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7 Everyday People Who Made Their First Million

WesleyAugust 10, 2017

1. Alicia Shaffer, Etsy Millionaire

Who would have guessed that knitting your own home-made scarves, headbands, and socks to sell online could make you more money in six months than the President of the United States earns all year? Well it’s true. Alicia Shaffer, an arts and crafts extraordinaire and mother of three has an Etsy empire that makes her $80,000 a month, adding up to an extremely cushy annual gross income of $960,000. For a sense of scale, that’s twice as much as the U.S. president makes and nearly twice as much as the average neurosurgeon’s annual salary.

Working from her home town of Livermore, California, Alicia runs Etsy’s second most successful store selling handmade products. (The first most successful shop sells hand made buttons.) Called ThreeBirdNest, Alicia named her super successful store after her bird’s nest tattoo, which she got to symbolize her three kids.

Etsy is an online marketplace that only allows products to be sold on their platform that fall under one of two categories: handmade items, and vintage items. Like so many other websites that have revolutionized the economy in our modern era by connecting buyers and sellers over the digital marketplace online, Etsy is part of the trend of the democratization of business… making it easier and more possible than ever before for anyone with hardly any budget to start a business and make as much money as they want, even millions if they work hard enough and have a product that lots of people in the market really desire.

The other big trend in this spontaneous movement, enabled by the Internet, is user created, artisan products, lovingly made by one person, whether it’s digital products like blog articles, media products like videos uploaded to YouTube, or even physical goods like those on sale in Alicia’s store.

2. Johnny Ward, Travel Blog Millionaire

When Johnny Ward was growing up in a poor, single-parent household in Ireland, his family didn’t have the means to afford any travel outside his country, but after Johnny graduated, he decided to travel to first the United States, and then Thailand, and fell in love with the travel lifestyle. He decided to start a blog to chronicle his traveling adventures, and the blog became so popular that it made Ward a millionaire!

Here’s what Ward has to say about it:

“I have a popular travel blog which generates a normal Western income through ads and affiliate commissions, in which I get a cut if one of my readers clicks through a link and makes a purchase, and I could live from that if I had to. However, having learned about SEO [search engine optimization], online marketing, corporate blogging, content creation and social-media management, as my blog grew more and more popular, I used my new skills to found a digital-media company which manages all those aspects of a company’s online presence. Now I have a team of people who manage that for clients around the world.”

Many people have a lot of things they’d like to do in their lives, things they dream and fantasize about. “If only…” If only I could afford it. If only I had the time. If only I didn’t have work to do. If only… If only… If only… And one of those common dreams is extensive world travel. Most people think they can’t do it because they can’t afford it. Johnny thought, “How can I afford this?” And that’s actually the difference between how middle class and wealthy people think. Middle class people live with budgets and say “I can’t afford it.” Wealthy people say, “How can I afford this?” and make it happen. Johnny not only made the travels pay for themselves, he made the travels a lucrative source of big figure income.

3. Sara Blakely, Spanx Millionaire

Sara Blakely was not always a millionaire. At one point before she made her millions, Sara was a pretty average fax machine sales person who had about $5,000 to her name. Well when she was getting ready for a party one day, Sara decided to cut the feet off of a pair of her pantyhose so she would be able to wear pair of pants she liked more comfortably. Her idea was that simple. It’s like the Snuggie guy selling you a bathrobe that you put on backwards and making millions upon millions of dollars in revenue.

Sara took the idea around to a number of different manufacturers of hosiery and they all rejected it, but she kept persisting until she found the one willing to take on her idea and make shaping briefs and leggings that don’t go down the entire leg and cover the feet and all that. Today her company, Spanx, is a multi-million dollar business.

Just a simple change like that to an existing product category. Nothing revolutionary. She didn’t learn programming and make the latest, greatest smartphone app. She didn’t invent and patent some new molecular configuration for some durable plastic polymer. She didn’t spend years of her life training in classical and commercial music, start a band and play in clubs every weekend, and work, and scrape, and struggle her way onto the pop charts with an amazing new sound and a killer album to showcase it.

All she did was cut the feet off a pair of pantyhose and sell it. Such a marginal improvement, but an improvement nonetheless, one that millions of people are willing to pay for, and one that no one had brought to market before Sara Blakely. So now she’s a millionaire and has made the world a better place, a place where women can buy shaping body hosiery that they want and wear it with a cool pair of jeans, some socks, and shoes.

They key take away for aspiring self made millionaires is make a product that you would buy, that solves a problem you personally have and want to solve.

4. Julie Broad and Dave Peniuk, Real Estate Millionaires

Julie Broad and her husband Dave Peniuk had $16,000 between them and decided they wanted more. They decided a small amount of savings wasn’t enough for them. They decided they were even willing to take a small, calculated risk, and put in a ton of work, and learn something they were unfamiliar with if there was a reasonable chance that they might be able to grow that $16,000 in savings into millions. So they bought their first piece of real estate property. Then another. Then another. And in seven years, they became millionaires from their small real estate empire.

Julie says anybody can do what they did:

“If you have $16,000 to invest (which is what I started with seven years ago), you can buy $16,000 worth of stocks and bonds. But, if you buy real estate, you can buy a property worth $160,000 (which is exactly what I did). While some stock investors are able to buy on margin (when you only put down a portion of what the stock is worth), this is a sophisticated and high-risk move that only experienced stock investors typically make.

