About Al Carlton

Al quit the 9 to 5 rat race in January of 2007, before then he was a software engineer and systems architect of financial system. Nowadays Al spends the days running his various businesses and experimenting with different ideas and opportunities.
Al can be found on twitter at AlCarlton.

Self Made Minds (the return) - Take 3

smmbrain
Well it’s been a while since I posted here (2 years, oops). Recently I’ve found myself posting more and more in forums and various Facebook groups and I quite enjoy it. My wife told me I need a hobby (as did my therapist) so I think the time is right to start posting here again. Not going to promise weekly updates but it will be more frequent than before. Any feedback will always be appreciated and will motivate to write more.

As before I’ll be posting about different business bits (and self made mind stuff) I’ve done or am doing, both successes and failures (boo). I will go into the nitty gritty at times.

I’m currently still selling on Amazon (after a few suspensions), mainly outsourced or automated and I’m very close to a 7 digit milestone, so there’s a bunch of stuff I can write about there. Starting a print on demand, new brand case study so that could be a fun one (maybe profitable, maybe not). I’ve been working on my own SaaS (Software as a Service) product for ages but that is getting really close to release. Still have various sites, and since my last post some have been and gone. I do have my fingers in quite a few different pies at the moment. I’m beginning to import from China and if that doesn’t generate some cool posts I’ll be amazed. Oh and I’m moving to the good old USA next year.

I will be doing interviews with various entrepreneurs that I know, so if you fancy a chat feel free to ping me. When we first launched Self Made Minds back in 2007 (ouch), I did a series called the HISTORY OF A $100K SITE. Over the years the site made me a few million but not everything lasts forever so I’m thinking of doing a followup series, The decline of a 7 digit site - you can learn just as much from mistakes as successes (even better when it’s somebody else mistake).

Currently sat on a train on my way to London to watch the mighty Iron Maiden on the last gig of the current tour (should be a classic), also meeting a couple of business partners to talk shop and stuff (that’s the primary purpose of this trip Mr Taxman).

Selling on Amazon - Year One

It’s been a bit over a year since I started selling physical products on Amazon (I did mean to do some ongoing posts about it during that time, oops). I’ve learnt a lot in the year, made some great decisions and some total shite ones. I will share a bit here and document where the business is at now (August 2016).

Finances

I’ll start with the money shot.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 16.44.53

So I’ve done a bit over £150k in sales on Amazon.co.uk and about €15K on the other european Amazon marketplaces. Meaning I’ve hit the threshold to have to register for VAT (boo). This has come off a stock investment of about £30K and all profits being reinvested. Profit margin is about 25% after Amazon fees, VAT etc.

I split the business into the following distinct parts:
Sourcing - Finding stuff to buy and sell at a profit
Prep and ship - Preparing the goods and shipping them out
Business Management - Accounts, VAT, running stuff and other boring crap
Education - Keeping up to date on trends, tools and changes in this business model landscape
I will do more detailed posts on each of these at some point (but don’t hold your breath).

Premises

toys In May 2016 I became a grownup and got dedicated business premises. I started off by packing boxes in the kitchen, boxes would come in and go out the same or next day. I out grew that pretty quickly so started storing stuff in half the living room, which soon filled up. Next a very good friend (if you have interest in aquatic systems check him out) offered me space at his industrial unit. This meant I could start buying in bulk and get deliveries on palettes, and drip feed stock in as required.

In May 2016 I took the plunge and got my own unit. It’s 1,100 square feet costing £700 per month and is 5 minutes from my house. So my mate has his unit space back and my family have a semi normal house again (thanks for the support and understanding).

What Next

When I started writing this I was getting ready for 2016 Q4 (you know that silly shopping season), I’m now at near the end of Q4 and finishing this post so I can do a fuller post on my Q4 shenanigans (which I think have been pretty epic). So pretend your reading this in August 2016. But Merry Christmas.

Changing Times and New Business Models

5161094177_163c841ecf_oWell it’s been a while and a lot has changed since I made my last post. For those new here please feel free to browse the archives, there’s a fair bit of decent stuff though bear in mind the age of it. But in short form…

Previously I made the majority of my online income from owning web sites, paying people to do stuff with them and monetising them via affiliates, advertising and any other means I could come up with. Life was good and the money was pretty easy to come by, making a decent 6 figure income from the foundations that I’d laid. However complacency and boredom set in, so no matter how good the foundations if you don’t build on them you get left behind. I did!

So 2015 became a year of looking for new opportunities and adventures. I had planned for this possible inevitability so did have money in the bank to live off for a few years and invest in other businesses. Dabbed my toes in a few different ideas and at the moment this is where I’m at.

