Justin Cooke

November 27, 2013

Monthly Report Sep Oct 2013

Welcome to our Monthly Business Report for September & October, 2013!

We love hearing about how much these reports inspire and encourage you to continue to build and grow your own online empire. That’s part of the reason we openly share this information with you, but there’s also value for us in the introspection that comes with writing these reports.

Having to take an open and honest look at our strengths, weaknesses, and growth opportunities (along with the feedback you deliver) provides us insights into our business we wouldn’t have otherwise. It gives us an opportunity to look at our business from the outside in and leads us to make better-informed decisions about the direction our company should take.

To be clear:

Most of this revenue comes from you.

Whether you’re a long-standing outsourcing client of ours, purchased one of our products/services, or you happened to use one of our affiliate links to buy a piece of software, we wanted to thank you for your continued support as we continue to expand our online empire.

What We’re Working On

September and October were both pretty slow months for us in terms of producing content and driving the company forward. Joe and I took off 3 and 5 weeks respectively to do some traveling around SEAsia and the Philippines and to recharge while we prepare for the push into 2014. That being said, there are a couple initiatives we’ve worked on:

OfficeAutoPilot (OAP) Integration – While we’ve fully converted our email list into OAP, we still haven’t added the functionalities that will make this a valuable tool for our business.

We’ve been working on integrating OAP with Ultracart, our new shopping cart for Products & Services and Marketplace purchases. This will allow us to assign values to each contact and better assess our most profitable marketing methods.

We’re also realizing that the one-size-fits-all approach to our email list and autoresponder sequences no longer works. While some new subscribers may be interested in getting information on how to get started building niche sites, others are more interested in how to manage their portfolio of sites, how to build outsourced or distributed teams, etc.

We’re adding email sequences that will be more of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” path so that we can deliver the most relevant content to the right audience. Big thanks to the Linchpin team on this – something we should have rolled out in December.

Staffing Up – We’d struggled for a while to find the right staff here in Davao, especially when it comes to our Content Managers. We’d gone as far as looking for talent in Manila and Cebu, but it looks like we’re starting to get some applicants that are a good fit for our company and have been hiring the last couple of months to prepare as we head into 2014.

One of the benefits of running a team-based company in the Philippines is that your employee costs are relatively low. This allows us to be a bit more flexible with payroll and gives us much wiggle-room to staff up as we prepare for growth.

When Joe and I first started hiring here in the Philippines we interviewed each and every applicant we were considering hiring. Now that we have a stronger middle-management team, we can rely on them to make the hiring decisions and to find the right people to fit into our business and company culture.

Networking – While most of our travel in Sep/Oct was vacation, we did get a chance to stop in Bangkok to spend a week hanging out with quite a few entrepreneurs at DCBKK. We were invited to speak on the Podcasting Panel and had a great time getting into it with Dan Andrews, Chris Ducker, James Schramko, Terry Lin, and Tim Conley.

Podcast Panel at DCBKK

There’s something special about being around another crowd of motivated, talented, and sharp entrepreneurs building cool shit. I’m not really much of a conference guy (the large crowds get me a little freaked out,) but I love breaking off into smaller groups and riffing on business ideas, strategies, tactics, etc.

We were able to meet up with dozens of readers/listeners and we sucked up all the valuable feedback about our content and business as we could. The plan was to sit down for a strategy session in November and use the feedback received to significantly improve our podcast, blog, etc.

Site Traffic

Traffic dropped significantly from an average of 21,502 visits per month on the previous report to 16,157 visits per month:

Overall traffic Sep Oct 2013

This is directly related to the lack of content on the site. During those two months we only published one blog post (ouch) and skipped a couple of podcasts.

This is probably the worst two month period we’ve had in terms of published content since we started. The traveling was a part of it but, if I’m being honest with myself, I just didn’t feel inspired to write much. I’d done a few articles and pieces for guest posts, books, etc. talking about our business, but didn’t feel I had anything worth publishing here that would help our audience.

Here’s a look at our most popular content:

Popular Content Sep Oct 2013

And our top referrals:

Referral Traffic Sep Oct 2013

Our content publishing has significantly improved in November with the arrival of our new apprentice at the beginning of the month. His fresh perspective has been inspiring. Pair that with the conference in Bangkok, our masterminds, strategy sessions, and a new content schedule and I think you’re going to see quite a bit more from us in the next couple of months.

