From A Broke Chemistry Grad To $4,000+ A Month In My Second Year Of Blogging
I’m Maria, and I’m super excited to share my story with you.
I went from being a chemistry grad looking for jobs in finance to starting my own blog and earning a full-time income from it in less than two years.
Now I run an online business that gives me the freedom to work from anywhere in the world, earns me money while I sleep and let’s me help thousands of creative women earn money online.
Blogging is the best job that I can imagine, but it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows.
In fact, I’ve been through a lot of crap and many failures to get to where I am today. I’ve dealt with massive amounts of self-doubt, stress, financial issues, ridicule and failure on my way to taking my blog where it is today.
I’m writing this so that you can get to know the girl behind the blog. Like, the real, raw girl with all her failures and successes laid out in front of you. It’s going to be a long post, so proceed with caution 😉
Okay, so here goes.
Early Days – Motivated By My Parents
So. I grew up in a place that you’ve probably never heard of before – Tallinn, Estonia. I’m half Finnish, half Estonian and I was born just one year after the Soviet Union fell apart (1992).
My mom had escaped poverty in the USSR and moved to Finland to get a better life. She met my dad while in university and he was her ticket out.
Things were going well in Finland until my dad got a crazy idea: What if they moved back to Estonia, took a ton of debt and bought lots of properties with the money?
I mean, what could go wrong investing in a place that was basically regarded as the equivalent of modern day North Korea?
Surprisingly, that’s exactly what they did. And things worked out well for them. Really well!
Now, you might be wondering why I’m telling you the story of my parents – you came here to read about me, right? Well, for as long as I can remember my parents have been investing in property, and that ignited something inside of me.
Even though my parents never became real “investors” in the true sense of the word (they still had 9-5 jobs), seeing their hustle inspired me to aim for financial freedom. My ultimate dream was to make enough money passively from investments so that I could choose to quit working if I wanted to. (I mean, marrying a rich husband would’ve done the same trick, but I wanted a challenge.)
For me, it didn’t matter what job I would be doing – I knew that even if I had to be a waitress, I would still eventually reach my goals if I just saved and invested my money wisely.
2013 – From Business To Lab Rat
In 2013 I moved to London, UK – the city where I still live right now. I had been living a little bit all over the place before moving here: after Finland and Estonia I moved to Belgium at age 16 for my mom’s new job.
London was always the dream city for me for as long as I can remember. At age 8 I declared to all my classmates in school that I was going to go to university in Oxford and live in London, no matter what it took. (Little 8 year old me probably didn’t know that the two are 2 hours apart).
However in 2013, instead of going to Oxford I was going to King’s College London. I was starting my first semester studying chemistry. Chemistry, out of all subjects that I could possibly have chosen!
I had always been a mini-entrepreneur in my head and suddenly I was going to study chemistry. After all the economics classes in high school and even running a successful hair extensions business I was going for chemistry. Why?
Some of you may relate to my story here: I had always thought that I was on one life path, destined to study business and work very closely with money. But somewhere along the way I got an “epiphany” that I wanted to do something different. For me, that thing was creating cosmetics.
Somewhere on the way I had reasoned with myself that making makeup would be a super fun thing to spend my life doing. After all, I could eventually turn those skills into running my own cosmetics business too.
Well, as it turns out chemistry wasn’t my thing at all. The curriculum was a far cry of what I had in mind: we were studying quantum mechanics, physics, cancer treatments and other medical applications of chemistry. My course had absolutely nothing to do with cosmetics.
I tried changing my major to business in the first week of classes, but the university told me they couldn’t do that. So, there I was, stuck learning about the energy levels of atoms for the next 4 years.
In labs here, giving the “weekly quote”! We never got to wear the cool white coats that you always hear about, our coats were blue!
2015 – Discovering Social Media
Even though I was doomed to study chemistry, this didn’t change my desire to be involved in business and surround myself with entrepreneurial people. I spent very little time in uni actually studying chemistry: The majority of my time was spent in societies, mainly the Business Club.
I hadn’t given up on my dreams to work on my own terms: I wanted to find a way to make enough passive income to be able to turn down a job when it was time to graduate.
