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Behind The Curtain: How The Rise To The Top Makes Money



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by David Garland in David's Blog

Behind The Curtain: How The Rise To The Top Makes MoneyMaybe it is being in the mediapreneurship/new media/blogging/web show/whatever-the-heck-you-want-to-call-it-business.

Maybe it is because what we all do is unconventional in some sort of way.

But, I bet this subject has come up before.

Do you ever explain to someone what you do and at some point there is that long awkward pause followed by: “So…how do you make any money at that?”

I know I have…a lot.

Now without getting into to whether that question is appropriate or not (I ask this to guests all the time, so that answers that…then again, who said I was appropriate?), I wanted to answer it right here to give you a bit of an inside glimpse to perhaps pick up some ideas for yourself as opposed to making up something like “the way I make money is through illegal panda and bunny trade.” End conversation.

A couple of quick things to keep in mind:

1. Money doesn’t drive me. Sometimes, honestly, I wish it did a little more. I’m driven by passion, meaningful work I’d do for free even if I wasn’t getting paid, excitement, freedom and fun. And of course, I enjoy making money (and making money is important), but it is never the motivation for anything I do in business.

2. There is a LOT more I could do to make even MORE money, but I don’t: Yes, I could be doing a ton of speaking gigs and consulting and all that stuff. I could be on the road a lot. I could also make a bunch of random information products and sell them. Not to say I will “never” do those things (in fact, I used to spend a lot of time consulting/speaking), but right now I don’t see the point. I love what I do every day. I’m super happy with the way The Rise To The Top makes money. I love working from home. I love spending as much time as possible with my wife. I love attending family events and having all kinds of fun away from work. I love being able to go to the gym every day. Sure, I could add more money making activities…but at what cost?


1. Show Sponsorships – I have one exclusive sponsor per quarter for the web show. Current rockin’ sponsor is HubSpot.

2. Product Sponsorships – A bit different than show sponsorships. An example is Wistia, whose video player I use on the show.

3. Affiliates – Always disclosed of course, there are affiliate links throughout the site – most notably in the RISE Recommends section and often show notes if the guest has a product or service that has an affiliate opportunity and I’m super comfy promoting. An example would be Feedblitz for email marketing/blasts and Ecamm Call Recorder for recording interviews (yes, those are both affiliate links, hah!).

4. Entertaining (aka “Not Speaking-Speaking”) – A big realization I had about a year ago or so was that I definitely did not want to be on the road often (read: much at all) to do speaking engagements. And also, stylistically, I’d much rather answer questions (from a moderator or audience) or MC/host an event as opposed to keynoting or “how-to-ing”. I’m MC/hosting a big event later this year (not sure if I can mention specifics on it yet).

Those are my buckets in 2011. That’s it.

And my happiness level? Very high. Why? Because I feel comfortable and super happy with all of the things above. I love promoting others that I really believe in (sponsors and affiliates) and taking on a few fun entertainment projects. Sure, there are all kinds of other things I could take on, but do I really want to or would I rather spend time with my family, having fun, and eating the fruits as they say? And I know if there is something I really, really, really want to take on, I can.

But…it wasn’t always this way.

I love the place I’m at now (and I’m sure it will change, evolve, etc.), but it has taken a bit to figure out the ways that I’m comfortable making money.

In the past, I would take on way too much, even if I wasn’t super pumped about it, if it had dollar signs associated with it. Not everything, of course, but if my filter right now is, say, super high, in the past it was, perhaps, medium.

And, in some cases, it was necessary to move the ship forward.


  • Consulting – Nothing wrong with consulting, but it was not something I dreamed of at night as the way that I want to make a living.
  • “How To” and Keynote Speaking – Sometimes fun, but again, just not my favorite if I had my choice.
  • Distracting Side Projects/Partnerships – Anytime I’ve taken on a “this could make money” side project, it hasn’t worked out well. Period. Why? Because, honestly, I’m not driven by money…I’m driven by passion/excitement/happiness which is why I have the saying that “money follows passion and not the other way around.”


Look at ways to make money similar to trying different foods. Some things you might try and love. Others you might hate. Some might fall in the middle. Some might be necessary to do now but not later (when you no longer “have to”). The reverse might also be true.

Trust. When it comes to promoting others (sponsorships, affiliates) make sure these are companies/products/services you feel 100% comfortable promoting. In the past, when just getting started and focusing on local sponsors, I would take pretty much everything and that was a bad idea. Trust, trust, trust.

Your tastes, ideas, and you might change over time. Keep an open mind.

Sure, money is important. But, if that is the only reason you are in business, you might be in trouble.

Your thoughts? How are you making money this year?

Image Credit: Tony.L.Wong

  • Anonymous

    Hey David,

    Thanks for sharing…you did a little David Siteman Garland with yourself….essentially answering the question you always ask others…about the buckets.

    I like your balance my friend…and I admire anyone who lists their significant other (and children) as part of the way they want to spend their time.

    I’m currently doing consulting as well.  I like it a lot…but I’m only working with a few clients so I can give them my full attention…working on my other buckets too though.

    I guess I’m the same as you in that respect…I used to teach…if I wanted to make good money with great holidays and benefits I would have simply stayed in that profession. BTW that’s teaching in Canada where they are much better paid 🙂

    Thanks for the transparency.  Helps me (us) see you as a regular dude who is simply following his passion.