Existing Sites - They still bring in an income but no where near as much as they did (on a good day one revenue stream used to bring in £1,500+, now a good day for that revenue stream is ~£100 and they’re few and far between, ouch!).

Property - This I saw as an educated gamble, I currently have 3 properties that are rented out (admittedly one of them is a garage for £30 a month which doesn’t really count). The first is a 2 bed maisonette (condo for my American friends) which was bought with a buy to let mortgage, needed no work and found a tenant straight away. The second is actually in the building next to the first, this was a cash purchase as it was un-mortgageable and needed renovating. I’ll go more into my property adventures in future posts.

Healthcare Business - I invested in a friends business in 2014. It’s primary focus is sourcing and supplying products to the healthcare industry at a reasonable price (there are some right cowboys and rip off merchants out there). It’s had a pretty slow start but will hopefully reach a tipping point this year.

Selling Physical Products online - I started selling on Amazon in the Summer of 2015. I studied a few courses, read a lot and dived in. (Funnily enough my first sale was a second hand business book I sent in). Since then I’ve sold about £75,000 worth of products, mainly toys but all sorts of good shit that I can make a profit on. This is one that I can see me growing to a 7 or 8 figure business in the next couple of years (again I’ll post more about this later). I’m actually writing this on the train to my first Amazon Sellers meetup.

Dating Site and App - I’m currently in talks to get involved with a new dating site and service that’s been in development for 2 years (ouch), having third meeting this week so will see how that goes.

Software Development - I really want to get back to this and get my hands dirty a bit, I have all sorts of software ideas that could support other businesses or I might just do it for fun and write games but I miss the mental challenges of coding so need to fix that.

Toy Charity - I have a lot of inventory that I cannot sell for various reasons (and am in touch with others in a similar situation), so I want to form a charity to distribute those toys to kids who need/deserve them. As noble as the idea sounds I am also doing it for selfish reasons, previously when money was no object, I’d often spend frivolously, fun at the time but gave little satisfaction after the event. One of the things that gave me the most long term satisfaction was donating money for a child to fly to Austria for an operation that he needed. So I want to do more shit like that so I can feel better about myself.

So in brief that’s what I’ve been up to in 2015 and some of what I’m planning for 2016. If you’re interested in selling on Amazon, investing in property or just curious of what we’re up to then please subscribe to the newsletter.

Fancy sharing what you have planned for 2016?

Internet Marketing and VAT, do you need to Register? Lessons Shared from a Compliance Check

HMRC_logo

This is a very UK specific post (though if you’re reading from elsewhere I’d suggest seeking some professional taxation advice). Also I’m not a qualified (or unqualified) accountant so bear that in mind too (however as you’ll read later don’t believe everything an accountant tells you).

When I receive a letter from HMRC I generally open it with a hint of dread (I’ve had one tax rebate in my life and enough fines and bills to cover that 1000 fold). With this letter the feeling of dread was very appropriate, it was from THE VAT MAN.

Dear Sir

VAT Registration Enquiry

Following a review of information held on Departmental records l understand that from SA returns quoting your Unique Taxpayer Reference for indicates that you exceeded the VAT registration limit during the 2007-2008 financial year and have continued to trade above the registration limit since then ‘ However, we are unable to trace a VAT registration.This could be for various reasons such as you are registered at a different address to the registered address or your services may be exempt from or beyond the scope of VAT.

If the company is VAT registered please inform me of the vrn or if they are not required to be registered please let me know the reason(s) why.

If the business should be registered please forward a monthly breakdown of your sales and cost of sales from April 2006 to 31st January 2013.

A belated notification penalty may apply so Forms CC/FS1a and CC/FSQ are attached for your information.

Please reply within 28 days of the date of this letter. However you choose to contact us about this check, you need to quote the case reference CFS-XXXXXX and any other references shown above.

Much love
Your friendly VAT man
xxx

Continue Reading

Appealing an Adsense Suspension

In my last post I detailed how one of my sites had Adsense disabled due to a violation of Google’s policies, in this post I’ll explain changes made and the appeal process.

After receiving the warning email I thought I’d made all the required changes to bring my site into compliance, however obviously not, as the site was now suspended but my Adsense account was still active (though my best Adsense performing site was now full of white space and earnings were significantly down).

