August 2015 Business Update

We are officially through our first six months of our business launch, and July was an amazing month. In addition to launching our site focused on travel planning, we saw a dramatic uptick in the Wing-T site. For reference, you might want to check out the update I gave back in May.

Note – Finally moved my blog over to WordPress from SquareSpace earlier this week. This was an easy decision as our hosting plan gives us plenty of WP sites for no additional fee, while SquareSpace was going to cost around $200 for another year. I did my best to maintain permalinks but it wasn’t perfect. Some links may break from time to time.

Our Travel Planning Site Launched

While we officially launched it in May with Julie’s articles on her trip to Siesta Key, we didn’t go public with it until July 3. There’s nothing to buy there now as we are focused on updates for family and friends as well as building an audience. We might publish a book on our trekking experience in Ireland. If you want to stay up to date on our goings-on in the travel world, sign up for our newsletter.

Wing-T Coaching Site Business Optimization Plan

It is nice when you invest in very specific improvements on a business and you see immediate returns. There were a few problems we were trying to solve:

  1. How can we get more valuable traffic to the site, i.e. football coaches with a genuine interest in what I have to offer (both for free and for sale)?
  2. How can we convert this traffic to buying customers in an automated fashion?

I focused on #2 first with a small project back in May. From the initial launch of the site back in December I’ve offered a free trimmed down version of my playbook. This is known as an opt-in magnet – a free resource that is of genuine value to the reader, but requires a small exchange to get it: they give me their email address. It was working pretty well going into May as I had about 140 folks that had given me their email address in exchange for this free PDF.

After doing some research in May, I determined that I was being too passive in selling my full book to this audience. I was inviting them to web clinics I ran as well as encouraged them to join my weekly newsletter, but other than a few “P.S.” comments in emails I wasn’t engaging them on the value of the full book. In early May I purchased the Invisible Selling Machine by Ryan Deiss. The guy comes across as a bit too slick for my tastes, but the book is inexpensive and worth it if you are looking into building an automated email campaign to sell a digital product. I used his methodology to build a six email autoresponder campaign in Aweber for folks that download my free playbook. The campaign is looking for one of three different outcomes:

  1. Convert them into a purchaser
  2. Convert them into a newsletter subscriber so that maybe eventually they will see enough value in my writing to buy the book, or maybe they will buy a future offer
  3. Get them off my list

I’m not selling in every email. In fact, I don’t even ask for the sale until the 4th email, with the first three only providing new value to the reader. I provide links to useful articles related to the book they downloaded as well as a replay of a web clinic that I ran on the Belly Series. These 6 emails are spread out over the next week, so about 1 per day.

From the start this new process worked well – I converted a few sales almost a week to the day after I launched the campaign. The problem, however, is that I didn’t have enough traffic signing up to get the free playbook in the first place.

This is where Julie’s magic with Facebook ads stepped in. We first experimented with Facebook ads back in February to promote a web clinic and we had decent success. The Facebook advertising platform, though clumsily built and hard to use at times, is simply amazing. After seeing the power of how you can target potential customers using Facebook, I have a much better appreciation for why that company is so successful.

We ran a small test campaign to drive traffic to the free playbook back in May. In early July I modified the ad a bit, broaden the targeting to not just focus on youth coaches but all football coaches, and turned on the ad and left it running indefinitely. My thinking is that July through August is prime season for youth coaches preparing for the coming season.

The Results of the Project

Let’s start with what Facebook is reporting. I’ve been running this ad campaign for about 1 month (it started on July 7, 2015). Facebook says that:

  • 19,824 people were reached (had the ad show up in their feed)
  • 1,012 conversions (clicked through and signed up for the book)
  • For a total spend of $145.33. That’s about 14 cents per conversion!

I could be spending more, but I limit the advertising spend to $5 per day.

OK, so that’s what Facebook says is happening. Do the business results line up? Let’s look at key business metrics:

Wing-T Business Metrics – Month to Month Comparison
Month to Month
Metric Jul 1 2015 Aug 1 2015
Free eBook Subscribers 271 671
Books sold 48 80

That’s significant growth – we sold more books in July than we had in January through May combined.

