Justin Cooke

February 24, 2015

Welcome to our Monthly Business Report for January, 2015.

After our best month ever in December, we’ve dropped back down into more normal territory in January. We’re happy with how things turned out, but will have some catching up to do if we expect to hit our goals for the quarter.

You’ll see that the vast majority of our revenue comes from the deals closed on our marketplace from both website buyers and sellers. This will remain our core offer through 2015 and we thank all of our customers that choose us as their trusted partner when it comes time to sell their business or acquire a website.

We’ll get into all the nitty-gritty details but first, let’s take a look at the overall numbers for the month of January.

Our hope is that this report encourages, inspires, and helps you build your online empire.

Executive Summary

After an amazing $300K+ month in December, we’re hoping to keep $200K+ per month the norm as we head into 2015. I think this should be easier to do now that we’ve got quite a bit of inventory and plenty of new submissions and listings coming down the pipeline.

Here’s a look at all of our revenue streams over time:EF Chart No Outsourcing

 

January 2015

Business Data:

  • Employees: 7
  • Apprentice: 1
  • Contractors: 1
  • Contact Records: 26,055 24,467 (+1,588 from previous month)
  • Email Subscribers: 16,761 (+1,140)
  • Site Visits: 30,083 23,205 (+6,878)

Earnings:

  • Brokered Site Sales: $218,846.91 (-$93,914.69)
  • Brokered Site Earnings: $30,205.87 (-$13,502.89)
  • Listing Fees: $5,734.00 (+$3,261.00) 20 new, 2 returning
  • Our Sites Sold: $0.00 ($0.00)
  • Outsourcing: $0.00 (-$575.14)
  • Additional Revenue: $1,103.68 = ($416.06 Affiliates) ($27.62 Niche Guide) ($660.00 Services)

TOTAL Revenue: $37,043.55 (-$10,584.97)

Revenue Breakdown

Alright, so that’s a look at our overall numbers. Let’s dig into the details and look at the breakdown to better understand how everything played out.

Brokered Site Revenue

We had another strong month in January with $218,846.91 in sales and $30,205.87 in revenue for our company.

We’re happy with how the month played out, but know that we’ll have some catch-up to do if we want to hit our goal of $750K for Q1. If we can end up around $250K in Feb and close to $300K in March we’ll be on track.

Here’s a look at our all-time sales for brokered websites:

EF Marketplace All Time

And our month-by-month report:

EF Marketplace MonthlyFor the first time ever, we’ve noticed a trend where our inventory is outpacing purchases. This probably has to do with some heavy seller-focused content and marketing we’ve been doing over the last 3-6 months that’s finally starting to pay off. This is a good thing – we can only sell as much as the inventory we have available – but it definitely leads to more of a buyer’s market than a seller’s market and it seems the pendulum has swung.

We’ve already begun ramping up efforts on the buyer’s side of the equation by beefing up our ad spend, deeper distribution of our listings on 3rd party platforms, and more personalized attention towards depositors and website buyers. We’re also pretty confident that our investor program can pick up some of the slack on the buyer side.

Website Listing Fees

We had an excellent month for new listings in January, more than doubling our revenue and pulling in $5,734.00.

  • 20 First-time listings @ $5,540.00
  • 2 Repeat listings @ $194.00

We normally downplay the listing fee as it’s such a small percentage of our overall revenue, but it was much more significant for us in January.

We’ve been working with our team to improve the vetting process and have been able to increase efficiencies, correct errors, etc. At this point, Joe’s role is becoming more of a bottleneck – something we’re hoping to improve when the new apprentice arrives.

Our Valuation Tool continues to be a big lead driver for us here and has done remarkably well in attracting new sellers to our marketplace. It’s a perfect tool when we combine it with paid traffic and our ROI there has been incredible. We continue to work with Vincent Nguyen who has now setup a service for this over at Growth Ninja.

Additional Revenue

Most of the affiliate revenue came from sales of Long Tail Pro and a few other products we’ve mentioned on EF. I haven’t added any affiliate links for over a year, but some of our old content still drives this revenue.

I’m not particularly sure where the $660.00 came from. Our bookkeeper included a line item, “Reimbursed Fees, Site Sales” and so I’ve included it here as miscellaneous revenue.

Investor Program

After reviewing the program for months, Joe, Mike, and I have finally taken some steps to start rolling this out in 2015. The program is currently closed and we have a small list of high net worth investors we’ll be working with to test this out in the coming months. While we don’t have any earnings in January, I’ve included this section as we should start to see some growth here by the end of Q1.

