Week 18: I’ve Never Told Anybody This


Welcome to Week 18 of my $20k to $500k in 1 Year Challenge.

One downside about this being a weekly email is that there’s not always something groundbreaking to cover. After all, I’m only spending around 8 hours a week on the actual challenge website.

I’ve already written more than 100,000 words between my guidespast weeks of this challenge, and random articles on building a profitable site. Repeating myself would bore both of us.

There are still several relevant changes, takeaways, and ideas to cover today.

But, if this goes off the rails, you’ll know why.

In Today’s Email

  • The newsletter’s continued growth.
  • A record day worth celebrating.
  • How does growing actually happen?
  • Google doesn’t believe my wife exists.
  • A different way to make money with AI.
  • The public domain is your (content’s) best friend.
  • Reposting on Facebook: it works really well.
  • Using simple formulas to not get overwhelmed.
  • An awkward story I’ve never told anybody…
  • These weekly emails will become monthly.

What happened since last week?

So far in January, the site has received 24,383 page views and made roughly $250. Hardly exciting.

But what is exciting: the newsletter.

I’ve now grown the newsletter to 16,321 subscribers and the open rate is maintaining nicely at about 26%.

Even better, the feedback from subscribers has been 99% positive.

Here are the Facebook campaign numbers since December 27th:

After the first week, the price per lead started significantly rising. This creative has simply run its course, so I have the campaign turned off for now.

I’ve been doing pretty deep dives into the Ads Library of several email-first companies (Morning Brew, Axios, etc). Last week I went over exactly how to do that.

I just launched a new batch of creatives this morning. In my next email, I’ll let you know which approach worked the best.

In the meantime, I’ll celebrate a record day. Yayyy.

Pageviews from the newsletter finally topped 1,000 in a single day on January 10th.

1,178 to be exact.

Mentally, this was actually very important because my frustration was growing.

Staying disciplined and trusting the process can be tough.

But then you see some sort of breakthrough. Then things (usually) go back down.

Then you see a new breakthrough that’s a little better than the last one. Then it goes back down.

And this keeps happening until suddenly your floor is equivalent to the first breakthrough.

All of this has had me reflecting on something that seems obvious on the surface, but our emotions sometimes cloud the simplicity.

How does growing actually happen?

Am I doing everything I can to grow my loyal audience?

It’s something I’ve done multiple times but I never tore it apart to figure out how.

Let me use the email you’re reading now as an example. You’re almost certainly subscribed to me because you heard about the maniac who said he can turn $20k into $500k in a year.

It’s compelling but, without follow through, it means nothing.

Take three possible ways I could have started documenting my challenge:

  1. An email that shares all the latest numbers. Traffic, subscribers and so on. No details – just numbers.
  2. An email that includes all the latest numbers and what I worked on.
  3. An email that includes the latest numbers, what I worked on, my personal insights, and how I did it so you can too.

My open rate on this email is between 60 and 70%.

What would it be with scenario 1 after a couple of weeks? Dramatically lower, not to mention unsubscribes would be off the charts.

Nobody cares about numbers with no context.

In scenario 2, it’s a little better but probably in the realm of average at best.

Even telling you what I worked on creates a lot more questions than anything else.

Scenario 3 is what I strive to do every week.

I have never sent a single email to you that I didn’t put my entire heart and soul into… perhaps to a fault.

But because of my relentless pursuit to be “perfect,” I’m rewarded with a loyal readership.

So why am I going on about this?

Because if I’m not putting the same energy into the actual challenge site’s email, then I can’t expect the same level of user retention and loyalty.

If we make sure that every single time a new person sees our content for the first time, it’s the best it can possibly be, there is virtually no way we won’t grow. It compounds.

Do this for a couple of years and suddenly you’re sitting on a 6-7 figure business.

Or, in my case, hopefully one year.

What didn’t happen last week?

I said I was going to be experimenting with Adsense placements this week.

What I did not see coming: Google turning off all of my ads because I hadn’t verified the account.

Because Google only allows one Adsense account per person, I put the new one in my wife’s name. Shhh.

I knew they wouldn’t send payments without verifying her identity (she’s real, I swear), but I didn’t know they’d turn them off completely. So that derailed the plan, but we’re back in business now.

For what it’s worth, the Auto Ads are averaging around a $10 RPM. Actually not terrible for early January.

Backlink building also didn’t happen.

As you probably know by now, I’ve never built backlinks manually. They usually just happen with good content.

Because I put myself in this one year time crunch, I plan to be more proactive about it. But it’s also really boring, so I haven’t done anything with that yet.

Unfortunately, I’m really not spending much time on the site, which I guess is the higher stakes part of the original tweet.

Why did I do this to myself?

Since there’s not much more to report on the site itself… here are four completely random things on my mind that might help you in one way or another.

1. A Different Way To Make Money With AI

If I wanted to make money off the AI craze, I wouldn’t even use AI.

I’d just start a website all about AI.

Just review every new AI tool, write about all the latest developments (including a newsletter of course), and be positioned for the explosion.

It would be a fun site to build.

Just imagine having the world’s best cryptocurrency website before 2020 except this time the actual phenomenon is going to stick around.

2. Use the Public Domain

An underused source of content is public domain material.

I’d create a list of sites to find it, but these nice people at the University of Montana already did it.

Be sure to thoroughly look at the licensing information, but there’s no shortage of things you can do with public domain content:

  • Use it to beef up your own content.
  • Repurpose it to make new content.
  • Build an entire site around surfacing it (think: historical site).
  • Sell products that feature it.

