From Budgeting to Building a Business

How Ruth Soukup turned a blog into a multipronged company.

Ruth Soukup was still a newbie blogger when she caught her first big break. She’d started her blog, LivingWellSpendingLess.com, in 2010 as an antidote to a Target shopping habit that had gotten out of hand. Writing about budgeting and other money-saving efforts would be a way to both hold herself accountable and share her tips with others facing similar spending struggles.

But she also saw the business potential of her new endeavor. She researched ways to make money from blogging, through mechanisms such as ads and affiliate links, and learned everything she could about search engine optimization (SEO). “I started optimizing every single post from almost day one,” she says.

What a payoff. Six months after starting her blog, a series she had written about couponing coincided with the take-off of the TV show Extreme Couponing. The subject became a hot internet search, and Soukup’s series rose to the top of search results, thanks to her careful SEO practices.

“My traffic just took off,” she says. “That affected my ad rates, and all of a sudden I was making money because I had all this traffic.”

But the couponing craze also led to Soukup’s first big business lesson because it died down just as quickly as it began. “It was a really good lesson for me because I had to learn that I can’t count on just one wave. I have to diversify where my traffic is coming from. I tell people all the time that it’s important to ride a wave when you have that opportunity. But know that a wave is a wave, so it’s also important to create stability in an online business.”

Ruth Soukup Omnimedia

In the years since, Soukup has done just that. Today she oversees Ruth Soukup Omnimedia, a $5-million multifaceted company based in Punta Gorda. Blogging is still a part of her business, but 95% of her revenue comes from products she’s created, which include six books, a popular planner and the Elite Blog Academy, a series of courses that teaches students how to make money by blogging.

“When you create products, you have a lot more control,” she says. “You’re able to create the products people are asking you for, and the revenue potential for that is so much higher.”

Soukup wrote her first book, How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul, almost on a whim after being asked so many questions about making money from blogging. “I thought I’d write it all down and then I could hand this book to people when they asked me about it,” she says. “I didn’t mean it to be more than a way of answering questions.”

But its popularity on Amazon told her that people were hungry for information. When her book Living Well, Spending Less came out in 2014, she created a digital home-planning workbook as a gift for folks who preordered the book. People asked for a physical copy of the planner, and she listened.

She had no experience creating a product like that. But she dove in, working with her staff to find a printer and get the first planner out to her audience. She hasn’t been afraid to make revisions over the years, like switching to a printer overseas that’s much cheaper than those in the United States.

“Every step of the way, we would just try something and learn as we go,” says Soukup. “We’d tweak and get a lot better at it, and that’s business. There’s never a moment where I feel like I’ve totally got this.”

“I would say the one thing that makes Ruth successful is she’s not afraid to take risks,” says Kate Ahl, owner of Simple Pin Media, who manages the Pinterest account for Soukup’s business and is an instructor at Elite Blog Academy. “She’s a strategic thinker with an innate ability to see her future success.”

That kind of fearless attitude is the basis of Soukup’s new book, Do It Scared, also the name of a podcast she’s been producing for about a year. “I’ve seen fear become such an issue for so many people, especially women,” she says. “So many of us let fear hold us back and keep us from going after big goals and dreams.”

The book is something of a passion project for Soukup, and her questions about fear led to a research study of 4,000-plus people. “What we discovered was that not all fear is equal, but there are some very distinct patterns and ways that fear plays out in our lives,” she says. The book identifies seven “fear archetypes” and offers strategies for battling fear once you know how and why it affects you.

She hopes the podcast and Do It Scared help introduce new people to her company, but it’s still too soon to tell. “From a business strategy standpoint, I’ve yet to see if it was a good business move or not,” she says. “I do believe there is a part of what I do that is stronger because I’m willing to follow my passion and take a risk. But it’s too new to see whether or not this risk I’m taking is going to pan out. … It’s terrifying, ironically, but it’s exciting at the same time.”

Soukup started her Elite Blog Academy in 2014, and it’s now become her No. 1 source of revenue. She thought her original book about blogging would answer everyone’s questions, but it turned out to be just the beginning.

“People kept asking me the same question over and over again: Can you tell me what to do in what order so I can be successful?” says Soukup. “I realized that’s my gift, helping people figure it out step by step.”

To date, Elite Blog Academy has trained more than 11,000 students from 60 different countries about how to profit from blogging. Enrollment opens to the public just once each year, and the base-level course starts at $997.

Past student Caroline Vencil, who blogs about money and budgeting at carolinevencil.com, admits she was skeptical at first. But when she heard other bloggers she respected speak highly of the course (do an Internet search, and you’ll find lots of bloggers refer to Soukup as their “blogging mentor”), she gave it a try in 2016.

“I made my initial investment back within the first three months,” says Vencil. “It has made all the difference in my blog.” Before she signed up for the course, she made 17 cents during her highest-earning month. Now she makes between $10,000 and $25,000 a month, mostly from product sales and affiliate income.

“What I love about Ruth is she doesn’t beat around the bush,” says Vencil. “She tells you this is work, and if you’re willing to put in the work, you will see the results. She’s just an absolute blogging genius.”

Some might think Soukup is training her competition, but she doesn’t see it that way. “Honestly, I feel like there has never been a time in human history like there is now of just pure opportunity, where it’s accessible and completely democratized to everyone,” she says. “Have we reached the limits of what’s possible online? Not even close. And that is what gets really interesting to me. I believe that, like ships in the harbor, we all rise together as we help each other and collaborate.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Like most businesses out there, Soukup has used social media like Facebook and Instagram to grow her business. But she doesn’t rely on it. She’s more invested in her email list of more than one million subscribers. Algorithms on social media can change and affect how people interact with you. But when they actively opt to hear from you via an email signup, you can reach them over and over again.

Soukup now oversees a staff of 15, some of whom work in Punta Gorda and others

ers who work virtually. “It’s been a hard- fought battle to get this team we now have, and I’ve made so many mistakes along the way with hiring the wrong people,” she says. “But they’re mistakes I’m grateful for because without making those mistakes, I would not have learned what I don’t want. I truly believe there are no mistakes, only lessons. And that’s one of the core values in our company.”

Her company was recently rebranded as Ruth Soukup Omnimedia, since its original name of Living Well Spending Less Inc. no longer fully reflected everything it did. And Soukup continues to figure things out as she goes along. “There’s been the challenge of going from solopreneur and learning how to be a CEO,” she says. “It doesn’t all depend on me now. I have to learn how to let go and to delegate, and how to have a company that has my name on it but also let other people make decisions. There is so much learning that goes along with that.” She credits her persistence as a reason for her success, along with the fact that she’s already seen rock bottom so she’s not afraid of failing. Soukup suffered from debilitating depression in her early 20s and attempted suicide several times. With a lot of hard work, her emotional health improved, and she knows that she can handle anything business throws her way.

“I’ve already made the worst mistakes anyone could possibly make, and I’m still here and I’m still fighting,” she says. “There’s no mistake I could make that would be so big I couldn’t recover from it. And that has really helped me in my business life. I’m going to try this thing and if it doesn’t turn out, I’m going to try the next thing and keep trying.”

Now that her Do It Scared book has been released, Soukup plans to take some time to work on internal systems and processes at her company. “We’ve been moving at such a fast pace for so long now,” she says. “I know that if I don’t make the time for it, it’s going to hurt us in the future. I want to make sure we’re in a good place continue to grow, and this will give us the ability to scale into the future.”