Thursday, December 6, 2012

How My Cat Helped Me Achieve Financial Independence and Changed my Life Forever

With everything that's going on right now, this seemed like a good time to tell this chapter in my "How I Escaped from the Rat Race" series - which I fear I have sorely neglected. To read the series from the beginning, click here.

It was early 2006 and I was tired. I was heading into my 16th year at the non-profit music school, and while I still loved both the music and the organization, the truth is I was starting to get really burned out. The long days, the battles with idiot members of the board of directors, and the constant stress of working for an organization that was chronically under-funded and in a seemingly endless state of crisis were taking their toll.



To top it off, the Executive Director had announced that he would be retiring, and the board had decided that they wanted to take the organization in a direction which had proved to be disastrous in the past. It started to become abundantly clear that I needed an exit strategy.


To tell the truth, I'd been testing the waters of various ways to make a living without my job for a number of years. I'd done some freelance work as a database designer, and tried my hand at selling things online. I knew that if push came to shove I could probably support myself with either of those endeavors, but honestly, I wasn't terribly excited about it.


Then CatMan read an article about internet advertising, which was still a relatively new phenomenon at the time. The thing that was really interesting was that Google had developed a platform that would allow just about anybody with a web page to host internet ads simply and easily. And all you needed was a website that got a reasonable amount of traffic - you didn't have to deal with clients or customers, you just needed a web page that was interesting enough to attract a decent amount of people.


Of course, at the time I knew absolutely nothing about web design. So I decided that the first step was to set up a web page... ANY web page, just to learn about how it all worked.

I didn't really have a great idea for something that would attract a lot of visitors, but at the moment that wasn't terribly important - I just needed material that I could post online so I could learn about HTML and see for myself how Google ads worked.


Since I already owned a copy of Microsoft Front Page, I used it to create a little website. I wrote a bunch of random articles about cooking and frugal living, I posted some photographs, and I even decided to write about my cat, Mr. Sputnik VonWhiskars.


I had heard about the concept of "blogging" but was totally unaware that there was software out there designed to make it easier to do, so I created a blog written by Sputnik - all coded by hand. Oy!


Anyhow, one day I was chatting with a friend at work who was also hatching an escape plan. She was an artist and was trying to come up with low cost ways of promoting herself. She mentioned that she had set up a page on something called MySpace where she was posting some of her work and trying to make a bit of a name for herself as an artist.

I didn't really know much about MySpace, but the idea was intriguing. And if it was a place that you could advertise art, maybe it was also a place that you could advertise a cute blog written by a cat!


Soooo, in all my cat lady craziness, I decided to set up a MySpace page for Sputnik. Lo and behold, I soon discovered that there were a ton of other crazy cat people out there who had also set up pages for their cats. Within a few weeks, Sputnik had over 300 friends!


At this point I had visions of creating Sputnik calendars and mugs and T-shirts, and working to create a big readership for his blog. But, to tell the truth, I was having a hard time both keeping up with all of the MySpace friend requests & keeping his blog up to date. I decided it would be nice to send all of his new friends a cute picture of Sputnik with is sister Daisy, but I wasn't sure how to embed an image into a MySpace comment.


I finally got it all figured out - you had to upload the image to some computer that was connected to the internet, and then you had to write some HTML code to go get the image and display it in the comment section. Geez, I thought - that was rather complicated even for me, and I've been studying HTML for the past few months... and most people don't have access to a computer where they can host the image... how's the average Joe supposed to figure this all out?


Suddenly, I had a brainstorm! What if I created a website that did all of the geeky stuff for you. I could design a bunch of cute little dingbats, and post them on a website that would allow people to easily grab the pre-written HTML codes to plunk down the image as a MySpace comment. I could even include a link back to the site so people would know where to come to get more dingbats... it was a stroke of genius!


Of course, I didn't know the first thing about graphic design, but when has a little thing like that ever stopped me? So I cobbled together a few little graphic dingbats (which were admittedly a bit primitive) and set up a new section on my little website.


The response was incredible! It was overwhelming in fact. The thing pretty much took off like wildfire, and the next 6 months were a rather dizzying combination of setting up a new web site, figuring out how to deal with having my own server, navigating my way through the dark and twisty passages of Linux and Apache software systems, designing and posting dingbats, all the while working 60-70 hours per week at the music school!


By the fall of that year, I was earning as much via my web page as I was at my real job, so I gave notice and left at the end of the year. The next few years were rather amazing. I learned more than I ever imagined I would about web design, web programming & graphic design, and got thoroughly immersed in the glittery world of the teenage MySpace princess. Pretty soon I was developing MySpace layouts & cursors & backgrounds, and I used by database skills to manage the web page. I ended up doubling my income.


Of course, the MySpace craze ended, and so did my reign as a glitter princess. But along the way I hatched numerous new web sites. While none have equaled the wild success of the MySpace glitter site, I make more than enough money to live on, and I've got about a zillion ideas for new sites if I ever get the inclination to get them going.


And it all started with Sputnik's little blog. In a very real sense I owe my livelihood to my sweet furry friend, and I'm sure gonna miss him.



p.s. Sputnik was diagnosed with a bladder tumor in early December of 2012, and given only a few weeks to live, but his indomitable little spirit carried him through for more than a year. I sure do miss him. If you'd like to read more about his story you can find that post here.

25 comments :

  1. This just confirms what I've suspected all along, my cats are lazy freeloaders. They're never helped or inspired anything. Bastards.

    Love the pics of Sputnik at the end of the post -- what a looker!

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    1. Well, Sputnik is nothing if not lazy, but that's always been part of his charm.

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  2. as a fellow web person...OMG I LOVED the was hilarious!!