Along the way, I tried various things and most of them failed. I spent time learning how to read the stock market and trade forex and I also looked into a property sub letting scheme called “Rent to rent”. I was always trying to find a new hustle so that I could retire as soon as I graduated. (ha)
Then finally, something clicked. In late 2015, I came across an article that claimed that Instagrammers with 100,000 followers could earn more than $200k a year simply by posting pictures of themselves online. I was dumbfounded. Why the heck were these people getting paid so much and why wasn’t I doing it?
Clearly, my feed was a far cry from a professional Instagrammer’s feed. But the fire had been ignited. If I could earn $200k a year with 100k followers, I was bloody well going to do whatever I needed to get to 100k followers.
The article was clearly written to promote a new Influencer platform called Takumi, and luckily at the time, they didn’t really care what your feed looked like as long as you had 1,000 followers. So, as soon as I hit that figure, I applied to become a partner on the platform.
And guess what, I got some campaigns pretty quickly with my questionable photography. Here’s a few of my earliest campaigns:
I only got paid £40 ($52) per gig, but I didn’t care. I had proved to myself that the concept worked and it was almost the same amount that I got paid per shift working at Starbuck back then anyway. The perks (free products) were definitely wayyyy better too!
It didn’t take me long to get addicted to Instagram. My account was growing quickly, and taking photos was fun. I had never been into photography before, but I was determined to learn it to take my hobby to the next level.
Phase One: Food & Shoes
At this time, I wasn’t actually taking photos of myself. Fashion blogging wasn’t what it is today and the engagement on fashion accounts was much lower than on “content creator accounts”.
Engagement was all that I cared about at that time, so I followed whatever was trending at the time on Instagram. Mainly, I took random shots of food, my feet and random objects. Yes, excellent choice. But it worked!
By the summer of 2016 my account had already almost 20k followers. I didn’t apply for internships that summer, so I had all the time in the world to focus on growing my Instagram. I started reaching out to companies, PR agencies and collaborated with photographers on my first fashion shoots.
Although food and feet were excellent subjects for photos, I wanted to change my strategy: I wanted to start building a portfolio that would attract fashion brands so that I could get free clothes and possibly even get paid for it. So, slowly but surely, I started including more pictures of myself on my Instagram.
Phase Two: The Tripod Fashion Blogger
In late 2016 and early 2017 I was still earning some money on Instagram, but the money wasn’t consistent at all. At most, I was probably earning $200 per month, but there were months where I earned nothing as well. At this point, I had close to 35,000 followers on the Gram.
My feed and photography on the other hand had definitely developed into a more sophisticated fashion blogger account.
I was now more confident in front of the camera, and ditched the tripods for real photographers and my friends.
Yep, this photo was taken on a tripod with a self-timer. Awks.
At first, I took most of my photos myself on a tripod. This was suuuuuuuuuuper awkward to do in public, especially if anyone happened to see me do it. (And yes, one time a guy who I had just started dating caught me doing it – I could have died from embarrassment!)
I wasted so much time not only trying to get the perfect shot, but also trying to do it so that nobody could see. I even went as far as taking photos on car parks to save myself from embarrassment!
I was that girl.
Luckily, this technique worked and my account kept on growing. Quite soon, my account developed into a “fashion blogger” account.
2017: Taking The Leap Into Full-Time Blogging
Wait what? When did I even start a blog, let alone decide to become a full-time blogger? And when did I suddenly start earning decent money?
Well, let me answer those shortly.
In January 2017, I launched my blog. Although I was inspired to start finally start writing a blog, I didn’t really know what I was doing. And so, I treated my blog as an extension to my Instagram and just ended up posting outfit photos.
During this time, the only way that I thought I could monetize my blog was through brand collaborations, like I had been doing previously.
Let’s fast forward to summer 2017 now.
I graduated from my master’s course in July 2017. I achieved good grades (I got a 2:1, which is the second best grade in the UK) but I was hesitant to start looking for jobs.
In my heart, I knew that I wanted to give full-time blogging a go, even though I had never made significant money in blogging, ever.
My new found “career” started off pretty well: In September, I actually made a decent amount of money ($1,800), and I thought that was it – this was all the validation I needed. Full-time blogging was going to be an easy breezy affair.
Boy was I wrong. SO wrong.
Not long after my excellent month in blogging I was approached by a girl who hosted loop giveaways on Instagram. You know, those giveaways that have like 20 participants and you have to follow all of them in order to win a MacBook pro? Yep, one of those.
