How We Earned $34,000 in 3 Days from a 9-Month-Old Website

April 1, 2014 · 18 comments

Two weeks ago, my team and I got up at 6 a.m. to launch our biggest project yet: The Writer’s Bundle.

An offer from The Write Life, the bundle was a package of nine ebooks and courses specifically for writers. The discount was steep — just $79 for more than $700 of products — and available for three days only.

An awesome run to the finish!

An awesome run to the finish!

After a marathon of preparation, we were ready for our three-day sprint. Ready for the sales to come rushing in as soon as we opened the flood gates. Isn’t that what always happens during a successful digital launch?

The sales did not come rushing in.

Instead, they came in slowly, one by one, giving me plenty of time to worry. I worried not enough people would buy, our affiliates wouldn’t share, our website would go down, and, despite all of the preparation we’d done in the months leading up to this sale, I worried we wouldn’t hit our goal of selling 400 bundles.

I share this to show that all entrepreneurs face uncertainty — even those who manage to meet their goals. I felt overwhelmed with uncertainty right up until halfway through our third and final day, when we hit 300 sales. It wasn’t until then that I began to relax and feel excited about the prospect of reaching the 400-bundle threshold.

In the end, we felt really good about what we accomplished. Much of that success is due to my team — hats off to Ben, Heather and Carrie — who truly executed this in style. Not only did we hit our sales goals and revenue targets, we also had a small number of customer inquires, which shows both the quality of the bundle and the smoothness of the buying experience. It also made for a lot of happy writers.

While most digital entrepreneurs who make five figures from a single launch keep the details close to their heart, I’m striving for transparency because I think there’s a lot we can all learn from this experience. Below you’ll find analytics for the sale, as well as a deep dive into lessons learned. (If you’re not familiar with how a bundle sale works, you might want to read this post first.)

Metrics that matter (plus a few that are just plain fun)

Before we talk about takeaways, here’s a quick look at the front-line metrics:

Sale duration: 3 days (72 hours)

Bundles sold: 435

Cost of each bundle: $79

Affiliates on board: 20

Affiliates who made more than three sales: 13

Affiliate commission for each sale: 30-50%, depending on whether the affiliate had a product in the bundle

Total revenue: $34,000

Revenue after affiliate payouts: $27,000

Unique visitors to the site during the sale: 11,700

Conversion rate of the sales page (percentage of people who bought the bundle after viewing the sales page): 3.7%

Interesting, right? But numbers mean nothing unless you tease out insights and action items — so here are a few of our major takeaways from this experience.

Takeaways from The Writer’s Bundle sale

Lesson #1: You don’t need a ton of traffic to succeed with a big launch

Contrary to popular belief, massive traffic shouldn’t be your goal. Instead, what you need is quality traffic, or traffic that converts into buys. Massive traffic helps, but quality traffic is what determines your success.

If you look at this graph from Google Analytics (click the image to enlarge), you can see our daily traffic did not increase tremendously during the sale; in fact, it was lower during those three days than during a spike we’d seen earlier in the month from a StumbleUpon pickup. Our peak on March 17 — Day 1 of bundle sale — was 5,100 unique visitors, compared to our normal weekday traffic of 2,000-3,700 uniques. (We typically see about 90K uniques monthly.)

Image: Google Analytics

Google Analytics shows unique visitors before and during the bundle sale.

We watched Google Analytics’ real-time reporting, a relatively new feature that shows activity on your site at that very moment, for much of the three-day sale. Warning: it’s completely addictive. Between 20-75 people were on the site at any given time from 8am-midnight EST. Probably a quarter to a third of those visitors were on the sales page, while others were elsewhere on the site, mostly checking out blog posts.

What’s cool about GA’s real-time reporting is you can see which pages visitors exit on, so we could tell when visitors had left the site via the buy button; in other words, they were on their way to purchasing the bundle. Throughout the sale, the buy button saw about 930 unique clicks, and with 435 total sales, that means about 47 percent of visitors who clicked the buy button actually purchased the bundle.

At a higher level, about 3.7 percent of visitors who viewed the sales page purchased the bundle — that’s our conversion rate. We were pretty happy with that, knowing that sales pages typically convert at 1-3 percent, depending on how targeted the traffic is. Our sales page was uncluttered and simple, focusing on how buyers would benefit from the bundle, which we believe worked in our favor.

Lesson #2: Your network is everything

Several people asked how we got about 20 affiliates — including eight whose products were included in the bundle — to participate, and the answer is simple: we turned to our network. The majority of affiliates who agreed to participate were my own personal friends or professional contacts. They were familiar with the quality of my work and with The Write Life, so they trusted we’d do a stellar job with this sale. That trust was of utmost importance; if their name was associated with the offer, they wanted to feel confident it would be quality.

