Our Monthly Report – December 2014
Welcome to our Monthly Business Report for December, 2014.
While we usually cover monthly numbers, seeing as this is the end of the year, we’ll also be covering our annual numbers in this report. We’ll go into even more depth in this report to give you an inside look into where our business is at and where it’s going.
Our hope is that this report encourages, inspires, and helps you as you build your online empire.
We bounced back from an awfully low October and fairly average November with our best month ever in terms of websites sold. It’s possible this was a one-off for us, but in looking at our current listings and those coming down the pipeline, I think we’re in for a pretty exciting Q1 in 2015 and I’m expecting the trend to continue.
Here’s a look at all of our revenue streams over time:
And those same revenue streams with our outsourcing company removed:
- Employees: 8
- Apprentice: 1
- Contractors: 2
- Contact Records: 24,467 (+1,595 from previous month)
- Email Subscribers: 15,621 (+1,262)
- Site Visits: 23,205 (-167)
- Brokered Site Sales: $312,761.60 (+$179,430.05)
- Brokered Site Earnings: $43,708.76 (+$24,203.01)
- Listing Fees: $2,473.00 (-$642.00) 8 new, 1 returning
- Our Sites Sold: $0.00 (-$1,803.00)
- Outsourcing: $575.14 (+$75.14)
- Additional Revenue: $871.62 = ($105.36 AdSense) ($836.46 Affiliates) ($35.16 Niche Guide)
TOTAL Revenue: $47,628.52 (+$21,731.59)
And here’s a look at our entire company for the year.
- Contact Records: 24,467 (+11,509 from 2013) – Up 89%
- Email Subscribers: 15,621 (+5,878) – Up 60%
- Site Visits: 289,002 (+51,155) – Up 22%
- Brokered Site Sales: $1,705,747.66 (+$1,434,294.17) – Up 528%
- Brokered Site Earnings: $254,183.77 (+$211,906.95) – Up 501%
- Products + Listing Fees: $42,060.24 (-$78,029.76) – Down 65%
- Our Sites Sold: $30,922.60 (-$10,018.20) – Down 24%
- Outsourcing: $146,209.64 (-$199,054.64) – Down 58%
- Additional Revenue: $23,360.70 (-$32,734.90) – Down 58%
TOTAL Revenue: $496,736.95 (-$107,930.55) – Down 18%
Ok, so we know how the gross numbers turned out. Let’s take a look at each line item and see how they shaped up for the month/year.
Brokered Site Revenue
This was a killer month for us. We sold a total of $312,761.60 worth of websites and brought in $43,708.76 worth of revenue. (This beat our previous best month in September of just over $266K)
This turned out great – we were actually bracing for what we figured would be a quiet month. The best thing about having a great December is that it puts us in a great position to put that additional money to work heading into 2015. We’ll take the additional profits from the month and explore new marketing channels so that we can continue to ride the wave.
Joe and Mike were really hustling in November and early December by reaching out to interested buyers, quickly getting new sites listed, etc. We knew the end of December would likely be shit, so we put ourselves on a deadline to get as much business as we could get done by December 20th and the strategy really paid off. Forcing a deadline on ourselves brought about a (manufactured) sense of urgency that really helped our business.
With $1,705,747.66 worth of websites sold, we crushed our previous numbers in 2013. We were really hoping to break $2M this year in sales, but our slower months in Oct/Nov kept that from happening, unfortunately.
We have a great trajectory for 2015, though, and I think we have a good shot at selling more than $3M worth of websites this year.
Here’s a look at our all-time numbers for brokered websites:
And a look at our month-by-month growth that led us here:
Here’s a final look at our average sales per month that’s really encouraging:
- Average of $25K in sales per month for Jul-Dec 2013
- Average of $103K in sales per month for Jan-Jun 2014
- Average of $181K in sales per month for Jul-Dec 2014
I’d love to see us break the $250K/$350K mark in 2015.
Keep in mind that the tremendous growth we’ve had in this area has come at the expense of other aspects of our business. (To the point of bringing in LESS gross revenue in 2014) Why, then, are we happy with this change? We’ll get into that a bit more below.
Website Listing Fees
We saw a slight drop-off in submitted listings for December, dropping the revenue down to $2,473.00.
