How Nicole Thelin Earns 6 Figures a Year Helping Low-Income Families
When Nicole Thelin and her husband found themselves in a financial crisis, she decided to take action by heading to her local library to look for solutions.
And she found them.
Within a few weeks, she became the go-to person for solving her friends’ and family’s problems.
In 2013, she decided to share all of her research on a website, Low Income Relief. Her passion for research and reporting really shined, and today she helps people all over the country find financial resources and get free stuff.
In return, her website earns her 6 figures a year.
Keep reading to find out:
- How she created her site
- What happened when an article went viral
- How she started helping people nationwide
- How she grew her team
- The monetization strategies she uses
- All about her marketing strategies
- How she built her own chatbot
- Her views on SEO
- How she approaches link building
- The way she nurtures her email list
- How she creates content
- The resources and tools she recommends
- Her biggest challenge
- Her greatest accomplishment
- What she wishes she knew when she started
- Her main mistake
- The advice she would give to other entrepreneurs
Meet Nicole Thelin
From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a writer and never wanted to do anything else. When I was 16, I started writing for a local newspaper and absolutely loved journalism. I love research and reporting, so it was just a natural fit. I eventually moved from journalism to web content writing, and now I’m a full-time content creator.
In addition to running my content creation business, I also homeschool my five children. My husband is a disabled veteran, so he’s home with us too. Having everyone at home all day sounds a little crazy, but it gives us the flexibility to travel whenever we want. The freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want is very precious to me.
Why She Created Her Website
When my husband was medically discharged from the military, we found ourselves in a financial crisis. We both found jobs fairly quickly, but we couldn’t afford move-in costs for our own place. In the end, we were bouncing around, staying with friends and family, but nobody could help us for very long. We quickly found ourselves just two weeks away from homelessness with no easy options.
I went to the library and began searching for solutions. It was the first time I encountered phrases like Section 8 Housing, sliding-scale apartments, and things like that. It was life-changing for us.
Within two weeks, we were able to move into a low-income townhouse in the next town over. Several different community organizations had made pledges toward our move-in costs. Someone donated furniture. A food bank stocked our shelves for us. So many different people we’d never met before helped change our lives in a fundamental way.
After that, I became the go-to resource for our friends and family. Whenever someone needed help with a problem they couldn’t solve, they’d call me, and I’d help them find resources. These things weren’t exactly easy to find unless you knew where to look, so I helped people navigate the system.
Buying the Domain
Eventually, in 2013, I decided it would be easier to put all of this information on a website so people didn’t have to keep calling me to solve the same issues. I bought Low Income Relief and started posting articles there.
There were only five articles on the website when it went viral and I received my first ad check.
Essentially what happened was my husband and I took our kids to the Washington State History Museum, I noticed a sign on the desk that said families with EBT cards could bring their entire family for just $2.
I thought that was really amazing so I went home and wrote about it. I found a few other museums that were doing the same thing, and I published the post.
A little while later, someone found it and shared it on Facebook. It absolutely blew up on Facebook and then spread to other social media. Facebook and Reddit were the main drivers of that traffic, but the growth was just absolutely explosive.
When I started the site, I thought that Low Income Relief was only going to serve people in my home state of Washington. I thought of it as a side hobby, not a job.
But when the traffic started to pour in, I started getting comments from people all over the United States. People wanted to know if this was available in their area, so I started researching other states… and that’s how we ended up with our EBT series.
Interestingly, when I started, there were only about a hundred museums nationwide that were offering these low-income discounts. Now there are over 1,000. I like to think that Low Income Relief had some part in that, since we’ve helped spread awareness of these programs and really expand their reach.
Growing the Site
The experience was completely life-changing. I realized that I could use my journalism and research skills to help people all over the United States, and I’ve been doing it full-time ever since.
