Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

Perth city from Kings Park

Lessons and Data on Growing My Side Project

The three month deadline which I initially set for this $99 side project experiment is nearly here; in this article, I share my latest learnings from growing my side project with experiments, discuss financials and make decisions on where to go from here.

Quick background
A quick summary; I started a weekly curated growth marketing email as a side project at the start of this year, with a 3 month deadline and a budget of $99.

I have written a few times about what I have taken away from the project and some growth experiments, which are here;

Introducing My $99 Side Project for 2017
Growth Hacking Newsletter Side Project Update
My Weekly Curated Growth Marketing Email [Update 3]

Recent experiments
A combination of being busy with other work and wanting to see natural growth when I am not pushing it, has meant that I’ve not exerted myself too far with growth experiments over the last few weeks. I’ve had two experiments worth sharing though, posting on Medium and promoting using Quuu.

Publishing article with lead magnet on Medium
One activity I had imagined would work really well for me, was posting an article, 100 growth marketing articles you really should read, on Medium.

Article on Medium

Article on Medium

I spent a few hours and collated all the content I have sent so far, and put it in a Google sheet for new subscribers to download or use. Then I added a form at the footer of the article, using Upscribe to collect subscribers from within Medium.

Google Sheet

Google Sheet

So far, the article has had 430 views (which is okay), and 24 recommends (awesome!) however had only 8 new subscribers. That’s a lot of work for just 8 new subscribers.

The main reason for the lack of reads and new subscribers would definitely be that the growth.email Medium account has only 148 followers. In hindsight, I should have posted it on my own personal Medium account, which has 3,300 followers. A rookie mistake which I now regret.

Trying out Quuu
Quuu is an interesting service. They provide a cheap service to fill your social queue with related content, and also offer Quuu Promote, a service that you can pay to share your content (if it is approved).

I paid $30 to share my previous article on this side project, as a way to encourage people to this blog, and hopefully flow on to subscribing to growth.email. The campaign resulted in 467 shares and 108 clicks.

Quuu Promote results

Quuu Promote results

These results reaffirm something I’ve known for a while, which is many people share content without actually looking at it themselves.

As a cost per click exercise, the campaign cost me $0.28 per click ($0.06 per share), which is cheaper than the $0.38 per click on reddit, and way cheaper than the $20 per click on Facebook. The most affordable result so far with paid experiments growing my side project.

Tweeting more content
The growth.email Twitter account @thegrowthemail has been steadily building up an audience since it started 3 months ago. It now has 1,325 followers, and a large reason for that is the increase in the amount of content I have it sharing per day, using my favourite social media scheduling tool, Buffer.

It now tweets six times per day (up from 2-3 daily tweets a month ago), with many of the tweets being the articles I have curated within growth.email so far. The combination of specific content (growth marketing) and relevant hashtags has meant it is organically growing nicely.

Content curation workflow
As well as growing my side project, I have achieved more in curation workflow, now sorting my Feedly account into categorising content feeds better, so I am able to choose a spread of topics to review for inclusion. I have had a few people contact me asking if their articles can be included. I’ve reviewed their blogs and where appropriate I have added to my Feedly.

Categories in Feedly

Categories in Feedly

Chasing revenue
Because I took a sponsorship booking until the end of June, it has meant that I can’t sell any new sponsorships. I’ve had four enquiries come in, however I’ve shared the sponsorship calendar (a Google sheet) and asked them to wait for availability.

Big lesson here is to not take advertising bookings so far in advance. They were charged at sub 1,000 subscriber rates, and I now have over 1,500 great people on the list. I’m not taking sponsorship bookings more than six weeks ahead now.

The future
The side project has been great for me, building more connections in the growth marketing industry across the globe, and encouraging more readers to my blog here, and extra subscribers to my own email list.

The experiments have been enjoyable and interesting, and has reaffirmed my interest in sharing results of experiments, something I can’t normally do with client work.

Future financials
The financials moving forward are tricky to balance. The costs of email delivery means that a weekly frequency is difficult to maintain in the longer term, which explains why so many established newsletter businesses are daily or multiple sends per week.

