Weeks 15-17: How’s This Even Legal?

Happy New Year,

Welcome to Weeks 15-17 of my $20k to $500k in 1 Year Challenge. You can read past weeks here.

It’s been a while, but it was a much needed break all around. I hope your holidays were enjoyable.

In Week 12, I outlined why I think it’s very possible that I’ll complete this challenge – or at least come close. My math was dependent on Facebook ads significantly dropping in price after Q4, allowing me to snowball everything through the first several months of 2023.

It’s off to a great start.

In This Email:

  • How December turned out.
  • Massive newsletter growth: it’s on.
  • A real example of my ad creative.
  • Facebook ads: how’s this legal?
  • Complacency is just a slow death.
  • Other updates: monetization, backlinks, etc.
  • ChatGPT because why not?
  • Until next time…

First, here’s how December turned out.

Site Visits: 52,209
Facebook Likes: 122,134
Email Subscribers: 9,120
Articles Published: 106
Revenue: $1,149
Challenge Balance: ~$7,800 (includes revenue added back)

It’s easy to lose sight of these numbers due to the nature of the challenge itself.

$500k in 1 Year? It’s absurdly ambitious, and the numbers above won’t get it done.

But it’s already a $10k-20k per year business that takes up 6-8 hours a week after just 3 months.

Now I need to 10x that.

And it starts with aggressive newsletter growth.

I turned my old campaign back on December 27th and cranked the budget to $200 per day. Without any optimization, the price is down about 30% and leads are pouring in.

I took this screenshot at 10:15am on Jan 4.

Considering I raised my budget from $50 to $200 and didn’t change the creative, this is a really promising start to the year.

In a minute, I’ll cover a marketing “hack” I’m using to create endless winning ads.

But first, a quick example. I’m always asked what my ads look like, so let’s say I have a website and newsletter geared toward introverts and helping them function in uncomfortable situations.

Here’s what my Facebook lead gen ad might look like:

Don’t get caught up in this exact wording, but it’s my approach:

  • Relatable photo that immediately connects with the reader.
  • Personal copy, so they know you’re a human being that is offering them something specific.
  • A short note that it’s free usually helps.

This stuff might seem obvious, but a good ad is just a straightforward offer that connects with the right person at the right time in the right way.

That’s just one example I came up within 30 seconds. There’s a way to find nearly infinite great ideas to drive sign ups (or any conversions).

Look under everyone else’s hood.

I’ve written at length about creating ads on Fb, but over the holidays, I really realized Facebook’s hidden power.

It’s everybody else’s ads.

If you’re like me, it’s pretty mind-numbing to scroll through a majority of Facebook posts, especially when everyone’s posting what might as well be the same holiday photo (guilty).

So instead of automatically scrolling past the ads to see the next friend update, I started doing the opposite. I completely tuned out the updates of my friends and family (sorry) and just sought out the ads.

I scrolled for a long time. It was fascinating to just take in all the creatives and get a sense of who is crushing it, why, and how I can do the same.

Here’s a random example of what I did.

First, I’d scroll until an ad really caught my attention:

As a new father of a 6 month old, this kind of thing works on me now.

Then, I’d spend a few minutes pinpointing why this ad in particular spoke to me.

  • It’s a video. A colorful, happy, short one.
  • Straight to the point: “perfect books for babies”
  • The volume of engagement, even subconsciously, is social proof that this MUST be a good product.

Last, I’d go take a look under the hood of the company. In this case, it’s Literati Kids.

On their Facebook Page, click See All under Page Transparency:

Then scroll down to Ads Library. In there, you’ll see all the ads they’re running, including when they were launched, the platforms they’re running on, and how many ads use each creative:

It actually feels dirty and borderline illegal to get this inside glimpse.

By seeing which ads are clearly working, it’s like handing you an endless playbook of ideas for your own.

For example, they have been running one ad much longer than the others. Here’s the copy:

Hardly groundbreaking, but I’ve never tried to use a testimonial above my ad. It’s a good idea to try it.

Even more, I emerged from this advertising nerd session with new ideas for entire businesses.

If I wanted to create my own subscription box with books for babies, I could pretty easily just study this “transparency” Facebook gives us to determine:

  • Which products are selling.
  • Which ads are working.
  • Why they’re working.

One could easily make the case that Fb shouldn’t be including so many public details, but that’s not my call.

The bottom line is, it has become a daily exercise for me to stop scrolling when an ad catches my attention – and then go under the hood. I’ve found some really good ad ideas and some unique product concepts for my own site.

And, as I’ve said before, using public metrics is a great way to find content ideas too.

But moving on…

Complacency is a slow death.

It’s incredibly easy to stare at the same thing every day and stop looking for improvements you can make.

It’s normal – we just start going through the motions.

But when you get in the constant habit of looking at every word with a curious eye, you’ll come up with some interesting ideas. Some of which will impact your growth significantly.

Always question whether every pixel of your content is providing value.

I’m pretty happy with the daily email I’m sending for the challenge site, but anything can be improved.

So I started looking at it like it was a rotten pile of dumpster trash instead of assuming it was fine. And here’s what I changed:

1. I removed the logo from the top of the email. If I send someone an email and they see it’s from Scott DeLong, why do I need to put an image that says Scott DeLong at the top? It makes no sense.

