We’ve decided to publicly share our journey to making “enough” money with Wandering Aimfully. The idea behind this is not to show off how much money we’re making, the idea is to show exactly HOW we’re doing it.
One of our core values here at Wandering Aimfully (or WAIM, as we like to abbreviate it and will do throughout this post) is transparency.
We believe the world is a better place when we’re sharing the FULL picture, authentically and truthfully.
Transparency becomes especially important to us when it comes to money because there are so many emotions and thoughts that often get tied to money (greed, shame, self-worth, happiness, embarrassment, etc), some of which can present challenges to the way we pursue our goals.
Before we get too deep into things, you might not know who the heck “we” are, in which case you may want to mosey on over to our About Page to learn more about us—Jason and Caroline Zook. If you just want the TL;DR version: We’re a husband and wife creative duo, with no employees, running our own businesses for over a decade, currently living and working together in Southern California. For good measure, here’s a super cute photo of us…
Now that we’ve met, let’s talk about this goal of getting 330 people to join our Wandering Aimfully Membership.
Our Goal: Reach 330 Paying Members Within 12 Months (aka Journey to 330)
From years of experience, we know how it easy it is to get fixated on making more money. Yes, we know how good it can feel to see a couple extra thousand dollars in your bank account after a big launch, but we also know the mental toll it takes to constantly be in promotion, marketing, and sales mode. That’s partly why we’ve decided to give ourselves an “enough number.” When we finally reach this number, we can stop feeling the constant pull of promotion. We can focus fully on the amazing community we’ve built, rather than constantly be searching outside of the community for more members.
We also believe that defining your enough is the only way to ever feel satisfied. So often we focus on the vague word “happiness” without defining what it really is. We believe a big part of happiness is this notion of satisfaction. So, let’s explore for a second this idea of satisfaction.
One definition we found for the word satisfaction was:
Think of your wants and needs as an empty bucket. The pursuit of fulfillment is the quest to fill that bucket, and satisfaction is the pleasure you get from recognizing it’s indeed full.
But here is the root of why satisfaction seems to be so elusive:
So many times in our lives, we don’t actually define our individual/actual needs. We never stop to decide how big the bucket needs to be. We never stop to decide how much is ENOUGH.
How can we be fulfilled when we have no idea how big the bucket is we’re trying to fill?
Without defining what your needs are—without setting that benchmark—you will just keep trying to fill a bucket that’s endlessly expanding. That’s a recipe for a lifetime of discontent.
Instead, if you want to experience satisfaction (ie. happiness), you need to define how big your bucket needs to be…and then you need to recognize it when it’s full.
Or, in other words, you need to figure out how much is ENOUGH.
For us, our enough is 330 Wandering Aimfully members
Getting to 330 paying Wandering Aimfully members within 12 months time will net us $33,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR). After we hit that number, we’ll close the proverbial sales-doors and stop accepting new members. We aren’t interested in continuing to grow our membership community (and make more money) just because we can.
In a highly digital world, we want to plan for and offer a personalized touch.
Why 12 months? Each month we’ll limit new memberships to 30 per month, so technically we should be able to get to our goal before 12 months (yay, math!), but we want to leave a bit of buffer in our membership signup planning especially because we know we’ll have some customer cancellations (aka churn). Limiting our memberships to 30 new people per month allows us to deliver as much of a personalized experience as we can, including some non-digital stuff.
Additionally, limiting the amount of new monthly members ensures that the community doesn’t feel crowed or overwhelming to our existing awesome members. It’s important to us to preserve the culture of the community, which we know to be one of our major selling points and differentiators.
For context, it might also help you to know how our membership pricing works. It’s very simple:
- $100 per month or,
- $1,000 per year
Both membership options include the exact same thing, the annual option simply saves someone a couple hundred dollars by paying in advance. If you want to learn more about what we include in our WAIM Membership, click here.
How did we get to $33,000 MRR as our GOAL “enough” number?
We told you we value transparency, didn’t we? Well, it’s about to get really real up in here.
A fundamental part of our approach to work and life is a philosophy we call Working To Live. Part of this ethos is the belief that living a fulfilling life begins with establishing our ideal lifestyle and then reverse engineering our business decisions to support and align with this lifestyle.
Using this approach, we first identify what we WANT, and then we back out how much money we need to get there.
That equation is how we arrived at our specific number of $33,000.
“We first identify what we WANT, and then we back out how much money we need to get there.”
Our average monthly living expenses: $12,000
That number may or may not seem outrageous to you. It’s taken a lot of restraint not to write paragraphs of text defending how much we spend in living expenses every month. But therein lies the problem when it comes to money: we constantly feel like we’re being judged or we feel we have to be on the defensive about our spending.
So, how about this as justification…We spend this much money every month to live lives we absolutely love. It’s awesome to be able to do that, right? We agree! But, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it was just back in 2013 we spent $4,000 per month and could barely make ends meet (you can read our getting out of debt guide here).
Here are how our monthly living expenses break down in broad strokes:
- Rent: $4,000
- Groceries: $1,500
- Entertainment/Coffee/Eating Out: $1,000
- Travel*: $2,000
- Health & Insurance: $1,000
- Tesla Payment: $1,000
- Plaxico (our dog): $400
- Misc (utilities, cleaners, etc): $500
- Other (donation to causes**, Acorns, etc): $600
- Total: $12,000 spent per month
*We don’t actually spend $2,000 on travel per month, but the past two years we’ve averaged spending about $20,000 on travel per year. We put this as a monthly “expense” to keep a watchful eye on it.
**Donating to causes we care about is a big part of our Journey to 330 goal as you’ll read in a moment.
Our average monthly business expenses: $5,000
Our business expenses have fluctuated quite a bit over the years due to how many different businesses and projects we have. That being said, one of our huge goals with starting WAIM was to streamline all of our projects into ONE membership and create a much more predictable set of business expenses. We believe this number is actually going to decrease over time, but for now we’re using a comfortable monthly average (which we’ll share more about in detail as the monthly updates continue to get added to this post).
