Weeks 19-21: Fortunately, I Wasn’t Lying

Hey, it’s been a while.

Welcome to Weeks 19-21 of my $20k to $500k in 1 Year Challenge. Past weeks can be read here.

Switching these updates from weekly to monthly was, without a doubt, the right decision.

By the end, I think you’ll agree.

There’s a growing opposition to the “build in public” movement… and I get it. You end up spending more time and energy on the public part than your actual business.

That said, I have a good balance now. And everyone benefits because it leads to higher quality updates and takeaways.

In Today’s Email

  • January by the numbers.
  • How I reduced my cost per subscriber by 3x.
  • Facebook is so nice!
  • I got into a legit ad network.
  • Will my users… just pay me?
  • I wasn’t lying about record days.
  • Marketing psychology is so easy…
  • …but Google isn’t.
  • Facebook is trash!
  • Staying focused on what I’m really doing here.
  • The big questions to answer in February.

First, here’s how January ended:

Traffic: 61,998 pageviews
Revenue: $812
Email: 23,202 subscribers
Facebook: 124,770 followers
Published: 163 (total) articles

I’m pretty much equal parts pleased and disappointed with these numbers. If you take the whole “in 1 year” part of this challenge away, I’m almost entirely pleased.

Nonetheless, there have been two very significant wins, several frustrations, and lots of potential breakthroughs since my last update.

Let’s start with the wins.

  1. Cost per newsletter subscriber decreased by 3x.
  2. My site’s Ad RPM increased from $9.50 to over $14.

Before I tell you exactly what I did, I have to emphasize how important it’s been to finally come up with an incredibly high converting Facebook ad.

Here’s a snapshot of the old one versus the new one:

The last column says everything. Same number of leads for $900 less.

Like I said in my Tweet, I nearly accepted that there just wasn’t anyway around paying 49 cents per email subscriber.

If you remember my math in Week 12, you know that 49 cents each completely ruins my projections and likelihood of completing the challenge.

But I had to remind myself that being scrappy and trying new things is literally how I’ve always found success in the past.

Continuous optimization is vital.

Okay, so what happened?

In Facebook Ad Manager where you create the ad for your Lead Generation campaign, you might have noticed this:

I’ve ignored it for months because I don’t (or at least didn’t) like incentive-based leads.

How many times have you agreed to give your email for 10% off of a product, then proceeded to ignore that company’s emails forever? Or just unsubscribed.

Or perhaps you’ve followed and replied to a user on Twitter who promises to send you something that’s almost always too good to be true? Then unfollowed once you confirmed it was garbage.

Incentives are tricky.

But with my back to the wall, I wanted to try it out.

Since I’m still keeping my real site under wraps, I’ll use my ongoing example from past updates: a website for introverts.

First, I created a PDF called 60 Ways To Make Life Easier If You’re An Introvert.

(Tip: I actually used ChatGPT to generate them.)

Then I created an ad to entice introverts to download this helpful resource in exchange for their email address.

In the Form creation process, under the “Message for leads” tab, you can change it from View website to View file:

Once you change it, you can upload your PDF. Then your form will include this:

This creates a sense of “I need to see what’s behind the locked door.” Humans are funny creatures like that.

So, think about what actually happened here psychologically.

The old way:

Please, trust me that my newsletter is good. I promise you’ll like it. Do me this favor.

Okay, thanks. One more favor please – go check your email and confirm.

Thanks, now just wait til tomorrow or next week to finally receive it. I hope you remember me.

The new way:

Here’s something you can look at literally right this very second that will improve your life.

Seriously, you will be reading it as soon as you hit submit.

But how did it turn out?

  • Leads became 3x less expensive.
  • And my open rate INCREASED.

It turns out that if you do this correctly, it’s the perfect strategy.

  1. Offer a free, helpful download in PDF form.
  2. Start the PDF with a friendly thank you and for them to check their email after they’re done reading (this is basically a mini Welcome email they receive immediately).
  3. In the welcome email, thank them again for reading and tell them what they can expect every day.

But here’s the most vitally important piece of the puzzle: the content of your PDF should be the perfect prequel to what you’re sending in your ongoing emails.

If I get subscribers by giving introverts 60 tips to improve their lives, then my ongoing email better continue offering additional helpful articles and advice for introverts.

As long as it does, you’ve gained a quality subscriber for 1/3rd the cost.

The same person that would have cost 3-5x more simply because you gave them something instead of asked for something.

So, even though I’m technically behind on the numbers I projected, I was able to reduce my costs significantly and set the stage.

And then Good Guy Facebook threw me another bone.

With the weight of this weekly email off of my shoulders, I actually noticed something else in my Fb Ad Manager: the ability to switch my payment terms completely.

I don’t know how much money you have to spend to get this option, but I am now only paying after $5,000 is spent – and on Net 30 terms, which means my first payment won’t be til the end of March (for February expenses).

This helps tremendously with cash flow as it pertains to the challenge. I was set to run out of money by the end of February, but this gives me an extra month to collect and improve monetization.

And that is starting to happen.

There’s a lot to say about monetizing.

First, I was able to get the site into AdThrive. Some might disagree but, generally, it’s the best ad management solution for a small site like mine.