Podcast & Email Audience

It looks like our podcast bump in July/August was temporary and we’re back down in Sept/Oct with 46,172 total downloads. (30,888 in Sep, 15,284 in Oct) It probably doesn’t help that we skipped the podcast a few weeks during this period. No matter! We’re back up and running and will finish out the year strong.

Podcast downloads graph Sep Oct 2013

We’ve struggled to quantify the financial value of the podcast. We feel it’s valuable based on the engagement and connections we’ve made, but I couldn’t put that into a spreadsheet and map it out. I definitely wouldn’t track this as a separate, stand-alone revenue stream.

We’ve talked to quite a few new podcasters looking to turn their podcast into a business and think that might not be the best strategy. One better way to look at it would be to have the podcast as a marketing/authority arm of your “real” business.

We use the podcast as part of an engagement funnel that builds a deeper connection with our customers and prospects. The authority can act as a differentiator, allowing you to sell with greater ease and put a premium on your brand.

Our email list continues to grow and we’re up to 12,269 Contact Records and 9,312 subscribed to our email list.

Contact Records Sep Oct 2013

I’m definitely happy with the growth, especially considering the lack of additional content, decreased traffic, etc.

Something I’m not so happy about is the fact that we have the same email funnel for every single subscriber to our brand. I was lucky enough to snag a call with Neil Patel from QuickSprout and I laid out our current email funnel. I asked him if I could possibly separate the entrance funnels and then (eventually) funnel them all into the same long-term nurturing email sequence. His answer?

“That’s a really bad idea.”

Damn. He continued by asking me why I would take highly-engaged subscribers receiving the specific information they signed up for and throw them into a more general, all-encompassing email sequence or auto-responder. I really didn’t have a good answer to that and, after the call, a lightbulb went off.

Wouldn’t it be better to have different topics you could opt into Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style?

We’re in the process of completely revamping our email sequences. Everyone will sign up using regular Opt-In forms but will then be forwarded to a LeadPages landing page where they can choose from the following topics:

  • Building Sites – Including content on KW research, site setup, content, etc. Everything you need to know to build out your own sites from scratch.
  • Buying Sites – Including content on due diligence, how to diversify your portfolio, the advantages/disadvantages to different types of sites, etc.
  • Selling Sites – How to charge a premium for your sites, quick wins on improving built/purchased sites, etc.
  • Entrepreneurship – Hiring VA’s, building distributed teams, adding process to your business, etc.

You’ll be able to choose any/all of the topics you’re interested in and you can always opt out/in of particular sequences as you need the information. I’m really excited about this and we should be up and rolling with this in December!

Monetized Sites

Not all that much has changed with our AdSense earnings per month:

AdSense Earnings Sep Oct 2013

This brought in a total of $2,215.61 for both months. Our worst day was Sept. 13th at $23.74 and our best day was Oct 30th at $51.21. Not much has changed here and this continues to be a smaller portion of our overall business.

There are a ton of horror stories about Google as a partner when it comes to AdSense. From shutting down your AdSense account to no real viable AdSense alternatives, it can be a bit scary building out AdSense sites and there are definitely risks.

That being said we’ve never had any major problems and always get notified in our AdSense account when there are minor problems like questionable content for AdSense. (And we fix them right away)

In Bangkok, James Schramko (teasingly) beat us up a bit about our AdSense monetization. His point was that AdSense is typically a lower-value method of monetization. It’s true in some cases – you’ll never see us put AdSense on Empire Flippers – but it’s great for getting sites up and running and testing through the viability of the market.

Selling Our Sites

This one surprised me a bit, but I double checked the numbers and found that we sold $0.00 of our own sites through Sep/Oct We’re still testing through some different, leveled-up site creation strategies, but these sites won’t be ready for sale until 2014.

The process is showing promise, but we just don’t have enough data to ensure it’s worth rolling out full-scale. As soon as we do we’ll definitely be sharing our findings!

