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How To Build Niche Affiliate Websites (with Doug Cunnington from Niche Site Project)

Doug is a massively successful internet marketer and course creator—learn how he builds niche sites, does Amazon affiliate marketing and stays productive.

Intro

Welcome to the Indie Media Club Podcast. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Indie Media Club. We’re on a mission to help independent, bootstrapped media entrepreneurs succeed, to help people who create, promote a monetize through content do it better. Check out IndieMedia.Club to find out more. 

Ben Aston

So today, I’m joined by Doug Cunnington and Doug started out as a software engineer, transitioned into management consultancy, and also project management, and he’s now a massively successful Internet marketing consultant and course creator. So keep listening to today’s podcast to learn more about building these sites. 

Ben Aston

We’re going to talk a bit about affiliate marketing, productivity hacks, SEO, and project management tactics that you can actually use. So hi, Doug, and thanks so much for joining us today. 

Doug Cunnington

Thanks for having me. That’s quite an intro. I sound impressive, huh? 

Ben Aston

I tried hard to dig around and find all your good bits, but I’m curious is actually trying to understand a bit more about your journey from software engineering. You worked with some top tier management consultancies. How did you then make that transition into building Web sites, building affiliate marketing programs? How did you get into that whole thing? 

Doug Cunnington

It was pretty much an accident. There was one day I was out walking my dog and I was looking for a new podcast and I accidentally found Smart Passive Income, Pat Flynn. Yeah. He introduced me to this whole thing on making money online. And I had no interest in making money online. I didn’t know that it was possible. That sounded kind of scare me. And I was deep in my corporate career for about 10 years and at that point and I didn’t have any interest in entrepreneurship either. So fast forward to about a month or two. I started a couple of websites by then. A lot of false starts, a lot of mistakes were made. But after about six months or so, I started to make some money online and it was fun, really enjoyable. And, you know, fast forward a few years. I ended up getting laid off from, you know, those management consulting gigs, doing Project Management. I’m a PMP. That’s a project management professional. And I was like, this is a chance to, you know, make this side gig my full-time job. So what I’ve been doing for about six years now. 

Ben Aston

Awesome. So I know you’re doing a lot of different things. And you mentioned that the new site projects. Can you tell us a bit about your site? Who it’s for? What content you’re creating? 

Doug Cunnington

Niche Site Project is mainly for people looking to get started with side hustles, so it’s serving who I was back when I first got started. I talk mostly about affiliate marketing, some SEO, and productivity as well. And I think it’s really for people who have a similar background to me because they speak my kind of language. They understand what I’m talking about. And just the nightmares of a corporate gig. So a lot of folks are out of the I.T. industry, a lot of project managers, directors. I’ve had some pretty high-level executives who know been in the corporate gig for a while and they want to do some things on their own without all the politics where they could just make a decision about the project they’re going to work on. So there’s a lot of I.T. folks and people like that that are just looking to make money on the side. 

Ben Aston

And the Niche Site Project was it always was that always the intent of it? I think when I started digging around, it kind of seemed like actually the site was originally about project management, perhaps. Or hasn’t it? Has it changed over time what it’s all about? 

Doug Cunnington

It was more of a branding change. You did your home, right. And so that’s pretty awesome. And in the beginning, I was talking about affiliate marketing, layering on the project management, because that was my differentiator. Right. As people know, there are so many, you know, quote, guru types, which I don’t consider myself that. But there’s a lot of people talking about making money online and it’s just, you know, a lot of nonsense out there. So I was trying to bring a professional outlook and a professional just approach. So project management was a great way to do it. And then it really identified the audience. I was niching down within, you know, the make money online niche. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so, I mean, you said that you were listening to that part Flin podcast or podcasts and got into the idea of thinking that, hey, this isn’t totally just kind of well, maybe it still is the Wild West of making money online. But you came round to the idea. How did you how was it that you came round to the idea that this was a valid way to make money? 

Doug Cunnington

Once I realized it wasn’t a complete scam. After doing some research on Pat’s blog over there, I decided to give it a shot because it was laid out pretty, pretty well. And you just you start a site, you publish content and go from there. I had a slightly technical background with the software. Engineering angle, so that seemed interesting because I’d really gotten away from it in the consulting gig. So I just decided to give it a shot. And I was, you know, I got obsessed, basically got obsessed and started doing all this keyword research and starting, you know, more sites than I knew what to do with. Again, with a lot of mistakes along the way. 

Ben Aston

So how long how many years ago was that now? That was 2013. So seven years ago. Okay. And how many signs do you have now? You started talking about it. You have lots of sites or started lots of things. How many do you think you have now?

Doug Cunnington

I would say about five or six or so, but I really only spend time on one or two of them. And I’m not including, you know, Niche Site Project or, you know, any of the other sort of marketing areas that I have in my platform, just the affiliate sites. 

Ben Aston

And can you tell us which of those has been most successful and why you think it has been so? 