The average monthly amount we’ll set aside for taxes: $3,000
Oh taxes, you necessary evil, you. First, we aren’t going to be those people that gripe about paying taxes. We understand and believe in taxes. This monthly average number will absolutely change over time, but we’ve decided to base it on our previous two years of business (taking what we paid in total taxes annually and dividing that by 12 to get a monthly average number). We do a /decent/ job of setting aside money for our taxes each year, but with a more predictable MRR going forward, this will get much easier!
The average monthly amount we *want* to save: $10,000
Have you heard of this mystical thing in business called “profit??” It’s a pretty crazy phenomenon we’re just hearing about! It means that you don’t just spend every dollar your business brings in, but that you can keep some of it! It escaped us for a few years, but we’ve decided to utilize its wonderful powers going forward and put a much heavier focus on it 😂. Alright, jokes aside, our goal is to have $10,000 every month we can put into our savings, investments, and not touch at all. We’ve NEVER been able to predictably save a sizable amount of money each month and we want that to change.
The average monthly amount we want to give to causes: $3,000
It can be really hard to give money to charities and great causes when you can barely eek a profit out of your business. We’ve managed to donate every month this year because we’re finally prioritizing it, but we want to do much more. Part of this Journey to 330 is to bake charitable giving into our financial plan. We want to allocate 10% of our total monthly revenue to non-profit organizations, causes, and other acts of good that come onto our radar each month. The idea of having $3,000 every month that we can give away and help make a difference is something we’re really excited about!
Those five categories of money add up to $33,000. As a reminder, our goal is to hit $33,000 in monthly recurring revenue in 12 months (that would be by September 1, 2019). Will it happen? What are we doing to make it happen? Find out each month going forward by referring back to this post. We’ll add an updated section each month with how our launches are going, what we’re doing to reach this goal of 330 members, and how our feelings continue to evolve about this enough goal.
UPDATE #1: SEPTEMBER 1, 2018
The Starting Line and Getting 14.4% Past It (Everything Before September 1, 2018)
Ideally, we would’ve started this public journey at $0 MRR. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to put something like this Journey to 330 post together and we simply didn’t have the time while we were building our actual website and business. Every hour we had from March 1 – August 19 (2018) was spent bringing Wandering Aimfully to life. During that time we did a pre-order of our WAIM Membership and a first public launch.
In trying to keep this first update as succinct as possible (the irony is thick there), just know we spent five months planning, designing, building, working with developers, going through 400 of our past articles, riding a bunch of emotional roller coasters, creating our purchasing flow, and completing well over 2,000 tasks to bring this website and our membership offering to life. We also had a website dedicated to the behind the scenes of building WAIM, which was live from March 1 to August 19.
Our first 15 paying customers: May 2018 Pre-Order
Before WAIM was finished being built, we knew we wanted to offer a pre-order for our memberships. We made this decision based on two things:
- We teased to our email lists that we’d be offering a membership community and people said they were interested (so we wanted people to put money where their mouths were).
- We wanted to fully test our somewhat complex purchasing flow using a new system we’d never had experience with (Restrict Content Pro [aff link]).
We opened up our pre-order for just one week, limited it to 30 buyers only, and sent three emails to a list of 400ish subscribers (this was a segment of our bigger list that had opted into daily-ish blog posts about how the build was going). Our three emails were fairly simple and explained the gist of the membership, the existing courses/workshops they’d get access to, and then a tease of what was coming in future months with WAIM.
There was only one hitch: We told our pre-order members they wouldn’t get full access to everything for at least a month (sell before you’re ready!)
While they’d receive access to our courses, this custom member dashboard we kept telling them about wouldn’t be fully coded for at least another month. Would people still pre-order if they couldn’t get the full experience right away? Well…
The WAIM Pre-Order brought in 15 buyers, netting us $1,483 in MRR
- 488 people visited the pre-order sales page
- 15 people pre-ordered (3% sales conversion – pretty epic!)
- 14 people purchased the $100 per month option
- 1 person purchased the $1,000 per year option (Hi Martha! 👋)
- 11 people paid using Stripe
- 4 people paid using PayPal
(You’ll notice the Airtable view of customers only shows 13 people and this is because two of our pre-order members canceled a few months in – sad panda. We’ll talk more about this in a moment.)
Our next 35 paying customers: August 20-27, 2018 Launch
With our website finally up and running it was time to do our first official launch! August 20 was the start date and we would leave the “cart” open for one week, again limiting the number of buyers to just 30 people. This launch was quite a bit different from our pre-order because it also coincided with the website going live and we sent sales emails to our entire email list.
Leading up to August 5, we created lots-o-content!
We decided early on that we’d write a behind the scenes journal sharing all of our processes, decisions, roadblocks, problems, and even share full unedited video meetings. From March 21 to August 5 we created and shared:
- 49 blog posts (21,200 total website visitors)
- 29 videos (just over 11,000 total views)
- 61 Instagram posts (30ish stories)
From August 5 to August 20 we warmed our audiences up to our first launch
Here’s what that looked like…
Caroline’s previous email list (Self-Made Society): On August 5 Caroline mentioned that WAIM was coming on August 20. This was sent to 5,502 subscribers and 1,514 of those subscribers opened the email (27.5% open rate).
My previous email list (JasonDoesStuff): On August 7 I mentioned to my email list that WAIM was launching on August 20. This was sent to 11,538 subscribers and 2,477 of those subscribers opened the email (21.5% open rate).
Our first combined newsletter (Wandering Weekly): On August 13 we sent our first combined email newsletter prepping the subscribers of our new website and membership on August 20. This was sent to 16,684 subscribers and 2,411 of those subscribers opened the email (14.5%* open rate).
*Something definitely went wrong with this email broadcast. We actually reached out to our email provider and they admitted something looked weird. Unfortunately, we had too many to-dos on our list to diagnose things and didn’t want to try to resend the email with fear of something else going wrong or happening with our email reputation.
