How to drastically improve the copy on your site, even if you only have 5 minutes.

May 2, 2013 in An idea, Business Intel, Expert Advice, Landing Pages, Tips

First, let me tell you a little story involving butterflies and bladders. 

I've spent the past few days at MicroConf. Just a phenomenal conference, full of like-minded folks, loaded with actionable content. Not to get too carried away, but it was a life-changer. I'd go on some more, but I don't want you competing with me for tickets next year.

On the second day, Joanna Wiebe from Copyhackers selected a handful of sites from the audience to do a public "tear down" of in front of these 200 folks. 200 folks I admire and respect. I had submitted my baby, my brand-new, just launched site ( ahead of time as a candidate to be selected.

As soon as she took the stage, an angry mob of butterflies started attacking my internal organs.

She opened the first site and started working it over and providing some great, if slightly brutal feedback. Really good stuff. After she moved to the next site I could see in her browser window that she had about 12 tabs open. It dawned on me that she was working her way through these open tabs, and that the open tabs were the sites she had selected for tear down. About eight tabs in, I saw the favicon for my site. The angry butterflies grew teeth. Sharp ones. And they pulled out pitch forks. And chainsaws. And congregated in my bladder.

I figured 7 tabs was a lot of ground to cover, so I would have the time to address the sudden urge, and from where I was sitting in the very front row I quickly slinked out the back of the room to the bathroom. What a baby, I know. I emptied my bladder and the butterflies relocated to my stomach and heart. I hurried back to the conference room and what to my wondering eyes did appear as I walked in the room than my site, my baby, my precious up on the big screen. She had already started. The moderator was looking for the site owner to hand the microphone to. I pulled a hamstring sprinting to the front of the room, groping for the microphone like the final runner in a relay race. 


So here's what I learned, and how I dramatically improved the copy on my site in 5 minutes (and how you can too):

After she said some nice things, Joanna pointed out the main problem with my copy - the language was all focused on me, and it should instead be focused on my prospect. I was selling myself, when I should be focusing on what's in it for them.

In Joanna's own words:

Talking about yourself -- even thinking about yourself -- when you write your copy will only do one thing: get in the way.

It will shut down the sale.

Which means that you are the biggest roadblock to better communication with your customers.

This is the foundation of great copywriting: People don't care about you. They only care about themselves.

You care about you. But no one else does. (Except yo' mama.)

Your visitors want what they want. They do not "want" what you're trying to sell them.

Your job then, is not to "try" to sell your visitors a product. You're trying to sell them themselves.

Ok, so here's a fun little exercise, take a look at the version of my site Joanna (and everyone!) saw and see if you can spot the problems. To make it easier, I've color-coded my stupidity.



So as soon as I got home, I spent 5 minutes (and I'll need to spend more, we're not perfect yet) and turned those sub headings around. Check out the difference below (or see it here in the wild).


Notice the difference? Yeah. Serious improvement.

My humble thanks to Joanna for the help.

I hope this gives you some ideas for your site. 

I highly recommend Joanna's email list, by the way. The first lesson she sends out addresses the same topic I've addressed here in even more depth.


The most important entrepreneurial lesson I've learned.

March 28, 2012 in Expert Advice

I've enjoyed recreational fishing since I was a kid. Over the years I've had the chance to fish and associate with some top anglers, and I've noticed something about them - they don't waste time in an unproductive location. If the fish aren't biting, they quickly move to a new spot. 

This applies to startup ideas too. Finding out if the market will respond positively has to be as early in the process as possible, and you should move on if it's not a fit. 

I've poured emberassing amounts of time into terrible ideas that I thought were brilliant, so please learn this principle from me, it will save you unspeakable time, money and shame if you do:

The market does not care how long you worked on something or how well you did it. Effort is not rewarded. The market cares only if what you've done is a fit for their needs.

This can be a crushing truth, especially for a craftsman. We take our startups very personally, and the more time we invest in them, the more personally we take them. But if we're serious about turning our venture into something that pays the bills, and grants us freedom, we have to accept and embrace this truth. There is no reward for sticking to something for a long time, if it's the wrong thing. If it's the wrong thing, if there is not a market fit, you fail. And unfortunately, there is no correlation between time invested and market fit.

