Welcome to Week 11 of my $20k to $500k in 1 Year Challenge. Past weeks, as always, can be seen here.
I’m excited about this one. Real money is finally being made, email subscribers are growing a lot faster, and I answered a lot of questions that were submitted in the past week.
But the thing I’m most excited about is that I finally published a new article to my site:
While it’s not directly related to this challenge, I really wanted to write it for the same reason: to share my detailed experiences so you can apply some of it to your own journey.
I hope you like it.
But first, let’s get into Week 11.
In Today’s Email
- Half the $20k is gone: here’s where we are.
- Email subs are exploding as I hoped.
- Monetization! Making real money.
- All of your questions, answered (this section is looong).
- A calculation blunder because I am dumb.
- One last thing I want to share.
Here’s where we are…
I officially accepted the challenge 74 days ago on September 12th. I had no site or even an idea for the site when I accepted.
Since then, I have spent ~$9,454 (note: calculation blunder explained at the end of this email) and about 10 hours per week specifically on the new site.
The result is a Facebook page with 112,514 followers, an email subscriber list of 6,384, a complete website with 38 published articles, and 28,818 visits in November so far. I’ve also brought on a part time writer.
When I look at these numbers – particularly in just 74 days of very part time work – I’m happy with it.
I have a solid nucleus, content that’s improving all the time (through user feedback), a proven ad strategy to continue acquiring subscribers, and a whole lot of things I haven’t even begun yet.
The email list is exploding.
If you’re following the numbers closely each week, you’ll notice there has been a 55% increase in subscribers in just one week.
Like I said last week, I plan to go all in on email. Owning your audience directly is so much more valuable than being dependent on algorithms.
I’ve refreshed all the creatives on Facebook and increased the budget from around $15 to $150/day, both of which have contributed to the growth.
In prior weeks, especially Week 9, I’ve covered what kind of creatives I use to achieve these numbers. My niche is certainly more Facebook-friendly, but the key is to continue trying different audiences and ads.
I’ve been doing this for a decade, so it might happen faster for me. But keep trying if email acquisition is part of your strategy.
And one more thing to keep in mind: the 4th quarter is always the most expensive time to advertise. Generally, prices drop significantly in January. Combined with companies fearing a recession and pulling their budgets back further, early 2023 could be an incredible time to grow.
So if you’re having a hard time, continue learning as much as you can over the next month and kick the campaigns up again in January.
The site is making actual money now.
My site was finally approved by Google Adsense. Guess I’ll buy a Lambo now:
The only thing running right now is Auto Ads with ad density turned down significantly because tweaking ad layout is a priority next week. I’ll be improving upon my beginner’s guide to monetization.
It’s always a nice mental boost to see real money come in.
Once you see $1, you’ll become obsessed with making $10… and then $100…
A lot more on monetization in future emails. I’m really excited for it because there’s nothing more fun than making more money by simply moving pixels around.
That sounded sarcastic, but it wasn’t.
Okay, diving into your questions.
And there were a lot of questions. This section is pretty long. You can skim the questions in bold to see if any of them spark your interest.
If you have any questions of your own, you can submit it here.
Matt asked, Can you go over the process you use to create the 10 ultimate guides you mentioned to sit on your site that get natural links etc? I’m in the cycling niche and would love to see how you approach this.
Matt is referring to my suggestion that you start your site by writing 10 absolutely killer, content-filled, authoritative, and beautiful guides that thoroughly cover the “core” of your niche.
For example, I did that on my own site with The Complete Guide To Building A Profitable Website.
There are several reasons I believe in this approach:
- You become a better expert just by writing them.
- It sends a great signal to Google if your initial articles are masterpieces.
- They can constantly be referenced in future articles.
- The guides will spark so many stand-alone ideas (make notes of them as you go).
- Above all, it sets the tone – both inside yourself and on your site – for the future.
Also, do you remember classes that were referred to as “weed-out courses” in college? Basically, they were pretty tough courses but with really high enrollment.
This would naturally “weed out” a lot of students.
While I don’t necessarily agree with the premise (I barely agree with college as a premise), if someone can’t get through these first 5-10 guides that they are extremely proud of completing, they probably don’t have what it takes to build a sustainable, profitable site.