We shared teasers and whatnot on social media: While our social media follower numbers are nothing to scoff at, it’s important to note we also don’t see social media as a huge driver of new traffic or sales. Even though I have 31,000+ followers on Twitter, the engagement of even the most exciting of tweets is VERY low. Caroline has 2,900+ followers on Twitter, but I think she’d echo my statements about engagement (and she mostly just pushes her Instagram posts through to Twitter). Speaking of, Caroline wins our household Instagram award with 16,000+ followers; I have just a touch over 3,000 followers; and Caroline runs our @wanderingaimfully account which has 900+ followers. Those numbers are just to give you an idea of the impressions we’re working with. Numbers aside, we posted a handful of tweets with teaser images, shared a few stories on Instagram, and just generally kept people tuned-in to the launch date of August 20. Caroline did work some pretty awesome grid-magic on IG (as you may have noticed in the “Lead Up Stuff” image above).
While keeping our audiences ready, we wrote our sales email sequence
This isn’t our first rodeo selling something over the course of a week. We knew we didn’t want to be writing and sending sales emails the night before (we’ve done that too many times and it’s stressssssful), so instead we whipped up a Google Doc and wrote all our sales emails in one spot.
Then Caroline worked her wizardry in our email provider ( Drip [aff link]) to set up a “campaign,” which is just a string of emails with a simple sending schedule (shown above). Here is the timing of the sales emails along with the general topic discussed:
- Monday, August 20: New site is live! Memberships are OPEN! 😱
- Tuesday, August 21: Case studies and testimonials 👫👫
- Thursday, August 23: New resources to be added in September for members 🤩
- Saturday, August 25: How can WAIM help you? Reply! 🤔
- Monday, August 27: Memberships are closing tonight 😬
- (We didn’t end up needing to send this email, as you’ll read!) Monday, August 27 (evening): Last call!!! 😳
These emails were sent to our newly combined (as of August 13) Wandering Weekly email list minus the last email in the campaign because we hit our goal and didn’t need to send a “Last call” email. Who turns off one extra sales email during a launch knowing it would probably bring in more sales? We do. That’s who.
In the image below you can see the open rates improved greatly using this email campaign in Drip, as opposed to a normal broadcast email (very odd). And a couple email stats for you:
- Starting # of subscribers: 16,329
- Total unsubscribes during launch: 520*
- Average open rate: 20.8% (3,396)
- Sales conversation rate (email opens to WAIM buyers): 1.4%
*Truthfully, we’re happy to see people unsubscribe as we know our content and membership isn’t the right fit for them.
Wait, 35 new customers, I thought you said 30 was the limit?? Let’s dive into the data of our first launch…
35 new customers, what happened to 30? Ahhh, you are astute! So, a couple things happened which led us to end up at 5 buyers over the 30 number we set:
- We had two pre-order buyers cancel during the launch, so we figured we’d just fill their spots and let two new people come in
- We had one new customer cancel the day after they purchased
- The counter that tracks our amount of member spots left is completely manual and we may have forgotten to update it when a buyer came in overnight (whoops!)
With that out of the way, let’s look at when people bought during the launch:
- Monday (Aug 20): 8 new members
- Tuesday (Aug 21): 2 new members (but 1 canceled)
- Wednesday (Aug 22): 3 new members
- Thursday (Aug 23): 5 new members
- Friday (Aug 24): 3 new members
- Saturday (Aug 25): 5 new members
- Sunday (Aug 26): 0 new members (crazy, huh?)
- Monday (Aug 27): 10 new members
We offer credit card or PayPal as a buying option, so here’s the split on that:
- 60% bought using credit card (21 people)
- 40% bought using PayPal* (14 people)
*PayPal actually wasn’t working for the first four days due to two technical issues we missed. We finally got them fixed but have no idea if we missed out on folks who wanted to purchase via PayPal. Oh well.
And finally, the traffic to WanderingAimfully.com during the launch:
- Total new website visitors: 9,782
- Traffic from search: 64%
- Traffic from direct (email): 21%
- Traffic from social: 10%
- Membership page visitors: 992
- Membership page sales conversion: 3%
To recap: As of September 1, 2018, we’re at $4,783 MRR (or 14.4% of our goal)
There’s no doubt in our minds that the initial launch is the most exciting time for people. It’ll be very interesting to see if we can keep up our pace of 30 new members each month going forward.
And now, the best and worst parts of our first official launch:
The BEST part of our first launch?
We can’t stress enough how excited we were to get Wandering Aimfully launched, but more importantly, to have a new group of amazingly talented and creative people in our community.
The WORST part of our first launch?
It’s hard to categorize anything as the “worst” part when things go pretty much to plan. If we had to mention something here, it would probably be how much stuff we have to do manually behind the scenes for a new customer that buys via PayPal. We won’t bore you with all the details, just know that each PayPal customer requires a bunch of manual processes that we’d love to automate in the future, but had to launch without (even though we tried to automate them months prior).
One last thing: We’ll be using Baremetrics to publicly track and share our progress
We’ll be using Baremetrics to track our member growth progress and revenue and you can actually view our public MRR dashboard here. Baremetrics is super neat because it helps you keep track of customers, revenue, churn, and lots of other powerful recurring revenue stuff.
A big shout out to Josh and his team for getting us hooked up on Baremetrics and making it really easy to update our Airtable with actual monthly revenue.
That’ll do it for this first update! Now, it’s time to get to work on creating new stuff for our WAIM Members and executing our plans for the lead-up to our October launch.
UPDATE #2: OCTOBER 10, 2018
After Our Second Launch We’re 19.2% Toward Our “Enough” Goal (Sept 2 – Oct 10, 2018)
This is our second update on our Journey to 330 and man-oh-man do I have ALLLL the thoughts to share. If you are unclear of our “growth strategy” with selling our Wandering Aimfully Memberships, the goal is to open the doors every month and only allow up to 30 new paying members. One thing that you’ll notice between the first and second update is that our assumption about our expenses was correct. We can’t live off the $2,854 in profit we made this month*, but it’s great to know that our business is not making more money than it spends (after just two months!)
Looking at the month of September, we had a hunch that the luster would wear off during our second launch and I’ll talk more about that in a moment. But, one really big thing happened between the first launch and our second launch and that is that life took a big steaming 💩 on our faces…
Caroline got shingles and it royally sucked!
You know that phrase everyone (including us) like to throw around: “Plan ahead because life will shit on your face.” Well, it happened to us in a big way in September. My lovely and very healthy wife mentioned she had some tightness in her neck at the beginning of September and a few days later we found ourselves in an Urgent Care doctor’s office hearing that Caroline was diagnosed with shingles. Oof.
