Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Watch me try to get my first Shopify client

For the last 6 years I’ve done mostly the same kind of freelancing work: web development at $X/hour. When I first started freelancing in 2011 I had some vague idea of the exciting life I was going to live, but I slowly realized that being a freelancer programmer is basically just a glorified job. Or more accurately, that’s true for most freelance programmers most of the time.

Because I intend to eventually to become a millionaire, I’ve been working for years on trying to build a product business. Those efforts date back to about 2008. My first five attempts didn’t make any money. My sixth attempt made something like $5,000 over the course of five years. My seventh attempt made about $8,000 over the course of a year. My entrepreneurial skills have been improving over time.

You could kind of say that my first five entrepreneurial attempts made an average of $0/year each, then my next one made an average of $1,000/year, then my next one made an average of $8,000/year. Now that I’ve gotten some decent entrepreneurial practice, I’m ready to build the business that will make $100,000/year. I’m not yet experienced enough to make a $100,000/year idea appear out of nowhere but I do believe I’m now experienced enough not to mistake a $1,000/year idea for a $100,000/year idea.

I’ve also come to understand that successful product businesses aren’t brainstormed but stumbled upon. So the question I’ve been asking myself has gone from, “How can I come up with a good product idea?” to “How can I put myself in a situation that will cause me to stumble upon a good product opportunity?”

I’ve cycled through a lot of different potential answers to that question. My current idea is that maybe I can get involved in the Shopify world and try to get a product idea to emerge there. How did I pick Shopify? I really don’t know. I just kind of randomly picked it.

My thought is that if I want to stumble upon a good Shopify-related product idea, maybe I can do some Shopify consulting for a while to give me some visibility into that world. In fact, maybe that Shopify consulting can even replace my freelance programming income and provide me with a better lifestyle during the time I’m working on my ultimate goal of build a product business.

The kind of Shopify consulting I’m thinking of doing is to help Shopify store owners build their email lists and make more sales to their existing email subscribers.

I’ve run out of time to write this post (gotta get back to the hourly programming work!) but I plan to share more as I go.

June 2017 Angular on Rails Income Report

Here’s every month of Angular on Rails’ sales so far:

2016 August $868
2016 September $1053
2016 October $1580
2016 November $871
2016 December $428
2017 January $371
2017 February $449
2017 March $352
2017 April $735
2017 May $480
2017 June $185

As you can see, June 2017 was the worst month ever. Why? I don’t know for sure. One thing I do know for sure is that I’ve neglected Angular on Rails for about the last two months. That may well be the root cause of the decline.

My plan at this point is to focus on one thing and one thing only: traffic. I’ve gone from a peak of over 8,500 visitors a month (IIRC) to about 6,200 in June. So I set a goal of 10,000 visitors in the month of September.

A person might look at these numbers and wonder if Angular on Rails is really a viable business. My opt-in page still converts fine (~14%), my sales page still converts fine (~7%) and my checkout page converts okay (~18%) so I see no reason to seriously think about bailing now.

One big problem is that I’ve given my supposed #1 much less than my #1 slot attention-wise in the first 6 months of 2017. I’ve spent too much focus on training work. My plan for the remainder of 2017 is to go back to doing more coding-by-the-hour work. It’s not as enjoyable as training but it’s easier on my schedule and family, and the paychecks have tended to be more steady. From here on out I only plan to take on training gigs if they’re relatively easy and lucrative.

May 2017 Angular on Rails Income Report

Here’s every month of Angular on Rails’ sales so far:

2016 August $868
2016 September $1053
2016 October $1580
2016 November $871
2016 December $428
2017 January $371
2017 February $449
2017 March $352
2017 April $735
2017 May $480

And here are the last six months in graph form (I used Gumroad prior to December 2016 so Stripe doesn’t have data for those months):

So May was not as good as April, but better than the months leading up to April. Why wasn’t May as good as April? I don’t exactly know.

I’ve been pretty distracted from Angular on Rails lately. I’ve been doing a lot of training. Last week I taught a class in Amsterdam and the week before that I taught a class in Detroit.

I’m frankly expecting to have to neglect Angular on Rails for about the next 6 weeks. I really hate to do that but the first priority has to be the client work that pays the bills, and I have a lot to do for clients over the next 6 weeks.

Side note: I tried Facebook ads in May. It went well it the sense that I was able to acquire 37 subscribers for about $2 a pop but it went poorly in the sense that none of those 37 subscribers bought anything. I’ll try again later when I can afford to waste some money to get it figured out.

