For the past 4 years I’ve run a “passive income” business in a totally unrelated, unique niche.
You may or may not be familiar with this other industry I have a business in, it’s pretty obscure.
I teach people how to prepare to live in a vintage trailer, something I myself did for years (then I moved into my van - story for another day!).
I actually originally started blogging about my adventures in online business on that other blog, since I figured that the freedom of living on the road in a camper was related to the freedom of self-employment. But it became really clear really fast that my audience over there was not interested in that topic. So I made my business blog posts it’s own thing, which is the blog you're reading now.
I wanted to show you my other business as a case study for a few reasons:
To show you that everything I teach applies to B2C niches and even the little “weird” niches and especially that YES, this stuff I teach works even if you don’t sell “make money online” advice.
To show you my own “case study” business, so that you know everything I tell you is tested, based on MY experience, and replicable (I literally use all the same tools/strategies/scripts in both businesses...surprise! It just works no matter what).
To show you a VERY simple online course business model that’s extremely profitable and effective...and super passive (by design!).
To show you that you don’t need a big list, lots of traffic, or huge numbers to make a living online just talking about what you love. Seriously.
And also to point out that….
Your online business, your launches, your promotions and marketing can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
For me, I am always striving for simpler, streamlined, and more efficient. It’s those values that I get from being trained as an architect and a minimalist in my life.
I’m always applying those values to my business and asking - how can we make this simpler? How can we do this in it’s purest, most essential form?
And I think the idea of this super simplified business model is attractive to people. Business is hard enough as it is, we don’t need to make it more confusing for us or our customers. I know for me, I want to be able to easily wrap my head around how everything fits together and works in the “organism” of the business.
Every online business just needs a basic set of assets and strategies to start, but once you get that content created or those systems in place you can repurpose and automate to your heart’s content, as little or as much as you want (obviously I like to automate as much as humanly possible).
In this particular case study, we’re going to look at three main things:
Stats and numbers (so you can see what we’re working with)
The Assets (things that I’ve created for the business)
The Marketing (how we get eyes on the website and the products)
Firstly, The Stats (We All Love Numbers!)
Monthly Page Views:
13k - 20k / month (about 400 - 600 per day)
Here you can see our average daily traffic. Pretty consistently 500+ pageviews per day. We don't have crazy high traffic numbers by any measurement. Most people would say this is pretty low pageviews! Just goes to show pageviews has NOTHING to do with profit.
And below you can see the monthly traffic trends. Remember, this is with no new blog posts and basically a static site. At this point, the blog posts we already have posted have gained so much momentum they continue to drive traffic every day. Over the last few months it's even increased without any input from me.
Again, we don't have a crazy amount of our own subscribers. Part of this is the model we've been using of having affiliates promote our product instead of building our own big list. I expect this to grow more quickly now with a few of our upcoming systems, but it's worked out so far!
$20k every 2 months, or $10k/month average.
This has gone up and down depending on how much work I was putting in, sometimes seeing $30k months, but now that it’s passive and I don’t do big launches, it’s pretty consistent.
Important to Note Before We Dig In:
One thing I wanted to mention for total transparency is that we are currently in a transition period with this particular business.
Our business model for the last few years was to do an open/close launch every 6-8 weeks. It worked amazingly well. I’m going to tell you a lot about that model in this article.
However, I made the decision this year to restructure the business model to an evergreen model after much deliberation (oh my gosh, so many pros and cons lists were made!). It can be scary to knowingly “fix what isn’t broken”. We’re intentionally stopping doing what works in order to see if we can do it even better in a totally different way. I have no idea if it will be as successful. And even though I’m sure most people would think I’m crazy for experimenting like this, I’m doing it anyway.
March 2016 was our last “open/close” launch for this particular product in this particular business. As Femtrepreneur is consuming my entire life and all my time (I mean that in the best way possible) I had to make some changes, the biggest one being moving to an evergreen model.
At the time of writing this, we are building out these new evergreen systems. It’s exciting to see all of the stuff you normally think of as “online marketing” stuff, working in my little obscure B2C niche.
I’m sure I’ll write a follow up post about this transition we are in and how it’s worked out a few months from now when I have more data.
Okay let’s get into our case study.
Let's Look At The Assets:
1. Website & Domain:
The website and the domain, having been running this blog for 5-6 years at this point, have great domain authority and tons of backlinks.
Google loves us for certain keywords. We put a lot of love into the website (it’s on Squarespace) and so that’s the first thing we really “created” for the business.