I’ll save you all the intimate details of how bad shingles can suck, but here’s the painful timeline of how it went down:
- Week One: Caroline had shooting pains in her neck and could barely get out of bed
- Week Two: Caroline still had a lot of pain in her neck and generally felt awful
- Week Three: The pain in her neck lessened, but the itching (deep nerve itching) started
- Week Four: The itching continued and some pain came back in her shoulder/neck
- Week Five: Almost out of the woods, but we saw another doctor and got additional meds
Those five weeks happened between the first launch and second launch of Wandering Aimfully and unfortunately, it left us a woman down in the work department. While I tried to carry my weight and tow the line of everything we had going on (and keeping my other business ventures afloat) I spent the majority of my time trying to give Caroline any ounce of comfort possible. It was difficult not being able to work like we normally do, but truthfully, it was an emotional few weeks for me and an insanely few painful/emotional weeks for Caroline.
I don’t want this entire update to be about our run-in with shingles, but it’s worth noting that you DO have to prepare for these life hiccups to happen. You can be mad about it, you can be frustrated about it, but you can’t just fast forward life so you hunker down and deal with it the best you can.
I’m happy to report that Caroline is feeling 1000% better than she was during week one of shingles, but she still has some lingering issues (which we’ve come to discover are normal).
We launched our podcast/YouTube show, aptly titled Wandering Aimfully: The Show!
Earlier on in the summer, we made the decision to create a podcast and YouTube show where we’d talk about areas of life where we’ve wandered aimfully and share our experiences, stories, and lessons learned. Originally we were going to launch the show at the time of launching the website, but Caroline had a good idea to push the launch date of the show back a month so we’d have something fun to announce after the luster of our new website announcement wore off (good idea Carol!)
I’ve had a few podcasts over the years and one of the most important things I’ve done for my sanity in running them is to get AHEAD of the publishing schedule. We still had a ton of work on our plate during the summer months, but we carved out time to record five initial episodes of Wandering Aimfully: The Show. This was a clutch move because we couldn’t record a single thing in September and it was nice to know we had five weeks of episodes already recorded and ready to be edited.
I don’t want to spend too much time on the production of our show, but just know that:
- Setup and teardown of our recording “set” takes about 1 hour (3 DSLR cameras, 2 mics, lots of cords)
- Recording an episode takes about 1.5 hours (not including any prep or research)
- Organizing and importing 80 GBs of footage (per episode!) takes about 1 hour
- Editing and color correcting each episode takes about 15-20 hours
- Exporting, uploading, creating an episode post, writing copy, etc takes about 2 hours
- Each episode takes on average 25 total hours to produce 😱
I could, and may, write an entire article devoted to our plan and strategy with our podcast/YouTube show, but the short of it is we want to create a show that we’d enjoy watching. Our assumption is that we’ll deepen the relationship with our existing audience through the show, having them (you!) feel a connection to us that you can’t get through the written word. Could we see some external growth with our show? Maybe. But that’s kind of out of our control, so we’re not focused on that.
As of writing this second launch update, we’ve released five episodes and the total views/downloads are just around the 3,000 mark. To some people, that may be great! To others, that may not seem worth the 125+ hours we’ve put in. To us, we’re committing to the show because we enjoy it and we want to see how it goes for a few months.
During our second launch we had 18 new paying members
As you’ve read and understood, our goal is to get 30 new paying members each time we open the WAIM Membership doors. We are not naive and we understood that there would be a natural drop-off in membership with our existing audience.
As our October launch approached we were trying to figure out the best way to sell our memberships, but not oversell it to the folks who went through our full 7-day sales sequence just a few weeks prior. Here’s what we ended up doing for our second launch.
Launch Group #1 – New subscribers who didn’t get the 7-day sales sequence in August (408 subscribers)
This group was made up of new email subscribers who went through our 5-day welcome email sequence and did not get our first launch sales sequence.
We dropped these folks directly in the same 7-day sales sequence we used before:
- It was the same 5 emails we sent to our full email list in August
- We updated the copy in 2 of the emails (to remove “we’ve just launched”)
- The 5 emails saw an average open rate of 32.4%
- The emails had a total of 25 clicks to the WAIM sales page (yep, only 25)
- 29 people unsubscribed ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
And the most important stat of all? 8* people purchased!
*Unfortunately, we don’t have concrete data to say that our email sales sequence was the sole reason these folks purchased, but they were all in that group of 408 subscribers, so we’ll take it! Also, we’re going to try to track conversions from the 7-day sales sequence better during our next launch (always room to improve).
Launch Group #2 – Existing subscribers (15,931 subscribers)
I’m gonna be brutally honest and just come out and say it: I’m nervous that our email provider is having email sending issues. I’ve heard from another customer of Drip that they’ve seen a huge drop in email open rates, but it’s crazy to me that we went from an average of 20-25% open rates down to 10-15% since switching to a combined newsletter with a new from email address. That’s probably a topic for an entire other discussion, but we can’t do much about it now, so… let’s move on.
We sent our existing subscriber group three emails during our second launch:
Email #1: A normal newsletter about taking risks which aligned with our podcast episode that had a callout that memberships were open at the top (14% open rate).
Email #2: A dedicated sales email three days later focusing on wins our WAIM members shared with us with a bit more of a pitch to join (13.5% open rate).
Email #3: Another normal newsletter on the last day of the launch about confidence with a reminder callout that memberships were closing (11% open rate… but this data is written one day after sending that email).
It’s safe for us to assume that 8 of our new customers came from these emails.
So, where did the other 2 customers come from? Well… They found us completely out of the blue and joined in the last few moments! No joke. I emailed with both new customers who weren’t on our list and they said they hadn’t heard of us before joining but felt a real connection to us and WAIM and decided to take the leap. Pretty cool!
How does it feel to not hit our goal of 30 new paying members (and thus miss our revenue goal)?
Honestly? And most people would probably try to hide behind fake optimism… It sucks. It sucks to put something out into the world that you truly believe can make a difference for folks, but to not see the conversions happen.
BUT… We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get 30 new paying members each month and we also knew that September was a really tough month for us.
