It’s the end of my first year since I started jimwilbourne.com and this is my transparency report to show how my platform has grown during the past year.
I don’t want to be a marketing platform, but I think it’s important to share the things that I’ve learned. This is part of my core mission statement as a creative.
I also believe transparency reports will allow my platform and business to remain honest as it grows and that’s the kind of culture I want my business to cultivate.
First, let’s look at the raw data.
Social Network Growth
Now, here’s the rundown of what I did to market my platform month-to-month. There are likely 100 other little things I’ve done that I have either overlooked or was unable to account for, but everything here are things that I tried with platform growth in mind.
In July, I took the first steps to building my platform by building jimwilbourne.com. Other than figuring out the basic design and what I needed to place on the site, I did nothing to promote the platform. I didn’t even show my friends at this point. Consequently, I have zero data points for this month.
In August, I started blogging. When I say that I started blogging, I mean I posted one blog. The blog post was really just a test to explore the functionality of my site’s blog and to have a message for anyone who happened by the site.
The blog was technically posted on July 26th, but I didn’t share the site with anyone until August. I placed the site on my profiles (facebook, twitter, google+) and I posted on each of those profiles that I had a website up.
No one really cares that you have a website. So I didn’t get much traffic from those small efforts.
During the month of Sept., I did virtually nothing to gain traffic. I was still very focused on writing my stories and had no follow through plan for the site. I had a few ideas stewing, but I wasn’t ready to start putting them into play.
I posted two blogs that month. The first was a post about my favorite books and the second was about a book a fellow writer released.
I did, however, start using Twitter a bit more. I believe that most of the traffic I received during September was due to people clicking on my twitter profile, seeing that I had a website and clicking through to it from there.
October was very much like September. I posted 2 blogs that didn’t really adhere to any strategy or goal and continued to interact and play with twitter. I was still very focused on drafting my stories, but did put a lot of thought into would become my current platform building strategy.
My numbers reflect the fact that I did little in terms of pushing growth.
November saw the first step in some true platform growth.
Daily NaNoWriMo Updates
I did NaNoWriMo this month. While I didn’t leverage my platform the way that I should, I did post daily NaNo updates on twitter using the #NaNoWriMo and #NaNoWriMo2014 hashtags and interacted with other participants who also shared their enthusiasm via Twitter. This gave me a bit of attention on my website (I posted 3 blogs that month) and increased my twitter network by nearly 100 follows.
Started Jimnasium Mailing List
Almost unanimously, indie authors and internet marketers report that having a mailing list is one of the most important pillars of a successful online platform. Almost unanimously, they also report that the sooner you start one, the better ― no matter what stage of your business you’re in. I took that advice and started my list. I coordinated it with my NaNoWriMo twitter updates so that those who wanted to hear more from me after the hype died down could.
I made my reward for joining my list a free copy of my first book as soon as it’s released.
I gained 1 subscriber. The other subscriber that month was me (Yes, I’m on my own list. I want to make sure the emails are sent). All data regarding my mailing list subscribers are off by one because I, myself, am on the list.
In December, I kicked off my blog strategy for the foreseeable future. Due to the large jump start in twitter activity and starting to blog every week, I saw my first big spike in traffic.
Blogging with Purpose
Because have I zero products (aside from some music), I knew that my blogging efforts could not be used to sell my books. I did have music that could be sold, but because that act is now defunct, pushing it wasn’t a strong option. Instead, I focused on my 2015 theme of Foundations.
My blogging strategy has three primary aims:
1. Find an audience who is interested in following me early on and build my mailing list.
2. Create valuable, useful and evergreen content that can be re-purposed later down the line.
3. Establish a habit and brand expectation of consistently publishing great content and entertainment while building my skills as a writer and musician.
My blogs are typically lessons that I have learned and am learning as I work to become a better creative. While I realize that there are plenty of productivity and creativity blogs in the wilds of the internet, it was closest in alignment to who I am and my long term goals to write in this niche.
