On December 19, 2013, a little over a year ago, I finished Sketching with CSS, the first product I've ever made and sold for money. As I write this it's December 29, 2014 and I've made $52,553 in product sales.
In 2015 I'm going to double my revenue to over $100,000 without working crazy hours and hating my life. I have a plan.
2014 was about the fundamentals
I admire the ability of some entrepreneurs to build product after product and then repeatedly and predictably make small piles of money. This stuff is supposed to be hard. We're supposed to fail more often than not, but I have friends who can throw together a product in 24 hours and make thousands of dollars. Every time Nathan Barry or Brennan Dunn post a wrap up post after a product launch, I picture them putting on old-timey bathing suits and diving into their earnings Scrooge McDuck style.
It's not random chance or luck, because these folks do it over and over again. Yes, sometimes a product flops but it's the exception, not the rule, at least for people that know what they are doing.
When I quit my job and started this little adventure, I made it a priority to learn the fundamentals because it seemed obvious to me there was more to entrepreneurship than the usual story of massive effort applied over a long period of time in spite of failure after failure. That story is wrong and entrepreneurship is a skill. You can get better at it.
I have a few $10,000 launches under my belt now and the biggest takeaway for me this year has been that with a little effort applied in the right sequence, I can make sales whenever I need them. I made far less money this year than I would have if I'd stayed at my regular day job, but learning how to create, market and sell a product consistently for a profit is worth much more than 1 year of a developer salary. Sooooooo much more.
This was the most fun I've had "working" in my entire life. Even if I don't eventually outpace my old developer salary, (unlikely), the fun and challenge totally makes up for it.
The plan for 2015
$100,000 is way more revenue than $50,000, so how am I going to make it happen?
I can create products that people want and I know how to get attention and then convert that attention into sales. This is how I know I can hit my revenue goals this year. All I need to do is repeat what I did last year, plus a little more.
The beauty of selling products vs. my time is I won't have to put in twice as much effort to make twice as much money. It's more like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger with every revolution.
My plan to hit $100,000 is to:
- Build on the resources I have
- Do what I already know works
- Try a couple new tactics that I know have worked well for others.
What resources do I have?
- My biggest resource is my newsletter for web designers/developers, which is just shy of 10,000 email addresses.
- Two products, my book, and my Angular training course.
- An awesome freebie that I give away as a sweetener for signing up for my newsletter
- An amazing network of other entrepreneurs a lot like me
What has already worked for me?
My standard game plan can be divided into four pieces.
- Market research
- List building
- Product building
Each piece is important, but research is the foundation. It's how I know I'll make money if I execute the rest of the plan. If I did my research then even if I screw up the other steps, I'll still probably make money, just not as much. The method I use for doing market research is called Sales Safari, and it's taught in a class I took called 30x500.
For list building, my most effective tool has been content marketing. I write really, big, epic blog posts on topics I know my audience cares about, (because research), and ideally, closely related to one of my products. The closer it is to my product, the more sales I make.
These articles sometimes spread on their own, but most of the time I have to aggressively push them out to various link aggregating sites, people on twitter with lots of followers, topically related email newsletters, on and on. Guest posting is a great way to get writing in front of new people, and has worked well for me in the past. I need to do more of it.
This approach is the most predictably successful for me but the amount of effort that goes into one of these blog posts is massive. It's not unusual for me to spend a week full time creating this stuff. I don't always have that kind of time so I've experimented with other ways to do list building that use less of my time.
- Giveaways have been a useful tool for list building this year. I create a prize package of products related to my product and then use the King Sumo plugin to run the contest. (Interesting to note that this is the only form of paid advertising I've had any success with.)
- I experimented with content that is easier for me to create, like "ranty" posts or writing on higher level topics, anything but technical writing because technical writing is the hardest IMO. I also tried cheat sheets and big linked lists. These were hit or miss, but on average it has been a good approach.
- Sample material from my course and book also worked well for list building, and samples serve double duty because they are also part of the product. I can make progress on the product while also doing some list building. Two birds, one stone.
