Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! We’re Dave, Cynthia, and Michelle from Blue Oceans Green Earth. We launched the site to promote eco-friendly alternatives to plastic items. What started out as a part-time experiment became a brand in less than a year.
It wasn’t smooth sailing. Along the way, we lost our souls and almost shut them down. Having a team saved the business and we are currently aiming for $500 in monthly revenue.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Cyn and I (Dave) started the site as an extension of our plastic reduction lifestyle. We are not eco-warriors but we did make the personal decision to cut back on plastic because less than 10% of it is recycled.
During the pandemic's slowdown, I was thinking about launching an affiliate marketing website. We’ve all read stories about how lucrative affiliate marketing can be.
After discussing with Cyn we decided to make a hybrid affiliate site, one that had articles about the plastic problem and that featured glass food container products like the ones we used ourselves.
Being in the game is the only way to improve your game.
Our goal at that point was to gain some experience with affiliate marketing, promote plastic alternatives, and see if the site could pay its way with affiliate revenue.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
With the concept in mind, we needed a name. We thought glass food containers were better than plastic and came up with the name Glass is Better.
The .com was available and $9 later we had a name. With a web admin background, it was easy for me to spin up a WordPress site and in no time we had an empty site online.
For the site design, I used a 10-year-old, stock WordPress theme since it was uncomplicated and free. By luck, that theme included a banner image of a pristine shoreline that reinforced our plastic pollution message.
I was already hosting other websites so adding glass better to the lineup cost us nothing.
The next stop was to add it to Google and Bing Webmaster tools to make them aware of our existence. It didn’t matter that the site was empty because it takes time for the search engines to trust new sites, especially Google.
We didn’t bother with an LLC or incorporation because it wasn't needed at this point.
The total cost to this point was 3 hours of my time and the $9 domain name.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our launch process was based on a YouTuber’s method of making money with an affiliate site. Using a “content is king” strategy we would (according to him) eventually gain Google search traffic and start to make money.
The plan was to write 30 product review posts before expecting any traction. We would evaluate the Google search results and make keyword and content tweaks as necessary.
We didn’t know it at the time but this strategy is obsolete. Later we learned that two-thirds of Google searches end without a click.
Oblivious to this headwind, we hired two VAs to research and write the posts.
Content marketing like this is SEO-driven, meaning heavy keyword research. For that, I subscribed to a professional keyword research tool for $359.
Besides getting work done, having a team would save us from shutting down a few months later; more on that to come.
By September 2021 we had a mix of posts on the site and joined the Amazon affiliate program, which marked our launch.
Sales would randomly appear leading into the Christmas shopping season but nothing steady. When they did appear, our affiliate commissions ranged from the 10-cent practical joke to a more reasonable $2.
One benefit to the Amazon program is earning a commission no matter what a shopper buys after going there from your site. We noticed that many visitors would click through and proceed to buy inexpensive products unrelated to our carefully researched product review posts.
That kind of ROI and purchase intent disconnect was something to keep an eye on considering that each blog post cost us $65 to $85 to produce.
We’ll make it up in volume.
Building awareness of the plastic problem became an afterthought to churning out more and more product review posts; we were losing our souls.
After Christmas things ground to a halt. Sometimes a week or more would pass with no site traffic, never mind a sale. If I were writing the content myself, it would have been over right there. I could not have stayed motivated to continue.
This happened to me in 2012 with an aviation podcast I launched. Week after week of planning the shows, interviewing people, and editing the episodes, with slow listener growth and no path to monetization in sight.
Having a team kept us going.
Cyn felt we had wandered away from our core purpose of building awareness of the plastic problem. She was right.
Michelle, our VA was doing a great job and we felt loyal to her. An employee, even part-time, is a different relationship and commitment than a contractor.
Having a team also meant I didn’t have to do all the work myself, unlike with the podcast.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Rebranding and realignment with our initial purpose turned the corner for us.
Our traffic was coming from just two keyword topics. I removed all posts not related to them, which amounted to half the posts.
