How I’m Working Towards Early Retirement by Building and Selling Websites
As soon as I graduated from college I knew I wanted to retire early. The thought of a 40-45 year career just to reach retirement seemed depressing.
Just making it to Friday felt impossible, much less going through the same process over-and-over again for 40+ years.
Deciding that early retirement sounds good is the easy part. If you’re a Think Save Retire reader, chances are, early retirement is appealing to you too.
Since I knew I wanted to retire early, I was focussed on managing my money wisely pretty early on. But for the first several years after college, I made very little progress because my income was low. I was getting by and saving a little, but not nearly enough.
A few years in, early retirement seemed extremely unlikely.
But in 2007, in my late twenties, I started a side hustle designing websites for small businesses, and that led me to start a web design blog.
Early on in my web design and blogging journey, I read about people selling websites and blogs for thousands of dollars, and I was fascinated by the possibilities.
Some of the first examples I saw were small blogs selling for $10,000 - $15,000. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but it was enough to see that there was a lot of potential.
Starting My Own Journey
That blog that I started in 2007 grew pretty quickly. I had a full-time job and I was working on the blog as much as possible in the evenings and on weekends. By the end of 2007 my blog was getting 100,000 visitors per month (admittedly, getting a lot of traffic was easier then than it is now).
In late 2008 I was able to quit my full-time job as an auditor and dedicate all of my time to growing my own business. Early on I did some freelance writing for other blogs to make money until the income from my own blog was high enough on its own.
(For disclosure, I can’t share the names of the websites/blogs I’ve sold because of confidentiality agreements. I’ll refer to this first blog of mine as “Site A” in this article.)
Also in late 2008, I started a 2nd blog (I’ll call it “Site B”).
My First Experience with Selling a Website
By 2010 my first blog (Site A) had grown into a nice money-maker. I wasn’t getting rich, but it was generating a comfortable income and I had some ideas about taking it to the next level.
In order to free up time to work on growing that blog, I decided to sell the 2nd blog I had started in 2008 (Site B).
After a few weeks of looking for a buyer, I wound up selling Site B for $50,000. It was less than I had hoped for, but not bad for about 1.5 years as a part-time project (I also made about $25,000 from the blog while I owned it).
That $50,000 was enough to prove to me that building and selling websites was a viable way to make money.
Taking it Bigger
The best thing that came out of selling that blog for $50,000 wasn’t the money. By getting rid of that commitment I was able to devote all of my focus on growing my primary blog (Site A) for the next couple of years. I added some new streams of income, and the revenue and profit increased steadily.
In 2013, I sold Site A for $500,000 after managing it for about six years.
After six years I was kind of tired of the site and ready to do something different. The site was easily making a six-figures per year, but I wanted to sell and “cash out” while I had the opportunity. I also had another site (Site C) that was new and promising, and I thought I could duplicate the process.
Selling a blog for $500,000 was pretty nice, but definitely not enough to retire on (especially after taxes, a new baby to support, and dropping down to one income with my wife becoming a stay-at-home mom). But I felt that if I could duplicate the process a few times over the next 10-20 years, I could reach my goal of retiring early thanks to the help of a few lump sums.
Duplicating the Results
After selling Site A, Site C grew pretty nicely and turned into a valuable asset.
In 2015 my wife and I started a business selling private label products on Amazon as a side hustle. Late in 2015 that business was growing very quickly, and also taking more of my time.
I was talking to someone who was interested in buying Site C, and although I didn’t really want to sell it yet, I decided to sell because I didn’t think I had time to do a good job with both Site C, our Amazon business, and Site D (which I had launched earlier in 2015).
So in January of 2016, I sold Site C for $500,000 and then had all of my time to devote to the Amazon business and Site D.
After running the Amazon business for a while and having some success with it, we decided it wasn’t something we wanted to do long-term. We sold it in 2017 for $225,000.
At that point, I was spending my time on Site D and a few other smaller projects. Site D did ok, but never reached a level I had hoped for. In 2018, after 3 years of running Site D, I sold it for $216,000 (I used a broker to sell this one, it was $194,400 after broker fees).
As a summary, here are the websites and online businesses that I’ve sold:
- Site B in 2010 for $50,000
- Site A in 2013 for $500,000
- Site C in 2016 for $500,000
- Amazon-based business in 2017 for $225,000
- Site D in 2018 for $216,000
In total, those sales generated $1,491,000 before broker fees and taxes.
Why Sell a Profitable Website?
There are 3 things that I love about selling websites:
- The lump sum of money that it generates
- Freeing up time to work on other things
But there is also a very obvious downside to selling a profitable website. You lose the on-going income generated by that site.
The early stages are the hardest part of building an online business. It takes a lot of time and effort to reach the point where you’re really making money, and then once you are making money things usually get a lot easier.