And very often we have no idea what's going to resonate, and what's not, even when we think we do. This is why building an MVP, and validated learning are so important. Before we get too carried away, we have to find out if the market wants what we're building. 

I leave you with a multimedia nugget for thought from the great Derek Sivers. (Incidentally, I highly recommend his book. Short and sweet, and full of similar insights, including the one shown in this video). 


Side note: An interesting benefit to the KickStarter (and similar) phenomena is that folks are pumping out ideas, and using KickStarter not just to raise money, but to validate their idea. This seems like a big deal, especially for hard goods that require a larger capital investment to get started. 

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March 19, 2012 in 3 out of 5 stars, Free, Landing Pages, PR and Publicity

What is it?


LaunchRock: A service that provides a pre-launch page for your startup (you know, the "signup to be notified when we launch" type of site).

Heres the one I created for a project I'm working on for startup founders (and those aspiring to be).

Who makes it?


Why is it the killerest?

In addition to a nice pre-launch page, it has good social integration, encouraging those who sign up to share it with their friends via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr or email. 

FireShot Screen Capture #013 - 'Are you a founder of an internet startup_ - We're looking for startup founders who have launched (or are launching soon) and are willing to share their story_' - signup_launchhappy_com

There are also some modest stats telling you your conversion rate, which can be helpful.

FireShot Screen Capture #012 - 'Insights I LaunchRock' - app_launchrock_com_insights

It's fairly easy to use, and they've thought of a lot of details like a confirmation email, social integration where you can pre-seed what they say when they share, an ability to export all of your subscribers for easy loading into your favorite email sending system, and domain mapping (i.e. you can point your own URL to your page).

If you feel too constrained by their limited template, you can embed the form on your own site, where you have more latitude.

What could be improved?

They offer a very limited ability to customize the design and layout for the fully hosted version. They have custom CSS "coming soon" which should help immensely. I was able to work around some of these limitations by using inline HTML and inline styles - which seem to be supported. It's fairly amenable to a little lightweight "hacking."

How much does it cost?



Reviewed by Carson McComas

p.s. see also: Launch Effect which I liked a bit better. It's a WordPress theme with the same purpose.

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List of the best online payment alternatives for entrepreneurs.

March 12, 2012 in e-Commerce Solutions

There are few segments more exciting right now than alternative payment systems. Earth's collective contempt for the entrenched payment tech industry is ardent. This industry has abused users, built regulatory walls to competition, made things insufferable for customers, and as a result, put payment processing options nearly out of reach, especially for bootstrappers. Overcoming these hurdles is a huge barrier to progress.

But the alternative payment world is red smoking hot right now, and I'm more excited about it than any other segment. The possibilities that are unlocked by this are exciting for entrepreneurs, especially bootstrappers. 

No merchant accounts. No gateways. No exorbitant fees, or draconian setup processes. 

Here are the most exciting ones:

2.9% + $0.30

Free for transactions under $10, $0.25 for over $10. 

$0.50 for bank payment, 3.5% for credit card payment

The exciting ones for meatspace businesses.

2.75% for swipes, 3.5% for keyed entries 

$0.20 + 2.75%

Intuit GoPayment
2.7% for swipes, 3.7% for keyed 



I call myself an entrepreneur, but to be honest, a lot of times I don't.

March 7, 2012

I call myself an entrepreneur, but to be honest, a lot of times I don't. When someone asks me what I do - I often punt. I feel like if I'm going to describe myself as an entrepreneur, the next sentence needs to explain what that means - what I've done, what successful business I've launched. And I don't have a good answer for that. Oh I've cobbled together a series of modest successes, and I'm managing to feed my family, but I haven't yet built something that I can point to with pride and say yes - that, I built that, and that is now what I do for living.