- 8 First-time listings @ $2,376.00
- 1 Repeat listing @ $97.00
This was significantly less submissions than we had in November if you consider the reduced listing price from the Black Friday sale, but the quality of the sites was much improved and I doubt we’ll be discounting the listing price again any time soon.
Keep in mind that this is only accounting for listings that actually made it through and passed the vetting process. We had a total of 20 submissions in December, of which only 9 made it through vetting. (The rest were not accepted and refunded)
We have offered free listings, but only in very specific cases or situations. (Empire Workshop attendees, for example) As a general rule, the listing fee acts as a deterrent against crappy sites, less-than-honorable sellers, etc.
We took a hit in revenue here, but only because we’re comparing this to our Products & Services sold in 2013. (KW Research, Starter Packs, Content Packages, etc.)
We’ve been a bit weak in tracking some of the numbers here – something we need to improve in 2015. Some of the questions I’d like to have answered:
- What percentage of submissions are actually approved?
- What’s the average $ amount of approved listings? Non-approved listings?
- What’s our average $ per listing Vs. the actual sales price?
This isn’t as easy to track as I’d like, considering the amount of disparate 3rd party tools and spreadsheets we use. We’re tracking quite a bit of data, but having it all in separate locations makes it relatively difficult to put together in a useful way.
I wish their was a (reasonably priced) consultant we could bring in to help with this, but I’m guessing this is just something I’ll have to put my head down on and work out. I’ve already started yet another spreadsheet that tracks:
- Total seller submissions
- $ Total of submissions
- # of submissions actually listed
- $ of submissions actually listed
- # of listings sold
- $ of listings sold
If we can track those numbers every month that should give me a pretty good shot at answering the questions above. It will also help me track over time whether we’re accepting more/less submissions for listing, whether we’re denying large/small deals, etc.
Our additional revenue has continued to decline as we drop our software and side projects to focus on the marketplace. We still have some affiliate links sprinkled in our old content, but I can’t remember the last time I added one. It may actually be worth having someone go through and add affiliate links to older content at some point – something we should take a look at. Even if it’s not likely to earn us much, if it were able to bring in another $2K per month, it would probably be worth a few days of effort, eh?
I’m expecting our investor program to bring in some additional revenue in 2015, but I’ll likely just create a new section to track that separately rather than including here. I’ll keep this running for the odds-and-ends revenue that isn’t easily applied elsewhere.
Traffic And Audience
Here’s a peek at our blog traffic, podcast downloads, and email list for the month and year.
Blog Traffic & Analytics
Traffic was almost the same as the previous month with 23,205 visits:
We had a healthy split of 57% New / 43% Recurring visitors.
Here’s a look at our top content for December:
Here’s a look at our top referral sources and all goal conversions for December:
You can really see the success of our Facebook marketing here. We’ve been cross-posting some of our listings to BizBuySell to help them get even more exposure and to get our brand in front of new customers.
We’re up 22% overall with website traffic in 2014 as compared to 2013, bringing in 289,002 visits and 707,258 pageviews.
While I like the current mix between new/returning visitors, I’d like to see our new visitors closer to 70% in 2015. I think this will be possible as we spend more on customer acquisition and put ourselves in front of new audiences.
Here’s a look at our top content for 2014:
While it’s no surprise to see our marketplace at the top of the list, it’s interesting when you compare the traffic it received in 2014 Vs. 2013. (148K Vs. 60K) While our overall site traffic only improved by 22%, our marketplace traffic improved by a whopping 147%. It’s a sign that we’re successfully transitioning ourselves from a content-focused brand with a marketplace to a marketplace-focused brand with some content!
Here are some of the most visited content pages in 2014:
AdSense Account Disabled – What to Do?
We’ll continue to add more useful content and blog posts through 2015, although I’m going to beat myself up a little less about not putting out as much content as I’d like.
Here’s a look at our top referral sources for 2014:
The standout and clear winner for us this year was Facebook. We’ll be continuing to test out different paid strategies and growing our FB marketing channel and budget in 2015.
We had some interesting traffic come in from other blogs:
Niche Pursuits – Big thanks to Spencer for the mentions and support throughout the year. Damn, that guy gets a ton of traffic!
