Weeks 35-39: A $526 Day and a Breakthrough


Welcome to Weeks 35-39 of my $20k to $500k in 1 Year Challenge. You can read past issues here.

Throughout our lives, we’re constantly being warned about the next chapter…

That’ll never fly in high school.

Wait til you get to college – professors won’t be so kind.

The real world is going to be a wake up call.

Getting married? Ah, it’s a lot of work.

Oof, your life will never be the same with kids.

Don’t get me wrong – some of the warnings are valid.

But I’ve noticed that everyone that’s already at the so-called next phase of life has this odd, self-righteous urge to warn you about it.

As if somehow their own experiences are certainly the same as yours will be.

These warnings we constantly hear tend to set our expectations, subconsciously or not.

Oh God, college is going to be brutal.

My independence will be over when I have a child. @$%#!

Then that makes it true because we believe it.

Like good lemmings, we then end up warning those about to enter the phase we’re in, and the cycle continues on and on, for generations, resulting in billions of people all going through life, experiencing the same stages in the same way.

So, why am I going on about this?

Because at some point in the 90s, perhaps with the help of grunge-induced rebellion, I became aware of all of this and concluded it was, quite literally, insane.

Refusing to accept that the next phase would be this inevitable experience I can’t control has been vital to my financial success.

When massive, VC-backed publications learned one person could build a website with 100 million visits a month, they lost their minds because it just didn’t make sense.

It didn’t follow the expected course: raise money, open an office in New York, hire Ivy league writers, and …. go on to lose 90% of your value a few years later.

But when it became a reality, dozens of others popped up and did the same thing I was doing. The famous example of the 4 minute mile pretty much sums it up – once you know something is possible, you actually are more likely to do it.

380 words later, here’s my point as it pertains to this challenge.

Last month’s update was pretty boring. And I was frustrated.

But that’s because I was looking at the business exclusively through the lens of my previous experiences: get more pageviews and make more money with display ads.

At the end of the email, I said I was going to get out of that mindset and test how to make more from what I already have.

And in 3 weeks, I think I’ve learned more about making money with a newsletter than in the previous 10 years combined.

All because I stopped for a minute and questioned everything. Just because I did something before doesn’t mean I have to do it again.

Just because most people do things one way doesn’t mean it’s the only way.

The result of this mental shift was $3,600 in May – an 87% increase in revenue. Also, I had a single day come in at $526.

This update is basically a rundown of exactly what I tried, how things performed, and what it has led me to do next.

In Today’s Email

  • May’s most important number.
  • Funding Bezos’ yacht.
  • My eye-opening revenue moment.
  • Taking handouts? Yes, kinda.
  • The easiest money I’ve ever made.
  • A $526 day.
  • The actual game-changer and path forward.
  • Onto next month…

First, here are the numbers.

Note: these numbers are estimates because I’m writing this a couple days before the end of May, meaning I’m basically projecting where it’ll end up. Also, it should be assumed I’m reinvesting all earnings each month unless otherwise noted.

From March to April, Facebook traffic was cut in half. And, somewhat due to how uninterested in it I’ve become, it actually was cut in half again from April to May.


Email pageviews: 93,000 (up from 89,000)
Facebook pageviews: 17,000 (down from 28,000… which was down from 50,000)
Google traffic: 2,200 (up from 1,700)
Email subscribers: 77,000 (up from 65,000)
Articles published: 461
Revenue: $3600 (up from $1,900)

Today’s email is largely going to focus on the last number. If I had done nothing differently, my revenue would have, once again, been just shy of $2,000.

And I’d probably email you and say I’m done and dusted. I give up. See ya never.

But instead, I get to write about creating more money out of thin air, which is always really satisfying.

Here’s every new revenue stream I tried.

Including display ads, I now have 5 revenue streams with, hopefully, the most impactful one coming this month. It’s the one that, if successful, will make this operation worth $500k by September, then I can be carried off the field like Rudy.

Amazon: Funding Bezos

What I did: I started doing 4-5 articles a week that were basically Amazon product round-ups. For example, if my website were about gardening, I would create an article such as “17 Little Known Gardening Tools That’ll Supercharge Your Green Thumb.”

It’s helpful to my hypothetical gardening audience, and I make money when they purchase something from the list.

The result: around $300 in earnings in May. Not great.

The problem here is to make $300 in earnings, I had to sell $7,900 in products!

It’s crazy.

I’ve never felt more like a peasant hoping for scraps while King Bezos cruises around on his Super Yacht that has a normal Yacht on it… and I assume an even smaller Yacht on that one, and so on.

But in discouragement comes hope. Two takeaways:

  1. Mother’s Day was responsible for a large portion of the $300, as you can see in the screenshot. I will continue to create these articles during holidays and other times where gift-giving is prevelant. It’s really just the Pareto Principle – 80% of the value comes from 20% of the work, so I’ll just accept 80%.
  2. That $7,900 number. My audience will clearly spend money and, honestly, quite a bit of it. So how do I cut Bezos out and, instead of making a pitiful 4%, make much more?

That leads me to my second revenue test.

Non-Amazon Affiliate Offers: An Eye-Opening Moment

I have an account with ShareaSale and CJ, two affiliate platforms where the merchants offer a much more reasonable commission.