The term "serial entrepreneur" always sits a bit odd with me too. Or maybe I'm just reluctant to call myself that. I mean, I've had numerous entrepreneurial ventures. Numerous! But the truth is that if one of them had been the success I thought it would be, I'd be doing that, not launching another one. There would be no serial succession to the next one. At least not for a long time. Serial entrepreneur sounds like a synonym for serial failure. Not always of course, there are plenty of examples of successes there (Mark Cuban, Jason Calacanis, Evan Williams). But Bill Gates wasn't a serial entrepreneur. Neither was Mark Zuckerburg. Or Jeff Bezos or Jason Fried. They're entrepreneurs. They built something and that thing is what they do now. They don't define themselves by serially starting companies. My goal isn't serial entrepreneurship, it's successful entrepreneurship. 

So where am I going with all this navel gazing? I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Maybe it's because I'm growing pensive on the verge of launching my next startup (I really do believe this is the one!), or because I regularly get emails from folks who have gutted out that first hard part of getting something out there and now they're trying to make it work. But I want to start a community of those of us who have gotten this far. I want to create a community of launchers. I just have this sense that there's a whole group of us out here in the trenches trying to make this work - and there are a whole bunch of us who have made it work, and are making it work, and another whole bunch who haven't made it work, but are destined to, because they won't settle for anything less, no matter what it takes.

These folks? These launchers? These, I feel like, are people I can relate to. And I want a way to learn from them, and talk with them, and hear their stories, and I bet I'm not the only one, I bet you do too. And if I'm right about that, I hope you'll come over and sign up for my latest project. It's called Launch Happy, and with your help, I think it can become something really good. At a minimum, it'll help you expose your business to more people. But I'm hoping for even more than that, I'm hoping it'll help you make connections, and friends, and customers. I'm hoping that wonderful things will spring from it, and that the net result will be more entrepreneurs proud to call themselves that because they've made it work, they've achieved success, they've connected, and learned, and grown, and been cheered, and helped, and challenged, and taught and can point with pride to what they've done and say yes - that, I built that, and now that is what I do for a living. 

I think it can be something really good, and I hope you'll be a part of it.


p.s. if you're not a launcher yet, but still want to follow along, please follow us on Twitter at @LaunchHappy or on Facebook and we'll keep you abreast.

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March 5, 2012 in 3 out of 5 stars, e-Commerce Solutions

What is it?

Gumroad-logoGumroad: A service that lets you "sell anything you can share" which is to say - anything you don't need to collect shipping information for. Each purchase ends with a download link.

You create "links" that send you over to a Gumroad page where customers can enter an email address, credit card number, and boom - download what they purchased. (Here's an example I set up to sell one of my photos).

Who makes it?

Gumroad, Inc

Why is it the killerest?

It's not PayPal.

Everything is elegant, simple and quick.

For entrepreneurs, I could see using it to sell stuff like advertising slots, access to a beta release, an ebook, software, stuff like that.

Here's a nice demo they put together so you can see how it would work.

What could be improved?

Your customers don't have to hassle with PayPal, but Gumroad does use PayPal to pay you what you earn. Direct deposit in my bank account would be a lot better. They also ask for a $10 minimum owed, and 60 days to pay you (I assume they pay quicker than that though).

It's a touch buggy still (I created a link, and it created two for me - easy enough to delete one though).

I'd love an embed option. Let me just drop a button on a page that opens up with this Gumroad goodness. Every PayPal button on the internet tied to an intangible could be replaced with it.

It's a little pricey.

How much does it cost?

5% + $0.30 per transaction


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Bootstrappers, this is the golden age of the internet frankenstartup

February 29, 2012

Today I was struck again by what an amazing time it is to build an internet startup. I was on a phone call with a startup in the early stages. They've got an awesome idea, a smart team, good connections, validated market research, a bunch of groundwork laid, and now they're ready to turn the idea into an internet business.

Like many of us, they're bootstrapping it. They need an MVP. Five years ago, they'd be toast. Three years ago they'd be out of luck. Two or even one year ago it would have been really tricky to put it all together. Today? They've got amazing options. 

Here's the basic sitemap I helped them put together:


They can cobble together various products and pieces which are very low cost, highly functional, and build something extraordinary. 

This isn't a panacea, of course. Pulling it off well is going to take some care and work, but they can do in a couple of months what would have previously been virtually impossible for a bootstrapper.

And this option is available to all of us. With these resources we can focus less on the technology, and more on the business. Which means a potential for higher output, higher quality, and greater functionality for a fraction of the ramp-up time and cost. Mix in some creativity and smarts, and things are starting to get really awesome.