If we take a step back we can see that we have 18 new (awesome) members who believe in us. We can see that we didn’t do much marketing or promotion at all, with exception to launching our show (which, as stated, is more of an audience deepening decision, not a widening one). And you know what’s better than a big fat 0? 18! There is a tinge of discomfort that we missed our 30 mark, but, we’re grateful to have new members AND our existing group who continue to stay active members.
To recap: As of October 10, 2018, we’re at $6,350 MRR (or 19.2% of our goal)
We have a second launch under our belt after having a pretty damn rough month personally. We still ended up with new members and even though we didn’t hit our goal, we were able to test some assumptions about the groups on our email list we could sell to.
Let’s finish up with the BEST and WORST…
The BEST part of our second launch?
We got some new members! 18 is way better than 0. The quality of the members of the second group seems to be on par with the first group (which is rad!) We were also really stoked that brand new subscribers converted to paying members, which bodes well for the future of our email marketing plans.
The WORST parts of our second launch?
There are two things I want to share and you probably guessed the first one: Poor Caroline had to deal with shingles the entire month. It. Was. Awful. But, we made it through and she’s feeling so much better. Could’ve been worse!
The second worst part I wanted to share is that 5 customers canceled their memberships. Personally, I have some soul-searching to do on how I deal with people canceling, especially after only being a member for one month. I get it, people will cancel, it’s the name of the membership game… but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck and it doesn’t make me feel emotions (even though most of the time I have the emotions of a robot).
The silver lining to having people cancel is that we get to learn why they canceled. We can find ways to improve or to make our membership better. We absolutely believe WAIM is worth the $100 per month, but we also know we don’t have the best onboarding process for our new members. Hoping to spend time on this in the next few weeks!
Hope you enjoyed our second update on our Journey to 330! It’s as much a reminder to us as it is to you that reaching your goals isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s also not going to happen just because you hope and dream it will. You have to put in the work and you have to prepare for things to go wrong now and again.
UPDATE #3: NOVEMBER 15, 2018
After Our Third Launch We’re 18.5% Toward Our “Enough” Goal (Oct 11 – Nov 15, 2018)
Holy moly, where do we begin this month? Well… Let’s just go ahead and rip the band-aid off and jump right into the biggest emotional topic.
Our MRR went DOWN after our third launch, and, truthfully, that sucked.
This is a very weird sentence to type, but we’re kind of glad our MRR went down. Wait, do we hate making money? Are we gluttons for punishment? Why the heck would we be happy that our MRR went down??
Here’s the deal, and it’s my belief it’s going to make total sense after you read this:
We humans love drama. We don’t like to just watch other people succeed without challenges.
We like to see some tension. We need relatability. We need something to go wrong so we can see how the hero(es) overcome the adversity.
Now, if I’m being honest, I’d rather that drama didn’t involve how much revenue we generate, but it is what it is. The fact of the matter is that between October 10 (the end of our second launch) and November 12 (the end of our third launch) we had more people cancel than we had signup. OOF. Not great.
I’m the one who more closely watches our WAIM Memberships and it was a punch to the gut every time a cancelation email came through. All-in, we had 12 people cancel their WAIM Memberships which increased our User Churn to 16.9% (industry average is 11%).
While it sucks that people canceled the memberships, it’s a great opportunity for us to learn what we need to improve upon.
The wise and experienced co-founder of Basecamp, Jason Fried, once said that you learn the MOST about your product right when a customer signs up or right when they cancel. When a new customer joins, ask them why and find out if there are recurring things that are attracting and converting people (and do more of that!). When a customer cancels, asks them why and try to fix that problem asap. So, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing with every WAIM Member who’s canceled.
I would have expected members who canceled to say things like: You guys aren’t as helpful as I thought or Your products aren’t what I expected or I just expected something completely different. But, we didn’t hear any of that. In fact, we’re seeing people cancel their WAIM Memberships because we have TOO MANY products. We’re hearing that folks believe in the value of WAIM, but they were overwhelmed by all the products available and not sure where to begin. And while that might seem like a good problem to have, it’s still a problem that needs fixing because it is causing people to leave.
Is it possible that we can fix this problem of overwhelm and hopefully reduce our member churn in the process?
I’m going to save the answer to this question until the final part of this month’s Journey to 330 update. For now, let me take a break from talking about everything that went wrong and share some stuff that went RIGHT!
We hosted three workshops in the past month and people loved them!
One of the things Caroline and I enjoy most is teaching live workshops. Caroline is amazing at coming up with frameworks and processes that we can use ourselves and pass on to others. The live video element takes me back to my IWearYourShirt days where I hosted a 1-hour live video show daily for nearly 5 years straight (yeah, you read that right!) There’s something about the energy of speaking to people live and getting immediate feedback that lights us both up.
Workshop #1: Selling Without Feeling Sleazy
This workshop was initially supposed to happen during our second launch but with Caroline still not feeling great we had to postpone it a bit. Instead, we held the workshop on October 18 and had 232 people register. Of those 232 people, 139 showed up to the event which is a whopping 61.5% attendance rate (that’s RAD!)
We didn’t have anything to sell on the workshop, so it was just 100% value-driven. That being said, we did have two people email us after the workshop who thanked us and said they would be joining WAIM because the workshop was so great (and they both stuck to their word and signed up during our November launch – wahoo!).
Workshop #2: SEO & Google Analytics (Members Only)
For a while, we’ve wanted to have WAIM Member co-hosted workshops as there are some really talented and smart people in our community. One member, in particular, has been an all-star since joining what WAIM was previously known as: BuyMyFuture.
That member is Brendan Hufford and he’s been an incredibly valuable community member. Brendan lives, eats, and breaths SEO, so whenever someone has a question in our community Slack channel, Brendan is all over it (or if I beat him to read it, I’ll tag him and then he’ll reply).
Through a few random DM convos, Brendan and I decided it was time to do a basic SEO workshop as well as share a really nice Custom Google Analytics Dashboard that’s perfect for content creators.
This workshop was for a much smaller audience, just our paying WAIM Members, but I was still stoked we had 83 people register (20% of our total community) and a 55% show-up rate. Even better than that, the comments at the end of the live workshop and afterward were incredibly positive (it helps that Brendan was a teacher in his former life, so he’s great at hosting and keeping people engaged!)
