everything else

While they’re pretty different from one another there are some similarities. Keyword research, average search volumes, competition analysis and some SEO are all involved with the FBA game and just like my intro to niche sites, I’ve learned TONS of new stuff, made some mistakes and got some wins.

Just like launching a new niche site there are things that you can’t consider up front because you’ve never done it before. One thing that would have been really nice would have been to find a product that played really well with my site in order to get another revenue stream, that isn’t the case.

There could be a little potential crossover with my second site and I may see if we can work some sales through it in the future. For now, though, we’ve got our hands pretty full with learning as much as we can and developing a strong revenue stream through Amazon’s platform, finding innovating ways to build our brand off Amazon so we can “own” the customers better, and really dialing in product research.

Currently, I’m happy to say that after months of getting everything setup we’re finalizing our first inbound shipment to Amazon, we’ve got our listings optimized, got some great photos and have gotten some creative marketing strategies that we’re going to employ soon.

Inbound FBA shipments we’re shut to new sellers (us) until 19 December so Amazon could ensure that they would have enough room for established sellers during this crazy time of year.

So we waited until midnight on the East coast and were on the phone with each other late at night discussing our initial shipment and getting everything setup. Right now we’re waiting our freight forwarder to get us some final details and then are products will be on their way. We’re both pretty excited at trying something new. Just like me, my buddy is just sick of working for someone else and even though he’s making good money he’s chasing freedom.

2017 Goals

Hopefully next year will see some big wins and it will undoubtedly have excitement. Now that my site is looking good I’m really wanting to keep adding and adding to it so I can really start to see some good things come of it. I’m wanting to develop out my second site to a strong foothold and see where that takes me.

The FBA thing will be exciting too, like the niche site game there’s a lot to learn and it requires being flexible in order to take what you learn and apply it. Depending on how it plays out we’d like to launch a couple more products and see if we can build out our brand.

After everything this year has thrown at me I can proudly say that I made a site that’s ranking and earning (with Doug’s help of course), currently this December my site is on pace to be one of the best months yet (thank you 4th quarter!).

I’ve been working for myself for 1 year now and it feels incredible. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me and what I’m able to accomplish in the next year. Onward!


 What Advice Do YOU Have For Jim? Leave a comment below:

  1. How did Jim do in 2016?
  2. What should Jim do in 2017?

There’s going to be a new series showcasing a crazy, ambitious case study: Selling a Niche Site for OVER $500,000. Be sure you’re signed up for the newsletter to be notified when the case study starts in a few days.

About the Author: Doug Cunnington is the founder of Niche Site Project. He shows people how to create Affiliate Sites using project management and a proven, repeatable framework. Doug loves creating systems, using templates, and brewing beer (but usually not at the same time).

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Niche Website Builders help their customers build and grow more profitable content sites. They offer a fully hands-off approach for all the services that they offer.For example, their content creation service includes their proprietary keyword research process, articles are written by in-house native English speakers, formatted using review templates that are proven to convert and uploaded to WordPress with affiliate links added so that all you need to do is review and click publish.

This makes their service perfect for both beginners wondering where to start, through to experienced portfolio owners looking to scale their operations

They also offer ‘done for you’ site builds and link building services.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jim, keep going – keep sharing and keep smiling. I’m a few steps behind you, probably just off the starting blocks and keep being hampered but hearing the good stuff (and the bad) along your journey is motivating me to keep going – thank you.

    • Jim

      Hi Jonathan!
      Good on ya for getting going. I’m so stoked to be helping other people along my journey. Good luck with your site this year!

  • It’s pretty exciting to hear that Jim actually manoeuvred from a seasonal niche site to something constant. That can only happen under the watch of an experienced eye.
    Keep up.

    • Jim

      Hey Joseph-
      Yeah, you definitely have to stay on your toes when you’re just starting out. Knowing when and how to maneuver is key for long term success.

  • Jim, I think you did awesome in 2016! Now you see why most people quit before they find success – especially those who don’t have somebody coaching them. I’m sure you’ll do awesome in 2017 – just keep focused!

    Keeping focused is what is helping me the most – but it’s not always easy to stay focused through the tough and boring parts.

    I’m going full time in October 2017 and man I can’t wait! I have big plans and I just need to have more than the evenings and weekends to excute them.

    Keep it up!

    • Jim

      Hey Dave!
      I agree 100% that staying focused is key but can be hard to do. Congrats on the big switch in 2017! Good luck brother!

    • Troy

      Hi Dave, I’m newbie here. This is awesome site to watch for and learn from each other regarding Amazon niche site. Heard you’re planning to relocate to PH? Well I’m living there.

  • Do you recommend any professional companies to build affiliate sites for a newbie like myself. I am not looking for some cheap whip something up site. A very professional site, set up with components for the best potential success. Then I would be interested in taking that site or sites to the next level by hiring a company like yours to help with perfecting the SEO & content marketing to drive traffic / ranking to further the chances for success.


    • I recommend starting it on your own to learn the basics. There is value in that ramp up period.
      The services usually leave you to do all the marketing and link building which is a whole other thing to talk about. But I don’t offer any services like what you described – I just work on my own sites. That’s a more profitable route than working on other people’s sites.

      Hope that helps, Mike! See you around the blog

  • Great post!
    What tool is used to check the ranking positions?

    • Jim

      Hi Roman-
      There are a lot of different tools out there. The ones I like are,, and others.
      Good luck,

      • Roman

        Jim, I see the screens from majestic, semrush…. I am interested in real-time position checker.. . (Ok. I have seen the URL of the screenshot.. It is Thank you!