If your stocks go up in value by 5 percent, you’ve made $800. But if your property goes up by 5 percent — you’ve made $8,000! This is on the same $16,000 investment. This doesn’t even take into account the other ways you can make money from real estate.”

They went the route of Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, who emphasizes the power of investing in real estate, cash producing assets with intrinsic value, using loans from banks who are happy to make the investment in someone who wants to manage property who has a little skin in the game (the $16,000 down payment) and the hard asset of a real estate property itself as collateral in case they don’t turn out to manage it very well and get it generating the cash it should be able to.

5. Rosanna Pansino, YouTube Cooking Show Millionaire

Cable television just wouldn’t be cable television without the Food Network to keep you entertained and salivating over delicious gourmet food recipes. Créme Fraîche anyone? Well YouTube also wouldn’t be complete without a popular and well done cooking channel. (Well done, get it? Cooking pun!) And of course this is YouTube we’re talking about. On the Internet, you know? So this can’t just be any old cooking show. It’s got to be a nerdy cooking show!

Rosanna Pansino wanted to be on television, and had a few minor, but pretty cool little stints in daytime TV acting, but at the encouragement of friends and family, she went ahead and started a cooking show and uploading it to her own YouTube channel, naming it “Nerdy Nummies.” These days her channel is a major success, with over 7 million YouTube subscribers who click to watch Rosanna share her awesome baking recipes, and sometimes host guest appearances from other YouTube A-listers like Markiplier and Michelle Phan.

Rosanna learned how to bake from her grandmother, and it’s been one of her favorite hobbies her entire life. She started the YouTube channel to get some practice being in front of the camera, but it become a runaway hit sensation, bigger than any of her television roles by far and it’s now what she does for a living. She also wrote and published her first cookbook, the Nerdy Nummies Cookbook, in November of 2015. At that time she had earned $2.5 million from her YouTube channel alone.

The lesson is clear. There is an enormous, wide open opportunity online to create your own content, your own product, your own thing, and put it online and promote it and grow it as big as you want. There are no gatekeepers to stop you. There are no auditions. There are no publishers or agents to persuade to pick you. There is no record company or studio you have to convince. There is literally no one standing in your way in the online market place. Build it and they will come. If they don’t, then build it better and keep trying.

6. Deanna Jump, Lesson Plan Millionaire

Yes, lesson plans. Seriously. Lesson plans! Deanna Jump made herself a millionaire from selling lesson plans online! She was a kindergarten teach in Georgia who had really great lesson plans, so one of her co-workers suggested that she put her lesson plans online on a website called Teachers Pay Teachers. Her first year in 2008 she made $300 for the year. A lot of people may have given up then. A lot of people would be sure their idea is just a $300 a year idea after having a first year like that.

The difference for Deanna was that she kept going. Her husband encouraged her to keep trying, and she became a millionaire selling her lesson plans on somebody else’s very specialized platform. It’s an absolutely amazing story and it’s a story that is becoming increasingly more common and will only accelerate as we move deeper into the digital era of the 21st century. Being good at something, anything that has some value to some community, and being the best at it, no matter how niche it is, online can be a very viable path to a million dollar net worth.

I mean think of how small a platform Teachers Pay Teachers must be compared to so many other platforms out there. It’s not YouTube. It’s not Facebook. It’s not even Etsy. It’s just a website for teachers to sell other teachers educational materials and lesson plans. While there are a lot of teachers, that is still a relatively niche group, and not all teachers are going online to buy lesson plans. And yet this very specialized niche platform is big enough for one seller to become a millionaire.

Sometimes the more niche the better. It’s more special if it’s niche. It’s more important to the people who care about that niche. It’s more personal. It’s something those people care enough about to spend money on it. It’s something that matters to them. And it’s also small enough that you can make a big name for yourself and be the best in the world at something in your niche. Like Deanna Jump.

7. Tim Grittani, Penny Stock Millionaire

Remember Julie Broad and her husband Dave Peniuk who were determined to turn their $16,000 savings into more? Into millions? Well Tim Grittani took his life savings of just $1,500 in 2010 and decided he would risk it to make more. He decided to put his money into penny stocks. Now remember Broad and Peniuk who made their big money on real estate were trashing stocks as an investment. They had a pretty good argument too for going into real estate instead of stocks. You get to leverage your investment, and therefore your returns, by a factor of ten. There’s potentially less risk as well.

But this guy Tim went ahead and decided to invest his paltry $1,500 in stocks, and not just any stocks. He went for penny stocks! The lowest life form in the stocks universe. The stuff Jordan Belfort would pump and dump to the tune of hundreds of millions as unsophisticated investors lost money. Well Tim decided these shares valued under $1 apiece were his ticket to riches, and he turned out to be right! In 2013 he told CNNMoney, “I’ve been trading every single day for almost three years, and it’s been a slow, day-to-day process. Investors in penny stocks should be prepared for the possibility that they may lose their whole investment.”

But that slow, day-to-day trading process battle hardened Tim into a guy who knows how to pick winners and losers, and he turned his initial investment of just $1,500 into a multi-million dollar stock portfolio. He even shares investment advice now on his blog, Trade the Ticker. The big take away here is find your own path. Don’t necessarily listen to anyone on the specifics when they give advice about how to be wealthy. Learn from their attitude, their positivity, their perseverance, their energy, their desire to be rich. Then chart your own way toward millions.

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