April 2017 Angular on Rails Income Report

Here’s every month of Angular on Rails’ sales so far:

2016 August $868
2016 September $1053
2016 October $1580
2016 November $871
2016 December $428
2017 January $371
2017 February $449
2017 March $352
2017 April $735

And here are the last five months in graph form (I used Gumroad prior to December 2016 so Stripe doesn’t have data for those months):

So March 2017 was the worst month ever, and then April 2017 was the best month in a long time. I attribute this improvement to two main things:

  • I dramatically improved my opt-ins from April to March
  • I raised my prices from $39/$89/”custom” to $49/$99/$249

More opt-ins means more sales and higher prices means higher average sale size.

I had set a goal at one point to double my average sale size. Prior to April 2017 my average sale was $35.13. In April my average sale was $52.52. That’s of course not a doubling but it’s a 50% increase which isn’t bad.

In my last Entrepreneurship Journal I described a 4-step plan:

  1. 3X opt-ins/mo
  2. 2X average sale size
  3. 2X traffic
  4. 2X average sale size again

I think I was initially imagining I would start with the first goal and not move to the second goal until the first goal had been achieved. Later I decided it would probably be more effective to turn some knobs on goal #1, then move to goal #2 while I’m waiting for results to come in, and so on, since there’s a delay between the time I take action and then time I have enough data to see the results of my action.

Here’s what has happened with opt-ins so far:

That’s not a 3X but it is a 1.5X which I’m happy with for now. And we’ve already seen that I’ve 1.5X’d the average sale from $35.13 to $52.52. 1.5 * 1.5 = 2.25. That’s interesting because March’s revenue, $352.25, times 2.25 is $792.56, which isn’t too far off what April actually was. So it looks like fiddling with these inputs really does affect the outputs in the way I would expect. And as long as my opt-ins stay about the same and average sale size stays about the same, I can expect May to be about the same as April.

I haven’t done much yet to influence traffic and I certainly haven’t 2X’d the average sale size for a second time. But for the foreseeable future I think traffic is what I’m going to be focusing on. My first goal is still to 2X traffic but I wonder now if maybe I should just try to, say, 5X traffic. I’ve been told that all my conversion numbers are pretty good and that it might be easier just to crank up traffic than to try to squeeze out some higher conversion rates. I can see the logic in this.

Right now my traffic is at about 8,000 visitors a month, so I’m shooting for 16,000 a month. My guess is that if I do that my revenue will go from about $750/mo to about $1500/mo. So that’s the next milestone.

March 2017 Angular on Rails Income Report

Here’s every month of Angular on Rails’ sales so far:

2016 August $868
2016 September $1053
2016 October $1580
2016 November $871
2016 December $428
2017 January $371
2017 February $449
2017 March $352

To use the classic geological metaphors, you can see a peak in October and then a plateau from December to the March. Why the peak and why the subsequent plateau?

Well, here’s one possible factor:

subscriber chart

That’s a chart of my new email subscribers. I had a peak in October 2016 with about 300 subscribers. Then it was all downhill from there. In March I had something like 98. So that’s one issue. (The jump in April 2016 is when I imported a list of ~300 subscribers from MailChimp.)

Then there’s this:

sales page traffic

That’s the traffic to my book’s sales page. Again, it peaks in October 2016 and goes down from there.

I think the decreased traffic to the book’s sales page is probably at least partially a function of the waning opt-in rate. And I think the slowing opt-in rate is a function of traffic to the home page. The home page is where all the opting in happens. Here’s the home page traffic:

home page traffic

Similar trend: down.

It took me until recently to notice these things because overall traffic has gone up! Here’s a graph of site-wide traffic:

overall traffic

That graph by itself makes the site look pretty healthy. Not entirely so, of course.

I have a hypothesis of the “no shit, Sherlock” variety that more opt-ins would result in more sales. I figure if I can get my opt-in rate from its current 100ish to its erstwhile 300ish, then I could reasonably expect sales to roughly triple.

My plan for increasing opt-ins includes:
– Put an “ad” on each blog post for the same Free Guide that’s offered on the home page (I’ve actually already done this)
– Add an opt-in on each of my most popular blog posts that offers something related to what the blog post is about (I believe this is known as a “content upgrade”)
– Write an promote some new material, which I haven’t done in quite some time. I have a hunch that the lack of “freshness” on my site is partially responsible for my decline in opt-ins, although I can’t explain exactly how that would work. Regardless of whether my hunch is correct, there’s a ton of stuff I think I should be writing about that I’m not. The more I write, the more traffic I get, generally, and more traffic is of course one way to increase opt-ins, although perhaps not the smartest/easiest way. New writing is a lower priority for me than adding content upgrades and refreshing old content.