Note that I’m not limiting my Facebook audience to just Wing-T coaches (I don’t even know if I could), so not every coach is going to be interested in the material. I’m still amazed at the dramatic increase in traffic that this campaign brought. I did a similar short running campaign in Twitter and it flopped terribly. Twitter has work to do and I think they realize that.

So, I think I have the traffic issue understood and manageable. I’m sure I can optimize my sales conversion funnel (the autoresponder campaign), and I should probably consider split testing some different subject lines and email. I doubt I will this year – I think the sales will likely dry up as September hits and we can look at a relaunch in January.

The best part about this uptick in business is that we did the work in May through early July to set this up, and the rest has been completely automated. Other than helping some customers get their download to work (it is always user error) this is passive income. As the business grows we could even hire a virtual assistant to help us out with support issues like that.

This is exactly the sort of learning we wanted to achieve in this smaller niche as we prepare for offerings that will have much broader appeal than just football coaches.

Games for Keuka Lake and Ireland

Now that I’ve talked about what’s coming up next, it’s time to talk about how I’ll manage to keep playing games while being away from my collection for nearly 5 months! At least I have the luxury of driving to New York, so I hopefully can afford to carry one of my plastic bins. This probably means I leave the golf clubs behind though.

So I have to plan for two different scenarios: having an adequately diverse set of options for the 2+ months I’ll spend at Keuka Lake along with a compact gaming kit for our 7 weeks of backpacking in Ireland. I’m already mostly packed up so what I’m sharing will be just a peek but not a full display. Let’s start with the small container.

The little box of games

Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Tichu — my favorite partnership game for four people. This won’t go to Ireland because the learning curve is too great for new players and Julie and I will most likely just be playing two player games.
  • Love Letter — quick fun and easy to teach to new players.
  • Famiglia — I like this underrated two player set collection game.
  • Star Realms — that’s what you see in the brown plastic box. This game comes in a crappy box hence the switch. I’ve mostly played the iOS game but hoping Julie will like it face to face.
  • Die Sieben Siegel — Sometimes you have five players and want to play a trick taking game. That’s why you carry this one.
  • Bang! The Dice Game — I’m a long time fan of Bang! but it can run on for too long. This has enough of the fun of the original in a much quicker game.
  • Bohnanza — There’s a lot of game in this small package, and it scales well to 5 or 6 players.
  • San Juan — One of those games that I’ll always play.
  • My Sticheln universal gaming pack
  • Hanabi — This game is so unique and I look forward to trying it out with guests at the lake.

Now let’s take a look at the bigger box. Moving around we can see the first side.

Mythotopia, Richard III, and more

  • Mythotopia — I want a few heavier multi-player games and this was my pick. I’ve only played it once, but I love the deck-building-and-wargame mashup.
  • Richard IIIJim and I like to play a wargame when he comes out to Keuka, and we played this one earlier this year. I think it is better than Hammer of the Scots and am eager to play it again.
  • For Sale — One of my top 10 all time games. Easy to teach and quick to play.
  • Jaipur — This is one of the main two player games Julie and I have been playing.
  • Time’s Up — One of our favorite party games that can scale up real well because you can build teams with more than two players.
  • Rivals for Catan with Age of Enlightenment expansion — When Julie and I want a two player game with a bit more depth, this is one of our favorites.
  • 7 Wonders with Leaders expansion — Evergreen game and a Keuka Lake tradition.

Dixit, Castles of Burgundy, and more

  • Dixit — Easy to teach social / party game. Good with a bottle of wine or whiskey. There are several expansions packed in this box.
  • The Castles of Burgundy — One of the better Euro games to come out in the past few years. Alternate for Mythotopia when folks don’t want to fight.
  • Morels — Along with Jaipur one of the main two player games for Julie and me.
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf and Ultimate Werewolf — These are both packed in the same box. I have a feeling without Matthew being at Keuka most of the summer that these may not get played much, but I want the option.
  • The Pillars of the Earth — One of my favorite worker placement games. Hoping to try this two player with Julie.