When Low Income Relief began, it was just me, and I was working 16-hour days trying to keep up with the demand. We’ve been growing steadily since I went full-time in 2016, and now we have a team of researchers, social workers, and experts who help us find resources.
We have editors and fact-checkers, video editors, and others who help us create great content and keep it updated. We’re on YouTube now, and we’re constantly developing new tools and resource lists to help our community.
We have about two dozen people on the team. It’s not very big, but we want to make sure that we’re working with people who are very skilled in what they do. Most of our contributors are social workers who have personal experience serving clients in the field.
Since our goal is to help people, we pay close attention to the comments that come in on the website and social media channels. If someone needs something, we put that into our reader request list and try to address that need as soon as possible. We have a very, very long list of requests that we are working through.
How Much Money Low Income Relief is Earning
Since Low Income Relief exclusively helps people who can’t afford their basic needs, selling products was never an option we seriously considered. The business has always been entirely advertising and affiliate supported. We’re currently making 6 figures a year.
We use AdSense for display ads, and we work with about three dozen affiliate partners. We could have more, but I’m very picky about who I work with.
I only work with reputable brands that actually offer value to our audience, like Amazon and Ibotta. Too many companies want to take advantage of low-income people, and I want to ensure Low Income Relief is always a resource my audience can trust.
Nicole Thelin’s Top Marketing Strategy
We’re more detailed than anyone else. We regularly pour hundreds of hours into research, combing through hundreds of pages of Google listings so that we can develop the most detailed resource lists for our users.
We use basic on-page SEO to make sure it’s optimized, but our primary focus has always been on creating great, comprehensive content for our users.
I’d also mention that we have a really cool interactive chatbot that helps people find content on our site. I don’t have time to personally respond to each and every person who asks for help, but I’ve programmed LIRA (Low Income Relief Assistant) to answer the most common questions people have and direct them to different pages on our website. It’s been very successful. Our readers love it, and it takes a lot of workload off our team.
I built the chatbot from scratch using a drag-and-drop chatbot editor (I’ve tried Tidio, ManyChat, and Convertobot). I built the flowchart, wrote the prompts and responses, and everything myself. I’m very proud of it.
The Importance of SEO
SEO is critical, but it’s secondary to creating great content. I think we’ve seen a lot of emphasis on that with the recent Helpfulness Update from Google.
Too many people are focused on just churning out content for search, but the algorithms really do favor content that is actually impactful and helpful. My focus has always been on helping our readers, and SEO seems to take care of itself.
I love HARO. It’s an easy, ethical way to build backlinks while also offering valuable content to other creators. Everyone wins with HARO, as long as you’re able to write compelling, well-written pitches.
I’m not a fan of other backlink strategies. I keep a very high ethical standard for Low Income Relief and I never violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, so I don’t pay for links or allow paid link placement on my sites.
Nicole Thelin’s Email List
Low Income Relief definitely has an email list. We promote it on our website with a variety of different opt-in offers, such as ebooks and instructional guides. We also promote it in our chatbot, which has been very helpful.
There are currently around 20,000 people on our email list, and we send a regular newsletter once per week. Occasionally, I’ll send a random broadcast if there’s urgent news or if I have a sponsor who wants to send something.
To keep costs down and ensure we’re only sending emails to people who actually want to receive them, I remove inactive subscribers quarterly. As a result, our list is small but very active.
The Content Creation Process
A lot of our content creation begins with a reader request. Our readers can leave comments on the site or on social media. The requests go into our writing queue, where our researchers pick their topics. We spend a lot of time on research, answer the query as thoroughly as possible, and then publish. It’s pretty straightforward.
We publish content 2-5 times per week, depending. Some of our articles take dozens of hours to produce because there is a lot of research involved.
For example, we may be able to knock out a list of rent resources in Wyoming in two hours, but it’s going to take days to do the same list for a state like California or New York.
We have around 1,800 articles on the site at the moment. We’re constantly consolidating and adding new posts, so the number fluctuates quickly.