I knew that I wanted to establish myself as a creative authority. These blogs can be repurposed into many different types of content: books, podcasts, YouTube videos & courses. Writing them now in small doses forces me to understand what I’ve learned and also creates a rough draft for re-purposing them into profitable content down the line.
The blogs also allow me to write in a different form. This gives me a little bit of a break from writing fiction and music, but it still allows me to practice becoming a better writer.
I know that my core competency is fiction and entertainment. Because of that, I also started doing Developmental Diaries about my fiction and other creative endeavors. While my stories and new music projects are still in development, I decided one of the best ways to attract early fans would be to begin talking about my creative process. So far, those diaries have gained a little bit of attention, but I also have plans to repurpose them down the line as well. Nothing is wasted!
I continued to enact and refine my blogging strategy during the month of January. While my page visits and page views saw a decline, my audience size increased as my Twitter following continued to grow. I also added a few more mailing list subscribers.
Using Hootsuite and Buffer
As my platform saw its first growth spike I realized that it would take too much time to maintain a continuous social networking presence while still working to create my products. I’m currently a team of one and I needed to find a solution.
I hear good and bad things about social network automation, but I need to do something the shift the workload. I gave both Hootsuite and Buffer a try in January and was satisfied with how they functioned. Because I have no products, it’s important to keep my costs low. I use both platforms because they differ in functionality and are both limited in different ways. Using both allowed me to get the most bang for my buck… which is no bucks.
I don’t think that I fell into a solid rhythm for using them together until March, but it did allow me to spend a little less time actively growing my social networks so that I could spend more time writing. I do make sure to be in control of how my automation works and I only use it to share links to my content and great content created by others. All of my personal interactions are from me.
During February, all my numbers saw a decline, while my mailing list subscribers doubled. Building my list is my primary conversion objective, so I count this month as a win even though I saw the lowest numbers I’d had since I started my blogging campaign. This is also the first month I opened my Facebook fan page and began tracking its numbers.
On February 8th, I published a blog that received a fair amount of attention after being featured on the Sell More Books Show podcast. This post wasn’t in line with my overall strategy, but worked as a short term tactic. The podcast aired at the end of February and the resulting traffic came in during the month of March.
While the post was more a short term tactic for a small amount of attention, it has helped in the long term because I still get traffic from the SMBS website months later. I doubt that any of that traffic has converted to subscribers, but link-backs to your website from a more popular website does look good in the eyes of our search engine overlord, Google.
Along with the SMBS promo, March saw an uptick of website traffic along with a continued increase in Twitter followers. My mailing list doubled again as well (for those of us keeping count, that’s 8 subscribers minus myself).
Using Images on Twitter
I’ve read that content with pictures have higher click rates on social media streams. This makes sense as I’m far more likely to click on something that catches my eye. So, following this advice, I began to sprinkle in this strategy when sharing my content on Twitter.
I found that the tweets with images attached got more favorites and retweets than the ones without. Continuing to use this method has led to an overall increase of traffic and social network growth.
Using Hashtags on Twitter
I started using hashtags in March. This seems obvious to many people, but I hadn’t tried a focused attempt until March. Doing this also gave me more retweets, favorites and traffic. I believe it has also been a primary driver for attracting new Twitter followers.
While continuing all of the above, April saw my second big spike in traffic. Many of my numbers more than tripled and my mailing list doubled in size. I also began tracking my Google+ circle counts.
Sent My First Newsletter
Though I don’t have a lot going on, I did have a few months of website content published. From what I understand, it’s important to not allow your mailing list to grow cold. I updated my list about what I’m up to and gave them links to my newest content.
This was one of the largest contributors to my traffic bump. I wrote a blog about the creative writing platform writingfloor.com. We cross-promoted each other during April and continued to do so into May. While this promo hasn’t had the same small but long tail effect of the SMBS promo, it did expose me to a much larger and more relevant audience.