Tropical MBA – Love our buddies Dan and Ian. If you’re building a bootstrapped online business and only have one podcast you can listen to, this is it.
Cloud Living – Tung is an absolute superstar. I fully expect Joe and I to be working for this guy in the next 10-20 years after he takes over the world!
Jet Set Citizen – We didn’t get a ton of traffic from John’s site, but we converted 34 of 336 visitors to email subscribers. Wow, super high conversions there!
Entrepreneurs Journey – Similar story with an interview I did with Yaro Starak – 11%+ of visitors converted to email subscribers. Sweet!
And some referral traffic from communities/forums:
Warrior Forum – I like what the guys are trying to do with the new/improved WF, but I’m not sure I can stand hanging around there very often. :-(
Reddit – I browse Reddit for fun, but there are some interesting conversations about business that go down. I think I’ll spend more time there in 2015.
Black Hat World – Much like the WF, I’m not sure communities like this are best for outreach at this point. I’d much rather spend the money on an ad here rather than spending time.
Dynamite Circle – Still my favorite community but being in Saigon, I’d rather just hang out in-person. :-)
We dropped down a bit with podcast downloads in December, pulling in 12,137 for the month.
We skipped publishing an episode on Christmas, but I still would have expected higher numbers.
I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling as it relates to podcasts. This American Life has a great resource page on storytelling and I’ve been following along Alex Blumberg’s StartUp Podcast for some tips as well. I think publishing a show like this would be awfully rewarding, but the work and effort required is daunting. I’ve considered creating a new show that’s more experimental, but I’ve always put it off, thinking it would distract from our core business objectives.
We finished the year with 180,420 downloads – down 22% from 2013.
That’s a pretty clear decrease and you can see the show just hasn’t done as well in the second half of the year.
I’m not really sure what to make of these figures. We’re selling more websites and expanding our margins, but I think we might have maximized this channel – at least in its current form.
I’d like us to be a bit more consistent with making sure we publish each week and our time of publishing. Other than that, I’m viewing these numbers as a sign I’m free to start experimenting a bit more with the show.
Here are some of the popular shows from 2014:
EFP 84: Reviewing 6 Established Website Profit Models – 4,361 downloads
EFP 93: Killer Process For Profitable Website Purchases (With Justin Gilchrist) – 4,784 downloads
EFP 100: Lessons Learned Building Million Dollar Empires – 4,281 downloads
EFP 108: Anatomy Of A $200K Website – 3,760 downloads
EFP 112: Screw The Nine To Five – 3,351 downloads
EFP 121: Creating A Dropship Lifestyle (With Anton Kraly) – 2,723 downloads
Emails & Contacts
Our contact records are up to 24,467 as of Dec 31st, up around 1,595 from the previous month.
We’re up to 15,621 email subscribers – up 1,262 from the previous month.
These numbers have been on a fairly linear climb since we started collecting emails back in 2011.
We saw a dramatic decline in the % of natural/organic subscribers with our less in-your-face redesign, but we’ve counter-balanced that with a higher volume of After Offers subscribers. It’s likely that we’re going to reach a point in 2015 where we’ve had as many unsubscribers as subscribers. (i.e. 20K email subscribers and 40K contact records)
I’d like to increase the growth rate to our email list through paid traffic. I think we’ve got a great opportunity for this with sellers and the Valuation Tool, but I’d like to have a great email/lead funnel on the buyer side as well – something we’ll work on this year.
The experience our customers have when doing business with us is important and part of the reason we track our successes and failures on this report. Going through the process of highlighting some of our successes and failures ensures that we’re looking at the overall experience our customers are having and it gives us opportunities to improve that experience.
We’ve seen a slight improvement with our Zendesk metrics.
Here’s a look at December’s numbers:
Vs. November’s numbers:
We’ve improved our average response time from 6 hours to 4.3 hours and our satisfaction rating from 95% to 98%. While I’m happy to see that, you also have to consider the fact that we had 20% less tickets in December.