Products & Services

We brought in a total of $23,619.00 in Products & Services purchases. This includes some beta testing of the Niche Sites from Scratch offer we listed in November. Our top selling products are the Empire Starter Packs and the Empire Broker Packages.

Aside from a few duds, (that were recently removed) the response to our suite of products has been outstanding and this will definitely be something we continue to roll out and expand on next year. I loved that we’re able to help sitebuilders pick and choose the areas they need help with and provide a la carte support. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Brokered Sites

We sold a total of $43,990.13 worth of brokered sites, bringing in a total of $7,905.43 worth of revenue for our business.  I really see this as an area of growth for us in future months and will be a focus for us in 2014 for sure.  Ultimately, we’d like to have a nice mix of sites monetized with AdSense, affiliate sales, and even eCommerce sites for sale ranging from $200 – $10,000 per month in revenue.  The more sites we have available to sell the more options buyers have that meet the particular needs of their portfolio and interests.

Do you have a site you’d like to list with us?  We’re actively looking for more sites to list on our marketplace.  If your site is earning anywhere from $100/month to $10K/month, we’d love to look it over and see if there’s a fit!  We really make this a no-hassle process for you and include everything from vetting buyers to handling the migration of your site.

If you’d like to see what we can do to help you sell your site, check out our brokering options here.

Software Projects

IntelliTheme continues to cruise along, bringing in a total of $1,066.98 for the two months. Joe has been playing with and tweaking the theme on one of the sites we’re testing that has a bit of traffic earnings and that’s showing a noticeable difference in the earnings on that site.  It’s a great tool when it comes to optimizing niche sites and we continue to use on all the sites we’re building out.

Most of the criticism revolves around the “boring” look of the theme and the fact that it’s not responsive for mobile/tablet users.  I think there’s something to that, but those additions have always remained lower down the priority list for us.  I’d definitely like the theme to be responsive as well, but I think there are bigger problems we need to be solving.

WP Rank Tracker brought in only $242.00 in two months, much less than we’ve done previously.  The problem is that Google has significantly cut back on reporting keywords.  Without a high volume of keywords searched it will take longer to receive useful results.  We’re looking for solutions to this problem but haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Affiliate Revenue

We brought in a total of $1,621.37 in affiliate revenue, with most of that coming from Long Tail Pro purchases.  As we come across and test new tools I see quite a bit of opportunity here for some good affiliate sites but it’s still not something we’re focusing on with Empire Flippers.

There’s a pretty big hole out there for those that can really dig through and show the advantages/disadvantages to OAP as compared to other platforms.  Most of the reviews and demos are using an empty trial account without any data – not very helpful.  There’s a fair review between OAP and Infusionsoft here that has affiliate links for both, but I think someone could step into this and really crush it, honestly.

If you’re looking for a marketing automation tool, I’d consider talking to our friend Damian over at Linchpin.net.  He’ll get on a free 30 minute call to find out more about your business and let you know which might have the best features for your business specifically.

Outsourcing Clients

This side of our business has remained pretty consistent, bringing in a total of $56,767.84.  Although this represents a large part of our revenue, acquiring the right clients takes quite a bit of time (long sales cycle) and focus away from the rest of our business.  Combine that with the fact that it’s not as scalable (for us,) and we’ve made the decision to no longer look for new outsourcing clients.  We’ll continue to support and grow with current clients, but will no longer spend any effort looking for or accepting new offers.

That being said, we’ll continue to provide content around virtual assistants, building offshore teams, etc., as I think it’s an important aspect to building your online empire.

Consulting

Joe took on a consulting email for $60.00.  Definitely not a focus of ours.

Summary

Overall I’m a bit disappointed about the drop in traffic, podcast listens, etc., but that’s a direct result of publishing less content on the site.  It is good to know that we’ve built a strong enough team to where Joe and I can walk away for a month and not have everything fall apart!

We’ll be strengthening that team further in the coming months and we’ve returned with a bang in November when it comes to content.  We’ve had a bunch of ideas in recent months, but we’re going to need to consolidate those down so that we can focus on only a few of those ideas to knock them out of the park in 2014.

