Welcome to Crunchle!
Hey there. Thanks for stopping by Crunchle.com. Like just about everyone reading this, I’ve been cooped up in my house for way too many days and weeks, and there is no end in sight. Like someone on Twitter said: this last month has been the longest ten years of my life.
Not going to lie, this lockdown is pretty rough. My kids are climbing the walls, our income is crushed, mortgages are due, friends and family are in danger of catching the virus. But, I’m not going to sit around and mope about it. I’m going to try to build an online business, and I am going to (try!) to document everything I do—every step, every hour of work, every hard learned lesson, every expensive mistake—so friends, family, and anyone else who needs to pivot in this new reality can follow along.
I might succeed; I might fail. I really have no clue how the experiment will go, but I do know that if I log all of my successes and failures for those who follow along, I can shorten the learning curve for others and hopefully help some people out.
How did a underemployed, jack-of-all-trades, end up in a corner of a second-bedroom writing articles about content marketing?
Before Wuhan was locked down and the virus started turning everything upside down, I was sort of an underemployed jack-of-all-trades. I had worked in manufacturing, then tech, then finance before I hung it all up to be a full-time stay-at-home parent. In the summer of 2019, through a really random sequence of events, I was offered a job as the operations manager of a chemical distribution company.
At the chemical company, my desk was next to the SEO dude’s desk. While my job was interesting, I couldn’t help noticing day after day that his job was 1,000x better. It wasn’t that he made more money (we made about the same) but it was that he got to spend all day playing a really cool game: Search Engine Optimization. To play this game, he had to be clever. His work was creative, interesting, and it involved really engaging research. And then, with that research in hand, he would direct of an army of offshore content creators. Overnight, while we slept, those offshore writers would slam out very mediocre articles about the chemicals we sold. The next morning, our SEO guy would edit them and post them to our website.
Each day—like in all fun games—our SEO guy (and our CEO) got to keep score: Google told us every day how these efforts six months earlier were paying off. What I learned from our SEO guy was that if he did his job well, six to nine months after he posted something, he could see the “scorecard”. He’d show up at his desk, toss a search term (that he had targeted six months earlier) into Google. Then, he’d do a little whooping celebration when he found that our company’s content for a particular search term had climbed from 9th to 3rd, or from the third page of results to the first. I started wishing I did SEO. After the kids went to bed, I’d read about SEO until I fell asleep in my chair.
Meanwhile, at the chemical company, we had an issue with some business development stuff, so I had to put on my old bizdev hat (which I had some experience with from back in my tech job days). In my new capacity as operations-manager-with-a-sprinkling-of-biz-dev-thrown-in, I had to reach out to content creators who were funneling a crap-ton of business to one of our competitors. Weirdly, and totally coincidentally, the first content creator in our niche that I reached out to lived in our town. I’ll call him Sam, but I really should call him Uber-Genius, because he had figured out how to make more money than me and the SEO guy put together, basically doing very, very little. Was he really a genius? Did this take an IQ of 220? Nope. It was actually pretty straight forward. It took some good timing, some hard work in the early days, a lot of self-discipline (to show up every day when he didn’t see any profits for about 11 months), some really focused research and smart choices.
Sam’s money machine: why Google loved Sam more than the chemical companies Sam promoted.
Sam had made an absurdly cool website. Yeah, he had to put a lot of work in five years earlier to make this website, but when I met him, he was on cruise control. Now, on auto-pilot, Sam spent about two hours each morning creating new content and then he spent the rest of his day on his (expensive) hobby of fixing up crazy-cool old cars. Outside of his hobby, hanging with his kids, buying the lot next to his own house so he didn’t have to have a neighbor, he hadn’t done jack in five years.
What was Sam’s website that made him so much money every day, every month, every year? Well, my company sold a chemical that came in 1000 variations. Sort of like how Taco Bell sells beans, salsa, flour and tomatoes, but puts them together in different ways to make 20 menu items. We (and our competitors) sold 50 chemicals that we mixed up and sold in 1000 different ways. Sam’s website was like a library reference section for the 1000 different formulas. If a customer hit up Google to find one of these 1000 formulations, his site would come up before anyone who sold it because he offered a data sheet, use-cases, photos (fed in to his site by Google images) and other non-commercial info that no actual company selling the chemicals wanted to water down their own sales pages with. People in our industry felt our sales pages had to be a tight little funnel, drilling people toward the buy button. But Sam’s website just wanted to tell the world about every last nuance of the chemical combos.
