If you haven’t read part one, you can do so here – My Most Challenging Year Part 1: When Family Tragedy Strikes
At the start of 2011 I set up this blog to run as automatically as possible.
A stay at home mum friend, Steph, from my city Brisbane came on board as editor and head of new writer recruitment. We worked together to create an application system for new writers, a publishing schedule and I trained her how to edit the articles, including how to write good article headlines (which led me to write the very popular article – How To Write Award Winning Blog Headlines).
While my plan with the new system was to free me up and make EJ a more independent entity, it turned out to be the perfect preparation for what was coming up with my mother.
For the first month after mum went into hospital I did not do any work. I didn’t write articles, work on any projects and barely responded to emails. I told my assistant Angela to email back replies to any messages that only I could answer, that due to the circumstances I wasn’t replying to email.
In short I did basically nothing but go into hospital and deal with family issues for an entire month.
I slowly returned to active duty as the months continued, but as far as the business was concerned, nothing much changed. It was validating to see my business run completely without me. We are not even talking working a two hour work day, and yet this blog continued, advertising income came in, the one course I still had on the market made sales and affiliate income continued as well.
Of course I wasn’t exactly growing my business at this time, but having zero business stresses while dealing with the family challenge was a huge relief. I couldn’t imagine having a job to worry about while all this was going on.
Beyond the family challenges, 2011 was a transition year for me and my business. I set all these plans in motion way before mum had her stroke because I decided I didn’t want to be an information marketer for a while, possibly ever again (not to be confused with being a blogger – I still want to do that).
To facilitate this change, I decided to close down all my training programs. Membership Site Mastermind and Become A Blogger Premium both closed in 2010. Blog Mastermind, my first course, was shut down in September 2011, leaving me with no active products on the market.
All these programs would benefit from updating (it’s amazing to think I wrote the Blog Profits Blueprint five years ago now!). However in typical entrepreneur fashion, I’m not as excited by the prospect of going over old materials as I am about creating new materials. I decided before I would revamp and relaunch these programs, I’d create the one remaining course I still want to teach – the 2 Hour Work Day.
Unfortunately I have had to delay the development of the 2 Hour Work Day. The report is complete and a handful of lucky people have read it, but the course behind it will have to wait. While I have time to do some work, I don’t want the stress of creating an entire new course at the same time as visiting the hospital. It would make for an inferior product.
There is one course in development however, that will launch in 2012 – Become A Blogger 2.0.
After we closed down Become A Blogger Premium, co-founder Gideon Shalwick and I considered our options regarding reopening it. Both of us are not presently in a position to review and update all the videos, so I suggested just as I had partnered with Gideon to create the videos the first time, we could partner with someone else to create a 2.0 version of the course.
I knew exactly who was perfect for the role – EJ columnist Leslie. He has the video production skills, passion for Internet marketing and blogging, and I felt was in the right point in his “career” to become a leader of a program like BAB.
We approached Leslie in 2011 and he eagerly agreed to partner with us. We have been working on BAB 2.0 ever since. You will see the first fruits of this new partnership later this year.
For a long time I’ve had an idea simmering in my head. Ever since I read the Perfect Store, the foundation story of eBay, I’ve been enamored by the many-to-many business model, especially when applied online, reducing friction to almost zero (online technology makes it hands off for the owner and seamless for users). My proofreading business BetterEdit was a first attempt at this model, linking students with editors, which became a successful, albeit small business.
When the service TextLinkAds.com launched several years ago, I was impressed with this many-to-many business, especially because it was more closely related to my passion of making money from blogging.
I used TextLinkAds.com to make about $700 a month on average, until the whole concept of selling links for pagerank juice was impacted by the Google Slap – Google reducing pagerank and possibly the search results of sites that sold links for money. EJ suffered a pagerank slap, which led to the removal of Textlinkads.com links from this site. Since then I have only sold text ads using the “nofollow” tag so as not to risk a Google search penalty.
The spark for my idea came when I considered how to do something like TextLinkAds.com, but for banners. This was about five years ago, however I never pursued the idea because I was knee deep in teaching courses and blogging.
Advertising is by far the longest serving income stream I have had online. I’ve made money from it for over ten years, long before starting a blog, on many different websites. It’s reliable and consistent, and after a few years I came up with a system to make it almost passive too.
For years we used OpenX (or phpadsnew when I first started using it, later renamed OpenAds then OpenX) to rotate banners on this site. It’s a good system, but overkill for what I need. It is complicated to install and set-up, the statistics were inaccurate compared to Google Analytics data (which can make advertisers upset) and the number of steps required to manage campaigns was an inefficiency I believed could be improved.
My idea was to create an advertising management system that could be added to your blog using a simple plugin. The system would deliberately leave out many features to only focus on what you need to manage ad campaigns and sponsors on your blog. It would be simple, clean and take only a few minutes to install and set-up.
The system would also include a few unique features that I had yet to find in other ad managers. These features would help bloggers to sell ads automatically, so they could derive as close to passive income as possible.
On the back end of this system would be an ad network to help bloggers recruit new sponsors, which is where the many-to-many business model would come end.
That at least, was the framework I had in my mind.
In 2010 I decided to actually take the leap and start creating the software to run my ad management system. I wanted a project to transition to, something that was a true start-up that could get really big and help a lot of people – in this case, help my fellow bloggers make income.
The ad management plugin didn’t seem that complicated to me in my head, so I went out and found myself a local development company because I wanted to talk face-to-face to explain the service. We had a meeting, they came back with a quote, I knocked the quote down to something I could afford ($15,000 was the initial budget), which meant not having them work on the actual design of the site, just the plugin itself.