You’ll save yourself a lot of time, money, and energy if you can’t do this first.
As far as the cycling niche, I’m not an expert by any means. But it would make logical sense to do a full beginner’s guide to getting started in cycling, a complete guide to every type of bike (pros, cons, how to decide which one is for you), and perhaps a guide that breaks down exactly how to be in the best possible shape for extreme cycling.
Is extreme cycling even a thing? Take my ideas with a grain of salt.
Christina asked, 1. What research went into picking the niche? Why did you decide on that niche? 2. Will you share the Facebook ad copy, image/video that worked wonders for you 3. How do you decide how much time you spend on this? What does your calendar or day-to-day look like?
- I definitely chose it because it’s Facebook-friendly (40+ women), and I wanted immediate results. I did a little bit of keyword research just to get a feel for how much volume there might be. A lot of my choice was the result of 15+ years of experience, something that is of course more difficult for beginners.
- I am likely going to reveal the site around the 6 month mark. In the meantime, please see Week 9 for relevant examples.
- My calendar is a mess. I try to work on this site first thing in the morning, so that I can focus on my personal site (scottdelong.com) and this email. I also am part owner of a very large website, which takes up some time. And, of course, with a 4 month old daughter, it’s really hard to stick to a schedule.
Sam asked, How do you get advertisers for your email newsletter?
A couple others ask this as well. Unfortunately, there are no easy ways, which is a shame.
It also depends highly on your niche.
For example, the email you’re reading now has been approached more than once by potential sponsors. I’m not taking any, but this is such a highly specific niche that it’s easy to find sponsors.
But take my last business that had 750,000 subscribers: a travel site. It was painfully difficult to find sponsors, so I didn’t even try.
On top of that, the only viable in-email ad network (LiveIntent) is OK, but the RPMs are just not impressive.
If anybody ever figures out a way to bring sponsors and email lists together in a scaleable way, it’s probably a billion dollar business. Or perhaps there is one? If so, please share!
Sean: Of the revenue streams you listed off in the week 10 email, do you have a personal preference? Let’s say instead of $500k in a year the goal is to make the best business, the most sticky, the most loved, whatever other goal where a side effect is revenue because you are overall killing it and people like what you are doing.
What you just described is really all you actually need to do combined with some common sense understanding of digital marketing.
This is why I get annoyed with keyword research, courses, and other so-called correct paths to building a profitable site.
At the end of the day, incredible content and a weekend crash course (via YouTube and Googling) on SEO and social is all you need beyond all of the initial set up.
A different Sean asked, I had a few topics I’d like to throw out there for consideration in the Questions & Answers section that will start next week. In no particular order: 1. How should someone start if they have never created an ad on Facebook and they don’t know where to begin from a design, structure, or copy standpoint in that platform? If you have any examples from old or existing sites or ads that show the basics to help a beginner that’d be helpful. 2. For people like me who are newer to the business the learning process can be tedious, frustrating, and painful. The time I spend trying to understand issues like how to connect my website to my email system to avoid emails that bounce from SPAM filters could be time I’m writing (potentially) revenue-generating content. Do you recommend just paying your dues to learn that stuff the slow, hard way or should you bypass some of that by outsourcing the technical stuff upfront? If outsourcing who do you even go to for this that you can trust? Even then their 1 hour of work would be higher quality than my 8 hours. If you have any thoughts on that I’d love to hear them.
- To answer your first question, you can see Week 9 for examples and this article. I didn’t write it and don’t know anything about the person who did, but it’s a solid rundown. I’d start there.
- If the technical end is your pain point, then yes just outsource all of the set up. You can try Fiverr but of course you’ll be turning a lot of stuff over to a stranger. Check their ratings and make sure they’re legit.
One thing I’ve learned is that the technical setup process, even though it’s easier than ever, still deters a lot of people.
I would love to offer this as a service so that you can focus on what matters: content.
Fast forwarding through all the annoying stuff and just having a website that’s completely optimized and ready for content would be beneficial to a lot of people. Unfortunately, I’ve never found a service that offers this the right way.