This information-rich focus made Google like Sam’s site a lot more than the sites that actually sold the chemicals. And because Google liked him more, customers clicked on his site, not the sellers’ sites; Sam got to be a virtual middleman and direct traffic to the one player in the business who had an affiliate program. That company (our competitor) paid him 12% for every sale he sent their way. And with his 12% of a huge amount of sales, Sam would spend his time buying sweet vintage cars.
Meanwhile, the SEO guy and me, well, we sleepwalked through a grindy day at work for 9 hours, and only made half as much as Sam. Because some people at our company had the same hobby (old cars) as Sam, Sam started spending more time with us, and I was able to learn more and more about how his gold mine worked.
The third time I was chatting with Sam, it occurred to me (duh!) that Sam and our SEO guy were doing the exact same work. The only differences were: (1) Our SEO guy was sort of phoning it in, while Sam—because he worked for himself and was really motivated—did the same amount of research in a morning that our SEO guy did in two weeks. This stuff isn’t rocket science. And (2) We were outsourcing all of our content creation to writers in Vietnam and Pakistan. Sam was writing everything himself. There are pros and cons of each (writing it all yourself or outsourcing), but the big takeaway was that Sam had basically the same job as our SEO guy, worked a quarter as much, controlled his own time, and made twice as much money. (You might wonder how I know what he made. Well, he ended up negotiating with my CEO to push all that sweet traffic to our chemical company. As part of the due diligence of the offer, he gave us his P+L’s for the previous 5 years.)
Content Marketing? Is that like multi-level marketing or a get rich quick scheme?
I decided that week that if I ever needed to work for myself, I would do content marketing like Sam. Could I have started that day? Started in July, 2019, when I first met Sam? Yeah, but I was scared of leaping into the unknown. I was sure “I didn’t have the time.” What if it was too hard to do? What if it was too late? After all, Sam initially built his site in the good old days (five years ago) when getting ranked on Google was dead-simple. So, instead of starting that day (July, 2019), I told myself, someday, someday, some never arriving future moment when I’d have to work for myself. And then?
Hello COVID-19! So, here it is. My attempt—with literally no relevant experience— to grow a content marketing business. So yeah, that’s facts: I have no clue what I’m doing (as of today, day 4 of my attempt. Hopefully soon I know a lot!) But I do have a huge willingness to be wrong a lot and then get back up and try again.
So what exactly is it? Content marketing, which some people call affiliate marketing, seems a little sleazy at first. You’ve probably seen endless hack recipe sites and mommy blogs; maybe you’ve seen a bunch of lowlife youtube videos pushing some how to become a millionaire fantasy if you immediately buy that $1500 seminar. Just gross.
The sleaze factor that permeates part of this industry was a part of my not really jumping in to it back in July. Even though I kept saying to myself that I was going to be like Sam and I would start “tomorrow”, every time I started to do research, or explore it a little more seriously, I’d come across some obnoxious 20 year old– arrogant, yet barely coherent through the steroids and the hangovers– standing in front of a rented Lamborghini that was parked in front of someone else’s mansion.
Those dopey frat boys promise riches and sell all of the “secrets” they “learned” when they themselves “made a fortune” in content marketing. (The too obvious retort: why sell secrets if the actual business is so good for you?) What a turn-off! It was hard for me to get past the slime-ball vibe of the industry. But, having met Sam, I persisted in trying to learn what I could once the kids went to bed.
What is content marketing?
Once I got past all the huckster spam, I found real people making real money doing content marketing. I already knew Sam was doing great (after all, I had seen his numbers). But I needed more info on more people to get over my inertia. Here’s what I leanred: like most industries, there are a small number of people just killing it and making an absurd amount of money; then, there is a little bit larger group making serious money. Next on the pyramid, people who can quit their day jobs, but who don’t really have financial freedom. The bottom of the pyramid? Just like most things, a lot of people who quit to soon, don’t put in the required hours, make a critical mistake at a critical junction, lose interest, or just get unlucky. The reasons for failure are countless.