Potential income
Say I send once a week, versus twice a week (assumption here is that I have every email sponsored at $25 per thousand subscribers).

Subscribers Weekly email Twice weekly email
1,500 $37.50 $75
2,500 $62.50 $125
5,000 $125 $250
10,000 $250 $500

Now, let’s look at my possible expenses (my curation software has recently announced a major shift in their pricing plans, so when I go over 2,000 subscribers I won’t be paying $8 a month anymore).

Pricing plans for Goodbits

Pricing plans for Goodbits

This means, that at 2,500 subscribers, I would earn $268.75 a month on weekly sends, or $537.50 on twice weekly sends. I would pay the same outgoings of $49 per month in either scenario. So, the estimated profit of either $219.75 (weekly) or $488.50 (twice weekly) per month.

So whilst we know the costs remain the same, the income can vary greatly depending on frequency and obviously, the amount of subscribers you have on your list. The 10,000 subscribers at twice a week means a monthly profit of $2,101 which would be a great result; a motivator in growing my side project.

Beyond the deadline
I am going to continue with growth.email past my initial deadline of 30 March, for at least another few months, and see what the subscriber growth curve looks like. Depending on how things progress growing my side project, it is possible that spending an hour or so a week curating interesting articles and emailing them out could be a worthwhile endeavour. It is still enjoyable and I like giving back to the community, so for now, it’s still a go from me.

If you haven’t yet, I would appreciate you signing up to growth.email – the content is high quality and it is easy to unsubscribe at any time, should it disappoint.

Old clock

How (& Why) You Should Find Time for Side Projects

I’m a strong believer in side projects. The work I have been doing on my $99 side project, and sharing the lessons with my readers is testament to that. I strongly believe we should all have a side project; designer, developer, writer, photographer, software engineer; just about anyone.

In this article, I cover my reasons why I feel side projects are great and share a few suggestions on where to create the time to do them.

The benefits of side projects
There are many benefits in doing side projects, including;

  • You get to try different workflows, software, try new things – you get to experiment.
  • They don’t have to provide you with a living. You can still eat if they fail.
  • You get to actively avoid skills decay.
  • They don’t have a deadline. And as there is no time pressure, you don’t revert to your usual formula.
  • You get to challenge yourself, trying out new things.
  • You get great satisfaction getting something working.

As an example, instead of just hosting the landing page for my growth.email side project, I purposely chose a different hosting provider, and had to install Apache, set up security, etc on my own. Sure, it turned into hours of work, instead of minutes but was personally gratifying when I completed it.

How to make time for side projects
I started writing this post in a Malaga cafe, whilst I was waiting 90 minutes for my 8 year old who is attending a nearby birthday party on a Sunday afternoon. I got some side project work done, wrote the beginnings of two blog posts and managed to get a mocha in.

I’m now finishing this post, the following night after dinner, on Monday evening. This is the sort of thing I regularly do – look for small opportunities between other responsibilities, such as housework, cooking and driving my kids around.

There are a number of things you can do, to set aside time for side projects.

Schedule time for side projects
I actually schedule my personal side projects in my calendar, so I get an alert. At the moment, I’m only spending about two evenings a week, as well as intermittent time elsewhere.

The way something gets done is by repeatedly allocating time to it. It doesn’t need to be five nights per week; whatever you set aside make sure you stick to it.

Stop watching television
I stopped watching TV a number of years ago, and it has given me so much additional time. I do have a Netflix habit, but at least I can watch what I want, when I have time (typically an evening per week), instead of being at the mercy of terrestrial broadcasters.

I’m amazed how much TV many people watch; the same people who then complain that they don’t have any spare time. These people do have spare time – they have decided to spend it unproductively, sitting on a couch.

Recent research shows that Australians watch on average, 1,095 minutes of television per week. That’s 219 hours, or nearly 10 days a year. That’s an insane waste of time.

Be picky with meetups and other events
I could easily attend 2-3 different startup and digital community events per week, if I accepted most mass invites. I enjoy going to them, there is great benefit in networking, however I also enjoy getting things done; maybe it’s just the introvert in me. I do my best to limit these to 1-2 per month instead.

