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Scaling a Blog Towards Seven Figures

Scaling a Blog Towards 7 Figures

Note: This is a sequel to a post that we ran in September 2012 about how Mirasee makes money.

How often have you heard rags to riches stories about successful entrepreneurs and felt dissatisfied because of the lack of juicy details that describe their business’ path to success? The assumption is that once a person hit upon something that worked, they just continued doing more of it. Eventually, they ended up with a big, profitable business with lots of employees, clients and money.

But, how did the rags to riches entrepreneur go from having a good idea and a few clients to having a solid business? In other words, how did the business scale? And more importantly, how can you apply these lessons to scale your business?

Looking Back at 2012

Last year, as I was doing a bit of clean-up of our old blog posts in preparation of our site re-launch, I stumbled upon a blog post that we had written in September 2012 where we described exactly how Mirasee made money. In that post we had this chart that depicted our different sources of revenue in 2012:

Firepole Marketing Revenue 2012

Looking at this chart and comparing to our current sources of revenue (which, as the Finance Lead, I have the joy of knowing like the back of my hand!), it was pretty evident that we had dramatically changed our business model during the course of 2013. And in the process, we tripled our revenues in one year!

Starting From Scratch: 2012 = Our First Big Break

As our regular readers will recognize, the big push in 2012 for Mirasee was building an engaged audience. During 2012, as the chart above shows, most of our revenues came from coaching and consulting clients that Danny took on while building an audience for Mirasee.

However, we did set the wheels in motion to shift our revenue model towards more product sales by focusing on building an engaged audience and relationships with key players in the industry.

The rest of 2012 followed naturally and easily from those relationships. They also led us to 2013.

2013: Focus on Products

Even with the successful launch of Write Like Freddy in 2012, product sales still only accounted for about a quarter of our 2012 revenues. A majority of our revenues came from Coaching and Consulting.

In 2013, we dramatically reduced our reliance on coaching and consulting and systematically moved away from directly trading time for money. Our product sales rose to account for about 70% of revenues.

Of course, products require tons of time and resources to put together, and student support is an ongoing part of our work. But, the relationship between our income and our hours worked is no longer so directly related.

Here’s the lay of the land in 2013:

Firepole Marketing Revenue 2013

So What Changed in 2013?

1. Way more product sales!

In 2013, our big focus was to move away from coaching and consulting into product sales. Even though Danny was charging premium fees for his time, we realized that this approach wasn’t scalable (there are only so many hours in a day). Moreover, we were failing to have the scale of impact we aspired to have because we were only reaching a few people who had the resources to afford it.

To remedy that, we created the Audience Business Masterclass (ABM), which is a robust 14-week program that lays out the blueprint for how to build a profitable business that is supported by a large and engaged audience. We pre-sold ABM in January 2013 and developed the training over the next 3 months. ABM sales accounted for two-thirds of our revenues in 2013.

We promoted the new program via webinars to our audience as well as through affiliate partners. Many of our affiliates were individuals with whom we had developed relationships in 2012 when writing Engagement From Scratch and promoting Write Like Freddy. Besides generating revenues, we also picked up about 10,000 subscribers over the course of 2013 from partner webinars alone.

2. Diversified our product offerings

We also launched a monthly subscription newsletter – Campaign Mastery. Each print issue is a detailed blueprint of some of Mirasee’s most successful campaigns that readers can customize to launch their own campaigns. Some of these campaigns require a few hundred subscribers and some work better with a larger audience.

All of these campaigns are presented with our goals, our success, and our failures. And lots of juicy swipe copy (of course!) They are an incredibly good value for members of the club!

Besides being immensely valuable to our audience, the rationale behind this product was to bring further stability to our cashflow. As it is 6 payments of $97 each, the ABM sales follow a 6 month payment pattern . This means that when we do a big launch in January, we need to start building up more sales before June. If we don’t, our revenue pipeline dries out. On the other hand, a recurring monthly subscription product like Campaign Mastery provides stable recurring cashflow.

3. Launched Services

A first for us in 2013 was launching services. These services were provided by the Mirasee team with oversight from Danny.

Some of our service offerings are related to the Audience Business Masterclass – we offer our students pretty extensive support, from looking over homework and helping our students with direction and vision for their blog to helping them with their technology challenges. These services are provided by the extended Mirasee team and charged to a client at minimal cost.

The main rationale for these services is to help people complete the ABM training and go on to having successful businesses of their own. Homework Review and Tech Support both fall into these categories, and are part of why we devote so many of our man hours to the products that we sell.

We also realized that some people want to accelerate their audience building efforts by focusing on what they do best – creating content and building relationships with people in their industry. We work more intensively with these students to help them figure out what market they should be targeting and what their value proposition should be within these markets. We also get them started with audience/followership building and set them up with a brand and a website.

