Welcome to Weeks 31-34 of my $20k to $500k in 1 Year Challenge. You can read past emails here.
Since launching in September, I’ve reported increasing numbers every single month: pageviews, followers, subscribers, and revenue.
Well, that has come to an end. April was worse than March (but better than all the months before it).
In today’s email, I mostly want to talk about what happened, why it happened, and what I’m going to do about it. Dealing with your first downturn in any business is a Liu Kang bicycle kick to the face.
It’s the most important time to not get discouraged, identify the problems, and move forward.
In Today’s Email:
- April sucked, and here’s why:
- Family > Business.
- We all got Zucked.
- Email fatigue is very real.
- Breaking a bad habit.
- Banned… twice.
- The one thing I MUST nail.
- Odds and ends.
As I said, April sucked.
It wasn’t all terrible though. Email subscribers have now crossed 65,000 and revenue, thanks to a better RPM, was pretty stable at just shy of $2,000.
But pageviews came in at 129,384, which is a decrease of 24%. My open rate also dropped from about 35% to 30%.
The silver lining is that there are three very clear reasons why April just wasn’t good.
1. My wife, daughter, and I visited family in Ohio.
Our trip home went incredibly well, and it was so fun introducing Scarlett (our baby) to family.
But I did the absolute bare minimum. And unfortunately, when you’re building a business, you can’t do that – or you take a step back.
Complacency just doesn’t work. Average work yields average results.
This had me reflecting on my past work ethic when I was hungry for financial independence. My drive, obsession, and perfectionism worked out for me because I simply never let up.
I worked through vacations. I got out of bed at 3am to work if an idea randomly came to me. I read everything through the lens of “how can this help me grow?” I consumed virtually nothing just for enjoyment.
I’m not saying this is a good thing. But I am saying it’s a staple of reaching life-changing success.
My life today is different, and I have no interest in that obsession. My goal was to reach financial independence so that I didn’t have to obsess anymore. Otherwise, what was even the point?
So, it was more important to me to enjoy my time visiting family than to strive for site growth and obsess.
But… it clearly shows.
Some so-called gurus would now give you a motivational speech. Sacrifice! Make money! Crush it! Live your dream life! You can do it! Especially if you buy my garbage course! Yes!
I’m just going to tell you to do whatever makes you happiest. There’s no end game. There’s no moment in your life where you ultimately have just simply made it, all your problems dissolve, and you experience endless highs.
That doesn’t exist.
If you want to enjoy time with your friends and family more than you want to work on your business, then enjoy your friends and family.
If you’d rather grind and work on your business instead of meeting friends for dinner, I completely get that too.
My point is that when you don’t give your business your everything, it will definitely negatively impact it. BUT… I can’t just blame myself here.
2. Zuckerberg decided to dump all over everyone.
Virtually every site owner I know saw a massive drop in Facebook traffic right around Easter. Some are really, really bad.
Mine was cut in half. From about 50,000 page views in March to 25,000 in April.
In fact, if you take away the drop in social traffic, my overall pageviews were barely down (more on that in #3 below).
Meanwhile, as I write this, Meta shares just popped 15%. Personally, I think it’s all related, which is why I’m heavily invested in Meta stock.
In 2013, when I saw just how easily Zuckerberg could push a button to literally turn up revenue like some sort of money printer, I put quite a bit in at $42 a share.
Last year, when Wall Street decided Zuck was a lunatic obsessed with getting us all to become Octopus avatars in the Metaverse and the stock dropped to $99, I put in a lot more.
It’s now around $240.
But this isn’t an email about stock picks. I’m just explaining the above because I’m convinced that organic link reach gets throttled to ensure users stay on the platform in order to pump up revenue for shareholders.
I have no proof or evidence, but it makes a lot of sense.
In my experience, it does come back. Given that shareholders are happy right now, perhaps reach will come back for a while?
I’m not sure, but I do know this is not a content problem. It’s a deliberate decision by Facebook to throttle link reach, and it has smacked publishers quite a bit.
3. Email fatigue is real.
I send my email every day except Sunday.
That’s a lot of content to consume. There are plenty of newsletters like The Hustle and Morning Brew that have carved themselves out as a go-to morning read (I’m one of them), but the type of content I’m sending isn’t really newsworthy information.
Without exposing my niche, just imagine that every single day you receive an email about being an introvert.
How many times can you read tips, stories, etc about introversion before you’re just sick of it for a while?
That’s the problem I’m seeing, and with slower email growth (due to lower budget since I’m obviously trying to stick to around $20k total), older users are getting fatigued and just not reading it as much – or unsubscribing.
