Is It Keto - Month 9

October 5, 2019

8 minute read

One-Line Summary

I’m ready to take bigger bets.

Highlights

  • After six months of consistent gains of ~30% in revenue and traffic, Is It Keto’s growth finally flattened out.
  • I’m preparing to sell premium meal plans on Is It Keto.
  • I’m ready to make bigger bets on my businesses.

Goal Grades

At the start of each month, I declare what I’d like to accomplish. Here’s how I did against those goals:

Hire a writer for Is It Keto

  • Result: I hired a writer who’s able to write well in the style I want.
  • Grade: A

In September, I received 25 new applications from freelance writers. I did paid trials with two of them and made one permanent hire.

Earn revenue through a new channel for Is It Keto

  • Result: It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m pretty close.
  • Grade: C+

In September, I explored several affiliate partnerships but wasn’t excited about them. I paused on affiliate deals to focus on a different type of collaboration that I hope to launch in early October.

Publish a guide to hiring freelance content writers

This was my longest article ever, at around 7,200 words. I’ve been writing it on and off since March, so it felt good to publish it finally.

One thing I’m struggling with is finding an audience for my less technical posts. For posts about programming, it’s easy to share it on reddit and Hacker News. When people like it, it gets attention. With posts about hiring content writers, editors, or cartoonists, I don’t know where to share them, so they languish in obscurity until bubbling up to the top of Google results for related queries months later.

Finish open sourcing What Got Done

I published What Got Done’s source on Github and released it under the Apache 2 license. The project has already received contributions from three external developers, and it’s entirely because I added the label hacktoberfest to a few bugs. It’s a program that Digital Ocean is running in October to encourage contributions to open source projects.

Stats

Is It Keto

Screenshot of AdSense earnings
Google AdSense Earnings - September 2019
Metric August 2019 September 2019 Change
AdSense Earnings $227.25 $178.79 -$48.46 (-21%)
Amazon Affiliate Earnings $152.55 $150.06 -$2.49 (-2%)
Total Earnings $388.92 $328.85 -$60.07 (-15%)
Unique Visitors 28,921 28,768 -153 (-<1%)
Total Pageviews 73,469 75,487 +2,018 (+3%)
Domain Authority (Moz) 7 10 +3 (+43%)
Ranking Keywords (Moz) 2,205 2,330 +125 (+6%)

So, it finally happened. Is It Keto has grown by about 30% in revenue and traffic every month this year. I knew that growth couldn’t continue forever, and I was waiting for the time when it would level off. It finally did.

Everything stayed relatively flat except for AdSense earnings. I’m not sure if this is due to changes I made or if it’s just natural fluctuations in AdSense.

Zestful

Metric August 2019 September 2019 Change
Total Earnings $728.49 $4.51 -$723.98 (-99%)

No surprises here. I knew my spike in revenue last month was an anomaly, and now it’s settled back into the normal territory of $3-$40 per month.

Creating premium meal plans for Is It Keto

In September, I tested an affiliate partnership with a company that claimed to offer keto meal plans. They charge customers $15/mo and give affiliates 30% of subscription fees from their referrals (i.e., $5/mo per referred customer). I ran the link for a few weeks, but none of my readers signed up for their service.

I tried testing the service myself, and I quickly realized why nobody wanted to use it: it was terrible.

Meal planner screenshot Grocery list screenshot
My former affiliate partner expects users to buy 102 different grocery store items and spend 12 hours per day cooking.

Their service didn’t create meal “plans.” It randomly threw together a bunch of breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals. To cook all the meals would take you hours. Ridiculously, the plan called for the user to purchase 102 different items from the grocery store. This is to feed a single person for a single week. The items include things like 1/8th of a cucumber and 1/2 of a jicama, which is clearly impractical.

I took down the referral link and thought of a better solution: sell my own meal plans. I don’t need a heavyweight, customizable meal platform, just some PDFs to sell. I reached out to someone with experience creating popular meal plans, and we’re working on a partnership where I license their keto meal plans and sell them on my site under the Is It Keto brand.

I put up a crude landing page with a “Buy” button. The button currently just brings you to a message saying that the meal plans are coming, but the page has had 254 unique visitors and 10 unique clicks on the Buy button, which implies a conversion rate of ~4%. That’s an optimistic estimate because some of those users probably would not have completed the checkout process, but it’s promising nonetheless that such a basic page would convince anyone to click at all.

