Guide: Start a $400+/month business during COVID-19
How to start an online information business in one week
Each week I send a detailed guide on how to start a practical small business to supplement your income.
Why now? Because we all know someone whose employment has been affected by COVID-19.
And for many, starting a small business as a source of alternative income could be one of the few ways to financially get through the crisis the crisis. But I get it, starting a business can be intimidating – where do you even start?
In One Week Startup, I make it easy with detailed guides on how to start a main or side business (that anyone can do) to supplement your income during COVID-19.
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In this week’s guide, you’re going to learn… 📚What an online information tool is and how I started making $400/month off it 👩💼The type of data tool you should compile 🖥️Researching and compiling your own data set 🚧How to build a website to sell your tool 📈Finding your first customers and closing that first sale
What I’m listening to in quarantine…
Entrepreneurship is needed now more than ever.
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Social distancing has caused many businesses to cut hours, lay off workers, or close up entirely. Millions are now left unemployed and in need of alternative income sources.
I started One Week Startup to offer guidance to those in need by helping them start side or main businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.
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How I started making $400/week with an online information product
Research is one of the most powerful tools on the Internet. With its endless articles and databases, Google makes it easy to find whatever it is you're looking for — as long as it's just one or a couple of things. What Google can't do well is compile a set of data from a number of sources (aka list building). Time consuming human labour is the only way to collect this information.
As a business operator, I can speak to this pain point. Many of my days are spent researching and compiling lists in Google Sheets. To use last week's business as an example, I might spend a day compiling a list of Toronto vegan influencers to send samples to, or retailers who may be interested in stocking our product. Building these lists is the monotonous administrative work that they don't tell you about in entrepreneurship school.
I’m always happy to pay for someone to do this for me.
That's where this week's One Week Startup fits in. I'm broadly calling this business, Online Information Products. What I mean by that is, the research and compilation of lists that have shared value for a broad consumer segment. These aren't tailor made lists for one company's current project, rather they are the collection of data that could be used by a number of organizations.
Here’s a great example: Cryptolist
A few more examples:
Instagram influencers: an excel spreadsheet with a list of the top 100 IG influencers in Canada, their emails, and content focus
Why? This could be used by a number of organizations, including PR agencies, consumer packaged goods companies, or fitness studios looking to partner with influencers to promote a product or service.
Chief Marketing Officers: a list of CMO's at Canada's 100 largest companies with their emails and LinkedIn accounts.
Why? If you're a freelancer or agency, these are the decision makers you’ll need to contact to sell your services. Having their contact info readily available makes outreach easy.
Most valuable tech companies: a list of the 100 highest valued Canadian tech companies with their CEOs, HQ location, number of employees, etc.
Why? Market analysts at big banks are paid to prepare reports on different sectors of the economy. The ones covering Canadian technology will pay for a list of the top tech companies in Canada to plug into their reports, saving them hours of research.
The main value prop of these lists is: saving your customers valuable time by doing the work of researching and compiling highly valuable lists. If your customer was to compile these lists themselves, it would likely take between 4-6 hours depending on the size of the list. That's a lot of time spent on boring administrative work, time that could be spent on far more valuable tasks.
💼what business are we building this week?
I'm going to show you how I built Canada Tech Report, a monthly online information product that captures all Canadian startup financing rounds and the contact info for each of the company's CEOs. It took me a week to build and start generating $400 / month from it. I’m confident you can do the same.
💸 why I like this business?
scalable: online information products are highly scalable. Meaning, once you create the list, you can sell to an infinite amount without any additional product labour.
quick to test: the great thing about these products is how quickly you can build and iterate. Unlike last week's business, where you have a physical product to develop, this is much simpler, just a spreadsheet and your research. The formula is to quickly get it out into the wild and make adjustments as you get customer feedback.
recurring revenue: because the Canada Tech Report list updates on a monthly basis, you can start to generate recurring revenue that, if successful, could become a nice consistent source of income.
product market fit: there's a million variations of this product you could build that would work. I'm going to show you the tech financing example, but you could easily do this for a number of other sectors (ex. Canada Media List, Global Crypto List, etc.).
low cost: very low cost to get started – you can get a minimum viable product built for less than $100.
b2b: i like selling to businesses because it’s easy to find where your customers are, and they generally have access to healthy expense accounts – always an easier sell when it’s not their money.
