I’ve never made a year in review post before, but I find quite a lot of value in posts from others who do it, and it seems...
Year in Review 2017: Massive Sales and Doubtjoshmorony
If you have not read my 2016 in review article, the reasons that I create these review posts are primarily the following:
- To evaluate my successes and failures throughout the year
- To see how well my year has stacked up against the goals that I set the previous year
- To help orient myself and set goals for the following year
- To provide value to anybody who might have something to gain from reading these posts
Last year was the first time that I had done this. In last years review, I said that it was the most significant year in my life for a few reasons, but mostly because it was the year that I quit my stable job as a software developer. After earning 3x my typical annual income from my online business, I decided to take the leap and work full-time on my venture.
My primary business is joshmorony.com where I create educational content for mobile developers. Most of the content I write is entirely free, and the bulk of my income comes from premium content I release in the form of books and courses. This is what has allowed me to quit my job and start working for myself.
The question lingering in my mind for 2017 was: can I continue this growth and success, or was my success a product of circumstance and fortunate timing? Do I have a sustainable business model or a one-hit-wonder that gave me a large cash injection?
The Numbers in Brief
This is what most people will likely find most interesting, so we will get straight to the cold hard figures.
The following graph shows a breakdown of the total product revenue for each of my paid products, and the gain in revenue this calendar year:
The sale of my books and courses are not the only revenue stream I have, but they are by far the most significant. In 2017, the majority of sales revenue came from my existing book Building Mobile Apps with Ionic and a new course I released called Elite Ionic.
Building Mobile Apps with Ionic, a book that I launched last year, generated $98,140 in sales. This is just a little bit shy of the $120,000 in sales it generated in the previous year. The residual sales for this book have been a lot higher than I was expecting, and I will talk a little about this further in the article.
Elite Ionic, a more advanced online course for Ionic developers, was launched in August of 2017. The initial launch generated a massive amount of sales, far greater than the launch of Building Mobile Apps with Ionic, but the residual sales have been far fewer. Elite Ionic has not had an entire year to generate sales yet, but it has been clear that Building Mobile Apps with Ionic has a broader appeal. I will also be talking about the Elite Ionic launch in more detail in a moment.
These two products dominated in sales, but there was still a trickle of income from the Mobile Development for Web Developers book that I released a few years ago. I have marked this book as deprecated, as it is based on old framework versions, but it seems there is still at least a little bit of interest there.
Blog Traffic (joshmorony.com)
Blogging and content marketing remains the lifeblood of my business, and traffic to joshmorony.com is critical to generating sales. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a comparison in website statistics of 2017 and 2016:
Sessions: 2,672,539 1,268,497 last year
Users: 900,295 557,706 last year
Pageviews: 4,315,177 1,987,088 last year
Overall, there has been an increase of traffic across the board, but looking more closely at the graph reveals something of concern.
Throughout 2017, the number of sessions per day was increasing, but during the second half of the year, it started to dip. By the end of 2017, the daily sessions compared to last year were only marginally bigger. At its peak, and during the busiest time of the week (Wednesday/Thursday) the website would receive around 10,000 sessions per day. Now, the average is closer to 8,000 at its peak.
The breakdown in the chart above is almost identical to the previous year. My best guess at this point in time is that there is just more competition now. In 2016, I was one of the first people to start writing about the Ionic 2 framework, and I wrote a lot. This certainly gave me somewhat of a first movers advantage that would have generated a lot of traffic, but now there is a lot more content around competing for the same eyeballs.
That is just my best guess, though, whether or not it is the true cause of my lagging growth I do not know.
As well as the traffic I get to the website, the following I have been building through other social media channels is also important. Here are the stats for 2017 compared to the previous year:
Email Subscribers: 17,037 11,000 last year
Twitter Followers: 5,134 2,700 last year
YouTube Subscribers: 10,392 2,300 last year
Email subscribers are one of the most important metrics in growing a successful blog. This has continued to grow steadily throughout 2017, whilst maintaining an open rate of around 35-40%.
I don’t place as much importance on Twitter, although it does bring in a little traffic to the website. I mostly use this as a tool for connecting with my audience and others in the industry.
YouTube is also something that I focused heavily on in 2017. I released many more video tutorials, often one or two a week, and managed to grow the channel to over 10,000 subscribers. This was somewhat of an experiment and I’m unsure to what degree I will create video content in 2018.