Another thing that can increase sales is of course to raise prices or to increase the average purchase size. I recently re-did my $89 video product and adjusted my sales page to do a better job of presenting the $89 product and of saying to prospects “this is the default option, the best value, the one you should buy”. Anecdotally, my efforts seem to have worked, although it’s too early to tell. And I certainly haven’t yet done the best job of improving the sales page that I could possibly do. It really needs a ground-up rewrite and redesign. But that’s a lower priority. First let me just get opt-ins back up to where they used to be.

I mentioned that I re-did my $89 video product. I also updated my book so that it covers the latest version of Angular, Angular 4. After I did both these things I did a launch. I was expected big sales from the launch, like a couple thousand or more, but on launch day I believe only two people bought. Big disappointment.

I wondered why that was, and I think I know the answer. On my list of 1500ish subscribers, about 130 have bought. That’s about 8 or 9 percent. Maybe about 8 or 9 percent of my subscribers are going to be buyers, and that’s just all the buyers there are. Maybe by trying to get the others to buy I’m just trying to squeeze blood from a stone. A huge portion of my list comes from places like India and Brazil, after all, where $39 is a lot of money.

I think there’s also another explanation as to why my launch failed. Every time a subscriber subscribes, I give that subscriber his own private “launch sequence” which often does result in the subscriber making a purchase. So if my “private launch sequence” is effective, then a regular launch would probably be mostly redundant. For the most part, the people who would respond to the launch have responded the first time, and the people who would never respond aren’t going to respond to the second launch any more than they would to the first. Again, I think this is true for the most part although of course not always.

Those conclusions, if true, lead me right back to increasing opt-ins. If all the buyers on my list have already bought, find more buyers.

If I can boil down everything I’ve said so far into a concise plan, it’s this: increase opt-ins and increase average sale size. If I can 2X my sale size and 3X my opt-in rate, I can 6X my revenue. That would take my from my current ~$400/mo plateau to 400 * 6 = $2,400/mo. I would be very happy with that number. Heck, I’d even be pretty happy with a consistent $1,000/mo right now.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions or get my hopes up but it seems like some of the actions I’ve taken recently might have helped improve opt-ins and average sale size. My April sales as of right now, April 10th, are $386.75. That’s an average of $38.68 a day which would mean about $1,160 for the month. Again, I’m not going to jump to conclusions or get my hopes up. Even though my launch was a flop, the $386.75 does include launch sales. But just by absolute numbers, I’m already right at “plateau level” on the 10th day of April and I do think I can reasonably expect that April’s final sales will be higher than any other month since the plateau started.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 2/23/2017

Lately I’ve been posting income reports that talk exclusively about Angular on Rails.

I’m not sure what my original intended scope of these “Entrepreneurship Journal” entries was but I think I’ll now include in them everything I do that makes money.

In 2017 I think I can pretty accurately say that I make my money by a mix of three things:
– Custom software development
– Training/mentorship
– Products

In fact, I just got new business cards which say on the back, “Training / Mentorship / Custom Software Development”.

The training service is something I’m doing more of in 2017 than in the past. By the beginning of February my sales of training services were roughly equal to 75% of my total earnings for 2016. That’s a pretty big deal.

The “regular old coding” work I’ve done so far in 2017 is probably about 15% of my total earnings for 2016, so I’m already at about 90% of 2016’s income. Keep in mind that these are sales numbers, and not everything I’ve sold has yet been delivered or paid for. But the contracts are all signed.

This might sound like I have it made for 2017, and in a way I do, but a lot of this money is just going toward back taxes and credit card debt from 2016. I had a dry stretch in 2016 that really put the squeeze on at an inconvenient time. And when you get behind on taxes, it can be very hard to dig yourself out of that hole. So the pressure is still very much on to make a lot more sales over the next few months.

My plan is to first go after as many training gigs as I can, and once I think I’ve exhausted those resources, go after “regular” contracting gigs. And all the while I plan to put in an hour or two a day on Angular on Rails.

Let me talk for a second about the training I’ve done and the training I’m going to do. Last week I taught a 5-day Ruby on Rails class in Vancouver, Washington. In two weeks I’m teaching a 3-day Angular 2 class in Sofia, Bulgaria. Then, in June/July, I’m leading a 5-week coding bootcamp. I have two other leads, both in India, incidentally. One would be a remote teaching gig (in the middle of the night!) and the other would require me and the family to move to India for something like three months.

I also started something called the Grand Rapids JavaScript Meetup. I’m hoping/expecting that this will lead to some training and/or contracting gigs.