We also did our best to make participating truly worthwhile for affiliates. Creators who allowed us to include their product in the bundle earned 50 percent commission for all sales they made to their community, while other affiliates earned 30 percent. Product creators could also benefit from the visibility of the offer, gaining new readers and buyers in the process.

Because my network and The Write Life’s network was so critical for doing this well, that’s one thing we’ll work on between now and the next time we offer a big sale. Forming those connections is the best thing we can do to put ourselves in a good position to get other affiliates and product creators on board next year.

I’ve got to take a minute here to drive home something we talk about a lot on this blog: your network is so important for your career, whether you’re working online or offline. (Click to tweet this.) The cool thing about this is you have complete control over your network. You might not have control over where it begins, but you do have control over where it goes. Establishing relationships and making the right connections is one of the best ways to invest in yourself. (If you’re looking for help, my Twitter networking course is a good place to start.)

Lesson #3: Partner with affiliates who have high engagement, not big brands with large lists

We took a gamble and spent several thousand dollars to send a dedicated email to a big brand’s list of 50,000 writers. The result? We sold only half as many bundles as we needed to break even on the advertisement. But we couldn’t have known that without trying, and we learned something from the (expensive) mistake: big-brand advertising is often not worth paying for.

In fact, based on this experience and others, I’d caution against paying for advertising in general, though social media (like Facebook) and search (aka Google) ads are rare exceptions. In general, marketing you don’t pay for — like guest posts, social channels and partnerships — have a higher return-on-investment than paid ads. (Sometimes it’s worth paying someone to establish and grow those free channels, so even marketing you don’t pay for can end up costing you money… but you get the idea.)

Big brands might have large email lists, but they often don’t have the same trust or engagement as quality bloggers, so their conversion rates can be very low. To show you just how low, I sold more bundles — 33 in total — to this AlexisGrant.com email list of 4,300 subscribers (that’s a 0.7 percent conversion rate) than this particular brand sold to their list of 50,000 (with 23 sales, their conversion rate was .05 percent).

Engagement matters more — and converts better — than sheer quantity. Remember this as you’re growing your own community, and as you turn to others for partnerships.

Lesson #4: Dedicated emails are extremely effective for converting readers to buyers

While some of our biggest affiliates did not convert as well as we’d hoped, several of our medium-sized partners blew this sale out of the water, selling 20+, 30+, even 100+ bundles, which was a big part of why we hit our targets. What worked for them was having an audience that was highly interested in writing; sending a dedicated email or two to their list (several large affiliates who shared only via social saw zero sales); and offering a bonus that added to the value of the package.

By “dedicated email,” I mean an email that focused solely on the bundle, its value and its benefits, rather than mentioning the offer in a newsletter full of other interesting content. In many cases, these successful bloggers sent more than one dedicated email to their list: either one each day of the sale, or one on the first day and a last-chance reminder on the last day. I took the latter approach with my own AlexisGrant.com list, and saw a flurry of sales from the last-chance newsletter.

To really see the effect emails can have on sales, check out this chart we put together based on when we made sales specifically to The Write Life community. You can see the spikes right after we sent emails:

This is why, if you’re trying to build a business (and especially an online one), you want to start building an email list from the very beginning.

Lesson #5: Rely heavily on the trust you’ve built with your own community

In addition to having several super-performing affiliates, something else big helped us reach our sales goals: The Write Life community.

When we launched the bundle, we had about…

  • 7,800 newsletter subscribers
  • 90,000 unique visitors monthly
  • 4,300 Facebook fans
  • 3,500 Twitter followers and
  • 430 Pinterest followers.

Based on the newsletter subscriber base alone, I estimated we’d see about 56 sales. In many ways, that was a complete guess, since this is the first time we’d made this type of offer, but I figured it out by looking at our average newsletter open rate of 30 percent, then factoring in about a 2.5 percent conversion rate. That’s higher than the 1 percent conversion rate a lot of industries expect, but I anticipated high engagement because we’d spent the last nine months since launching the site focusing on creating an interactive and supportive community.

I was absolutely blown away by how many sales we got just from our community: 100. Plus 33 from the AlexisGrant.com community, another highly engaged group that overlaps slightly with The Write Life. The credibility and trust we’d built with our own community was even stronger than we’d realized. That’s what really made this sale successful.

The financials behind the bundle

If you’ve done the math, you know that after selling 435 bundles at $79 each, we finished up the sale with $34,365. Most of the team and I, as well as my boyfriend fiance (a data guy who has helped analyze the numbers behind this sale and created the graph above), stayed up until midnight on Day 3 to watch the final sales come in, cheering for each one together in a group chat.

This final number falls in line with our estimates, yet I am still in awe of what we were able to accomplish. This is by far the most we’ve ever earned from a product launch, and I’m so proud of my team for pulling it off.