Doug Cunnington

We were chatting before we got started. And so I typically, like many of the affiliate marketers, don’t reveal my site specifically. But, you know, we could say it’s sort of in the, like, home appliance or outdoor. A lot of those sorts of general like broad categories. So outdoor stuff like that. So I’ve had some pretty successful sites. And a lot of them, they go up and down. Right. Depending on what’s going on. But I’ve been part of, you know, some pretty successful projects. So to answer your question, most successful, I think, was one that I worked on with a friend and we eventually sold it for two hundred and thirty-five thousand, I believe. And at one point it was making I think the highest month was like 32,000. So there’s been some ups and downs and I’ve had some other sites that just have consistently made 10K per month, just ongoing for years. 

Ben Aston

Right. So I just have it in case people haven’t got their head around, what you’re doing here. So basically with the affiliate model, as you said before, you choose a niche that you think is underserved or where there’s an opportunity because the competition, the keyword competition is low and there are people buying stuff in that niche. So you create a whole bunch of content linked to specific products and become, you know, it might be the world’s best mixes reviewed or something website. And you’re getting traffic and then you’re passing that back home to Amazon or somewhere else, and you’re getting paid every time someone buys something that kind of hard work. 

Doug Cunnington

Yes. You got it. That’s exactly right. In the one thing to add is I think ever since we scheduled this Ben, Amazon has changed their commission rate. So they have a lot of leverage is Amazon. And they changed that, a commission rate for the U.S. associates program. So generally, it’s cut by a pretty significant amount. And the last time that they did this in a major way was 2017. And at that time, my earnings dropped by like something like 34 percent. So this a pretty significant change. Not enough time has gone by yet. It’s only been almost a week. So not quite enough time has gone by to see the real impacts. But it appears to be pretty significant. We could as associates in the program, we could tell that it was going to be a pretty major change. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. Yeah. They’ve I mean, they’ve dropped it twice now quite significantly. Right. So the amount that you’re making on each sale is dropping and dropping. 

Doug Cunnington

Yes. 

Ben Aston

So what’s your plan? 

Doug Cunnington

So it’s a two-fold situation, so no one at the very beginning when I started the Nitsch site project in affiliate marketing in general. I was planning on diversifying. It slowed my progress tremendously in both areas. But I have a Niche Site Project with a podcast and YouTube channel and a course. So that is, you know, that’s there, that is an asset that I have. So I’ve been diversified for a long time since the very beginning. As far as these affiliate sites, there are other affiliate programs. There are display ads, which I usually don’t mess with. I don’t use those too often, but there are ways to diversify the income. And if you have traffic, you have options. You have some leverage there. And it’ll be interesting to see, you know, what’s going to happen. Because I mean, the fact is Amazon does have a huge market share is 38 percent vs. the number two position, which is Wal-Mart. They have five percent. So even with diminished commission rates, it still may be better to work with Amazon and mix in some other, you know, specific affiliate programs with, say, I know I sell a lot of a specific product. I could work with that company directly and potentially get a much larger commission rate. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah. I think that’s key for me. When I began working directly with the people whose products I was trying to sell. It becomes so much more lucrative than going through a third party. So, for example, if you have a site and you are doing maybe you are using AdSense or you’re using Ezoic or one of the other MediaVine, some of that kind of display ads network. One thing you can do is turn those ads on, see which ads come up on your site, and then try and contact those companies directly and say, hey, why did we do a deal? And I’m sure you’ll make a whole bunch more money that way than if you were to use AdSense or one of the networks. So you’re going direct is a really, really good strategy. How when you’ve done that yourself, how easy have you found it to actually broker the deals?  

Doug Cunnington

The best-case scenario is they already have an affiliate program setup, which means so many companies do they usually come out ahead versus selling on Amazon. And you come out ahead as well because you’re getting a much higher commission rate. So I haven’t brokered such a deal specifically because I haven’t needed to thus far. One thing I want to add about the benefits of Amazon, at least currently, and this may change in the future since Amazon is changing things on us. Basically, you get credits, you get a commission for anything in the cart. So if you fast forward and think about the retail season where people are doing holiday shopping, they may purchase all their gifts and you end up getting a commission and all these other products that you wouldn’t have an opportunity to even earn anything. Because if you’re right, work directly with the company. They’re only selling, you know, blenders or whatever. So it’s the new ones. And there could be a time where Amazon doesn’t payout to the associates unless they’re selling something that they’re specifically linking to. So now that would be, you know, a change that they could make that would change, you know, everything that I just mentioned. But that is the wrinkle. Amazon has a big market share and you get credit for other products in the cart. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And they also set all the rules and contain them whenever they want. And everyone’s beholden to them. It’s a little rough. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s also fun. So I’m curious. I mean, we’ve talked about the affiliate sites. I want to go onto the Niche Site Project. And obviously, when you started that out, I guess it was pretty early on. But I’m curious if you can kind of explain how you actually started it, what happened on day one when you, I guess, pulled the domain name or came up with the idea? What was what did you actually do and how did you begin to develop your visibility and an audience? 

