Case Study: How ShoeMoney Built a Million Dollar Internet Empire From Lincoln, Nebraska

ShoeMoney gives you ‘skills to pay the bills.’ According to AdAge, ShoeMoney is now the 5th highest trafficked web marketing site. Since its launch in 2004, it has grown into a multi-million dollar business. 35,000 daily readers, named Best Affiliate Marketing Blog and ranked in Technorati’s top 50 blogs for three years running. It topped $1million in 2009 and will better this in 2010 thanks to the phenomenally successful Shoe Money System And remember, this digital empire is based in Lincoln, Nebraska, not from Silicon Valley or New York.

jeremy-shoemoney-press-photo-bwShoeMoney gives you ‘skills to pay the bills.’ According to AdAge, ShoeMoney is now the 5th highest trafficked web marketing site. Since its launch in 2004, it has grown into a multi-million dollar business. 35,000 daily readers, named Best Affiliate Marketing Blog and ranked in Technorati’s top 50 blogs for three years running. It topped $1million in 2009 and will better this in 2010 thanks to the phenomenally successful Shoe Money System And remember, this digital empire is based in Lincoln, Nebraska, not from Silicon Valley or New York.


jeremy-schoemaker-shoemoney-photo

Who is Jeremy Schoemaker?

Jeremy Schoemaker is ShoeMoney. Let’s look at his background first and then drill down into how he developed this multi-million dollar empire. Jeremy Schoemaker, 36, grew up in Moline, Illinois. As a child he struggled with poor health, most notably weight issues – he was 300+ pounds at age 14 – something he addressed in many blog posts. His solution to constant teasing and the flak that comes with this was typical Schoemaker/ShoeMoney: ‘work that much harder to be that much better than my competition’.


ShoeMoney Timeline on Google News

ShoeMoney Timeline

Before we look at his business philosophy and marketing strategy, let’s look at how he’s developed his business in this timeline.

  • 2003 – Started ShoeMoney.com and expanded his ringtone community company, Next Pimp. The site was originally called googleninja.com. This is where he shares information on his life, web marketing, and new projects, such as The Shoe Money System.
    ShoeMoney.com has a very distinct design, especially the logo which is featured on all ShoeMoney products, marketing and TShirts. The site is 100% free to read. Advertisements were added in 2007.
  • 2003 – Discovered Google Adsense. One check for $130,000 (one-month earnings from Google AdSense) is the most linked to pages on his blog. His became ‘famous’ in web terms anyway after this check showed his Google AdSense earnings. This photo launched ShoeMoney into the greater public domain and established him as an authority on affiliate marketing and online subscriptions business models. Detractors argued that the photo was digitally altered (e.g. in PhotoShop) and have went to great lengths to prove that he could not have earning this amount from his site. And they’re right, well, up to a point.
    It seems that ShoeMoney runs multiple sites (e.g. networks of automated sites) which have been fine-tuned for Google Adsense. The sum total of these earnings I assume explains the figure. Personally, I don’t care. Even if he didn’t make that amount, kudos for having the marketing smarts to get it out there.
  • 2006 – ShoeMoney, with Aaron Wall, Lee Dodd, and Dave Taylor, started a conference called the Elite Retreat. Limited to 30 people and costs $5,000 per person. In 5 events over 4 years (20 events) it has sold out every event. That’s $100k for twenty days work.
  • 2007 – With business partner, David Dellanave, launched AuctionAds, an eBay affiliate marketing service that serves eBay auction ads on contextually relevant sites. It won multiple awards and within four months, marketing company Media Whiz purchased a majority stake in it. ShoeMoney says that it made a lot of people a lot of money and “I risked a ton of my own money to start this network and never made a dime off of it until we sold it to Media Whiz.” When sold, it had 25,000 active publishers generating over $2,000,000 a month in revenue. That’s $24 million per year.
  • 2008 Launched ShoeMoney Tools – An advanced suite of PPC (Pay Per Click) and SEO tools. Clients include Intel, Microsoft, MTV and Google
  • 2008 Launched Shoemoneyx.com — Free 12 week course on internet marketing. This is excellent and I recommend you try it out.
  • 2009 Launched The ShoeMoney System — Step by step guide on making money every which way on the internet. This site is targeted at those who want to make money online, not from low-paying blogging activities, but using their site as a platform to run a real web business. There is some overlap with Yaro Starak blog Mastermind system.
  • 2009-2010 – ShoeMoney.com generated $1 million dollars from multiple income streams.