When testing a business, it’s crucial to set metric-based goals that you can measure yourself against.
My goal for this product is to sell 10 subscriptions in the first week (spoiler: I did it!).
📊Google Sheet Workbook – Tasks + Sample Sales Sheet 💽January's Canada Tech Report Data Compilation 💸Reflection Document – What to consider about after you're done your one week test
day 1-2: product brainstorm and build
brainstorm: What data set will you compile?
The first day you're going to want to put some thought to what type of list you want to compile. Here's why I choose tech financing:
Tech companies are raising capital on a monthly basis so you could make this a recurring revenue product
The information about these rounds is fairly accessible and not too difficult to find
Number of potential customers of the product is high — could be agencies looking to sell into these newly capitalized businesses, venture capital funds tracking the private financing market, etc
Because my customers could generate revenue by selling into these companies, the product has clear value
I'd encourage you to follow a similar exercise before proceeding with the development of your product. Here are the questions I'd ask:
Who are your customers? PR agencies? Freelancers? Law firms? Accountants? Tech companies?
Does your product save them a lot of time?
Does it open up new revenue opportunities for your customers (i.e. sales)?
Is the information you’re pulling readily available?
Is it a static product or does it change regularly? Can you make a recurring revenue product?
compiling your first list
Once you've figured out the type of product you're going to build, you’re going to want to start with the creation of your first list. I recommend starting with this because you want to make sure that you can actually compile the list, your main product, before proceeding with any brand or marketing assets.
First thing you should do is create a Google Sheet. Here’s what I used for the Canada Tech Report (you can find the sheet here)
You need to figure out what data is important to your customers and make a column for each set. For example, the Canadian a Tech Report has the following columns:
Funding Amount (in USD)
Finding the data
So you've figured out what data you need, now you need to find it. Where to find the data will depend a lot on the product you're creating. I started by looking to see if there's a source that tracked tech financing deals. There is, it's a site called Crunchbase.
Crunchbase’s database is updated in real time and contains a nearly every public financing round in global technology. But the problem is that it costs $300 annually to access. That's too much for me to spend on a product that I'm not even sure will work. Thankfully, they offer a seven day free trial which is enough for me to compile my first report.
Using Crunchbase, I pulled all the Canadian tech companies that raised capital last month and compiled it into my Google Sheet.
That data is helpful but the most valuable and hard to find information for my customers is the contact info of the CEOs of these companies. There are lots of ways to discover emails. For the sake of privacy, I've made the decision to only list emails that are publicly available, aka if I can find them on Google it's fair game.
First, I find out who the CEO of each company is. This is pretty straightforward, you can usually figure it out through a combination of Google and LinkedIn. Then, I add 'email' to their name and search on Google. Usually something usually comes up. With startups, it's generally FirstName@company.com. To verify the email, I run it through mailtester.com.
With your list done, you should have a better idea of how long it took for you to produce it. You want to price according to the amount of hours that you put into it. For the Canada Tech Report, it took me about 4 hours to compile my list, so I’m going to price it at $40 a month. That’s affordable enough that it’s an easy expense for businesses to justify, especially when you consider that one deal generated through the list should more than cover a year’s subscription.
If you’re compiling a massive report (500 entries or more), you can get away with charging a significantly higher one-time price. For example, if I were selling a report with the information for every direct to consumer business in the world, I’d likely price it at around $500. Since it’s not recurring and requires more time to compile, you can price it significantly higher than other data products.
