A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Launching a Big Website

July 15, 2013 · 16 comments

The Write Life is live!

This resource for writers has been a vision for more than a year, and we’ve finally brought it to life. The goal of the multi-author blog is to help writers create, connect and earn.

Image: The Write LifeSo what does it take to launch a big website?

A whole LOT of work — not just by me, but also by our Launch Team and my biz team. In fact, this site took so much preparation that I felt overwhelmed by the idea of writing a blog post about it, and left this post until the last minute (very unlike me)… so I’m writing it just hours before launch.

Over the next week, everyone in my newsletter community will receive a daily email answering reader questions about what it takes to launch a site like this. So if this post interests you, make sure to subscribe.

This is a long post, but I’m hoping that by going into detail about this launch, you’ll collect some ideas for your own projects. Before you begin, you might read my pre-launch post, Why I’m Hella Nervous to Launch The Write Life.

Why I chose this project

When you’re an entrepreneur, you have far more ideas than time to implement, and you have to pick and choose projects to focus on. Three factors played into my decision to put my time, effort and money into launching this site:

1. The demand for writing resources is HUGE

Since I’ve blogged sporadically about writing on AlexisGrant.com for three years now, I’ve seen a huge demand for advice, tips and guidance on building a career around writing. (The first iteration of AlexisGrant.com was called Aspiring Author, and the second was The Traveling Writer, so this community is still heavy on writers.)

But I didn’t want to focus on writing at AlexisGrant.com; I wanted to blog about the new world of work. So I figured, why not share ideas about writing in a different place and in a different way?

While there are plenty of blogs that focus on one aspect of writing ““ like blogging, freelancing, marketing, etc. ““ there aren’t many, if any, that serve as a sort of one-stop shop, a place where you can find helpful information and ideas on all of those topics. That is, until now.

2. My skills are a perfect fit for this project

Through my business, Socialexis, I’ve managed several large, multi-author blogs (and that’s actually the direction in which we’re continuing to grow the business). I have experience recruiting writers, as well as a database of 400+ freelance bloggers to turn to for content. I know how to put the best systems in place for editing and managing content.

Of course, no blog will grow unless you help people find it, and I also have experience with that side of this coin: promotion. I know how to grow a newsletter list and social media channels. I’m also familiar with how to pitch the media and blogs to get coverage or guest blog posts to help spread the word about a site (and earn back-links for SEO).

Finally, since I specialize in online content, I have a working knowledge of SEO, a key component for succeeding with any online project. I’ve done all of these pieces either for clients or for my own brand — and now I’m putting them to work for The Write Life.

(While editing this post, I realized this sounds like a bit of a brag, which isn’t my intention. I simply want to show how my strengths align with this project!)

3. My network is well-positioned to help

Not only am I plugged into the writing community online, I also have relationships with lots of popular bloggers who have large followings, and I’m relying heavily on those friends to help spread the word.

Without that network, I never would’ve embarked on an endeavor like this. I’m depending heavily on my friends — including you! — to help this site succeed. If you want to help, I’ve outlined below exactly how you can do that.

Creating the Site

Lots of pieces went into creating this site, and here I’ll go over what I see as the major components.

Development and design

We worked with one of my favorite developers, Kate of Artemis, to build this site. She built AlexisGrant.com and Socialexis.com, so I knew her work was stellar and she was easy to collaborate with.

Rather than hire a designer, we chose a theme and tweaked it along the way, with Kate implementing my suggestions. I wanted to keep it super clean, simple and uncluttered. In retrospect, I wish I’d forked over a couple of thousand dollars to have a designer professionally design the site, but that can be Phase 2 of The Write Life. For now, this works as what the Lean Startup community would call our Minimum Viable Product: it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty enough and functions well enough to get the job done.

Content

While all the other details help the site come together, content is what really matters. We put a lot of thought and effort into this piece of the puzzle.

Our goal is to publish three posts each week for the first few months, then transition into one post daily. In time, nearly all of the posts will come from guest contributors who have expertise to share, and my team and I will edit and manage the editorial calendar.

But for the first two months, I wanted to have a core group of bloggers who will set a high standard for the site. That’s why we created a Launch Team.

All the members of the Launch Team have two things in common: they’re established bloggers who have credibility in this field, and they have awesome ideas and expertise to share. Nearly every blogger I approached to be on the team said “yes,” and I’ll share more about how we made that happen in my newsletter this week.

The short of it is we made it easy for them to participate (asked only for two posts over a two-month period) and made it worth their while (they’ll get some serious visibility from our launch). I also focused mainly on bloggers I already had a personal relationship with. To say “yes,” these bloggers needed to trust that I’d do a stellar job so they’d be proud to be part of the site, and they needed to be willing to help me out, since writing for TWL falls into favor territory.

