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During COVID-19 I Acquired More Websites For My Portfolio [$70K MRR]

Garth Adams
Founder, I Know The Pilot
I Know The Pilot
from Melbourne
started May 2016
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Hi, I’m Garth Adams, founder of I Know The Pilot and I Want That Flight. We send airfare and accommodation deals to our subscribers daily through I Know The Pilot and compare airfares on I Want That Flight. By owning two related sites in the travel space, we have kept the newsletter free while being a profitable business.

I posted our last update roughly a year ago. It talked about the business pre-Covid and what it was like running a travel company during lockdowns and closed borders (both international and domestic here in Australia). Since then, travel has been slowly coming back as vaccinations have been rolled out and travel restrictions gradually eased.

Revenue is now at 70,000 a month and climbing. However, a significant part of that is entirely unrelated to travel. Instead, it is from sites that I bought or developed from scratch to diversify my income in industries that were untouched by the pandemic.

Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

In the first stages of the pandemic, I was swamped migrating my sites from fixed-cost servers and services over to pay-per-use equivalents. This took several months, but once it was done I could start looking around for a way to support my family until travel recovered - which at that point looked at least a year away.

I have owned sudoku.com.au since the early 2000s. It makes a steady income through ads and combined with my experience running travel sites, I decided I would be most comfortable buying and operating sites that made money through display ads and affiliates.

There are many places to buy sites, and they can be broken into roughly 3 groups, each with its pros & cons. Over the next year, I purchased sites from each group.

Brokerages: These are the safest way to buy sites. They conduct due diligence, so you are unlikely to be outright scammed. The flip side of this is that they are the most expensive. You pay for the safety, and also, sites are more likely to be already fully optimized so there are rarely opportunities to increase revenue or traffic quickly.

Examples: empireflippers.com, investors.club

Flippa: Flippa.com is the giant in space. They have many new listings daily and cover many business types (e.g.: Content sites, FBA, eCommerce & more). Because there are so many listings, you can set your criteria, and if there is nothing today, there will probably be something tomorrow. Flippa facilitates the sale (including escrow), but that’s it. There are many, many ways to get scammed on Flippa and I’ll go into a few of those later.

Facebook Groups: This is the real wild-west. Individuals post traffic and revenue numbers without the site URL, and it is up to you to contact them directly and verify everything. There are genuine bargains in these groups, but having to contact owners to find out the most basic details can take up a lot of your time.

When you are in the market to buy a site, you need to have a clear idea of what you are looking for. Price range, business type, revenue, traffic sources - once these are set you will save a lot of time.

You also need to have a fast way of evaluating sites. Often, bargains can be snapped up within hours of listing, so you need to be able to check lots of sites quickly each day, so you don’t miss them.

Scams to watch out for? If the site makes money through the Amazon affiliate program, the seller may have placed their affiliate code on more than one site. So the revenue they show you could be from multiple sites, not just the one being sold. Once the sale has gone through, they can remove the affiliate tags from their other sites, and your profit drops. The best way to detect this is to see if bumps in revenue match the bump in traffic.

Artificially high traffic: This can be faked by buying bot traffic and fooling Google Analytics into reporting higher numbers. You can usually spot Bot traffic through very high “direct” traffic. The seller can add the GA code twice to their site, and the reported page views will double. This can be detected by a very low bounce rate, and then verified by checking the HTML of the site pages.


What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

Managing risk and not getting overwhelmed by stress. Online businesses are currently priced at around 3-4 years of profit. Buying a business can have stellar returns, but the risk that the business could suddenly go to zero is very real.

The third site I purchased was for $50,000 from a brokerage site. The sale was almost completed, the money held by the brokerage - when a google algo change took place, and the site’s traffic dropped by 80% overnight. I was fortunate in that the brokerage allowed sales to be canceled for any reason, so I could get my money back. If the deal had been on Flippa I would have just burnt $50k.

Before you begin, be clear on how you intend to market your product.

If you buy enough sites dependent on Google traffic, eventually, an update will hit at least one of them. Through what I believe is careful choosing and no doubt a bit of luck, my sites have generally gone up. Though I had a $10,000 site lose two-thirds of its traffic just six months after buying it (ouch!).

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

I listed my first site for sale in November last year, roughly one year after purchasing it on Flippa. After making significant design changes, the revenue had doubled, and it was listed at 3x times my purchase price on a brokerage.

Once the auction began, I received many inquiries but quickly encountered problems as I had not requested full admin access to Google Analytics from the previous owner. I could view and manage everything - but could not add other viewers while the original admin still had access. It had been my first purchase, and I hadn’t known all the steps to transfer ownership.

I quickly contacted the old owner, but they did not respond, so I could not fix the problem - and that quickly derailed the auction. My sale ended up being canceled due to this small oversight. I already had a long checklist for transferring ownership of sites, and I added this to the list.

Around December last year, I could see that one of the larger sites was adding traffic much faster than the others, and I decided to concentrate my efforts on that site rather than split it between the 10 I had purchased. The website was sitting at 65,000 users a month in December, up from 35,000 when I bought it - but by focusing on it, I hit 325,000 users in July. Revenue has also increased from $500 a month at purchase to over $10,000 monthly.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

Once the high-performing content site hits $18,000 a month, I plan to sell it. I hope to get there in the next six months, so I have developed a plan for consistent growth based on regular new content. I have also planned several changes to the advertising setup, which should also help boost revenue.

Once it is sold, I will turn my attention back to the other sites I purchased & decide whether to invest in them and/or purchase more sites. If travel has returned to previous levels, it may be time to sell up and leave the content space entirely.

There have been lots of updates to the tech behind IKnowThePilot.com.au and IWantThatFlight.com.au. It will be exciting to see these businesses hopefully grow as travel returns.

What’s the best thing you read in the last year?

I’ve been listening to a few podcasts:

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Before you begin, be clear on how you intend to market your product - hopefully using a channel you have experience in or have already built an audience.

Try lots of different ideas and pick winners. Allocate a realistic time and financial budget and review progress regularly. This can apply marketing strategies to entire businesses. If it doesn’t do well, tweak it or shut it down - but if it gets traction, go all in.

Where can we go to learn more?

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

Garth Adams, Founder of I Know The Pilot
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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