I Turned A Failing Startup Idea Into A Successful E-Book Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Erin Mooney and I run MadeUrban, a blog for small business owners selling handmade products. My audience sells their crafts through craft shows, Etsy, a website, and/or retailers. I provide them with advice for each step they must take along the way. And I like to do so in an easy-to-understand and easy-to-follow way, with outside-the-box concepts they haven’t already read about on hundreds of other blogs.
I have also written seven ebooks, which provide a more start to finish guide on specific topics, such as starting a handmade business legally, selling at craft fairs, finding a profitable target market, etc.
I’ve grown Made Urban’s revenue year after year since launching my first ebook in 2016. However, the 2020’s pandemic threw a wrench in my growth plan, as much of my traffic and ebook sales were focused on the topic of selling at craft fairs.
As events start to open back up in 2021, and with a slight pivot to my strategy, I’m almost back to what my average monthly revenue was pre-Covid, and I currently earn between $5000 - $8000 per month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In 2005 I felt stuck in my career as a Regional Visual Merchandiser for a major retailer and was using sewing as a creative outlet outside of work. I started selling some of my products at craft shows and did so for several years. As a handmade business owner, I had heard about Etsy but thought it was a local website. When I checked it out and realized I would be competing with vendors from around the world, I felt overwhelmed. That’s when the first idea for Made Urban was born in 2010.
Made Urban was initially an online marketplace for selling handmade goods locally. I often described it as “Etsy-meets-Kijiji”. I spent several years and thousands of dollars trying to build a website that could rival Etsy.
I tried everything to get the platform growing locally before branching out. I handed out postcards at local craft fairs, emailed every local crafter I could find, was featured on the news, radio, and in newspapers, worked on SEO (search engine optimization), and marketed on every social media platform I could.
In my effort to attract more traffic, I wrote several articles on the topic of selling at craft fairs. Somehow, those articles caught wind on Pinterest and I started to see more and more traffic to the website’s blog page. But it wasn’t translating into people signing up to sell on Made Urban’s marketplace, or into people buying from the few sellers I did have.
I felt like I was paddling upstream. That is until I finally recognized what was working on; the blog.
I had a constant flow of traffic to the blog side of the site, with very little effort. I simply wrote articles answering questions I had when I first started my handmade business and selling at craft shows. The content resonated with others and they were sharing my articles on Pinterest and telling fellow makers about my blog.
So I shifted my focus to growing the blog and eventually came up with the idea of writing an ebook. This opened a whole new world for me, and I started to realize the potential a blog and digital product had. I also crunched the numbers and realized, if just 1% of my blog traffic purchased an ebook, I would be making some decent revenue.
That shift took a huge weight off my shoulders. I started to enjoy working on my business again, had less stress, and finally started to see my path to financial success.
So take us through the process of pivoting to the blog.
It took me about 4 months to write my first ebook; Make More Money at Craft Fairs. I wanted to be sure I was offering information people couldn’t find for free on the Internet. Now that I have the experience and a template to follow, I write ebooks much faster.
When I launched Make More Money at Craft Fairs, I sent out an email blast to a couple of thousand of my subscribers. I also had thousands of people visiting my blog each day from Pinterest, so I was expecting big sales.
When I first launched Made Urban as an online handmade marketplace, I made every mistake you could make.
I made around $50 the day I launched that first ebook, and only a few hundred dollars that month. It was a huge letdown based on my expectations, but it was revenue nonetheless and I had proven I could sell a product. Sales continued to trickle in day after day and month after month, without much effort.
Since that first ebook launch, I’ve realized, you can’t just send one email. You need to set up an email sequence to sell your product. And you can’t be worried about bothering people. You will lose newsletter subscribers during a launch, but those people were never going to buy from you anyways.
It’s been over 5 years since I launched Make More Money at Craft Fairs and I’ve sold close to 5,000 copies of that ebook alone. I invested a few months of my time to write the ebook, and a few hundred dollars to have a cover designed. It’s since become much faster for me to write ebooks, but it’s also important I don’t rush the process. I like to find a unique angle for each ebook’s topic and communicate my concepts in creative ways that evoke “aha” moments.
I’ve purchased plenty of ebooks and online courses from “gurus” that have left me thinking “that’s it?”. I know that’s not what I want to put out into the world. The majority of my customers come back and purchase additional ebooks, so I take that as a sign I’m providing good value.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching the original Made Urban platform was much different than re-launching the site as a blog.
When I first launched Made Urban as an online handmade marketplace, I made every mistake you could make. I didn’t listen to my gut when it told me I was hiring the wrong people, I tried to incorporate too much from the start, I was naive and believed that if I built it, they would come, and didn’t challenge my ideas or listen to critical feedback. I also applied for a business loan and went into a lot of debt to build a robust platform. Probably worst of all, I ignored SEO. I had a site that was poorly structured code-wise, which meant it was slow and wasn’t being picked up by search engines.