The good news is, this is pretty normal… and it ultimately plateaus. But it’s no fun to experience that first month of more subscribers yet less interaction.
So all three of these things (family visit, Zuck, email fatigue) created the perfect storm that led to my first downturn.
But that’s business. It happens to all of them. The only thing that matters is…
What I’m going to do about it.
One problem of mine is that I’m always focused on sheer volume of pageviews, followers, and subscribers.
It’s a numbers game, right? If 65,000 subscribers gets me 100,000 pageviews, which makes me $2,000, all I need is 650,000 subscribers to get 1 million pageviews and make $20,000.
Kinda, but it ignores maximizing the value of your existing users.
If 65k subscribers makes $2k, what can I optimize to turn that into $3k? Or even $10k? When you have a loyal base, it’s entirely possible.
I always make the mistake of ignoring this part of the equation.
So, while I have very little to report today, this is now my primary focus.
Depending solely on display advertising is just way too difficult with the budget constraints of this challenge.
First, I’m going the obvious route.
After nearly 20 years, billions of pageviews, and millions of dollars in revenue, I’m finally experimenting with affiliate marketing.
And it’s actually going… not bad.
Basically, I’m doing two things:
- In the email, I now have a Sponsor. And that Sponsor is a relevant product with the affiliate link.
- I try to write 3 new articles per week that have products in them that are available on Amazon.
Amazon has been interesting. In the first week, I got banned twice.
Once because I forgot to put the proper disclaimer that I earn a commission. Then again because I was using the Amazon logo in a way that wasn’t allowed.
So yeah, don’t do that.
But the third time was the charm. Those of you who have been doing this a long time already know this, but what I found most interesting is how many items I got credit for that I didn’t link to directly.
Amazon pays you for anything a referred person buys, not just the recommended item.
I usually mention products that cost anywhere from $10-50. But people buy all kinds of things once they’re on Amazon.
One person even bought an iPad. Most of my commission has come from products I’m not even directly recommending, so I found that pretty fascinating.
I’m still in the early stages of this, but it’s going well and should fairly easily add an additional $1,000/month in earnings. But there’s so much more to do.
Second, I need to nail a product offering.
Maybe it sounds ambitious, but I do know that there’s something out there.
If I have any obsession right now, it’s figuring out what it is. I know my audience extremely well: their pain points, their passion, what makes them tick.
The right product offering is what will take this from $3-4k per month to $10k per month.
The June 1 email will mostly be about everything I tried and what’s working.
Because so much time passes between these updates along with how much can change in a short period of time, I often forget to talk about certain things. Below, I’m going to try to hit all of these loose ends.
Last month, I launched a forum for my visitors. I mentioned that private communities would be more valuable than ever in the future. I still stand by this, but it can be difficult to get it going.
It’s the classic problem: without active members, nobody is going to post… but with no posts, nobody can be active.
I’m trying to carve out more time to keep it active.
Business idea: an AI tool that connects to your forum and automatically creates fake but quality conversations until enough real people are active. Does this exist?
I still don’t pay attention to this, but it’s growing. April had about 2,000 pageviews from search.
It seems to continue climbing as I post more articles. Not sure if there’s some sort of sandbox I’m still in or not, but it’ll just be icing if it ever becomes a substantial source of traffic.
I got all the way to the point where all I had to do was pay the company in China, and my card game would be made. I decided to wait because I figured I should test some similar products (using their affiliate program) to see what conversions look like.
My own product would convert better just simply due to brand loyalty, but it’s been a decent gauge.
So far, I’m not overly impressed with the results, but I might go ahead and get a couple hundred of them made anyway.
Considering last month’s email was almost entiretly about the AI revolution and how it’ll impact our businesses, there isn’t much more to say. I have a lot more thoughts on it, but it’s just not that applicable to this email.
The TLDR is that I’m creating content faster than ever, staying focused on email, and patiently waiting to see what happens in the bigger scheme.
And that’s it for this one.
This is another update that probably felt like one of those filler episodes of a show you’re binging.
There just weren’t many new tangible strategies or breakthroughs to talk about, but I think it was worth sharing the “real life” behind any business. Unfortunately, it’s not all growth and profits.
Sometimes business is boring. Sometimes it sucks. Those who are only sharing their wins are just creating a self-serving illusion, whether it’s simply to protect their own ego or to ultimately sell you something.
My hope for June 1st is that I’ve tested enough ideas that there’s something exciting to cover.
If not, well… business can be boring more than one month in a row.
Thanks for reading,