The Story of the Vandelay Design

It’s amazing for me to look back at the growth and changes my business has experience since its launch in 2007. What started as a simple side project has turned into a full time six figure business that allows me to work from home and employ other developers as well.

So today, I’d like to share with you how this website grew into a success. I’m not sharing this story because I think I’ve accomplished anything special. Instead, I’m aiming to show you that it’s completely possible to take something that you love and turn it into a full-time, six-figure business.

The Start of Vandelay Design

Back in 2006, I started the website as a way to try and find some more clients. I didn’t have formal design or development training and had been learning over the course of a few years mostly with the help of some books and online tutorials.

Of course, I had a full-time job in those days, so anything I did with Vandelay Design was done in the evenings or the weekends.

The Early Days of the Vandelay Design Blog

When I first started the business, my main goal was to get traffic to the site. In early 2007, article marketing was one of the most popular methods of getting traffic to a website, and blogging was just starting to become popular. I wanted to publish some articles on the site in hopes of getting search engine visitors. It was also important for the blog’s design to match the rest of the site, so I needed to figure out how to customize the blog theme templates. The first two blogging platforms I tried had confusing templating systems, so that’s when I discovered WordPress. It was so much easier to figure out their templating system that I wound up sticking with it, and the blog was launched on WordPress in 2007.

At the time, I was reading a lot about social media and how to get exposure for a blog, so I started to try out some of the techniques on the blog. One of the things I did to start promoting the blog was to submit some of the new posts to DZone, a social media site that targets developers.

Dzone

In early July of 2007, I submitted a few posts to DZone but didn’t really get any traction or any significant traffic. Then one evening, I checked my stats for the day and saw that the site had a few thousand visitors! Most of them were coming from the social bookmarking site Delicious. So I checked Delicious, and there was my post right on the front page with a few hundred users having bookmarked it. I also saw that the post had received a few hundred visitors from DZone. I created that list post specifically with social media in mind, and sure enough it worked!

Not long after that, I had another post reach the front page at DZone and the front page of Delicious. At this point, I realized that the traffic from DZone was serving as a springboard to the front page of Delicious, so even though I had virtually no audience of my own, I could still make it to the front page of Delicious and get a few thousand visitors if I could first go “popular” at DZone–going “popular” only took 5 up votes so it was very achievable.

At this point, I had tasted some success at getting traffic to the blog, so I was totally hooked on the possibility of turning the blog into something special.

The Shift in Focus

As I worked to grow the blog, I continued to publish blog posts that I thought would be well received by DZone users in hopes that it would lead to traffic from both DZone and Delicious. That approach worked extremely well, and I could get a post to the front page of Delicious just about any time I really wanted to thanks to DZone.

And since the audience on Delicious tended to be tech savvy and a disproportionate percentage of links on their front page where from the design and development industries, the traffic I got from Delicious was well targeted, and the number of RSS subscribers on my site was growing quickly.

In September of 2007, another milestone post was published. Following the same formula of social media friendly list posts, I published 77 Resources to Simplify Your Life as a Web Designer, and of course, I submitted the post to DZone with hopes that it would eventually reach the front page of Delicious. It did just that, but also, the post was submitted to Digg by a user with a strong profile. So the post produced a ton of diggs which landed it on the front page of Digg, a social media beast at the time that could send thousands of visitors in a very short period of time. Over the next two days, the post received over 30,000 visitors from a combination of social media sites and various sources. If you visit the post, which happens to be horribly outdated, you’ll notice that it attracted over 500 comments and more than 44,000 views at StumbleUpon. Getting traction from social sites can grow traffic to your site overnight, so later in this series, I’ll tell you how to find the right social sites for your business.

Digg

Growth of the Blog… And Beyond

In late 2007, I got to know other design bloggers who started out around the same time and had achieved a great deal of success such as Noura Yehia–founder of Noupe and later BundleHunt, Henry Jones–founder of Design Reviver and Web Design Ledger, Chris Spooner–founder of Blog.SpoonGraphics and Line25, and many more. These connections were a huge factor in the growth of Vandelay Design. Many of those people published my guest posts, linked to Vandelay Design, shared our posts on social media, and offered advice over the years. Networking can be an extremely valuable and useful resource in a freelance business, and I attribute much of the success of the blog to those and other design bloggers who provided guidance and support throughout the years and still today.

In the last few months of 2007, I had a few more posts that did very well with social media, and even a few more appearances on the front page of Digg. One day, Digg traffic brought my HostGator server to a halt and the site was completely unavailable. I asked about upgrading to get the site back online, and they said it would be at least two days until they restored the site regardless of what type of plan I upgraded to. So that night, I switched to another web host provider who had the site up and running by the next morning.

Unfortunately, moving to this company was a terrible decision and one that I would quickly regret since their service wasn’t able to handle large surges nor did it provide 24/7 support. And as a result of the subpar service, the site was hacked during an outage. But this series of unfortunate events taught me that in order to avoid such catastrophes, it’s imperative to perform extensive research on web hosting providers upfront, comparing not only pricing but also quality and terms of service. Later in this series, I’ll tell you in depth the key to choosing the best web hosting provider for your business.

By the time January of 2008 rolled around, the site had been attracting around 100,000 visitors per month, and I decided it was time to start selling banner ads. Throughout 2008, the site’s traffic continued to grow steadily, and the ad prices increased throughout the year as well as my earnings. Stay tuned in this series as I explain how to double the earnings from your blog through the use of affiliates and banners ad.

vandelaydesignblog

Going Full-Time

In July of 2008, I published my first article at blog called Smashing Magazine. My primary motivation was to get traffic to Vandelay Design through a link in the author bio, but those links led to only a small amount of traffic. However, working with Smashing Magazine was a great experience, and over the next few months, I started contributing multiple posts per week. I didn’t think I could handle this long-term on top of a full-time job and running Vandelay Design, but with multiple income streams that were in place now, I started thinking about leaving my full-time job to pursue full-time freelance work. So in November of 2008 after talking things over with my wife and prayer, I quit my full-time job and moved into the world of self-employment.

Vandelay Premier Shop

Expanding the Vandelay Brand (Premier)

Once Vandelay Design became more established, I was able to stop freelance blogging, so I could focus 100% of my time on my own sites. At that point, almost all of my income was from ad sales (awesomely managed by BuySellAds) and AdSense. I wanted to diversify my income and move into selling digital products for designers, so that’s when I got the idea for Vandelay Premier. After creating tons of resources like textures and Photoshop brushes, VandelayPremier.com was launched in August of 2010, which was later moved to VandelayDesign.com/Shop/ in 2014.

The store has now been online for more than 4 years and has thousands of resources available to members and also for individual purchase, and it has become a big revenue stream for the business.

Moving Forward

What started out as a part-time hobby has turned into a successful full-time career producing well over 6 figures a year from the ad sales and content sales through the my shop. And you can do this too! Stay tuned tomorrow as I reveal to you a few secrets I learned the hard way, and a step-by-step process you can use so you don’t make the same mistakes I did :)