Doug Cunnington

That’s a great question. No one asked me that. But I love talking about it. So I ended up landing a sort of a guest post slash success story on someone who has already established niche pursuits. The founder is Spencer Hawes. I’m still in touch with him. You know, these days, I’ve known him for a long time and I was following along with one of his case studies. Yes. Were success stories. So I reached out to him again. I had the angle that I was a project management professional. So it’s a little bit more interesting than a run of the mill sort of story. And I was talking about applying project management to affiliate marketing. So I launched the site at the same time the guest post went live and it worked out well. So I got, you know, a flood of traffic. And the other part that I worked on, I didn’t want to have just an empty site. So I knew that Spencer was publishing other success stories. So I reached out to the other ten people or so to see if they wanted to write a guest post that I could put on my site. So it’s kind of like doing them a favor. I mean, a lot of times people are asking to do a guest post, but I invited them to come right on my blog. So I think I had maybe four people that said, yeah, sure, I’ll write some content. So it was you know, I’m surprised that I was able to pull off something like that because it sounds kind of smart now that I’m saying it helped me out. So anyone that came from Niche Pursuits already knew the people that we’re writing that, I guess, post on my blog. 

Doug Cunnington

So it created, you know, some goodwill with those people that, you know, we’re able to guest post on my site. It gave anyone any visitors that wanted to check out what I was doing, something to read. So it wasn’t just an empty blog and I had a full-time job. I was very busy. I didn’t have time to write a whole lot of content. And, you know, frankly, I hardly knew what I was talking about anyway. So I had some experts to come in and, you know, write content to share. So that is how it launched. And shortly after that, I was able to reach even greater success. I think within the first year I had like a six thousand dollar month. So I reach back out to Spencer to see if he would feature me again after I did a little bit more work on the site and earned more money. He obliged. So basically I was able to get like two guest posts in a much more impressive headline and just case study in general. And the cool thing that I did, you know, at that point, I had an email list. So I created what is now known as a content upgrade. So I had had my success story, the updated success story published. And I was like, hey, if you want to get a hold of this other resource, hop over to my blog, sign up for the e-mail list and I’ll send it right over to you. So that’s how I started in. The other part is I immediately had a product for sale, which I presold. So I didn’t sell many, but it was an e-book. Your books were a little more popular back then in 2013 and presold it to maybe like 12 people. 

Ben Aston

Nice. That’s cool. I think I know. I think the takeaways here that I think is worth thinking about for people think about how you can leverage partnerships to help you get started, because if you are on, you know, ground zero, trying to I mean, because there are two things we’re trying to do, right. One thing is trying to create content and interesting original content that’s worth people then giving their e-mail address so that you can build your list. And the second thing is building backlinks so that the reputation of our site in the eyes of Google improves. So continuing down those kinds of veins of creating content and building backlinks, I guess these are two things that you’re doing quite a bit particular on your affiliate kind of sites. Can you talk me through your kind of how you’ve I mean, you talked about project management and how you apply that to the process. So how have you kind of automated it or streamline that process for content creation publishing and backlink building? 

Doug Cunnington

I’ll take the content side first, and generally, I go out and hire some writers from UpWork. So just try and keep everything very simple because I’m hiring people from UpWork. They may not have skills and, you know, project management software that may be sexy or like Asana or Trello or some you know, there’s a bunch of them out there, Basecamp. So I usually keep it simple and use spreadsheets. 

Doug Cunnington

And, you know, one of the key things that I do is when I’m actually hiring is I make sure I have a job listing that looks like a professional person, put it together. If you actually go and have a look at some of the, you know, just general job listings on up work, a lot of times you’ll see people are not specific. They may have like two sentences and it says I need 10000 words by the end of this weekend. Let me know if you could do it. Yeah. You know, it’s terrible. So I write it out like an actual, like, job listing that you would see for a job. So I use the same ones over and over again. You can tweak them as you need them. But, you know, overall, I’m using templates across the board. So after I hire someone, I usually pick them up for a trial job or two. And that allows me to work with them and see the actual. Work that they produce in how we communicate together. And that sort of thing. I mentioned I have templates, so I have templates that serve as a job aide so they understand what they’re writing. There’s a style guideline so they know what they need to put in the. And the content in the copy and how I want it formatted and all those details. Now, at this point, this is pretty rock solid because I’ve used it hundreds of times. 