It takes a couple of weeks to ramp up, but I’m already seeing a 50% increase in revenue.

Combined with the email leads being drastically cheaper, this is a significant financial swing.

In a perfect world, my hungry audience would be married to the perfect sponsor. Then I’d just focus on delivering an amazing email every day that’s monetized well.

But like I whined about in this Tweet, that service really just doesn’t exist. There are some companies making progress, but, for my needs, it does not exist.

So I’m beginning to test out other sources of revenue:

  • An exclusive membership program for the most loyal supporters.
  • Actual books (much more on this in the future if I go this route).
  • High margin merchandise related to my niche.
  • Possibly affiliate programs.

The feedback from my subscribers has been ridiculously positive, and people can be very generous when you’re giving them value.

Think about this email you’re reading right now:

Would you pay me $10/month to have access to a private forum/Slack/channel where I provide exclusive insights, talk to you and others about your own projects, and generally keep all the best stuff there?

A lot of you certainly wouldn’t – but a lot of you would because the value would be so far beyond $10/mo that it would be a no brainer.

That’s what I’m going for on the challenge site: an exclusive paid membership for the super supporters who want even more.

If I provide an overwhelming, undeniable amount of value, it can work.

As someone who has mostly only monetized with display advertisements, I’m really excited to report back on how this works.

Hopefully it’s a positive report like this one:

My record day became a normal day, as I hoped.

In my last email in mid January, I said:

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.

I’m happy to report I’m not a liar.

From January 10th to January 23th, those 1,178 page views remained the record day.

Then for 4 straight days starting on the 24th, each day was higher than the record.

Here are my email pageviews by week in January:

A trend you like to see.

Theoretically, this should just continue to rise all year.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies in Challengeville.

After the 4 record days mentioned above, I had a day that barely cracked 1,000 page views from email.

This is where patience really gets tested. It’s amazing how the feeling of so many “wins” is instantly shattered by one “loss.”

After feeling like I was failing, I went through several newsletters to see what worked and why it worked.

  • The content seemed on par.
  • The headlines were solid.
  • The images were about the same.

Were my subscribers wearing down? The open rate was rising, so it made no sense.

But I like to think about marketing like it’s a chain.

If one link in the chain breaks, your chain – as a whole – is broken.

Link 1: my email enters your inbox. Did it land in the primary folder without a problem? Great.

Link 2: you need to be enticed to open it. Did the subject line interest you enough? Yes.

Link 3: I want you to click to my website and consume an article. Did you? No.

Why not? You’re in the email and the first thing there is a link to my site! WHY AREN’T YOU CLICKING IT?

Because I started consistently breaking the chain at link 2.

Not because they didn’t open it, but because my subject lines had become so focused on getting them to open the email that I left out ensuring link 2 (my subject line) was still connected to link 3 (the article I wanted them to consume).

When my subject line and opening paragraph naturally led the reader to click a link to the site, to nobody’s surprise, more people clicked the link to the site.

Marketing is really just the art of figuring out how to psychologically lead someone to do exactly what you want them to do.

Too bad I can’t do that with Google.

Total Google traffic in January: 145.

That’s rough.

You know by now that I never write for Google nor do I do keyword research.

But 145? In a month?

I don’t know if this is some sort of Google sandbox thing, a lack of quality backlinks, not enough search volume in my niche, content that doesn’t fit, or some combination of all of that.

I’m starting to slowly go through some of the older pieces that I think have potential.

I like this strategy to use Google Search Console for direction.

The way I treat the daily newsletter is how I need to treat the content when it comes to Google. If I’m not providing an overwhelming amount of actual, real value, then I shouldn’t expect it to rank.

Hoping by the time I send my next email, there’s some improvement.

Oh, and Facebook reach is trash right now too.

I don’t know if it’s just my site or not, but Facebook reach on links has just been awful.

It tends to come and go… it just happens to be in the state of go(ing) right now.

But it’s a great reminder: I’m building a business.

Writing content to rank for keywords on Google is a strategy.

Creating content that will go viral on Facebook is a strategy.

Sending a daily email to get clicks and paying members is a strategy.

Using PPC to get sales is a strategy.

None of these things are a business. Yet each of them individually are the entirety of so many businesses.

I need to build a brand. And that brand needs to utilize all of those strategies.

That’s where my focus is now. Otherwise, I become frustrated when a particular strategy isn’t working because it feels like the entire business is failing.

It’s not true.

Continuing to build a multi-platform business that gives undeniable value every day can’t fail.

If it does, then I didn’t give enough undeniable value. The business didn’t fail – I failed at business.

Wrapping up til next month…

Overall, I feel good despite the above challenges.

The two breakthroughs (cheaper subs, higher revenue) in January set the stage to go all in now.

Here are the big questions to answer this month:

  • How much can I spend, at scale, to acquire as many quality subscribers as possible?
  • Can I improve existing articles and actually gain traction in Google?
  • Will my users be open to paying me a monthly fee for additional content and special access?
  • What other breakthroughs are out there, just waiting to be uncovered?

Because there are plenty. I just have to keep finding them.

Unfortunately, it’s not Leap Year, so there are only 28 days to find out.

See you on March 1st.

Sorry, new Dad here.

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.