We're in a golden age of internet startup possibilities. 

I'll leave you with this nugget from Seth Godin:

Make something happen

If I had to pick one piece of marketing advice to give you, that would be it.


Make something happen today, before you go home, before the end of the week. Launch that idea, post that post, run that ad, call that customer. Go the edge, that edge you've been holding back from... and do it today. Without waiting for the committee or your boss or the market. Just go.


Resources from sitemap:

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Launch Effect

November 4, 2011 in 4 out of 5 stars, A piece of software, Analytics, Free, Landing Pages

What is it?

Launch-effect-logoLaunch Effect: A free WordPress theme anyone can use to quickly create a professional looking, virally inclined pre-launch page for your upcoming product website, app, service, etc.).

Who makes it?

Barrel LLC

Why is it the killerest?

First let me state that I'm saving you some trouble, because I did this the hard way first. For my latest venture I started by building a pre-launch site from scratch. It's a couple pages, right? How hard can it be? Well - to do well, actually - kinda hard. Or, time consuming anyway. Consuming of time you should be spending building your New Thing.

1. It's very easy to set up - virtually anyone can do it.

I'm no WordPress guru, but I went from nothing to a fully launched site in just a few hours. First, I fired up a super cheap hosting account with my registrar NameCheap. Once my account was set up, I logged in, installed WordPress (literally a few mouse clicks), then downloaded the Launch Effect theme, uploaded and installed it in my WordPress, made a few tweaks, and my site was ready to go. 

2. It's got built in social-sharing tools and viral spreading motivation 

This is perhaps the nicest feature and something you likely wouldn't have time to build yourself. And it's all baked in, and very easy to configure. 

How it works: After someone gives you their email address, they're presented with a thank you message, and a panel of social icons they can click to share. 


Subscribers are also given a unique tracking link. When they use that link (or any of the icons) to share, you and they will both be able to see how many folks they've sent to the site, and how many signed up themselves.

Additionally, you can give them an incentive to share. On mine, I'm giving away a free lifetime account to someone who shares and leads someone else to sign up.

3. It's got great built in tracking

As mentioned above, each person who signs up will show up in your admin panel, along with the number of clicks they've sent you, and how many of those have also signed up (plus conversion rate). Both you, and they can see these stats at any time.


What could be improved?

Tracking your referrals is too confusing for visitors.

When a visitor shares, they have access to their referral, and conversion stats, but in order to see that information, they have to re-submit their email address into the signup form. Clever - but how on earth are they supposed to know that? There's really no good way to communicate that to them at this point.

It needs to integrate with MailChimp and/or Campaign Monitor.

First, it's very easy to export your signups in a CSV and import them into MailChimp - which, if you're only going to do that once, is no big deal. But ideally, you'd like to get an auto-response email to your signups. This would allow you to tell them about the referral stuff noted in my last complaint, as well as a few other bells and whistles that MailChimp offers.

It's a bit hard to fully customize without touching the code.

Out of the box, it probably does most everything you need, and you can certainly make a perfectly good-enough site without customization. But if what you want to do isn't exactly what the theme expects you to do, you'll need to dive into the css and/or php files. This is a minor niggle though, it has very solid customization constructs.

It has only a small subset of the available Google Fonts to work with. 

That said, they do natively support TypeKit and MonoType.

And I note, they're working improving it. This roadmap looks great.

How much does it cost?

Nothing (it's free)


Reviewed by Carson McComas

p.s. Here's the one I set up. If you make one, please share it in the comments below.


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Why entrepreneurs should be watching Discovery Channel's "Gold Rush"

November 1, 2011 in Television

2011-11-01_0840I enjoy entrepreneurship, startups, business and the like the same way my brother in law enjoys baseball and basketball. Which is to say, I'm a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth fan. Rarely a day goes by that I don't read, study, research, observe, or consult on the topic. And like many of you, I'm constantly engaged in my own attempts at it. It captivates my attention like little else.

I'm only a casual sports fan, so working this metaphor further will be perilous, but I'll just say that Gold Rush is as close as I'm going to come to the euphoria, mental swings, and irrational emotional investment that some folks have watching sports. 

