Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

Tag: side project (Page 1 of 2)

featuredstartup.com

How I Created My Latest Side Project in 3 Hours for $13.24

I have had this side project idea for a while now, which combines my love for promoting early stage startups and my interest on hearing the stories on how they were inspired.

I spent a few hours last Sunday afternoon, in between household chores and playing computer games with my youngest child, putting together an MVP of it, to see how well received it would be. In this article, I share the tools which I used, and the process I went through.

Planning

Who needs detailed planning, when it’s just a side project? That’s not exactly true, however I knew this was just an MVP to gauge initial reactions to the idea, so I avoided doing much planning, outside of writing a few rough dot points to give me some direction.

Side project dot points

Side project dot points

Register a domain name

So this is where my big budget of $13.24 ended up being spent. I had noticed the featuredstartup.com domain name was available a while back, and took the plunge and bought it.

I have a terrible habit of buying domain names when I notice them, and I currently have a few dozen domain names already in my name, so I was quite proud I held off purchasing it until I actually needed it.

Featured Startup domain receipt

Featured Startup domain receipt

Set up hosting

I’m using Digital Ocean for these side projects. I have a bunch on there already, and it costs peanuts for a great server. 1Gb of RAM and 30Gb of SSD space costs me a total of $10 a month, and I have around 10 side projects in various stages hosted on it, with 29Gb of disc space spare.

Install WordPress

WordPress is literally the easiest CMS to get up and running; it takes all of five minutes before you are ready to add your first post. The best part is the trillion themes, plug ins and developer communities out there supporting WordPress already. It would be insane to choose anything else for this.

Find an appropriate WordPress theme

This is one of the most time consuming parts, because there are literally hundreds of places to find thousands of free and paid themes.

I wanted to find a theme that would work well with an interview style format in the individual posts, and a simple method to display the latest startups on the homepage. I ended up settling with the free version of Tracks.

Given this is literally the first incarnation of this site, if my previous projects have shown me something, it is likely I’ll change themes a few times until I am really happy.

Add my three favourite WordPress plugins

Every time I install WordPress, the first thing I tend to do is install the same three very useful plugins. They are;

Yoast SEO
This is a very useful plugin that provides you with a quick summary of how your SEO will look for a particular post, and makes suggestions on getting your content ready to rank well.

Insert Post Ads
I use this plugin to drop in a standard call to action (CTA) in the middle of blog posts, such as the subscribe box here on my blog.

Jetpack
This is the official WordPress plugin, created by Automattic, the people behind WordPress. It has a bunch of useful features, and the free plan tends to be enough for most side projects.

Create a form to collect responses

To avoid email ping pong and keep things easy for me, I created a survey form using Google forms.

The two main benefits with Google forms (besides being free) are that you can save the responses in a Google sheet, which is what I needed for the automation I wanted to do, and you can update the form questions at any time.

I have these survey responses being saved per line in a Google Sheet, so I can do some magic to save time, as per my next point.

Create automation magic

As mentioned, I wanted to do some automation magic with the form responses, so I hooked up Zapier to automatically grab the latest responses in my Google sheet and post them as drafts to WordPress, using this Zap.

This was the fun part. I know from previous experience, it can be very time consuming to copy and paste interviews and responses from an email thread, format it all nicely and consistently, and then plonk it into WordPress.

Using this Zapier recipe, means that as a new line appears in the Google Sheet (above), it automatically imports it into WordPress, formats it, and saves it as a draft for my review.

I can then tweak things, add an image and blockquote, etc in no time at all. Awesome!

Set up email marketing

I’ve been using Mailerlite for my own personal blog and a few other side projects, and I’m becoming a bigger fan every time I use it.

I created a simple email template which grabs the latest articles from the RSS feed, and sends them out once a day to subscribers.

Featured Startups email

Featured Startups email

Created a popup email form

The great thing with Mailerlite over similar email tools, is they provide an easy way to create a popup form in literally a few minutes, and then you just take the provided Javascript, and add it to the WordPress template. Voila!

Add an email subscribe form

As I mentioned earlier, I installed the very useful Insert Post Ads plugin, then I whipped up a quick subscribe box, so it appears in every interview.

Set up Twitter

As per usual, I created a Twitter account. I couldn’t get @featuredstartup which was frustrating, so I settled on @featurestartup which was close enough.

I actually cheated here slightly, renaming an existing yet dormant Twitter account I already had, and set up some quick branding.

Featured Startups Twitter account

Featured Startups Twitter account

You will notice there’s a nice image of a laptop showing the Featured Startup site, both in the header of the Twitter account and this blog post. Nope, that isn’t my laptop or coffee table. I created this image using a fantastic resource, called Magic Mockups, which allows you to import an image or URL, and place it on a variety of photographs of different devices and settings.