How ShoeMoney Really Got Started

Let’s step back a minute and see how he went from a small town in Nebraska to top of the pile.
In 1987, his mother bought him an Apple computer. That was it. From there on he was hooked. Fast forward to 1995 and he landed his first IT job at a local Internet Service Provider. He made one dollar more than he had made in Sears. The pay was irrelevant. This was a chance to work – every day & all day – with all types of technologies.
At the ISP he was thrown in at the deep-end and soon learnt how to use servers, program systems, and built websites. Then, while returning to college, he started to get calls from companies wanting to advertise on his sites. The penny dropped! He could make money doing when he loved.
What ‘s important to note here is that like many successful IT entrepreneurs, for example, Bill Gates, Schoemaker knows how things work ‘under the hood’. John Chow, a business associate of Schoemaker, is similar. Instead of getting other people to teach them, they make the deep dives into the technology, figure out how it works and then get people to teach them how it works. Essentially, that’s it.
‘But many people use AdSense and don’t make a penny’
That’s right, but reading through their sites and you’ll see that their knowledge of PPC, AdSense, Banner Advertising and other monetization strategies is backed up with deep technical knowledge. Web marketers looking for the latest hack, trick, or insight to squeeze the most from AdSense (as an example) read ShoeMoney, John Chow and Neil Patel as they show how they do it.
And, of course, when you see how they do it, you come back for more. This article, for example, shows how to increase AdSense/Adwords click throughs rates with a very clever trick.
Look at the comments under this article and you’ll see why ShoeMoney is so highly-valued. These readers are all experienced web marketers and developers but this Google Adwords trick was totally new to them. High impact articles like this generate incredible traffic, backlinks, live long on the web, and drive subscription rates through the roof.
‘How does this help me?’
#1 Takeaway: instead of writing content that has been discussed 1000 times elsewhere (in some shape or form) create something that really makes your readers go WOW!
This will have a huge impact on your subscription rates and drive repeat traffic to your site, especially if you network on DIGG, StumbleUpon or Facebook. Follow Seth Godin’s suggestion: develop content that is remarkable – something that others can remark on. If it’s not worth remarking on, well…
Ok, back to ShoeMoney…

The dotcom crash in 2002-2003 hit his business very hard wiping out most of his savings. At 28, he was 420 lbs, $50k in debt, and struggling for direction. Luckily, he met his future wife, who, in his own words, ‘showed me that you can get whatever you want if you are willing to work for it.’
#2 Takeaway: ShoeMoney’s business model at this point was based on Google Adwords and other types of advertising. While these business models can be lucrative in boom times, when the economy takes a hit, advertising budgets get cut almost immediately. My reading of this is that when ShoeMoney saw how fragile the advertising business model was, he started to look at other revenue streams. This has come to fruition in the runaway success that is The Shoe Money System

ShoeMoney’s Philosophy & The Coke Theory

His business philosophy centers on three key areas:
1. Embrace New Trends & Exploit Opportunities
His ‘Coke Theory’ best sums up his approach. He gives this example, ‘SMG entered the ring tone market early, captured traffic and has monetized it. Finding angles and exploiting them for profit is a key aspect of SMG. Maximum and diverse revenue streams are built on fairly narrow marketing concepts that are then diversified.’
With the ‘The Coke Theory’, you take an existing product, give it a new twist and then find ways to leverage its position to generate parallel, non-competitive income streams. It’s the same approach Coke use with Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Coke Zero – at the end of the day, it’s just Coke.
How you position the product – and create insatiable demand for its new features – is what matters.
2. Focus On Core Strengths
ShoeMoney’s focus is on product development, marketing and site design in that order. Unlike others who’ve invested in expensive site designs (and re-designs) first, he ‘built his sites on those natural marketing principles while running the backend. Web design was a secondary skill, so he focused on the marketing of the sites, which then built revenue.’
Once these were running successfully, he invested in a professional looking web design.
Since then he has launched other sites all of whom ‘expand their income potential by building a network of sites centered on a central theme.’
3. Small Changes Create Big Revenue
ShoeMoney loves to experiment and this comes through in many articles. The purpose here is to look for ways to fine-tune small areas which, when optimized, generate higher returns.
‘Once the traffic is there, small changes in design and structure can make big changes in revenue. Ad placement, recurring subscriptions and affiliate marketing can add value to a site without disrupting the base of revenue.’
What he’s doing here is classic process improvement. He (and his team) look at areas of the site, make adjustments, perform split tests, and then compare the results. Most of us don’t reach our goals as we don’t do the comparisons, testing and analysis. So, for example, while your AdSense campaigns may be ‘successful’, the hard data isn’t there to refine the campaigns. If you’re interested into this type of in depth analysis, get his free newsletter. And, if that impresses you (and it will!) try out the ShoeMoney system.
Remember the ‘Coke Theory’
He’s not shy about discussing his turkeys (i.e. sites that bombed). See My Top 10 Worst Ideas To Make Money
which, of course, makes him (and his business) more human. After all, most of us have up and downs, so seeing his failures helps us relate to him.
#3 Takeaway: Why ShoeMoney talks about his business failures
He does this for several reasons.