If anybody is interested in the above, reply to this email and let me know. I’ve set up a million sites and have learned the painful way how to do it properly.
Claudia asked, Are the photo shares pictures of funny memes? Are you using your own name as the author of your content or are you using a pseudonym ?
My name is not anywhere on my site to ensure it doesn’t get any special treatment. I don’t really post funny meme but I create likeable and shareable photos with relevant quotes or, otherwise, catchy sayings. The easy stuff you see all over Facebook.
Josh asked, How do I know the audience I want to reach is on facebook? To be more specific: How would I know, maybe from a ROAS point of view, if facebook is the way to go, vs say Twitter, reddit..
Go into your Facebook ad account and mess around with creating an ad. In particular, when you’re choosing the audience, it will tell you how many people on the platform fit that particular audience.
It even gives you a ballpark number of Likes you can expect each day.
Facebook is pretty broad, but there’s definitely a lack of young people on it. I was reluctant, but I recently set up a Like Campaign for a friend’s Page related to the video game Warzone 2, which means younger males. The Likes were coming in at under 10 cents each.
There’s an audience for just about anything on there. Some are just easier and cheaper than others.
Alex asked, What is the new site for the challenge that you are building?
I haven’t revealed it publicly yet. Once I’m beyond the point where sabotage or favorable treatment could influence the traffic, I will.
Scott asked, For your like campaigns and email campaigns, are you targeting US only, or worldwide? Do you mess with targeting much like try lookalikes, or other audiences? Or just target the interest you’re focused on?
US only. Sometimes I open it up to Canada and the UK because those demographics are also valuable when it comes to RPMs.
In my experience, I usually target age and gender, and that’s about it. Facebook tends to find the right audience after a couple of days as long as your ad is really good and your target audience is broad.
You should put in Interests though if the audience is large enough (it will tell you potential audience and how broad it is).
Tom: I work as PM in Fintech and now Web3, so very on top of monetization and productization, but ad revenue and what is RPM and how do you get revenue from having eye balls is just new to me (makes sense but how). Would love some more ‘eyeballs = money for dummy’s’ explainer.
I believe my Beginner’s Guide to Monetization should help out.
Josh asked, I’m Interested to know how much success you’ve had with platforms like TikTok & LinkedIn? Did you pay for ads or was it organic? Did it drive much traffic to your site(s)?
None at all. I don’t even have TikTok and I go to my LinkedIn about once a year. I know there are people crushing on both platforms though. I’m just not one of them.
Michael asked, How often is it okay to put external links on Facebook posts? I thought every third post would be okay. Is that too much?
Ah, this question is tough. External links are, as we all know, really difficult to get reach.
There are publishers posting dozens per day and others posting once per day. I can only speak from my own experience that posting one really great post per day seems to do better than several mediocre.
As far as a link being every third post, I think that’s totally fine but I haven’t seen what you’re posting. It’s hard to say, but just experiment with different times and strategies.
I know this isn’t a great answer, but there truly isn’t a magic bullet. The algorithm is so unpredictable when it comes to external links whereas I can guess the reach on a photo before I post it within 5-10%.
Neil asked, I’ve been kicking around a few niche site ideas/topics and wanted to get your take/thumbs up or down on them: 1) Home Workout 2) Workout Apparel 3) Laundry 4) Pickleball 5) Cycling 6) Coffee 7) Home Cleaning Products Would love any feedback or thoughts you could provide.
Any of these can work, but they’re fairly broad (other than laundry?). It depends on how you approach these, so I can’t really give a definitive thumbs up or down.
Which one speaks to you the most? Which one would you enjoy still writing about in a year? Carve out your own style for the one you love the most.
Chris asked, What’s the recommended approach for putting other people’s branding on your own niche website? Let’s say you have a camping / outdoors site, and decide to write a review of the new Ford Transit Trail van and how it performed on your last trip. Would it be ok to reproduce the Ford badge?
I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll have to pass on answering this one. My guess is that no brand is ever going to care as long as you’re accurately representing them and not defaming them. But it’s hard to tell.
My advice? If it’s too legally gray, stay away from it. I’ve learned the hard way.