A little Twitter automation

Another cool Zapier zap is the ability to grab the Twitter username from the Google Sheet which stores my survey submissions, and send out a personalised thank you tweet.

Example automated tweet

Example automated tweet

In the example above, the @bobs username was taken from the sheet, along with the ‘Billys Bargains’ name. Neither of these are real, by the way. This was just a test to show the automation works before I start getting real submissions using the same workflow.

The Final Result

After around 2.5 to 3 hours of work, my latest side project is now live and ready for you to check out. Currently, Featured Startup will be posting a new startup every weekday. This may grow over time, depending on the volume of submissions and interest from readers.

Worst case, the site doesn’t get much interest and I’ll eventually just leave it stagnant. Best case, the startups I feature get plenty of new interest.

How to get your startup featured

If you take a look at the site, you’ll find out that in order to submit your own startup to be possibly featured on the site, you will need to join the mailing list, and visit some of the other startups that get featured.

Without giving all the fine details away, it is fairly trivial to see which subscribers are actively engaging with the emails, and the corresponding invitation links will only be sent to those subscribers with a certain minimum engagement score.

The purpose of this is to see if I can increase engagement, and make the selection process a little harder to stop the ‘drop a link and run’ types. I’ll report back later how this has worked.

Note: Both the Digital Ocean and Mailerlite links above are affiliate links. I get a small credit in my existing accounts (as do you), if you sign up from that link. This hasn’t influenced my mention of them; they are both awesome services in any case.

@StartupPerth on Twitter

Update on Micro News Service Startup Perth [20 Months]

Since way back in August 2015, I’ve been running what I call a ‘micro news service’ on Twitter, called Startup Perth. Whilst it has a single page website, all the activity happens on the Twitter account.

It was started to raise further awareness of Perth’s innovative companies. Startup Perth uses a combination of both automation, and manual checking once or twice a day, to share news and information about the Perth startup ecosystem. I wrote about it before, back on Promoting Perth Startups.

Over the last 19 months since it began, I’ve attracted 18,545 followers to the account, making it by far the most followed for Western Australian startup and innovation news. In fact, the nearest three Twitter accounts, added up, make up less than a third of the Startup Perth followers, so something about this account is doing well.

Similar twitter accounts
Startup News 3,034
Techboard 1,990
Startup WA 1,564

Some statistics
Followers 18,545
Tweets 3,879
Automated 1,951 tweets
Manual 1,928 tweets

So, what did it share? Well, it shared mostly news and announcements from Western Australian startups, including links to over 1,900 blog posts, 1,426 photos and videos, inspirational quotes and more.

Manual retweet example

Manual re-tweet example

The 1,928 manual tweets were me, typically re-tweeting something a local startup tagged the account in, or found on one of their feeds, such as the example above. At one minute per tweet, that’s taken me roughly 32.5 hours to do.

The tweet automation checks against 50+ startups that have blogs with RSS feeds, and then posts their latest blog post, with a link and hashtags, such as this example, below.

Automated tweet example

Automated tweet example

There were 50 RSS feeds being monitored, and out of those, five didn’t post anything in the last 20 months. There were another 38 feeds that were only tweeted between 1 and 84 times. That totals 883 tweets in total.

The top four feeds were posted 1,068 times alone, more than the rest of the list, combined. They were for the four biggest content producers in Perth (it seems), being;

Techboard
Startup News
Prezentt
6Q

The entire list of feeds that Startup Perth has been watching is at the footer of this post, for your perusal.

Time spent
As well as the 32.5 hours of manual re-tweeting and sharing, there was around 1-2 hours per month, checking feeds, answering questions, and other administration.

Outgoings
There were costs involved in doing this, mainly;

Domain name ($20 per year)
Hosting (sponsored by Bam Creative)
Automation ($20 per month)

All up, this side project has cost me in hard money, $440.00 in total.

Income
Absoutely nothing.

To be fair, I’ve never gone hunting for any sponsorship or support. In fact, it is a little perplexing for me how I should approach any sponsorship; what do they sponsor? I guess I could have a paid to be included feed, as long as the content was on topic, or a weekly/month ‘This feed supported by SPONSOR NAME’ type arrangement.

Future of Startup Perth
Having done all the above sums, spending 50 hours and $440 every 20 months for a side project that doesn’t give me any financial gain does seem a little daunting to continue. I do love helping fellow startups out, and never started with the plan of making this some profitable activity, though I would be keen to get something to cover costs.

At this stage, I rate the financial success of this side project a big fail, however I’m continuing for the meantime, whilst I ponder any future it may have. If you have any keen thoughts, or want to berate me for wasting my time, please comment below.

Companies being promoted
Here is the list of the 45 Perth startups who did get some content out, via their RSS feeds I am automatically monitoring. Well done for this lot getting some promotion out there.

Startups being promoted

Startups being promoted

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).

SubscribersWeekly emailTwice 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!

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!

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