Gold Rush is extra interesting to me because it has all the elements of an engaging startup story, but in a completely different context than my world.

For the uninitiated (and my apologies for those outside the US who may not have access to it), Gold Rush is a TV series which follows a team of hard scrabble, go-for-broke, all-in, heart-and-soul, down-on-their-luck dreamers who aim to cash in on the current high price of gold by starting a mining operation in Alaska.

Watching the sacrifices they make, the bond that builds between them, the impossible odds against them, and their pure unflagging determination in the face of a relentless wave of obstacles is, in a word, inspiring. The parallels to the startup world that you and I live in are myriad. 

There are probably some weirdos who appreciate entrepreneurism, yet don't like this show for some reason, but I can't imagine who. The (relative) ratings boom the show has enjoyed confirms that my affection for the show is not uncommon. If you enjoy a good story, an against-all-odds tale of struggle in realizing your dream, this is a bit of television well worth your time.

If you haven't started yet, do yourself a favor and start with season one. Unfortunately they don't make it easy. But there are a couple options.

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Answers on Startups (a Stack Exchange site)

May 17, 2011 in 4 out of 5 stars, A community, A website, Business Intel, Business Planning, Expert Advice

What is it? A question and answer site focused on Startups and Entrepreneurship.

Who makes it?

Stack Exchange (with a dash of clout from Dharmesh Shah)

Why is it the killerest?

Stack Exchange (the company behind this) have built a highly effective Question-and-Answer gamification format offering. They started with the absurdly successful Stack Overflow which is focused on answering software development questions, and applied the model to various other topics, including startups.

All of us have questions as we venture into these challenging startup waters, and Answers OnStartups is a productive place ask them. Because of the reward system built into the site, you will typically get high quality, and varied answers from experienced folks who know what they're talking about.

It also skews heavily toward online and software startups, which is where my own passion lies (as it does for many of you).

What could be improved?

I've been watching and participating for a few weeks now and I've had a great time, but two things could be improved:

1) The number of participants. What it has now is great, but I would love it to reach the level of some of the higher volume Stack Exchange sites. I know a bunch of you reading this have valuable insights to share, so get over there.

2) Some repetition in questions. Equity splitting, marketing, and funding questions occupy a large percent of the questions. That said, there are still interesting and helpful questions posted frequently.

How much does it cost?



Reviewed by Carson McComas

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How to find a good domain name

May 5, 2011 in Happy Links

Finding a good domain name is hard. If you're like me, you've spent absurd amounts of time on this task. Including time which would be much better spent building your product/website/company. 

Here are a list of tools I use which have significantly reduced the time I spend looking for a good domain, and have also significanly improved the quality of the domain names I end up with.

  1. Domain Hole
  2. Panabee 
  3. Name Station
  4. Bust a Name - takes a little getting used to, and is a bit painful to use, but can be valuable at getting you to think about connected ideas
  5. Value Drops, these guys update every day with quality domain names recently expired.
  6. helps you find creative url structures for that name you really, really want to use.
  7. Wordoid helps you make up names.
  9. LeanDomainSearch - punch in a word, get a bunch of pairs
  11. NameMesh

And finally here's an even more comprehensive list of tools - dozens deep.

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Landing Page Case Study - Invoice Bubble

July 15, 2010 in Landing Pages

Rounding out my landing page coverage, I'd like to share some insights from a page in the wild that does a nice job incorporating the principles we've been discussing here. 


Stu Green, the creator, was kind enough to answer a few questions about what they're doing:

How are you getting traffic?

We have a few channels that put traffic through to Invoice Bubble. The best way to get solid traffic is by getting reviewed or getting featured in CSS galleries. We got a lot of traffic after being featured in a web gallery called Web Creme, plus we also had a few writeups and reviews on sites like MakeUseOf and Tuttoaster.

How well is that traffic converting to signup?

The social buzz really kicked up when we made Invoice Bubble free. We suddenly found that we were getting lots of traffic through social bookmarking because it changed from being another premium web app, to being a useful and FREE tool for freelancers. When that happened our signup conversion also shot up from about 2% to about 8% of all unique visitations, which is a massive jump - but one that you would expect given the very low risk factor for signing up (its free).