Have a regular sleep pattern
I’ve suffered insomnia much of my life. I found the way to battle this, is to try and walk a fair amount every day, and go to bed and rise at the very same time. I have my watch remind me when it is 11pm, and I should be going to bed, and I am out of bed no later than 6am, every day of the year.

Keep a checklist for side projects
Just like your own day job, which no doubt has checklists and schedules, do the same with your side projects. Here’s a chance also to try different task management tools, or just keep a text document with your priorities.

Be frugal with your time
Be mindful of taking on too much stuff. Launch a lean MVP of your side project and slowly chip away at extending it. I am a true believer in Horstman’s corollary to Parkinson’s law, which states that work contracts to fit in the time we give it.

Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.

Make this year, the year of side projects – chip away at something until you’re satisfied, and then show the world. I look forward to seeing what you create. Best of luck!

Stars at Night

How to Regularly Promote Your Content in No Time at All

Sharing your content on social media is a surefire way to increase traffic to your blog or website, and help you promote your content. The problem is, most people post once, and then move on with their next article – therefore missing an awesome opportunity to continue to re-promote their still very relevant (evergreen) content.

In this post, I break down the absolutely easiest way to continually share your previous content, in a method that can take as little as five minutes a month, and bring your thousands of new visitors and shares.

Ingredients
You will need a few things before we get started.
A Buffer account
Plenty of non-time sensitive content
Wordpress (optional step)

The super-fast WordPress method
An absolutely quick way of exporting the titles and URL’s of every article you’ve ever written is the free plugin, List URLs, available for WordPress. It takes around 30 seconds to install, and then export a CSV file.

Simple exporting in WordPress

Simple exporting in WordPress

Collect all of your content
To promote your content, you will want to start by having a spreadsheet, with a column for the post title, the full URL, and related hashtags. Go through the sheet, and make sure all the encoding is right, and there are no strange characters.

Make sure this content is your best work, and is not time relevant. There is no point in promoting a blog post from two years ago, if it refers to something specific for that year, or is very out of date advice or knowledge.

For example, below is a sheet with most of the articles we’ve written for employee survey startup, 6Q. We have literally posted hundreds of articles over the last few years and most are great examples of evergreen content.

Your content spreadsheet

Your content spreadsheet

Choose the best hashtags
Hashtags, especially on Twitter, are a great way to encourage people to discover your tweets, and is a perfect method to promote your content. Tens of thousands of Twitter users every day search topics by hashtag, to find tweets and content worth engaging with.

So how do you know the best hashtags to use? I am a huge fan of Hashtagify, which makes finding appropriate hashtags very easy. You literally enter a seed keyword (in the example below, I used #contentmarketing) and then it uncovers other related hashtags that may suit.

Hashtagify

Hashtagify

So, we have now got a sheet with blog title, the full URL and a hashtag or two. Be careful to ensure the title and hashtags aren’t really long, as the old 140 character limit on Twitter may catch you out. Buffer will truncate the URL using your chosen URL shortener, so we can get away with lengthier lines at this point.

Prepare the file for use
Now export this sheet as a CSV (Most programs let you choose ‘Save as CSV’). You will now need to open this file in a text editor, and do two quick search and replace rules. First, remove the comma between the title and URL, and replace with a space. Next, replace the comma between the URL and hashtag, with another character space.

Save the file again, and you should end up looking something similar to the below.

CSV file of content links

CSV file of content links

Adding to Buffer in bulk
Now comes the best bit. Simply go to Bulk Buffer, connect to your Buffer account, and then upload the file. This will add these links to the end of your current schedule, so feel free to hit the Buffer shuffle button afterwards, to mix things up a bit, and promote your content along with your other content sharing.

Uploading using Bulk Buffer

Uploading using Bulk Buffer

Influencer engagement tip
If you have a file of other related articles that you’ve read and like, you can do the steps above, and append by @[username] to share their content. I’ve done this with all of the links I have shared in my growth marketing newsletter, as a second method of uncovering great content.

By sharing other peoples content, you are raising awareness with them that you exist too – before you know it, you may end up engaging with these influencers.