Magic, Game of Thrones LCG, Havoc, and more

I think that’s it. I’ve got party games, card games, war games, collectible card games, a decent range of Euros, and plenty of two player games. I’m not sure what I’ll bring to Ireland, but for sure I’ll bring the Sticheln kit.

Our Next Chapter, Five Months Later

Julie and I are nearly 5 months into our next chapter and I’m going to share some updates on how things are going.

I mentioned then that I was starting a new site with two key objectives. I’ll restate them here and give some detailed follow up on each.

  1. Build and engage with an audience of youth football coaches that are either running or want to run the Wing-T offense. I’ll be writing posts at least weekly, running free online web clinics, and engaging folks through email via my weekly newsletter. I’ll be putting the Wing-T book up for sale in January 2015 through both the Apple iBooks store and through my own site (for the PDF version). I have at least three more book ideas in the works and hope to publish #2 by late spring.
    • Update — I’ve written 36 articles this year and we are just wrapping up week 19. That’s almost two articles per week. I’ve run two webinars so far and will be running my third next week. My newsletter goes out consistently each week and I’m up to over 150 subscribers. I released my second product, a set of printable play cards, and now have a bundled offer to get both the play book and play cards. I’ve also been running a local clinic (called the “Wing-T Academy”) for rising freshmen and it seems to be an effective way to ease the transition into HS football.
  2. Build a framework (both technology and business process) for repeating this engagement and selling model across new topic areas. My hope is that Julie and I are able to flip between content expert /support role on these different ideas. We’ve had so much fun working together over the past few months. While I’ve been writing the book, producing videos, and writing content for the blog Julie has been setting up our email marketing tools, doing graphic design work, and playing the role of editor and proof reader.
    • Update — This part of the business has been an amazing learning experience. In addition to what I first wrote about, we’ve also become adept at putting on webinars with mostly free tools (relying on Google Hangouts on Air). Julie is becoming a master of pixel-based editing (we use the amazing better-than-Photoshop tool called Pixelmator). We dove into social media advertising using Facebook ads, and we are extremely impressed with the ability of Facebook to target our audience and attract them to our free offerings (mostly the webinars).

Even with this successes, we have moments of doubt and frustration. It takes a long time to build an audience; it really is a grind. Let’s look at some growth stats:

Business metrics as of 2015-05-16

While the absolute value of the numbers isn’t large, I love the growth that I’m seeing. Even after the engine got started in Jan/Feb we are seeing 50-75% growth each month in our key engagement metrics. Google page rank has gone up for the key words and phrases we care about (e.g., Google “wing-t youth football” and you should see my site in the top 5 rankings) and I feel like I’ve built some authority in this topic area. I get phone calls from coaches all over the country (and in Canada) asking for advice on Wing-T installation and play nuances. Even from high school coaches.

It helps when I reflect back to what Julie and I discussed back in the summer of 2014: I would leave the workforce and likely take at least a few years off completely, then we would re-assess and consider our next move. At the time we never even considered starting an online business. So even the meager success we are seeing is beyond what we had contemplated less than a year ago. And best of all, I’m really enjoying this work. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like work. I love collaborating with Julie on these projects. Which is a good segue to…

We are hard at work on our next site and (potentially) next online business offering. This one will also be a grind – it might take 6 months or longer before we start to monetize any part of it. But like the football work I’ve been doing, this work promises to be fun and will align perfectly with our planned adventures over the next 5 months.

Lastly, I should give an update on our plans. Here’s what’s happening in the coming months:

  • Matthew graduates from high school on June 5, and we start driving east to Keuka Lake on June 8, arriving about June 13.
  • Matthew reports to West Point the weekend of June 27.
  • If all goes well, Matthew finishes “Beast Barracks” and gets accepted into the cadet Corps the weekend of August 15.
  • Julie and I fly to Ireland (from NY) on August 25.
  • Julie and I return to NY from Ireland on October 5.
  • Julie and I will join Matthew at Parent’s Weekend at West Point October 8-11
  • At some point after that, we will drive back to Oregon. We hope to stop by and see various family on our return trip.

All the while (even while in Ireland) we expect to be fully engaged in our online endeavors. Our hope is that the travel is mostly transparent to the business. That’s sorta the whole point, after all.