Debbie Gartner is known as The Flooring Girl.
Her website is all about home improvements, but the emails she sends to her list are all about SEO, creating content, and affiliate marketing.
I wanted to find out how somebody can run two different business models and earn a living.
Debbie is very open and transparent about what works in her business and what she earns from it. She produces monthly income reports where you can see the types of digital courses that people are interested in and she provides inspiration for the types of digital products you can create.
Debbie started The Flooring Girl as a side project and it turned into a business when she found herself in debt. She also honed her SEO skills and began coaching clients in SEO and then transitioned to teaching what she knows about SEO into digital courses and other products.
Debbie confesses in the interview that she doesn’t like to write which is interesting considering she’s built a successful content business. She also describes her process for creating all of her digital products.
In this episode, we discuss:
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Debbie: The worst thing that someone can do is take a course and not implement. So, the key needs to be take a course, or a book, doesn’t really matter, but take something that is relevant to you in an area that you need to grow in and then learn from it and then implement and do that before you move on to the next course.
Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: Is it too late to earn money blogging? And if it’s not too late, how can you do it? Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins, welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast.
I’ve spoken before about how I turned my site, Become a Writer Today, into a website that earns money each month. Now I earn money from self-publishing books, from selling digital courses, and also from affiliate marketing and I also run display advertising on my site.
I didn’t intentionally set out to create those different revenue models for the site, they kind of emerged organically over the course of about five or six years as I started taking various courses aimed at people who run similar content websites. But I’m always interested to learn in how other creators online earn a living from their work.
Recently, I caught up with Debbie Gartner of The Flooring Girl. I’ve been on Debbie Gartner’s email list for quite a while. She has a website all about home improvements. But her email list is all about SEO, creating content like digital courses, and affiliate marketing. So I wanted to find out how somebody can balance running two different business models and earn quite well.
I know Debbie earns quite well because she’s very open and transparent about what works in her business. She produces monthly income reports which you can read to see the types of digital courses that people are interested in and also get inspiration for different types of digital products that you could potentially create.
My takeaway from talking to Debbie is to experiment. She started her site, The Flooring Girl, much like I did as a kind of a side project and it turned into a business when Debbie found herself in debt. In the meantime, she’d also honed her SEO skills and began coaching clients in SEO and then, eventually, she transitioned to teaching what she knows about SEO into digital courses and other types of products.
One of the other key takeaways from this interview is Debbie told me, she confessed she doesn’t like to write. This being a podcast for writers, I wasn’t shocked but I was fascinated because she’s built quite a successful content business so I really wanted to discover how she finds so much time to create content if she doesn’t like to write. And Debbie describes her process for creating all of her digital products in this week’s interview.
So if you’re listening to this interview and you find it useful, put one thing into practice that you will learn from Debbie, because Debbie says at the end of the interview rather than taking endless online courses, reading blogs, and even listening to podcasts like this one, it’s better to take one idea from a podcast or an interview or a course and put it into action in your business or into your current creative project. Otherwise, you can turn consuming lots of different information into a type of procrastination and it can become a type of shiny object syndrome whereby you’re always chasing the next thing and not working on what’s in front of you.
That’s certainly something that I’ve been guilty of over the years. I’ve started many different websites, lots of which haven’t worked. I’ve tried different projects on social media, which haven’t worked. I’ve experimented with Facebook ads and wasted money. And I’ve even created digital courses that not many people bought. In fact, now that I think about it, I’ve even had whole careers which didn’t really work out. I was a failed or washed-out journalist in my 20s and, in my early 30s, I worked in care work and was fired from a charity for, well, basically, not being able to do my job.
I was able to turn all that around when I found a job as a copywriter and that’s something I’ve talked about in previous episodes of the Become a Writer Today Podcast. So sometimes you gotta experiment and sometimes you have to pick one idea and see it through to conclusion. And if it works, great. If it doesn’t, move on to the next one.
