How I Built a 6-Figure Online Business, Starting as a Side Hustle


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steven foustHow can you turn what you already know into an online income stream? Or better yet, a recurring online income stream?

Long-time Side Hustle Show listener Steven Foust is a retired Army Chief Warrant Officer (CW3) and Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) who recently left his corporate executive position to pursue his online side hustles full-time.

His primary side hustle is NCOonFire.com, where he helps army soldiers get promoted faster and earns $14k a month in the process.

Tune in to this Side Hustle Show interview to hear:

  • How Steven came up with the idea
  • the marketing and sales tactics that are working today
  • how to give yourself a raise every month

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What Made You Take the Leap?

A year and half ago, Steven pulled the trigger and quit his full-time corporate job as vice president of an aerospace manufacturing company.

“I knew there was a day that was going to come when I was going to make a pivot. I just didn’t know when that day was going to be,” he said.

At the time, his side hustles were only making about $5k a month. It wasn’t a lot of money. But to Steven, it meant a chance to do something different.

Having put away some money at the bank, he quit his job and doubled down on his efforts to make his side hustles work. “It’s been the best decision of my life.”

The Inspiration to Start

Steven got out of active duty in the Army in 1998 and has been retired from the Army Reserve since 2005. When he looked back at that experience, though, he realized one thing: he was good at getting promoted fast.

In fact, he wrote and published a guide called “Power Points” in 1995. It covered everything soldiers needed to know to get promoted faster to NCO — a military officer appointed by a commissioned officer, generally to supervise enlisted soldiers and train military personnel.

“I said, ‘You know what? I have this skill, I have this knowledge … I know some things about getting promoted faster. I wonder what it would look like if I could help other people who are struggling get promoted faster, too.’”

Getting Started

Steven used Kajabi to build a one-page site called ArmyPromotionPoint.com, where he wrote about his product — an online course on how he can help enlisted soldiers get promoted faster.

He took a page from Donald Miller’s StoryBrand Framework to market his product. After two months, it still didn’t get traffic, so he went on Google to figure out who his competitors were. That’s when he came across CutoffScores.com and NCOSupport.com.

The sites were run by Fernando, an ex-military man living in Panama. Steven reached out to him and struck up an affiliate partnership: Fernando would get 50% of each sale if Steven could advertise his product on Fernando’s sites.

Fernando wasn’t monetizing his sites except through display ads, so he readily agreed. Steven ended up making five sales from that partnership after a month.

Here’s what happened next:

  • Fernando wanted out, so he called Steven offering to sell his sites for $15k each.
  • Steven bought both sites.

Improving the Sites

CutoffScores.com and NCOSupport.com had good rankings and were generating about $1,500 a month with lead generation. Both sites were also seeing upwards of 500k organic page views a month.

The sites were built with Yahoo! Site Builder, though. So when Yahoo! announced it was retiring that application just three months after Steven bought the sites, he knew he had to act fast.

Here’s what he did:

  • Migrated the Sites to WordPress.com – Steven studied the how-to’s of site migration and went to work doing 301 redirects.
  • Built Products – Aside from the display ads, Fernando wasn’t really doing anything with the sites. So Steven built a couple of products:
    • Templates – He created a PDF template package to help NCOs counsel their soldiers better, drawing from his own experience.
    • Digital Package – He also created a digital package around writing. The product was essentially a performance evaluation guide for soldiers and NCOs.
    • How to Write Army Awards – He created another digital package on how to write army awards, which NCOs usually create to recognize outstanding soldiers.

After just a few months, sales started coming in, all while Steven continued to run display ads. He uses Monumetric for CutoffScores.com and Mediavine for NCOSupport.com, and he spends about $6-10 per 1k views.

Steven says he’s not really banking on display ads for revenue generation. “I just kept those ads going because they have always been there.”

Eventually, though, he plans to replace display ads with a more strategic revenue model.

Building an Email List from Scratch

Steven understood the importance of an email list in generating leads and driving sales, so he quickly set about building one.

First, he created an opt-in offer, NCOonFire.com/Calculator, which allows aspiring NCOs to easily calculate their current and future promotion points.

ncoonfire.com calculator

The opt-in lives on his main site, NCOonFire.com, so Steven places several ​​call-to-action (CTA) buttons throughout his other sites to drive people there.

Signing up for the opt-in offer triggers Steven’s tripwire funnel, which looks like this:

  • Product Discount – The prospect can get one of Steven’s digital products for a discount.
  • Discounted Membership – The prospect can get into Steven’s NCO Success Academy for a limited-time discount. The membership lasts for only 10 days, after which Steven will upsell them back into the membership. This offer gets Steven 1-2 new members a day on average.