Screenshot of Buy button on sales page
Testing sales for Is It Keto's meal plans

I’m excited to start selling these plans. It feels much better to sell a product where you’re in direct contact with the creator as opposed to just throwing users to a faceless affiliate partner and hoping for the best. The meal plans will focus on optimizing for our readers’ time and budget, so instead of a grocery list of 102 items, it will be more like 20. And the recipes make multiple servings that you can refrigerate and eat later instead of expecting the reader to cook entire meals from scratch 21 times per week.

Hiring has made me better at hiring

When I was hiring writers for Is It Keto at the beginning of the year, I ran paid trials with several writers, and it took me a long time to decide whether any candidate would be a good permanent hire. In one case, I worked with a writer for eight articles, paying her $65/hr for a total cost of $400. This was a substantial amount of time and money to spend on someone who ultimately didn’t work out.

In August and September, I was able to hire much more efficiently because I’ve gotten better at identifying bad matches early. I’m more selective in who I hire for paid trials because I can better predict people’s paid work based on their writing samples. And I can generally eliminate a poor hire in three or fewer drafts of their first article.

One of the most valuable skills I’ve learned is the ability to distinguish between fixable weaknesses and permanent ones. If a writer’s first draft has poor grammar or is incoherent, that’s an easy no-hire because I know they can’t fix that in the short term. If the writing is clear and engaging but violates my style guide, that’s fixable, and I’ll continue working with them. But if we get to draft two or three, and they’re repeating mistakes, or they communicate poorly, that’s a no-hire as well.

Thinking bigger

At the start of the year, I set a goal for myself to earn $500 per month from my businesses. Is It Keto is bringing me close to that target, and selling meal plans might put me over the bar.

As I think about my next project and what I want to accomplish in 2020, I’m thinking bigger. Two people, in particular, drove this.

The first is Cory Zue, an Indie Hacker from whom I frequently draw inspiration. This summer, he launched a Django project template, which he sells for $195 per license. That $195 gives him a lot of freedom. Imagine if he approached a podcast that caters to Django developers and offered them $500 to advertise his product. He’d turn a profit if just three listeners made purchases after hearing his ad. Contrast this with Is It Keto, which earns about $0.01 for each visitor to the site. If I spent $500 on to buy an ad, it would have to attract 50,000 visitors before I started making money.

It’s the same with hiring. If I wanted to hire an additional writer for ~$200/mo, they’d have to attract 20,000 new visitors each month (i.e., a 26% increase from my current traffic) to justify their cost. And that’s disregarding the cost of finding and training them.

The other person that got me thinking was Justin Mares, specifically his recent interview on Indie Hackers. He started selling bone broth online and made $2.8M in his first year. He started another business selling keto products and made $40k in his first 40 days.

I knew that startups could achieve quick successes like that, but that had never been my goal. I was more interested in finding projects that generated small amounts of money and seeing how much I could grow them. By now, I’ve had that experience with Is It Keto. The site earned $1.20 in December 2018, and I’ve been slowly growing it to earn over $300/month today.

Now that I’ve had that experience, I’m gravitating more toward ideas that have big potential payoffs even if they’re riskier. As I think about how to expand Is It Keto or launch other businesses, I’m paying attention to ideas that have the potential for large amounts of revenue. Otherwise I’m going to be in the same situation as Is It Keto, where I’m rubbing sticks together to make fire because I don’t have the revenue to justify matches.

Note: I’m not complaining about $300/mo. I’m thrilled to have reached this point, and it’s exciting to afford a part-time writer and still run profitably, but I’m interested in what I can do with higher margins.

Wrap up

What got done?

Lessons learned

  • I’m ready to think bigger and approach projects that are higher risk for higher revenue.
  • Hiring becomes cheaper over time as you learn to spot red flags earlier.

Goals for next month

  • Earn $100 in revenue from sales of keto meal plans.
  • Add five new articles to Is It Keto.
  • Appear on a podcast aimed at freelancers or entrepreneurs to talk about my writing guide.
    • If you know of a good one, I happily welcome recommendations and introductions.

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