On Starting An Online Magazine To Build A Personal Brand

Filip Poutintsev
Honest Pros & Cons
started October 2019
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Filip Poutintsev, a long-time entrepreneur, who has been in the online business for over 10 years. The current business I’m being interviewed about is an online magazine Honest Pros and Cons. This business is not actually about money, but about building recognizable online media.

I have made a lot of money from my previous business ventures, mostly affiliate marketing, and cryptocurrencies, so I can now focus on things for other reasons than money.

For me, it’s important to share my knowledge and opinions, because quite frankly I think it will help many. There are a lot of things people do wrong for example in business and I want to help them. I want to influence what people do and think, to me besides making money this is the second most important reason to get out of bed in the morning.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started my business with affiliate marketing, which I was doing for nearly 10 years. In the beginning, I was doing SMS marketing, but since it was already the 2010s, the golden age of email marketing had passed. But with the introduction of smartphones, other marketing channels such as WhatsApp and Viber messages, as well as SMS marketing were born.

SMS turned out to be a very successful marketing channel, mostly because it didn’t have such a negative reaction to marketing as email has today. The click rate was over 10% on completely non-targeted lists, which is amazing. It was also very easy to get phone numbers. With emails, there's an endless amount of possible emails, but with phone numbers, there are typically 100 million available numbers for a country with a 10 million population. Therefore it was relatively easy to clean them. We simply ran WhatsApp software to check all those numbers in bulk and got a database of real people who use smartphones.

With this method during the few years, I managed to get a database of 80 million high-quality mobile phone numbers. Soon after I started doing this other people discovered my success and started to do the same. At this point, the industry became so competitive that it was not profitable to continue anymore. ROI on a typical campaign dropped from 100-200% to only 30% and on many campaigns, it was hard to make any profit at all.

This was a time when I decided to quit affiliate marketing and to do something more interesting. An idea of a personal brand came up to me when I started consulting other companies.

For a few recent years, I’ve been focusing on building my personal brand. I started with a blog on Medium.com and with the help of social media was growing it. However, I noticed that even if you don’t talk about political subjects the censorship will still harm you, as many platforms these days censor content quite wildly, and in addition to deleting it, they also often implement other techniques such as hiding it from the feed of your subscribers. Which is something you will not even notice at first.

Thus after realizing that if I’m going to be at the mercy of other companies, I’m never going to achieve my goals, I decided to focus on my own website. Luckily Google currently censors content only based on political and ideological reasons and does not interfere in personal opinions in general as social media sites do. Thus, for as long as I would not touch any hot subject I should be fine.

Information is power and media companies possess most of the power. Just take a recent example: A privately owned US company can silence the President of the United States. If you had told that to people 20 years ago, no one would believe you, but today it’s a reality. The world has changed and the power has shifted. Thus for me, it’s a logical step to put my energy into the media industry and do my best there.

Describe the process of the business.

Running an online publication is actually a very straightforward process. You basically need two things: content and visibility.

For content, you hire writers who produce it. It may take some time to find good people, but after that, there are no surprises in this sector. For me, it’s important to produce part of the content myself, but it’s mandatory for everybody.

At this point, we publish 1-2 articles per day. Around ⅓ of the content, I produce myself, and ⅔ is written by other writers. I write about topics I like and feel important to talk about. The rest of the content is produced with SEO in mind. I do keywords research myself and find keywords with low difficulty and relatively high volume. The list of keywords is then given to the writer who writes an article about the topic using those keywords. This will allow us to maximize the traffic in the near future.

Visibility is a harder part. You need to focus heavily on SEO so that people will find you in the first place. For SEO you also need content, but you also need backlinks, and preferably quality backlinks.

Backlink building is an everyday process where you contact different websites, push them your content and try to make them backlink to you. Of course, you should hire people for that, but they need to be managed, as it’s not an easy task. This process never ends, as there are never too many backlinks pointing to your website, and unless your site is at least in the Top 1000 websites, there’s still a lot of things to do.

Asking other websites to link to you is a very ineffective method. Most people don’t want to link to you, and the majority of those that want will still ask for money from you. Thus paying for backlinks is a very good alternative. However, it can get very expensive very fast, as most good websites ask hundreds of dollars per link.

Backlink building is the part that takes most of my time, energy, and money, but it’s also most important, as, without it, no one will find the website.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

With online magazines it’s not about how much money you make, it’s about how popular it is. Currently, we only make $1000 from ads per month, which is nothing and only covers the expenses. But if you judge by a different scale we 100,000 unique readers per month. This is a good achievement if you consider that the website has been operating only for a bit over a year.

You don’t have to invent anything to make money. All it takes is to buy a product cheap and sell it high. Many businessmen tend to overthink, and it does only harm.

We plan to reach such a large user volume, that our name will be recognizable, first by people in our industry and later by the public.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I learned a lot about SEO, which I have been ignoring for the previous 10 years while doing another type of online marketing. The thing with SEO is that it’s extremely slow and hard. If you want to make a lot of money fast, SEO is not the way to go, so I was never interested in it. But I’m actually happy that I finally learned about this area as well. There are a lot of benefits to SEO, the biggest is that the results are very long-term.

If you work hard for a few years, you can then make almost passive income, with a minimal amount of work. This is not possible for any other media channel on the Internet.

Another thing is that, while SEO is not effective for making money, it's an effective tool for spreading your opinion and getting high-quality online exposure, so one should understand when to focus on it.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I don’t read books about business, since usually when they come out, the ideas are already outdated. The best resources are online magazines, usually, searching the topic on Google you are interested in will bring a lot of valuable information.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

This is out-of-the-box advice that I never hear from anyone else: The competition is huge in most industries, so instead of doing what everyone else does try to find opportunities that others are not seeing. The biggest stupidity I hear is entrepreneurs saying “this industry is worth 100 billion dollars if we can get 1% of that” You won’t. You won’t get anything. There’s a too big competition, and other competitors are so ahead of you, that you will never catch them.

Instead of going after billion-dollar industries, go after a 10 million dollar industry, and try to dominate it completely. It will be a lot easier since the competition there is easy and the current industry leader most likely has not innovated in the last 10 years. So dominate that industry and try to grow it, make a next big hit.

Another piece of advice is to set your priorities straight. A lot of people want to make an impact and change the world while making a lot of money in the process. The probability for that to happen is tiny. “If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.” It’s wiser to concentrate on one goal, achieve it first, and then concentrate on another, then trying to do everything at once. 99% of businesses don’t change the world and do any impact, other than making their owner rich. You don’t have to invent anything to make money. All it takes is to buy a product cheap and sell it high. Many businessmen tend to overthink, and it does only harm.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Anyone who can help me with SEO, mostly building quality backlinks is welcomed. Though I know quite a lot about SEO myself, so I'm not interested in the agencies that look for easy clients who they can overcharge.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Filip Poutintsev, Founder of Honest Pros & Cons
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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