She wanted me to be part of her giveaway. And guess what? She also asked for $500 for me to participate in her giveaway.
Surely, I would be wise and not participate in something stupid like that?
Wrong. I threw my money at her! I thought that doing a giveaway like that would help me get to 100k faster than ever.
And you know what happened?
My account got black listed as a result.
It stopped growing. The engagement was non existent. I was banned from my favorite sponsorship platform.
This was BAD.
At this point, I didn’t really have any other platforms than Instagram. I had my blog, but no one visited it.
I had just started a Youtube channel, but 1,000 subscribers weren’t going to pay my bills.
I hadn’t thought something like this could happen.
My account started looking like this pretty soon:
Over the next few months, I tried to revive my Instagram account, but to no avail. It had just stopped growing. And what’s even worse, I started losing followers. Like, hundreds of followers every time that I posted a picture.
Luckily, I was still getting sponsorship offers. However I knew that the money would never be enough to provide me the lifestyle that I wanted. Not with a decreasing account like that.
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel: Amazon Associates
At this point, I realised that Instagram wasn’t going to cut it. I was fighting a losing battle. My parents were starting to get worried. After all, I was burning through my savings at an exponential rate and I refused to look for a job.
I wasn’t ready to give up on my entrepreneurial dreams just yet. I knew that there were plenty of people making big money online, and I wanted to make it happen for myself too.
I started reading blogging income reports from other bloggers and quickly realised that an actual BLOG could be very profitable too. Like, crazy profitable – people were making millions from it.
Of course, I knew nothing about blogging. Even though I had had a blog for almost a year at this point, I treated it as an extension to my Instagram and it was getting zero traffic.
Needless to say, I wasn’t getting any money from it at that point either.
But the fire had once again been ignited. I saw light at the end of the tunnel – This could work!
The Blogging Phase – Minor Success!
Like I said, I didn’t know anything about affiliate marketing and making money online, but these guys showed me how to do it. I focused on Google SEO and even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I followed their advise and crossed my fingers for the best.
The strategy that both Income School and Doug Cunnington teach is how to write Amazon reviews that rank on Google.
So, at this point I was frantically checking my Amazon earnings each day and checking to see how many website visits I had.
To my surprise, the results were pretty quick: I had started working on my new strategy in December 2017, and by January 2018, I had already made some money on Amazon.
$69 in January!
$94 in February!
$450 in March!
$769 in April!
Wow. So this was really happening. I had finally figured out a way to make money on Amazon, and my income was growing every single month as I got more and more traffic to my blog.
But I had one major problem. It takes 3 months for payments to come through Amazon, and I was facing a serious issue…
I was running out of money.
Running Out Of Money & Barely Scraping By
When I first launched into full-time blogging, I had saved up about $6,000 in my emergency fund. I thought that it would cover my living expenses until I started making decent money online.
I was also lucky to have some investments in real estate (in Estonia), which provided me with about $560 of passive income per month.
The problem was, my own rent was over $1,000 at this point. Not to mention my living expenses. Even at a minimum, they would be at least $650. Usually, they were more. London’s not cheap y’all.
At this point in early 2018, I was probably only banking $500 per month on average. It wasn’t fun. I was seriously starting to run out of money.
Ever since I started blogging full-time, I pretty much lived on a canned tuna diet. I had no luxuries, but of course I didn’t tell anyone. I wanted to believe that my dream and vision would still come to life.
On top of that, I was constantly spending money on clothes to take new pictures for my Instagram and to do hauls for Youtube. If you looked at my life on Instagram, you couldn’t tell that I was struggling: I was always attending fancy launch parties and receiving luxurious gifts from make-up and skincare brands.
But don’t let that fool you – I was REALLY struggling.
I was too proud to tell anyone. Most of my friends had gone into banking and had starting salaries as high as $65k. My new boyfriend had been working for 10+ years in banking, so he was making even more money than my friends.
Of course, they knew that I was worse off than them financially, but I didn’t want them to pity me. My boyfriend was kind enough to pay for our dates when we spent time together, but of course I still had my own expenses.
I felt like a complete failure. Like a complete fraud.
Even with this new hope of Amazon affiliate marketing working out, I grew more and more anxious to the point that I had trouble sleeping.
My bank account was nearing zero, and although I always paid my rent on time, I was constantly worried about not having enough when rent was due.
