Maria Killam in 2008 (at a paint store where my system began)
Eleven years ago on Halloween 2008 I started writing this blog. I’m always a little annoyed that my anniversary is on a date that is far from my favourite. I have no stomach for horror movies or anything related to scary monsters in any way. My favourite part about Halloween is watching the little kids get dressed up!
Anyway, back then I had no idea where it would take me. At the time, I was a self employed designer (I had to be self-employed, I couldn’t hold down a job given I had been fired seven times at last count, but let’s just round it off to eight shall we?).
I was in debt and living in a rental. And I was tired. Tired of the world of self employment which for me usually went like “When it rains it pours, and when business is dead, wow it’s just dead”.
I had just been through a dry period a year before that where I had to live on my credit line for 6 months when things were slow and it crept back up to minus $25,000.
I was tired of this kind of business model and knew something had to be done.
Fast forward, I started writing this blog and the rest is history.
When I meet people I don’t know, and they find out my entire business is driven by my blog, I am often met with shock.
“What? How do you make money writing a blog?” they ask, with a surprised look in my direction.
And yet, that is my business model.
There’s a lot of ‘buzz’ these days around ‘passive income’, and selling products online via affiliate links but I have a newsflash for you.
Have you written a song and you don’t have to lift a finger but money still gets deposited in your account? Do you own real estate that earns money? Do you have a business that you spend 2-3 hours per month managing, because you’re a business owner and not a business operator?
That is the purest definition of passive income.
There’s nothing truly ‘passive’ about my business.
Yes, people register for my high ticket colour workshops in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping, but that’s probably because the day before I wrote a blog post that resonated with that person. Enough to have them pull out their credit card at 7:00 am Eastcoast time which is 4:00 am Westcoast time (when I was sleeping) and register.
Many people have ‘passive income’ and ‘making money while you’re sleeping’ collapsed.
Yes, I was technically in bed when the sale happened, but I still work every day and frankly, most weekends, to ensure that the sales keep coming in.
There are two ways to drive traffic to your website. Where you’re SELLING something.
You pay for ads to send traffic to your site.
Create good content and then focus on optimizing your content that then, organically sends traffic to your site through Google searches, Pinterest, etc.
My business model is in the latter category.
Writing this blog is truly a creative outlet for me. If it didn’t feel that way, there’s no way I’d still be writing it 11 years later.
And ideas on what to write come to me constantly. It’s very rare that I’m just staring at my laptop, wondering what I’m going to say.
In fact, I’m usually excited to discover what I do have to say about any given topic, because often I honestly don’t know until I get to the end of the post.
Creativity is definitely a muscle that gets bigger when it’s well used.
So first, here are all the ways I make money on this site:
My FREE Understanding Undertones colour wheel
It’s free (except for shipping and handling).
There are no strings attached to this sale (I’m calling it a sale because you do have to pay for shipping)
This is the entry point to my ‘funnel’ which is internet speak for the journey a customer takes in navigating an ecommerce website and finally converting to a sale.
A customer buys the wheel, uses it to identify the undertones in their home and then chooses a paint colour based on my handy dandy short list which is found on the landing page here.
This part of my funnel does not make me any money. In fact I would call it a loss leader. I have spent over $50,000 developing this wheel. And did I mention it’s free?
Also, I would love to write some posts to answer questions on using the wheel, so if anyone has taken photos and have questions, please send them here.
If the entire process of choosing a paint colour still seems too hard to figure out and they are staring at a bunch of samples, still waiting for their paint colour to propose, then they might move to the next part of the funnel which would be to purchase either of my ebooks.
Neither of these ebooks overlap. One is all about choosing white and the other is all about choosing paint colour.
These books will teach you THE System for Specifying Colour.
Two eBooks; $27.00/each
How to Choose Paint Colours, It’s all in the Undertones
White is Complicated; A Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White
Three Sets of Large Paint Colour Samples
Then, if you read the books and learn that ideally, you just need the Core or the Foundation collection with you to choose the right neutral, and you’re a design professional or a colour enthusiast who just loves colour and wants to get it right in their home, you buy my large curated paint samples:
And what I mean by curated is that 95% of the time you need a neutral, or one of the most popular colours in greens, blues, pinks, forest greens, darks, you’ll find them in these collections.
When I get up to the bedroom wing of the house, I usually spread them out onto the bed while I’m choosing colours for bedrooms (above).
Downstairs in the main areas of the house, I’ll spread them out on the coffee table or island in the kitchen.
Exterior and Interior eDesign services
But what if you don’t want to figure it out yourself, or you need help?
That’s where my eDesign services come in.