All of this list building is usually done with the intention of launching a product to my list. I have two products, the book and the video training course, and I've launched both of them multiple times.
Video is a little easier for me to do, but harder to update later, so a fast moving target like Angular is problematic. But overall video is still less time for me to put together and more valuable to some people, (depends on the person, not everyone likes video). If I do another product this year it will most likely be video.
This is why I created the Escape Plan umbrella for future video courses, because I figured I'd want to do more than one.
I'm working with some constraints
I set the goal at $100,000 instead of, say, $200,000 because I am working with some constraints.
I work four days a week
This year I became a dad. When Isaac was born, his mom went part time and goes to work one day a week. I opted to stay at home with Isaac on those days, so I've been working only 4 days a week since July. I will keep that schedule. I love my Isaac days.
Take 'er easy
I loathe deadlines. I don't like feeling busy or rushed. I refuse to be rushed if it's something I can control, and since I own my own company, that's true 99% of the time. In fact, I wouldn't set this goal of $100,000 if I thought it would stress me out, even a little. So I'll be working at a very easy pace with occasional sprints of productivity. This will not be a death march.
Exercise and my anxiety disorder
One thing I learned this year was that I have an anxiety disorder. This is probably why deadlines are my nemesis. I've had this problem since I can remember, but the combination of becoming a dad and then not sleeping for months, (which turns out is a pretty common combination of events), meant my anxiety was bad enough that I actually went to the doctor. I've never had to do that before. She told me I have an anxiety disorder, and gave me some pills to help me sleep.
The pills helped, but they have side effects, so I decided to get better without them. The best remedy for me was exercise, and a lot of it. My weekly schedule is 4-6 hours on my bike, two sessions of of weight lifting, two hours of yoga and I go out and run a mile as fast as I can 2-ish times. That's a big chunk of time, but if I slack, the insomnia/anxiety feedback loop creeps back in and I start feeling terrible again and not getting any productive work done.
Of course, I can back off on the exercise if Isaac decides to sleep more at night. But I can't ever back completely off, it's too risky for my business. I lost three solid months of productivity to the black hole of anxiety and insomnia this year. I can't afford to do that again.
We're going to Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer for two weeks, maybe more if we're having a ton of fun, which we usually do. We're also going to Arizona in February for two weeks. So I'm looking at at least a month of vacation time.
All of that adds up to: I don't have a ton of time. And I'm not going to make up for it by sacrificing sleep or by cutting corners and stressing myself out.
Bridging the gap to $100,000
If I made $50,000 this year and I do more of the same next year, I can expect to make a little more, but not much. Let's say $60,000 total. The question is how do I come up with the missing $40,000.
A while ago I did a big brain dump of things I can do to grow the business. I plan to knock out a few of these this year to help me hit my revenue goal, here's the list in order of priority:
- Live workshops for other people's email lists with product upsell and revenue share (more on this in a bit)
- A live version of my Angular class
- A free, "light" email course version of Sketching with CSS with upsells to the actual book.
- Paid advertising. other than giveaways
- Do another giveaway, but massively ramp up the prize and hoopla, plus maybe try to tie it in with some other marketing.
- Sponsored links in newsletters
- Actually track metrics from blog post to purchase
- SEO — a big black box I know nothing about and could probably help me grow my business
The "live workshop" idea is known in internet marketing circles as a "Joint Venture Webinar". I prefer to call it a free, live workshop, because that's what it is and it sounds less internet-market-y.
The idea is to reach out to other people with email lists related to my audience and run a live workshop for their lists. After the workshop is done, I'll run a time limited discount on the book or Angular course and split revenue with the email list owner. I know at least one person that has been killing it with this approach, (ahem Brennan Dunn), so I'm going to give it a try. I'll start with my list and then I've already started reaching out to other folks with email lists in my audience.
Holy cow, that's a lot of work
Yikes. It's going to be a busy and exciting year.
Wondering if I'll make it to $100,000?
I'll be writing more about my business in 2015 so you can check in on me and see if I hit my goal and how I did it.