My #1 goal for 2017 is to go full-time on Angular on Rails. The way I’ve quantified this is that when I hit a consistent $10K a month from Angular on Rails, that means I’ve hit my goal. Even though I’m only making a few hundred a month right now I have a pretty good feeling about getting there. We’ll see where I am in a few months.

January 2017 Angular on Rails Income Report

In January I made $371, according to Stripe.*

*It seems like Stripe can be a little bit inaccurate since it always gives me the total sales number including sales that later got refunded. I had one or two instances where people got charged twice for some reason, so I had to roll back the second charge. There were also a couple people who wanted to pay me via PayPal, so those two things roughly cancel each other out.

Here’s my income for the 6 months Angular on Rails has been making money:

– August 2016: $868
– September 2016: $1053
– October 2016: $1580
– November 2016: $871
– December 2016: $428
– January 2017: $371

You can see a clear downward pattern. Why has revenue gone down? I think the simplest answer is that I haven’t really done anything to make it go up.

Let me talk about what I’ve done since January 1st. Keep in mind that I’m writing this on February 23rd.

A little after January 1st I offered a free training program. I sent out an email to my list of about 1200 subscribers and gave them a link to apply. To my great surprise, over 110 people applied for the free training. That’s almost a 10% conversion rate. Insane.

I told my subscribers that I would choose 20 students in order to keep the class size down, and that’s what I did. I think only about 16 students were able to join because there were time zone challenges. The format was a once-weekly 90-minute webinar. If I remember correctly, almost all of them attended the first session, but only 5 or 6 of the students stuck with it through the end.

I attribute the attrition to the facts that a) it was a free program and b) I had some really serious technical issues during the first session and had to push the whole program back a week.

Anyway, the class went reasonably okay. I plan to do it again. Next time, I plan to provide the students with videos that they can consume on their own time. The “live” time will be more of an office hours type thing as opposed to me just lecturing, which has very little benefit over a video. I’m very glad that I did this free training program before I tried to offer a paid one. I don’t think people would have been very happy if they had paid $X00 for the program I delivered this time.

Another thing I did recently was to pay for a book cover redesign. Here’s the original cover:

jasonswett2d

And here’s the new cover:

winning cover

I got the original off of Fiverr for $15 (IIRC) and the new one off of 99designs for around $550. (I think I overpaid but I’m happy with the end result.)

So, not much of the stuff I’ve done so far in 2017 is stuff that really directly drives sales.

Here’s what I think I need to do next. I have a $39 ebook that converts at a decent rate. Nobody right now is buying my $89 or my $299 product. I think the thing I need to do next is get my $89 product selling.

One obstacle is that I believe my $89 product to be outdated and kinda sucky. It’s hard to persuade people to buy a product I don’t really think they should buy. So I need to refresh the product. Second, I need to do a better job of presenting the $89 product on the sales page. If you give me $89, what exactly do you get? Right now the answer isn’t very clear. I need to make it more clear.

Once the product is refreshed and I make it better-presented on the sales page, I plan to re-launch the $89 product. When I originally launched the video package in October 2016, I made about $1600 that month, and at the time I had about 900 subscribers. Now I have closer to 1400 subscribers, so I think I can expect some pretty good launch sales.

I’m teaching an Angular 2 class in Bulgaria in two weeks and I need all the time I can get between now and then to prepare. I plan to do the $89 product refresh and relaunch when I get back. I’m giving myself about two weeks to do it. My deadline for relaunch is 3/23.

December 2016 Angular on Rails income report

In December I made $428.50. Here’s the full financial history over the months:

– August: $868
– September: $1053
– October: $1580
– November: $871
– December: $428.50

Like in November, I didn’t do much in December to try to make Angular on Rails make money. Instead I spent some time fixing some foundational issues to prepare for long-term success. Now that I know Angular on Rails is something that can make money, it’s no longer premature for me to invest serious time into things like making the site look good.

By the way, you might wonder why December’s figure is so oddly precise compared to the other months. That’s because my new payment plugin allows me to charge percentage discounts, not just dollar amount discounts.

November 2016 Angular on Rails income report

I’m gonna try to bang out this post as quickly as possible.

Income in November was $871. Let’s look at that next to the other months:

– August: $868
– September: $1053
– October: $1580
– November: $871

As you can see, November was the first month where revenue went down instead of up. I believe the main reason for this is that I didn’t really do anything in November to make revenue go up. I didn’t do any launches and I barely communicated with my list at all.

Frankly, I don’t have any plans to necessarily do much in December to make income go up either.

I recently hired a business coach who I think I’ll keep anonymous. He’s not really a coach, just a successful person I know who I believe can help me.

