Miles Burke

Startups, digital marketing, small business & more.

Tag: 99startup

New York Subway 2012

Growth Hacking Newsletter Side Project Update

It has been a three weeks now since I first wrote about my $99 side project, the weekly growth hacking newsletter,, and it has been a great month so far.

Let’s go through what I have done to “move the needle” on, share some lessons and look at the current subscriber counts and spend.

Website changes
You would assume the majority of people that hit the single page which is purely focussed on the goal of subscribing to my growth hacking newsletter, wouldn’t need some form of extra reminder, yet we know that it’s worth trying.

Popup Subscribe Form

Popup Subscribe Form

With this in mind, I added a pop-up subscribe widget on the website. GetSiteControl offers all their widgets for one website and one user free, which makes them an obvious choice for a very lean side project.

GetSiteControl statistics

GetSiteControl statistics

As you can see, it turns out some people do need that pop-up nag reminder as well. The widget is set up for ‘exit intent’, so it only appears when your mouse moves towards the browser top. The downside of services like this, is they often save subscriber details in their own system, like GetSiteControl does.

The way around this, is to use a free Zapier account, and hook up a zap to import the subscribers from GetSiteControl straight into Campaign Monitor.

This means I never need to bother grabbing a list from different sources, and potentially messing my subscriber data up.

Single versus double opt-in
I’m a fan of single opt-in, for the fact that it just reduces the barriers to people signing up (who wants to have to wait for an email and click a link?), however I got spammed with about 100 email subscribers all from the same domain in a few hours, so I quickly changed to double opt-in and removed those spammy accounts.

Facebook advertising
Now, on to some bad news. My $20 spend on a promoted post on Facebook was a waste of precious budget. As you can see from the image below, whilst I got 1,449 impressions, only 41 people interacted with the ad, and a very sad 1 link click, which was the goal I had for the boosted post.

Facebook boosted post statistics

Facebook boosted post statistics

I don’t know if it was the ad creative, (the image of me and the words), the target audience I chose, or maybe I should have chosen a Lead Ad instead of a Boosted Post. The thing is, this is all experiments, right, so I need to accept this as a lesson.

Republished content
I republished my last blog post on Medium as well as on LinkedIn Pulse.

Medium produced 70 reads, and 12 recommends to date, and LinkedIn got me 234 views, 30 likes, 2 shares and 10 comments, which was awesome. The difference on the performance between both platforms would also relate to the difference in my connections/followers on them. I have a larger audience on LinkedIn of 11,067 connections, whereas I have a much smaller 3,200 followers on Medium.

LinkedIn article statistics

LinkedIn article statistics

I do know that Medium really helps uncover new content, using their tagging features, and my previous experience with Medium shows a far healthier ‘long tail’, whereas LinkedIn tends to get all the reads in a few days, and then really tapers off to near zero (as shown in the image above).

As a result, I have an expectation that Medium will produce better results than LinkedIn over the next few months – especially on a topic like a growth hacking newsletter, and a side project.

I have validation!
A couple of days ago, I received the following Tweet.

Tweet with sponsor interest

Tweet with sponsor interest

That’s right – someone approaching me about sponsorship. I didn’t expect that so early in this project.

I got back to Gregg, and over email we settled on the cost of sponsorship as being $6 an issue (My rationale is that the nearest similar newsletter has 11,000 subscribers and charges $149), so applying the same rate to 431 subscribers, that’s $5.83. There are a few differences between my newsletter and the other one. The first being that it is founder focussed, not growth hacking, so a slightly different audience. The second, they run three ads in each issue, whereas I am only doing one.

Gregg has a great side project, which he is advertising in called SendView, which fits my audience perfectly. Using SendView (first email address is free), you can get detailed statistics on competitors mailing lists. Instead of emails that you sign up to going to your inbox, with SendView they get parsed into dashboards of analytics, giving you insights into how they send.

Gregg has signed on for 5 issues, so please support him by checking his product out.