Doug Cunnington

You hired a lot of different writers out there, but as I was going through it, I would set up a Google doc, write out what I thought the process should be. And then whenever I hired someone, I would ask them for feedback so they could leave comments if something was unclear if they had questions on it. So every time a writer came through, they would leave a comment. So it just continually improved. Which is a project management idea, just continuous improvement? I’m always trying to get feedback and iterate on everything that I’m doing. So just along the way, you can’t help but improve the process in general. So, you know, fast-forwarding to, let’s say, I find a few writers that are doing a good job and I want to just have one spreadsheet for management. I could just create a spreadsheet and keep it pretty straight. As far as the, you know, who’s writing what? When is it do? What’s the status? And just everything all in one dashboard. Again, I could make it more complicated with a sophisticated tool, but everyone knows how to use a spreadsheet and Google Docs. So the final step, one of the things that really changed the way that I was able to publish content and really publish a lot more was hiring and really promoting one of the writers to a content manager slash editor. So from there, a writer would be doing a good job. I would ask them if they wanted to do something more interesting and not write as much, and most people would say yes. So I would train them up on what to do, basically taking the writing from one of the writers, content from one of the writers, and then format it, upload it, get images and affiliate links at internal and external links to a WordPress post. And they would draft it for me. For me, that would typically take one to two hours. I would end up getting in the weeds and I would just spend way too much time on it. And the editors, they’re great. They would do it in way less time and do a better job. So I’ve gone on a few what I call content sprints where I just do a sprint of work. I’m only focusing on content and maybe I have, you know, five to 10 writers, maybe to content manager types, editors, and published. I think one pointed at 200 posts. And in five months, another time I did about 300 in maybe six months. 

Ben Aston

Wow. That’s a good rate of production. In terms of your obviously, you’re not just writing any pace. You’re doing some kind of keyword resets around these. So you get new editors to also do that keyword research and brief the writers as well. 

Doug Cunnington

So I typically do the keyword research on my own. That’s one of my specialties. I have a concept I created called the keyword golden ratio, which could be beyond the scope of what we’re talking about today. And it’s hard to explain via the spoken word is easier to see. So we could put a link for like a YouTube video on that. But I do all the keyword research to find the lower competition keywords that I want to go for. It’s not the only kind of keywords I go for, but those worked really well for a large volume of content. And then usually I would train the writers so that they would only need the title. And that was it. So I would give them the title, which is generally the keyword. Maybe a little bit more exciting with a couple of copywriting tricks like you won’t believe item number seven. You know, that kind of thing. Yeah. And then they would write it. And I was pretty much out of the loop at that point. 

Ben Aston

That’s cool. And so, I mean, so that’s kind of your content production process. So it’s pretty dialed down in terms of enabling you to produce a whole bunch of content using writers from up work and your hands off in the editing process. You just kind of set in the direction and then things pop out the other end to this content machine. So you’re publishing the content and then I’m guessing there’s the process of backlink building as well. Can you share a bit about what’s working for you at the moment with that? 

Doug Cunnington

So currently, I’m not doing a whole lot of backlinking. However, I usually stick to some core principles that seem to be holding up over time. So I leaned heavily on guest posting. Now, it’s a lot tougher these days because marketers got a hold of these processes and templates and that sort of thing. And there are sophisticated tools that will just send hundreds of emails per day. I mean, it’s bananas. I get so many emails. It’s just it’s too much. So it’s a little bit more difficult these days. But in general, if you spend time networking and actually, you know, providing some value to your point earlier of just. You know, making connections, you know, making connections and creating that network and maybe, as I mentioned, featuring other people on my side. Well, they’re way more inclined to work with you. Maybe they get your guest post. Maybe they’ll just mention you because you’re doing interesting things anyway. So as far as all that goes, I did set up some systems and processes, a lot more manual even, you know, back in the day, a lot more manual than what people are doing today. So I would actually have some of my assistants go and blog, comment, email, and really make a connection with some of the bloggers that I thought maybe would let me guess post. So after they made the connection, we’re able to get, you know, quite a few guest posts over time, much higher conversion rate. If you put the time in like early and just don’t ask for anything, just be nice and try to provide value again. They’re way more inclined to work with you in the future if you’re providing value upfront. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I think that power of partnerships and actually needs to be a valid value exchange. And I think what you’re talking about getting these emails, which I also get hundreds of day, hey, I really love your blog. I’ve been a reader for many years. Can you put this link in, please? No, thank you. So I’m curious to you to ask you, though, in terms of how your approach has changed or kind of evolved over the years, I’ve seen you become more systematized in the way that you plan out your content, the way that you produce the content. But in terms of the overall process, that anything’s any major learnings or screw-ups that you think you learned from along the way that used to work and now doesn’t or just things that you now do differently than you used today. 