2. The $97 Course:
The product is obviously the heart of this entire operation. It’s what dictates the blog content, the funnels, the lead magnets and everything else.
Everything is a spoke on the hub of the product.
Our product is a simple 8-week email course. Totally text-based. Nothing fancy at all. Honestly I just wanted it be accessible to everyone and text was the best way to do that. My audience didn’t want video lessons, so we made it super simple to consume the content.
This is exactly what I teach you how to do in Your First 1K. The idea is that you will create your first product - a $97 email course or small digital product - and make your first $1,000 in sales (potentially a whole lot more, if you look at our student case studies). It really works no matter what you do or what niche you’re in!
Notice how we just have one, single $97 product.
We’ve been selling the same product for 4 years. It has earned more than 6 figures. Thousands of people have signed up for the course.
We went DEEP instead of wide - and it worked. We just kept offering the same thing, making it better, reaching more and more of our audience with every promotion.
Eventually, we added a second product that I created with a partner that was a logical "next step" to the first course. But for years, I had just this single product to promote, and made a more than full-time income from it.
(This is SO different from what I’ve done with Femtrepreneur, obviously. Here, we have like 5 courses and we launched 4 of them in a year and we have a lot of offerings. My other business is a lot simpler - one $97 product. That’s it. One is not better than the other, just very different. One product going deeper into your audience is easier, but obviously I’ve experienced success with both models).
3. Three to Five Launch Emails (of which 2-3 are for Affiliates):
We have “sets” of launch emails that we use for each launch every 8 weeks. I’ll explain more about our unique automated launch system later in this post in the Marketing section.
We have 5 core launch emails that we use every time. We also have a rotating set of other launch emails that we might sprinkle in once in awhile (especially around certain times of year like Christmas, New Year, and Summer Vacation). This helps us keep it fresh without writing new emails every time.
Curious about the dead simple 3-part email sequence? Download it right here.
HINT: These emails are all based on the exact framework I lay out in Fuck Yeah Funnels. Yes they work in all industries/niches. I literally use my own workbook to write all my launch emails for every business/course/eBook/workshop I promote.
4. Testimonials and detailed case studies/ “guest posts” from students:
One of the biggest assets we have is hundreds of testimonials and case studies from successful students. We have long form testimonials, quick little blurbs, and entire case studies with before and after photos written by our students.
Right from the beginning we started posting these as blog posts and asking for our students for guest posts about their experience. This is a huge asset to us, as our course is only as good as our student’s results.
(HINT: If you’re not super focused on your student’s results and case studies, you’re messing up!).
5. Blog Posts:
Over the years I’ve created a lot of blog posts related to the course content. I either share a case study from a student, talk about my own personal experience, or teach a lesson that prepares someone to join the paid course.
Our blog posts are super valuable because they attract people to our blog, and then direct them to our freebies or the course itself.
They get shared on Facebook to our ideal audience, and attract new subscribers and people who are curious to learn more about our course.
The blog posts or blog post topics often get re-purposed as guest posts on our affiliates’ blogs. So a few months after publishing something on my blog, I’ll re-use the content in a slightly different format for another blog. Like I said, I have to be really efficient about everything and leverage all the work I’ve already done.
6. Lead Magnet: E-Zine PDF
For a long time I was really behind on growing my list for my little camper business. I finally introduced a lead magnet (a few years ago now) and started seeing the results almost overnight.
I created a digital “zine” (yes, like punks of the 90s) that I illustrated myself. It was really unique and I think that’s why people signed up for it, it’s not your typical lead magnet. It was more of an illustrated manifesto.
For you, I recommend starting with a very simple 1-2 page lead magnet to start getting subscribers. Simply create a “Tools and Resources” guide with 5-10 tools or things that you use, like, or recommend and offer that as an incentive.
We cover all of this in Your First 1K, and creating your first lead magnet is literally step 1. After that, you’ll go through other effective Foundation and Blitz strategies for growing your list to your first 1,000 subscribers and beyond!
So, those are all the assets we have right now.
Not super complicated right? Just a website, a product ($97 email course), 5 launch emails that we rotate and repurpose, testimonials, blog posts, and a simple lead magnet.
However, we’re going to be (finally) creating a few new assets soon as part of our restructuring process. For example:
We're adding a Signature Webinar:
I have done webinars for this business and our little course before (they’ve converted great! You’ll do your first webinar for list-building and pre-selling in Your First 1K).
However I was doing one-off webinars of a different topic with partners and I haven’t created the one, single signature webinar for the course yet. So that’s one of my next projects, creating the “signature” webinar for the class and then testing it, recording it, and setting it up on an evergreen system.
