12 Dec

An update on The Audience Building Challenge

Sometimes things don’t work out as planned. November was one of those months.

I started the month by announcing that I was going to try to add 10,000 email subscribers in just 30 days. I was convinced it was possible—and I still am—but I didn’t do it. I’m still trying to figure out why. It wasn’t that the strategies didn’t work, but instead that didn’t work. Each time I sat down at my computer I wasn’t motivated to work on writing the posts or working on the relationships to grow my list.

My 1,000 words per day still happened (I’m nearing 500 days in a row), but not on topics written for other blogs. Instead those words went into new products and plans for next year.

There is a post that I’ve had ready for a very popular blog for some time now. It’s written, they’ve approved the topic, and I just need to spend 30 minutes to finish it up before submitting it. Another post is all ready to be published, they just need my bio and photo. Which I still haven’t sent. It’s been like that for over a month with no progress. It’s basically chronic procrastination.

That’s how the month went: lots of great ideas and planning, almost no execution.

Great for revenue

November was an amazing financial success and a great way to close out the year. I partnered with Jeremy Olson to update The App Design Handbook for iOS 7 and it went amazingly well! With his award winning design knowledge to update the book, combined with my refined product launch techniques, we beat my previous 24-hour record by $10,000!

Total we did $65,000 in book sales in November (though I split most of that with Jeremy), making it a very profitable month. Sales have been continuing quite well. Though my numbers are a bit higher than normal since The App Design Handbook iOS 7 Edition is selling so well. I just have to keep in mind that I now need share a lot of that revenue. It’s not a bad thing, just something I need to remember when comparing sales figures to other months.

Not so great for subscribers

I still gained more subscribers than average, but not anywhere near what I wanted to do. Most of that is because I just didn’t do any of the outbound efforts I had planned. Here’s a breakdown of the major subscriber sources:

  • Think Traffic Guest Post (about 200)
    The one guest post I wrote that did get published was for ThinkTraffic.net (now merged with Fizzle), called Why “Product First” is the better way to build a profitable audience. That post is my take on an ongoing discussion over at Think Traffic, so I’ve been wanting to write it for a while. I also tied in the conclusion of the post to my Mastering Product Launches course and ended up picking up about 200 new email subscribers. Which is a great ROI for me on a guest post!
  • Udemy Course (TBD)
    I took a video course I had already made and uploaded it to Udemy to see what kinds of subscribers they would bring in. So far 128 people have taken the free course, but about 50 of them came from my own audience (I tweeted about it). Now to be clear, these aren’t email subscribers. Udemy doesn’t give out email addresses. My plan is to link off to my other resources throughout the course and try to collect some email addresses from there. I will also use their built in messaging tool to send out announcements about my other projects from time to time. Really I’m most interested in how the subscriber count will grow over time without any promotion on my end.
  • New Photoshop Course (about 100)
    The first product I am launching next year is a new course on Photoshop for UI Design. A few weeks ago I setup the landing page and instead of promoting it to my own audience, I looked outside to other communities. I wanted to see how many subscribers I could easily get before using the benefits of my existing community. I posted to to Reddit and mentioned it in a HN comment. The result was about 100 subscribers, which is a great way to kick off a prelaunch list.
  • App Design Handbook Sample Chapter (about 1,000)
    The biggest driver of new subscriptions was from a little form on my sales page. I’ve written about it before, but giving out your sample chapter in trade for an email address is a fantastic way to grow your list! Though I was still blown away at just how well it worked for the new edition of The App Design Handbook. The page has been visited 21,539 times and 1,137 people have requested the sample chapter. Meaning 5.3% of all page visitors end up subscribing.
  • Nathan Barry LIVE (about 100)
    I launched a new show in November called Nathan Barry LIVE. In the first episode I discussed growing an email list with Brennan Dunn, James Clear, and Corbett Barr. It was a lot of fun and I plan to continue it in the new year (it will also become a podcast). Through promoting that I gained 224 subscribers, but well over half were already on my list in some way.
  • Business Lessons video course (about 400)
    A few months ago I recorded a video course on 10 business lessons I’ve learned while building a profitable blog. This course has been out for a while, but got a lot more attention and promotion in November. It just goes to show that sometimes it’s better to promote your existing content rather than always create new content.

That concludes the bigger drivers of subscribers, but the next part is what is most interesting to me.