Maria’s Timeless Master Bathroom Reveal
I can help with just a single paint colour for the main areas of your house (for example), if you have lost your mind and the painters are hounding you for the paint colour.
All the way to a Create a Classic Bathroom or Kitchen Package or a New Build or Renovation package if you are someone who is sensitive to colours and especially neutral undertones, maybe you’ve already lived with bad colours and bad finishes in the past and this time, you just want to get it ALL right.
The first time.
Much cheaper than trying to figure it all out yourself (with no colour or design training) and then, halfway through, when everything starts going in and you realize it’s not turning out as you’d hoped and THEN calling for help.
That is way more expensive, because now we’re in ‘fix’ mode or ‘We have to live with it now because we’ve gone too far in the wrong direction’ mode.
Yes I use affiliate links where I can, but how I make money in eDesign is by specifying the right colour. And that is what I teach you how to do on Day three of my Specify Colour with Confidence workshops.
The edesign sites where you can get an entire room designed for under $100 means that you might get to work from home but it’s not hard to do the math on how much money you’ll make if the site is only charging $69 for an entire room design.
They are obviously trying to make money from affiliate links too, but no one can force the customer to actually buy the products they are recommending exactly as specified.
The way to do it if you want to make money on YOUR blog is how Laurel Bern does it. Every week she posts which home decor sites are having sales and also includes her recommendations. Very smart. And she has a great blog which gets a lot of traffic. We’re back to that. If you want to make money with your blog you still need traffic.
It’s the fashion bloggers who make real money selling fashion on their Instagram or blog because you’re way more inclined to make a spontaneous sweater or shoe purchase rather than a coffee table that you might end up having in your living room for years. And of course they also need to have a following to make money.
To give you an idea of how much money I made in the first 5 years that I added affiliate links to posts that I was writing, it was under $6000 on commissions.
However, I’m not focused on writing posts that sell furniture or home decor.
And that is also not the main driver of my eDesign business either. I charge for choosing the right paint colour and finishes, that is mostly the service my clients are looking for from my site. Gross sales currently from this department range from between $20,000 – $30,000 per month with Spring and Fall being the busiest time.
And it’s the most labour intensive part of my business. I currently have 3 designers who work in this department and I’m involved with every consultation that we send out. What takes the most time, is gathering questionnaires, making sure the photos have been taken correctly, communicating with the client and assembling the presentation.
In case you are still doubtful that I touch all the consults, read this post.
Specify Colour with Confidence Workshops
Then at the very end of my ‘funnel’ are my live colour workshops.
This course attracts a wide range of people from the homeowner/colour enthusiast who loves colour and decorating and wants to have the skills to make their own decisions, to the person transitioning into a new career, to the new decorators and designers (and all the design professionals in-between) including designers who have been in the business for 30 years.
There’s simply no other place to get this kind of specific training on choosing colour and of course, the right neutrals as efficiently as this. The better you get at being able to explain WHY your colour specifications are the right ones, the faster and more confident you will become and the faster your client will immediately trust you.
Many of my eDesign clients end up attending one of my workshops. First they dip their toe into getting their colours right and then when it works and the colours that were bothering them for so long are suddenly right, they decide to get further training so that they can do more themselves.
I love teaching this workshop, it’s so rewarding to watch so many designers who have attended my courses over the years, soar in their business! I like to think my workshop contributed to their success and joy in doing what they love!
In Home Decorating and Colour Consulting
Last but not least is decorating and colour consulting. There’s nothing I love more than helping a client create a look and a feel for their home through choosing the right colours for their painted surfaces, hard finishes, soft furnishings and accessories.
I’m posting this photo from my nephews condo which is the most recent project I posted about last month.
And that takes me to my earlier point. All of these different sources of income are driven by writing blog posts.
One thing I know for sure, is that the quality and frequency of posting is EVERYTHING. That is the one thing that MUST be consistent because my blog posts drive ALL my sales.
When I wrote this post in July 2017, I had nine registrations into my Fall workshops that week.
This post about white walls sold a lot of White is Complicated eBooks that day.
This post literally turned the month of January 2018 into our biggest eDesign month ever up until that point. It also validates what I teach on Day 3.
Everyone is so worried about giving away their best advice
When you just need to accept the fact that some people will simply NEVER buy anything from you.
I get emails all the time from readers who have never bought anything and are not even subscribed to my blog.
Yet they have used my blog as a free guide for every single colour/design or sourcing decision they’ve had to make with regards to their new build or renovation. AND they are emailing to ask if I would write a post to answer a burning question they could not find the answer to, no matter how hard they searched my 1500 posts.