So, why would anyone sell if the work later on is easy? Why not hold on to the site and continue to make money for years to come?
There are a few reasons why I like to sell websites and why I think that it can be a good decision.
- Future income is not guaranteed. If the income/profit drops, the value of the website will also drop.
- Selling means that you won’t have to devote time to the site anymore, and that frees up your time to do other things.
- If you are able to duplicate the process and build another successful site you can replace the income that you’ve lost.
Now, that’s not to say that I think selling is always a good decision. Everyone’s situation is different and I think it’s important that you feel comfortable with the idea of selling before moving forward. If you’re not comfrotable with the idea, you probably shouldn’t sell.
I also don’t want to sell my websites too early. If I haven’t had the site long enough to allow it to turn the corner, I’ll be selling for too low of a price and the buyer will reap all of the benefits of my work to build the site.
But on the flip side, I don’t want to hold on to the site too long. I have several friends who passed on an opportunity to sell a site and then watched the income slowly decline over a long period of time. They eventually wound up selling their sites for a fraction of what they were worth a few years earlier.
Why Building and Selling Websites Can Be a Good Opportunity for Early Retirement
So far I’ve talked a lot about my own story, but let’s take a look at the bigger picture. I think building and selling online businesses can be a really good fit for pursuing early retirement, and here are a few specific reasons.
1. Lump Sums to Grow Your Net Worth
While I have made a pretty good income the past 10 years managing my own websites and blogs, the lump sums I’ve made from selling sites have had by far the biggest impact on my net worth and progress towards retirement goals.
When I’ve had lump sums I’ve been able to invest a lot of it, and of course, that’s key for working towards retirement.
2. It’s an Investment That’s Not Dependant on the Stock Market
Websites, blogs, and online businesses are income-generating assets. You can continue to hold them and make money each month, or you can sell the asset and move on.
As you’re building a business you’ll be investing time and money into it. I’ve rarely invested any personal money, just re-investing some of the money that comes in through the business.
Unlike some other investments, the value of your website or blog is not dependent on the stock market. Of course, economic conditions can have some level of impact on how much money a site makes and how much buyers are willing to pay for it, but in general, it is not dependent on the stock market.
Many investors, especially those who are interested in retiring, would love to have more of their assets invested in ways that are not highly influenced by the stock market.
3. It Offers a Flexible Lifestyle
Running an online business involves work, but there is also a great deal of flexibility. As long as I have been doing it full-time, I have been working fairly long hours (I typically work about 50 hours a week currently), but I can make those hours fit around my own schedule.
I’m able to decide when I start and end work each day, take a break each afternoon to pick my daughter up at school, take breaks to go for a walk around the block, meet friends for lunch, leave during the day for appointments, take off whenever I choose without getting permission from a boss, and travel and work at the same time.
You’re also able to start any type of website that you want, so you can work on something that interests you. I enjoy photography, so I turned my photography hobby into a business and made money working on something that I liked.
And maybe most important of all, you can live wherever you want. Geo-arbitrage can be one of the best ways to retire early. I haven’t used it for early retirement yet, but several years ago my wife and I moved from the expensive Philadelphia suburbs to an area with a much lower cost of living a few hours away.
Unlike some careers, you don’t need to live in a major city to make a good income. You can essentially increase your income by living in a more affordable area. This can be useful whether you’re retired or just working towards retirement.
4. It’s Possible to Ease Into Early Retirement
“Retirement” means different things to different people. For some, it means not working at all. For others, it means being done with traditional work, even if you’re still working on something that you enjoy.
Running an online business is a great way to ease your way into retirement. You could either manage your own website part-time and generate some income, even if it may not be a full-time income.
You could also have a more profitable online business and outsource the majority of the work so it’s not taking much time or effort on your part.
And when you are ready to completely retire, you can sell any profitable websites that you own and collect one final lump sum.
It’s been 10 years since Iworked in a traditional job, but I’m in no way retired. I don’t outsource a whole lot, so my business is dependent on me. Over time, I’d like to change that so I’m able to work less and have more time for other things. But even though I’m working full-time, I’ve been blessed to be able to work on things that I enjoy and do it on my own terms. I’m no longer depressed by the thought of making it from Monday to Friday.
Putting it Into Action
If building and selling websites is appealing to you, check out Steve’s e-book How to Start Your Own Money Blog. If you’re just getting started, you’re probably at least a few years away from selling, so don’t worry about that for now. If you build a profitable website there will be people who are interested in buying it when the time comes.
And if you do already have a profitable website or blog, the easiest way to sell it is to let a broker find a buyer for you. Some of the leaders are Quiet Light Brokerage (the one I used and recommend), Empire Flippers, and FE International.
Marc is a personal finance blogger at VitalDollar.com, where he writes about making money and saving money. He’s been blogging full-time since 2008 with blogs in industries like web design, photography, travel, and finance.