The team loves getting involved in these projects, as they are specializing in their own Mirasee roles and helping other businesses with their expertise. Our clients benefit from a unique “Done-for-you” experience.

All in all, services accounted for just under 20% of our revenues in 2013. Not bad for the first year of a launch!

How Did We Engineer This Change?

We intentionally diversified and scaled as quickly as we did because we set the stage for it.

Here’s how:

1. Investing in People

We steadily grew the team from just Megan and Danny till fall of 2012, to include Robyn and Amanda. Six months later, in the spring/summer of 2013 Nick, Steph, Christina and I joined the team,and Cris joined us in fall of 2013. In December 2013, we hired Sid and Felicity to help support the new cohort of Audience Business Masterclass students we were expecting in early 2014. We grew the team in advance of needing the extra bandwidth. We then leveraged the excess bandwidth to diversify into new territories and optimize our existing products and services.

Because not all good things last forever, we’ve also said goodbye to a few team members this year. Robyn and Nick both made the bittersweet decision to follow their passions elsewhere. Of course, we wished them the very best of luck, and the fondest of farewells.

We invested in hiring the right people, in training them and giving them opportunities to learn and to improve their performance. We also worked hard to generate loyalty and commitment by involving everyone in strategic discussions, listening to their needs and celebrating wins together (go here to learn more about our annual corporate retreat). The end result is a highly competent and engaged team of people who believe in the mission of Mirasee – helping people build their own successful businesses.

2. Experimenting

We used our healthy financial position (a result, you remember, of the successful ABM launch), to invest in growth and in experimentation of new products. We placed small bets on different projects, some of which made us a lot of money and some of which didn’t. But regardless of how financially successful the projects were, we learned from all the projects.

3. Engaging our audience

Moreover, we continued to invest in increasing our subscriber base and engagement through projects like the Business Ignition Bootcamp, Scavenger Hunt and the Engagement Strategies Contest.

4. Diversifying our offerings

We diversified our product offerings by creating new products (Audience Business Masterclass and Campaign Mastery Marketing Blueprints Club, Done-For-You Business Service) and phasing out old products (Marketing That Works) to keep our products relevant to our audience.

5. Providing better experiences

In order to stay attuned to our subscribers and customers, we invested heavily in a more intimate, better subscriber/visitor experience. We re-designed Mirasee in Fall of 2013. The new site is a dramatic departure from our old one.

We added a bunch of more free content such as 9 industry-specific audience building reports that are relevant to all audience driven businesses and did a better job at organizing our old content.

The site’s free membership structure also enables us to better understand our visitors and use that understanding to tailor the experience that visitors have with Mirasee.

6. Doing More With Less

We also put in place infrastructure to be able to do more with less:

a. Roles: We defined people’s roles on the team better – instead of people being generalists, they evolved into taking on a specific area of expertise.

b. Introduced Trello…: Given the size of our team, it was getting difficult to keep track of what everyone was doing. To make that process easier to manage, we started using Trello.

c. …and Zendesk: We grew to over 800 ABM students to whom we promised excellent student support. With 4 people providing support, we needed something more robust than email, so we transitioned our support process to Zendesk.

d. Finances: We put in place financial planning and reporting processes to have better visibility on our profitability and runway.

e. Efficiency: We invested in optimizing processes to be more efficient and be able to do more with less.

7. Data-driven Decision Making

We invested in configuring the required Google Analytics for our site to better understand where our site visitors are coming from and what content they are engaging with.

We also made a big push to optimize our existing content for SEO to make it easier for people to find us and to attract new visitors that we haven’t previously being reaching.

8. Setting stage for future

To be able to grow further, we worked to extend our cashflow runway so we could continue to invest in infrastructure, optimization and in building new products.

Where do we go from here?

In order to continue to grow and scale further, here are the priorities that we have laid out for ourselves in 2014:

  • Continue to rely less and less on consulting and coaching and more on product and services sales
  • Funnel excess cashflow to building up new sources of revenue that didn’t exist in 2013
  • Continue to diversify our product offerings, reduce reliance on Audience Business Masterclass, look at possibly phasing it out and replacing with new product revenues
  • Leverage the knowledge and expertise of the team to offer more valuable services to our subscribers
  • Substantially grow our subscriber base through optimizing our content for SEO and reaching visitors that we are not reaching now
  • Leverage insights from Analytics to further improve site experience and conversions and keep more of the new visitors we are getting

The Importance of Being Intentional

As you might have noticed, we intentionally moved away from relying on consulting to diversifying into products and services. When we could afford it, we placed bets on different product offerings and tested them out in the market. Once something was working, we optimized our infrastructure to get the most out of it!