Doug Cunnington

Well, I think a lot of it does come down to the link building area. So one of the biggest screw-ups, which I did multiple times was. Basically get links that Google doesn’t like. So I ended up with multiple penalties, manual penalties, which, you know, took my traffic from thousands of visitors a day to, you know, under 100 per day. Obviously, the revenue drops correspondingly. But, you know, I can make you do it. I will make a couple of excuses. That is what I learned from the people that were teaching stuff at the time. So, Pat Flynn, if you go back, I don’t even know if he has these still published on smart, passive income. But in 2010, in 2011, it was a way different. I mean, he’s very clean cut white hat these days and much more of a businessman than a brand and all that stuff. But he was going over the favor and, you know, BI and links. And, you know, Spencer that I mentioned before, he was using private blog network links. And I learned all that stuff from them. And that’s how I was successful. So from all the things that were a common practice in working, I didn’t realize I mean, it was a side hustle. It was just a fun thing I was working on. But it went from making, you know, a couple of pennies per day to, you know, hundreds of dollars per day, which is a big deal when you lose that revenue. So I learned to stay within my risk tolerance because I know there’s a lot of those things that I mentioned in some capacity. They actually still work today, if you know what you’re doing. You can do it. But the risk for me wasn’t worth it. And, you know, when you look at the amount of work and the effort, the kind of work that you can do, and I think it’s fine if people are doing that, as long as they understand the risk level and if they’re successful at it, that’s great. But for me, I’m trying to do something a little bit different. I didn’t particularly enjoy the work, so I shifted. And I don’t think I want to do anything that risky again. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah. The risk of toxic links and. Yep. Annual penalties. When you start using slightly shady tactics, they can certainly backfire or as well they just become increasingly ineffective. So it’s just not really worth doing. I did a little experiment. It was last year and I was like, okay, hang the throw a bunch of bad or like black and gray SEO tactics aside. I didn’t really care too much about just to see what could happen. And basically it didn’t I mean, it didn’t really have a detrimental effect on the sites but needed that it really helps. So I didn’t actually get any penalties, but it just didn’t really help that much. So I think shortcuts can feel like they are good at the time when you might hack and just pay five bucks and I’ll get this cool thing. So it was actually it’s probably not going to be that simple, right. 

Doug Cunnington

What did you end up doing? 

Ben Aston

I mean, the sites still exist. I just didn’t really care about them that much. So that’s why I was it was I did them just to be an experiment. So and I just threw these bad and all of these kinds of black and gray tactics at them to see what I could do, just using bad or what’s supposed to now be bad tactics. And they just didn’t really work. So I think this is the challenge. Right. And I think when people come on board now to start trying to build and these sites, actually the tactics that worked for us when we started our sites 10 years ago aren’t going to be the same things that work now. And so it’s really difficult for people. And, you know, we can say to people, well, you know, don’t use black or gray tactics because it’s not going to work for you or don’t do this or don’t do that because it didn’t work or did work for us. But Google’s evolving so fast that I mean, no one truly knows. Right. Google itself doesn’t know what’s going to work. So I think that’s why this focus on producing really good, useful content that meets user intent needs. If you can build that and that’s to create value, then long term you’re probably in a good spot. 

Doug Cunnington

Hundred percent agree. 

Ben Aston

So, I mean, we’ve talked about your team, and as much as you’ve got freelance writers, you’ve got an editor. But how do you hear who is exactly in your team? How do you structure it and how is that changed? 

Doug Cunnington

I like to keep it pretty lean, so, you know, I was talking about my content team before and I may have, you know, five, 10 people when I’m doing one of those content sprints, but I’m I prefer to work in those Sprint style. So I will, you know, spine up a team and then dismantle it later when I’m done. So once I’m done publishing a lot of content, I will just let it go dismantle the team. So currently. Again, I like a lean team. So I have an assistant who helps with some customer support. I have sort of an executive virtual assistant as well, who helps me with email and scheduling and admen for a lot of the different things that I’m involved in. And then I have a video editor because I do a lot of YouTube videos. So I’m not very good at editing, although it’s slightly enjoyable, but it takes a lot of time. And she’s like a, you know, film major and like understands the software and like how to pull a video together. And she does an excellent job. So I just have three assistants. And then if I need, you know, ad hoc work, I’ll hire people for that specific project. 

Ben Aston

That’s cool. That is super lean and I mean, you talked about your tech stack in terms of managing all this content. So you’re managing everything through spreadsheets. 

Doug Cunnington

So there’s a couple of different pieces. So if I’m doing, you know, any of that content work where I’m working with writers that maybe, you know. Not fired, but it may not work with them for very long. I’m not going to spend time training. So, yes, spreadsheets for that. But with the three different people that I just mentioned by assistance that I’ve been working with, like long term, a couple of them for multiple years, I use Trello for that. So a lot of it is content management for YouTube and a podcast. So in that way, you know, Trello is great to see the status. And just to get out of email. And, you know, anyone on the team can hop in and see who owns is a particular task and work from there. Now we’re talking tech stack. Right. So I can go a little deeper into my course and the funnel and sort of how I ended up with a really kind of a Frankenstein system, so. Yes. It’s just how it happens, because you start with it. And I’m a big believer in like a minimum viable product. And. I’m using Zippy Courses to self-host the 2  courses that I have. So pretty straightforward and it does a fine job. But when you went to add affiliates to sell your course for you, well, you need another plugin. So I have Affiliates WP, which does OK, but then if you have you want to add a funnel or a deadline for an evergreen final, then you need to add deadline fine. Or a similar tool. That’s what I use. I also use WebinarJam so I can hold webinars and some others like live sessions without using, say, YouTube Live. There are some other tools that you could use, but I just ended up with that. 

