When I was studying at home, I went for a walk. Past the green house with the brick fence, I could show you the one. I stopped. Realised. Everything I do, everything I enjoy most has revolved around communication. A formative moment. Memories from the past came back.
The speech I gave when I was 12 about a smartwatch, the Wacko Watch. I copied it from another kid. Copied it head to tail. Then remixed it with my own ideas. His watch didn’t have personal air conditioning, mine did. I won an award for that speech. I was hooked. But didn’t know it. Didn’t know it until I was 24 walking the backstreets of my neighbourhood.
Every job I’ve had. Even the ones I thought I wanted. I felt like I didn’t belong. There was a poke in my side. A poke in my side telling me I had to find something. Something? Something else. I didn’t know what but I knew.
I always had side projects going. But never kept going long enough on any for them to bear fruit.
The idea of working full-time scared me. 9–5, 40-hours a week, you clock in, you clock out, what was that? I told my girlfriend. I’m never working full-time except if it was for myself. She said why not, you could be earning more money and saving more? We broke up a few months later. I was very sad for a long time. Missed her. Didn’t miss her. Missed the feeling our relationship gave me. The feeling of being loved. I realised. Realised I could get that feeling from myself. I started loving myself. It turned out to be a superpower.
Before the specifics. That’s it. Start by figuring out where your pain comes from. Mine? Not loving myself enough. I worked on it. Work on yours. Then use the energy it brings you to create. Create the things you want to see in the world. That’s the formula.
Where does my income come from?
I have several income sources. The main one is affiliate partnerships. I’m partnered with Coursera, Udemy, DataCamp and Amazon. The next biggest is Medium’s Partner Program.
Let’s break the last month down. All monetary figures are in USD.
Coursera — $4,106.65
Udemy — $66.00
DataCamp — $338.10
Amazon — $255.02
My bank says this cheque will take 6 weeks (wtf) and $45 AUD to clear. Technically I don’t get this money this month. It’s here anyway.
Medium’s Partner Program
Total — $2041.53
Total — $266.83
Total — $1500.00 (one-off project)
Total (all sources combined)
With client work — $8,574.13 ($12,561.10 AUD)
Without client work — $7,074.13 ($10,363.60 AUD)
I live in Australia, the current conversion rate works out well. 30% goes to tax. So it evens out.
Last month was the most I’ve ever made on Medium. One of my articles picked up traction and went viral. So this amount shouldn’t be considered consistent. The beautiful thing about Medium’s Partner Program is anyone can join and start earning. If you have a story to tell, tell it.
I have 15,000 subscribers on YouTube. I’ve had one video with over 100,000 views. Again, an outlier. I’ve never claimed ad revenue, so there’s a year worth of it sitting in Google’s bank account somewhere.
I’ve included client work and non-client work amounts because I’m moving away from doing one-off projects. The project I did was a coding video for an educational platform. They own the rights. I prefer to own my work. And to build things which scale. Code and media scale. One article can be read 100,000 times with no more input than what it took to write it. The client project I built scales but I don’t own it anymore.
My biggest source of income is affiliate partnerships.
How did these happen?
Affiliate income works like this. Say you’re partnered with a company and their product costs $100 with an affiliate rate of 20%. If someone buys the product because you recommended it, you get $20. This is usually tracked through deep links (links which know where the original click came from).
If you go through my videos and articles, many of them are about learning machine learning and data science. I started by creating my own Artificial Intelligence Masters Degree. And spent most of my time studying online in my room by myself. Studying alone is lonely. So I shared my work online with the hope of finding people like me.
One of my videos mentioned I was going through Coursera’s University of Michigan data science course and loving it. Someone from Coursera found it and reached out to me via email asking if I’d like to set up a series of sponsored videos and partner with them through Rakuten (a marketing platform).
I accepted Coursera’s offer to sponsor 3 videos, $500 USD each and set up an ongoing affiliate partnership. I went from making $0 online for a year to $1500 USD in one month.
The sponsored videos stopped after the first 3. But the affiliate partnership remains. And since I’ve used Amazon (books), Udemy and DataCamp (more data and machine learning courses) I applied to their affiliate programs and was approved.