Started Using Google+
Not only did I begin tracking my numbers on Google+, but I actually began using the platform to gain traffic. I’ve actually been on Google+ since it was created, but I’ve never had a focused approach to using it. I joined communities relevant to the content I’m creating and found that Google+ quickly became the biggest contributor to my traffic, beating out Twitter and Facebook.
I believe this is because:
1. My content thus far has been geared towards those who are looking for information and advice. Google+, and the nature of its community, is better for this type of content than Facebook and doesn’t get lost in the mix as easily as it does on Twitter.
2. Google+ (and I learned this from being a long time member of the network) has a much higher quality of engagement and conversations than facebook and twitter. While both networks have a larger audience (and therefore shouldn’t be ignored), the quality of the conversations there aren’t as high.
The big key was finding communities with an engaged membership. It was also important to contribute to conversations rather than using those groups purely as a dumping ground for my content. It was also helpful to not just post a link to my content, but also pose a question or a statement that prompted commentary. And, as with all groups/communities/forums, it was important to follow the rules of the group.
Started using StumbleUpon
I remember first using StumbleUpon back in 2007 to find interesting things while I sat around doing nothing and chatting on AIM (I wish I had all that free time back now). I've read that StumbleUpon is still a player for finding traffic for your website, so I decided to try it out. While it provides low numbers (around 2%-4% of my traffic from week to week), it was traffic I would never have gotten had I not tried. And that traffic is gained with very little effort.
I have not tried any of the more advanced StumbleUpon traffic generation methods like paid exposure and I’m not convinced that StumbleUpon is responsible for any of my mailing list conversions.
I do post a blog every week, however, and I add that blog into the StumbleUpon discovery engine. I get steady traffic from this and as my archive of blogs and articles grows, my StumbleUpon traffic may as well.
#MondayMotivation and #MondayBlogs Twitter Hashtags
I started using these two hashtags in April and found them to be very effective in driving traffic. They’re both pretty popular on twitter right now and my weekly content caters to both.
In May, my huge spike held strong and I beat most of my numbers from the previous month. My mailing list subscribers did not grow much, however. Many of the things I tried in May didn’t seem to have a large return, but because of all the recurring efforts I’ve been doing since December, I was able to maintain a high traffic count. I did manage to streamline some of my marketing efforts so that I spent a little less time doing them and gave myself a little more product creation time.
I also began cleaning my twitter follows of some dead weight (inactive accounts & accounts I’m no longer interested in). Because of this, I experienced my first negative drop in followers, likely because those people also unfollowed me. This is okay in my book. They were obviously not interested in me either and therefore useless.
#WriterWednesday Twitter Hashtag
I started using this hashtag with some great initial success. Unfortunately, its effect has appeared to die down as it has sunk in its ability to trend every week.
Optimizing Social Scheduling Times Every Week
Since I began using Hootsuite and Buffer, I’d pretty much set and forgot my social scheduling times. I decided that I would start experimenting a bit more with when the content I shared hit the social streams. I haven’t seen amazing results for this, but I’m continuing to try various combinations.
Started Using Pinterest
I’ve read a lot about how Pinterest is one of the best platform for authors, so I decided it couldn’t hurt to try it out now that I had a decent handle on my other social networks. My efforts with Pinterest were like my efforts with StumbleUpon, but I found that passively pinning wasn’t enough. I have yet to nail this social network and will continue to experiment with it.
Surprise Mailing List Email
Though I’ve decided that a quarterly email is the best way to stay in touch with my mailing list and keep it from growing cold at this point, I decided to test out sending one that had a nice surprise in it. I want to treat my list with the best and earliest news. Though I placed this content in my next Dev Diary, I’m glad I showed it to my mailing list first. I had a great response and had the opportunity to interact with my subscribers.
In April, I wrote a blog about how I organize my todo list. In that blog, I mentioned that I used Todoist to help me manage my tasks. I tweeted Todoist and told them that I mentioned them in the article. They favorited the tweet and I thought that was the end of that.