Tomorrow on TWL, we’ll feature the Launch Team, so you can see exactly who contributed. It’s an impressive bunch!

In addition to our Launch Team, I also assigned posts on specific topics I wanted the site to cover to writers on my biz team and a few freelancers from my freelance bloggers database.

Promotion

We’ve focused on promotion nearly as much as content. Here are a few of the things we’re doing to help spread the word.

Social media and newsletter: We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and we’re working hard to grow those channels, including a monetary investment in Facebook ads starting this week. We’re also offering a freebie when you sign up for the newsletter: How to Land Your First Paying Client.

Tapping my network: This is big — I’ve made it as easy as possible for both online and in-person friends to tell their network about the site, including offering pre-written tweets and even copy to send to their email list. Interested to see what this copy looks like or want to grab some for your own site? Here’s TWL launch copy.

Asking the Launch Team for help: While promoting the site certainly wasn’t a prerequisite for being on the Launch Team, we’re hoping most members of the team will be proud enough of their contributions to share the site with their own communities.

Blogger outreach: Over the next few weeks, we’ll reach out to another group of bloggers and editors I don’t know personally to ask whether they’re interested in sharing the site or our newsletter freebie with their community.

Guest posts and interviews: We’re writing about a dozen guest posts that will appear on other blogs, partly to send eyes to the site and partly to boost The Write Life in search (because back-links improve SEO). Several bloggers have also offered to do an interview with me on their site.

Monetization

Are we hoping to make money off the site? The answer is yes — eventually. Here are the two main ways we’re looking to monetize the site:

1. Affiliate links. They’re non-intrusive, but they’re there. The thing about affiliate advertising is you’ve got to have a huge audience to make any money from it — but that’s what we’re aiming for with TWL anyhow. In addition to including affiliate links occasionally within posts, we’ve got some on our page of awesome resources for writers.

You’ll also find a featured resource at the bottom of most posts. And every other week or so, we’ll run a review of a course or ebook for writers. The idea is to help writers figure out the best way to invest in their career, but when readers click our links and buy, they’ll also support the site.

2. More fun stuff. Phase Two of The Write Life will involve a few other monetization techniques, including product launches, perhaps a job board, and maybe some advertising. We’ve also got one more big monetization scheme in the works that we’re not ready to reveal yet.

It should be no surprise to anyone that we’re not expecting the site to make money from the get-go; it will take months (at least) to build the community to a point where we’ll be able to reap the benefits of our hard work. But it will be fun working toward that goal!

Cost

Here’s another detail you’re likely wondering about: How much did it cost to create the site?

The truth is, the biggest cost was my time. Since this is a passion project, I don’t mind spending time on it; to me, this kind of “work” is fun. But carving out that time while continuing to grow my business hasn’t been easy.

Financially, here are the biggest investments I’ve made in The Write Life so far:

Domain. Not surprisingly, TheWriteLife.com was taken, so I negotiated with the owner to purchase the site for $1,000. I believe it was worth the investment because the site will make money down the line.

Hosting. I already owned hosting for my other sites (mainly AlexisGrant.com and Socialexis.com), so we added TheWriteLife.com there, too, for no additional charge. The site is hosted on WestHost (affiliate link).

Theme. The Write Life runs on a customized version of Genesis (affiliate link), which costs $59.95. This was a theme I’d wanted to try out for a while, so it was fun to give it a go, and we’re liking it so far.

Development. Since we didn’t hire a designer for this project and our web developer worked on an hourly rate based on our needs, building the site was super affordable. We need to go through our financials and do a close count, but it looks like development fees came out to about $1,000.

Plug-ins. We used several plug-ins that aren’t free, but I purchased multi-site licenses so we could also use them on AlexisGrant.com. Pippity (a pop-up plug-in that’s not yet active on The Write Life) cost $87 and Subscriber Magnet (encourages people to sign up for the newsletter when they leave a comment) cost $97. If we attribute half that cost to AlexisGrant.com and half to The Write Life, that comes out to $92.

Socialexis team help. Several members of my business team helped prepare everything for launch, including researching the writing industry, prepping our social channels, formatting blog posts, designing images, keeping me sane, and more. Because my company pays these awesome workers for lots of other tasks as well, we haven’t yet sifted through invoices or time sheets to figure out exactly how much we spent on help specifically for The Write Life. I’d estimate it came out to around $800.

Writing blog posts. While I don’t envision paying for many blog posts for The Write Life, we did pay for several assigned posts (reviews of products for writers, overviews of blogs that accept guest posts and research-intensive list posts). Again, I haven’t yet sifted though all the invoices for these, but I’d estimate we’ve spent about $500.