Traffic And Audience

Here’s a peek at our blog traffic, podcast downloads, and email list for January.

Blog Traffic & Analytics

We crushed it with traffic in January, bringing in 30,083 visits – nearly 30% growth over the month before.

GA Overall Jan 2015

While some of that was due to our paid FB traffic, we’ve also noticed significant improvements in the rankings for some of our targeted keywords. We’d made some effort 4-6 months ago to improve our internal SEO and it looks like some of that work is starting to pay off. Not only have we seen improvements in our organic traffic, but we’re also attracting more of the “right” types of visitors based on our keywords and organic rankings.

GA Sources Jan 2015

One of our goals in Q1 is to have an expert do some in-depth analysis on our current on-site SEO and then recommend + implement those changes. This is a long-ball strategy that isn’t likely to have any immediate results, but we’re hoping will pay off for a long time to come.

Here’s a look at our top content for January:

GA Content Jan 2015

Most of the visitors went to our Marketplace, How It Works page, Valuation Tool, and the individual listing pages.

Here are our top three posts:

Account Manager Apprentice Position In Saigon

Monthly Report December 2014

Interview With Anton @ Drop Ship Lifestyle

Here were our top referral sources and all goal conversions for January:

GA Referrals Jan 2015

I’m more of a lurker on Reddit, but I’ve been engaging more and it’s turned into a bit of traffic. I wonder if some strategic advertising on niche-specific subreddits would be a good idea.

Podcast Downloads

We popped back up again with podcast downloads, pulling in 13,519 for the month.

EF Podcast Downloads Jan 2015

It’s difficult to put out a consistently good show, week after week. I feel like we’ve done some of our best AND worst work with the show in the last 30 episodes. I’ve got some good ideas for future episodes and I’m keen to try them out.

Here are a few of my recent favorites:

EFP 123: Buyer Postmortem of a $40K Purchase

EFP 121: Creating a Drop Ship Lifestyle With Anton Kraly

EFP 115: Building An eCommerce Brand From Scratch

I’ve been debating starting a new show in addition to The Empire Podcast, but I’m a little worried about the time commitment.

Emails & Contacts

Our contact records are at 26,055 as of Jan 31st, up around 1,588 from the previous month.

Contact Records Jan 2015

We’re up to 16,761 email subscribers – up 1,140 from the previous month.

Many of these email subscribers have come through a campaign we’ve been using called After Offers. After reviewing the actual customers we’ve had from this campaign in the last six months, we’re going to minimize the campaign in February with a plan to close it down in March if we don’t see improvements. At $1 per email subscriber I thought it was a no-brainer, but it just doesn’t make much sense if we’re not getting the “right” subscribers, no matter the quantity.

I know that we could significantly improve our opt-ins with things like pop-ups, more aggressive placement, etc. but I’m wary to do that. My guess is that we’d be attracting the lower end of the market to subscribe and, ultimately, we wouldn’t gain new customers from that approach.

Customer Experience

I think looking at the data and feedback from the customer experience is important. I want to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes feedback we’re getting from some of our customers.

Zendesk Support

Our customer satisfaction remains high, but we saw a slight dip in response times.

Here’s a look at January’s numbers:

EF Zendesk Overall Jan 2015

Vs. December’s numbers:

EF Zendesk Overall Dec

That’s not bad considering we had an additional 80 or so tickets compared to last month. I’m glad to see less than 4% of tickets had to wait 24 hours or more for a response.

There’s a problem here, though. While Zendesk tracks first response to NEW tickets, it doesn’t have anything in place to track how quickly open tickets are responded to. This is a problem for us, as many of our tickets aren’t handled on first response. (Ongoing depositors, active listings with sellers, etc.) We maybe be GREAT at the initial response, but miserably slow to all subsequent responses to customers – I just don’t know.

This is one of the reasons we’re hiring our latest apprentice. The Account Manager will be responsible for directly routing tickets, ensuring they’re answered in a reasonable timeframe, and following up where needed.

Customer Feedback

In looking at tickets for the last 60 days, I see that we have a total of 120 good/satisfied tickets and only 3 bad/unsatisfied tickets. I’ll share three of those tickets below to give you a sense of their tone, what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, etc.