Final note on pricing: recurring revenue models are the best. If you sell 10 subscriptions in this first week, you can automatically generate $400 every month. That’s great consistent income to have.
note on outsourcing
The whole process of collecting data will likely take you a full day. Now, there is another way to approach this. If you're looking to further automate the process, you could hire a remote worker on a site like Upwork to help with the data collection. I've had mixed results with Upwork contractors, but the one piece of advice I can give you is to be super specific with the instructions.
I opted to do the first report myself. My thinking is that if I can prepare the template and the process myself first, I'll be able to give better instructions to contractors down the road.
note on next steps
In the theme of a choose your own adventure style novel, you can either jump to the sales step or continue on to brand and marketing. The reason I’m giving you the option is that you don’t really need a fancy website or brand to sell this product.
If you happen to work or be connected to the industry you’re selling into, you could just email everyone you think might be interested and offer to sell them the product. Create a simple PayPal or Stripe check-out page and voila! you’re generating revenue immediately – a great way to validate the business by learning really quickly if there’s demand for it.
If you’re not well connected to the industry or you just want to have something more professional to show when you start your outreach, you’ll want to go through the brand and marketing steps.
day 2-3: brand and marketing
Great job getting the product ready! In this step, we’re going to build the brand and marketing assets needed to sell the product.
Let’s start with messaging.
Messaging is going to be a big part of selling this product. You have to clearly communicate to your customers why this is so valuable to them. To do this, you have put yourself into their shoes – why would they buy this?
More importantly, you need to communicate why this is valuable enough to expense. Since you’re selling to businesses, most will expense it directly to the company. They’ll need to justify the expense to their manager, so make sure to clearly explain why the product is critical to their job and how it can generate new revenue for the business.
I’ll walk you through my message thinking for Canada Tech Report:
Who’s my customer? Professional service providers – ex. PR, legal, accountants, government relations, etc.
Why would they buy? My customers need a constant source of prospective leads to sell their services to. The companies in our report have just raised capital and, in many cases, will start to look for the services that our customers provide. Our clients could collect this data themselves but that would be more expensive and time consuming than purchasing our report.
Main pain point: Finding prospective leads for our customer’s professional services
Through this exercise, you should get a pretty good idea of what your messaging should focus on. In my case, it’s the convenience of having a list of prospective clients with their contact info sent every month.
If you read last week’s guide, you know I’m not too fussed about the name – especially for a business product like this one. So I went with some really boring and simple: Canada Tech Report.
logo and Colours
Again, since we’re not making a consumer facing product, the brand matters a lot less than the product and copy. I picked red and white for my colours because, you know, Canada.
Here’s the logo I came up with:
You don’t need a particularly fancy website to sell your report. I’d recommend building a simple landing page using Squarespace. That’s what I did with Canada Tech Report which you can see here: canadatechreport.com
If you’re new to Squarespace, check out this good tutorial on how to use the tool. I find it to be the easiest and most versatile website creator.
You’ll also need to buy a domain. I usually get mine from Namecheap. Once you purchase it, Squarespace provides a detailed guide on how to connect your domain with your site.
I find it easier to mock-up the website first and finish copy after the structure of the site is complete. With your messaging done, it should be a lot easier to craft the copy.
Here’s the structure of Canada Tech Report:
A big header at the top with your core message and a CTA (call to action) button:
Insert another section below with how your customers can benefit. Use the next section to describe what customers will get from the report and who it’s for:
You can add some more descriptive copy in the section below:
The list of columns is unnecessary but you’re welcome to throw it in:
Final call to action section:
As you can see, it’s all pretty basic and shouldn’t take you more than a few hours to put the whole site together.
payment and delivery
This is a bit tricky part. You’ve done the website, now how do you sell your spreadsheet. I did some research on the easiest way to do this, and here’s what I came up with…
For the checkout, I use a tool called Simple Goods. This is a plugin for your site that will trigger an in-window pop-up for checkout. I used Simple Goods because it’s simple (only a few lines of code), compatible with Squarespace and connects to my stripe account. If you’re creating a subscription product, you’ll need to purchase the $9 USD monthly account. They’ve created a helpful guide on how to easily plug your Simple Goods add-on onto Squarespace.