Subscriber numbers
I’m pleased to say that my subscriber numbers are past the minimum target I set as 500 (see previous post to see my goals).

A huge compliment
I had Randy Rhode get in touch with me, to say “You inspired me with your post a few weeks ago about having a $99 Side Project. I thought that was a great idea and started thinking about what I could do. So, taking your lead – I decided I could do a web site and email as well. My niche is Youth Hockey – from the perspective of a Parent NEW in the world of Hockey. After doing a bit of research, I’ve realized there’s not a lot of information out there for someone in my position – a son who recently decided to play hockey – and a Dad who has no background in the sport.”

I am so pleased that my $99 side project concept has encouraged Randy to have a crack as well. As Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance, once said; “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” I’m hoping that your side project,, takes off, Randy!

You, dear reader, can get involved too – start something small as a side project, and use the posts I am writing to help move your side project along (Oh, and please let me know about it!).

I am pleased to say I now have 539 subscribers, and every week the subscriber list is growing, and feedback to the content has been great. It goes to show an independent growth hacking newsletter is something people are looking for.

As for the financials, I have had my first revenue (Thanks Gregg!) so our numbers now look like this.

$17.61 set up costs (domain, hosting & goodbits)
$20.00 Facebook ad
$9.90 Campaign Monitor (for auto-responders)
$47.51 total

$30.00 (sponsorship income)
$30.00 total

Net position
-$17.51 loss

I want to reinvest the $30 sponsorship income back into the project, so I have more money to try other small experiments to build subscribers. That means that I now have $81.49 in budget remaining, to keep it within my original $99 budget.

My fixed monthly costs are $20.40 which means I’ve got enough runway to last until my three month mark, if I play it safe. I’ll update again in a few weeks time with the latest status on my little growth hacking newsletter, – meanwhile do me a favour, and sign up to it, if you haven’t yet?

Abandoned farm

Introducing My $99 Side Project for 2017

I am making a commitment to myself to try and launch a few side projects in 2017, and see what (if any) of them gets some interest during this year. I am constantly coming up with new ideas for products or services, and rather than shake them all off, I’ll dedicate a little time and money to a few of them, and see if I get any form of traction.

Before I commit to working on any of these, I’ll measure each against three criteria, being;

1. Can’t take too much time every week
2. Needs a reasonable chance of financial gain
3. Should be cheap to get started

To kick 2017 off, I’ve started a little early, and just over a fortnight ago I launched – a weekly curated email that uncovers great content on growth hacking and marketing.

I’ve set aside $99 for the first 3 months. At the end of this period, I’ll either deem it a failure or a success. For simplicity, let’s say the deadline is 31 March 2017.

Now, $99 is less than taking the family out for a meal, so I need to be very mindful how I spend this small budget. The cost includes any setup as well, so I’ll be relying heavily on cheap or free tools to help me.

How I will measure success
I’ve set a ‘minimum’ and ‘stretch’ goal for both subscriber list and income. These will be measured on 31 March and this will determine where I go with from here.

Build that subscriber list
For this idea, subscribers are what I need to see any form of financial success down the track. Whilst the newsletter is free, it needs to generate some income, and so I’ll be looking to sell advertising. To do that, I need subscribers.

Minimum target: 500 subscribers
Stretch target: 1,500 subscribers

I feel I should be able to rustle up 500 subscribers within 3 months, and ideally, 500 subscribers per month. This is, however, a side project so I am trying to purposefully not dedicate every awake hour to it; in fact I hope to spend under five hours a week. Heck, I have two other businesses to run as well.

Create some income
My end goal with is to eventually operate it as a side business, or at least generate more income than expenses.

Minimum target: $1
Stretch target: $100

I feel if I get at least one dollar in income, that helps validate that advertising in this may work as a model. My stretch target is to cover the hard costs of this experiment. I may try using relevant affiliate links to start with, until I have a sizeable subscriber list.