And then the day came. The day that I had no money to buy myself food anymore.
It’s the lowest point where I’ve ever been.
I’ve never had a credit card, so when the money from my account was gone, it was gone. That was it, there was no more.
I was hungry and I couldn’t buy myself a meal. I never thought that my life would come to this. And I had done it all to myself.
Needless to say, I was feeling hopeless. I was waiting for about $1,000 to clear from Amazon and a few clients that I had been working with, but as always, the clients were late with their payments.
I wanted to see if I could wait it out. Perhaps the money would come in a couple of days…
I was dreading talking to my mom and telling her what had happened. I had wanted to prove her wrong so hard but in the end I had failed. They were right, of course they were. I should have just applied for a job after graduating.
My thought process was cut short later that night – my mom called me. We had a normal chat, and then I just broke down. I cried so much over that phone call. I didn’t want to admit what had happened, and I didn’t want to ask her for money.
I think she knew that. Instead of offering me money, she said she’d buy my La Prairie skin cream from me that I had received as a gift from PR. That cream cost $600, which meant that I could afford to buy myself a meal again.
That time really sucked. Like I said, it was the lowest of the low that I’ve ever been. I’m getting emotional just writing about it now.
Luckily, I never faced homelessness or anything more severe than those few months of extreme anxiety.
But the experience had really drained my morale. I was almost ready to give up. I felt so poor and so uncertain of my choices. This online business thing was way harder than I expected it to be. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for it like I thought I was.
End Of Poop Phase – Enter Profits
I decided to give myself 2-3 months to see if this Amazon method was going to work out. Although I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I also wanted to have food on my table.
My friends had already started buying their first properties – I felt like I was getting left behind.
Luckily after that incident in April, I never faced a similar situation again. I started receiving regular checks from Amazon that were over $1,000. I was able to support myself again. Only a couple of months later in June, I made a total of $3,300/month.
You could say that things changed pretty quickly.
On paper, it only took me 7 months to go from making $0 with my blog to making $3,300 per month. But when I was going through the experience myself, of course I didn’t know what was coming.
The logical thing would’ve been to quit. Or at least move back to my parents place.
But somehow I managed to get through it.
And if you’re in a similar situation at the moment when you’re reading this, maybe it can serve as a reminder to keep pushing forward for the things that you really want.
You never know how far you are from your “lucky break”. The important thing is to be so obsessed with the idea of making your dream a reality, that you will be willing to fail 100 times. This way, at least a few of the things that you try will work and you will eventually figure things out.
After I made $3,300 in June, my income never really dropped. During the last 9 months, my income from the blog has averaged at $3,100/month (+$560 from investments) and now in 2019, I’ve moved into a WeWork office.
It would be wrong to say that things were smooth sailing ever since June, because they definitely weren’t.
Among other things, I lost 50% of my Google traffic randomly in August, which could’ve been a major hit. Luckily, I was able to regain the lost traffic by starting Pinterest marketing, so I never saw a dent in my income.
I’ve now moved in with my boyfriend and although I pay $730 for my office in WeWork I’m able to save & invest $1,675 every month.
It feels great. After being afraid of running out of money for so long, it’s comforting to know that I won’t be in that situation any time soon.
So, What’s The Plan Going Forward?
At the end of the day, I want to make six figures. If I keep going at this rate ($3,100 + $560/month), I’ll make about $44k this year. However, I think I can do better than that.
A lot of pro bloggers say that the way to make $100k is completely different from making $30k. So, this year there will be a lot of changes to my blog. Mainly, I’m starting to push my own products.
I’ve also just gotten started with email marketing, which seems to be the primary method that big bloggers make money.
Also, it might be a bit ambitious of me, but I’d like to start building two more blogs on the side – one about investing and the other one about beauty products.
I’d want to build the beauty blog in order to sell it later. I’ve seen some other bloggers making up to $50k from just selling their blog, so of course I want to try it out too! 🙂
Lots of changes are happening behind the scenes and I’m learning about a lot of new things. That’s the one thing about blogging – there’s always a new challenge and a new skill to master!
That’s it for now! Stay tuned. I’ll be back with more updates soon.
P.S. If you want to start your own online business, there’s never been a better time. You can start a blog for just $2.95/month with my tutorial here – I’ll walk you through all the steps that you need to know along the way!
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