  1. You can see his progression over the years. He’s not a flight-by-night operator. He’s here for the long haul. Knowing this, you feel that bit more comfortable and more likely to sign up. Compare this to sites where the About Us page is not about anyone, just generic marketing guff.
  2. You empathize with him. Why? Because you’ve been there too. Maybe you’re from a place like Nebraska, have been over-weight, had health issues, or some other disadvantage. Some of this is psychological. If you had a choice between buying from someone you can relate to or some slick perma-tanned type with an achingly perfect lifestyle…
  3. We all root for the under-dog.
  4. We root for the under-dog because, at some point in your life, you’ve been the under-dog and know what it takes to overcome these obstacles. Maybe you also feel that if he can overcome these obstacles (e.g. poor health), then you can and it encourages you to frame your own efforts.

Why You Should Write The Story of Your Life

Before I forget. Yaro Starak suggests that you write a very detailed life story (his is 5 very long pages) so your readers (and prospective customers) can enter into your world and really connect with you. You can read his life story here.

I was skeptical about this until I wrote my own. It’s a very liberating thing to do – and remember, you don’t have to publish it — and based on the emails I’ve received, it does make a difference. Try it.

Target Audience

From a marketing perspective, ShoeMoney.com is an interesting mix. Scanning through the comments on his blog/forum, his followers are made up of newbies (asking how do I type questions) and experienced web marketers looking for very detailed tactics, seo hacks and marketing strategies. While he caters to both, the long-term fans are the hard core marketers & developers than he offers that most value to. These offer detailed information on Pay Per Click (PPC), Click Through Rates (CTR), advertising strategies, and Split Testing.

ShoeMoney’s Philosophy & The Coke Theory

What You Can Learn From The ShoeMoney Brand

If you’ve seen the T Shirt, you’ll recognize the brand. ShoeMoney has invested in developed a strong brand, great logo with nice clean artwork, and some very sharp packaging. Look at the polished quality you see in his videos here and compare it to most other blog sites that comes to mind. Don’t be fooled by the ‘Home Grown in Lincoln, NE’ folksy feel. ShoeMoney and his team work hard to make this look easy.

Next Steps

The The Shoe Money System should keep him busy for this year. Reading this article on why he chose Clickbank, it’s clear that this was a major investment of his time and the focus this year will be in developing this further.

New Product Launches – Brian Clark (CopyBlogger) released the very successful Thesis Theme last year. Part of the success was due to the select band of A List Blogger recommending this very slick WordPress Theme and pushing it in their marketing campaigns. Chris Brogan has had it on his home page since it started. Others have drip-fed the recommendations to readers since launch.

For ShoeMoney, linking up with fellow web marketers in his space, for example, John Chow, may be on the cards. Both of these are high-trafficked sites with similar audience profiles and demographics. John Chow’s revenue streams are mostly based on advertising (which he’s very successful at) so there may be tools that compliment his and ShoeMoney’s readers.

Books – I don’t see why he won’t publish a book as he has the traffic and following. Most of his peers, such as Chris Brogan, Brian Solis and Darren Rowse have done so with great success. I’d assume this is in the pipeline.

However, one reason he may not do this (for now) is that it could cannabilize his ShoeMoney site and distract prospect customers from signing up. ‘Well, I just get the book and then see…’ Saying that, specialist book, such as ‘Facebook Advertising Models’ might find an audience as this micro-niche has very little quality books or blog on it to date.

If you know of some, please add them below.

Conclusion

That’s how he does it.
What are the key points for you to note about ShoeMoney’s site? If you’re considering developing a real web business, something more than just a blog with AdSense, then consider the following points:

  • Product Development – make this central to your business strategy. Developing a suite of tools insulates you from the ever-changing fortunes (and budgets) that undermine advertising-based models.
  • Brand Development – invest X percentage in creating a memorable brand that works both online and offline. The T Shirts are a good example of how you can cross the divide between off and online. They work on pretty girls, geeks and cute puppies. ShoeMoney has developed a cult following of sorts; his site is slightly counter-culture, geeky (see his Theme Song competition) and not trying to please the mainstream.
  • Engagement – ShoeMoney writes most of the articles on his site. But, unlike other high profile bloggers, he engages with his readers most every day on the blog and in the forum. He’s posted over 4000 comments in the forums. The rewards are obvious. He has developed a rabid fan-base (not actually rabid, of course) who follow him across all Social Media networks. His YouTube page has 745,583 views and 10,000 subscribers.
  • Business v Blog – ShoeMoney runs a web business. It’s not a blog. And he’s been at it for 6 years. I need to stress this as you could be forgiven for thinking this is a successful blog with a few cute tools thrown in. It’s not a blog. This is a real business, with real employees, offices, and a defined business strategy. The blog is the axis around which the business is built – but it’s important to see the difference.
  • Your Story – Share your story. Everyone’s story is interesting. Read mine. Yours is just as interesting. It’s the one thing people can’t take away from you. AND it’s your one true USP. Add a link to your story below. I promise to read it!