After crapping myself for the second time it was a case of going through both emails, Adsense policies (again) to see if I’d missed anything. Policy wise I think I was fine however looking at the warning and suspension email there was one significant difference:
Continue Reading

Losing a 6 Figure Revenue Stream

I am a big fan of Google Adsense. They’ve been one of my best revenue streams having paid me over a million dollars through the years and I pride myself on quality content and playing by the rules. You know that statement all good thing come to an end well I was somewhat startled to receive the following email:

Google AdSense: You have 3 working days to make changes to your site

Hello,
This is a warning message to alert you that there is action required to bring your AdSense account into compliance with our AdSense program policies. We’ve provided additional details below, along with the actions to be taken on your part.

Issue ID#: xxxxx
Affected website: xxxxx
Example page where violation occurred: xxxxx
Action required: Please make changes to your site within 72 hours.
Current account status: Active

After spending the next ten minutes crapping myself, the day was dedicated to refamiliarising myself with Adsense policies and ensuring the site was in compliance. I also have an agent at Google that has helped me with optimizations in the past so I shot her an email explaining and asking for any advice she could give.

The warning email highlited that I was in violation in 2 different ways:
Continue Reading

The Return of Self Made Minds

smmbrain

Firstly I’d like to welcome you (back) to Self Made Minds, an entrepreneurial blog where we share the various activities, ideas and stuff we’ve been involved in. We’ve had something of a hiatus from this site, where Scott and I have been up to various business and life experiences and changes. However Self Made Minds is now BACK…

For new readers my name is Al Carlton, I own and run numerous websites and have made a healthy living online for the last 7 years or so. The last couple of years most of my sites ran on auto-pilot giving me a nice passive income and I was able to travel (some what excessively) and get myself married twice to the same woman in different countries, all fun stuff.

I’m now at the point were I want to start concentrating again on my business and as I did early on, document my successes and failures here on Self Made Minds. Scott will also be providing updates various updates on what he’s been up to the last few years.

Some of the upcoming posts that we have planned include:

  • Losing a 6 figure revenue stream (this one was scary)
  • Do you need to register for VAT, the procedure and outcome of a VAT Compliance Audit
  • Profiting from generic twitter usernames
  • Maximizing mobile traffic and profit
  • Optimizing your email list with WordPress

As before we will be very open with what we do. If there is anything you’d like us to cover or have suggestions (or encouragements) please let us know in the comments.

The best way to follow Self Made Minds is via our email newsletter, however we’ll also link to all new posts from our twitter account and facebook page, so what ever suits you best.

WELCOME BACK

Fancy Joining Us in San Diego? - Think Tank 2010

THINKTAN

Last year I travelled loads and did more conferences than I care to remember (I was out of the country for over 3 months in total). This year, I’ve been a lot more choosy about which which events I’ve attended based on the benefit (and enjoyment) I’d get from them.

So far I’ve done both Think Visibilities, Dom sure knows how to organise awesome events (Jason wrote a cool review about it here, I should do the same but I’ll outsource his instead). And in the summer my daughter and I went to the Existem AM Summer BBQ.

Out of these 3 events I didn’t attend a single complete session! The reason for this is I use events and conferences to network, form relationships and learn and share knowledge with like minded people (your learn a lot more from folk in the after hours than you ever will in a conference session).

So the reason for this post is that next event I’m off to (and likely my last one of the year), is Think Tank in Del Mar, San Diego. This is, and will be my third Think Tank, which I hope shows how important I feel it is. Cost of entry is high at $3,000 for 3 days but every attendee I’ve known has made that back and often many fold over.

I’ve chatted with Doctor David Klein (aka DK) who organises it and we both feel it would benefit from more than one Brit in attendance (I get lonely and home sick), so even tho it’s sold out (think it sold out in the first week it was announced) a few more folk from this side of the pond are welcome. DK has offered an amazing discount to compensate for the cost of having to travel across the pond (he’s asked me not to say how much it is publicly but it’s awesome).

This is an invitation only event so you will need to know me either on or offline as I’ll have to vouch for you. I’m gaining nothing out of promoting this other than hopefully having a fellow countryman to share an awesome experience with. Leave a comment below or drop me a message if interested and I’ll do the introductions.

I could explain what Think Tank is all about but if you’re serious about it I’m sure Google will do a better job :)

How you can become a Million Dollar Blogger

This is a write up by Martijn Beijk of the presentation I did at a4uExpo last year. It was originally posted on SearchEngineCowboys but has for various reasons has been lost so Martijn gave me permission to share it here.

ddtcscvg_112ct4ns7gz_b

At the A4U Expo in the Amsterdam RAI there was a session by Al Carlton, a Selfmade millionaire by just blogging and smart thinking. Al Carlton (Coolest Media Ltd. ,Coolest-Gadgets.com) has started blogging not too long ago - he told us with his lips still a bit dry from the party the night before.