September 2013

Business Data:

  • Employees: 35
  • Interns: 1
  • Contractors: 1
  • Contact Records: 11,979 (As of 10/1)
  • Email Subscribers: 9,124 (As of 10/4)
  • Site Visits: 17,371

Earnings:

  • AdSense: $1,061.19
  • Site Sales: $0.00
  • Products/Services: $17,232.00
  • Brokered Sites: $1,462.71 ($9,751.40 in vetted sites sold)
  • IntelliTheme: $631.98
  • WPRankTracker: $242.00
  • Affiliate: $1,014.95
  • Building A Niche Site Empire Guide (via Amazon sales): $153.17
  • Outsourcing: $27,216.37
  • Consulting: $0.00

TOTAL: $49,014.37

October 2013

Business Data:

  • Employees: 39
  • Interns: 1
  • Contractors: 1
  • Contact Records: 12,269 (As of 11/1)
  • Email Subscribers: 9,312 (As of 11/3)
  • Site Visits: 14,943

Earnings:

  • AdSense: $1,154.42
  • Site Sales: $0.00
  • Products/Services: $6,387.00
  • Brokered Sites: $6,442.72 ($34,238.73 in vetted sites sold)
  • IntelliTheme: $435.00
  • WPRankTracker: $0.00
  • Affiliate: $606.42
  • Building A Niche Site Empire Guide (via Amazon sales): $111.06
  • Outsourcing: $29,551.47
  • Consulting: $60.00

TOTAL: $44,748.09

Check out what Justin and Joe learned in the past two months! @empireflippersTweet This!

Alright, talk to us! What are you experimenting with and learning about your own business? What are some things you’d like to see us offer? Leave us a comment or shoot us an email with your thoughts!


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Discussion
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  1. Awesome step to get away from the outsourcing gigs. I really think simply using less mental energy on this side of the business will allow you guys to grow. Smart decision IMO.

    Do you guys do an email subscription for sites for sale? I would love to keep an eye on any ecommerce sites going.

    • What’s up JP? We’re working on segmenting out list now.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey man!

      Glad to be focused exclusively on EF rather than acquiring new outsourcing clients, for sure. If you’re signed up to our email list you’ll get updates when we have new sites for sale, especially premium/eCommerce sites.

      Right now, you’ll also receive emails about building a site from scratch, but that will be changing in the future.

  2. Great report guys. Obviously the site brokering is a real opportunity for you with your positioning, expertise and market reach. When you activate the full potential of office autopilot you’re going to hook Into a lot of power especially with trigger sequences that happen when something activates it (like unsubscribe, cart abandonment, clicking through to a NEXT button etc..). I’m not sure if you publish profit or asset value – these would be far a more interesting metric than revenue to be able to work out which activities you focus on especially when you consider the time apportioned to each of the areas. ($/hour profit). Test an inquiry form for high end site sales – have a higher priced package attached to it for the business owner who has a larger site and needs more discussion. This is what business brokers and M&A guys do. Some people (like me) have a portfolio of sites that would need more discussion.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Hey, James!

      I think you’re spot-on regarding OAP. I had a hard time catching on to the in-depth benefits of OAP Vs. Aweber at first. I THOUGHT I had a plan for tagging, tracking, etc…but it turns out I was deep-diving too much and not exactly tagging the things that were most important. (Interesting, yes, but not as actionable!) I’ve gone over a simplified plan with Damian that’s much more streamlined for us and helpful for our subscribers when it comes to getting them the content they want/need.

      We’re publishing revenue only, but do discuss in strategy sessions our time involvement in specific projects. We don’t base our efforts around those that have the higher volume/margin of profits, but it’s definitely one aspect in the equation.

      We’ve had some discussions recently on Tweaking Current Biz Vs. “Hairy-Ass Goal” projects. Others in our mastermind, mentors, peers, etc. strongly feel we need to get more serious about the upper-end of the market and moving up the value chain. They’re pretty convincing, actually. Our $$/hour would be much lower than it would be tweaking our current biz, but the opportunity is much larger if we nail it.

      We use Paypal for purchases and can only go up to $10K (limit) on site sales. Anything above that and we handle via credit cards or (more often) wire transfers. Everyone’s free to contact us about any purchase beforehand though, of course.