Steven says every email he sends throughout the funnel is designed for the subscriber to buy something. “I dangle these things in front of them to find out what their problem is at that point that they really want to get solved.”

If the prospect unsubscribes, doesn’t avail of a discounted product, or doesn’t become a member, they stay in what Steven calls “the funnel of death” for 20-25 days. He will either:

  • Offer a Solution to a Pain Point – With prospects that don’t want subscriptions, Steven will offer them products that he believes will answer a pain point. “As entrepreneurs, we never know when our ideal customer is going to be at that point of a struggle that they’re ready to take action. The only way to mitigate that … is to be in their inbox a lot.”
  • Send Offers or “Invitations” – Steven believes that prospects who neither unsubscribe nor buy products stick around because they want to hear what he can help them with. He likes to “nurture” those prospects with things like holiday sale offers or “invitations” to limited-time offers and the like.

Steven has since grown his email list to 20k subscribers. He gets 1,500-1,800 new organic email addresses a month.

What Do Your Membership Plans Look Like?

Steven’s NCO Success Academy currently has 3 membership plans:

nco success academy pricing

Steven says his membership plans are inspired by Shane Sams’ from FlippedLifestyle.com. As a member there, he realized that not everybody wants a membership. Sometimes, they just want to buy products. Other times, they prefer help and support.

Generally, his plans include digital products that he sells one-off, as well as one-on-one mentorship, monthly workshops, and other resources.

Steven aims to get 50 new members per month. Currently, his churn rate is at 10-15%. “I have a higher churn rate because people come in, … they get promoted, and they move on in their career.”

Tools and Tech

The tools and tech Steven uses to run his online business are:

  • VideoAsk – This is an interactive video platform that Steven uses to interact with members for one-on-one mentorship. He pays $30/mo for a 100-minute plan.
  • Kajabi – Steven primarily uses this platform to create and sell his digital products.
  • Deadline Funnel – This is the tool Steven uses to create deadlines for his offers.
  • Zapier – Steven uses this tool to automate time-consuming tasks.
  • ChatGPT – This is the AI tool Steven uses to write emails in a pinch. He uses the premium version for $20/mo.
  • Dropbox – Steven uses this service mostly to deliver his promotion points calculator to new subscribers.

Free vs. Paid Content

Steven creates free evergreen content on his sites primarily to drive leads. He gets the content from official firewall-protected sites, which he’s able to access using his passwords.

He then offers the content to people through his email funnel and calculator opt-in offer, which is responsible for about 95% of his organic traffic.

“I’d give them bits and pieces with the goal and the desire to pull them back into the broader relationship, which is the membership, or into one of my lower ticket products with an upsell back into my membership,” he said.

Steven also shares his free content on his Facebook page, Army NCO Support, which Fernando gave him as a bonus, and Facebook group, The Optimized NCO.

“They’ll come in, they’ll get [that free content,] and I’ll say, ‘By the way, do you want 160 of them for $39? You can get that, too.’ I’ll lead people through that funnel,” he said.

Driving Traffic with Facebook Ads

Steven also drives traffic to his sites with Facebook Ads.

He’s tried running Facebook Ads in the past without much luck but decided to give it another go when he had to update one of his digital product packages.

The package included 162 PDF templates and sold for $39. The Army updated the form he had based his templates on, so he hired someone to do that for $600 and got the templates back in a week.

Steven wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so he promoted the updated package using Facebook Ads. He spent about $50 a day on ads when he started. Now, he’s put in $1.7k in ad spend over the last six weeks or so, racking up over $5k in sales.

Despite the amazing ROI, Steven says he’s nervous to put more money into ads. “I don’t want to disrupt what’s working well.”

What’s a Typical Day Look Like?

Steven spends about 10 hours a week managing all of his business ventures.

That includes things like tweaking sales funnels, testing ad campaigns, and trying out other marketing strategies.

He also spends some time working with Flipped Lifestyle as a head coach and affiliate marketer.

What’s Next for You?

Outside of NCOonFire.com and his work with Flipped Lifestyle, Steven also offers coaching services on OnlineIncome.coach.

It’s a relatively new venture, but the site is already set up and Steven has a couple of clients that he’s working with.

“Helping people overcome their struggles is something I really geek out on and enjoy … I’m really driven to help people start, build, and grow online businesses,” Steven said.

Steven’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

If you want to start an online business, what do you know that nobody knows you know?

Links and Resources

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

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