Then, in May, they retweeted it! I had a large traffic spike that day and that continued for three days after. While I don’t believe that it added to my primary list-growing objective, I did find some exposure to my blog that kept my numbers rather high for the rest of the month.
While my traffic began to fall back to levels that were less affected by April & May’s cross-promotions, I still experienced a great month of traffic with a few extra mailing list subscribers. This ended my fiscal year in a great place and I could more clearly see what my numbers might look like in a normal month with less short-term hype.
Sterling & Stone Promo
I wrote a blog about critique groups that got noticed and posted on a popular publishing company’s website. Though I didn’t get a high volume of traffic from the post, it did bring it a decent amount of eyes and has had a longer tail effect than the Todoist promo. Plus, the site has more traffic than my own and the link back is favorable in the Google algorithms.
Joined Google+ Communities focused on Fantasy Fiction Readers
Many of the Google+ communities I joined had a focus on writers connecting with other writers. I needed to find communities where I could connect with readers of the type of fiction I write. I joined some of these communities, but have not spent a lot of time interacting in them yet. I believe I will see a larger return in the coming months and possibly a much larger return when my first book hits the market.
Modified CTAs on Development Diary Blogs
I have been doing Development Diaries every month, but I realized that I had not optimized the posts to convert readers into mailing list subscribers. I added a CTA (call to action) at the end of these blogs to join my mailing list if they were interested in getting the book for free when it is released. I did get 5 extra list subscribers in June, but I’m not sure that it’s because of this CTA. Hopefully this will help find the right subscribers.
Optimized my CTAs on Creativity and Productivity Blogs
In addition to optimizing my Dev Diary CTAs, I also updated the CTAs on my Creativity and Productivity blogs. Before, I encouraged readers to leave a comment, but I didn’t prompt a question on many of them. I added this to all of them. I also added a CTA that encouraged the sharing of the blogs.
I decided that I had too much clutter on my blog sidebar. I moved some of the content to other parts of my site and left the most important pieces. I may end up removing the blog categories section as well. I believe this will help keep my visitors from being distracted from my content and will give my mailing list signup form a bit more of a spotlight.
Tweaked Mailing List Landing Page Design and Copy
I spruced up this page a little bit. I didn’t change a lot, but it looks a bit cleaner and the colors a less offensive to the eye.
A Few Other Takeaways
1. There have been notable, though small long-tail returns, for commenting on influencer blogs and being mentioned by influencers. In addition to the promotion I received directly from other people with influence in the field, I found that I got traffic just from commenting on blogs and articles with thoughtful viewpoints that added to the conversation.
2. Mobile traffic vs. Desktop traffic - 60.9% Desktop, 39.1% Mobile. Even though most of my traffic seems to be desktop right now, Almost 2 out of 5 visits are through mobile devices. Fortunately, having a mobile responsive website was always a priority and I have had that from the very beginning. But it also goes to show that you can’t ignore visitors who visit on smaller screens and it’s important to optimize your platform to accommodate those visitors (easy navigation, appropriate sized text, quick load times, etc) to decrease bounce rates and increase retention rates.
3. Everything is a slow build. I found that trying too many things at once not only sucked too much time away from building my products, but also made it difficult to tell where my traffic and conversions were truly coming from.
4. Even though you don’t have a product, you can still build a mailing list. I’m currently at 22 subscribers with no new products and minimal pushing of the list outside of placing forms on my website.
5. Posting quality content with regularity gets recognized. But it takes time to build a readership.
Goals For The Next 6 Months
1. Release a MVP for my fiction.
2. Optimize and streamline my marketing efforts in order to reduce the amount of time spent working on them. More automation for non-human tasks and stronger systems for the human ones.
3. Developing a large number of small but high converting fiction products for free to build more mailing list subscribers before a bigger release.
What About You?
I hope that this made my year’s efforts clear.
If this helped you and you think it can help others, please feel free to share it.
I’m open to any questions or comments about what I’ve done over the past year.
Toss a comment below and I’ll answer promptly!