Since then, whenever I mention a course or book which has helped me, I use the relevant affiliate link to share it. I put the links in my articles and in the descriptions of my videos.
If someone chooses to sign up, I get a percentage of the fee they pay. I made a page on my blog which explains this.
How did I start?
2006–2010 — Swim coach assistant at the family business. I didn’t notice it at the time but my Dad treated everyone, man, woman, child as if they were the most important person in the world. They were, they were our customers, they helped put dinner on the table. He asked how their day was, smiled always.
2011–2011 — Sandwich artist. Asked for time off for university exams, pretending I was going to pass, boss said no, I stopped showing up.
2011–2011 — Freight stacker at the airport. Scan the box, read the postcode, put it where it needed to go, avoid talking to others it’s distracting. One day my pay got cut by 30%. We were paying you as a 21-year-old but you’re 20, so we’ve adjusted your rate. They stopped calling me for shifts one day. One day turned into three weeks. Three weeks into forever. Thank you.
2011–2012 — Government records administration officer. Stacking more boxes, sealing envelopes. Got let go due to government changes. Thank you.
2013–2016 — Back of house then Genius at Apple. The products were nice but I preferred talking to customers. I’d swap repair shifts for being face-to-face with customers.
Michael, do you want to swap shifts?
Are you sure?
What’s the trick?
No trick, I just prefer talking to customers.
2017–2018ish — Uber driver. I drove on weekends to pay for my studies. Hated driving but loved talking to people. I picked up Cameron. He lost his vision at 23 but decided he was going to get it back. At 26 he started seeing out of one eye again. He found it hard finding work with a disability so he started a company to help people with disabilities get work.
2017 — now — Stopped consuming. Started creating. Started learning machine learning and data science online. Started writing articles, making videos, sharing them. Turned into a frozen yoghurt machine. All output.
2018–2019 — Codecamp instructor. I was learning code and found I learn things best when I teach others.
2018–2019ish — Machine learning engineer. I spent 9-months studying machine learning five days a week, sharing my work. Then Ashley sent me a message on LinkedIn, she saw what I was posting. You should meet Mike. I met Mike. Mike told me I should meet Cam. I met Cam. I told Cam what I was studying. He said would I like to come in on Thursday. I went in on Thursday and met Nick. A year later, I told Nick this is the last job I want. I love it here. I’m either going to stay here or leave and go on my own.
Mid-2019 — now — I went out on my own.
Thought I wanted Apple, thought I wanted a job at a tech company. On paper they were both great. But there it was. That poke in my side. The deep-down feeling. I tried to ignore it. Even made a graph in Google Sheets. If I stay here and get a pay increase every year, save some, I should be a millionaire by 40. Why a millionaire? I don’t know. A million seemed nice.
Now I realise I was getting confused. Wanted the millionaire status instead of wealth. I earn more than I spend. I earn enough to keep working on my craft. That’s wealth. That’s what I want. No big job titles. No big salary. Enough to keep working on the things I want to work on.
Why put this here?
None of this happened overnight. In 2017, I made the switch. Made the switch from consuming to creating. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
What matters most is there’s no set path. You can create your own.
Making $10,000 online last month came from the accumulated lessons of the past 9-years.
What I’m bad (and could improve) at
Any kind of logistics work. None of the above was planned. All of the opportunities I’ve received have been inbound. Meaning, Coursera reached out to me, DataCamp asked if I’d be interested in making a course, the clients I’ve worked with emailed me.
I could improve trying to plan things out ahead. Reach out instead of waiting for things to come my way.
My organisational skills are okay but they could be better. I use bit.ly for tracking my affiliate links, I use Trello for planning my projects, Dropbox for files, Zoom and Google Hangouts for calls (yes, two calling apps), take notes relentlessly, using Notion and Bear, write in Ulysses and iA Writer (a total of four writing apps), track where my time goes using Harvest, track expenses and income in Google Sheets and Quickbooks, make videos with Final Cut Pro, store the video files across 3 hard drives, iCloud and Dropbox, edit photos with Affinity Photo, code in Visual Code Studio and Jupyter Notebooks. It’s a mess and I hate it. Hate it all. But it’s my mess. So I love it.