Now, I hope you enjoy this week’s interview with Debbie. If you do, please leave a short review on iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast, Spotify, wherever you’re listening. Or you can share the show with another friend who wants to learn all about the craft of writing or how to build a creative business online. And if you’ve got feedback about the show, please reach out to me on Twitter, @bryanjcollins.
Now, let’s go over to this week’s interview with Debbie Gartner.
Bryan: Welcome to the show, Debbie.
Debbie: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Bryan: I’ve been on your email list for quite a while and I’m always impressed by the number of products that you’re able to create and how they’ve helped you grow your business. Before I ask you about that, could you give listeners a flavor for who you are and how you set up The Flooring Girl?
Debbie: Sure. So, my name is Debbie Gartner and you guys can find me at theflooringgirl.com and, as the name implies, I have a blog about flooring and that’s how I got started. I was not monetizing it at all but rather I had a small local business where I specialized in hardwood flooring. And, later, I included painting on my blog as well because I did that.
And then, at the end of 2016, my life kind of fell apart and I had to get rid of my business and basically start over, start fresh. So, all I had was my blog and my brains and I decided to monetize. At the time, I was $238,000 in debt and no longer had a job or a business or anything and had to start over.
But I did know how to do SEO because I have been learning that since 2010 to 2012 and, hence, I decided to monetize my blog. And I used my blog, and I also had two part-time jobs to help, but I was able to get out of that debt in three and a half years, so as of July of 2020, here I am. So, but in a nutshell, I started my blog, monetizing it through SEO, traffic, and affiliate marketing and it was only later in the end of 2018 when I started creating products and that was the next leap and bound to my income and I’m glad I made the adjustment. I had no idea what I was even missing at that point.
Bryan: Your blog, The Flooring Girl, is all about home decoration, home improvements, interior design, but your digital products are more about monetization and how creators can earn a living. So, you’re able to sell your products to the same audience or did you have to find a new audience?
Debbie: Right, no, they’re two totally separate audiences. And that was my big hesitation. So, I knew how to do SEO and I was hesitant to tell anybody that I knew how to do SEO. So, then, it just kind of happened by accident. Someone needed some help and I said, “Oh, I think I can help you, just pay me a little bit of money and I’ll teach it to you over the phone,” and then he said, “Oh, my God, you totally know what you’re doing. You should start a new blog on SEO.” And I was like, “No, I think I would kind of hate that and I would get bored of it,” especially because I don’t even love writing.
So, I then helped a few other people, and people said, “Oh, you really know how to do SEO,” and I said, “Yeah, I know, please don’t tell anybody.” But, of course, word got out and then I started coaching people over the phone to do that and then I had a long waiting list so I had a three-month-long waiting list and I couldn’t keep up with it. So I basically asked for help in one of the Facebook groups like, “What should I do? I can’t keep up with all these people that want my help,” and that’s when someone suggested doing a book or a course on SEO and that’s when I did my first book which was all about learning SEO. But it was a completely different target from my home decor audience because my home decor audience did not care about SEO or blogging or anything like that, they just wanted home decor advice.
So I was very hesitant to do it and I basically indexed everything on my site so no one could even find it. I did not have an email list either, which was a big mistake but, again, nothing that I did was planned, it was all spontaneous. So I was like, “What do I do? How do I even market a book?” Like I know how to write a book on SEO but I have no idea how to market it to the right people. And then someone said, “Oh, do it through affiliates.” And with affiliates, you basically will target people that have the audience that you want, even if you don’t have it, and then they recommend your product so it’s like a third-party endorsement so that actually helps it sell faster and better anyway, but that’s how I launched. I did not even create an email list until six months after my initial launch. So, that’s kind of how I did it. Trial by fire.
Bryan: And are you creating content on your site related to SEO or your products today or are you still relying on affiliates and your email list?
Debbie: So, I have very little content on my blog about — that’s related to blogging and SEO because it’s not related to my home decor audience and I didn’t wanna ruin that. If people on this podcast wanna find my information, there’s only one way to get to it if they’re not on my email list but, basically, they go on to the homepage and there is like eight boxes and the eighth box says Books and Courses and if they click on there, they can find it. That’s the only way.