Doug Cunnington

And then to gather email subscribers from Niche Site Project and some other places, I use Optin Monster. And then I also use Zapier to hook things up that don’t have a natural interface. So at the end of the day, I ended up with a tech stack that mostly works, but there’s a lot of interfaces which. I don’t know if they tested him ahead of time. I mean, I have a software background, so when I saw how some of this stuff was working, I was like, I know you guys did test this. So I had to, you know, troubleshoot a few things to get it working and had to have developers with the companies that I was working with. Right. A, you know, custom fix, because like I said, I guess, you know, they didn’t test it or very few people are using exactly what I’m using. So I’m looking at this point in time to go to a more robust solution that has a lot of this built-in. So, I mean, I also use a Weber. So, again, another piece of the puzzle where some things integrate, but not perfectly. So it’s pretty. It’s a messy stack. Once I step back and I’m like. How did I end up here? 

Ben Aston

I think it’s tricky. Can you tell us what are you trying to look for an all in one kind of solution, or is it another kind of patchwork of things that you’re looking at. 

Doug Cunnington

I was going to move over to Teachable, which seems fine. I would take care of a couple of areas that I had trouble with. But I was chatting with one of my friends who’s using Kajabi, and it looks like it’s, you know, even more intense. And, you know, I’m a little nervous to turn over everything to one company. They would have like so much control that it does email marketing, the final design, the deadline final, have the affiliate program built and it holds the courses. It’s all in one. You can even host your Web site there. But I have a lot of stuff sort of invested in, you know, WordPress. And I like how I can manage WordPress personally. So, you know, even without that, well, Kajabi is expensive. It does look like it does everything I needed to do. Hopefully, we’ll have to worry about interfacing and integrating with other applications. Have you ever used it or what do you know about it? 

Ben Aston

Yes, I’ve. I did have a play around with it. And it is one of these tradeoffs. Right? There’s the all in one tool that you have. Yeah. That does everything. But then I just find that typically they don’t do everything to the extent that you want them to. So recently we migrated from mail to him and pipe drive. So male chimps are email platform and pipe drive, which is our CRM. And we migrated all that into the active campaign. And it’s just one of those things. Yeah. You know, it works, but it’s just not as good as using a pilot pipe drive. It’s better than active campaigns CRM that they have. So it is one of those interesting things where they are. Yes, this works, but it doesn’t do what I want it to do. It doesn’t have that functionality. So, yeah, I’m still I’ve got a similar challenge. Right. I have courses built in Aceh, something called has you and peer grade. We’ve got a mishmash of different things. And we actually don’t have an alum as a learning management system at all. We just kind of patch it together as one as a website that’s on WordPress. Active Campaign. As I mentioned, we have Slack as well. So, yeah. Our architecture is a mess as well. And it doesn’t work, but it is functioning. It does do what we want it to do. So we are consolidating all those things into a single tool that would be ideal. I just don’t want to lose any of the functionality that I currently have. 

Doug Cunnington

Yeah. I’m torn because it potentially could simplify things but Yeah as you said, I could be losing functionality and there are a couple of pieces that I really like. But I’m thinking, you know what? I can make compromises just for simplicity because, you know, I know a lot more than I did, you know, four or five years ago when I was starting to put together, you know, the skeleton of this tech stack. But, you know, at this point, I’m more aware of what I wanted to be. And I don’t want to. Because I’ve definitely sat around, tried to troubleshoot some of the issues. And I would much rather have a simplified version that is not optimal that I don’t have to mess around with. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, man, when you start including things like Thrive Cart as well, an up sales and things like that. And then things do become super, super complicated. But hey, that’s also why it’s fun trying to figure out, figure out ways to do things. But I’ve got a question. I wonder if you’ve got the answer to that. Do you know how much it costs you to produce each piece of content that you produce? 

Doug Cunnington

And I’m assuming you mean on the affiliate sites, right? 

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah. 

Doug Cunnington

About, I would say 50 to 60 dollars for roughly fifteen hundred words or so. 

Ben Aston

And then how do you calculate the ROI on that? Because you said you were producing like these content sprints where you’re producing hundreds of pieces of content. How do you calculate the ROI on that? So how do you know that you should produce hundreds, not a hundred that are better or 50 that are just awesome? 

Doug Cunnington

So I don’t calculate ROI on that. So pretty lazy and I’m mean, I’m a numbers guy as well. I like spreadsheets quite a bit. But when I was getting started with actually that keyword golden ratio, I mean, a lot of those content sprints were around the keyword golden ratio. And I tested this concept and I published 20 pieces of content and traffic went up. I could see it. Visitors were landing on the site and people were buying stuff. And I recently read, I think it was like the 10x rule or some book like that take massive action. So I thought to myself, I’m going to publish 200 pieces of content, see what happens. 

