Hiya! Bjork here.
A quick thanks to those of you that follow along with these reports for your patience on July’s report. It’s coming out later than usual.
For those that don’t follow along with these reports, here’s the deal:
Five-ish years ago we started doing a monthly report that showcased the things that we were learning as we were working on Pinch of Yum. Those first few reports shared the income we were earning. Later on we started to include the expenses as well as screenshots of our Google Analytics account.
These reports started as out as a public experiment to see if it was possible to build a food blog into a business. We continue to write these reports each month for a few reasons:
- We’re huge believers in building value over time. When it comes to these reports we believe the greatest value isn’t in a single report, but in the culmination of the past five years and the story those cumulative posts tell about building something slowly and consistently for a long period of time. We’ll never be on the cover of Fast Company, but if Slow Company started a publication we might have a chance. Good work + every day + constant improvement. We hope this long-term mindset encourages you to continue working on your thing, whatever that might be.
- These reports are an ongoing case study that we tie into Food Blogger Pro, our membership site for people building food related business online. Knowing that we do these reports once a month encourages us to continue learning, testing, building, and growing, in part so we can report back on that progress here, in part so we can continue to grow the business in general, and in part so we can teach about what we learn on Food Blogger Pro.
- I love the internet. <— That sounds a bit generic, but I’m perpetually fascinated by what is possible online. It’s amazing. Amazing. We can connect with people all around the world, create movements, impact thinking, build businesses, laugh, cry, learn… These monthly reports are an outward expression of my fascination with the internet, and the process of writing these each month gives me a chance to hop on my imaginary-human-carrying-mind-controled-drone and fly up to 50,000 feet to see what’s happening with online businesses, both for us as well as others.
So that’s the dealio with these reports. I hope you find them helpful! Let’s jump in…
- AdThrive – $26,918.85
- Sponsored Content – $11,800.00
- Tasty Food Photography Workshops – $11,555
- Bluehost – $4,715 –> this income comes from a page where we show people how to start a food blog in three easy steps.
- Amazon Associates – $2,611.42
- Tasty Food Photography – $2,112.65
- Swoop – $1,835.17
- Federated Media – $1,469.16
- Gourmet Ads – $903.50
- sovrn – $616.40
- How to Monetize Your Food Blog eBook – $340.00
- Genesis Theme – $288.87
- Elegant Themes – $257.50
- Go Sugar Free Course – $99.75
- ActiveCampaign – $61.17
- Thesis Theme – $65.01
- AWeber – $23.40
- Yellow Hammer Media – $4.87
- Justworks and Contractors – $18,009.88
- Studio Costs – $3,890.98
- Food Expenses – $1,664.18
- Travel – $1,164.11
- eBook Affiliates – $567.25
- PayPal Transaction Percentage – $425.26
- ActiveCampaign – $415.00
- EventBrite – $308.77
- Miscellaneous Software and Apps – $95.96
- Adobe Creative Cloud – $107.43
- LeadPages – $67.00
- Zapier – $50.00
- Amazon S3 and Cloudfront – $34.70
- PayPal Website Payments Pro – $30.00
- E-Junkie – $28.00
- QuickBooks – $26.95
- Shoeboxed – $29.95
- Hotjar – $29.00
- GitHub – $25.00
- Cloudflare – $20.00
- SumoMe – $20.00
- VaultPress – $20.00
- Pingdom – $14.95
- Backupify – $12.00
- Buffer – $10.00
- Link In Profile – $9.99
- CrashPlan – $9.99
- BoardBooster – $5.00
Below are some Google Analytics screenshots from the month of July 2016.
Top Ten Traffic Sources
Mobile vs. Desktop vs. Tablet
What’s Important and Hiring
Do you ever feel like everything is important?
Social media, blog posts, photography, accounting, time with friends, time with family, sleep, unplugging from your phone, responding quickly to emails, meditating, hustling, etc, etc, etc…
One of the ways that we’ve found success is by not doing all the important things. We’ve done our best to find just a few things that are important and focus in on those.
For Lindsay that was photography, good recipes, and consistently posting.
We focused in on these things for many years knowing that we were missing out on other important things, like building a following on certain social media sites, producing videos, or attending networking events.
I’m convinced that deciding what you’re not working on is one of the most important considerations for entrepreneurs.
But your decision to not work on something doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s more like pressing pause, or to use a food analogy, putting that idea in the freezer to come back to at another time.
When is that “another time” when you’ll come back to that idea?
- When you finish with a current project.
- When you can afford to hire someone to help.