So, the only — or main way that I get business is through — now, my email list is my number one source because I started that maybe two and a half years ago, it was May of 2019, and then through my affiliates as well. So those are the two main ways that people find me. I am hoping to change that. I mean, I have done some Facebook ads as well to supplement but I’m hoping to launch a podcast in January and that will be another way that I get people onto my list and familiar with my product. So, hopefully that will work. We’ll see.
Bryan: Debbie, there was a slight distortion on the line. What did you say are the two ways that you’re growing your email list?
Debbie: Well, the main ways that I make money are through my email list and through affiliates. In addition, I have done a little bit of Facebook ads as well to grow my list. But that’s all I’ve done. That’s it.
Bryan: Would you say affiliates are the biggest driver for growth for your email list?
Debbie: No, not anymore. They were — initially, that was the only source that I had but now my email list has done really well. So, I have maybe 10,000 or 11,000 subscribers at this point so that is the main driver of my income. And what I’m looking for is to try to find more ways to get people on my email list. I mean, I was really afraid to do email because I don’t even like writing and this is the whole irony of it all. I do not like writing, and I know your audience probably doesn’t wanna hear that and you probably don’t want to either. But writing is my worst subject, by far. So, I have to change my mindset so that I’m not really writing, I’m basically talking. Talking comes easy.
So, my blog posts that I write are basically me talking to a customer, just answering the questions that they have, and my email list is basically me just talking to my email subscribers, just pretending that they are friends and I’m giving them advice. It’s as simple as that. So as soon as I got out of the writing mode and into the “I’m talking to a friend” mode and I’m just helping people like I have in the past, maybe I’ve done it one on one, but I just treat it like that and that’s how I do my email list. I hope that makes sense.
Bryan: Could you describe how you create your products for your list?
Debbie: So, my products, I basically come up with things that I know really well and that I think will be helpful to my audience. So, my real specialties are SEO and affiliate marketing and they go hand in hand. And affiliate marketing, I think, can work really well either through SEO or email, as I’ve learned, or both. And then if I had to pick a third area, it’s YouTube video but I stink at doing videos so I just really haven’t crossed that threshold at that point. But I kind of think, well, what is it that I know really well that other people would find valuable and that I feel confident that I can teach them things?
So I just really look at what I specialize in. I don’t do everything. So, I’m really good at those things, but as it turns out, I have done really, really well on email marketing, much to my surprise. So this year, I’ve made over $10,000 each month just from my email list and $10,000 is the lowest number. I’ve had a couple of months where it’s been more like $20,000 or $15,000 or $16,000.
So, I then ended up writing a book on how I do email because what’s good about teaching other people about email is that I did not know anything about email and it was a mystery. And I mean, mystery to me. And in fact, I was kind of anti-email at times, so I didn’t get it and so I was able to write it from a layman’s perspective.
So, why is email so important? And how can email actually work from a strategy standpoint? Because I didn’t get it, I know other people don’t get it either. So that was like a new route in there that I went into and tried. But I basically just write things from my own experience about what’s working. I hope that that makes sense.
Bryan: It does. So I’m gonna describe some of your packages that you’ve created. You have Easy On-Page SEO.
Bryan: Easy Backlinks for SEO, Google Analytics, you have a bundled SEO package, an introductory SEO course, an Amazon course, I could be here for a few minutes listing them out. What does somebody get when they purchase one of these courses?
Debbie: Okay, so my most popular books by far are my SEO eBooks and it teaches people how to do SEO and how — it’s written in layman’s terms so it’s not tech speak, it’s actually in English. And I have a two-book bundle, which is Easy On-Page SEO and Easy Backlinks for SEO and so those two go together. When people buy them together, they get a discount by doing that. So that has been my bread and butter. And then after that, I have two affiliate, let’s call it books/courses, that also do really, really well. And, I mean, I do really well in affiliate marketing.
So this year, I’ve earned an average of maybe $18,000 a month from affiliate marketing so, therefore, those do well. So it’s all based on my experience and my results. So I don’t just write about blogging, like there are a whole bunch of people out there that try to create a blog about blogging but they don’t even know how to blog. I am not one of those people. I am one of those people who does well in something and then I decided to teach from experience and it’s using my own base blog, theflooringgirl.com and what is working there.