Doug Cunnington

And I thought about trying to put an ROI on it and, you know, quantifying it better. And then I just decided not to and just thought, I am going to take massive action and see what happens in that particular year. It was 2016. So in January of 2016, that site. This was the heyday of Amazon affiliate before they lowered their commissions and all that. But the site made one hundred dollars in January and then it made like sixteen thousand in December that published, you know, the 200 pieces of content. I did not build any links during that time period. And it exploded. So if I would’ve tried to calculate an ROI, it would have been interesting as a thought experiment too, you know, keep mine. Costs down and make sure I didn’t like, go in the red and didn’t recover anything, but I took care of it another way, which I come back to. But the other problem, I think, with ROI is I’ve had people try to, you know, propose formulas is as time goes on, the ROI goes up for this kind of intent. So it’s kind of like, what’s the point? If I know I’m earning more money than I’m spending, then, you know, there’s no real value. Maybe you could convince me otherwise, but it just gives you confidence as you’re spending the money when you’re investing in the content. And at the end of the day, I was making more money. So that’s fine. Now, what I did was I published 200 posts in five months. But the first month was like seven pieces of content. And then it was 20 and then 30. And then the last month, I think I publish know, 75 posts or something like that. But I slowly increase the throughput. And as I was going, I saw that I was going in the right direction. I was getting more traffic and selling more products in general. So I knew that I wasn’t going in the red and I was just reinvesting as I went. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, yeah, I think I think this is difficult. I think it’s when you’re starting. Most people I think when they’re starting, it will be just them. But yeah, for me, when I’m now thinking about growing new sites and it always feels to me a bit risky, when you create new content, you publish it and you hope that you will see some are away on that. But it’s you don’t really know whether or not I mean, the big picture, you think, okay. Yes, I know this will work. But then when it comes to the detail of. Okay, well, how many pages should I create over what time period, how much should I invest in this before I should start seeing a return? I think that’s where it starts getting tricky and like making that investment if you’re, you know, spending sixty dollars per. Per post in your publishing, hundreds of them. You know, that is a big investment, right? 

Doug Cunnington

Definitely. And I think it’s it’s definitely valuable to go through the thought exercise and understand your expenses and, you know, when you’re putting together a budget and you’re you have to make educated guesses on, you know, where revenue is going to be, you hopefully have an understanding of, like, your cost going into the future. So there’s certainly value in predicting. What you add makes making assumptions about where you maybe, but at the same time, you know, at least you just get lucky, like you’re gonna be pretty far off. So, yeah, this is a tough, tough way to calculate things. But, yeah, as long as you’re not going into debt and you see that you’re moving in the right direction, usually it’s gonna be OK. 

Ben Aston

So can you tell us a bit about your goals for this year and kind of what you’re focused on over the next eight months or so? 

Doug Cunnington

You know, I’m not one of the sorts of people that, you know, put together like big goals for the year and now we’re in like almost the end of April. So I was generally going to keep selling my course. You know, keep putting out more content on the podcast, on YouTube, just kind of, you know, continue with the status quo. Boring. Right. Very boring. However, it basically becomes complacent with the sites that I have there, consistent earners. And then I have, you know, nice final put together. So things are pretty stable since Amazon changed their commission rate on the 21st of April. I now need to sort of revamping my course a little bit. And it has actually been the kick in the ass that I need because, again, I was just complacent. Things were just moving along in a stable way. And now I will be relaunching, not relaunching but launching new courses? And I’ve been sitting on several course ideas. I typically just talk about, you know, the affiliate area because that’s what people mostly want to hear about. But I’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the background that I can now talk about more just because there’s you know, there’s a bit of a reshuffling in the affiliate marketing world since Amazon changed things up. So I’m going to be pumping out a lot more courses. I’m not 100 percent sure how many. But I would say at least three or four new courses that are smaller in scope than the one that I know primarily sell. 

Ben Aston

That’s cool. And I mean, what are you finding tough apart from those Amazon rate cuts. What what are your biggest challenges that you’re facing right now? 

Doug Cunnington

Some of the bigger things are. Really around just focusing. Which, you know, seems funny because I can focus pretty well, but because I do have a small team and I have my, you know, my hands in different cookie jars, I am constantly shifting gears and I work much better. Like I said, with the sprints of work. So I will be, you know, ramping up basically to produce, you know, a fairly significant course soon. And that’ll be great because I’m just going to be focusing on that for a few weeks. So. I guess really it’s, you know, just changing the had from. Okay, I’m doing a podcast, OK? I have an interview that I did that I’m going to put on YouTube. And as a podcast. And I’m trying to put together some other content for a niche sci project, for example, or work on one of the affiliate sites. So there’s just a lot of shifting of gears, which I mean, it’s my own creation, so I can’t blame anybody. And it’s really about, you know, for me personally, I work great with a sprint. So, you know, work on an affiliate site for a week straight, you know, put in a few hours each day. They’ll be in great shape. But it’s when I’m shifting gears all the time, that mental sort of tax to switch tasks is tough. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So, I mean, you’ve talked about content sprints. You’ve talked about also now a course sprint. What are the other kind of sprint that that fill your year? 

