David contributes to SME Pals, a blog aimed at helping startups and online businesses.
Here’s what I learned growing an online side hustle from $0 to $800 per month in 3 months: Growing an online side-hustle is not easy. Content, in particular, is a risky marketing proposition because of a steep learning curve, high labor and input costs, with very uncertain returns. Yet content forms the basis of pretty much any online marketing strategy — from email to blogging to social. It’s vital for online growth.
Anyone who’s tried their hand at making money online probably knows just how hard it is to grow a profitable, sustainable business. So the question I asked myself was this,
Which marketing strategy, or combination of strategies, delivers the highest growth for an online business with the lowest investment of time, skill, and cost?
Turns out I couldn’t find a single marketing strategy, on its own, that delivered satisfactory results, so I had to experiment with a few different combos.
To cut a long story short, I ended up using three relatively cheap and easy marketing strategies (based on content) to grow a new online side-hustle from nothing to nearly $800 in monthly revenue — within 3 months.
To be clear, that’s $800 in revenue, not all of which is profit . I also only worked on this in my spare time, as a side hustle, which is why it took a few months.
In a nutshell, they are:
- Redefined blogging
- SEO competitor analysis
- PPC conversion optimization
When used together, these three strategies work in synergy for faster growth. In other words,
The return of all three strategies working together is greater than the sum of their individual returns.
Before I explain my approach and its benefits, it’s worth noting a few caveats.
- This article assumes you already have a professional quality website. If not, you can learn more about how to create a website first – full disclosure: that’s a promotional link to a blog in which I have vested interest.
- There are costs involved. For example, driving traffic for conversion optimization utilizes paid advertising (PPC).
- There may be a learning curve associated with some marketing activities covered here. Where appropriate I’ll link to resources that can help you get started quickly.
- I am focusing on a specific mix of marketing activities that yielded great results for rapid early stage growth. I am not suggesting you exclude other valuable marketing strategies (i.e. such as email marketing, social, etc), which can add value when integrated into your marketing mix.
My approach (& how it’s different)
I realized quite some time ago that it’s no longer sufficient to write great content and expect to drive valuable organic search traffic from Google.
The vast majority of content will not make any revenue whatsoever. In short,
The days of easy, free organic traffic from Google search are over!
Without any reasonable prospects of organic traffic from Google (at least to begin with) it becomes a lot harder to survive long enough to become profitable.
Instead of wasting time and effort trying to write great content that would, in all likelihood, never see page one of Google regardless of quality, I started treating a single blog post like a startup business in its own right.
Yup, you read that correctly.
Treat a single piece of content (i.e. a blog post) as if it were an entirely new business venture, complete with a
Blogging redefined as a startup business.
I’m not suggesting that a quick blog update about an interesting bug you saw the other day requires a business plan. I’m talking about content that forms a key part of your business (or is your business in its entirety).
Adapting & evolving
The second you start creating content with clear-cut business and marketing objectives, things start to change.
Creating a business plan helps you:
- find out things you didn’t know
- learn about people who are already doing (possibly better) what you intend
- identify potential obstacles
- understand better what might be involved in winning market share
- understand the market
- understand the target audience
With all this new research, data and information at your fingertips, a whole new world of opportunity opens up. All before a single word has been typed.
In fact, getting to the point where you actually start writing ends up being quite an advanced stage in the new process.
Once you have spent a bit of time researching, gathering data and analyzing, this is what you end up wanting to know:
Is there sufficient value in the market for this content?Will this content work to drive revenue?Will this content ultimately become profitable?
With a piece of content that ticks all the boxes, it’s time to put everything together.
Putting it all together
Working with content means ongoing competitor analysis.
Competitor analysis provides information and insights about a niche industry that can be used to gain a competitive advantage, improve marketing campaigns and drive growth.
What you learn about competitors (and from them) doesn’t only help you make better decision about the type of content to create.
You might discover:
- Who they’re getting backlinks from.
- How many backlinks their content has (and gain some idea of what it’s going to take to compete for page one rankings in Google).
- Where their coverage is strong and where there are gaps.
- How they’re encouraging conversions.
- Clever new ideas for adding value.
All of this information helps you focus and tailor the best possible content in order to generate the best possible returns.
But will it work?
There’s no way to know for sure unless you try. The trick is to reach a result as quickly as possible. Fail or succeed, at least you won’t waste time.
Time is your most precious asset; not money.
Fortunately, PPC keyword research and conversion optimization can deliver the results you need quickly.
Google PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising (that’s just an example, not the only PPC option available) doesn’t necessarily need to be profitable (although it is a bonus) to provide a great deal of valuable insight.
Be smart about how you use PPC keywords. Here are a few tips to help out.
- High volume keywords may not drive high conversions because they are too broad or vague.
- English words often have multiple meanings and ambiguity can lead to mismatched user intent. Conversions will suffer.
- Some keywords may be out of your price range — too expensive to bid on — given the value per conversion of your content. Don’t get sucked in. It’s not uncommon for companies to burn their VC capital, or other investments, trying to capture market share quickly using incredibly high bids.
- Google’s high and low range estimates are precisely that — estimates. Well designed landing pages and ads that lead to high ad scores can mean lower bid prices.
Paying to drive traffic using search keywords doesn’t only tell you whether or not content is viable. Use PPC to:
- Understand how to integrate high value keywords into your content. This can form part of a broader, overall SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy that can ultimately help your content perform better in search.
- Learn the inherent dollar value of keywords and the broader online market.
- Instantly test how well the audience converts.
- Drive traffic, conversions and revenue.
Monitor performance and use this information to analyze and improve conversions quickly.
Hopefully, if you’ve done enough research and a great job at creating high converting, high value content, you’ll generate a profit directly off PPC ads.
If not, you’ll need to decide on acceptable losses. In other words, if you spend $50 in advertising and generate $45 in revenue the losses may be acceptable for the time being.
The goal is to create content profitable enough to sustain your business using paid traffic until such time as it can be replaced by free, organic traffic.
Here are a few additional things to bear in mind:
- Diversify conversions and revenue streams. Don’t only try to sell, sell, sell. Sometimes the right visitor arrives at your page at the wrong time. Offering a free eBook, newsletter, or other service may lead to a purchase down the line.
- Content marketing doesn’t end at publication. Use ongoing market research and competitor analysis to find new ways to promote and market content. Find ways to gain back-links and citations to your content from niche influencers.
- Great content also drives networking opportunities. Use your content as an outreach platform to connect with targeted influencers and make alliances with people and organizations that can add value to your business.
- Don’t rely too heavily on a single 3rd party. Any business relationship (such as an affiliate agreement) that, if lost, can kill your business is a weakness. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Ultimately, combing and integrating keyword research, competitor analysis, conversion optimization and proper content research and planning does something more than simply drive revenue. It:
- empowers better strategic decisions
- leads to a better understanding of the niche market
- streamlines costs
- channels time and energy into more productive areas
Hopefully you’ll find plenty of value in exploring this 3-in-1 synergy marketing strategy — it may help reduce costs, better direct your marketing efforts, or help boost conversions.
Don’t be afraid to personalize your campaigns. Find a mix that works best for you.
When it comes to getting the most bang for your marketing buck, it’s all about synergy. Look for strategies that work together (like the ones I used here) to generate more value than the sum of their parts.