Here is an example tweet, where I’ve shared other content, which appeared in my growth.email newsletter, using my own personal Twitter account.

Example tweet using this method

Example tweet using this method

Regularly promote your content
In a few minutes a month, I have shown you how to promote your content over and over, with little effort and for free. Add to the CSV over time, and keep using Bulk Buffer to re-upload and top up your schedule every month.

Find this article useful? If you want to show appreciation, here’s a CSV file of a handful of my articles (including this one), which I’d appreciate you using the above method to share.

Boorna Waanginy, Kings Park

My Weekly Curated Growth Marketing Email [Update 3]

I’m back with the third update about my little side project, growth.email. If you haven’t kept up, here’s the previous articles I have written about this journey.

Introducing My $99 Side Project for 2017
Growth Hacking Newsletter Side Project Update

Given it has been a few weeks since my last post, and we are at the halfway mark of my original 3 month deadline, I want to share what I’ve been doing to attract new subscribers, and then provide an update on the subscriber and financial objectives again.

Video fame
I uploaded a short video on YouTube, showing me scrolling up and down a recent issue, as a way to capture potential interest from people searching on related topics on YouTube. Since 11 January, it has been viewed 1,369 times which is fantastic.

Reddit ad

Reddit ad

Tried advertising on Reddit
I ran a small $10 ad campaign on Reddit, specifically targeting these subreddits;
/r/Entrepreneur
/r/growmybusiness
/r/Growth_Hacking
/r/marketing
/r/SideProject
/r/smallbusiness
/r/startup
/r/startups
/r/startup_marketing

Reddit ad stats

Reddit ad stats

It ended up costing me 38.5 cents per click, which although is possibly cheaper than some platforms, wasn’t as good as I had hoped. The fact only 14.46% of these subscribed, means it cost me $2.66 per subscriber, which isn’t good.

If you want to consider running ads in various subreddits, redditlist.com has a handy list of the most populated subreddits, which makes life much easier.

Posted a Top 20 list on Medium
Medium is a great place to discover content, with their tagging navigation, links to related articles in the footer of each post, and a huge community of people interested in start-ups, entrepreneurship and self development.

So, I looked through the click rates off the first four issues, collated the top 20 articles, and posted them as an article on Medium, tagging as many of the link writers as I could find, with Medium accounts.

I was fortunate to have Andrew Chen tweet a link to this, which resulted in around 50 new visitors, of which around 50% of these signed up to the newsletter as a result.

Andrew Chen tweet

Andrew Chen tweet

Hunted on Product Hunt
Thanks to my buddy, Chris Messina, I had growth.email hunted on Product Hunt. Chris kindly posted it after I reached out to him, and the traffic was immediate.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

You can take a guess which spike was Product Hunt. That was by far the biggest contributor to new subscribers in the entire project lifetime of seven weeks.

Tracking goals in Google Analytics
One of the more important takeaways I have for you, is to ensure that you use the Goals feature in Google Analytics, to see how many visitors complete an action. There are plenty of blog posts out there, to show you how.

GA Goals by Source

GA Goals by Source

The above shows you the goals completed (that is, visitors signing up to subscribe) attributed to the source they came from. The average was 30.55% of visitors subscribe, which means 69% take a look and leave – that’s big room for improvement.

The best conversion rate was from a link I put in a Yammer community I belong to, at 44%, and the least was traffic from StumbleUpon, which is well known for 1 second visits, and no conversions at all. Visitors from my own blog subscribed 37.6% of the time, so thank you!

Spoke at Morning Startup
I was honoured to be invited to speak at Morning Startup, a fortnightly event here in Perth for the startup ecosystem. I had a great time putting together some slides about the project so far, and Jurgen from Niche Interview was kind enough to record a video of it. You can watch the talk I gave, however a warning: it is about 45 minutes long.

Book Giveaway experiment
As an experiment, I offered to give away a signed copy of my published book, The Principles of Successful Freelancing, during my Morning Startup talk to one new subscriber in the room. I had 14 people sign up during the 45 minute talk, so that’s not something I’ll repeat, given the $40 price tag of the book means it cost me $2.86 for each new subscriber from that test.