When I shifted directions, things were much simpler and moved much smoother. I spent less than $5000 to have the site rebuilt to remove 90% of the functionality and change the structure without losing any traffic. There was a big emphasis on building light and quick sites that would help me grow my organic traffic. I started writing more content with SEO in mind and implementing more signup forms to grow my newsletter list.
If I could go back and tell 2010, Erin, what to do before launching Made Urban for the first time, it would be to focus on one thing, do it well, get proof of concept, then invest more. Don’t try to do it all and/or have it all from the start. I don’t think I would have listened, but it would have been solid advice nonetheless.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
My main marketing channels are my newsletter, Pinterest, and SEO.
My Pinterest account has grown pretty organically. I did use pin scheduling apps for a while (Board Booster (which has shut down) and Tailwind) but have found they’re no longer worth the cost for me.
Growth on Pinterest was a lot easier 5 years ago. Now, I believe they place more importance on their users being active regularly on their platform and contributing new content (as opposed to a program automatically repinning the same content over and over). So I do my best to create 1 or 2 new pins each week and log in each day to browse my home feed and repin other people’s content.
When it comes to SEO, two online courses have helped me grow my organic traffic: Stupid Simple SEO (by Mike Pearson) and The Fat Stacks bundle (by Jon Dykstra). Each month I try to improve a couple of old articles by making them better suited for search engines and write several new articles for search engines.
I don’t just want my customers’ money; I want my advice to help them. I want to provoke “aha” moments, spark inspiration, and provide tools that will improve small businesses.
I wish I would have started a newsletter sooner, as well as spent more time on SEO. Those marketing channels give me the best conversion rates.
“A pin that went viral in the early days & still brings me traffic”.
Every quarter I delete thousands of cold subscribers to clean up my list and ensure it’s full of engaged subscribers. But even with doing so, I maintain close to 20,000 subscribers and have high conversion rates. I believe the key to my success when it comes to my newsletter is, I put my readers’ agenda first, not mine. What outcome do they want? What do they want to hear about this week? What would be helpful to them? This has helped me create signup forms, freebies, and subject lines that get results.
In the past couple of years, I’ve put more and more effort into search engine optimization. It takes much longer to see results, but it’s worth it. Social media can provide some glamorous numbers quickly, but those readers aren’t as engaged and the platforms tend to make it harder and harder to reach your audience without paying.
I retain my readers, subscribers, and customers by providing good content. I don’t just want my customers’ money; I want my advice to help them. I want to provoke “aha” moments, spark inspiration, and provide tools that will improve small businesses. I think that motivation is what helps me to provide valuable content.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Although I went into debt to launch the first version of Made Urban, and that version was not profitable, I’m happy that today’s Made Urban is profitable. I invest in training and website improvements to keep up with Google updates and have minimal expenses. As I develop more systems, study my numbers, and reduce my bottom line, the website requires less and less of my time while revenue and profits increase.
I plan to continue working on search engine optimization and increase my traffic. A good portion of my revenue comes from ads on my blog, so the traffic growth not only helps me sell more ebooks, but it also increases ad revenue. I also plan to write more ebooks that will be helpful guides for my readers.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The most important lesson I’ve learned is to find my path to success. I often thought someone else out there had all the answers or knew better than me. I paid for a lot of online courses and hired a lot of people that didn’t leave me in a much better position. I do believe in education, but I think it’s important to take everything with a grain of salt and to apply the advice in a way that works for you and your business.
I also think it’s important to honor who you are as an entrepreneur and your strengths. I’m an introvert and am not big on doing TV or radio interviews, podcasts, speaking at events, etc. In the beginning, I said yes to every opportunity, no matter how much I was going to dread it. Now I feel okay turning down opportunities that don’t feel right for me because I know, if my heart’s not in it, I won’t get the results I want anyways.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I try to keep my expenses low but will spend money if it saves me time, as well as frustration. I use Convertkit for my newsletter, SendOwl to sell my ebooks, and Piktochart to design my graphics.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I love Seth Godin’s books, in particular, The Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside. I also really enjoyed Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, as well as Contagious by Jonah Berger.
I’ve invested in several online courses over the years, but by far, the ones that stand out (and that I’ve completed) are B-School by Marie Forleo (Copy Cure was also really helpful for effective writing) and Stupid Simple SEO by Mike Pearson.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I believe one of the most important first steps a business owner should take (but that most skip), is to find a good target market. I wrote an ebook on the topic, that’s how important I think it is (ebook: How to Find a Goldmine of Customers).
Unless you have an unlimited budget, you can’t build a business for everyone. You have to find a specific group of people that will be willing to spend money on your product/service.
When you find a profitable target market, get to know them. Then, keep them in mind each step of the way. It’s so easy to forget about the customer and put your goals first. But to reach your goals, you have to first help your customers reach theirs.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Made Urban has provided an update on their business!
6 months ago, we followed up with Made Urban to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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