      We’ll likely streamline our ($50K+? $100K+?) buyers/sellers in the near future, offering a more hands-on concierge service that’s more in-line with what they might expect. If we can hustle and delight this area of the market, I think we’ll have a definite win on our hands. :-)

  3. Dan Norris says:

    Hey guys good, stuff love these reports. I know it’s probably annoying when you get comments like this but here are a few things I’d love to see:

    1. Would love to see traffic for actual posts and conversions. Most of the pages in that report aren’t blog posts. And some commentary on what posts were doing well on an ongoing basis and which ones were big hits during the month. We have had a few posts blow up and deliver ongoing traffic and I wonder if you are the same .

    2. I’d love to see the conversion rate for referrals and different blog posts. In Analytics if you click on the landing page report and click goal set 1 up the top it will show you your top pages and show how many people went on to eventually opt in. I’m betting you will find that there are certain types of content that convert 10 or 20x what your typical content does. Same with traffic I’d love to see where your most engaged traffic comes from. If you hit Goal set up the top again on the referral report it will give you a conversion rate for your various traffic sources. I’m guessing Flippa will be up there.

    3. I’d love to see a line chart showing your monthly growth for each of your revenue streams. It’s hard to tell from your reports which parts of the business are growing and which are pretty steady. Are any parts growing consistently? The site brokering perhaps?

    Anyway keep it up, I can attest that traffic takes a massive dive when you go slack on content. We have gone ballistic with content this month and our traffic has exploded but previously we had similar results when we backed off mainly due to lack of inspiration.

    Content guy is a winning idea I wish I could afford one!

    • If only “someone” had recently launched a conversion plugin for this kind of thing, oh wait…

      Dan Norris, the man who went from hating sales to pitching his shit in every comment thread on the interwebz

      • Dan Norris says:

        Ha not quite. The data is there in Analytics as long as you are tracking conversions. The other metrics don’t mean that much to me except maybe time on site. The landing page report is a winner, just looking at numbers of visitors doesn’t really tell you much at all.

        • Justin Cooke says:

          SPAMMER!! :-)

          Damian and I are getting ready for Thanksgiving and were talking about your business, actually. Awesome to see the traction you guys are getting!

          To get back to your points:

          1. I thought you were building our tool for this! Kidding, but I get your point. Many of the popular posts that get attention with us aren’t evergreen and have a shorter shelf life, unfortunately. Also, our navigation on the site is pretty bad – doesn’t highlight old content very well…something we need to fix. We definitely still have some older posts crushing it with traffic, though.

          2. Our analytics was setup great for AF…not so much for EF. When I get around to fixing this maybe we can start reporting that too. Pretty specific to what we’re doing, though, and not exactly sure how that helps our audience, but probably a good head-check for us and definitely something to measure.

          3. I suck at any/all sexy design, but I love this idea. A visual representation would better share what we’re trying to get across with these posts – I think you’re on with this one. I can tell you our Products/Services have really taken off since we implemented and have added quite a bit to our business.

          • Dan Norris says:

            Cool man Google docs is great for line charts. In our reports I just put the traffic numbers in manually for all of our site and then just screenshot the line chart in Google docs. super easy. Re the other tool all you need to do is make sure people are forwarded to a thankyou page after they opt in to your newsletter, set that up a a goal and you have a metric of engagement for all of your content and traffic sources.

          • Justin Cooke says:

            Will check that out for the next report…thanks, Dan! They do go to a Thank You page after and (I just checked) we do have them setup as goals. We’ll be changing that TY page in the near future to allow them to fill out more detail and include the “Choose Your Own Adventure” when it comes to sequences.

  4. Ryan Cote says:

    Awesome transparency guys. I think it’s natural to have moments where your inspiration for blogging is lower than normal. Your numbers are impressive nevertheless. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Digging the level of analysis and detail here Justin.

    I keep seeing DT’s head everywhere, he’s all over the interwebz! Nice mention, BTW!

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Thanks, Alex!

      Love what you and Dan Norris are doing over there at WPCurve, actually. I have Dan’s “How To Build A Website In 1 Day” open in another tab right now, actually. Glad you guys are back to detailed monthly reports, BTW…cool move.