So, I basically just write from my own experience as opposed to theory. So, those are the most popular ones. I also have an advanced SEO course as well called Easy SEO Revamp and it’s all based on my experience using Google Search Console, which is a free tool to use and you basically use Google Search Console to understand what’s working well and where the opportunities are that you can do better and how you bring your posts from let’s call it bottom of page one towards top of page one or top of page two to bottom of page one so it’s improving the ranking on existing posts. So, I hope that answers your question.
Bryan: Do you test your courses with beta students first or do you release them straightaway?
Debbie: No. I do a lot of things backwards in this business. So I literally just launch them and — I mean, I will usually have like one person read through it or something like that to make sure it’s okay but I even launch them, and I know this is probably sacrilege, but I even launch most of them without testimonials and then I go back and do testimonials.
So, I will usually launch it at a slightly lower price because they don’t yet have the testimonials and I’m relying on my email list and the people that know me, like me, and trust me and then they buy it and then after, they will voluntarily give me testimonials. And those I put in there, or once in a while, I will ask a few people to get testimonials and then after I get those, I will improve the sales page, I’ll raise the price a little bit, like an extra $10 or $20 or whatever, and try to relaunch it.
Bryan: You also described affiliate marketing is a great revenue generation source for your business. I’ve had some good success with affiliate marketing as well. Well, how do you find products to promote and what type of products have worked quite well for you in your site?
Debbie: Okay, so when it comes to my home decor site, the places where I’ve done best are things that are related to what I am blogging about. So I do really well on Amazon and also rewardStyle because it’s all about home decor and the items that I’m already blogging about, flooring, painting. I also do paint samples.
When it comes to blogging products, it’s usually based on experience that I have taken a course or a book and really found value of it. I’m not someone who just blindly promotes stuff and I don’t do it based on the dollar ring, I do it based on “Do I think that it will help my subscriber and has it helped me?” And so often, I am writing to people that want to learn how to monetize their blog better and, you know what, I wanna monetize my blog better. So, there’s like something in sync there. So if I think it’s valuable for me and my readers and I think it’s a good value, because I won’t just promote like really high-priced courses, everything has to be a good value to me because I came from a place of debt and I did not have a lot of money to spend on my blog so I want people to invest their money and their time in a good value way. So I hope that that makes sense. I mean, sometimes, I have people that will come to me and ask me to promote their products. If they’re a good friend and they have proven that their products and courses are good value and actually teach up, I will at times take their word for it. But a lot of them won’t give me access to their course or book but it’s more based on what I feel will be right.
Maybe I have high standards in terms of what I think is valuable because I already know a lot at this point. I’m the first to admit that I can — I should learn more and I should actually do more. There’s a lot that’s in my head that I haven’t actually done yet but I intend to do. So, I’m a consummate learner and I think that people that are like that tend to do well in blogging, like the worst thing that someone can do is take a course and not implement. So, the key needs to be take a course, or a book, doesn’t really matter, but take something that is relevant to you in an area that you need to grow in and then learn from it and then implement and do that before you move on to the next course.
Because so many of us have course overload or information overload and we keep buying and buying and buying. You know, just because something’s on sale is not a good reason to buy. If you’re planning on getting that anyway or trying to learn about that subject, then the sale is a very good thing but don’t just be tempted to buy stuff because it’s on sale, buy it because you think that it will actually help you and help you now or very soon.
Take the course and then implement. Otherwise, we’re just gonna be a constant course taker, which is like the worst thing, because implementation is the key and execution and, right now, by the way, me, personally, like I feel that I’m failing on that because I have so many things on my project list to do and implement but I can never seem to get to all of it. So I need to prioritize better.