That brings total expenditure for The Write Life so far to…

Domain: $1,000

Theme: $60

Development: $1,000

Plug-ins: $92

Team help: $800

Blog posts: $500

Total: About $3,500

We’ll certainly have more expenses down the line, including an immediate $1,000 investment in Facebook ads to grow the Facebook page. But this covers our costs so far.

Now, I should mention that a big reason I was able to pull this together rather cheaply is because I had the skills and know-how to do a lot of tasks myself or instruct my team on what to do. If you didn’t know about all of these pieces — how to recruit writers and manage content, set up a newsletter, run social channels, what action items to feature on a website, and all the other bits that go into setting up a website — it could be a lot more expensive.

How you can support this project

If you’ve read this far, you either have a keen interest in launching your own digital project one day and/or you want to see this site succeed.

If you want to help, here are three things you can do to spread the word about The Write Life:

1. Sign up for our newsletter. When you do, you’ll get a cool freebie: How to Land Your First Paying Client. Lots of case studies and real-life examples in that ebook.

2. Tell your friends. Whether you want to email the link (http://thewritelife.com) to a few of your writing buddies, post it on Facebook or tweet it to your followers, however you spread the word is awesome and hugely appreciated. Here’s a tweet to make it easy for you.

3. If you have a blog or newsletter, share the site with your followers. Even a P.S. in your next newsletter would help significantly!

If you do one or all of those things, THANK YOU!

As I mentioned earlier, more insight into how we built this site will go out to my newsletter community this week. If you have specific questions, feel free to leave those in the comments and I’ll answer them here or in the newsletter.

This project is one big FUN experiment, and I’m psyched to see how far we can take it. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca Fraser-Thill July 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Congratulations Alexis! The site looks great & it seems like it will be full of great resources, especially as more blog posts come online over the coming weeks and months. Thank you for sharing the behind-the-scenes so that we can see how you plan to monetize things, as well; if you could give us updates on how that process goes, that would be extraordinarily helpful information. I appreciate your transparency and wish you all the best with the new venture!

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Alexis Grant July 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Smart request! I’ll mark that down to share in the coming months. Thanks!
Alexis Grant recently posted…A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Launching a Big WebsiteMy Profile

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Amanda July 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Congrats on launch, Alexis! It looks great; can’t wait to see what’s to come.
Amanda recently posted…What We Talk About When We Talk About AnxietyMy Profile

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Alexis Grant July 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Thanks, Amanda!
Alexis Grant recently posted…A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Launching a Big WebsiteMy Profile

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Rhonda July 15, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Hi Alexis,

We serve the same audience and we applaud your new site! It looks beautiful. If you should ever need advice or a guest post on copyright best practices, we’d be happy to help. — @icopyright

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Alexis Grant July 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Great to hear! We’ll certainly be looking for guest posts if you want to pitch one to contribute@thewritelife.com!
Alexis Grant recently posted…A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Launching a Big WebsiteMy Profile

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Suzi Martel July 15, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Yaaay! Congrats on the launch, love the site!!
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Steph July 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Congratulations, Alexis! The site looks great and thanks for the free ebook – a handy resource. I launched a new project of my own just last week and it’s reassuring to know that we all face the same pressures and stresses!

Thanks for your transparency on your promotion and monetization strategies – great stuff.

I’ve signed up for the newsletter – consider me following with interest 🙂

All the best, Steph
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Ophelie July 16, 2013 at 12:12 am

Congratulations on the launch! I’m looking forward to seeing more great content up on the site.

I’d be very interested in how you chose your audience, and how you’re developing content for that particular audience. It looks like, for now, you’re focusing on people who are just starting out with professional blogging. Is that your main target audience?
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Shae Baxter July 16, 2013 at 9:17 am

Well done and congratulations Alexis. It looks fantastic. I wish you the best of luck with it but I’m sure you don’t need it.
Shae Baxter recently posted…The One WordPress SEO Tip Almost Noone Ever Does (Hint: It Will Help Keep Readers On Your Site Longer)My Profile

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Casandra July 16, 2013 at 9:48 am

Great coverage of how to launch a website! I suspect this will help a lot of people just as much as The Write Life!

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Victor Björklund July 17, 2013 at 7:36 am

Thank you! How do you recommend reaching out to bloggers you have no previous contact with? Do you just send them an mail or what?

Thanks

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Alexis Grant July 17, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Hey Victor — I’d warm up the contact by getting in touch via Twitter, then follow these guidelines: http://alexisgrant.com/2012/02/29/how-to-write-an-effective-email-pitch-that-people-will-actually-read/ Cheers!

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SEO National September 30, 2015 at 7:26 am

Congratulations for the successful launch Alexis! The site looks great. Pretty sure your visitors will love them and will surely be happy to navigate your website.
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