In my first call with this coach who I’ll call “B”, he shared two opinions with me that I found kind of surprising: a) my conversion measurement is woefully inadequate and b) I should get off of Gumroad in order to have a better ability to track sales. Now that I see these things, they’re obvious. But I never would have found them myself. This is the exact reason I wanted to hire a coach and the exact type of outcome I hoped for in our call.

B also suggested that I add a content-specific opt-in to each of my 8 or so most popular blog posts. Right now I’m getting about 40 subscribers a week or 120ish a month. Based on my traffic, B seems to believe that I can and should be getting more like 500 new subscribers a month. That would of course be good.

So my priorities right now are:

1. Get adequate conversion tracking set up
2. Add some content-specific opt-ins to my most popular posts
3. Do a few certain other things to improve my landing pages/sales pages

So I expect revenue in December to be pretty low again, probably even lower than in November. But then I’m probably going to expect January to look more like October or even better.

October 2016 Angular on Rails income report

I decided to do an income report for Angular on Rails for October 2016. I haven’t officially done this before for Angular on Rails. I don’t know if I’ll end up making it a regular thing or not.

In case you’re not familiar, Angular on Rails is a site where I teach Rails developers how to use Angular on top of Ruby on Rails applications. I started the blog in 2014 but didn’t start making serious attempts to monetize it until April 2016, partly because I couldn’t think of a good way how.

In April 2016 I went to MicroConf where some conversations I had made some lightbulbs come on in my head. In June I pre-sold seven copies of Angular for Rails Developers then released the book on August 30th, 2016.

My revenue in those last couple days of August was $868 and in September I made $1053.

On October 25 I released a $199 book + video package which I sold on launch day at a discount of $99 (and, if you had already bought the $39 book, $60). My total revenue in October ended up being $1580.

To sum up the months it has been:

  • August: $868
  • September: $1053 (18% growth over August)
  • October: $1580 (50% growth over September)

My goal for November is $2000 which would be 27% growth over October. I had previously set a goal of $3000 for October which I didn’t hit, but 50% growth is still “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”, as my grandpa used to say. I decided to adjust November’s goal to something less ambitious, partially because I don’t plan to launch any new products in November.

I’m not completely sure where I’ll turn my attention next. I like to think about next steps based on the health of the various steps of my funnel. The first funnel step is traffic. I think I’m good on traffic for the time being. Traffic has historically been 5,000-6,000 visits a month. In October it was about 7,900 visits even though I haven’t been doing anything to actively try to improve traffic.

The next step in the funnel is to opt into my email list. My opt-in conversation rate last month was about 22%. That’s pretty good.

There’s also the conversion rate from subscription to purchase. According to Gumroad I made 40 sales in October and according to Drip I got 270 new subscribers. That means about 15% of subscribers went on to buy something. That actually strikes me as pretty good.

A little while ago I read something interesting Pat Flynn wrote. He said if you want to double your sales, double a conversion rate. It seems kind of crazy but it really is that simple. You can double any conversion rate in your funnel and it will result in a doubling of sales. So maybe the question is: out of all the conversion rates in my sales system, which could be increased with the least amount of time and effort? That’s hard to say. 22% and 15% are both pretty good conversion rates. But I guess that’s not to say they couldn’t be improved. It’s hard to imagine doubling them though.

So far I’ve pretty much only talked about sales and marketing. There’s also the necessity of maintaining the product itself. There are some certain aspects of the book that I’m very unhappy about right now. For example, the material covering authentication is incomplete.

And there’s also the consideration of keeping my list warm. I haven’t been emailing my list nearly as much as I should be. And in order to email my list, I need to have something worthwhile to say. Putting together a worthwhile utterance usually takes me a pretty large amount of time since the nature of my material is such that I can’t just spout it off the top of my head like I could with, say, freelancing advice. There’s research involved. So I have to somehow fit that in.

And speaking of freelancing, that’s what takes up most of my time. For a while I was allocating about an hour a day to working on Angular on Rails, although lately I’ve been barraged with client emergencies as well as sales conversations too good to pass up, and both those things have swiped a pretty huge amount of time from my plate. So I have to get my schedule back under control, and once I do I have to fit all this stuff inside an hour a day.

Perhaps I’ll spend, say, three days a week developing my educational material and three days a week on sales and marketing (Monday through Friday plus an hour on Saturday mornings).

It’s interesting how the nature of the challenge has changed over the years. When I first started with attempts at a product business, the challenge was that I had literally no idea what to do at all. Now the challenge is that I think I know exactly what I need to do, I just don’t know the best way to prioritize. Like Dan Sullivan said, “The skills that got you out of Egypt aren’t the same skills that will get you to the promised land.”