25 days into my media subscription startup
A look at revenues, subscribers & analysis.
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Investor Update #1
After several weeks of preparation I finally pulled the trigger on December 1 and launched The Hatchet with a Linkedin post that went viral (97+ comments).
I knew I would be jumping off the deep-end, but it turned out somebody gave me a welcome to entrepreneurship gift in the form of corona, which meant I had to default to the sofa for the entire launch week of my new company. What a way to start.
Despite not having as much time to work on outreach I'm happy with the numbers so far: a total email list of 439, of which 29 paid subscribers, an average email open rate of 62% and a gross annual revenue of €2.670.
Thank you so much for your support already Rachelle, Pieter Paul, Lotte, Gianluca, Freddy, Markus, Lana, Padraig, Nelly, Thomas, Bart, Marnix, Doruk, Stan, Catrin, Sharon, Daks, Guido, Linda, Ruben, Marck, Jan, Kathryn, James, Saina, Robin, Alexander, Matthew and Jons. Your 2020-karma points are in the pocket.
I thought it’d be nice to share insights into my first 25 days of being in business and to look at some of the things I've encountered, positive or challenging, in the first weeks.
1 - Social strategy
The most challenging aspect of running a newsletter is that you need to develop and acquire your own audience. A natural first place to do so was to start with my own social media channels to promote the newsletter as well as the content I create.
As an introvert (surprise), it's made me realise I really need to step outside of my comfort zone and engage much more regularly on social platforms like Linkedin, Reddit, Twitter or in Facebook Groups. The fact that I had only ever done that on Linkedin shows significantly in my ability to reach new subscribers; while my posts there get quite the engagement, posting on Twitter with my 217 followers is about as effective as trying to tell my 1-year old to stop eating food that's on the floor.
After playing around a bit with all of these various social media channels I've set my sites on some short-term marketing goals I want to focus on this quarter:
I want to maintain writing 2 high quality posts per week on Linkedin and Reddit; together these channels account for 37% of my website traffic.
I plan to personally reach out to 10 friends each week to ask them to recommend my newsletter on a social media platform of their choice.
I am considering to reinvest a part of my budget towards getting parttime marketing help to build out my social media presence and subscriber base.
2 - Paid strategy
I've been reading up a lot on what other newsletter writers have done to build out their audience of subscribers. One of those avenues is leveraging paid advertising.
I am quite on the fence about whether or not this is the best way for me to spend my budget right now, but then again I do like the idea of experimenting to see for myself whether it makes sense and to brush up on my Facebook and Google ad skills. I got off to a great start already since I managed to get my FB ad account suspended yesterday.
With Google I've already initiated a first display advertising campaign that has been running for a few days now. I'm curious whether this will yield relevant results, since I left the targeting up to Google's magical self-learning algorithm. I'm obviously no designer, but I am pretty happy with the banner set I managed to create (below).
My goals for paid advertising this quarter are:
Experiment with €150 on display advertising on Google.
Experiment with €500 on boosting my articles on Facebook.
Spend a day learning about search marketing and find out how to run a first campaign to target relevant keywords for people using Google and Bing.
3 - SEO strategy
Another interesting challenge is that my website domain does not get much recognition yet from search engines like Google and Bing, making it hard for new people to find me when searching for information that relates to my business. For example: if you enter ‘the Hatchet’ into Google, you currently need to reach page 5 of the search results to find a link directing to my website.
Longer term, I want to make sure that my company is both visible in direct search results, as well as having my articles surface when people search for relevant questions like “advice on negotiating a better salary”. An important aspect of achieving a higher ranking in search engines is through the process of link-building: getting other credible websites or social media accounts to link back to your website.
I've come up with a few strategies I'll be trying out this quarter:
I've contacted three reputable media outlets to write a guest post. This exposes me to new audiences while also having a link included to my own website.
I am trying out a barter deal where I consult a company for free in exchange for them promoting my newsletter and linking to it from their websites.
I plan to turn one of my issues into a keynote presentation and apply to speak at a virtual event in Q1-2021. This would be a test to see if it helps me reach a new audience and whether promotion about me as a speaker helps my SEO.
4 - Sales strategy
I’m currently at a gross annualised revenue of €2.670 and my target is to reach €19.836 within 10 months to prove the business has commercial viability.
While I see opportunities to bring in future revenue through advertisements or events, I really do first need to establish a revenue stream from subscriptions. Converting readers to paid subscribers takes time though, and I'm noticing that even close business contacts need personal messaging to convince them to subscribe.
While sales outreach might feel like a burden to some people, I genuinely love approaching my network to see if I can convince them to pay for the full service. Selling is a game of patience and numbers: as long as I can make sure to consistently reach out with relevant messaging to people in my target audience, I'll get there.
One thing I'm desperately missing is a referral program. Currently I'm waiting for Substack to implement this feature, but I have hope it'll come soon since I've seen them implement it for some high-profile writers already. Ultimately something like this could really boost the reach and subscriber growth in a way I alone could never.
For the upcoming quarter I want to focus on:
Selling at least one group deal to a company.
Reach 100 paid subscribers (which feels like a stretch goal right now).
Future investor updates
What's working? What isn't? How much money are you making and what is left of it after paying for expenses? You might wonder why I am sharing this much information.
The reason is that it's exactly what I would want to read about from others trying to start a new business. Full transparency feels like the most genuine way to share what lessons I learn in this next phase of my career.
The financial results of The Hatchet don't exist in a vacuum though; they belong to the bigger picture of my personal financial situation. For the next investor updates I will start giving you insight into the choices I make between consultancy, contract-work, and building The Hatchet — and share the top-line results across the board.