How I Turned Arts & Crafts Into A $7M Content Business

Stuart Hochwert
$600K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
46
Employees
Prime Publishing LLC
from Northbrook, IL, USA
started January 2009
$600,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
46
Employees
439K
alexa rank
15.9K
followers
50.2K
followers
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello, my name is Stuart Hochwert and I’m the founder of Prime Publishing LLC. We operate 60+ cooking and crafting websites, communities, and content newsletters, including the popular websites FaveCrafts.com, MrFood.com, and AllFreeCrochet.com.

Our free websites create, aggregate, and review craft projects and recipes, and our email newsletters deliver engaging content to our readers every day. Our goal is to create five minutes of fun for our readers every day. These websites and newsletters are free for the consumer and are advertising supported, like much of the internet, radio, and TV.

We also create premium print and digital books and magazines in knitting, crochet, sewing, recipe, rug hooking, and bird carving content areas. These premium products are sold to consumers directly, through Apple, craft stores, and Amazon. Our digital products have no ads.

We generate more than 30 million monthly pageviews and have more than 3.9 million active email newsletter subscribers.

For our first ten years, we grew revenue by about 28% annually. Our advertising revenues a few years ago were over $10 million. Changes in the advertising-supported digital space have cut our revenues.

This was expected as Google and Facebook began to dominate the online advertising space and ad rates to publishers declined as Google and Facebook made changes impacting the marketplace. These changes are now subject to inquiries from state and federal regulators.

Our decision about 6 years ago was to create premium content that is generally without advertising. Premium content is supported by the consumer through circulation revenue and has been growing quickly. While it does take longer to scale, we are fortunate to have diversified our revenue stream. Today more than 33% of our revenue is premium content.

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

Out of college, I was involved with two successful start-ups but wanted a different experience. So in the 1990s, I went to work for a consumer publishing company focused on Arts and Crafts. The firm was 44 years old and in a wholesome industry. I honed my management skills. I expanded the company. Work and family life balance was good - especially since I had 3 little kids at the time.

There is no substitute for hard work. The harder you work the “luckier” you will get. In my opinion, it will be hard to be successful without hard work and long hours.

I left this wonderful firm in 2000 to launch my third start-up. It was focused on helping large traditional magazines, newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations monetize their emerging website traffic. It was a technology play to show the right offer to the right audience using data analytics.

I sold that firm in 2005 to a group of venture capital firms in New York doing a marketing services roll-up. I began to explore ideas in 2007 and saw that Wal-Mart was adding more craft space to their stores and national chains like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s were quickly expanding. Yet, the print publishers in the Arts and Crafts space were seeing circulation declines. My theory was that “eyeballs” were moving online.

So I began to develop a plan to create a great free website focused on Arts and Crafts. We would have three pillars: great content, an email newsletter to promote engagement, and a community aspect to help with questions, tips, and ideas. And FaveCrafts.com was born.

A typical print special interest magazine came out 4-6 times per year and had 20-30 projects or articles per issue. So in a year, a consumer got 100-150 project ideas. We launched with 500 project ideas and we now have over 275,000 crafts and recipes for consumers to enjoy. We add about 200-500 new articles per week! Once we had our business model proven with the first website we launched 38 additional cooking and crafting websites in 7 years. We were busy and grew quickly.

Take us through the process of building that first website.

We first did keyword research - what articles would readers want to see on a website? We then looked for content creators in the areas we sought such as crochet, knitting, sewing, and Christmas crafts. Once we had the content coming in we looked at a CMS - Content Management System.

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Here's an example of one of our early articles, published in 2009. Back in 2009 consumers generally had slow internet speeds, no smartphones and large images were frowned upon. And no videos of course!

What is working today might not work tomorrow. You need to move fast.

I am a big believer in doing a few things well and buying everything else “around the corner.” We decided we would build our own CMS so we could tie in so many data points into one database and create the best user experience. CMS systems at the time did not fill our minimum requirements.

Our premium sites now use a custom version of WordPress. The Wordpress CMS has come very far and has so many options. I often wonder if we made the best decision for our advertising-supported websites to build our own CMS. We debate that regularly.

Once we had content and a CMS we needed to execute a marketing plan - how do we drive consumers to our website? We knew we would focus on paid and organic traffic.