Doug Cunnington

I think it will end up being around marketing the courses and, you know, some of the other, you know, networking and that sort of thing. So I would one thing I forgot to go back to the old question. I was planning on doing more speaking this year, which I’ve done very little speaking in the past. But I was invited to do an Ezoic Pubteligence talk. They have a conference they put on with Google. And it was supposed to be earlier this month, April 3rd in New York City at the Google office. So it would have been my first speaking gig. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a little while. And I was pretty excited, actually joined Toastmasters and then, you know, everything I canceled with COVID 19. So, yeah, we’ll see how things ramp back up. But I am planning on doing some speaking, although I’m not sure if this year is going to be the right time to really pursue it. But I have some contacts and I know that I have a few stories to tell. Case studies are always interesting, so hopefully I’ll be doing some of that in the next 12 months. 

Ben Aston

I’ve always shied away or not likes, I’ve avoided becoming a speaker. Just for me, when I think about, well, I guess the ROI on it, and do I really just want to go around and talk? I mean, it’s fun if you’ve got nothing else to do. But I’d love to know more about your, like, motivation of why you decided, hey, this could be a good idea. 

Doug Cunnington

Well, it scares me quite a bit to do any public speaking. Right. So it’ll definitely stretch me. And Ben, are you. Are you a pretty good public speaker? Do you have any fear with it? 

Ben Aston

No, I think I think I’m pretty confident at speaking. It’s more the I guess I’ve been to lots of conferences and things where I think, man, this is just a waste of my time. And yeah, I don’t. And I don’t really particularly see the value of going to these events and speaking at them. And yeah. When I didn’t really see any hour away from them directly unless it was directly related to marketing, the thing that I was trying to sell, and one of my courses. 

Doug Cunnington

Sure. So I haven’t done it yet, But here’s my hypothesis. And so there are two, two to three areas. So, number one, you’re making friends with the other speakers who are probably influencers. So you’re automatically able to network with them in on a different level than any of the people in the audience. So you’re up on the stage with that relationship. Why don’t know what you do with it exactly, but maybe they could be on your podcast. Maybe you could be on their podcast. Maybe they could be an affiliate for your course. Or maybe you could just hang out in their cool because they’re doing interesting things and they’re up on the stage, too. So that’s one area. Just networking must be unbelievable. Right. Compared. I haven’t been to many conferences, by the way, but I know in the crowd. I mean, I didn’t even get to talk to any of the speakers unless you bumped into them, like in the buffet line or something like that. That’s one area. And then the second is, you know, leaning on the idea that I mentioned before when I was able to share my success story on niche pursuits. You can ask them to sign up for your email list. So that was generally going to be my plan where I wouldn’t necessarily be trying to sell my course on stage because I think that’s kind of, you know, I don’t want to do that. But if you’re approaching the right audience, if you have the right product, that’s a good fit. You can say, you know, we didn’t have time to go into everything here, but I have a tool. I have a template. I have a system. Just go over to this page. You’ll get it immediately, blah, blah, blah. Then there in your email funnel so that those were the two main areas where I was like, this seems interesting. Plus, the added benefit of me knows facing a fear of public speaking. And I think that would be. Yeah. Now here you can be very scary. OK. I mean, just the networking alone. Like people that normally would just, you know, you wouldn’t have time to chat with them. A lot of times there’s a speaker dinner. You know, they hang out together a little bit more. So. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. Well, good luck with that for 2021. 

Doug Cunnington

Thanks. We’ll see. 

Ben Aston

Maybe you get something at the end of the year. So cool. Before we, before we wrap up, I just want to ask you for someone who’s at the start of the digital media journey, maybe creating content, trying to build community. You’ve obviously succeeded in that. What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone on that journey? That’s kind of actionable that they can take away to build that audience and build their content effectively. 

Doug Cunnington

Definitely. Just get started. I know a lot of people are nervous to put themselves out there, to be judged. You’ll get judged. Trust me, it will come out of the woodwork and tell you what you’re doing wrong and you just have to keep pressing on. Now, the sort of deeper advice that I want to give. I mentioned that I have, you know, the blog gets you to get a podcast. I’m talking about a lot of the same content. However, you really need to focus on one area. I didn’t start any of those or I didn’t start all of the things at the same time. It was, you know, three years on one thing. Two years on another. Two years. I mean, you got to take it slow. If you try to do all of them at the same time, you’re going to be completely overwhelmed. You probably have a full-time job. You have other responsibilities. You’re going to stress yourself out and probably do a bad job in all of the areas. So focus on one area, whether it’s the spoken word with a podcast or if you’re into video and you want to do YouTube. Just do that thing for as long as you can because you’ll continually hopefully get better as long as you’re, you know, aiming for continuous improvement and trying to get feedback to improve. So get started for sure and then focus as hard as you can for as long as you can. 

Ben Aston

Nice. Yeah, I think that is solid advice. I think the thing that can be difficult for people is having that tenacity to keep going when there are no results and no results don’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. It just means it hasn’t landed yet. And these things, these things take time. So keep pushing away at it. And for as long as you can. And eventually, you’ll start seeing some results. So. Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been really great having you with us. 

Doug Cunnington

Thanks a lot. It was a pleasure. 


Ben Aston

And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on Indiemedia.Club. But until next time. Thank you so much for listening.

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