Set up and launch
I managed to get the domain name for $7.11 from GoDaddy, and host it on a server I am paying $5 a month for another project I am planning. I’ll allocate $2.50 a month for the hosting.

Next up, I signed up for a Goodbits account (to curate and send the weekly emails) at $8 a month.

Status (2 January)
I’ve now got the newsletter running, and have sent two issues out so far. It’s a quiet start, given the time of year, yet I am putting things into place to grow this in the first month of the new year.

The website is up and running, now with a new theme and info, thanks to some feedback. I have added a testimonial (social proof) sharing buttons and link to the archives. Thanks Ben for the suggestions!

Landing page

Landing page

The landing page is collecting a small trickle of subscribers (as shown below) which now stands at 186 subscribers. I have the Twitter account running, as well as email autoresponder and newsletter template.

As well as these, there are a few free tools that I’m experienced with, and using for this project as well;

I am using a few free tools along the way to automate some things, to save time. I am using IFTTT for some auto fave tests on Twitter, I am using Quuu to help feed my tweets, and Buffer to deliver and schedule my @thegrowthemail Twitter account.

I am collecting links via RSS in Feedly, and using the Goodbits Chrome extension to push them into my moderation pile.

Subscriber growth

Subscriber growth chart

Marketing efforts
Outside of my previous blog post, emailing a few friends and some social media sharing, I haven’t done much to promote this project so far. I’ll start to ramp this up, now that the festive season is behind me.

Tonight I splurged $20 on a promoted post on Facebook, to see what that gets me. We know from experience that posts with a photo of a person tends to get more response, and given I am trying to target my contacts, I made a dodgy image of myself (below).

Facebook promoted post

Facebook promoted post

I’m not super happy with the photo (taken on iPhone in my lounge room) the deep etching or the photoshopped logo on t-shirt, but it’ll do for now.

The finances so far
To recap the expenses I have incurred so far;

$7.11 domain name
$8.00 Goodbits
$2.50 hosting
$20.00 Facebook ad

I expect my future expenses over the next two months to be

$16.00 Goodbits
$19.80 Campaign Monitor
$5.00 Hosting
$40.80 ($20.40 per month)

That totals $78.41 in outgoings. I’ll have a spare $20.59 to spend on some other promotion, in order to keep it within my original $99 budget.

I’ll report back in around four weeks time on how I am going, and how the numbers look. In the meantime, please consider adding yourself to my subscriber stats – you can sign up in seconds on the website.

Early morning Bongkasa, Bali

Weekly growth hacking articles sent to your inbox

The thing with growth people (I am not a fan of the growth hackers term), is that we are always constantly reading.

We have to, in order to just keep up. Articles on customer acquisition, case studies on what our peers have done, how to write better content, grow your social media presence and the like. To be in growth space, you need to be a voracious reader.

I’ve been sharing a number of growth hacking and marketing links on my Twitter account for the last year or more, and easily read a few dozen articles on the topic a week. I subscribe to a bunch of newsletters, follow a bunch more on RSS and then grep many links from people I follow on social media too.

I’ve often thought of starting an email list to share the best growth hacking articles and links, however it’s always just been filed along with the other 1,001 startup ideas I have, in my mental filing cabinet.

So, when I discovered that the domain name was available a few days ago, I took this as some sort of sign. It was the universe telling me to just get cracking and do something with my idea. I spent a total of $7 buying the domain, and then I got to work creating a simple landing page.

The following evening, I set up an account with Good Bits, which is a newsletter creation tool that makes it easy to craft sweet-looking ‘curated content’ emails.

Finally, I registered the Twitter account @thegrowthemail and got to work queuing up content for the first issue, which goes out tomorrow.

I plan to share the progress of this little venture here on my blog, and hope that you find some value in these stories. As always, feel free to let me know what you think, in the comments below.

That’s the story of my latest side venture – I’d appreciate it if you became one of the first to sign up, and check out a few articles. It’s super easy to unsubscribe if you don’t find it useful; no hard feelings.

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