We’ve been unfreezing some ideas with Pinch of Yum recently, as we’re starting to focus in on some things that are really important but weren’t focus items. Video, for instance, was always on our “important but not our focus list.” This summer we unfroze that idea and recently (last week) brought on Alana (welcome Alana!) as an official POY team member. Alana is also an FBP Expert, so if you’re an FBP member and you have any video related questions be sure to post those on the forum.
My reason for mentioning this is to encourage you to not try and do everything, even if some of those things that you’re not doing are really important. What you don’t do is just as important as what you do, and not doing important things is, ironically, an important part of building a business. When you have the time (or the budget to hire) you can come back to those ideas and unfreeze them.
Data Deep Dive with Food Blogger Pro
This is for all you data nerds and/or people interested in membership sites.
Here’s the quick back story:
Food Blogger Pro runs on a CMS called ExpressionEngine, and we use an open-source add-on called membrr to power the membership components of the site.
The membrr add-on was built by a developer named Brock Ferguson. Brock recently started an analytics consulting company called Strong with two other super-smart-PhD-probably-good-at-math-and-chess co-founders. If you have an online business, especially one that focuses on recurring payments, I’d recommend you get in touch with them. I’m sure that Strong will find some interesting and actionable information, as you’ll see below with the case study they did for Food Blogger Pro.
The content is a bit more advanced than the usual advice we share here on these reports, but it’s a great example of some of the important data that you need to track (and tweak) as your business grows. I’m going to pass it off to Jacob Dink, one of the team members at Strong Analytics, to talk about what they found when they dug into FBP’s analytics.
Digging into FBP’s Data with Strong Analytics
Understanding the lifetime value of your customers is essential. This is especially true for businesses with recurring customers, where the bulk of the revenue doesn’t come from one-time purchases, but instead from a slow trickle over a customer’s lifetime.
In a healthy business, the amount of money earned per customer is greater than the amount of money spent on acquiring each customer. So if you want to know whether your business is healthy (and how healthy it is), one important thing you need to do is calculate lifetime-value, calculate customer-acquisition-costs, and make sure the first is bigger than the second (factoring in the time value of money). Calculating the second is pretty easy: customer-acquisition costs are generally one-time costs that are right up-front.
But customer-lifetime value is a lot harder to get a handle on then you might think at first. This is the revenue you’ll get from a customer over their entire lifetime. But most of your customers haven’t finished their “lifetimes” yet: you (hopefully) have lots of current customers! For any current customer, the amount of revenue they’ve brought in so far is necessarily an under-estimate of the amount of revenue they’ll bring in over their entire lifetime. So you can’t just tally up how much money you’ve made from your customers if you want to estimate lifetime value— you’ll necessarily underestimate, and it’s difficult to assess by how much.
Many businesses rely on a quick and simple calculation you might find if you search for “customer lifetime value.” However, this method makes a lot of assumptions about the lifecycle of your customers — assumptions we didn’t feel comfortable making about FBP’s customers.
That’s why Strong Analytics took an approach grounded in statistical models, which ended up having some great advantages and providing some interesting insights.
First, what are some of the advantages of Strong’s model-based approach to LTV over the usual way? The usual way is pretty simple, you just calculate your monthly revenue-per-customer, and divide it by your month-to-month churn rate. However, this formula makes a lot of assumptions about the customer life-cycle. The main assumption made here is that a customer has the same probability of canceling their account no matter how long they’ve been with your company.
This assumption can easily be wrong. Maybe lots of customers sign up initially, but are only really interested in using the product once and so quickly churn; while customers who have stuck around for a year are the type of people who use the product repeatedly and are unlikely to churn. Or things could be reversed: perhaps almost all customers feel like they get something useful out of the product in the first year, but after that, they generally find that they’ve exhausted its usefulness.
We were concerned that, if either of these two possibilities were right, Bjork would be getting the wrong number for the LTV for FBP customers. But we also wanted to know which of these two possibilities was right. On its surface, Food Blogger Pro is a platform for members to watch videos learning how to get their website off the ground. But Bjork communicated to us that he wants it to be more than that: members should feel like the website provides perpetual value through the forums, through tutorials on maintaining (not just launching) your food blog, and so on. They don’t want customers to just watch videos for a few months then leave. The conventional way of calculating churn and LTV didn’t let us understand the customer-life-cycle as well as we wanted to.
The team at Strong Analytics took an alternative approach that dives deeper into the customer-lifecycle. Some key findings:
- The month-to-month probability of cancellation for a typical member of Food Blogger Pro increases over their lifetime. Members are less likely to cancel early in their membership, and more likely to cancel later in their membership.