    It's inspiring to see how much drive you have. I'm so sorry that Sputnik is not well. But hearing how he's changed your life, it sounds like he'll be with you for the rest of your life.

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    1. It's amazing how much I can do when motivated by the desire not to have to deal with a boss anymore!

      Sputnik's hangin' in there, but no matter what he will indeed be with me forever. Thanks for the reminder of that. :)

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  3. Cats are great inspiration, aren't they? My cat Josephine (ok Josephine la rue chatte)inspired my love of photography. Damn her for my new camera obsession ;)

    I'm so, so sorry to hear about sputnik. Our first foster kitten looks just like him...and they are pretty much the cutest things out there! Hugs to you as you deal with this difficult time!

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    1. Thanks so much for your support. My cats are most definitely my main source of inspiration!

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  4. Very interesting. You have eluded to your work at home job, and I've wondered what you do. For me, I need the discipline of getting out of the house and interacting with other people.

    Now off to capture two of my cats to take them to the vet for their yearly checkup. Lucky, has had several procedures done, so he is especially elusive when the carrier comes out. Maybe I'll tell him Sputnik's story and he'll be inspired.

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    1. Hope the vet visit went well. I fear that discipline and I do not mix well! :-)

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  5. i'm sorry to hear about your kitty passing away :( i really enjoyed that story. Thank you.

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    1. Well... he's not gone yet, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he'll find a way to stick around for a while.

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  6. I'm sorry about your cat, what an amazing story of finding your financial freedom and to think you owe it to your cat.

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    1. He's my little rain maker, and I owe him soooo much.

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  7. Im afraid the cat issue went over my head and I went straight to the how to get out of jail card. Wasnt until I read the comments I thought about poor Sputnik. Hope he pulls through x Hope I do too! x

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    1. Here's hoping we all pull through and get out of jail too! :-)

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  8. That picture of Sputnik on the shag carpet (I LOVE shag carpets, too bad my nose doesn't) and the last one are gorgeous. No wonder you were inspired ;)
    My dream of making money from ads was pretty much shattered when a friend (who supposedly knows a great deal about SEO and advertising) made little more than $100 from his blog after 2 years. I guess the lesson here is that we cannot live by other people's experiences. You said on some occasions that you tried with many different sites, persevering with the ones that brought profit, giving up on the ones that didn't. Perhaps that's what my friend should have done, if his geek pride didn't forbid him.
    As usual, your posts give me some hope to try and find my own way out of the rat race :)

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    1. One of the lessons I learned running the music school is that you can't get too attached to your own ideas, because you can never predict what's gonna be successful and what isn't. I'd watch co-workers and other organizations pouring hour upon hour, and dollar upon dollar into planning some grandiose program, only to see it flop entirely... I fell into the trap myself. I'd spend all this time designing a class that I thought would be really popular and nobody would show up. Then we'd offer something totally off the wall like Beginning Bowed Psaltery and 40 people would show up!

      I suppose there might be ways to "bend the world to your own ideas" if you had enough time, energy and money - but I always found that the best approach was to throw a lot of shit at the wall and then just build on whatever sticks!

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  9. Okay, looking for a cover for my MIL's iPhone, I've stumbled across this: http://www.ioffer.com/i/black-and-white-cat-on-bed-black-case-for-iphone-4-528231179
    Maybe that dream about Sputnik mugs and t-shirts wasn't so far off!

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    1. OMG! That's Sputnik! On one of my sites I give away photographs for free - I just release them into the public domain so people can use them for whatever they want. Guess somebody thought he was as cute as I do!

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  10. Hilarious pictures and stuff! We are trying to find the online money making sweet spot still. It's tough now because of so much competition. Sounds like you and the cat figured out how to make it work and escape the rat race!

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    1. The thing is, there are always new opportunities, and the internet is incredibly well suited for the niche market. If you keep your expenses low and don't do things like take out business loans or hire programmers, then even a website with a few thousand page views per day can make a significant contribution to your bottom line. And if you have 5-10 of them, you're pretty much set.

      My advice is to keep trying new things, eventually you'll find something that sticks.

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  11. Okay, I know this is a really old post, and I hope you don't mind me commenting on it now. If you don't mind me asking, do you still use primarily Google ads for all of your sites? Or have you found other ads that work better/pay a little more? I've dabbled with a few other blogs, but Google never lets me have AdSense on more than on, so I'm curious as to how you do it.

    Having an exit strategy is sounding better and better every day.

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    1. Well... actually this might not be the best time to ask since my websites are really not doing well at the moment. I guess you can't just ignore them totally for three years while you're in kitty crisis land! I've spent this year re-working them to make them mobile compatible, and the next step is to create mobile apps, because I think the website is actually going the way of the dinosaur.

      All that being said, I do still mostly use Google ads - they pay more than twice the rate of other ads that I've found. There are other strategies for monetizing websites which I might explore (affiliate links, native ads etc.)

      All that being said, I have not actually found blogs to be very good money earners. Maybe it's because I don't have much to say! Seriously though, what you need are lots and lots of people visiting your site, and that's difficult to do with a blog. I don't know about the problem you're having placing Google ads on more than one blog - do you mean more than one Blogger blog? You might go to google's support site and see if you can find an answer to that one. My sites are all hosted on a server that I manage myself, and I wrote the back ends myself, so I place the ads manually.

      Hope something in there helps, and hope you're doing OK and taking care of yourself.

      Hugs,
      Cat

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    2. Thanks for the information. I'm sorry your sites aren't doing well at the moment.

      I've been home sick all week. I think everything finally caught up with me. This week I've realized just how much I don't like my job, and how much I need to figure something else out. Thanks again for the information.

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