Add animated gif to success page
Since I migrated my email database from Campaign Monitor, to Mailchimp to reduce costs (Mailchimp give you 2,000 subscribers for zero cost), I noticed a slight drop in successful new subscribes.

It is well known that any double opt-in subscription flow has a significant drop off rate, between completing the form, and actually clicking the confirmation link in the resulting email. To help reduce that with growth.email, I used a free tool to whip up a super quick little animated GIF, which I use on the success page which is shown once you submit the form.

Animated GIF showing double opt-in

Animated GIF showing double opt-in

How did I go with objectives?
Now, let’s take a look at the growth I have managed so far.

Subscribers
Back in the first article, I mentioned that my minimum target was 500 subscribers, and a stretch goal was 1,500, so 500 new subscribers a month.

Well, at the halfway point towards the deadline of 31 March, I’ve managed to attract 1,164 subscribers so far. Thank you to everyone who has signed up!

Financial
As you know, I started with a budget of $99 for both setting up and maintaining the project for three months.

Well, so far I have spent $81.25 in total, which includes advertising on Facebook, advertising on Reddit, two domain names (I bought growthemail.com recently), email software and hosting.

However, I’ve done really well on the sponsorship front, having pre-booked all the advertising until the end of June! That’s an incredible $331, including the sponsorship income to date.

Financials for growth.email so far

Financials for growth.email so far

The only issue with allowing advertising so far in advance, is that once I go over 2,000 subscribers, Mailchimp will start charging me, and the Goodbits monthly fee goes from $8 to $25 per month (for up to 10,000 subscribers).

It means, let’s say 5,000 subscribers, I’ll be paying $92.13 per month, and making $64 per month in sponsorship. Lesson learned; I’ll not take sponsorship bookings at today’s subscriber totals for more than 6 weeks in advance.

An ideal CPM (cost per thousand subscribers) seems to be around the $25 per thousand mark, so 5,000 should net $125 per week, once we’re past June.

Moving forward
I’ve got some other experiments I wish to try, and a few thoughts on different models too. I’ll post an update on 3-4 weeks time, meanwhile if you haven’t yet signed up, please take a look at growth.email, thanks!

New York Subway 2012

Growth Hacking Newsletter Side Project Update

It has been a three weeks now since I first wrote about my $99 side project, the weekly growth hacking newsletter, growth.email, and it has been a great month so far.

Let’s go through what I have done to “move the needle” on growth.email, share some lessons and look at the current subscriber counts and spend.

Website changes
You would assume the majority of people that hit the single page which is purely focussed on the goal of subscribing to my growth hacking newsletter, wouldn’t need some form of extra reminder, yet we know that it’s worth trying.

Popup Subscribe Form

Popup Subscribe Form

With this in mind, I added a pop-up subscribe widget on the growth.email website. GetSiteControl offers all their widgets for one website and one user free, which makes them an obvious choice for a very lean side project.

GetSiteControl statistics

GetSiteControl statistics

As you can see, it turns out some people do need that pop-up nag reminder as well. The widget is set up for ‘exit intent’, so it only appears when your mouse moves towards the browser top. The downside of services like this, is they often save subscriber details in their own system, like GetSiteControl does.

The way around this, is to use a free Zapier account, and hook up a zap to import the subscribers from GetSiteControl straight into Campaign Monitor.

This means I never need to bother grabbing a list from different sources, and potentially messing my subscriber data up.

Single versus double opt-in
I’m a fan of single opt-in, for the fact that it just reduces the barriers to people signing up (who wants to have to wait for an email and click a link?), however I got spammed with about 100 email subscribers all from the same domain in a few hours, so I quickly changed to double opt-in and removed those spammy accounts.

Facebook advertising
Now, on to some bad news. My $20 spend on a promoted post on Facebook was a waste of precious budget. As you can see from the image below, whilst I got 1,449 impressions, only 41 people interacted with the ad, and a very sad 1 link click, which was the goal I had for the boosted post.