He is convinced you can basically sell anything to people and shows some examples of stormtrooper outfits ( ! ), electronic bikes which were sold for a couple of thousand pounds and ‘the ultimate guide to anal sex for women’ which was doing particularly good.

He describes the approaches he used to generate traffic. Lots of traffic.

Traffic generation (social):

Use social bookmarking websites and convert social traffic from digg, reddit, etc to regular readers and vice versa. Use other blogs and comments. Engange in forums, directories and place articles on news websites. make sure you get those links out there.

Blogs want free content. So write articles for other blogs to increase your own traffic! But be careful. Don’t push yourself to another blog. Be useful to the specific niche/blog/site.

Traffic generation (search):

Al cannot stress enough that you need quality content. Write good articles that people find (trust)worthy and optimize. To Al, SEO is providing information the visitor wants. Simple as that.

Traffic generation (buy/trade):

network with other bloggers, write articles, attend conferences (like A4UExpo! ), use free coupons (for facebook, adwords, MSN, etc!)

and use PPC to convert for short or long term profit

Traffic generation (direct):

Regular readers, bookmarks, RSS subscribers, Email subscribers. Quote:”RSS is for techies. Email is for all other people!”

Now that we have discussed traffic sources, what about our revenue streams?

Use CPM, CPC, affiliate sales, direct sales, paid reviews, or even sell out your blog (partially). But there were some more good tips from Al here; hide adsense from your social readers! They know what adsense looks like and it doesn’t work for them. Another good tip: when younotice an advertiser targeting your website via adsense (content network) - Contact them directly! Cut out Google and get some good deals with the advertiser directly.

Contextual adverts:

· Adsense
· Chitika
· Kontera

The Pro’s:
· east to implement
· targeting

The Con’s:
· you are paid to lose visitors.
· can deter visitors.
· you are not in control of what is being shown.

Affiliate revenue:

You are in total control of how you link, make sure you find a profitable offer and PUSH.

Al warns us about link sales or paid reviews -be very careful. Google is watching and doesn’t like it, so don’t get caught…)

Optimisation:

A day has only hot 24 hours and you need to spend at least a few of them in the pub - the message here is that you need to outsource as much as you can. Al himself does some research and comes up with a business plan for a hopefully succesful idea and outsources everything, from design to coding and even content creation (but don’t cut corners and make sure it is unique and of high quality!). Webmaster Tools, Social sites, long tail traffic and related posts are ways to optimise your traffic stream. To get the best revenue available he says you really need to make deals with the merchants and make direct deals. Use different ads on different content and push those appropriate affiliate offers. Target your visitors geographically. Review your old posts and find new ways to monetize them. Another free tip: after a month, remove the date from your articles, it will make your content look fresh.

The million dollar blogging session at the underestimated A4U expo was well worth visiting and had some really good tips and Al sure knew how to make people laugh.

Sort of a guest post by Martijn Beijk.

Trialling A New Automated Revenue Stream - Skimlinks

skimlinks
I’ve written before about using a custom plugin to automatically convert links to affiliate links when an appropriate scheme is available and it has certainly boosted my revenue over the years. So I was very interested to hear from Skimlinks who offer a product that does the job for you. 

Skimlinks uses Javascript to automatically redirect appropriate links (redirection can be done via your own subdomain which makes it much more integrated to your site). You don’t need to be a member of any specific affiliate scheme, Skimlinks receives the commission, takes their slice and pays you directly. In theory they should be able earn a higher percentage from merchants thus absorbing their percentage however from my tests I’ve not seen this.

Reports show have many clicks and sales you are generating each day and also to which merchants. I find the merchant report really useful as it shows you affiliate programs You may previously of missed and should consider joining. It honours any affiliate links you already so won’t reduce existing affiliate revenue.

Pros
- Another revenue stream with minimal time investment
- Cloaks affiliate links 
- Reporting
- New merchants are continually being added (8,000+ so far)

Cons
- pages load another external JS file
- Lose a percentage of commission

I already do a fair amount of affiliate sales on CG so wasn’t expecting to find many programs that I’m not yet a member. However after 10 days of testing reports showed nearly 2,000 clicks from 138 different merchants, wow. Revenue was somewhat disappointing at £61, though for the amount of effort involved and just redoing existing links you can’t really grumble.

I’d certainly recommend giving Skimlinks a try, for both the revenue and reports which could highlight an attractive scheme that you’ve missed. If you implement it please let us know how you get on.