And they compose the email like they are doing me a favour. Giving me the heads up on a post that needs to be written, haha.
Anyway, I digress. My point is, do not let these non-paying people get to you. There are a lot more people out there who are happy to pay for your professional advice.
Blogging is actually NOT dead. Far from it.
And my business is living, breathing, proof.
Since starting my blog, I truly live the life I dreamed about in my 20s and 30s.
I was 41 when I started writing this blog and by then I had almost given up the idea that I would ever make enough money to have the life that I dreamed about.
Money that could make me a homeowner instead of a renter, be able to take extended dream vacations to Europe, buy my Mom first class plane tickets, assemble a collection of designer shoes and bags and one of the best parts of this, be able to hire a professional to do everything I don’t want to do myself.
Given I am where I am now with nothing but a high school diploma looks like a miracle, but really is based on many years of hard work using my talent for colour and design and being able to write like I talk. And of course, my wife Terreeia deserves lots of credit for having the ability to handle many aspects of our business that I’m not good at.
To be clear, you can write a blog without being a professional writer.
In the beginning (when I had a lot more time than money) I set up and designed my blog on my own, but there are so many more resources and help available now if you’d like to do the same thing. And my talented web developer Terrence Murtagh is launching a course to teach you how to set up your own website/blog, sign up here if you’d like to be notified when he does!
Over to you my lovelies! What’s the best tip you’ve learned that helped you, from reading this blog?
Thank you so much to all of my amazing readers and clients who have followed and supported me all these years!
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Maria – I love your blog and I respect your talent. I haven’t attended any of your workshops, but I have invested in your books, your online courses and YOUR COLOR BOARDS (the best investment, ever). While I appreciate your expertise, I am beyond grateful for your generosity. At a time when my life was extremely stressful, nothing perked me up more than reading a new blog. In terms of marketing, your generosity is brilliant, but we sense that it’s not contrived, rather it is just who you are. Thanks!
Cdongrats on 11 years of great blog writing, Maria! You have changed many lives for the better, mine included!
Your blog and e-books gave me the confidence I needed to start decorating. Creating a room I feel good in and proud of myself for creating is worth much more than the money I spent on the e-books. Definitely a valuable investment!
Just want to say that your Instagram account , an adjunct to your blog, shows your fantastic eye for color, design and beauty, which makes me trust you even more.
And I love your daily stories. It’s really nice and fun getting to know about you apart from the intimidating design world!
And your nephews are angels!!
Maria, you are both an artist and a business woman! Recently, I had a Sherwin Williams consultant in the house to help me pick some new colors. I knew I was in good hands when I asked her if she knew who Maria Killam was, and she got a big smile on her face!
I never know what I’m going to learn from you but it’s always interesting and valuable
Congratulations on all your success ?
Congrats Maria, you’ve inspired me in more ways than you know. I always look forward to your posts.
Wow! Such amazing information you shared Maria. Thank you for giving us some insight into all that you do and how you make it profitable!
That was an ‘inspiring’ blog Maria. Everyone loves a rags to riches story because it makes you believe that you too can do it. Then, you provide all the tools needed for DIYers and professionals alike. Thanks for all you do with confidence, humility and good intention.
Maria I really think you are rocking that green belt – it’ll make a comeback, I can feel it!
But that master bathroom reveal is the best – I am, now let’s say was, not a fan of gold accents until this. And the use of the yellow rug really grounds and rounds out the yellow and gold used – no “floating” anchorless pops of colour here which feels amazing. The blue vanity – divine colour – truly! And the white keeping it all timeless. Wondering if the stained glass windows are still in place because I kind of loved them and thinking about them being a secret hidden behind the window coverings makes me smile ? Anyway this room is perfection.
Maria, I was one of your eDesign clients maybe 6 or 7 years ago and I am STILL getting compliments on my color scheme! That little bit of money was SO well spent! I definitely booked my consultation because of your website. I heard about your website from people on a message board called Houzz. So it was sort of word of mouth that took me to your blog. But after reading just a few posts, whoa, it is obvious you are the master. And who wouldn’t want to work with the best?
Congratulations on your anniversary!
I can’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I knew I loved your voice. Tell me how you really feel. I then purchased an e-book and knew that the live class was gong to be next.
Your live colour course was a game changer for my business. The confidence it gave me was simply just what I needed. I never leave home without my colour boards and I read your blog every week.
Congratulations on hard work, determination, a continuing to bring colour into our lives. ❤️
been following a long time and have done all the above except attend a workshop. Thank you for your commitment to colourful fun, colourful syle, colourful design and colourful teaching!
I love this post. You are a guiding light for so many of us and your insight is valuable. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and success.