While I’m not able to pull more than 90 days at a time, I think it helps to look at where we were in Q1 2014:
We started the year at:
- 18.5 hour response times (with 21% of tickets taking longer than 24 hours)
- 94% customer satisfaction rating
- Averaging 160 tickets per month
Looking at Q4:
We’ve improved to:
- 5.3 hour response times (with 4% of tickets taking longer than 24 hours)
- 96% customer satisfaction rating
- Averaging 424 tickets per month
I also noticed that neither Joe nor I were in the Top 5 when it came to solved tickets in Q4:
It’s nice to see we’ve pulled ourselves out of the process and have improved.
Great job, team!
In December, we had a total of 19 “Good With Comment” messages left in support and 1 “Bad With Comment” message.
Here’s a comment from a happy buyer:
And one from a happy seller:
Here’s one from a depositor who was happy to note that we didn’t hassle him regarding a refund:
And a bad comment from another non-customer:
He really wanted to see the site without paying a deposit, but our answers weren’t giving him what he wanted.
For the most part, the feedback we’ve had this year has been really helpful. Many of the recommendations have either been put in place or are in the works. We still have improvements to make, but I’m happy with the growth we’ve had in customer support and I’m sure it will serve us well as we scale in the new year.
What We’ve Accomplished In 2014
Even though our gross revenue was down around 18%, we’re pretty happy with how things turned out in this transitional year. We even managed to pull out a bit more profit than 2013. There are a few reasons for this:
- We sold our low-margin, heavy-cost outsourcing business
- We grew our high-margin brokerage business by 500%+
- None of our customers make up more than 10% of our business
- We’re no longer the middle-man and serve our end customers directly
- We have a team-wide, singular focus on helping website buyers, sellers, and investors
In 2012/2013 our time was split between the outsourcing company, software project distractions, etc. Now that we’ve divested ourselves of everything else, we can go all-in with our core business.
We ended up meeting most of the goals we laid out in our last annual report:
Become The #1 Provider Of Profitable Sites For Sale In The $10K – $100K Range In 2014
This was probably the most important and aggressive goal we set for 2014. Keep in mind that, at the time we mentioned this, we’d only sold around $270K worth of brokered sites – a handful of sites compared to where we are today.
I think we did really well in positioning our company as the go-to for sites in this range. Maybe too well.
It made targeting sites above that range difficult.
“Hey, you guys only sell sites up to $100K, right?”
It’s really hard to say whether limiting ourselves from $10K – $100K was the right/wrong move. It made it much easier to focus in and dominate that subset of listings, but it’s been challenging trying to grow beyond those self-imposed limitations too.
So…did we accomplish this goal? I think so.
I see our company popping up in threads and discussions about where to sell your site all the time. People we don’t even know are recommending us to others regularly. When I look at other brokers I see that most of their listings are much more expensive – often $500K or more.
The company that stood to lose from this was Flippa, but most of their revenue is based on volume. They sell a TON of websites for less than $1K. (along with domains + apps) While I’m sure we’ve taken a chunk away from them in this category, they’re doing plenty of deals below this range so i doubt we had much of an impact on their bottom line.
Here are some of the other goals we laid out:
- Redesign/Rebrand – Done. We’re loving how it turned out!
- Revamping Our Marketplace – Done. This came with the redesign, but we still have some changes to finish up to the listing pages.
- Creating Tools – Done. We launched our Valuation Tool successfully, but didn’t put out anything else.
- Hired A Marketplace Manager – Done. We’re actually splitting this role into two in 2015. (Sales Vs. Support)
- Selling Our Outsourcing Company – Done. Kinda. We sold it, but not for nearly as much as we thought we’d get. (Details here)
Some of the other things we did in 2014:
- Sold Off Or Gave Away Almost EVERYTHING Else – Products & Services, IntelliTheme, niche sites…all gone.
- Started Empire Workshops – Ran workshops in Asia and the US to explain the process of buying/selling websites to others.
- Hit The Road In SE Asia – We’re no longer based in the Philippines and have been traveling around for workshops and steak dinners.
We have quite a few things planned for 2015, but rather than extending this report even longer, I’d like to share those goals with you and walk you through our process for holding quarterly strategy meetings. We have one planned for later this week!
That’s it for our December monthly report and 2014 wrap-up – thank you for checking it out! Please feel free to share if you think others might find it useful too:
“Monthly Business Report and Annual Wrap-up for 2014 from the @empireflippers!”
Thank you and we wish the best to you and your business in 2015.