Workshop #3: Our “Customer Journey Marketing Plan” Exercise
Truth be told, we didn’t plan to do this workshop when we started our third launch of WAIM Memberships. However, because we missed doing a workshop during October’s launch, we decided to squeeze this one in and do it during the final day of our 1-week launch window.
We had 193 people register for the workshop and another great show-up rate (56.5%). I believe we had people attend from 25 countries around the world for this one, which is really neat!
The big experiment for this workshop was to have a sales pitch for WAIM Memberships at the end. The workshop itself was approximately 45 minutes of teaching and 15 minutes of selling. We unveiled a new plan in the works, which again I’ll get to in a moment. Here’s what the sales slides looked like:
We’re not new to selling on live workshops, especially me. That’s actually something I got really comfortable doing 2013-2015. You can imagine my surprise when we had… drumroll… zero sales. Not a single person bought during the workshop and only one person bought when we sent out a follow-up reminder email that the doors were closing for WAIM Memberships.
Which, leads us to two final updates this month…
We believe that WAIM Memberships are a bit too general and don’t solve a specific enough problem for prospective customers.
This is part of the discussion about members canceling due to feeling overwhelmed. While we can solve many problems with the 30+ products we provide in WAIM, it’s too much to choose from and feels like we’re not addressing a bigger problem we can solve for people.
As we’ve watched our membership join rates decline from August (first launch), October (second launch), to November (third launch), it’s apparent to us that something is missing the mark. That something is what we’re going to hunker down and focus on next.
With only 7 new members joining in November (and 12 people canceling in October), we have to make a change.
Sometimes you don’t have a crystal clear change to make in your business when things aren’t going exactly as you want them to go. It would be an entirely different story if people were canceling our membership and saying, The courses are crap, The other members aren’t around, and You guys aren’t who I thought you were. Thankfully, NO ONE is saying those things (at least not to our faces or email inboxes – haha). But if people were saying those things, we’d have an idea of exactly what to fix. Instead, we’re making a best guess based on what our gut is telling us.
We’re going to create a new 6-month program that’s laser-focused on solving a big problem for a specific type of person and focus the entire membership around that core program.
You may have caught a glimpse of this in the sales slides I included a GIF of a few paragraphs ago, but this is where we’re taking a big leap of faith. We’ve known from the beginning that what you get with WAIM is a bit too generic. We’ve always loved that our resources can help people at different parts of their business journey (not started, beginning, intermediate) and that what we teach can apply to different types of businesses (products and service-based business) BUT just because your product can do something doesn’t mean that’s how you should market it. Trying to solve everyone’s problems at once makes for some pretty diluted marketing. Our selling proposition doesn’t speak enough to a specific problem that people have or can clearly articulate. That’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to selling anything. I believe we got as far as we did with this generic approach only because we’ve worked so hard at building trust over the past few years.
Going forward, we want to focus on this singular pain-point:
Wandering Aimfully is the membership community that teaches you how to turn your creative skills into a profitable digital product business, without sacrificing your lifestyle in the process.
To accomplish that, we’re creating a 6-month program that’s the MAIN focus when people join WAIM. They can get everything else (all 30+ previous products) but we’ll position that stuff as “in the vault.” While we’d love to rest on our laurels and believe all our previously created content is good enough to solve problems for people, we know we can do better. We know we’ve learned a ton and that we want to give a more concise and updated plan of action for our members to follow.
Soooooo, what the heck are the next steps to accomplish building this 6-month program?
- We’re going to plan out the curriculum for this 6-month program
- We’re going to create the content for this program (with assistance from our existing members) and build it into our membership dashboard
- We’re going to rewrite parts of our website copy and reposition WAIM on our sales page
- We’re going to try to do all of that by January… eek.
One of the core tenants of this 6-month program is giving you a framework to follow that helps you avoid burnout. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury (read: cash flow) to take the next 6 months to build this program. Instead, we’re going to have to reduce any other tasks or commitments and hunker down to build something great, free from other distractions.
Should be run, right? Well, we’re nothing if not up for putting in the work it takes to succeed. We will absolutely do our best to stay balanced and not overwork ourselves. (Definitely no intention of going shingles Round 2 in this house!)
To recap: As of November 15, 2018, we’re at $6,133 MRR (or 18.5% of our goal)
It would be easy to sum up the past month as a “bad” month due to a smaller launch and higher rate of member cancelations, but it wasn’t bad. Caroline’s health improved. Our existing members are happy, excited, and getting value from what we’re doing. We are making a difference for people, providing value to them, and enjoying most of the process.
The BEST part of our third launch?
We realized that we need even more clarity and focus around what WAIM can provide its members, what specific problem it can solve, and who it would be a great fit for.
And of course, the fact that we did get some new paying members was great!
The WORST part of our third launch?
Watching 12 people cancel their memberships between the second and third launch. As helpful as learning from the cancelations is (and it may end up being the catalyst that helped propel us toward our Journey to 330 goal faster), it was a punch to the nether-regions this month.
Phew, what an update! We really hope you enjoy these. It’s the exact type of content we love, especially when things aren’t going perfectly so you can see how people overcome adversity (it just kind of sucks to be the ones having the adversity!)
UPDATE #4: JANUARY 30, 2019
After Our Fourth Launch We’re 21% Toward Our “Enough” Goal (Nov 15 – January 30, 2019)
There is a tonnnnn to get caught up on but we’ll start with the unfortunate part of this update…
Caroline has been struggling with some really bad anxiety the past few weeks.
The holiday season was a blur and the new year started off on a great foot for her, but then it all came to a screeching halt in early January.
Instead of hiding her anxiety, we shared what Caroline was going through with our WAIM Members and on social media and the response was amazing. We can’t thank you enough if you sent kind words and thoughts our way.