Free 7-Day Email Course:
When I decided that March 2016 was going to be our last open/close live launch for a while because we’d be testing out the evergreen model, I created a free 7-day email course as the “funnel” for the paid course.
When I mentioned earlier in this post that we are currently “setting up the systems”, we’re putting the finishing touches on this funnel to support the new evergreen model. Right now, we plan to have the free course on Teachable and have complementary emails go out through ConvertKit, so people can get the info in their preferred way.
Free eBook: Compiled from blog posts
We’ve also created a new lead magnet to replace or at least supplement the original “e-zine” freebie. This new freebie is more current and relevant and makes good use of all of the amazing pillar content I’ve written over the past 5+ years on that blog.
This is ready to be unveiled soon, and we’re also going to put it on Amazon as an experiment to see if we can reach new audiences and new people there.
Let's Look At The Marketing:
Hands down, our biggest marketing effort has been affiliates for this particular product and business model. It has it’s pros and cons. We don’t really “own” our audience, but we also have been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people very quickly by partnering with affiliates with bigger audiences, which would have taken us YEARS to do without them.
Having affiliates when you first start out can be a huge asset. I recommend you start thinking about affiliates now, because they can really make your first launch a huge success!
In Your First 1K, I teach you how to get the right affiliates on board to help you with your first launch or ongoing promotion. I know from personal experience how powerful it can be to have even just one or two affiliates on your side. After managing and running huge affiliate campaigns for myself and other businesses, I have a lot to share about all the little details of working with affiliates.
We have a small but mighty email list. 80% of the time, we’re just sending valuable content like blog posts and helpful information to our email list. Once a week, I would email out an update, a link to a new blog post, or a story or resource I had to share.
Then, every 8 weeks we have our “launch week” which is about 7 days. During that time, we’re sending 3 launch emails and a last call email. Our affiliates are also sending their own emails.
Curious about the dead simple 3-part email sequence? Download it right here.
Our blog posts are our “content marketing” - meaning people find our helpful articles on Google or Pinterest or Facebook, and then click through to read more. At some point in the blog post I mention the product or an opportunity to join the email list.
Many of our customers find us through our most popular blog posts that get shared and shared all over. I made an intentional decision to create pillar, evergreen content that doesn’t get outdated. This drives a lot of traffic to our site.
Guest posting was a big part of our launches. We would guest post on our affiliates’ blogs during each launch to provide major value and then link back to the course or our site. This helped me get to know the hosts audience on a more personal level, show them my knowledge, and then build a connection.
At one point, I started adding Pinterest images to the blog posts. These were not pretty or well designed, they’re actually pretty awful haha! But they worked. And when people started pinning my blog images, things started to “go viral” (well, viral to my standards!).
Now we have this one blog post that gets almost 50% of our daily traffic, after “going viral” on Pinterest. It has so much momentum it just keeps bringing more and more traffic.
In the last few months, I haven’t added any new blog posts to the site. Instead, I removed the date metadata from the blog posts (so it all looks more evergreen) and just keep promoting the 5 years of content that’s already there.
As you can see, our traffic continues to organically increase without any new blog posts. As we transition into an evergreen model, part of that is redesigning the site to be a static site full of helpful resources rather than a "blog" model.
Backlinks from articles/interviews:
Over the years, I’ve gained lots of strong, valuable backlinks from features on top websites. At the time, I was never thinking “I’m looking to get a backlink, and that’s strategic!”, I didn’t even know what Backlink meant.
But I knew that being featured on other really popular sites was a good thing (Treehugger, the Oregonian, etc). Some of these interviews and backlinks still drive lots of traffic years later. It’s always a good idea to say yes to opportunities to be featured on other sites, it helps YOUR site get found!
Now, take a minute and notice all the things we DID NOT do to market the blog and course.
I wasn’t on twitter. I didn’t Periscope. I didn’t do Instagram or host giveaways.
I really absolutely had to 80/20 my business and only do things that would be really worthwhile. If it wasn’t going to bring in significant revenue or move the needle in a big way, I just wouldn’t worry about it.
One thing I would be doing more often if I had more time, would be more webinars. They are still hands-down the best way to make sales and build your list quickly. I'm going to be adding an automated webinar to this business now that the course is evergreen. Unfortunately I just don't have time to do live ones every week like for Femtrepreneur.
The Automated Launches:
One thing I got really good at was streamlining and essentially “automating” my launches. Because we had a kinda unique model of launching every 8 weeks, I was able to really hone in on the process and content for a launch.
