Things Are Heating Up
I headed into March cautiously optimistic. February’s numbers were pretty decent, and I had a lot of irons in the fire. Last month I was on the verge of reaching several milestones related to traffic, content, ads, and email stats—but this month really delivered. As a reminder, here’s why I’m working so hard every day.
2021 Goal: Double niche site income within 12 months.
In March, more than ever, I feel like my work is really moving the needle. I’m also working on a number of initiatives that *should* boost traffic and income (keep reading) in the long run. This month proved all that hard work hasn’t been in vain.
Spoiler Alert: March crushed it!
Before I dig into the details, here’s a quick look at the overall performance of my site.
This Month in a Nutshell
As I’ve discussed in past updates, I don’t check earnings until the 15th of each month. When I checked in mid-March, I started to get really excited by the numbers.
Compared to February, traffic was up 25% and revenue was up 30%. [Cue happy dance!]
The best part was seeing growth across different income streams—not just one. Amazon Affiliate income and ads were up, as well as two out of three of my smaller affiliate programs. Diversifying income lowers risk, and I never want to rely on a single third-party I can’t control.
In fact, that’s the whole reason I’m working on building the Knowledge Directory and launching my own paid digital products.
This Month: $6,060.14
In March, my site crossed $60K in lifetime earnings, which is pretty darn cool. Heading into this month, I’d have been really happy landing anywhere between $4,000-$5,000. After all, my top earnings to date had been just shy of $5,000 in December—and that was only because of holiday shoppers.
I never even entertained the idea I might reach $6,000 in March.
To meet my 2x income goal for 2021, I need to consistently make $7,000 per month. Suddenly, my “crazy idea” looks almost attainable.
It bears repeating that growing a niche site is a slow, methodical process—not some get-rich-quick scheme. When I first launched my site, it made a whopping $14.80 for the entire first month. Talk about inspiring—NOT.
If you put in the hard work, though, and learn how to put your time and effort into the right activities, I learned you can build a site that actually “works while you sleep.” Personally, my motivation is building a resource that is high-quality, useful, fun, and continues generating income long after I retire from my other small business.
I’m playing the long game, which means slow and steady growth is king.
But I’ll never complain about a spike in revenue!
(Fun Fact: My site has now paid me more than my first job out of college.)
This Month: 103,227
The funny thing about reaching milestones is how quickly you replace them with new ones. In February, I was jazzed to hit 4,000 visitors per day three times. (Two of those were related to a random single blog post spike.)
I thought it’d take several more months to reach 100K visitors in a single month. March delivered yet again!
The site saw daily traffic between 3,800-4,200 on 11 days. That adds up fast and directly correlates to my boost in ad revenue.
I finally achieved my first $100 ads day, a milestone Mediavine users love to celebrate. Then it happened four more times.
Plus, I now have a much clearer sense of the daily traffic needed to sustain $100/day from ad revenue—around 4,400-4,500 visitors.
Below are charts showing March and lifetime traffic. I am a bit concerned about the drop after March 25—more than 25% lower within two days. I can’t see any obvious reason for this, so I’m trying to stay focused on the above-average numbers prior to that.
Though visitors ebb and flow, overall traffic continues trending up and to the right. Yay!
This Month: $1,793.74
Not to be a wet blanket, but getting to this point hasn’t been cheap. “Gotta spend money to make money” right? [Crickets…]
March saw a notable uptick in expenses, but nothing I didn’t see coming.
- $700 | Knowledge center support (creator outreach, course descriptions, etc.) and administrative support (putting new blogs into WordPress, etc.)
- $600 | Additional 5-hour block of web development time
- $75 | Nonprofit donation on behalf of a diversity program contributors
- $150 | Upwork writer bonus for new article and drafting a future paid guide offering
- $63 | Thank you gifts for a top-tier contributor
- $50 | Bonus to Upwork writer for going above and beyond on an article
- $54 | First 6 months of Shopify Buy Button (for paid digital products)
- $76.74 | Branded thank you cards and stickers from Moo.com
- $25 | Thank you gift card for web developer
As a reminder, I was willing to invest up to $15,000 this year to help reach my goal of doubling site income. From January – March, I spent $5,833.74 on things like content, web development, administrative support, and systems. It sounds like a lot, and it is. But here’s the thing…
I made back 100% of what I’ve invested in 2021—in March alone.
Throwing money at a poorly planned and executed site is a waste. Investing in a strategy that’s working is a no-brainer.
Activities & Accomplishments
When I first set out on this journey, I created a Gannt chart to show what should happen when. Over the last month or so, I’ve made some changes to priorities and timing. For example:
- Removed the tech series I’d planned to do—but wasn’t actually enjoying
- Bigger focus on digital products (paid and free) up front
- Moved eBook development to later in the year
- Moved blog acquisitions to later in the year
- Added promotion “sprints” to my courses and Knowledge Directory
So, what did I end up focusing on most in March?
Focus Area: Knowledge Directory
If you’re new to my story, this idea is about featuring ~50 existing educational resources from other experts in my niche in a searchable directory. There’s no fee to be listed, but the creator must have (or make) an affiliate program.
This approach lets me promote lots of great courses to my audience—and create a new revenue stream at the same time.