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Let's get real. This morning we made the tough decision to push back the start date of a new program we've been working on for months. The truth of the matter is Caroline is dealing with some rough anxiety and it's not worth pushing each day and risking her long-term health. _ We sent an email to our 400+ existing WAIM members making the announcement that we'd be pushing back the start date. Writing and sending that email sucked. Even worse? We are finishing up another launch of our membership right now and feel like we're letting new members down. But… The replies to our announcement email have left us floored. Caroline's current bout with anxiety has made us realize how many people deal with anxiety on a day-to-day basis. So many people are replying that they or a loved one are affected by it. A big part of me didn't want to make this public. We thought about keeping it quiet & working with our members behind the scenes. However, this shit is real. Running your own business can lead to some rough patches & it's important to share that almost ALL of us go through it. There's no way for me to understand how awful Caroline feels, I only know how helpless I feel watching her be in pain. All I want to do is take the pain away. All I want to do is absorb what she's dealing with, even for a few hours so she can feel better. Our health should be our #1 priority. We can't run a business if we can't get out of bed. We can't create things if we can't function. We can't show up for other people if we don't take care of ourselves. It's easy to pretend like nothing is wrong and try to push through it. I know that admitting this publicly will dissuade people from joining our membership. I know it will hurt our sales goals. It's just the nature of how things work. I'd rather people also know how honest and transparent we are. Our lives are not a beautiful highlight reel. While we believe in working hard we also know that there's a negative side to spending all these hours plugged in, scrolling, typing, and being constantly connected. Continued in the comments…
While we were still able to do our January WAIM membership launch, we decided that we would push back the start date of our new program Build Without Burnout Academy and remove every work item from Caroline’s plate. We’re hoping a month of rest and easing back into just a little bit of work each day is what Caroline needs. She’s also trying everything under the sun to fight her anxiety (meditation, CBD, relaxing teas, extra sleep, therapy, and anything else folks have sent us or she’s read about).
With shingles hitting Caroline just a few months ago we are certainly trying to listen to the universe telling her that something isn’t quite right.
We’re doing our best to create space and avoid any stressors at the moment.
Let’s gracefully transition to discussing our 6-month program Build Without Burnout Academy – the newest addition to our WAIM Membership.
We teased this in the previous update, a 6-month program around a more specific problem and target audience.
We’ve had many conversations about WHO our membership is for and WHAT problem we’re specifically solving based on our experience. We knew the initial positioning of our membership was vague but we simply had to start somewhere (and hey, it did work and attracted over 60 paying customers!)
That being said, one of the things we always talk about when people ask us for advice is to niche down and get as focused as you can. We took our own advice and had multiple conversations about what that meant for us and WAIM.
What we came up with was honing in on the exact transition we made in our businesses: Going from working with clients to selling digital products.
We have A LOT to say on this topic. We also have tons of tangible and practical advice we can give because we have firsthand experience and lessons learned (always a good sign!)
One of the first things we did was to rewrite the mission statement for our WAIM Membership…
Previous version: The essential membership community for independent creatives who want to earn more so they can live more.
New version: The membership community that helps client-based business owners transition into selling digital products—without burning out in the process.
I mean, yeah, pretty damn clear that we were talking to an extremely broad group of people with our previous version.
With this renewed focus of WHO our membership was for, we knew we hadn’t created a product within the membership that spoke directly to that audience and could help them (the WHAT). This is where our Build Without Burnout Academy product comes in!
We had many conversations and planning sessions about Build Without Burnout Academy. There were a few key components it had to have:
- It would be a guided weekly program that took 6 months
- We wouldn’t focus on some 6-figure dream outcome
- The content had to be bite-sized and actionable
- We wanted to pull in our best advice from other workshops/courses
- There would be monthly calls to bring program participants together
- There had to be an element of fun!
But the main component was that we’d have a brand new program to add to the WAIM Membership that would hopefully speak more directly to our target customer (and add value to the membership!)
👍 The GOOD news about Build Without Burnout Academy
We looooved how it all came together. Caroline did a wonderful job branding the experience, from the program curriculum, slide design, the experience within Teachery our members will go through, and the amazingly fun game board game element that accompanies the educational content.
👎 The BAD news…
We wanted to kick things off January 29 and have all our existing WAIM Members and new members from our January launch start together on their 6-month journey. With Caroline getting hit with anxiety we had to make the tough call to push the start date back to March 4. It wasn’t that we needed one more week to finish things, it’s that we care more about Caroline feeling normal so she can give her whole self to our members (and you know, feel normal!)
If we need to push the start date back again, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. We’re taking it day by day and our members have been amazing about it.
Our 4th WAIM Membership launch brought in 22 new WAIM Members (from January 21-28)
Originally, our plan was to do a launch in December, but we decided to nix it due to the workload we had for Build Without Burnout Academy creation and our holiday travel schedule.
The January launch was the first one to our full email list since October. We felt comfortable it was enough time removed, plus, with the new mission statement and focus on Build Without Burnout Academy there was reason to share it with our full group of email subscribers.
As you can see we’re still dealing with churn and had 15 members cancel between our last launch (November 15) and the end of our January launch.
We’re not assuming churn is going to disappear but we’re hopeful that our new 6-month guided program helps our members see this is a commitment for longer than they may have previously. That’s the hypothesis we’re going to test.
Interesting tidbit #1: We’ve had 102 total people join our membership (73 are active and 29 have canceled)
It’s awesome that we’ve had 100+ people sign up! It’s not so awesome that nearly 30% of them have canceled. Then again, even with industry standard churn being 7-15%, maybe 30% isn’t so bad given that our membership doors have been open for nine months (including our pre-sale in May 2018)?
Interesting tidbit #2: I (Jason) came to the realization that I’ve directly communicated with every single one of our 40 most recent members before they joined
This is incredibly interesting to us because it shows that the personal touch and direct communication goes a long way in making the sale.
This was also a very interesting realization as it showed us that we may have been using the wrong sales tactics the past few months. We’ve been applying our sales knowledge from digital product launches and we’re not selling a digital product anymore, we’re selling a monthly membership.
It’s clear to us that there’s a lot more trust needed for someone to make the purchase with a membership.
I shared a few tweets when this thought occurred to me (copying + pasting our online course sales to our membership sales process) and Amy Hoy jumped in to back me up:
So…. How do we move forward with our sales process?
We’re going to create a “Test Drive the WAIM Membership” experience and move away from the monthly launch model.
