Nothing gets me as exited as talking with a serial entrepreneur. If you think regular entrepreneurs are interesting, serial entrepreneurs will blow you away.
Matthew Paulson, today’s guest, fits the serial entrepreneur “mold” quite nicely. His journey began in 2007, and since then, he’s built several online businesses. These aren’t little niche sites either. They are a handful of full-fledged websites that (in total) receive 2-3 million page views per month. To top it off, one of his site’s e-mail lists has about 84,000 subscribers.
In this interview, Matthew gives us a nice overview of each of the sites he currently works on. He also gives some great tips about his general approach in building a large e-mail list, how he’s able to manage multiple businesses at once, and what he would do if he was starting from the beginning today.
Check it out!
Matthew, you have a lot of interesting projects in your online business, and I like how you tie them all together (along with your regular blog content) at MattPaulson.com. Hopefully this isn’t asking too much (because I know you work on a lot of different things), but can you briefly tell us about your background and each of the projects/businesses you’re currently involved with?
Absolutely. My entrepreneurial journey really began in early 2007. I started out by building a variety of personal finance projects, all of which are now defunct. In 2009, I started an investing news website called American Banking and Market News.
This website got quite a bit of initial traction after getting included in places like Google Finance, Bing Finance and Marketwatch. While the site received quite a bit of traffic and earned five figures of advertising revenue a month, the business was only sustainable as long as Microsoft and Google kept sending traffic. I knew that if I was going to build a sustainable business, I would need to be able to communicate with my audience directly and sell them actual products and services created by my company.
As a result, I started a related business called Analyst Ratings Network in early 2011 that sells web-based investment research software and a premium investment newsletter. Analyst Ratings Network has grown quite a bit since then, and its daily newsletter now has approximately 84,000 subscribers.
In late 2012, I decided I wanted to start another business to diversify my company’s income sources, so I evaluated a number of different possibilities and compared the skill requirements of each potential business idea against my strengths and weaknesses. I landed on offering a press release writing and distribution service, which is now called Lightning Releases. The press release distribution market was appealing because there are already a lot of customers that purchase release distribution services on a regular basis and because I thought I could create a price-competitive service that offered more value than some of our competitors.
In mid-2013, a friend of mine approached me and asked if I would be interested in creating a fundraising platform for humane societies and animal shelters, which is now called GoGo Photo Contest. He had created a similar service while he was working for a previous employer and wanted to begin offering a similar service independently.
I helped develop the software and take care of the marketing and accounting aspects of the business, while he and his wife take care of the day-to-day operations of the business. In the 9 months we’ve been running the business so far, we’ve raised more than $100,000 for animal shelters across the country.
What has been your greatest success (or successes) so far with your online business?
My company has made quite a bit of money, has grown a large email list, and receives 2-3 million page views each month. These metrics are fun to talk about, but the greatest success is what the money from my business allows my family to do.
Because of the business that I’ve built, my family has been able to become and stay debt free, my wife gets to be a stay at home mom, and I don’t have to be at an office all day while my 18-month old son grows up. Entrepreneurs often get too focused on building a big business that makes lots of money. Never forget the reason why you’re building your business.
You mentioned before that one of your newsletters has over 80,000 subscribers, which is fantastic. What was your best strategy (or strategies) for growing this list?
The real key is to identify the places that your target audience congregates online. Once you’ve done that, you just need to find a way to get in front of them, whether that be organically, through social media or from paid advertising.
Once you’ve found a way to get in front of that audience, split-test your opt-in mechanisms ad nauseam. Because my target audience is primarily investors, leveraging platforms such as Google Finance, Bing Finance, Yahoo Finance, StockTwits and Twitter was a natural fit. We’re also using a variety of targeted advertising on other investing websites through co-registration campaigns and Google AdWords to grow our list.
I’m always intrigued by serial entrepreneurs – not because they come up with many business ideas, but because they can actually execute on those ideas. What are some of the business systems and/or automated processes you have in place that allow you juggle multiple projects at once?
My company, American Consumer News, LLC, relies heavily on automation and business systems. Because I am developer by trade, I’ve been able to setup systems which automate significant portions of my business. For example, the daily newsletters issued by Analyst Ratings Network are automatically compiled and sent out to our distribution list every morning.
All of the account creation, management and payment processes relating to Analyst Ratings Network and Lightning Releases are also automated. I also have a half-time employee and a contractor which help out with some of the administrative functions of my business, such as customer service, which free me up to work on my business, rather than in my business.
If there’s any task that has to be repeated at least once per month, I’ll find a way to automate the process or create a standard operating procedure document and assign the task to one of my staff members.
Taking a 6-figure business and growing it to 7-figures is highly impressive, but I find that most people (on a practical level) are interested in how to make their first $1, or first $1,000.
For someone who is just starting out building a blog or website, hoping to monetize it with ad or affiliate revenue, or even their own product, what advice can you offer? I know that’s a loaded question, so I’ll also give it to you more concisely: What advice do you wish someone would have given you when you first started?
The common advice internet marketers provide to new entrepreneurs is to build niche sites, sell kindle e-books, build an app, create a drop-ship e-commerce site, or do affiliate marketing and follow a particular course or method to learn how to do it. I don’t think this is a winning strategy because there are thousands of other entrepreneurs just getting started that are trying to do the same thing and there’s no particular reason that you’ll execute better than anyone else.
Instead, take an inventory of your skills and abilities and develop a business that only you and a very few other people can execute on. For example, I know quite a bit about software development, content distribution, copywriting, payment processing and email marketing, so I built a press release distribution business. If you don’t think you have any marketable skills, go get yourself an education and learn something that others will find valuable.
Looking generally at building an online business: If you had to take your best advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
Remember that your business is what you do, not who you are. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources?
I like Stripe for payment processing, SendGrid for email delivery, ASP.NET Web Forms for software development, ManageWP for website management, StatCounter for analytics, Paint Shop Pro for graphic design and Evernote and RescueTime for productivity tools.
Finally, where can people find you online?
Thanks for sharing your story with us Matthew!
What did you think about Matthew’s journey? Could you ever be a serial entrepreneur? Leave a comment below!
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