Here’s a comment from a happy buyer:

EF Zendesk Ticket Depositor Good

And one from a happy seller:

EF Zendesk Ticket Seller Good

Here’s another new, nervous, but ultimately happy seller:

EF Zendesk Ticket Seller Good 2

Not all were positive, of course. Here’s a comment from a not-so-happy depositor:

EF Zendesk Ticket Depositor Bad

He’s spot-on here, actually. We dropped the ball a bit in our follow-ups. I think it might have had to do with a serious depositor closing the deal right around the same time, but we really should have kept this potential buyer better informed.

Our Goals For 2015

I missed this in our last report that was a sort-of annual review for 2014. It was intentional – I’d already written so many words that I just couldn’t justify sneaking them in!

I’ll include the major goals for 2015 here.

Note: We create these goals during our quarterly strategy meetings. This basically consists of us looking at our 3-5 year plan and working backwards to designate set goalposts and benchmarks to ensure we’re working towards that goal. We adjust and re-evaluate once per quarter.

  • $4M in brokered sales in 2015
  • $1M in assets for our investor program
  • Valuation Tool becomes a pricing tool and is used for listing prices on the marketplace
  • Two profitable, ROI-driven paid traffic strategies established for both buyers and sellers
  • Consolidation of other brokers and 3rd parties to buy/sell on our platform

We have others, but that covers the bulk of what we’re looking to accomplish this year.

I’m a little unhappy with the last goal as it will be pretty hard to determine whether this was actually accomplished or not. The idea was to encourage other smaller/independent brokers to list their sites on our platform. Additionally, we’d like to find more “institutional” buyers that are building out and expanding their own portfolios. (As part of an investment group, partnership, etc.)

What We’re Working On

Here are a few of the projects we were working on in January:

1. Testing Paid Traffic Strategies For Buyers

We’re finally starting to see our inventory catch up (and surpass?) organic demand. Up until this point, we’ve always had more buyers than sellers, but now that we’re moving into 6-figure website territory and have seen a significant increase in 5-figure submissions, we’re having to swing the pendulum over to buy-side marketing.

We’ve just recently switched our buyer-focused paid marketing to 70% of our budget. Additionally, we’re creating funnels and follow-ups to better capitalize on those leads.

This is unfortunate as we were seeing a fantastic ROI on the seller-focused funnels, but we have to balance that with the needs of our marketplace.

2. Expanding Our Website Listing Distribution Channels

We’ve increased our exposure on sites like BizBuySell, BizQuest, etc. This gives us added 3rd party distribution for our listings and increases our broker exposure on the sites. We’ve improved our funnel to better capture leads and quickly respond to buyer inquiries by pushing those to our support staff and getting them out of email.

3. Polishing Our Website Redesign

Improving our website remains an ongoing, long-term project. We’ve recently made some changes to our marketplace and are adding additional information to the listing pages to better help buyers make an informed decision.

We just recently removed the options for buyers to purchase the site outright via credit card. We have quite a bit to say about why that is, but we’re currently in the middle of it and would rather wait until we have some resolution to lay out the backstory here.

That’s it for this month’s report – thank you for checking it out! Please feel free to share if you think others might find it useful too:

“New – Monthly Business Report for January 2015 from the @empireflippers!” – Tweet This!

So how did your month turn out? Any thoughts or comments you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!


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Discussion
Leave a comment
  1. Solid month for sure. I like how the emails you guys send out now have the new listings. I have been watching the listings, but nothing is screaming at me yet. In the meantime I am just building up my blog.

    One of these days there will be a listing that I just can’t live without.

    Cheers!

  2. Awesome Job. You guys have this online business thing down to a science. Can you do a blog post as to what each employee does for the website?

  3. Jim says:

    Hi Joe / Justin,

    Another terrific read! Insightful.

    The more I read your Blog posts and listen to your Podcast, the more interesting I find your site / business model.

    You have a great ebb & flow going with the delicate balancing act of growing inventory to sales (Sellers / Buyers – both customer profiles).

    On the Buyer side of growth… a couple quick questions…

    1. Of 2013/2014 sales, what was your sale count of deals for each year and what count %percentage wise of the deals were U.S. Buyers vs Non-U.S. Buyers?

    2. For 2013/2014 sales, what was the ASP (Average Sale Price) breakdown for U.S. Buyers vs European Buyers vs Other Territory Buyers… etc?

    3. Also, what is the % breakdown of individual vs “institutional” Buyers for the 2013/2014 period? And why do you think that ratio exists? Also, what action can you take to more balance the ratio (if that is appropriate, necessary, or the direction you would like to pursue)?