Now, these launches weren’t like the Femtrepreneur launches we have now, which can take months of planning and are 1000x more complex. These “launches” every 8 weeks were 7 days, 3 emails, and a blog post or two.
I had organized folders of all of the launch content - blog posts, emails, images, etc. I also had a schedule and plan for how content was to be rotated. We had 4 affiliates at this point, plus my own email list and audience, and I always make sure that each promoter has a unique set of content to share during a launch, otherwise it would annoy people and just looks lazy.
So I have these “sets” of launch content that get re-ordered, rotated, and re-purposed for different people for different launches. It’s like an elaborate mix and match.
Basically, I had all the assets already, I just needed to provide the affiliates with the proper content they would need for that launch. This was all in google Drive, we had shared folders where I would add clearly labeled documents for emails, blog posts, and other information (like graphic assets and important dates). I would basically give my affiliates the heads up, schedule my own 3 emails and a blog post, and 99% of the time it went off without a hitch.
Running the recurring launches this way, I was able to be traveling 90% of the time while launches were happening. It was pretty incredible. I would usually work about 2 hours per week, maybe 5 hours total on the week before the next launch would happen. It was passive because it really had to be, I was traveling the country in my van so I had to make the most of when I had internet/wi-fi/access to a coffee shop!
Curious about the dead simple 3-part email sequence? Download it right here.
Lessons and Takeaways:
Do I think this could be replicated today?
Absolutely. When I did all of this, I had ZERO knowledge of marketing, courses, how to run affiliates - I literally did all of this with pure gut instinct and just sheer willpower to make it happen and figure it out. I wasn’t reading any blogs about this stuff - I just knew I had to figure out a system that allowed me to make money while I traveled.
As of this moment, you are 100x better off and more qualified than I was just by reading this article. Honestly, I did it with no help and no clue what “industry standards” were.
And in terms of replicating the success of this product and business, I used it as a model to start Femtrepreneur. Obviously things have evolved since then, but the principles are the same. And I’ll continue to replicate this system in other niches with other sites and products.
What mistakes did I make?
Probably the biggest mistake was not taking my email list seriously for way too long.
If you are “waiting” for ANY REASON to start your email list, stop what you’re doing, and go set up a landing page and collecting emails.
I’m not kidding, every minute you don’t have an email list you are wasting the most valuable resource you have.
That’s why what I teach in Your First 1K is so important. You’re #1 regret will be not starting sooner. I was very much dependent on my affiliates, and 99% of the time it worked out great. But overall, my biggest mistake was not understanding the true value of having your own email list right away.
What can you take away from all of this?
When you notice something gaining traction, double down on that.
I think when you first start blogging, you’re afraid of re-using anything you’ve written or published or sent as an email, but it really is the difference between smart bloggers and the amateurs. Smart bloggers repurpose EVERYTHING.
Squeeze every ounce of usefulness out of EVERYTHING you create:
What I mean is, make the most out of every single thing you write, make, design, or publish. Nobody has seen all of your content even if you use it in 100 ways. Some examples:
Write a blog post and create images for twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest so that it can gain traction on those channels.
Write a 5 or 7-part email sequence for your first launch, and then re-use that same sequence (tweaked in a few important ways) for your evergreen funnel, and then re-use it again for your other open/close launches or “public” launches. Yes, just keep re-using it. You do NOT need to write a new sequence every single time.
Once you have a few blog posts, compile them into an eBook or some sort of guide/PDF and make that another lead magnet for you. No, nobody will notice or care if some of the content they’ve seen on the blog at some point. Blog posts are both pillar/evergreen but also ephemeral to people - they forget what they read.
And just f*cking start.
Even if you don’t know how it’s all going to work out. Even if you have no idea how you’re going to do step 10.
You’re on step 1. Start there. Then figure out the rest. Stop worrying and waiting and planning and take some scary action. Big scary action.
You bet I could have given you 100 reasons why I had no business creating and selling my first $97 email course. I didn’t have any technical knowledge. No email list. No idea how I was going to deliver the information. No idea how to take payments.
Guess what? I figured it out.
If you want me to just give you all of the steps, in order, with all of the scripts, copy, strategies, technical trainings, and everything else you need to do this for yourself, you can enroll in Your First 1K and be looking back at your first successful launch of your own small $97 product in 60 days.
But even if you don’t enroll, I still dare you to have the guts to try. This $97 product with a 3-part email launch sequence changed my life and everything I have done since then. You have to try, otherwise you’ll always wonder what could have happening for you too.