For all of those people who have asked me, with my long gap in blogging, what happened with my $99 side project, yes I sold it at the start of 2018, less than 13 months after starting it, for a little more than 1,600%.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the process of so much reading every week for a year, but at the time of being approached, I felt like I needed a break post festive season time off.
The whole idea of this side project came from my desire to show people that you can literally start something for less than a hundred bucks. I did it, and more than covered costs along the way.
To hand it on to a new owner, for a significant multiple (even if in real dollar figures, it isn’t much) was the icing on the cake.
Rather than re-hash the lessons along the way, here’s the articles I wrote during 2017, when I was working on it.
The $99 Side Project Series
Here are the articles I wrote, in chronological order…
The three month deadline which I initially set for this $99 side project experiment is nearly here; in this article, I share my latest learnings from growing my side project with experiments, discuss financials and make decisions on where to go from here.
A quick summary; I started a weekly curated growth marketing email as a side project at the start of this year, with a 3 month deadline and a budget of $99.
I have written a few times about what I have taken away from the project and some growth experiments, which are here;
A combination of being busy with other work and wanting to see natural growth when I am not pushing it, has meant that I’ve not exerted myself too far with growth experiments over the last few weeks. I’ve had two experiments worth sharing though, posting on Medium and promoting using Quuu.
I spent a few hours and collated all the content I have sent so far, and put it in a Google sheet for new subscribers to download or use. Then I added a form at the footer of the article, using Upscribe to collect subscribers from within Medium.
So far, the article has had 430 views (which is okay), and 24 recommends (awesome!) however had only 8 new subscribers. That’s a lot of work for just 8 new subscribers.
The main reason for the lack of reads and new subscribers would definitely be that the growth.email Medium account has only 148 followers. In hindsight, I should have posted it on my own personal Medium account, which has 3,300 followers. A rookie mistake which I now regret.
Trying out Quuu Quuu is an interesting service. They provide a cheap service to fill your social queue with related content, and also offer Quuu Promote, a service that you can pay to share your content (if it is approved).
I paid $30 to share my previous article on this side project, as a way to encourage people to this blog, and hopefully flow on to subscribing to growth.email. The campaign resulted in 467 shares and 108 clicks.
Quuu Promote results
These results reaffirm something I’ve known for a while, which is many people share content without actually looking at it themselves.
As a cost per click exercise, the campaign cost me $0.28 per click ($0.06 per share), which is cheaper than the $0.38 per click on reddit, and way cheaper than the $20 per click on Facebook. The most affordable result so far with paid experiments growing my side project.
Tweeting more content
The growth.email Twitter account @thegrowthemail has been steadily building up an audience since it started 3 months ago. It now has 1,325 followers, and a large reason for that is the increase in the amount of content I have it sharing per day, using my favourite social media scheduling tool, Buffer.
It now tweets six times per day (up from 2-3 daily tweets a month ago), with many of the tweets being the articles I have curated within growth.email so far. The combination of specific content (growth marketing) and relevant hashtags has meant it is organically growing nicely.
Content curation workflow
As well as growing my side project, I have achieved more in curation workflow, now sorting my Feedly account into categorising content feeds better, so I am able to choose a spread of topics to review for inclusion. I have had a few people contact me asking if their articles can be included. I’ve reviewed their blogs and where appropriate I have added to my Feedly.
Categories in Feedly
Because I took a sponsorship booking until the end of June, it has meant that I can’t sell any new sponsorships. I’ve had four enquiries come in, however I’ve shared the sponsorship calendar (a Google sheet) and asked them to wait for availability.
Big lesson here is to not take advertising bookings so far in advance. They were charged at sub 1,000 subscriber rates, and I now have over 1,500 great people on the list. I’m not taking sponsorship bookings more than six weeks ahead now.
The side project has been great for me, building more connections in the growth marketing industry across the globe, and encouraging more readers to my blog here, and extra subscribers to my own email list.
The experiments have been enjoyable and interesting, and has reaffirmed my interest in sharing results of experiments, something I can’t normally do with client work.
The financials moving forward are tricky to balance. The costs of email delivery means that a weekly frequency is difficult to maintain in the longer term, which explains why so many established newsletter businesses are daily or multiple sends per week.
Say I send once a week, versus twice a week (assumption here is that I have every email sponsored at $25 per thousand subscribers).
Twice weekly email
Now, let’s look at my possible expenses (my curation software has recently announced a major shift in their pricing plans, so when I go over 2,000 subscribers I won’t be paying $8 a month anymore).
Pricing plans for Goodbits
This means, that at 2,500 subscribers, I would earn $268.75 a month on weekly sends, or $537.50 on twice weekly sends. I would pay the same outgoings of $49 per month in either scenario. So, the estimated profit of either $219.75 (weekly) or $488.50 (twice weekly) per month.
So whilst we know the costs remain the same, the income can vary greatly depending on frequency and obviously, the amount of subscribers you have on your list. The 10,000 subscribers at twice a week means a monthly profit of $2,101 which would be a great result; a motivator in growing my side project.