We hired an SEO (search engine optimization) firm that had a great client roster and terminated them a few weeks later. They were suggesting tactics that did not sit well with me. They assured me, “everyone is doing this.” A few years later Google would state that these practices were not allowed and not only banned the practices but punished many websites for using “black hat” practices. So it was good we never engaged with these practices. We just built our organic website traffic the old-fashioned way with good content. There is a saying, “Content is king, and linking is queen.” So we just got top people to create great content for us and then others linked to us because we had good content. It is not easy, it is not fast, but it is the best way to drive organic traffic.

Paid marketing was a lot of trial and error. It still is today. What worked for a year might stop. What is working today might not work tomorrow. You need to move fast. We have used search, social media, affiliate programs, and more since our first year. We typically work directly with thousands of companies and sites every year.

Describe the process of launching the site.

I wanted to be able to work anywhere and not have any local hardware or files. So we built systems that were all cloud-based. It is common today, far less so in 2009.

The first step was reaching out to my former CTO. After selling my prior firm they moved all programming offshore and closed down the USA tech team. So I knew great people who could assist me in launching my new website. We would meet weekly and create the technology launch plan. It took about 6 months to build and go live.

Once we had the site design roughed out it was time to add content. I emailed about 10 people whom I had researched online, knew personally, or even met once. Just one person responded. She was my first freelancer and was well known in the craft arena. She reached out to companies and designers to get us arts and crafts projects. Content is king!

Once we had some projects coming in I hired an editor. My first editor had worked for me before but had gone back to school to get a master’s degree at a prestigious university in Europe. She emailed me to see if I would be a reference for her as she was looking for work locally in Europe. The timing worked out perfectly with our content goals, and I knew she was awesome and had a matching skill set. So, I asked if she would be interested in a remote editor position and she accepted. We would speak almost every day at 8 AM, which was at the end of her day.

Once we had 500 projects online in the categories we deemed essential we launched our website. As we launched new websites 500 projects or recipes was our minimum. Today most of our sites have 10,000-20,000+ projects or recipes per site. In total, we have added about 275,000 cooking and crafting articles since we started.

The business was financed by me. Although in 2009 the economy and stock market were dealing with the Great Recession so it was not the perfect time to start a business. Or maybe it was the best time! Who knows?

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Email Marketing

Email marketing is a key source of site traffic for us. Half of our website traffic comes from our email subscribers, and we constantly innovate new ideas to keep them engaged.

A list-based template works wonders for most of our email newsletters. This format is engaging and drives visitors to our websites. Consumers like lists - The Top 10 of This, The Best 25 of That, etc. We use A/B testing to improve our efforts and evolve alongside the interests of our audience.

how-i-turned-arts-crafts-into-a-7m-content-business

Our goal is to have prospective new subscribers visit our website, enjoy our content and then sign up for one email newsletter. After the consumer signs up for one email newsletter, we send a confirmation email to the supplied email address and verify that the email is valid and they want to sign up. If they click the link in the confirmation email they are shown our other 60+ newsletters and many pick a few more. If they do not click the email link we do not add them to our database.

We gain new email subscribers through a variety of marketing efforts. Our paid efforts include Facebook ads, search engines like Google and Microsoft, direct sales to related sites, and co-op mailings.

Internal efforts include cross-promotional email mailings and sign-up features on our websites. We update and test these site features often to improve conversion rates.

We send out about 8-9 million email newsletters every day. These only go to active subscribers - those that have clicked or opened a newsletter in the past 30 or 60 days.

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SEO

We also leverage SEO and social media to earn website traffic.

Our biggest SEO successes come from creating great content that aligns with strong keywords. Focusing on niche topics where we have high topic authority works well for us. For example, answering crafting questions like, “What glue works best on felt? has been an SEO win for our crafting site, FaveCrafts.com.

To find these niche topics, we use tools like Moz to identify keywords or groups of keywords. We utilize search volume, CTR, and difficulty scores as a first step to see if the keyword will send us traffic and to see if we can compete with Google. We also review the SERP (search engine results page) itself, including the competitors and the types of content. You can learn a lot by doing a simple Google search for your target keyword!

A crucial part of reviewing the SERP is ensuring that you have a good searcher intent match between your target keyword and the content you want to create. For example, a few years ago we wrote an article for RecipeLion.com about vintage cooking and recipes. We chose “old fashioned recipes” as the target keyword.

We should have looked at the SERP for that keyword before creating the article. A Google search for “old fashioned recipes” returns recipes for the whiskey cocktail. Because of the searcher intent mismatch, our vintage recipe collection never ranked for that keyword. We updated it shortly thereafter to target another term.