Setup systems

All told I added nearly 3,000 email subscribers to my list in November. And that’s with failing to execute on 95% of my plans for the month. How? Because I already had systems in place to turn my visitors into subscribers. Using ConvertKit I have relevant forms in place at the end of each one of my blog posts. Each of my guest posts have a strong call to action to one of my landing pages, and my book sales pages all have email capture forms.

Combine everything and I have 24 unique email capture forms setup inside ConvertKit. Most don’t drive many subscribers, but the point is that my blog is well optimized to convert drive-by traffic into long-term subscribers.

A few numbers

On November 1st my main email list had 10,747 subscribers. One month later that number was up to 14,010. A net gain of 3,263 subscribers.  But I also lose subscribers every time I send an email, so let’s take a look at that.

I sent 10 emails in November, most around the launch of The App Design Handbook, iOS 7 edition.

  • My next public challenge — 5,978 recipients, 47.6% open rate, 53 unsubscribed.
  • Sneak Peek: Interview with Michael Flarup — 6,233 recipients, 41.4% open rate, 36 unsubscribed.
  • Slight change of plans — 6,198 recipients, 44.5% open rate, 33 unsubscribed.
  • It’s live! (first edition customers) — 1,152 recipients, 56.8% open rate, 3 unsubscribed.
  • It’s live! (everyone else) — 5,315 recipients, 47% open rate, 43 unsubscribed.
  • Just 4 hours left (first edition customers) — 1,064 recipients, 46.9% open rate, 5 unsubscribed.
  • Just 4 hours left (everyone else) — 5,638 recipients, 39.1% open rate, 39 unsubscribed.
  • 20 minutes left — 843 recipients, 56.7% open rate, 28 unsubscribed.
  • $36,297 in 24 hours: behind the scenes of The App Design Handbook launch — 11,262 recipients, 43.8% open rate, 85 unsubscribed.
  • Not a sale — 11,161 recipients, 43.3% open rate, 88 unsubscribed.

As you can see most of those emails are related to the product launch sequence. I actually only emailed about two regular blog posts the entire month. Also may notice that the recipient count is different for each one. Instead of sending to my entire list I segment based on who the content would be the most interesting to. The most common one is everyone who has expressed interest in design content vs marketing content. So “My next public challenge” went out to just marketing people, and the book launch emails just went out to people who had expressed interest in design content.

413 people unsubscribed during that time, so I actually gained 3,676 subscribers in November, averaging 122 new subscribers per day. That’s actually a really good month for me! Though still shy of the 300+ subscriber per day average I needed to hit my goal.

November was just another great reminder of a truth I’ve been learning over and over this year:

You can have projects fail completely—even very publicly—and still see a lot of success. If you learn from each mistake and continue to make slow consistent progress each day.

Last week I launched a brand new community dedicated to helping people who have read Authority (and are taking action) build a profitable audience. Our members have subscription sites doing over $5k/month, more than $10k in ebook sales, and some of the most popular apps in the App Store. Next week I’ll be opening up enrollment for 10 more people. If you want to be in that group, get on the waiting list for Building Profitable Audiences.

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4 Responses to “An update on The Audience Building Challenge”

  1. Hi Nathan!

    This post was so incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. I have about 15K visitors to my blog a month, but only 40 subscribers (yep…just 40 lol) and really struggle with building that list, so this really opened my eyes. I’m a scientist by day and figuring out the tricks of Internet marketing always seemed like a challenge…until I read this lol. Also, even though you didn’t reach your goal, your still doing better than 99% of us, so keep up the great work!

    Fantastic blog.


  2. Can’t agree more: “You can have projects fail completely—even very publicly—and still see a lot of success. If you learn from each mistake and continue to make slow consistent progress each day.” Thanks for your sincere sharing!

  3. Justin says:

    Hey Nathan,

    I was following you for quite some time now. What I really didn’t expect was for you to admit loosing a public challenge.

    Sometimes it seems that people who work online never fail any of their goals. It’s so relieving to see the vulnerable side of a pro blogger.

    Gives me hope :)

  4. Yo Nathan:

    “Success is going from one failure to another without losing enthusiasm” _ Winston Churchill

    Luv your stuff! I’m just unleashing my second pay-for E-Book…
    Thanks for the inspiration! Also loved ‘Authority’ = great title!

    Ray, ex-Teacher

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