In summary, our experience with scaling an audience business suggests the following:

1. Build a base (subscribers, brand, profile)

2. Develop products with subscribers

3. Once it is working:

a. Optimize the sale and delivery of these products

b. Invest in people, processes and technology infrastructure

c. Start building and iterating future products and diversify

What strategies have you used or are currently using to scale your business?

About Bhoomi Pathak

Bhoomi officially joined Mirasee in the summer of 2013, after a career as a corporate consultant, working with large organizations. In her spare time, Bhoomi likes to cook, entertain friends and family, garden, practice Yoga, run, travel to interesting places and seek new adventures, and spend time with Danny.

66 comments

  1. It is very useful to find and read such useful posts like this one.I came here from quicksprout and I never thought that there is an easy way of building a blog in such a quick period of time.
    I look forward to try this technique on my blogs, and I hope I will receive about the same audience like you did, thanks.

  2. Wow, what a really informative post, Bhoomi. What I like most about Firepole Marketing is that you keep on growing, not just in terms of sales and reach but even within the business itself. You just keep on evolving and finding ways to make things work smarter. Before reading this post, I read the part one first and I’m impressed at how the Firepole Marketing team was able to do that transition. My freelance writing business is not as big as this one, but I do hope I find a way to make that transition from spending a lot of time writing to getting better clients without necessarily having to work more hours.

  3. I love how open FPM is with their behind the scenes process. A current issue is that there are so many how to’s about _ steps to accomplishing _. Which is great, but the alternative of sharing firstly from stories and experiences, reveals the same things but in a more personal and possibly more valuable way. It goes back to the old saying of show it, not just tell it. It becomes real and doable. Thank you for continually letting us peak inside!

  4. Thank you for a very well planned model.

    My background is in aviation management. I’m currently involved in 3 dirt-world business ventures with the plan to be down to one by the end of 2014.

    In the past I has a part-time teaching/consulting busiess which sucked up too much time; in the end we only have so many hours we can sell. I loved the teaching part however. it too had to go.

    I just completed the ABM program with the idea of using it to tranfer my expertise from the dirt-world to the electronic world. ABM gave me a structural model, Firepole has given me an operational model in this post.

    I’m an engineer with an MBA and post-grad studies; but, I’ve found that the dirt-world and electronic worlds require different skill sets and thinking patterns. I’m working on it, 2015 will tell the tale.

    Thanks!!

  5. What a fantastic post! Right now I’m at the point where I’m still building my audience, and I’ll be doing coaching and therapy. So I’ll be trading dollars for hours.

    But I’m ok with that for now, since it really seems to be the best way to break into my niche.

    The other side of that is that I’m creating meditations that people can download, which I’m hoping will turn into residual income. I’m also planning out books, group coaching, and other products that within a couple years should (hopefully) start becoming the focal point of my business.

    I also really want to travel and do speaking engagements, so I’m trying to figure out how to make that happen as well.

    Thank you for sharing all this in such a clear manner. It makes it seem simple (not easy, but simple) and attainable! 🙂

  6. Hello Bhoomi,

    Its great to reading about the income strategy of FPM since 2012. At least, it will help create a pointer for those that are stuck for ways to monetize their Internet business.

    One question I have though is this: While I solidly agree with the audience first model of an online business, when should one begin to consider developing (not launching) an introductory product? What factors determine the ideal amount that should be charged for such introductory product?

    Also, from your experiences with FPM, which will you consider to be the Top Performer between Launching a Product and Launching a Service? Are the results typical of the Industry or just the audience alone?

    Thanks Bhoomi for being a guide.

    1. Hey Godwin, these are excellent questions. Unfortunately, I can’t answer them in a comment as they would require multiple blog posts and a better understanding of your business model. Have you had a chance to check out our Engagement Toolbox yet? There are a bunch of resources in there that can guide your thinking about offers: http://www.firepolemarketing.com/engagement-toolbox/
      You will need to login with your membership credentials to access it.

      The short answer is that you should wait till you have 1,000 subscribers before putting too much effort on developing your product. Hope that helps!

  7. This is what I love about you guys, Bhoomi —

    Your honesty, transparency, and willingness to share hard lessons-learned with your entire audience, not just a select group of insiders.

    I’ve been here for almost a year now, and hadn’t realized the extent of the changes from 2012 to today. There’s a lot we can all learn from the roads you’ve already travelled here at Firepole. Thanks for this update!

  8. Hi Bhoomi,

    Excellent advice all around. I’m a new subscriber, having just found you a couple of weeks ago. I’m impressed at the professionalism and “put-together” nature of your enterprise all around. I’ll be sticking around and finding out things, that’s for sure.