Big congratulations to you on your anniversary. Wishing you continued success in 2020.
I learned about you from an article I read and now love getting smarter because of your blog. For what was a very fair fee, you provided knowledge on solving a floor selection issue for my Mom’s condo. She doesn’t have much money and is on a fixed income. Your advice led us to the right flooring choice, which was a huge investment given her financial situation and lack of funds to change out major things like cabinents. Whether you’re deciding colors for a new build, major remodel, or modest but meaningful investment in your condo, investing in adivce from Maria is a wise choice.
Congratulations, Maria, on 11 years of amazing blogging and developing a wonderful business that helps so many of us! I have your e-books (need to revisit them) and all your color boards. Hoping someday my daughter (and, maybe, I) can take your color workshop. Just finished selecting paint for two bath remodels—I’ll admit, it was still difficult for me, so perhaps I’m one of those who needs to go very deep into the “funnel!” Understanding undertones has been the biggest help, but selecting the right white to match some new, off-white cabinetry that wasn’t a custom color was tougher than I hoped. For my kitchen, I think I’ll insist on cabinetry custom-painted in my house’s trim color. Thanks, again, for all you do for us!
Maybe you should make your blog posts ‘pay for view’ to get rid of us pesky readers that never buy anything!
Maybe you should make your blog posts ‘pay per view’ to get rid of us pesky readers that never buy anything!
Congratulations Maria. My husband was self-employed for over 20 years. You are right. It is not easy. But, like you, he built his business with hard work and discipline. One thing that I’ve learned from your blog is that you can’t judge a color all by itself. You have to compare it to another “version.” Had I learned this sooner, I’d have saved myself from making an unfortunate color mistake. I’ll fix it. Eventually. And you can bet that I’ll check in with you!
Maria – Maybe no college education, but thousands of hours studying and your approach to design is fabulous. If anyone says you have a “knack” for design, please hit them. Send pics please.
Had a client “doctor” say that to me once and I wanted to reply but felt best to stay silent as once the mouth opens, sometimes the wrong vocabulary comes out. In addition, he has such a lovely wife and didn’t want to offend.
I have learned so much from your blog and have used your eDesign service in the past. What I really appreciate about your blog is that it does not only show Hi-end, and therefore very expensive, interiors but rooms for the average person who does not have the funds to spend $3000 on a coffee table. It’s all very affordable and doable!
Maria – You are as young and cute now as you were in 2008 but there is a lot of WISDOM added to your face – not wrinkles, not aging – just wisdom…….
Haha – I share your feelings about Halloween! So glad it is over and the gruesome and spooky decor has left the neighborhood! This was a great article and I love all your examples of what has worked for you – it’s right in line with what I am finding. Though I’ve been blogging for a number of years, only the last year have I been really consistent and that, along with valuable content, of course, is the key!
Thank you for posting this, and for your transparency. As a long-time blogger and someone who wishes for “passive income,” it’s reassuring to hear from people really doing the work and servicing clients. I know I need more products to sell and over time, that will happen. I need to work on a funnel. Thanks for the inspiration!
Thank you! This shows that small progression and wins will lead to big ones over time! I love your blog and advice!!! I can’t wait for my business to be big enough to take a class from you LIVE.
It has been about a year and a few months since I discovered your blog. I have bought one of your e-courses and had to buy the Benjamin Moore colour samples to be able to follow. I am in Europe so this is not as easy as it sounds. For one of the exercises I had to get a friend in England to go to a BM store and basically wrestle the cards from the sales assistant who had them all kept in a back room and did not want to part with them. She did a good job and posted them to me. I managed to do the homework. It is not easy to see undertones so I needed the original samples but it was so so worth it!
I keep hoping you will one day run a workshop somewhere in Europe – or maybe an online live workshop – where you post the materials to us and we pay postage. You are an inspiration and your course has helped me more than the colour theory I have studied at school. I am 41 now and also trying to find a new path in life. I hope I can look back 11 years from now and be as proud as you are. Thank you so much and continue posting.
Well, where do I start? I bought the White ebook, the outside paint ebook, the paint cards, and had a color consultation on our exterior that made me very confident when re-painting the house. I have used your blog and products as a step-by-step guide to decorating our home. I totally re-did our kitchen with your blog’s guidance and get compliments all the time on how classy/timeless it looks with marble counters and subway tile. We have walnut cabinets because my husband is painful, but he says I can paint them white when I get really tired of them. My taste level is entirely indebted to you, and I am so grateful that I found you and your products. My business co-founder and I have vowed to create at least 3 products in 2020 as we have a labor business model. So you will continue to inspire!