      • Cheers! We’re launching http://www.convertpress.com later today too. There’s nothing quite like the prelaunch scramble, I swear I’ve done more work in a week than I would do in a year back when I was consulting.

        We bit the bullet on monthly reports and I’m glad we did – the reason I found out about Dan in the first place was because he was so open about his progress, which I think pays off over the long term. I just had to get over my own pride and let go.

        This month’s report will be a cracker, $100,000 ARR is so close I can almost taste it!

        • Justin Cooke says:

          Forgot to mention – insanely jealous of your recurring revenue! :-)

          Joe and I previously worked for a company that built the business up to $1M in recurring monthly and it was awesome. If you really catch the market your business can explode, for sure.

          It’s what I like about WPCurve. I remember telling Dan that I thought it sounded too good to be true. I was more worried about his ability to deliver on the offer, but forgot to mention how…well…awesome it sounded from a consumer’s perspective.

          Interesting to see your Rip/Pivot/Jam off LeadPages. We just signed up for their product/service and are digging it – interested to see what you guys come up with.

          • Recurring revenue helps us sleep at night.

            Which company did you build to $1M MRR? That’s a massive milestone.

            I had exactly the same reservations as you about WP Curve when I joined Dan in July, but we haven’t had any issues with managing client expectations. Everyone has been reasonable and if we can’t help them, e.g. if they want us to build a site, then we’re honest about it.

            Simon and Clay are geniuses and nice guys. Dan emailed them about our potentially competing product and they told us to go for it and that the market is ripe for disruption. Now that’s how you run a business!

            ConvertPress is going to be a winner – we simply need to get it in front of the right audience.

          • Justin Cooke says:

            Not our company – we joined at around $300K/month or so, if I remember right.

            I dig the name and I know Clay/Simon are absolutely crushing it, so there’s definitely a market. Best of luck!

  6. Awesome Monthly(ish) report as usual JWC. It is always impressive how open & honest you are in these, great stuff.

    Thanks for the link love, it has been a blast working with you guys on Office Autopilot and I cannot wait to see the huge revenue growths next year that I will falsely take 100% credit for! ;)

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Monthly(ish) – I know, right? Gotta fix that…gonna happen for Nov.

      Really love the direction we’re taking with OAP. I feel so much more comfortable (and motivated) to get our shit together with a clear/simple strategy in place.

      So – will tweaks help us hit our goals or do we need to do some doubling down. Damn…

    • Iain Robson says:

      For sure. With your help, I’m sure they are going to be able to help the customers that much more. Particularly, in tailoring content fopr what they want in the email sequence.

  7. gerprz says:

    Great Post….
    I have a couple of questions, what kind of services do you provide for the over 56K in revenue you generated for the two month time period (over 50% of revenue)? Are these services short or long contracts? *At what point in the “outsource services” revenue attrition will you re visit, re-nurturing “outsourcing revenue” if the other revenue streams do not fill the revenue loss gap created by not continuing to develop the “cornerstone” of your business, outsourced services”? Gutsy Move! Thanks for your transparency, I learn a lot from your sharing. (*long sentence, I know)

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Great questions! Let me answer what I can:

      1. Services – They’re somewhat wide-ranging. I won’t mention the specifics here, but we have a handful of clients with small teams doing things like lead generation, data entry, and programming. If we had to start over, I’d focus or hone in on one particular industry and own it – better position in the market and it’s good to be #1…even in a smaller niche.

      2. Long contracts – we’ve had (almost all) of these clients for a while.

      3. That’s a damn good question. While we have good relationships with our current clients and a couple of them are considering growing with us in the near future, we’re hoping to not have to nurture new outsourcing clients/deals.

      If the other side of our business doesn’t make up the deficit, my guess is that we’d focus in on outsourcing services or managed teams on tasks closer to the EF business. To be honest, though, that wouldn’t be ideal.

      I have a lot more to say about the “gutsy move” actually and, funny enough, Joe and I were talking to our buddy Dan about this the other day. I see where you’re coming from in saying “gutsy”, but there are some moves we could be making that would be much higher risk/reward and we’re considering them now. I’d like to write a post about it – it’s been hounding my thoughts for a week now!

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