Download the ShoeMoney System Here

What I’ve learnt.

I didn’t ‘get’ ShoeMoney until I stopped thinking of myself as a part-time blogger and decided that I wanted to run my own web business. That was the turning point. I wanted to run my business, reap the rewards of my own efforts and enjoy my life. Something I knew I would never feel working 9-5 for someone else.
Sound familiar? Do you feel the same way?  If you do, then look at his site from a business perspective.
Ask yourself:

  • Why did he build these products?
  • What pricing strategy has he adopted? Why does he charge X for his tools but X for his courses?
  • Could I develop elite conferences? For example, get ten people in a room at 5k per head and discuss advanced Facebook advertising techniques. 5k is peanuts for Fortune 500s. They just want the proof you can deliver.
  • How did he build these products?
  • Why does he focus on four main products… and not more?
  • Who helped him get to this place? Tip: connect with like-minded folks and work together.
  • Where did he get this information? Look at the conferences he attended and go there.
  • Why is he so successful? Ask him. Visit the site every week, contribute, and then ask a few questions. He’s a people person. He’ll get back to you.
  • How can I catch up? Immerse yourself in one technology or Social Media platform. Don’t be a jack of all trades. Make yourself the absolute authority on one subject. Then, you’ll have a guaranteed following.

Go over to ShoeMoney now, bookmark it, get the newsletter and hang out in the forum. You won’t regret it. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I did writing it. Please let me know what you thought below.
PS – Remember to sign up for our free newsletter and give us a tweet.

13 thoughts on “Case Study: How ShoeMoney Built a Million Dollar Internet Empire From Lincoln, Nebraska”

  1. Heya Ivan, I love this highly informative and well though ou post tremendously and up to this point, though I've heard of the shoemoney system, I've always shunned it like it was a bad marketing gimmick — but I should know better that is to check it out for myself and digest and analyse it for myself. I was basically judging a book by its cover, but you made me realise how important it is that one breaks away from such mentality in the online world. Keep it up. Cheers.

    1. Hi Mar,
      I know what you mean. First impressions aren’t always right. It’s taken me years to see this. I was a bit skeptical about this guy until I looked at what he was doing from a business perspective – he’s obviously very smart – and then seeing if his products were worth the money.
      He’s not for beginners; I’d put him next to Neil Patel (Quick Sprout) and Yaro Starak, whose products I’ve bought.
      Let me know if there are any you’d recommend. I don’t mind spending money and long as the value is there.
      PS – saw that pool got a new CEO. Hope that sale goes thru real fast so we can ramp up during the summer.

      1. Smart is an understatement. Not just Jeremy, but Neil and Yaro as well. I've always wanted to get into Brian Clark's Teaching Sells but I never seem to be on time when application opens — and so the next best thing for me is Third Tribe Marketing. Apart from Chris Brogan and Brian Clark's mantras, I'm a fan of Brian Armstrong, of Startbreakingfree.com and his philosophies.

        New CEO, but $$$ still lacking — that sucked! Haha. And Torres is sidelined for 6weeks, good news cos that'll deter any potential club from knocking on his door. I'm hopeful that he'll want to stay.

        PS: Sorry for having soooooo many links in this post. Hope it's not tagged as spam~

        1. Hi Mar,
          Actually, it got through the spam filter no problem, which is good and bad news! 🙂
          Thanks for the link to Brian, hadn’t hear of him, look good.
          Gary V’s stuff is interesting too. I used to find him a bit over-whelming (a bit like Joe Pesci sometimes) but get his newsletter now and, yup, there’s some gold in there.
          And back to real important stuff… I think Torres will leave in the summer. They just had a bambino and would be happier back in Spain with the family. The lifestyle there is terrific. Pool for 6th!

    1. Shoemoney's Coke Theory? Me too. It shows how he takes one central idea and then spins out others that support it, with a nice little twist. Glad you liked it.

  2. I can relate to this – 'look at his site from a business perspective.' Ive had mixed feelings about tihs guy but he must be doing something right. thanks for doing this. gt post!

    1. It's Shoemoney business model that interests me. When I see it from a business perspective, it's the branding, product line and affiliations that interest me most. Have you signed up for the trial?

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