I’ve used AdWords Keyword Planner to do some keyword research in the past. Ubersuggest is nice because it has a flat lifetime price instead of the more expensive monthly SEO services.
Honestly, my time is better spent in research because that’s where I really shine. I have occasionally had SEO specialists review and optimize some of our content.
Achieving Current Revenue Levels
I’ve been working on Low Income Relief full-time since 2016, so it’s taken five years to reach our current level of revenue. For the first few years, I was putting in long days with very little revenue to show for it. It was not uncommon for me to work 12-18 hours per day those first few years.
I was bringing in less than $2 per hour gross for every hour I spent working on the site, and I was pouring a lot of money into hosting, themes, plugins, and other tools to make the site easier to use. Most businesses operate at a loss for the first several years, and Low Income Relief was no exception.
The more we helped people, the more word got around, and the more people ended up on the site… which allowed us to help more people, and the cycle continued.
The Resources Nicole Thelin Recommends
If you’re looking into going into anything related to online business, you need to follow Sandi Krakowski. Her inner circle is incredibly valuable, but even following her emails and social media posts is super helpful.
If you’re going into YouTube, Darrel Eves is the best coach. I’ve participated in Darrel’s Channel Jumpstart, and it was worth every penny (and it was a lot of pennies). He knows more about YouTube than anyone else.
I also enjoy following Roberto Blake because his advice is always very helpful as well. I’ve spent a lot of time at conventions, listening to different experts give advice but a lot of it is contradictory. I generally trust whatever Darrel and Roberto say, though.
Her Top 3 Tools
My favorite tools are:
- ClickUp, as it allows me to manage our topic lists and share them with our different writing teams. It’s a great way to manage a remote workload.
- WordPress is obviously the backbone of my site, so that’s critically important and helpful to me. WordPress can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. It’s very adaptable and I use it for all of my web projects.
- Upwork is an incredibly helpful platform for finding freelancers. Some of the best people I’ve worked with come from Upwork, and I love that it’s all automated. The system tracks hours, processes payments, and makes it very simple to work with other people.
Nicole Thelin’s Biggest Challenge
Time management is easily my biggest challenge. There’s just too much for one person to do, and it’s incredibly difficult to find someone who cares as much about the business as I do. This is my passion project, and it’s hard to turn over some of these critical tasks to other people, even when I don’t have time to do it all myself.
Her Greatest Accomplishment
I’ve made a meaningful impact on the lives of millions of people across the country, which is the most incredible and humbling thing to me. Many people know my name, pray for my family, and send me the most beautiful, heartfelt messages, but I’ll probably never meet them in this life. It’s a strange and wonderful experience connecting with others this way.
I have a file where I store messages from our users—just emails, comments, that sort of thing, where people have expressed how Low Income Relief has helped them in some way. Whenever I’m having a hard day, or the traffic is down, or I can’t figure something out, I open that file and read a few of those messages. It’s what keeps me going.
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
Did you know that you can get free business coaching from the SBA? That was something I learned this year, which has been incredibly helpful to me as an entrepreneur.
My mentor has helped me tremendously, and we’ve only met a handful of times. If I’d had this kind of coaching when I started, I think I would’ve done much better in less time.
Her Biggest Mistake
I get distracted a lot, and I don’t always prioritize wisely. I’ve wasted a lot of time, energy, and money on projects that don’t really go anywhere. I’ve also wasted a lot of time worrying about variables I can’t control, like Google algorithm changes or even traffic numbers.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Making a living is great but don’t forget to make a life along the way.
I recently became acquainted with a wealthy man who was blindsided by a terminal illness. This person has an incredible career, a fabulous home, and all the good things that money can buy… but all that money can’t buy him more time with his family.
I’ve been so blessed to be able to use our revenue to create the most incredible memories with my family, and those memories will last forever. I take great comfort in that because I know I can always start a new business, but I can’t start a new life.