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How I built a $12k/month online business and traveled the world before my 21st birthday

  • $12,000+monthly revenue
  • $8,000+monthly profit
  • All info self-reported by interviewee
  • Published February 27, 2020
  • Reviewed and edited by Rita Epps

Who are you and how do you make money online?

My name is Michael Gardiner, and I am a 20-year-old digital nomad and serial entrepreneur born in Stuart, Florida. I have been an entrepreneur since the age of 15, when I started my first business. 

My main business is called Nomads with Solutions and it is a digital marketing agency specializing in Facebook lead generation. Our customers pay us to find them qualified leads that in turn make them more money.

I have been able to leverage this business to meet incredibly successful people, travel full time to over 20 countries (+10~ independent territories) by the age of 20 and build myself a multiyear safety net.

I can safely say, starting young in business was the best decision of my life.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

My favorite thing about Nomads with Solutions is that it is run completely remotely. I have employees across the United States and contractors all over the world.

In 2019 (my first year traveling close to full time), I was able to visit 15+ countries at the age of 19.

This year I have already booked trips to 11 countries that I will travel to over the next 4 months.

I don’t particularly have a set routine, as I prefer to work around the activities I plan. It is hard to keep a routine with time zone changes and being in consistently new and exciting environments.

The things I do try to keep consistent include:

  • Eating relatively healthy.
  • Getting some physical exercise. I am a huge adrenaline junkie so I love skateboarding, mountain biking, skydiving, etc.
  • Waking up before 8:00am.
  • Getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night. 

Currently, I am working around 5-7 hours per day between my businesses. That’s generally 7 days per week. However, if I wanted to work less I could.

One of my specialties is outsourcing and building teams.

This means that I am able to spend most of my time doing what I enjoy the most, which includes planning, thinking of new ventures – and hiring the right people for them – and sales.

Most of the other elements of the business I have a strong understanding of.

However, I just oversee someone else performing those tasks. 

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea for your business?

When I was 15 I was a sophomore in high school and primarily interested in normal kid things, including basketball, track, skateboarding, video games, hanging with friends, etc.

I happened to get injured playing basketball and in my free time applied for a job at a local pharmacy store.

I had a really terrible interview process where the person interviewing me took very little interest in me…

…and I thought to myself that I wanted to make money on my own terms. 

Although my family has no entrepreneurs, nor did I know any, I got an idea for my first potential income stream.

I had always followed themed accounts (nice cars, luxury houses, travel) on Instagram and figured I could build a big page to eventually make money with it (and show off to my friends).

Short story…I ended up growing a network of Instagram accounts to over 1,000,000 followers within a year and sold the network and used that money to fund my other ventures (of which most failed).

During that time period, I had the advantage of having two great loving parents who provided all I needed, so I could put all the money I wanted into the business. I am really grateful for this.

During that time I also worked some jobs, including working for a library, elementary school and a rehab center. 

Out of all the businesses I started with that money, the one that consistently did the best was my agency, Nomads with Solutions.

Since then I have started 20+ businesses, and have had most fail, some do ok and a few do good, but Nomads with Solutions has always been the leader.

How did you prepare to launch the business?

At the time I started the business I had no real solid skills, other than a nice personality and a bit of ambition. 

During this time I got really interested in business and spent a massive amount of time watching business YouTube videos, reading books and listening to podcasts. 

I was able to learn all the skills I needed for free (free videos, library books, free podcasts).

How much money did you have to spend to get started?

Outside of a savings account that had some bonds and index funds, I had a few hundred dollars when I started my business.

Luckily, I was able to make money from Instagram before I invested in any other expenses.

Currently, I have contractors, employees, software and much more to pay for, but when I started it was simple.

Talk us through your first few months (or first year) in business.

In the first few months in business, I did not have any real expectations, as I was in high school. However, jumping forward to college, I did have some doubts (although few).

My business started as an Instagram network, but grew into a marketing agency, especially around the time I started college (at 16).

I had always talked about dropping out of college.

However, I did not have the income coming in that I felt was justified to make the decision.