Realizing that I’ve had some sort of direct interaction with our last 40 customers, and I didn’t hate doing it (important!), is a clear indicator that we should try a more hands-on sales approach. If I’m already emailing with folks during our monthly launches, why not just remove the work that goes into the monthly launch model and put it into something that’s more personalized and possibly takes the same amount of effort on my part (but makes the customer feel better)?
Step 1 in creating our WAIM Test Drive: Build a simple experience that walks potential customers through the highlight reel of our membership
Quite simply I’m going to create an online course that uses the lessons to preview different aspects of the WAIM Membership. Each lesson will have a short video and we’re going to highlight these items as “lessons”:
- Who we are and how we’re different
- Build Without Burnout Academy
- The Slack community (along with some quotes/examples)
- The Vault (our 30+ additional courses and workshops)
- Included Teachery membership
- Ongoing direct access to us
The final “lesson” in the test drive experience will be a sales pitch to join. Essentially, our membership doors will be open ongoing, but you won’t know that unless you take the test drive AND you make it through a few lessons (read: you show interest and go through the content!)
One note about the sales pitch lesson: There’s no sense of urgency or countdown timer since the test drive is simply just open all the time. My thought is to be 100% honest about that and point it out. Hopefully that directness will be a replacement for the missing timer or BUY NOW OR ELSE copy. We’ll see.
Step 2 in creating the WAIM Test Drive: Replace the section on our homepage with a preview of the test drive
Seems pretty simple, yeah? My goal is to keep the test drive process as frictionless as possible but make sure someone has to enter their email in some way to get access to the test drive content (hence the entire point of this, having direct communication).
Step 3 of the test drive: I will email each person who signs up personally. Yep. Every single one. Not through an email automation sequence.
This doesn’t scare me. It’s also not something I plan on doing long-term. I’m looking at it as an experiment and if it’s too many people and none are converting, I’ll stop.
However, we want to see if the test drive experience and the personal email outreach helps us convert new members. Again, I’ve basically been doing this during our monthly launches already, so instead of cramming all my effort into one week per month, it’s spreading that workload out based on the schedule of people who sign up and show some interest.
Our goal is to get the WAIM Test Drive up and running in the next few weeks. Even if Caroline isn’t feeling up to recording any video, I can have some fun with that and record solo. As with everything, just get started even if it’s imperfectly.
To recap: As of January 30, 2019, we’re at $6,917 MRR (or 21% of our goal)
Like anyone else, we’re doing our best to keep things moving along. The most important thing for us is to have Caroline recover and get back to feeling normal.
I’m going to skip the BEST and WORST part of the recap because this update is already reaaaaally long and in-depth. Plus, instead of thinking about what we don’t have yet in regards to our goal, let’s zoom the lens out and see what we do have…
We’re super appreciative that you take the time to read these updates and hope they help you on your journey to your own version of “enough.”
Have anything you wish we’d talk about? Want to give us feedback? Shoot us an email and let us know.
WHAT WE’RE WORKING ON NEXT
Here’s What We Plan To Accomplish Before March 14, 2019
Since we’re moving away from the monthly launch model and we want to gather some good data from our WAIM Test Drive experiment, the next update will be in mid-March.
Here’s what we’ll be working until the next update:
- Giving Caroline the space to recover and feel normal
- Building the WAIM Test Drive stuff
- Kicking off our Build Without Burnout Academy (March 4)
- Hosting our first quarterly members-only call of 2019
- Potentially moving email providers (oof, yeah, this just needs to happen)
- Packaging up our new WAIM Member gifts and shipping them out
- Recording WAIM Show episodes from a NEW studio (sayyy what!?)
- Editing, uploading, and promoting weekly WAIM Show episodes
- Hoping to release 2-4 more “Pretend People Problem” videos
- Staying active with @wanderingaimfully on IG
- Keeping up with our existing WAIM members and helping them however we can!
As a reminder, we’ll be sending updates about our Journey to 330 to our Wandering Weekly email list. If you want to get notified first when we have an update, hop aboard and subscribe now.
THE TOOLS WE USE
The Tools And Services We Use To Make Wandering Aimfully Tick
Note: Some of the services below have our affiliate links in which we make a tiny commission if you sign up.
Flywheel – We’re huge fans of Flywheel’s WordPress hosting! I joined them really early on with my previous JasonDoesStuff site and have loved every minute of paying them money. For just $15/month you get an intuitive dashboard, free SSL, fantastic customer service, and included hands-on migration from your existing WP host.
Restrict Content Pro (RCP) – We were completely new to RCP when we started building WAIM but we heard great things about it. RCP has lived up to the hype and is incredibly powerful if you’re trying to run a membership community using a WordPress website. The features are great, the help documentation is solid, and customer service has also been top notch.
Drip – Our current email provider of choice is Drip. We love all the fancy stuff you can do with automations, workflows, customer tagging, and more. Drip may be more than you need for email marketing so be sure to read our comparison article on MailChimp vs ConvertKit vs Drip.
Wistia – While we use YouTube for most of our video content, we also pay for Wistia every month. Wistia is perfect for videos that don’t need to be searchable or videos we want to share with our WAIM Members only. If you’re looking for a really slick video host that has a bunch of nice customizations, you’ll be super happy with Wistia.
Crowdcast – Alongside Wistia, we also do a decent amount of live workshops. Crowdcast has the most user-friendly interface of any live video provider and they’re constantly making improvements to the platform.
Airtable – Boy oh boy do we looooooove Airtable! Caroline has mastered the art of spreadsheets and Airtable lets her take things to the proverbial next level. We manage all of our WAIM Members, our personal finances, our content calendar, and our ongoing tasks/to-dos within Airtable. I’m not sure we’d be able to run WAIM (or our lives) without Airtable at this point!
Slack – With over 400 WAIM Members, we wanted our own private place to hang out and chat, free from distractions (we’re looking at you FB Groups). We use the free Slack plan and cherish all the amazing features we get. If you run a community or just want a way to chat with friends/co-workers, Slack is a must-use.
Baremetrics – The most beautiful way to keep track of our monthly recurring revenue and overall financial growth of WAIM. Baremetrics takes minutes to set up and is completely automated if you use Stripe (we do have to input our PayPal members manually).
Have any amazing tool recommendations we should check out that you think we’d enjoy? Send us an email.