My friend Suzanne Nguyen asks:
“How do you make your money? Do you offer many products for different markets? What’s the breakdown of revenue between the various projects you do?”
I get this question quite a bit.
Suzie has developed a reputation as the “go-to” person for Snapchat. Plus, she’s built a sizeable audience there. Now she’s looking for a sustainable revenue stream. She is considering a few models (membership platform, online events, etc…)
Below is my advice for Suzie. I've based this information on my experience, which means “these are the things that I did that worked.” These tips might not work for you, or for Suzie, but they’ll at least give you some tangible things to consider.
Starting in 2012, I’ve been gradually building up product revenue. After years of side-hustle, I finally made the jump to full-time in 2016.
I'm a company of one person, so as long as I keep my expenses down, I get to keep most of what I make.
In 2016, my revenue breakdown looked like this:
In 2017, my revenue breakdown looked like this:
In 2018, I co-founded Transistor.fm with my friend Jon. As it earns more revenue, it will provide a portion of my income as well. In the meantime, most of my income comes from my membership site, books, and courses.
MegaMaker Club is built on top of Discourse, which is open source forum software. It’s a full-stack Ruby on Rails application that can be modified based on your needs. Members currently pay once for lifetime access.
Marketing for Developers is a course that I host on Podia. Online courses are also starting to feel more like “software.” You log in, you track your progress, and fill out workbooks. Students pay once for lifetime access.
Jolt is an ebook. I published it through Reedsy but sell it through Podia. Customers pay $14.99 and download the files.
Writing a book is definitely the most up-front work. Writing and editing is an enormous task.
A membership platform requires quite a bit of ongoing work and engagement; but I also find it the most fulfilling.
A video course is a good mix between the two. For me, creating video is not as much work as writing. Video also has a higher perceived value with customers.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned that might help you.
First, online courses have better unit economics than books.
Books require an incredible amount of research, writing, editing, formatting, refining. They're also put under a microscope (critically). A few 1 star reviews and your credibility is ruined. (I talk about this more in this video)
Essentially, books are incredibly underpriced for the amount of value they deliver.
On the other hand, with a video course, I can easily add new video lessons on the fly. Since I re-launched Marketing for Developers, I've already added 5-8 new ones. I'm also able to interact with students (via OfCourseBooks). I can't afford to give a $9, $15, or, $39 customer that kind of support, but at $295 I can.
Membership sites, when done right, can be even more lucrative. You can customize your web application to meet the needs of your users.
These web applications don’t need to be super complex, or even built from scratch. Open source projects like Discourse, Telescope, and Zenbership make it easier for solopreneurs to get started. If you’re a developer, you can easily customize these yourself. Not technical? Hiring a developer to do these customizations isn’t incredibly expensive.
And now, creating a membership site is easier than ever with tools like Podia.