Facebook boosted post statistics

Facebook boosted post statistics

I don’t know if it was the ad creative, (the image of me and the words), the target audience I chose, or maybe I should have chosen a Lead Ad instead of a Boosted Post. The thing is, this is all experiments, right, so I need to accept this as a lesson.

Republished content
I republished my last blog post on Medium as well as on LinkedIn Pulse.

Medium produced 70 reads, and 12 recommends to date, and LinkedIn got me 234 views, 30 likes, 2 shares and 10 comments, which was awesome. The difference on the performance between both platforms would also relate to the difference in my connections/followers on them. I have a larger audience on LinkedIn of 11,067 connections, whereas I have a much smaller 3,200 followers on Medium.

LinkedIn article statistics

LinkedIn article statistics

I do know that Medium really helps uncover new content, using their tagging features, and my previous experience with Medium shows a far healthier ‘long tail’, whereas LinkedIn tends to get all the reads in a few days, and then really tapers off to near zero (as shown in the image above).

As a result, I have an expectation that Medium will produce better results than LinkedIn over the next few months – especially on a topic like a growth hacking newsletter, and a side project.

I have validation!
A couple of days ago, I received the following Tweet.

Tweet with sponsor interest

Tweet with sponsor interest

That’s right – someone approaching me about sponsorship. I didn’t expect that so early in this project.

I got back to Gregg, and over email we settled on the cost of sponsorship as being $6 an issue (My rationale is that the nearest similar newsletter has 11,000 subscribers and charges $149), so applying the same rate to 431 subscribers, that’s $5.83. There are a few differences between my newsletter and the other one. The first being that it is founder focussed, not growth hacking, so a slightly different audience. The second, they run three ads in each issue, whereas I am only doing one.

Gregg has a great side project, which he is advertising in growth.email called SendView, which fits my audience perfectly. Using SendView (first email address is free), you can get detailed statistics on competitors mailing lists. Instead of emails that you sign up to going to your inbox, with SendView they get parsed into dashboards of analytics, giving you insights into how they send.

Gregg has signed on for 5 issues, so please support him by checking his product out.

Subscriber numbers
I’m pleased to say that my subscriber numbers are past the minimum target I set as 500 (see previous post to see my goals).

A huge compliment
I had Randy Rhode get in touch with me, to say “You inspired me with your post a few weeks ago about having a $99 Side Project. I thought that was a great idea and started thinking about what I could do. So, taking your lead – I decided I could do a web site and email as well. My niche is Youth Hockey – from the perspective of a Parent NEW in the world of Hockey. After doing a bit of research, I’ve realized there’s not a lot of information out there for someone in my position – a son who recently decided to play hockey – and a Dad who has no background in the sport.”

I am so pleased that my $99 side project concept has encouraged Randy to have a crack as well. As Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance, once said; “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” I’m hoping that your side project, http://DadsHockeyTalk.com, takes off, Randy!

You, dear reader, can get involved too – start something small as a side project, and use the posts I am writing to help move your side project along (Oh, and please let me know about it!).

Summary
I am pleased to say I now have 539 subscribers, and every week the subscriber list is growing, and feedback to the content has been great. It goes to show an independent growth hacking newsletter is something people are looking for.

As for the financials, I have had my first revenue (Thanks Gregg!) so our numbers now look like this.

Outgoings
$17.61 set up costs (domain, hosting & goodbits)
$20.00 Facebook ad
$9.90 Campaign Monitor (for auto-responders)
$47.51 total

Income
$30.00 (sponsorship income)
$30.00 total

Net position
-$17.51 loss

I want to reinvest the $30 sponsorship income back into the project, so I have more money to try other small experiments to build subscribers. That means that I now have $81.49 in budget remaining, to keep it within my original $99 budget.

My fixed monthly costs are $20.40 which means I’ve got enough runway to last until my three month mark, if I play it safe. I’ll update again in a few weeks time with the latest status on my little growth hacking newsletter, growth.email – meanwhile do me a favour, and sign up to it, if you haven’t yet?

Page 1 of 57

Words & Images © 2005-2016, Miles Burke. All rights reserved.