But, dang, I still haven’t really explained exactly what content marketing is. Let’s start by defining “marketing.” Yeah, there’s a dictionary definition. Yawn.
Here is an awesome definition from a great book I read a few months ago, “The one page marketing plan” by Allan Dib:
If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Showground Saturday’, that’s advertising.
If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion.
If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed and the local newspaper writes a story about it, that’s publicity.
And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations.
If the town’s citizens go to the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, that’s sales.
And if you planned the whole thing, that’s marketing.
Awesome definition, right? OK, so if that’s marketing, then content marketing is doing all that, and then wrapping it up in a killer online package of relevant, valuable, trustworthy, actionable content that helps readers make decisions… some of which decisions will involve spending. And when they involve spending, the goal of the content marketer is to make a small commission on each sale.
So basically, Sam (and all the Sam’s out there who run content marketing sites) can (and usually do) add a lot of value. Sam becomes an expert so his readers don’t have to. And those readers effectively pay him for that expertise via his arrangement for a small commission with an end seller.
What is Crunchle.com?
As I was figuring out all of the preliminary stuff I needed to know to start my content marketing site, I started doing massive amounts of research and taking notes on everything I would need to do to make it work. My to do list: pick a niche, get a great domain name, figure out hosting, figure out WordPress, themes, affiliate partners, content dev strategies, keyword research….
Oh dang, all of it involved massive amounts of research and decisions! That’s a lot of research. And because I really get into research, my notes were awesome! OMG, I was spending as much time making content (just for myself!) on how to get my content site launched as I was going to spend on my actual content site! I realized, whether my content marketing business is a success or not, I could toss all my notes, observations, failures, successes, mistakes and hard-won lessons up on a different website (crunchle.com!) and share my whole experience. I’m hoping a few people out there will follow along, will use my experience to make their own content marketing site, and that this can become like a virtual pub or water cooler where we hang out and trade notes. If I can do it, you definitely can do it! Let’s start.
Now, it’s probably obvious, if I am both making a content marketing site about a particular niche, and making a content marketing site about making a content marketing site, I am trying to establish myself as an authority in two subjects, and add real value to my readers. In the niche I have chosen (the K-12 education niche) I can offer true expertise. In the content marketing niche, all I can offer is a true account of my experience.
This true account will include a lot of data. I’ll share everything: how much money I’m spending, I’m making, and wasting. I’ll share pageviews. I’ll share triumphs and disasters. In all of this there will be a links to places that will pay me if you go there and buy something. But, I promise you this, I’ll never recommend something just because they pay me. The long-term benefit of being straight with you, a reader I am so grateful to have, is magnitudes more valuable than any short term huckster buck.
Something really easy that you can do to be totally *%&^ AWESOME!
I do have two huge favors to ask you—I am going to type up my whole experience until my fingers bleed. I’ll share everything with you, even if at times it hurts to be so honest, so publicly. If I make money on my K-12 site or on this site, I only want it to be because you are making money on your photography site, or your nutrition site, or your extreme puzzles site. So here is my ask:
Favor 1: please share the link to my websites with people who might find them valuable. Traffic = success. If you like my content, throw me a bone!
Favor 2: if you are going to try this stuff yourself (and I think you should! I am going to try to make it as easy for you as it can be and help in every way I can!) then use my links when you get hosting, use my links when you subscribe to a keyword tool, use my links if I tell you something that helps you out.
Obviously, using my link does not make anything, ever, cost more for you. All that using my links does is allows me (like Sam) to share in the profits as remuneration for creating really great content to help you make better decisions. Those better decisions will hopefully both: (1) help you save money, but more importantly, (2) will help you make more money than you would have, and faster.
And that’s really what this is all about: let’s make some money together. This whole lock-down thing is a little lonely, a little depressing, and very, very sad. If you join me on this journey, in six months we will all have a lot more to show for it, and hopefully you and I will both have a second income stream when (or if) we get our old jobs back. Thanks for joining along, and I hope to hear from you in the comments! Let’s do this!
What to read on Crunchle next to get started on your own content marketing business?
The next best stop on Crunchle is any of these: the story of my first 4 days doing this, the 30,000 foot view of the steps you need to take to build your own business, or this analysis of how much money you can expect to make in content marketing, and how long it takes to make it. Thanks for being here and looking forward to your feedback and comments!