It’s pretty powerful.

3. Reposting Content on Facebook

Over the past 14 years, I’ve generally stuck to posting new content to Facebook each day.

Once my bank of articles was big enough, I’d repost here and there. But generally, it was 1 new post per day, sometimes 2.

Lately, because Reach is so disappointing, I’m finding that you can repost a winning article much earlier.

For example, in late November, I had an article reach 35,000 people on my Page of 120k fans. Since then, posts have averaged around 10-15,000.

I posted that one again recently, and it reached 30,000 people.

There’s no universal advice here other than experimenting and seeing what works best for you. But don’t be afraid to repost the winners.

4. Using Easy Formulas to Write a Daily Email

More than once, a reader has reached out to tell me that writing a daily email (like I’m doing for my challenge website) is intimidating and overwhelming.

It can be, but by creating a formula, you can feel confident.

The email you’re reading right now has no formula. I sit down, aim to cover what happened in the last week, sprinkle in a bit of entertainment, and hopefully provide you with a lot of value somehow.

That’s probably why it gives me the most anxiety.

But for my challenge website, it’s very formulaic:

  • Quote of the day: easy.
  • Intro paragraph: takes 1 minute.
  • Latest website content: 5 minutes.
  • Story of the day: this takes the longest.
  • Photo of the day: 1 minute.
  • On this day: 1 minute.

As you can see, most of the daily email is just pulling in very simple things. But, like those kids who summon Captain Planet, with their powers combined, it creates a really great email.

Check out The Hustle for a great example. It’s probably my favorite newsletter.

And don’t get me wrong, their email requires quite a bit of curation, but it’s still a very formulaic strategy.

Don’t get overwhelmed – just build out a plug-n-play system that works.

And Finally… Here’s a Story I’ve Never Told Anyone.

I’m from a small town in Ohio, which came with two things that are relevant to this story:

  1. Religion was a big part of my upbringing.
  2. In the early 2000s, nobody else there was making money on the Internet.

Because of the latter reason, I was pretty secretive about what I did. Those around me, including my family, started realizing I was making quite a bit of money, but I didn’t do anything lavish, so there was a “we don’t get it, so we won’t ask” thing.

Which I liked because it was too hard to explain anyway.

Meanwhile, my dad – who had an enormous impact on my life – was (still is) a part-time pastor at a church of about 25 people.

The amount of things he has always juggled is astounding, and I share his inability to stop taking on new things. But that’s not the point here.

In 2010, I had gained an absolutely massive Christian following by accident on Facebook. I detailed how it happened here.

Through my nature as a so-called growth hacker combined with my religious upbringing, I noticed there was really only one video site serving that community: GodTube.

So I launched GodVine, a place for inspiring, happy, fun, and otherwise positive videos for Christians (and, to be honest, anyone). In a a matter of months, it became the largest video site in the space. The peak month hit $240k in revenue and $227k in profit.

But back to the actual story.

Nobody, including my family, knew I had this site nor did they know I was making that amount of money.

Every Sunday, I would drive to my hometown to go to my Dad’s church.

One Sunday, when we went back to the house, my Stepmom just had to show me something.

It was a video she saw online of Elvis singing a gospel hymn in the 1970s. This was still an era where nobody, particularly slightly older people, knew their way around the Internet.

I think you know where this is going.

The site hosting the Elvis video was, of course, GodVine.com. My site nobody knew I owned but was getting 30 million visits a month.

She elaborated, and I remember these words very well, “This site is just fabulous. They are always posting the best videos.”

It was really awkward. Do I tell her it’s my site?

After years of never telling anyone exactly what I do?

So, I did the only logical thing possible – I just went with it.

“Oh, that’s cool. Pretty neat site.”

But that couldn’t be the end of it. My Stepmom was clearly a superfan.

Was my life about to consist of my Stepmom continuously sending me links to my own site? And me pretending I haven’t seen it even though I posted it?

It sounds silly to write this out, but if you’re anything like me, you spend far too much time trying to avoid any degree of confrontation or awkwardness instead of just being confident.

Not long after, I had several interested parties wanting to buy GodVine. The amounts being offered were going to significantly change my life.

As great as the money would be, all I could think about was how I was going to awkwardly tell my family. Not because of the money but because there had been too much GodVine talk to now suddenly announce I own it. At this point, most of my family members were subscribed and also constantly sharing it on Facebook.

It had become a situation like the Friends episode where Chandler doesn’t correct his colleague who keeps calling him Toby.

It had gone on too long to just correct him. That’s how I felt

In September 2012, just one month before closing the deal and selling the site, I actually moved to Spain.

Some psychologists to this day believe I was running from that awkward conversation.

Maybe I was. I think I finally told her the truth in a text message.

All of this to say…

Ten years later, I’ve gone from building sites not even my own family knew about to building publicly with actual stakes at play.

Pushing yourself and getting outside of your comfort zone is really important.

But we also have to stay true to who we are.

The last 18 weeks of emails have been full of transparency – mostly technical and strategic. So I want to do the same when it comes to how I’m feeling.

Trying to grow a site to $500k while delivering value every week about growing a site to $500k is mentally draining. This doesn’t account for anything in my personal life or my other businesses.

Taking care of my mental health and happiness is my priority, so I will be delivering these updates monthly instead of weekly. Every 1st of the month to keep it simple.

This also ensures that every update is filled with meaningful progress, not personal stories and fluff.

Now it’s time to focus.

Thanks for reading,

Photo of author

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.