Elite Ionic Launch
The launch of my new product Elite Ionic was the most significant event for the business in 2017. In brief, Elite Ionic is an online course that covers advanced concepts that can be used when building an Ionic application (rather than focusing on the basics of Ionic itself). Topics covered include Test Driven Development, Performance, UI/UX, and more.
This was quite an ambitious product – the content contained in the course was much more technically advanced, and the scope of the course was quite large. Not only did I have to create the content for the course, I also developed the platform for the course myself as a Progressive Web Application.
At the peak, I probably spent around 2 months full-time working to build this course. I worked an unhealthy amount to build this, and other aspects of my life certainly suffered.
This stress is what led me to attempt a different launch strategy than I have tried in the past. The course by nature was modular, there were five distinct modules with very little overlap. This made it easy to release the course in parts as I finished them.
Given the success I had with “big bang” style launches in the past, I was nervous to release an “unfinished” product. I was also concerned that sales might suffer without the big 48-hour launch since that period is usually responsible for such a large portion of the sales.
To incentivise purchases and help generate a bit of hype, I provided a discount based on how much of the course was finished (this also seemed very fair to me). Anybody who purchased during early access would be given a discount based on how much of the course was currently available, and they would be given the rest of the content for free as it was finished.
I initially released Elite Ionic with 3 out of the 5 modules that would be available. Since the course was 60% complete, I provided a 40% discount to people who purchased at this time (this is the biggest discount I have ever given for a product). After that point, I released the remaining modules in two-week intervals – dropping the discount down to 20% and finally to nothing.
This is what the sales looked like over the launch period:
NOTE: This graph includes all product sales, not just Elite Ionic. However, the vast majority of sales are for Elite Ionic so the general trend is accurate.
The entire launch period generated a massive $64,000 in sales, with a big spike during the initial announcement, and smaller spikes for each new module release.
The early access launch was an excellent decision, both from a financial perspective and for my own mental health. As much as I knew the interest was there in the course, having dollars in the bank certainly goes a long way to put your mind at ease.
Ongoing Success of Building Mobile Apps with Ionic
What surprised me during and after the launch of Elite Ionic was the increase in sales for Building Mobile Apps with Ionic. I had expected Elite Ionic to take the driver’s seat, and that the sales for Building Mobile Apps with Ionic would dwindle somewhat (especially considering that it had been lagging in sales before the launch).
During the Elite Ionic launch period, Building Mobile Apps with Ionic generated $9,415 in sales. This is about double what it would usually make. There was no marketing effort on my part for the book during this period, the only connection to Elite Ionic was this statement on the sales page:
“This course is not for beginners. If you do not already have a basic understanding of Ionic, I would recommend this book instead.”
It is possible that this is what led to the increase in sales, but I can’t be certain. This is another reason why I need to focus on improving the analytics for my website.
Even after the launch was finished, the increase in sales for Building Mobile Apps with Ionic continued, and it has been outperforming Elite Ionic throughout the year. In hindsight, this is not all that surprising. Elite Ionic is a more expensive and more specialised course targeted at a smaller group of people.
Health & Wellbeing
In terms of my mental health, I feel like my mantra for 2018 should be the wolves are not at the door.
I am generally an optimistic and positive person, but negative thoughts about my business success had wormed its way into my brain, and I would often find myself thinking of Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay.
I have forged a fantastic life for myself. I work whenever I want, I have a great deal of freedom in deciding what I work on, and I make a lot of money. It’s not easy – I put a lot of work into what I do – but I love it, and it almost feels like cheating. It feels too good to be true, and like it could all so easily slip through my fingers. This mentality has been very toxic.
This mentality is what led to me working unhealthy amounts and stressing far too much. After completing Elite Ionic, I experienced the worst burn out that I have experienced so far. I could find little motivation to write or code.
When I think rationally about it, often aided by discussions with my loving wife, I can see the folly in my thinking. What I do now is far more stable and secure than any job I have had in the past. I control my business, I have a large base of people who are interested in my content, and many of these people are excited to buy the products that I put out.
Although I think that it is useful to not take things for granted and to strive to grow my business, I need to focus more on enjoying the great situation that I have, instead of worrying that it is all going to collapse.
When looking back over the year, these are the key points that stick out to me as being important.