That was about $1000 of work down the drain but it was necessary to reframe our focus back to our original intent. This has worked well as half the site visitors now come for our educational content.
Our Glass is Better name and niche turned out to be a straight jacket. Rebranding to Blue Oceans Green Earth has given us room to cover more eco-friendly products.
- We hired a Fiverr logo designer to create the logo ($65).
- Moved the site to a full-service, high-performance web hosting company. ($29/mo).
- Changed the site messaging to center around the plastic problem. $0
- Adopted a new site design. For that, I sketched what I wanted on my iPad and hired a contractor to make it in WordPress. That cost about $150.
- Built link and list building into our operations.
The current website started as this.
Link and List building strategy.
We use this strategy to get links without having to ask for them directly.
Every week Cyn sources an eco-friendly product to be featured on our home page as our Product of the Week.
The sole criterion for it is that it must be an eco-friendly plastic alternative. Affiliate potential is not the main consideration. We tend to favor small businesses because we are one and because small works better for connecting with other human beings.
Once the weekly product is on the homepage we send them an email explaining that we featured their product on our website.
We don’t ask for anything or include any links and I use my email instead of the company email.
Here’s an example. The outreach email is below the response.
If we get a link in return that’s great. If not then we have still provided site visitors with an eco-friendly product to consider and created worthwhile site content.
Incorporating the link-building strategy into routine operations ensures that it gets done.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As I write this in August 2022 it seems like we’ve been at this for years, yet the first Glass is Better post was just one year ago in September of 2021.
The rebrand and link-building strategy is working and the Google invisibility cloak lifted a while back. While not profitable yet, sales are growing.
With Blue Oceans Green Earth we came back to build a brand and it has made a huge difference.
Looking ahead, we’d like to balance our revenue channels by selling our products and earning sponsor revenue from featured products.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I would have more carefully considered the products we were going to promote to see if they were worth doing. Featuring commodity glass products, also sold by mega-retailers, wasn’t a stroke of genius.
Don’t lose your soul. Rebranding around our plastic reduction message has helped. It’s a constant motivator since we live it, it’s intrinsically worthwhile, it’s a core value for the brand, and it’s a large enough niche to move around in.
Finally, as incomplete as it was, we started. That was the foundation for everything else.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
To source our VAs I use the Filipino job board onlinejobs.ph. What I like about this board is that once you have hired someone you can be done with the platform itself and integrate your new person into your native workflow.
We use ConvertKit for email automation. It is easy to learn, has templates, and allows a custom domain name (blueoceansgreenearth.com) as the source of the email newsletter. That’s very important to getting the newsletter past email spam filters.
Wise (formerly TransferWise). For paying VAs overseas. Lowest fees, multiple forms of payment (ACH, credit card, PayPal, etc.), payment tracking, and a simple user interface.
KWfinder. A keyword research tool we used in the Glass is Better phase. Tools like this save time versus manually researching keywords. After the Blue Oceans shift in focus we discontinued that subscription and now use free tools such as WordTracker or WordStream.
YouTube. In my opinion, YouTube is the best method of being discovered and connecting with people. Unlike feed-based social media platforms, YouTube content is always there working for you. It’s also a level playing field for small channels since YouTube favors what is most likely to be watched instead of who has paid the most to be seen.
WordPress. We use it because I have a long history with it. If we were starting from scratch it would be just one of several options I would consider.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
My influencers are the startup mastermind group I belong to and the experience that comes with growing a business. I listen to The Bigger Narrative podcast - “How CEOs wield strategic narrative to drive success across their companies…”
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Start, learn from actual results, and adapt.
For sure, glassisbetter didn’t work. But that’s okay! We started it, it didn’t break the bank, and it spawned Blue Oceans Green Earth. Being in the game is the only way to improve your game.
Start a Youtube channel. It’s not hard to do, age doesn’t matter, and it’s a great way to build a community. Unlike feed-driven social media platforms, YouTube content is always working for you as a means of discovery or even monetization. Do it! (Speaking from personal experience; I have an established channel not related to Blue Oceans Green Earth.)
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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