    • David Siteman Garland

      Dean – My pleasure. That’s awesome. I’m definitely not anti-anything (including consulting). I just know what works for me, you know? And I know SO many happy consultants who love what they do with clients they love (someone who rocks at helping peeps in your boat is Michael Port…great guy).

  • You really hit the nail on the head for me: doing what YOU want to do, HOW you want to do it, WHEN, etc. You didn’t try to fit the mold of what “everyone else is doing”. You fit the mold to yourself & your needs. Kudos. And thanks for the reminder. Always good to remember that the lemmings eventually run off the edge of the cliff & die. Or is it bunnies? lol

    Thanks again for meaningful content. Always appreciated!

    • David Siteman Garland

      Kim – Definitely. And it isn’t easy. People give solicited and unsolicited advice and often it is based on that “do what other’s have done” or “here is the blueprint” which I try to avoid. Not necessarily a great strategy for everyone, but works for me for sure.

  • Anonymous

    Very important that you only put your name behind things you would buy on your own.  Also important that you stick to profiting from doing what you enjoy doing, rather than chasing the might dollar.  And lastly +1 for staying away from the illegal bunny / panda trade. 😉

    • David Siteman Garland

      I like that you used +1 in the comments haha.

  • Lib Alcock

    As usual David, you inspire me! Your message is what I NEED to hear right now. I’m currently at a place in my career where I am on the verge of making critical choices. I will follow your great advice. Thanks.

    Lib 🙂

    • David Siteman Garland

      Awesome, Lib. 🙂

  • Good post man. I like your transparency.

  • Thanks for sharing David. It’s great you are able to do what you want and not have to do things you don’t want. You’ve built a great brand so you deserve it!

  • Hey David thanks for sharing.  As someone who wants to write a book or two, I noticed you didn’t mention Smarter, Faster, Cheaper as a source of income.  I have heard both ways on this, but it seems mainly books don’t generate a great deal of income for most.

    • David Siteman Garland

      Tony – Good pick up. I was paid a pretty decent advance for the book (5 figures). But that was paid in 2010 🙂 And I agree, books, with rare exceptions aren’t really a big source of DIRECT income nor the reason I wrote it. Nice eyes! 🙂

      • It’s a great book, and I think the value you provide far outweighs the income you could generate from it.  Keep up the great work!

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  • Jamesstatham

    David, you are a true inspiration, I really admire what you’ve managed to create for yourself. I think we all sincerely appreciate your accessibility and transparency, like I have never actually met you but I feel I know you better than some of my friends. I am keen to start my own podcast in Ireland on Irish Entrepreneurship but nobody I speak to seems to think I’ll make any money at it as Ireland is a tiny economy and one which is completely bankrupt with zero amount of companies willing to spend on sponsorship. I am like you, I am passionate about promoting interesting people, so perhaps it’s just a matter of being patient and going for it, and over time, once traffic builds up (hopefully) start to pitch for sponsorship…

    • David Siteman Garland

      James – That means a lot and made my day. Thanks for the kind words. Don’t listen to the folks that say you won’t make any money. Trust me. I STILL hear that.

  • Paul

    As a newbie I love the detail that you have provided. By the way I love the fact that you only promote what you use. Ok ,Where’s the fitness update by the way. I read over half the book and I am loving it. You might take it for granted because you do it every day but I enjoy the insite you have provided. Thanks
    P.S. how about a bunny mug. Whie I can’t wear the shirt at work I would love a coffee mug. Check out cafe press. Cheers

    • David Siteman Garland

      Paul – Awesome. Hah, the fitness update will come at the end of the program (September 9th will be Day #90). Don’t want to reveal too much yet hehe.

  • Vanae tran

    loved the transparency and authenticity, david! pretty rocking and motivational.

    esp with the part about promoting products/brand you trust. i get approached by products that i often turn down because it’s not aligned with my philosophy or brand. it’s good to think about long term and not compromising brand.

    currently, how i am making money:
    – consulting (social media and video) with dating sites, companies and solo-peneurs
    – coaching (life & dating- this is the main biz)
    – advertising on my youtube webshow
    – speaking engagements (one of my favs things to do)
    – i’m slowly getting into affiliates, but that will roll in more when i launch my new webshow on entrepreneurship

    loving what you do here! great way to pave the way for others and show naysayers that it can be done!

    • David Siteman Garland

      Sounds like an awesome mix, Vanae. What do you like best?

  • Paul

    Dave- After re-reading the  post I was wondering if you still go to any events or seminars. If you do, which ones do you recommend. If you don’t I would say pick two or three of the big ones just to stay on top of your game and whats new. After doing over 6000 inspections of businesses I found that the ones who did not network and stay current often went to the bottom of the heap. Even if you don’t speak at the event ya just might meet some new cats to be on the show. Ok, Call me selfish but I really do love the interviews because they all bring something new to the table that could be the idea for someone. By the way any thoughts on Blog World?

    • David Siteman Garland

      Paul – Honestly, I really didn’t go to a huge amount mid-last year to mid-this year due to my wedding/being lazy lol.

      Some ones I’m considering:

      -Blog World
      -World Domination Summit
      -Anything put on by Tim Ferriss (which is rare)

      …hoping to make it to perhaps a few more, but not a huge amount.



These are the EXACT same steps I used to go from $0 to over $1,000,000 in online course sales in less than 24 months (and used by over 2,500+ of my students)

it's free!
100% privacy guaranteed, no messin' around!