My team did a ton of work on content creator outreach (all manual), and we’ve got 32 resources ready to go. That includes writing up new product descriptions for detail pages, signing up for all the affiliate programs, and getting our custom links organized.
While that was in progress, my developer set up a plugin called Directorist and began playing with customization options. Our priorities were branding the tool, ensuring a nice mobile experience, creating categories, and loading individual offerings.
I was scrambling to get everything ready to launch, but the Knowledge Directory went live on March 30. Now, I just need to drive traffic to it and convince readers to purchase courses!
Focus Area: Digital Info Products
In February, I started working on my first paid digital products—a series of PDF guides about different topics within my niche.
I created the template and content outline, then I had one of my Upwork writers do a first draft of the copy.
I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the process went. Because I was so detailed about my vision up front, the writer was able to deliver exactly what I needed to get started. I took her draft, added some additional content, then dropped it into my Canva template. It looks great!
The experience gave me the confidence to have a second guide drafted by a different writer, and it was even faster to get it into final form. I’ve already assigned a third guide that should be ready in early April.
These first three products should give me a good sense if there’s an appetite for this type of content and what price point works best.
Then I worked with my developer to install the Shopify Buy Button, a skinnied down version of the normal store offering. It costs $9/month. Since we want to keep visitors on my site (vs. sending them to a separate store domain), this was the best option.
Focus Area: Blog Content Sprint
I’m approaching the end of my Spring content sprint, which is mostly focused on “cluster content.” The process is going super smoothly because I’m using a small group of Upwork writers I’ve worked with before, then having team members edit and load content into WordPress. That means I can just hop in at the end to add photos, review, and publish.
I anticipate 90% of the sprint content will be live by the end of April, which gives those posts a solid eight months to “bake” on Google during 2021.
Focus Area: Online Course Prep
I began prepping for my first online mini course (4 units with 4 lessons each). This should be fun, for the most part, because I’m using my team to do most of the heavy lifting.
First draft content and system setup and test will all be delegated.
I’ll get to focus on setting the vision for the course, reviewing and polishing content, and branding the course experience. The course will live in Teachable since it’s a user-friendly tool and the system my team is most comfortable using.
This month, I had a few calls talking about the process and content. In April, I’ll be choosing my first course topic, getting my writer started, and overseeing the course logistics.
If all goes according to plan, my first course will launch by July 1.
- Running My Site Like a Business: This month finally felt like I was running my side hustle like a business—investing strategically, delegating so I can better use my time, and working on income-generating tasks.
- Knowledge Directory: I’m really happy to be able to get this project from conception to launch so quickly. I’ll be able to add more courses easily, so this is a resource I can grow over time.
- Diversity Outreach: This month we were able to get a top-tier influencer to create a video for the site. That’s a HUGE win for name recognition, whether or not that specific post ever generates much traffic. Plus, when I browse the site these days, I see lots of diverse imagery and content that didn’t exist prior to this effort.
- Developer Assistance: Hiring a new developer was one of the best decisions I’ve made so far. I found someone I enjoy working with, and he’s very knowledgeable. He has familiarized himself with my site, improved mobile experience, and troubleshooted some pesky issues I couldn’t figure out (e.g. embedded videos disappearing). The only downside is that I used up my first block of 10 development hours pretty quickly and already had to refill the bucket.
- Email List Growth: I haven’t put much time into this yet, but my site popup has been generating 200-300 new signups each month. In March, that trend held true—I added 293 subscribers and topped 2,000 total!
What’s Not Working
- (Somewhat) MarketMuse: To be clear, I like MarketMuse data a lot. What I’m not loving is how manually it is to use and implement changes. Because I was busy working on other projects this month, I hadn’t used any of my 50 monthly credits (which do expire). So that was a waste. I’m not sure how to prioritize this yet in the long run.
- Social Media: I realize social media isn’t going to be the traffic powerhouse that Google is, but I still want to be sure it’s worth my time. Only 3.56% of my March traffic came from social media. Of that, 88% was from Pinterest. I’m tempted to kill off my Facebook page, except I may want the option to run ads for higher-dollar courses down the road (requires having a page). Instagram sends virtually no traffic to the site, but it’s really useful for messaging influencers for our diversity program. I’d like to circle back to this topic in a month or two and make the call on whether or not to continue having a Facebook presence.
On the Horizon
Overall, I’m wildly happy with the progress made in March—and the traffic and income that resulted.
My brain now wants to worry about whether I can sustain those numbers, and I have no way of knowing that.
The better use of my time, though, is keeping my head down. I need to wrap up my content sprint, drive traffic to the new Knowledge Directory and PDF guides, and get my first course off the ground.
Speaking of which, here’s what I plan to focus on next month:
- Promote and SEO-optimize the knowledge directory (I have ideas!)
- Promote and add more paid digital guides
- Grow my email list with free lead magnets
- Begin work on my first online course
- Make headway on my first two physical product ideas
Even when you’re playing the long game, it’s nice to get some big wins along the way. This month was the first time I’ve gotten a significant bump in traffic and income for the year. I have no idea what to expect from the new Knowledge Directory or paid digital guide products, but time will tell. Hopefully, I’ll have more results to share in April.
While I can’t track which levers I pulled that made the most difference, it’s clear that I’m moving in the right direction as a whole. That’s progress!