2. The traffic to my site from email was disappointing with 9,000 subscribers. Sometimes only getting 200 clicks out. So I started experimenting:

  • In my opening paragraph (a greeting), I found clever ways to incorporate a link.
  • I expanded the daily articles to 3 instead of 2 because I have enough articles to include an old one.
  • My photo of the day started to become one from an article on my site, so I turned the photo into a clickable link to said article.
  • At the end, I have begun adding a “Want more?” section with links to more articles and the social media platforms.

There’s certainly more I can do, but these were all improvements I made just because I didn’t foolishly assume it was good enough.

Aim to make a continuous series of 1% improvements.

Another thing I started doing: replying to everyone.

While most companies still inexplicably set up a no-reply email for their newsletter, mine has basically become an extension of my brand.

As the newsletter is growing, so are the amount of people who reply to it. I encourage people to reply sometimes.

There are four reasons:

  1. I have no hard evidence, but I’m convinced that Gmail sees real interaction with subscribers differently than truly promotional emails. This will land you in the Primary folder, which significantly improves your open rate. This happened to me after I began replying to everyone. Even if they say Thank you for the email, reply with You’re welcome.
  2. Replying to just one person doesn’t seem like it’s worth it. But when you are replying to just one person 10,000 times over the course of a year or two, you build a ridiculously loyal following. Nobody expects you to reply, so, when you do, they never forget it. They’re people, not stats.
  3. It’s an opportunity to link them to your site. If you’re selling a product, it’s an absolute no brainer to help guide them to a purchase. But, in my case, it’s just an opportunity, when relevant, to link them to another article.
  4. Continuous feedback. When one email gets more replies than others, I use subscriber feedback to understand why so I can double down on what clearly worked.

Actually using your reply-to email as a two-way communication with your audience can be a game-changer in ways you can’t possibly expect.

Take the email you’re reading right now. I reply to virtually everything.

Not only have I literally been given wine (which was really good), but the amount of business opportunities that have arisen because I don’t use an unnmonitored reply-to address (or just ignore people) is wild.

Other things going on in the challenge.

Growing subscribers and figuring out exactly what kinds of creative work the best was my priority this past week. But there are several other things going on as well:

Monetization: In December, I actually turned ads off for about a week. I was tired of looking at them while just focusing on content. I actually recommend you do the same if the earnings are neglible.

They’re back on now, but I’m only using Google Auto ads. The first few days of January, I’m seeing around an $8 Page RPM.

Next week, I’m going to be implementing Adsense ads manually. I’m not a fan of where Google places them, and I can usually do better. We’ll see how that goes.

Finding products that sell: I’ve been spending a lot of time looking for alternate ways to monetize. Display ads are all I’ve ever typically used, but with access to more than 13,000 subscribers via email, there’s likely another play.

I’ve been looking at merchandise ideas, subscription-based models, and some other unorthodox methods. Nothing concrete here yet.

Backlinks: I have not purchased anymore backlinks since my test last month. No real uptick in search engine traffic since the initial jump.

One thing I believe is important is making sure your homepage looks great. I’ve been (slowly) working on making it look more like an actual destination rather than just the latest blog posts.

I think this will go far for the upcoming backlink strategy.

Writer goes poof: Fortunately, it was a mutual decision to part ways with the writer I brought on. Now that I have a pretty solid bank of articles, I can take it from here and would rather save the $1,500/month for more subscribers.

Micro-consulting: I did not get a chance over the holidays to build out a more “official” micro-consulting offer.

The interest has been overwhelming, but I don’t want to jump into it without knowing I can not only handle it on my end but provide a valuable service to you and your site.

Some final words (mostly on AI).

Before I exit your inbox, I did finally get around to spending a few hours with ChatGPT.

It’s all anyone is talking about, so I’ll keep this somewhat brief: I’m finally impressed.

My turnoff to AI writing has, ironically, been due to the human response. So many are flocking to it as if it’s a fast track to riches because you can watch it write a thousand words in a few seconds and publish it.

I don’t think talented writers (or any other profession) are going anywhere, particularly not any time soon. But ChatGPT already serves as an impressive sidekick.

For example, I wanted a really lightweight, straightforward Table of Contents for a site. I told it exactly what I wanted and it gave me the complete code to create a WordPress Plugin.

The amount of time we will save in the future by not spending so many resources doing the mundane stuff should not only catapult our individual businesses but all of humanity.

Eventually, it probably will eliminate millions of low-skill jobs. I won’t get into my early thoughts on how we handle that as a civilization, but I think there are plenty of effective ideas already floating around.

It’s going to be exciting to watch the rise of AI over the next few years. It’s fun to guess, but the reality will probably surprise all of us once it matures beyond a (very) helpful chat bot.

That wraps this week up.

If you have any thoughts or questions on anything in this email, feel free to reply.

Thanks for reading,

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Scott DeLong

I'm an introvert who has built and sold multiple companies for millions of dollars - without funding or employees. I've been featured in BusinessWeek, Business Insider, Fortune, Inc, and more. I hope you find my site helpful to your own entrepreneurial journey.