Here’s how it looks:
On the same note, you’re also going to need to create a Stripe account to process payments.
The final step on payment and delivery is creating a page for your customers to download their report from. I did this by creating a Squarespace page with a thank you message and a link to a Dropbox with the Excel file of this month’s report.
In the Simple Goods settings, you can redirect customers to this page after the purchase. Here’s what mine looks like:
day 3-7: sales!
Congratulations, you’re ready to go live! What a huge accomplishment, let’s take a look at what you’ve got done over the past week:
Picked an industry to build a online information product for
Researched and compiled a spreadsheet of highly valuable data
Developed sales messaging and copy for your product
Built a website to sell your product
And now… I’m going to help you get your first sales. Where do we start?
Remember when we did that messaging exercise to figure out who your customers are? Now is the time to use that. For Canada Tech Report, here are my target customers:
PR agencies – recently funded startups will need to generate earned media
Accountants – new startups will need accountancies to manage their books
Product dev shops – newly funded startups usually lack big enough teams to develop their ambitious products and outsource some of the work to agencies
Since my report is focused on Canada, I’m going to find Canadian located businesses in these categories through basic Google searches. The great thing about professional services firms is that they want people to contact them, so most have their personal contact info on the site. I’ll usually pick a managing director or senior partner, grab their email and put it into an outreach spreadsheet – like this one.
After compiling your outreach list, you need to write a cold email to send these leads. Here’s what I used:
Hi [FIRST NAME], My name's Brett and I'm the founder of the Canada Tech Report, a subscription service that sends you a monthly spreadsheet on all the Canadian tech financing deals. It includes all the details you need (verified CEO emails, size/type of financing, links to the companies, and more) so you can quickly intro yourself to the CEO if there's an opportunity to collaborate. Think of it as a monthly lead refresher for business development. If you're interested, you can subscribe here. Most of our customers expense it as a BD line item. Thanks, Brett
Most of your leads won’t get back to you on the first message so you’ll want to follow-up with them the next week. I’d also encourage you to call your leads. I know it’s unorthodox these days but cold calling is a great way to get your leads’ attention and directly pitch them on the product. At the very least, you’ll get some good feedback.
day 7: reflect
Amazing work. So you’ve tried to build an online information product business in one week – how did it go? Now is the time to reflect on the last week and consider your path forward.
I’ve created a reflection template doc that I recommend using. The main questions you want to ask are:
did you hit your goal?
how much did you sell?
how did you sell?
did you validate your assumptions? If not why?
what were the main objections you heard from prospective clients?
any other learnings?
Let’s assume that you hit your 10 sales and are ready to put this thing into superdrive. What’s next for you?
Since you have a better idea of who your audience is and how much they’ll spend, you can start to formulate a plan to increase traffic to your site. And that’s really the next goal: how do you get as many people as possible to visit your site?
The thinking is that if you get 10,000 site visits and your conversion rate is 2%, that’s 200 subscriptions! In Canada Tech Report’s case, $2,000 of monthly revenue!
You can increase traffic in a bunch of ways. I love the Sumo guides on increasing traffic and would encourage you check them out. See my favourites below:
I’m pretty hesitant to spend any money on ads and would encourage you only to do so when you’re in a comfortable revenue position. You also want to get a better idea of how long your subscribers stay subscribed for, so you know how much each customer is worth. For example, if your average lifetime customer value is $1,000, you should feel comfortable spending a good chunk of that on acquisition.
That’s your guide for this week. Thanks so much for reading and really hope you got some value out of it. I need your help – do you want more or less of something? Would love your feedback!