Those are nice conversion rates. What principles are you employing on your landing page to achieve that success?  

Our landing page is simple. It says what it does on the tin "Free Online Invoice Software". Everything is big, clear and obvious with no messing around. We have clear call to actions to either "Get Started for Free", or to "Take the Tour". Every page basically ends up on the sign up page, so therefore people have two options, close the website or sign up. The only reason that someone wouldn't sign up is that they are not interested in using the app. Therefore with that clear choice in mind, we get a pretty good percentage that do end up deciding to sign up and use the app.

How did you figure out these principles?

The way that we learnt those principles is purely by trial and error. We have tried 30 day trials, we have tried having just a landing page and no Tour, we have tried really clear and bold headings on the landing page (as you see), and more long-winded explanations of the app, we have tried different pricing and tried ultimately making the app completely free. So its only by experimentation that we have learnt those lessons.

One thing that we don't do on Invoice Bubble that we DO do on Project Bubble (the bigger brother app) is to show a video. I would say the most important thing when designing a good landing page is to be really clear about what the product offers, have clear calls to action (as you see on Invoice Bubble), but also show off the product in a video and give your users NO excuse not to click on the video. A human voice, visuals and music can do so much for your conversion rate than any ordinary text could ever do. When we put a video on Project Bubble it almost doubled our conversion rate, so we might do the same thing for Invoice Bubble in the future.

Great insights Stu! Thanks for sharing. 

Stu-green Stu Green is the managing director of Haloweb Ltd, a UK based web application development company who currently have 3 apps: Project Bubble (project management for small businesses), Invoice Bubble (invoicing for freelancers), and Halogy (a white label, easy-to-use CMS for agencies).

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Good landing page principles are good UX principles

July 8, 2010 in Landing Pages

If you haven't seen the new Think Vitamin Membership offering from Carsonified, and you're a web developer of any kind, it's worth checking out. Below I've embedded one of their free videos (most are behind a pay wall) that does a great job of explaining some of the principles behind a proper landing page. They don't use that exact language, but you'll see the familiar principles at play. Enjoy.

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A few landing page principles

July 6, 2010 in Landing Pages

Don't over-complicate things, a successful landing page is simple and focused. 

When visitors land on your page, they have a few questions in mind, and your landing page should answer them.

  1. Does it offer what I need?
  2. What does it look like?
  3. How much does it cost?

    And before they act, they also want to know:
  4. Can I trust you?

Finally, they need a way to convert. This should not be hard to find, do, or figure out. 

A old designer trick that works well here is to sit back and squint your eyes at your landing page and see if it's obvious how to act. I've taken a few successful landing pages with different conversion methods, and done some of that work for you to illustrate you what I mean. As you look over these page screenshots, is it obvious how to convert?





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Defining a "successful" landing page

July 2, 2010 in Landing Pages

This one is simple. The metric that matters when defining a "successful" landing page is profitability. You need to make more than you spend to bring the traffic. If you're spending X to get traffic, and you're profiting X-plus-anything after the conversion, you're successful. If not, you aren't. 

This might require a 25% conversion rate, or it might work with a 1% conversion rate. 

 A couple of examples of a successful landing page:

  • You are running an AdWords campaign, and you pay $1.00 per click and you have a 1% conversion rate. Your offering costs $150. Assuming you have less than $50 in labor and other costs associated with a conversion, you're profitable and have a successful landing page at a 1% conversion rate.
  • You are giving way an eBook full of great, useful information. In the eBook you establish yourself as an expert. 25% of those who land on your page click the link and download your book. Of those who download the eBook, 0.2% (1 in 500) hire you to consult. You make $200/hr consulting and a typical gig is 25 hours. You're not spending anything explicitly to gain traffic, but you're hustling to spread the word using social media.

    Each month you get 4,000 visitors to your landing page (giving away 1,000 eBooks). That translates to two consulting gigs, or $10,000 which is enough to cover your overhead with enough left over to live the way you'd like. You're profitable at a 25% conversion rate.

(btw, do you have a successful landing page? You should share it with us). 

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