It started getting real to me in college that if I don’t make enough money I will be stuck in college and have to get a ‘real job’ out of college.

My family was supportive of me in business, but hesitant about me dropping out at the time when my business did not produce enough for me to survive off.

I was a senior in college at the age of 19 and was studying abroad, at this time my business was doing good (but not great).

After finishing my semester abroad I would have one more class to complete before graduating…

…and I knew I needed to get myself sorted if I didn’t want to get a job.

At this point, I decided to spend more money than ever to see if it could fix my problems in business.

I spent close to $10,000 in coaching – including multiple online courses, mentorship calls, and even a $5,000 2-day in-person mastermind.

I also had some employees working part-time and doubled their time (to full-time for some) – having them maximize client results and really going hard on client acquisition.

Luckily this big risky decision ended up paying off, and after my study abroad semester…

…I decided I was not going back to college.

I got myself in a position where I have a safety net, and can solely focus on traveling and building my business.

The biggest lesson I learned from this is that sometimes you have to spend more to make more, although it can be quite intimidating.

I watched my bank flex lower than it had gone in a while during this, but it managed to pay off.

How did you make your first $100 online?

My first $100 online was made strictly from selling shoutouts on my Instagram page that was based around “luxury living”.

I had a lot of men’s fashion businesses pay me for promotions.

How does the business make money today?

Today I have several streams of income.

However, my main business (Nomads with Solutions) has businesses pay us a monthly retainer for Facebook lead generation, Google Ads services, social media management, and occasional one-off projects.

Currently, for client acquisition, we get a log of clients off referrals, through my personal brand, from online job boards and from sending cold messages with customized attached videos using a tool called Loom.

The reason my business continues to grow more and more is that we have happy clients.

This sounds simple, and the concept is, but it can be hard to maintain.

In marketing, especially with digital marketing, everything is measurable. If my clients stop making money, they stop paying me.

At this point, I have over a dozen clients working with me, this allows them to make money, myself to make money and my team to make money.

What are some of the challenges particular to this kind of online business?

The biggest challenge in the digital agency space is being able to provide results.

Landing a client can be difficult, but is not terribly hard, however keeping that client can be much more difficult.

You either need to be an expert at digital marketing or have someone on your team who is.

If your client stops seeing results, you will stop seeing your payments. I think that this is something people new in the industry definitely underestimate. 

I have found the team I work with to be a great part of my success.

Interestingly, my best employees have found me themselves through my personal brand. One found me through Instagram and another through TikTok. They both DM’d me, I took the time to message back and nurture a relationship which led to me hiring them both.

I have also had a lot of experience hiring on Upwork. I typically look to hire people who are entrepreneurial and don’t like being micromanaged as I tend to be very hands-off with instruction.

This has worked out for me well allowing my team freedom to try new ideas and take action without a corporate approval process that can slow things and bum creativity.

If you were starting the same business today, from scratch, how would you do it?

If I was starting my marketing agency from scratch (and this would 100% be the business I would start if I had nothing), I would:

  • Get really good at online marketing (Facebook ads, Google ads, social media management).
  • Work for friends, family or a business you already have a relationship with – for a reduced fee to get a case study / testimonial.
  • Spend 80% of my time on client acquisition until I have 2 or 3 clients. 
  • Make sure my current clients are getting great results, and leverage those results to get more clients
  • Hire someone to help with recurring tasks (lead gen, campaign management, etc.)

With those 5 steps, you have yourself a great action plan.

What books, podcasts, courses or other resources would you recommend to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

The books I can most recommend are:

The podcasts I can most recommend are:

The YouTubers I can most recommend are:

📚 Editor’s note: see our ultimate list of the best books for online entrepreneurs.

What are your top 5 business tools?

My favorite business tools are:

  • Trello for project management and also a personal calendar.
  • Loom to record video audits for clients and also I use it to answer client questions.
  • D7L Lead Finder for generating local business leads.
  • Upwork for finding jobs and hiring contractors. 
  • Meetup for finding great networking events.

Where can we go to learn more?

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