Bryan: It’s hard to do everything. I know what you mean. I have a long list of projects I’d like to start but…
Debbie: Yeah, it’s really hard. And you see all these bright, shiny objects but, at some point, we need to sit down and just execute and do. And the fact that we’re learning more is actually a good thing but we have to prioritize what we’re going to work on and, lately, I’ve just been sidetracked by a few other side issues and, right here — and it’s probably the same where you are, the days are so short and it’s making me more and more tired. It’s getting dark here at maybe 4:30 or so, which is ridiculous. Is it like that where you are too?
Bryan: It is, yes, it gets dark here about 4:30 so the day can feel like there are less working hours available.
Debbie: Yeah, so you have that and then you also I think are naturally more tired when it gets dark. So, it’s getting harder and harder to do stuff. So, I’m trying to prioritize my time and just say, okay, I have one thing to work on today. That’s it. Just one thing, get it done. And, now, the year is creeping up on me and so I haven’t gotten a lot of the stuff done that I was supposed to and I have to get it done.
Bryan: Did you ever consider breaking out your affiliate marketing and SEO content and courses onto a separate site to The Flooring Girl?
Debbie: Yeah. So I wanna start a new podcast and I’m going to so my podcasts will be on a different site. Again, I am behind on projects all the time. So I started this process about a year ago and basically created a new site, had someone copy the post into another place, and then they will go on there but that will probably happen in January or so.
So I’ll have my podcasts on there, but I don’t even blog that much about blogging. Basically, it’s my email, as I alluded to before, that is driving all the profit there so the fact that it’s not on its own site doesn’t bother me so much because the people I need are on my email list. So, that’s how the money is coming. So, it varies — like last month had Black Friday so I did better than usual, but I made over $23,000 just from my email list.
So when I think strategically about what to do, the new site is kind of like a nice to have but it’s not the key driver. The key driver is my email list. So then I come down to, okay, how do I get people on my email list and that has been the challenge. So, hopefully, the podcast, when it comes out, will help with that but that remains to be seen.
Bryan: Yeah, it can be challenging growing an email list. Personally, I rely on publishing articles on my site.
Bryan: And then I get organic traffic and then subscribers will join the site to get a free book of writing prompts. But I can’t imagine how else I would do it. I experimented with Facebook ads previously but I don’t like using Facebook for lots of different reasons so I turned those ads off. I’ve also tried guest posting. That was quite useful writing for other people’s sites for a while but I kind of hit a point of diminishing returns with guest posting.
Debbie: Exactly. And that’s what you do when you have a site that is about — like you have everything kind of working together. You have a site, it brings in traffic, and then they can get on your email list and you can branch out from there.
My Flooring site is completely irrelevant to my blogging and SEO stuff but the key driver, what I’m finding for my blogging and SEO stuff is the email list. So I just think about the question differently. How do I get people onto my email list? That is my big challenge. So, sometimes I participate in some of these bundles is another way to get email subscribers, hopefully the podcast will, but I don’t for a second think that my articles on SEO, which I haven’t even really written, I don’t think that they’re going to rank for SEO because I’m competing against other SEO experts that not only know as much as I do but have been established for years in that area with that website and I would have new site which has no authority.
Even though I may personally know, my site has no authority so I’m just not even going to bother, I’m going to bypass, and that’s where I look for different ways to do that. But, really, the intention is not to get traffic to my site but how to get email subscribers to my list.
Bryan: Yeah, it’s important to pick what’s most valuable to the business. Otherwise, you get distracted by shiny objects. Debbie, where can people learn more about you or your courses?
Debbie: Yeah, so they can go to theflooringgirl.com and they can go on to the eighth box on the homepage and they can see all my courses there and I created something for my podcast that’s upcoming but, stupid me, I didn’t prepare for this so I forget. I think if people do theflooringgirl.com/freeseo, they can take my free SEO course. And if they get that, then they’ll learn about my podcast, but I forget the URL that I created for my podcast so I’m sorry. I didn’t have a lot of sleep last night.
Bryan: Okay, theflooringgirl.com/freeseo.
Debbie: Yeah, I believe that that will work.
Bryan: Okay. Well, thanks, Debbie. It’s very nice to talk to you today.
Debbie: Yeah, same here.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books and discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.