Beyond the deadline
I am going to continue with growth.email past my initial deadline of 30 March, for at least another few months, and see what the subscriber growth curve looks like. Depending on how things progress growing my side project, it is possible that spending an hour or so a week curating interesting articles and emailing them out could be a worthwhile endeavour. It is still enjoyable and I like giving back to the community, so for now, it’s still a go from me.
If you haven’t yet, I would appreciate you signing up to growth.email – the content is high quality and it is easy to unsubscribe at any time, should it disappoint.
Given it has been a few weeks since my last post, and we are at the halfway mark of my original 3 month deadline, I want to share what I’ve been doing to attract new subscribers, and then provide an update on the subscriber and financial objectives again.
I uploaded a short video on YouTube, showing me scrolling up and down a recent issue, as a way to capture potential interest from people searching on related topics on YouTube. Since 11 January, it has been viewed 1,369 times which is fantastic.
It ended up costing me 38.5 cents per click, which although is possibly cheaper than some platforms, wasn’t as good as I had hoped. The fact only 14.46% of these subscribed, means it cost me $2.66 per subscriber, which isn’t good.
If you want to consider running ads in various subreddits, redditlist.com has a handy list of the most populated subreddits, which makes life much easier.
Posted a Top 20 list on Medium
Medium is a great place to discover content, with their tagging navigation, links to related articles in the footer of each post, and a huge community of people interested in start-ups, entrepreneurship and self development.
So, I looked through the click rates off the first four issues, collated the top 20 articles, and posted them as an article on Medium, tagging as many of the link writers as I could find, with Medium accounts.
I was fortunate to have Andrew Chen tweet a link to this, which resulted in around 50 new visitors, of which around 50% of these signed up to the newsletter as a result.
You can take a guess which spike was Product Hunt. That was by far the biggest contributor to new subscribers in the entire project lifetime of seven weeks.
Tracking goals in Google Analytics
One of the more important takeaways I have for you, is to ensure that you use the Goals feature in Google Analytics, to see how many visitors complete an action. There are plenty of blog posts out there, to show you how.
GA Goals by Source
The above shows you the goals completed (that is, visitors signing up to subscribe) attributed to the source they came from. The average was 30.55% of visitors subscribe, which means 69% take a look and leave – that’s big room for improvement.
The best conversion rate was from a link I put in a Yammer community I belong to, at 44%, and the least was traffic from StumbleUpon, which is well known for 1 second visits, and no conversions at all. Visitors from my own blog subscribed 37.6% of the time, so thank you!
Spoke at Morning Startup
I was honoured to be invited to speak at Morning Startup, a fortnightly event here in Perth for the startup ecosystem. I had a great time putting together some slides about the project so far, and Jurgen from Niche Interview was kind enough to record a video of it. You can watch the talk I gave, however a warning: it is about 45 minutes long.
Book Giveaway experiment
As an experiment, I offered to give away a signed copy of my published book, The Principles of Successful Freelancing, during my Morning Startup talk to one new subscriber in the room. I had 14 people sign up during the 45 minute talk, so that’s not something I’ll repeat, given the $40 price tag of the book means it cost me $2.86 for each new subscriber from that test.
Add animated gif to success page
Since I migrated my email database from Campaign Monitor, to Mailchimp to reduce costs (Mailchimp give you 2,000 subscribers for zero cost), I noticed a slight drop in successful new subscribes.
It is well known that any double opt-in subscription flow has a significant drop off rate, between completing the form, and actually clicking the confirmation link in the resulting email. To help reduce that with growth.email, I used a free tool to whip up a super quick little animated GIF, which I use on the success page which is shown once you submit the form.
Animated GIF showing double opt-in
How did I go with objectives?
Now, let’s take a look at the growth I have managed so far.
Back in the first article, I mentioned that my minimum target was 500 subscribers, and a stretch goal was 1,500, so 500 new subscribers a month.
Well, at the halfway point towards the deadline of 31 March, I’ve managed to attract 1,164 subscribers so far. Thank you to everyone who has signed up!
As you know, I started with a budget of $99 for both setting up and maintaining the project for three months.
Well, so far I have spent $81.25 in total, which includes advertising on Facebook, advertising on Reddit, two domain names (I bought growthemail.com recently), email software and hosting.
However, I’ve done really well on the sponsorship front, having pre-booked all the advertising until the end of June! That’s an incredible $331, including the sponsorship income to date.
Financials for growth.email so far
The only issue with allowing advertising so far in advance, is that once I go over 2,000 subscribers, Mailchimp will start charging me, and the Goodbits monthly fee goes from $8 to $25 per month (for up to 10,000 subscribers).
It means, let’s say 5,000 subscribers, I’ll be paying $92.13 per month, and making $64 per month in sponsorship. Lesson learned; I’ll not take sponsorship bookings at today’s subscriber totals for more than 6 weeks in advance.
An ideal CPM (cost per thousand subscribers) seems to be around the $25 per thousand mark, so 5,000 should net $125 per week, once we’re past June.
I’ve got some other experiments I wish to try, and a few thoughts on different models too. I’ll post an update on 3-4 weeks time, meanwhile if you haven’t yet signed up, please take a look at growth.email, thanks!