    Just one question: If ABM is so valuable, why are you thinking of phasing it out? What would you replace it with? People are paying good money to be in it. 🙂

    1. Hi Ana, welcome to the community! I am glad you are enjoying our content.

      Our main objective with ABM is to reduce our reliance on its sales. There are no plans to phase it out in the near future as it is the best training on building a successful, audience-driven business currently available. However, we have started thinking about ‘what’s our next ABM going to be?’. Stay tuned 🙂

    1. I am glad! The biggest learnings for me were getting comfortable with uncertainty, and appreciating the value of pivoting and iterating to get our products/offers right rather than seeing launches from a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ lens. Thanks for asking 🙂

  9. Good post, as one of your blog’s older (as in more ancient as well as for a long time) followers and as both a pre and post – internet business owner and corporate manager, I enjoyed the business like structure and content of your post.

    I think getting you to take the red pill is one of Danny’s better strategies.

  10. This is a great and relevant post. Danny, congratulations on having your wife as part of your team. When this is done both of you can do a number of things together. This post has given me wings and thanks for revealing your plans. I really feel as a part of this business and how it operate. Bhoomi
    Thanks for your step by step revelation. I know we will be hearing more from you soon.

  11. Wow. This post is an actual blueprint of how to build an engaged audience into making a living and more importantly…making a difference. It actually makes me think, ‘Yes, I can do this.’

    Thanks for not only the information, but for the motivation. : )

  12. Excellent Read. I just joined ABM and am looking forward to a new learning experience that I can apply to my business. What I most enjoyed reading was how Firepole Marketing recognized the need for change and their quick execution.

  13. Great to read about the details laid out and shared here. Fortunate you are, Firepole Marketing, to have a team because it’s the working together pooling ideas, delegating tasks, and making it all happen together that’s gotten you the success you’ve achieved. Exciting teamwork!

    Support’s essential. No one’s going to achieve this level of success without it.

    Continued success!

  14. I am continually amazed at the integrity of this company, in this case, to publish your financial picture and plan.

    I’m a student in the ABM and thrilled with it. I have recommended it to many, many people. Everything about it has exceeded expectations, from the lesson videos through the enormous support I have received from staff, specifically Sid.

    Thank you so much for the help you are giving me. And Bhoomi, congratulations on work well done.

  15. Great Post! I loved the pie chart and the thoughtful breakdown of the various components of the business.

    One question: I never see anyone teach “how to set up a merchant account”. I assume that it’s not that difficult, yet it’s a bit intimidating to someone (me, lol) that has never set one up. Is there any way that you could address that in a future post? Thanks!

    1. Actually, it’s not that simple setting up a merchant account. The company you are using should be able to help you set it up. The process is a bit different depending on the provider.

  16. Wow! This is so educational. As someone who is just in the beginning stages, I feel like I skipped at least six months (and more likely multiple years) of frustration by reading this post. Always appreciate your transparency.

  17. Thanks so much for sharing this information. Its yet another reminder that businesses evolve and change over time. So just because one things work well for a time – you have to continue to plan out what your goals are in advance, and then work to make changes in your business to support those goals.

    Exchanging products for services was certainly a great choice for scale!

  18. I’m impressed with what Boohmi has written and the evolution of your company. In addition, I’m loving what I’m learning from your ABM course. Having worked full time with my own online business since 1999 and had many own ups and downs, I’m quite excited about possibilities again.

  19. This was a very helpful post. This confirms for me that the focus for 2014 should be to build my audience. My dream is to eventually produce and sell products but starting out, the majority of my revenue will have to come from 1-on -1 work.

  20. Happy for you Bhoomi for taking the red pill, I wish you the best.

    This post is very encouraging and proves that audience building really works.

    A big plus for being sincere and showing how fire pole makes making money.

    I really look forward to working with Danny and the fire pole marketing team.

    Thanks
    Edward

    1. Hi Howard, the onboarding process flow hasn’t changed much in the sense that people still find us through similar channels. However, once they find us, we have changed the process to be more streamlined. Does that answer your question?

      1. I guess that is the question. How do you optimize or streamline the conversion process? Anything you would feel comfortable sharing would be helpful. Thanks.

        1. When people first ‘discover’ us, we encourage them to sign up for our membership. For example, if they are visiting our blog, and they are not logged in as members, the header space promotes our free membership. If they sign up for one of our webinars through affiliates, we talk about our beacon community and membership in the follow up emails that we send them. Once they are in the community/signed up as members, we use emails to build relationship and drive engagement. We are planning to publish a report on Engagement and Relationship Building soon; in the meanwhile, here is a collection of relevant articles: http://www.firepolemarketing.com/engagement-relationship-building/ Enjoy!

  21. I have a question.  To hire an amazing Finance chief who knows your business like the back of her hand… do you have to marry her? 🙂

  22. From a writer with an accounting background — this is awesome!! The pie charts really tell the story visually, but the detailed overview of how Firepole has transitioned from one scenario to the other is extremely helpful.

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