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The Man Who Built a Million-Dollar Online Business Without Paying For Ads

Josh Elledge has six failed businesses to his name.

12 years ago, he couldn’t afford to pay his bills and was so poor he’d just lost his home. But he still built a $6 million dollar business on less than $500 in advertising.

How does a guy with no money and a string of failures do that?

If you don't have a marketing budget, get authority

Josh was in a desperate position and needed to make money. Quickly.

And, at that time, if he knew anything, it was about how to survive on very little money. So he started; a subscription website that promised to help consumers cut their grocery bills in half.

Nice idea, but he still had a big problem: how to get the word out about his website without using ads?

Obviously, this was not a time in Josh’s life when he was able to spend money to advertise his new website.

But he knew that getting personal exposure would earn him personal authority on the subject of saving money, which in turn, would MASSIVELY help his new business. In his previous business failures, Josh had experienced a problem that 99% of entrepreneurs encounter: neither he nor his business had any authority and he didn't see a way of getting it without spending thousands on ads.

It was something he couldn’t possibly have known without experiencing his earlier failures (it was the same lesson I learned the hard way when I started a doomed online marketplace)

And with that one lesson from all of his previous failures, Josh took action that changed his life forever.

How To Get Published As A Small Business Owner

By leaning into, rather than being ashamed of, his failures, Josh knew he had authority on the subject of saving money and was sure he had a story worth publishing.

But Josh was looking for exposure for his tiny startup back in 2007, before there were a ton of low-cost options to get published. So he cold-called media outlets that he thought might be interested in publishing his story - everything from magazines and newspapers, to TV and radio. Eventually, he got a break: a 3-minute interview on a small, local Christian radio station.

It went well.

The exposure brought him $359 in revenue while he was being aired. It wasn't a huge amount but, for one free phone call and a couple of hours' of his time, his online business was off and running. Within a few days, that one radio interview had generated around $2,000.

The radio station invited Josh back a few more times, each appearance leading to more attention for his website and his closing more sales.

Using media to gain more exposure

Now he was sure that getting exposure and growing his authority was the key to creating more interest in his business, he doubled down.

He managed to get a monthly column in a local newspaper, writing about couponing, offering value to his audience and, as the top search result below shows, sometimes getting a little heat for it too!

It took a couple of years but it soon became a syndicated newspaper column that was being read by over 1 million people across Michigan.

And all of this was gaining Josh:

1. Further authority on the subject

2. More website visitors and, as a result,

3. More customers

With his authority now growing, Josh was able to get published on bigger and bigger outlets and soon found himself being invited to do TV segments. First, he appeared on a segment in Kalamazoo, Michigan and soon followed that up with air-time on channels in Grand Rapids and eventually Chicago.

From there, things grew faster than he could possibly have dreamed of when his West-Michigan home was being re-possessed. Elledge moved his family to Orlando, Florida, where he soon became the go-to man for consumer savings on three different TV stations.

Authority Is How You Get Exposure On a Budget

As a result of his growing media presence, Josh saw an increasing number of people who looked to him for answers about how to make money go further for their households. As his exposure and authority grew, his income accelerated, creating his first six-figure month and, not long after, seven-figure year.

To date, Elledge has made over 2,000 media appearances and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

And why would he?

He went from ignored and broke, to well-known and wealthy.

All because of authority.

The message here for small business owners is:

Gain authority by getting yourself published.

It doesn’t really matter where to start with, just get the word out about your work on a platform that has more authority than your own. Here are a couple of ways to do just that:

Publishing your work on Websites is one of the best places to grow your authority.

That's because, if the site has a higher authority than your own, getting a link from that site to yours will help you organically appear higher in search rankings.

You can view the domain authority that a website has by using a tool like SEMrush or Moz.

Podcasts are also a great way of telling your story

The beauty of podcasts is that you can show the world what you know and how you can help them without having to type a word. A word of caution though, be sure to choose a podcast that is related to your industry or where your potential customers are likely to hang out.

Finding podcasts to appear on can be time-consuming but the long time ROI can be huge for small businesses.

The bottom line is gaining authority is vital for small businesses that don't have big marketing budgets. Josh Elledge hustled his way to a multi-million dollar business by:

  • Leaning into what he knew

  • Using free or low-cost platforms to show his expertise

  • Leveraging his authority as it began to grow

And Josh started out in 2007 - back when it was much harder to get published and there were fewer outlets willing to tell his story. Today it's different, in fact it’s never been easier to show your work and gain authority.

The question is, where will you get started?

Check out how The Industry Leaders can publish your work and get you booked onto podcasts in your niche.

Rob Barratt is the Co-Founder of The Industry Leaders and is passionate about helping first-time entrepreneurs get the attention their business needs while learning from industry leaders in their field. After creating and selling his first business (a restaurant), Rob found out just how hard it is for small business owners to get the word out about their businesses on a budget. This lead him to create The Industry Leaders and offer opportunities for entrepreneurs to get published alongside industry leaders and appear on podcasts in their niche. You can find out more about publishing and podcast opportunities here.


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