Perhaps I’d make more if I planned things. If I really drilled down. My style of creating and generating more opportunities is keep doing. Keep putting out more work, better work.
What I’m good at
My favourite moment is sitting down with a blank page. Sitting down and finding out what’s going to come out. With 10-hours of raw video footage and cutting out the 10-minutes worth sharing.
I make a lot. Most of it sucks. My first 30 videos are me sitting in my car.
I’ve never taken a filmmaking class. I watch videos online, copy them, mix them with my own style.
I’ve never taken a writing class. Like the speech I heard when I was 12. I read good books, good articles, listened to good talks, copy them, mix them with my own style.
I make videos I’d like to watch. I write stories and articles I’d like to read. If I’d like to watch, like to read them, chances are someone else will too. If my work sucks. I tell myself. This is shit. Let’s make it better.
I got lucky. It turns out the market wants to learn data science and machine learning. My interests line up with the market. But they never would’ve lined up if I hadn’t taken the step. If I hadn’t signed up for the course I wasn’t ready for. If I hadn’t put out that first article sharing what I’d learned even though I was nervous to hit the publish button.
You can make your own luck by showing up.
What I’m going to do next
I applied for a job the other day. Thought I wanted it. It looked good on paper. I didn’t get it. Good. I told Dave. He replied, why go for another job when you’ve just started on your own, keep going, look how much can change in a year. I told him you’re right, choke me out if I ever apply for another job.
Get yourself a friend like Dave.
I had to get a job at the biggest tech company in the world to know I didn’t want a job at the biggest tech company in the world.
I got a job at a small tech company. It was the closest to what I wanted. Get in. Say the good mornings. Sit and work for 6-hours straight on tough problems. Take walks every 2-hours. Sandwich the 6-hours with logistics, email, meetings, messages. I hate those.
I had to get small-time famous on YouTube to know I didn’t need fame. I avoid the analytics. Every time I hear growth hacking I puke. I don’t want to be bigger. I want to be better.
I’m moving away from client work. I’m moving away from shorter-term projects. I’m moving towards building products of my own. Scalable products in the form of code or media. A course, an application, a book.
What can you do?
You get known for what you do. Marketing isn’t only about getting more likes or views, it’s making things which make a change. The change you want to see happen. I wanted to see a change in myself. Wanted to become a creator, wanted to learn to code, wanted to write, wanted to follow my own curiosity, wanted the younger me to be proud of the future me.
This article is not to show off. It’s to show you what’s possible by creating your own path and following it.
The 2-year self-apprenticeship
Want to learn something new and potentially earn a living online? Pick something and set out on a 2-year self-apprenticeship.
Collect online resources teaching the thing you want to learn. Put them together in your own structured curriculum. As you’re learning, share what you learn. This can be through blog posts, videos, projects, you decide. Doing this has the added benefit of others being able to learn as well as you practising communicating the skill you’re learning.
Don’t worry if you don’t think your work is ready or you haven’t learned enough. The secret is, everyone who shares their work feels this way.
As you practice sharing your work, it’ll improve. You’ll get better. You’ll be learning a skill and learning how to communicate it. People will find it. Opportunities will arise. And if they don’t, search for them. When people want to pay for your work, say yes.
The internet has made it so you can create your own educational and career path. My niche is machine learning and data science. Making money online is a result of me following my curiosity, building skill and sharing it. I’m not special. I’m just very very curious.
My last official day at my job was June 21st 2019. Since then I’ve more than doubled my salary. There are people who earn more than me online. Far more than me. But sometimes seeing someone making $100,000 per month online when you’re making $0 per month online seems impossible.
Two years ago, I saw people making $1000 per month online and thought if I could do that it would be incredible. Last month, I made 10x that. Now I realise, I was holding myself back. Holding myself back thinking I had to show up at a certain place at a certain time to get paid. That’s only one way of earning. And it’s broken.