Paul asked, I had started a small dogs site about a year ago, but let it go as life got in the way during study. I have repurchased the domain and will put back the articles and start to build out more. I chose a really bad domain name. Do you think I should get a new domain name? Do you recommend that the website owner write all of the articles? Or should I try and find someone that is prepared to write extremely high quality such as I? Is one good article a day going to get me to a liveable wage in a year?
(I removed some info from the above because I didn’t know if he wanted specific details posted)
The only argument for keeping your domain name is if it has any aged credibility or backlinks. Run it through Ahrefs and see if it has any traction.
Given that your domain has a really specific word in it that you won’t even be touching on (much), I’d personally get a different domain.
Tyler asked, I have my idea set in stone, website built, now I’m building content. Would it be better to outsource the writing off to a professional or should I primarily be looking to write all of the articles myself? I have plenty of ideas for the content I want, just figured it might be more efficient to look for a good writer to take over that end.
If you have the money to hire a fantastic writer, and you aren’t particularly drawn to writing it yourself, then hire someone.
I would make sure you pick someone who has personal experience and understanding of the topic, not just the best writer you can find. That’ll be the key difference much like if you wrote it yourself.
This answer all comes down to your resources (time and money) and passion to actually do the writing. My general advice to everyone following this challenge is to write it yourself because that’s why the system works (monetize your passion).
But in your case, if you have the money, just make sure you find someone who will do the content justice.
TLDR: there’s nothing wrong with hiring writers. But writing it yourself only costs you time.
Chris asked, Can you recommend a channel to find and hire writers and (especially) artists. I’m doing all my own writing to manage cost, but I had some quite specific ideas for artwork when I build the site. Is there a site you can get quotes for that type of work?
There are the go-tos like Fiverr and Upwork. I’m really not sure when it comes to artists. If anyone reading this knows of a good site to hire artists, let me know and I’ll relay the message.
Now I’m tired.
Thank you to everyone who contributed. It’s important for me to understand what I’m not clearly explaining so that my updates can continuously improve.
And that’s why reading comments and asking for feedback on your own content is always important. So it can be the best and ultimately rise above the competition.
And… a calculation blunder.
I want to be fully transparent about my expenses so far in this challenge. And I messed up.
In Week 6, I reported that the remaining balance went from $16.2k to $12k due to a variety of new expenses. What I foolishly did was took the entirety of my Facebook expenses up to that point (instead of just that week) and deducted it from my remaining balance. In effect, I double counted weeks of campaigns.
Additionally, after that was written, I was able to get a refund for Jasper AI’s full year in advance and switch to monthly.
So I’m an idiot, but it ended up being good news for the challenge because I have around $3,000 more than I thought.
Here’s a full recap for transparency:
- $7,231.93 (Facebook ads)
- $50 (2x months Pressable)
- $198 (2x months Ahrefs)
- $198 (2x months Jasper; will probably cancel)
- ~$500 (various writing tests and articles)
- $590 (ConvertKit)
- $187 (Astra Pro theme)
- ~$500 (misc)
The last bullet point is stuff like Yoast Premium, the domain, email, and so on. I’m tired and there’s an enormous turkey waiting for me (I’m writing this Thursday morning) later, so I didn’t go through every line.
Remaining balance: ~$10,500
Next week, the first $1,500 writer payment will be made along with several monthly costs. But I actually feel really good about where things stand, especially with monetization finally beginning.
That’s it for this week.
In the coming weeks, I anticipate monetization and email subscriber growth being the primary focus.
With content starting to hit a groove, and virtually everything else in place, I hope it’s all just formulaic from here.
There’s one last thing I want to share. I’ve written extensively about how much details matter. The little things often go the furthest when it comes to building a business.
Someone shared a short article with me by Derek Sivers that’s worth passing along: The Most Successful Email I Ever Wrote
Look at every single touch point between you and your readers… and optimize it. Put the extra effort into being friendly, detailed, and helpful. I promise you it goes a long way.
In an interview, Mr Beast said that he often spends hours and hours on 2 second portions of his videos. That’s how much he believes in the details being important. Someone with 100 million YouTube subscribers probably knows what he’s talking about.
Treat your audience like real people, not statistics.
Thanks for reading,