    4. What is your %breakdown of New Buyers vs Repeat Buyers? Both from a %percentage via count of purchases versus ASP perspective? (how are you harnessing your existing Buyer base and what are the metrics that provide you insight to going deeper and wider with your Buying customers?)

    The reason I ask is… to expand your Buyer base, it would be interesting to study your Buyer profile from different angles. The breakdown might provide you (and your readers – a few who might be Buyer Prospect) insight to your “sweet spot” for new deal flow and customer acquisition.

    I hope the questions are helpful…

    -Jim

    ps: I believe you could catapult your business from $3M in site sales in 2014 to $10M in site sales in 2016 if you can 1) articulate your Buyer demographic/profile, and 2) put the right team together with a focused action plan to build-out your Buyer base. With the model you have, I’m dead serious with a forecast that you could build your marketplace to $20M in site sales in 2018 as you have already proven you have the channel/skills in place to ramp up inventory and have the management skills necessary to put SOP’s in place to build your business in a structured way.

  4. Patrick Dwyer says:

    Congrats guys on your continued success! I’m a newbie norm wanting to become a portfolio paul. I’m thinking the investor program might be the way to go. Any idea when you’ll be sharing more information about the program? I’ve invested in a real estate partnership as part of a group and have been very happy with the results so I like the idea of being completely passive.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey Patrick,

      This is currently a private beta and we’re testing through the investor program, but assuming all goes well we’d like to open it up later this year.

      I know we spoke privately about it a bit and we might be able to get you in earlier. I’ll have Mike follow up with you to discuss?

  5. Hey guys! Long time no visit. Glad to see you guys still doing well. Did you sell the outsourcingn business?

    Is it possible you can provide rough operating profit figures given revenue is hard to ascertain based on various cost structures?

    Cheers

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey man,

      Yep, we sold the outsourcing company, but for much, much less than we expected. (Low-Mid 5-figures) We lost a major client in the process (a real mess) and the long-term prospects and stability weren’t great, so we ended up giving it away for a steal, honestly.

      Aside from Joe and I, our hard costs are around $11K – $13K per month, but we have quite a bit of variable spend. (Redesign, marketing, etc.) Both our hard costs and variable costs will likely go up this year, though, as we reinvest heavily in growth.

  6. Ben Hebert says:

    Keep crushing it guys.

    Can’t wait until the next time we’re all together.

    b

  7. Damian says:

    Great stuff Lads!

    Cool to see the focus & the fire.

    One thing though, you might want to plug that Blue Yetti in next time if you plan on it working.

    ;)

  8. Jeff says:

    Hey guys –
    Nice work in January. You’re really killing it. I’ve been seeing a lot of people do the facebook ad to email thing, so Im sure Vincent’s service will end up killing it.

    You mentioned having an in-depth SEO analysis done on the site. I’ve been doing SEO for myself (and a few clients), and would love to give you guys some suggestions. Please let me know if you’re interested.

  9. lorraine says:

    I want to be in to make money only no money to start if you put me in and make money then take it out when made some

    • Justin Cooke says:

      We considered starting a program like this around 18 months ago. We invest $1K in “your”site, you put in the work, and then we share the profits.

      Unfortunately, we determined it would simply take up too much of our time. If we’re going to put time/effort into a program, we want to make sure we’re maximizing our return and this didn’t feel like the best investment of time for us.

  10. Ah… There’s nothing like opening a post and seeing yourself as the featured image! Love it! (Also thanks for the GN mention!)

    Like we discussed privately, Justin, AO probably should be shut down (for now?) since it’s been running with no return since a year ago. Even if AO costs $1/lead…

    When you compare it with our Facebook Ads, which are bringing in more targeted leads that are jumping through INCREDIBLY high friction pages like the Valuation Tool and Buyer Match page, it’s a no-brainer. Definitely should focus more of the ad budget on FB in my opinion. Though I may be biased here. :)

    Mentioned this privately a few times but I could see a huge win in having a proper sales funnel for the buyer leads. Following up via phone if they set their budget at a certain point, for example. It’s worth creating an SOP for one of the agents to sort through the contacts on a daily basis to grab the high target ones for someone else to call up on the phone. High touch sales, baby!

    Actually, I wouldn’t mind putting that specific SOP together for you guys… Hit me up if you’d like to take me up on that offer!

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Yo, buddy!

      Yeah, think we have to dump AO, unfortunately. We’ll be transitioning those funds to AdRoll, I believe.

      Dig your thoughts on that SOP, but I’d rather this be automated! Will have those emails + new process to you soon…just been crazy busy the last few days.

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