Of that $34,000 in revenue, we’ll pay about $7,000 to affiliates. We also had about $5,500 of direct expenses, with the bulk of that going to the regretted advertisement mentioned above. That leaves us with about $21,500.

Our plan is to put all of that money back into The Write Life. We’ve already invested about $16,000 since we launched the site nine months ago (this post details the cost breakdown for launch), so a big chunk will go toward repaying that investment.

The remaining $5,500 is enough to continue to grow the site for another five months or so. If you’re wondering how we could spend that much money running a blog, it goes to our content editor, social media manager, project manager and tech help, plus smaller recurring costs like dedicated hosting with Media Temple and sending newsletters with MailChimp. It all adds up!

So our total of $34,000 refers to revenue, not profit. But I am incredibly grateful that we were able to generate that revenue with our own two eight hands, via a community we created from scratch just nine months ago and a network that believed in us and our product.

What questions can I answer about the results of The Writer’s Bundle? I’m happy to have a dialogue about this in the comments!

Update: My data-loving husband wrote a post about how he created a dynamic dashboard to help us track progress during the sale. It’s worth reading if you’re into launches or data.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Alicia Rades April 1, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Awesome article! It’s really neat that you’re sharing what you learned from this experience.

I wish your bundle would have come about two months sooner and I would have jumped on it right away. Unfortunately I already had access to the products in the bundle I wanted before you released it! But thanks for sharing what REALLY matters in a launch. I personally feel #2 is the most important.

Cheers!
Alicia Rades recently posted…How to Transform Your Blog into a Powerful Marketing ToolMy Profile

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Alexis Grant April 1, 2014 at 8:00 pm

The important thing is that you got your hands on the products! Are you enjoying them?

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Mindy April 1, 2014 at 5:59 pm

This is awesome data, but the most important thing I learned is that you’re engaged!!! Congrats!!!

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Alexis Grant April 1, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Thanks, Mindy! =)

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Lisa April 1, 2014 at 6:19 pm

This is a really interesting breakdown. I wonder if retargeting advertisements, rather than a big ad buy, would have helped to boost the conversion rate. Can retargeting even be implemented in that short of time? Here I am musing about something I only have a limited knowledge of, but the thought crossed my mind!

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Alexis Grant April 1, 2014 at 7:59 pm

True! In retrospect, I think there are a lot of better ways we could’ve spent the money that would have increased sales… live ‘n learn!

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Lisa Jacobs April 2, 2014 at 6:19 am

I love the transparency! Congratulations on the bundle’s success, and thanks for sharing the hard work and expenses that went into it.

I appreciated the lesson about the dedicated email – those always feel like such a gamble, even though getting in front of 50,000 people with similar interests sounds like such a sure bet. Definitely goes to show the importance of the relationship and connection the buyer (or reader) needs to feel with the seller.

Thanks again for sharing.
Lisa Jacobs recently posted…How Much I Made from My Etsy Shop and Blog This MonthMy Profile

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Enrico April 2, 2014 at 8:35 am

Hi Lexi,

Thanks for sharing this, it’s a very nice and useful read, I love the takeaways part!

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Therese April 2, 2014 at 11:05 am

Thanks for sharing, Alexis — it’s so helpful to see details and numbers like this. Congrats on the success of the sale! 🙂
Therese recently posted…On Vodka, Cowboys, and Assured Longing vs. Desperate LongingMy Profile

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Gretchen McCord April 2, 2014 at 11:42 am

CONGRATULATIONS, and thank you so very much for sharing your lessons learned, and in such detail.

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Katharine Paljug April 4, 2014 at 7:22 am

Congratulations, Alexis! (And everyone involved in the bundle offer – you clearly have a stellar team.)

This is such a fascinating breakdown – both the actual numbers and the summary of what did and did not work. It really goes to show that the whole “quality over quantity” concept is 100% true!
Katharine Paljug recently posted…How to Deal with an Unhappy ClientMy Profile

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Benny April 4, 2014 at 10:39 am

Congrats and thanks for opening the curtains to let us see how one of these really run behind the scenes.

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Benny April 4, 2014 at 11:45 am

I forgot to ask. What did you use to track affiliates?

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Alexis Grant April 7, 2014 at 11:45 am

We use ejunkie. Simple, easy to use and accurate.

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Andrea Martins April 6, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Hats off to Alexis, Ben, Heather, Carrie (and associates). Not only for the product launch success, but to the complete transparency and ‘lessons learned’ shared in this blog post. I love the way influencers like Alexis are letting us in behind the scenes to understand how they achieved 5 figure product launch successes. Thanks so much guys!

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Suki F April 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm

This is a very interesting article. I’m sure that I’ll be able to apply some of the things you say to my own business. Thanks for sharing!

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