Content updates are another significant part of our SEO strategy, even when there’s no specific SEO mistake (like choosing the wrong keyword) to correct. The time investment for content updates is often less than creating a new piece of content. Several of our websites are over 10 years old at this point, so there is plenty of opportunities to refresh and repurpose older pages for higher SEO value.

We might optimize the page for additional or different keywords, add updated information, add new high-quality photos, incorporate videos or infographics, or make other changes to give the page more value to our readers and for SEO.

Pinterest

We also earn a lot of traffic from Pinterest and regularly test new pin designs on that platform. We use Canva to create most of our pins and will often create several pins for one piece of content.

Then we’ll analyze the results and repeat the successes. Once we discover a pin template that is successful for one of our web properties, we can repeat it across the rest of them.

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

Our first and largest business unit is primarily advertising-supported, and so changes to our traffic channels keep us on our toes. As email providers like Gmail, Yahoo and Microsoft become stricter with inbox placement, we have to work to ensure that our mailing strategies are smart and our content is excellent. The key is engagement.

Send consumers what they want and stop sending when they cease to engage. If a consumer is not opening our crochet newsletter after 30 days we stop sending it to them daily. We don’t know if they don’t like us anymore, no longer want to crochet, or don’t have the time. So we may send weekly for a few more weeks and then stop sending altogether.

Changes to Google search also impact our site traffic and business. Algorithm updates can have positive or negative effects, and we manage those by creating the best possible content for our readers. However, the increased occurrence of zero-click searches and search results that direct users to Google-owned properties are a concern. This means less organic traffic for publishers across an increasing number of industries. You likely see this all the time.

As an example, you do a Google search and you get your answer at Google. No need to visit the original content creator’s website. So this is a challenge. The content creator pays for content creation but Google gets the advertising revenue. Hence, there are a variety of antitrust and legal reviews underway to look at many practices.

So, with those challenges in mind, we are adapting to make our content strategy better than ever. We’re launching new email newsletter titles to share better and more specific content with our readers. We’re creating content more strategically and focusing on earning backlinks to improve our Google rankings.

Six years ago we knew the advertising-supported model would likely be challenged. So we bought a premium print book and magazine company and launched paid digital premium content. This year we added We Like Sewing to our premium magazine offerings, alongside I Like Knitting and I Like Crochet. We also have a virtual events business and host popular free and paid virtual crafting classes several times per year. We are looking at in-person consumer craft shows for 2023.

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

There is no substitute for hard work. There is no substitute for wisdom.

Hard work is what it is. The harder you work the “luckier” you will get. In my opinion, it will be hard to be successful without hard work and long hours.

Wisdom comes from always looking to improve. There are books, industry newsletters, trade shows, consultants, and more. We use them all - we don’t know everything. I make it a point to learn every day and make sure all staff is required to attend ongoing training.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our CMS and email platform are custom-built by Cindur, our technology partner. We use those products the most for creating the content that we share with our readers.

As I mentioned above, our editorial department uses Canva for creating graphics. Moz is the main SEO software that we use, and we analyze site traffic using Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Company-wide, we use Microsoft Office 365 and Teams, and Zoom to meet and collaborate with colleagues. Our sales team uses Salesforce. Our accounting department uses Quickbooks. Payroll is handled by Paylocity.

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

I am a fan of Steven Covey and his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I like his 7 Habits and his Quadrants Matrix. Dale Carnegie also has a great book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Covey focuses on being proactive. Always learn. Look at the other point of view. And so many other simple wonders.

I think so many people spend so much of their time putting out fires. If you simply worked a bit harder and spent an hour doing something it would save 10 hours down the road.

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

I think it is easier than ever to start a business online. The barriers to entry are low. The cost of software and hardware is very low. The need to enhance productivity and/or find a better way is vitally important.

Of course, the costs and barriers are not universally low. If you wanted to start an e-commerce site to compete against Amazon, launch a social media site to compete against Facebook, or a search engine to compete against Google, the barriers are likely extremely high.

But the opportunity to start has never been easier. The opportunity to grow very fast has also never been easier.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always accepting resumes from digital media professionals and content enthusiasts. Learn more on our Careers page.

We also love to collaborate with talented creators and bloggers. If you write about crafting topics or have a craft blog, learn how you can work with us here.

Where can we go to learn more?

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

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Stuart Hochwert, Founder of Prime Publishing LLC
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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