What I did:

  1. I wrote three different articles based around a specific product. For example, if my website were about cats, there’s a cat furniture store with an affiliate program. So I might write, “17 Reasons Your Cat Needs This Ridiculous Piece of Furniture.”
  2. Also, instead of spending time writing an entire article about it, I tested just putting an affiliate link directly in the newsletter under a sponsored section. Basically, a micro-version of the article.

The results were decent. Monetarily, it was only around $200 in commission with most of that coming from placing links directly in the newsletter rather than writing an entire article about the product.

The important part, however, was the learning experience.

I started understanding what would resonate with my audience and, even better, at what price point.

And that’s when I finally tried a product that opened my eyes: a digital product with a generous commission (30%).

I wrote a single article about this product, put it in the newsletter once, and it made $120.

That meant $400 in actual sales… of a digital product. A product that you create one time, then it’s profit forever.

While I’ve known about the potential of digital products for decades, I had never tried them.

Pageviews were always my focus. No more.

Subscriptions / Donations: Taking Handouts?

What I did: I offered a simple “support the newsletter” option.

In return, a subscriber receives a weekly batch of all the latest articles in PDF, ad-free format. This wasn’t exactly the greatest offering, but it was something some people had requested.

They could either pay $5/mo or $50/yr. To my surprise, about 40% of them opted for the annual amount.

The result: $750 in earnings, which is almost entirely profit (minus 3.5% or something). And this was without shoving it in their face. It was just a kindly worded, brief section in the newsletter that basically said, “If you enjoy the morning email, consider helping out. In return for your generosity, you’ll receive…”

Around 44 people paid during the limited test. I pulled it because I saw that they actually are willing to open their wallets, but I need to give them an undeniable amount of value if I want to take this from 44 subscribers to 440 and beyond.

After all, recurring revenue is the holy grail.

At this point, what I needed to do was becoming increasingly clear.

But before I get into that, an unexpected revenue stream emerged.

Sparkloop: The Easiest Money I’ve Ever Made

What I did: A few days ago, I finally tested out Sparkloop’s Partner Network. Basically, you can recommend other newsletters in your own newsletter, and you get paid some set amount per subscriber.

The result: 328 referrals at $2 each and 134 referrals at $3 each, which is over $1,000.

This is obviously VERY promising, and I’ve only included it in 4 emails so far.

Between display, affiliate, Sparkloop, and subscriptions, I had a $526 day in May. It goes without saying that’s incredibly motivating.

There are some problems here though:

It’s slim pickings for some niches, such as mine. The newsletters in Sparkloop are primarily finance and business-related. There are only two that actually make sense for my niche (but they do pay $2 and $3, respectively, per sub as mentioned above).

It’s also United States only, and the subscriber typically is required to stay subscribed for 14 days before they officially count. Some even require the subscriber to open at least one email or even click a link.

Also, there will be a natural drop off. When it’s a brand new recommendation, of course more people will sign up – I look for it to drop off quite a bit.

Overall, however, I do believe this will be a decent source of revenue moving forward. My plan is to set up a “Friends” section at the bottom of my daily email where I encourage my subscribers to join them.

With just 50 successful ones per day, this would add around $3,000/month in revenue, which is obviously a game changer.

But here’s the REAL game-changer (I hope).


All of my experiments above have led me to one reality: I need to offer my own digital products.

Amazon commissions are too low.

Paid subscriptions without giving much in return will have a pretty low ceiling.

Recommending other newsletters will plateau.

Display ad dependency is basically pageview prison.

So June is all about building out my digital products. How am I going to do this?

I’m not entirely sure.

But three weeks ago, I didn’t know anything about Amazon, Sparkloop, taking donations, or pretty much any of the above. And while I’m not an expert by any means, it makes me optimistic that I can figure this out too.

Factoring in display ads and the potential of Sparkloop, there’s potential here to make upwards of $10,000 per month in the near future.

And at $10,000 per month, that’s $120,000 a year, which is roughly a $400,000 site value depending on which formula you use.

Here’s what to expect next month.

Originally, I was going to go into detail about how I hope to create these new products and sell them. But I’d rather spend a month working on it and report back with real numbers, takeaways, and strategies.

My intention for this challenge was never to just create hype (although I’ve been guilty of it) but, rather, to provide tangible results and prove, even in this increasingly unstable, AI-obsessed frenzy, money can be made.

It’s hard to believe that the next update will be Week 40+. With a little under 4 months left, it’s been an interesting journey.

I’ve learned so much and met so many different people. I don’t work on growing this newsletter you’re reading, so it’s been at 5,200 subscribers since the beginning. The open rate is 67% like clockwork and about 20 really mean people unsubscribe each month.

But it’s been pretty awesome to see more than 5,000 people all with very similar – yet extremely different – journeys of their own.

Some of you are already crushing it, others are grinding it out, and even more haven’t started yet.

Where ever you may be, there’s a phrase I’ve been basically just using with myself: domination through iteration.

I’ve stared at my screen countless times in the last 39 weeks, thinking, “oh god, this is just not going to work and those 5,200 people are going to give me endless swirlies when I give up.”

But thanks to that swirly pressure, I have continued to iterate. Going from $1,900 to $3,600 with serious potential for much more proves that we all have to keep our minds open, not get trapped in our past experiences, and continuously try new things.

See you on July 1st and 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.