Everything started out smoothly enough and I worked well with the project manager. However as the project progressed, the software never seemed to reach a stable point. At each demonstration it would break down, and they would have to get back to me in a few weeks once the bugs were fixed.
I came to realize that software is not easy to develop, even if the idea is simple. Even just basic features can take a while to get working, then if you are like me and you want to micro-manage all the finer details, you can quickly find your budget blowing way out of proportion.
By the time 2011 came around, after about five months of development I had spent $30,000 and still did not have a workable plugin. I told the development company I couldn’t afford to invest more money into something that wouldn’t likely make any return without costing a lot more.
I considered looking for an overseas developer to keep costs down, but decided against it because I wanted to work closely – and face-to-face – with the developer. I knew the nuances would be difficult to describe and very likely change as development continued. I needed flexibility without the challenge of having to document every detail in order to instruct someone in another country how to develop what I wanted.
I much prefer partnerships when it comes to new projects. I like the camaraderie and the opportunity to have input from someone with a different perspective, rather than just a contractor who does what I tell them to. It’s also much better in my point of view to have someone vested in your project so they care about it as much as you do. This makes me more accountable because I have to perform for someone else (I can be terribly slack when it’s only me I am responsible to) and of course vice versa – they feel accountable to me.
Although you lose equity in a partnership, you gain the benefit of someone working with you side-by-side. If you bring on partners who fill gaps in your own skillset, as in this case I needed a programmer, then you can also save cash, which is probably what I should have done from day one rather than blow $30,000. Lesson learned.
My project with Gideon Shalwick had been a resounding success, which made me confident another partnership could succeed. I learned a lot about being in partnership with Gideon, including a few things I could do better next time, and knew full well why Gideon and I worked so well together. I felt confident if I could find the right partner for this new project, it could continue.
I talked to a friend who I believed had the programming skills to do the job and would make a great partner, however he was still contracted to work in New Zealand, which he ended up returning to. Then one day I was thinking about another friend, Walter, who has a reputation for being a fantastic programmer. It hadn’t crossed my mind before to speak to him because he always seemed to have has hands full of contract work and his own projects, but I thought why not ask and see what he says.
I sat down with Walter, explained where the development of the project was, that I was looking for a partner and thought he might fit the bill. He was confident that he had the skills to do it, but wanted some time to think about it. It didn’t take long before an email arrived from Walter for a proposal to work together. I agreed and away we went.
In 2010 I briefly started an app development project that I quickly canned. However because of the project I registered the domain name CrankyApps.com, something that came to me during brainstorming sessions.
I like the word “cranky”. I’ve been called that before growing up by family and by girlfriends. I don’t consider myself so cranky now, but certainly I was as a teenager. As a business name, I like it. It’s rememberable and ties in with the idea of people being cranky with current options (and thus, we are the solution to your crankyness).
When it came to start my new ad management system the opportunity to register crankyads.com was available. I jumped on it.
I had this idea to have an old man, a cranky fellow, as our mascot. Via 99Designs a mascot designer came up with our new logo, including the old man Mr Cranky, and CrankyAds.com was born.
I like CrankyAds. It’s a brand that came be recalled easily. It’s not generic, elicits a sense of curiosity (what is he cranky about?) and links in with the crankyness people experience when trying to find a simple ad management system.
I’m not sure it’s the perfect name for our service, but it was good enough to run with, which is what I did in 2011.
Walter my new partner and programmer, Mick my ever-ready designer, and I began working together half way through 2011. Although it took a lot more time than expected, and we had to cut a lot of features, a BETA version of the CrankyAds plugin went live late 2011.
We switched EJ over to it, and it’s been running the ads on this site now for several months. If you go to the advertise page, you can see it in action.
We haven’t told anyone publicly about CrankyAds until now because I’m very wary about getting too much attention before we are ready for it. I’ve seen some botched launches for software products because they are buggy, so I don’t want to go out there and rave about what we have until I’m confident it’s stable.
I’m writing about CrankyAds now, because it has run on EJ for more than three months and we have over 100 other bloggers who have stumbled across it and started to use it. We’ve ironed out a few bugs, and continue to do so with the service in BETA right now.
The main focus currently is learning more about what people want CrankyAds to do for them. We are doing a slow and quiet rollout so I can better understand what bloggers want, make sure we have the right business model and offer, and fix all the bugs as they surface.
We still have some major features to revamp or create, including a new version of the control panel (the manager), the crankyads.com website itself that promotes the service, plus a few other important features we hope to have ready in the first quarter of this year.
CrankyAds is my main focus this year. Since I’ve never done a software project or really had a true start-up before, this is new ground for me. I’ve already learned a lot and as is tradition on EJ, I plan to document the process here on this blog whether it fails or succeeds.
As a result you will find that many of my articles coming up relate to CrankyAds. I’m looking forward to growing this business, working with bloggers to help them develop an advertising income stream, and build a business that isn’t just about my personal brand.
This is a project I can see – and hope – leads to things like employees, an office and perhaps even taking on outside funding/investors, things I have avoided previously. Of course I’m not sure where any of this will go, but I’m excited to build a valuable service that I hope will help many bloggers develop a dependable income stream, as advertising has been for me.
As I said in part one of this yearly recap series, I believe the greatest gift my blog and business has given me, is the gift of time. I have had the freedom to be with my mother while she recovers with a 100% commitment minus the stresses of a job. I would love nothing more than for CrankyAds to help other bloggers gain this same freedom.
Here’s to an amazing, fruitful – and healthy – 2012, to all the EJ community.
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