- This trend has become more pronounced since Food Blogger Pro first started. Early-adopters of Food Blogger Pro had a pretty steady lifecycle: members who had just started had the same churn-rate as members who had been around for over a year. However, members who have signed up in the past two years have had a more uneven pattern: these members tend to stick with their subscriptions more loyally in the early months of their membership, but then they cancel more freely later on. This means that there is an opportunity for Food Blogger Pro to retain members longer by finding out what long-term members find most valuable and delivering it to them more effectively.
- A model that captures these variations does a better job of capturing revenue from customers. We tracked the revenue and churn data starting last summer, and used both the traditional, quick-and-easy metric to calculate LTV, as well as the model-based approach from Strong. Each approach gave us a “guess” for how much revenue we should expect from the (then) current customers. A year later, we can compare the results — that is, we can compare this ‘guess’ to the actual revenue from these customers after a year:
- We can see that the model-based approach does a much better job of predicting the actual revenue. The conventional calculation applies the same churn-rate to all customers, regardless of their stage in their life-cycle, or when they signed up. In contrast, Strong’s model takes into consideration the life-cycle-stage of each customer in order to estimate how much more time (and value) we should expect from their membership on an individual basis.
The nice thing about our model-based approach is that we were able to look at how different attributes of FBP members — usage-patterns, demographic information — affected their lifecycle and their lifetime value. Any data we collected could be placed in the statistical model, and the influence of these factors could be estimated. Some key insights:
- Older users tended to stay with FBP longer. For every decade of age, LTV increased by $18. (This information was only available if members entered their age in the profile area.)
- Users have the option of filling in extra profile information, such as their interests, website, and occupation. Filling in this information corresponded to an increase of $47 dollars of LTV, compared to those who didn’t.
- Users who posted in the forums tended to stick around much longer. For every single post per month, there was an increase in LTV of $59!
Taken together, these findings suggest that the social and community components of FBP are extremely important. These are actionable insights. They suggest that searching for ways to boost community engagement could be a fruitful strategy for improving customer retention. And while the effect of age is smaller, it’s definitely something to think about as FBP explores different acquisition sources and marketing strategies.
The nice thing about these results is that they tell us not just what matters for customer-retention and value, but by how much these things matter. This can help guide not just FBP’s current marketing budget, but can also help define a strategy and budget for future growth and expansion. Bjork and the FBP team can estimate just how much more they should expect to get per customer if we get a new cohort of customers who virtually always fill in their profile information, and this helps define an upper bound for how much FBP should spend on pursuing this acquisition source.
Bjork’s Thoughts on Strong’s Results
A few thoughts:
Chickens, Eggs, and Value
It’s hard to know for sure whether some of the user behavior results are the chicken or the egg. For instance, we don’t know for sure if people stick around longer because they post, or if people that post are individuals that naturally stick around longer.
In a way, it doesn’t matter though, because we know that people that engage with the community are receiving more value. While the results from Strong are numbers based, in essence, what they are doing is shining a light on the things that are most valuable and important.
And if we know that people that are engaging with the community are receiving more value then we should do everything we can to build on that by making the community elements on Food Blogger Pro a frictionless and enjoyable experience.
What do we do now?
So now that we have these insights what do we do?
I have two big action items that I plan on moving forward with:
- The first action item for us is obvious. We need to continue to find ways to make the community forum a rich and enjoyable experience for members. This means continuing to update and improve the design and functionality of the forum.
- The second action item we can do is encourage users to fill out their profile information when they become a member of Food Blogger Pro. We use Intercom to communicate with members, and we’re currently looking into ways that we can hook Intercom into the FBP database and send a custom message to members that don’t yet have their profile information filled out.
A big thank you to Jacob, Brock, and Jacob at Strong Analytics for helping us to uncover this info and for sharing about it the post today.
Because of you
It’s because of you that this thing we call Pinch of Yum can exist as it does today. Thank you so much for making these recipes, leaving comments with your love and feedback, and sharing this food around the table with your families and friends.
Every month we donate a portion of the income earned on the blog a cause that we believe in. As some of you maybe know, Lindsay’s grandma Joan recently passed away. She was a loyal POY reader, an incredible musician, and an even more incredible person.
Lindsay’s family is starting a music scholarship in their hometown of Worthington, MN, which we’ll be contributing to on behalf of the Pinch of Yum community and readers. Thanks for being a part of this journey we’re on. We appreciate you and are so thankful to be able to do what we do.