- Early access is a good strategy for product releases. If it makes sense for the product, an early access launch can generate hype and help ease launch anxiety.
Your product can live on long after the launch and residual sales from a good product may even perform better than releasing a new product.
I am a sales person. I would identify as more of a techy than a salesperson, but an important lesson I learned from Zero to One is that if there aren’t any salespeople around, then you are the salesperson. Even giving away quality content for free doesn’t guarantee that people will come to consume it. I’ve always put a lot of effort into marketing my paid products but have taken more of a build it and they will come attitude for my free content. I need to focus a lot more on marketing my content.
The wolves are not at the door. Learning, improving, and growing is good. Being motivated by the fear that everything might fall apart is unhealthy.
2017 Goal Review
If I were to judge 2017 based on how well I feel it went, then I would say that it was very successful. The year was filled with personal and professional accomplishments. This includes getting married to my partner of over five years and purchasing our own home. I was able to grow my business, launch a successful new product, and significantly increase my income over what was already a very successful previous year.
However, the good thing about goal setting is that it gives you a nice stick to measure against. I’m going to review each of the goals that I set for 2017 and see how I went.
Goal #1: Daily content (Monday to Friday) for joshmorony.com
I set a goal to release daily content on the blog, and I did manage to keep this up for a period of around 4-5 months. I would definitely consider this a success. I stopped releasing daily content when I started dedicating more time to building Elite Ionic. This was a great challenge, but I don’t think it is sustainable long term if I want to focus on other things. I will likely be posting 2-3 new posts a week during 2018.
Goal #2: Fortnightly content for developingauthority.com
This one can comfortably be marked as a categorical fail. If you take a look at the posts on this blog you will find the last post that I published was Year in Review 2016. I did not post a single article on this website between setting this goal and now.
I did write several articles, but I never published them. A lot of the stuff I wrote was turning into long essays which I felt did not really have a coherent takeaway. I do enjoy writing on a different topic, though, and this is going to remain a goal for 2018.
Goal #3: Grow developingauthority.com to 5,000 email subscribers
Given that I didn’t release a single post on this blog, this was also a fail.
Goal #4: Launch a new Ionic product before May
I didn’t release Elite Ionic until August, but I would still consider this one a success.
Goal #5: Reach $250,000 in total sales for Building Mobile Apps with Ionic
I almost reached this goal, total sales for Building Mobile Apps with Ionic have reached $218,140. Although I didn’t quite get there, I would also consider this one a success.
Goal #6: Generate $200,000 in sales for the new Ionic product
Elite Ionic has managed to generate $70,823 so far – this is quite a bit short of my goal, so I would have to mark this one as a fail. The launch of Elite Ionic was a phenomenal success, but the residual sales haven’t been able to keep pace with Building Mobile Apps with Ionic.
Goal #7: Release a themes/starters/plugins site for HTML5 mobile applications
This one is a fail. I did start work on releasing a site like this, but it just hasn’t been something that I have felt like dedicating time to.
Goal #9: Reach 1,000,000 views on YouTube
This was a reasonably ambitious goal, and as well as managing to grow to 10,000 subscribers, my videos have received a total of 600,000 views. I made it just over halfway to the goal, but I would still consider my growth on YouTube this year a success.
Now it’s time to set some goals for the next year, here is what I would like to accomplish:
- Launch a SaaS Product – I’ve always been fascinated by SaaS (Software as a Service) businesses, but have had little desire to overcome the challenges required to build a successful one. I do have a simple product in mind that I intend to create a small business out of.
- Grow Building Mobile Apps with Ionic to $350,000 in total sales
- Grow Elite Ionic to $150,000 in total sales
- Read 50 books – I feel like reading is like cheat codes for life. Smart people with fantastic life experiences release these little parcels of the best knowledge they have to offer, and yet I read maybe one or two books a year.
- Cryptography, Security, Discrete Mathematics – I generally have a preference for building over diving into the science behind things, but I would like to learn a lot more about these fields in 2018. These are all topics that I studied in university, but of which I left with only a basic understanding.
- Post at least once a fortnight to developingauthority.com
- Double the traffic on joshmorony.com
- Release a new book or course
- Be able to play the Game of Thrones theme on guitar – I really need a non-tech hobby
I started this review with the question of the viability of my business, and I think that I can comfortably say that this is my career now, and I will be doing it for many years to come.
Wish me luck for 2018 🙂