Starting A Men's Style Publication Reaching A Million People Per Month
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Brock McGoff, and I run The Modest Man (TMM), a digital media brand dedicated to helping guys dress better and feel more confident, with an emphasis on the man of modest height.
TMM content is created for and published on YouTube, themodestman.com, Instagram and other social media channels.
At the time of writing, TMM reaches almost a million people each month across platforms. YouTube is the “biggest” platform with over 166k subscribers.
In a given month, TMM generates $10-15k revenue from advertising brand partnerships, digital products (an e-book) and affiliate programs. Since there isn’t any inventory or “cost of goods” profit margins are very high.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after college. My dad was an entrepreneur, and I had the spirit, but with no direction. I got a job in marketing/communications and ran a music production side hustle for a while.
I tried my hand at music full time and basically broke even after a year. I read The 4-Hour Work Week and started learning about online business, passive income, WordPress and SEO.
I took a 4HWW style sabbatical in Ecuador and, after building countless niche affiliate sites, finally settled on an idea I could sink my teeth into (and feel good about working on), The Modest Man.
The other sites were mostly based on opportunity. I used keyword and product research to figure out lucrative (but not too competitive) niches for products sold on Amazon, then built “review” type sites around these products.
It was a great way to learn about SEO, WordPress and affiliate marketing, but I wasn’t passionate about any of the sites I was building. This model was an example of doing something just for money, which (in my opinion) isn’t sustainable.
Granted, I got my library of sites earning about $500/month, which was awesome, but after a Google algorithm update tanked some of my rankings, I had no desire to try to build these sites back up. I wanted to sink my teeth into something I cared about.
I was getting more and more into menswear and trying to teach myself how to dress better. There were plenty of great style blogs, but nothing was focusing on me - a smaller guy who has trouble finding clothes that fit.
So I started writing the stuff I would want to read. Luckily, there were lots of other guys who also needed this info. Since no one else is focusing on them, I’m able to develop a special bond that generic style blogs might not have.
For example, after realizing that I couldn’t find anything that fit my 5’5” frame properly off the rack, I started going to the tailor a lot. I had no idea how to get things tailored or how much it would cost, so I learned the hard way - by doing it.
I decided to make these little infographics about getting your clothes tailored, and they got shared tens of thousands of times on Pinterest, Reddit, etc. These graphics and articles about clothing alterations are still some of my best performing pieces. That’s the amazing thing about creating content: it can end up generating revenue for years.
I worked in various tech and digital marketing jobs while building TMM for three years. These jobs paid well, and I learned a lot during this time.
But I always viewed my “day job” as a fundraising activity to fund my entrepreneurial endeavors - never something permanent.
Finally, I left my last 9-to-5 at the end of 2016 and haven’t looked back since!
Take us through the process of creating the website.
I had learned how to build content-based niche sites, and how to monetize these sites through Amazon Associates and Google AdSense, before I started TMM. So by the time I started it, I had a pretty good handle on WordPress, affiliate programs, etc. But I had never made more than $500/month.
I also spent a lot of time learning about SEO, from black hat to white hat. I just wanted to know how it worked. When I started TMM, I found that high-quality content that’s on-page optimized for search will pretty much always get traffic, eventually.
For example, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of articles about watches. Even subtopics like “watches for small wrists” have been covered extensively, but not very thoroughly.
I try to make content that’s very thorough. Think “ultimate guide” type articles. So when I wrote about watches for small wrists, I included 25 watches instead of 5 or 10. I included a sortable table with links, along with an infographic and explanation about sizing. In my opinion, it’s the best article about small watches on the Internet (at least when I wrote it). And Google will always reward you for creating this kind of content.
Coming up with ideas for content isn’t hard. I would just field questions or look at what other more popular sites were doing and add my own spin to it.
For example, if Esquire was ranking for “best jeans” I would write an article about “best jeans for short men” and make it even better than theirs. Add media like original photos and videos. Add infographics. Make an audio version for people who don’t like to read. Make it longer, more entertaining, more concise, easier to scan. Make it better.
It’s a rinse and repeat process that takes a bit of patience, but it pays off in the long run.
Describe the process of launching the business.
My “launch” was just clicking the publish button in WordPress for this article. Not very exciting! I posted about once a week, usually shorter articles. I wasn’t taking pictures or making videos yet, so the articles were pretty boring by today’s standards.
In the first year, I made about $1,200 from Amazon Associates and Google AdSense.
All of the early traffic came from Google. I didn’t really share anything on Facebook because I didn’t tell anyone about the blog. Instagram wasn’t a thing yet, so I wasn’t on there either.
Building an audience from scratch doesn’t have to be a super slow process, but it was for me (mostly because it was a side hustle, and I was somewhat new to the topic of men’s fashion).
Since launch, what has worked to grow the brand?
For the website, it’s simple: creating helpful, in-depth content with solid on-page SEO (here’s my exact process for that part).
On YouTube, it’s a little different. The content should still be helpful, but it helps if it’s also entertaining. Attention spans are much shorter on YouTube. At the very least, a video should be pleasing to watch/listen to (i.e., nice production quality).
My best performing video is this one:
I think it’s just a popular topic that pretty much everyone wants to know about. It’s a solid video, but not my best work. I’ve come a long way, in terms of production!
Here are some of the videos I’m most proud of:
- Subscription Boxes for Men (my opinion)
- The Best Clothing Colors for Men | Why You Should Wear Neutral Colors
- 8 Fall Outfit Ideas for Men | Casual Fall Lookbook
These videos are honest, and the production is pretty polished (#notsohumblebrag). I think it’s important to make things you love and can be proud of, regardless of how many views they get.
In terms of growth tactics, I’ve used a lot of the best practices from the online business world:
Using a free lead magnet to build a 20k+ email list
Whatever you give away, make sure it’s so good that people would have paid for it. There are so many free ebooks out there, and people are more hesitant than ever to hand over their contact info.
Make sure to give massive value, even if it’s free.
Selling a premium quality e-book via automated email funnel
This is a very small part of my business at this point. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s hard to sell style advice, mostly because there’s so much great free advice out there already.
But the guide has sold hundreds of copies, and it’s one of the most passive parts of the business.
Monetizing content through affiliate programs and high RPM ad networks
For me, the best programs have been Amazon Associates (although it’s gotten less lucrative has they’ve slashed rates), RewardStyle, Skimlinks and AdThrive. Once you have a site that gets over 50k visits per month, make sure to partner with an ad network like Ezoic or AdThrive ro raise your RPMs.
Partnering with brands to monetize sponsored content (for much higher RPMs)
Sponsored content is one of the best ways to make money online, assuming you have an audience. I think it’s best done tastefully and sparingly, especially on YouTube and your website. After all, audience trust is and always will be my number one most important asset, and people don’t want to feel like they’re always being sold to, and that all of your content is paid for.
I’ve also done something that’s not very common in the “fashion blogging” world: I’ve been transparent about my business by explaining how the blog makes money and by publishing quarterly income reports.
This type of content offers more monetization options, such as the super profitable web hosting affiliate commissions. I haven’t done much in this arena (yet), but I have started tagging anyone one my email list who’s interested in this sort of business content.
It’s something I’d like to focus on more in the future.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
My goal with TMM is to create more and better content, while removing myself as the production bottleneck. This means hiring solid writers and video editors, as well as bringing different men on board for modeling, etc.
TMM is a nice little lifestyle business. It provides a healthy income, location independence, plenty of flexibility and passive cash (the best kind!).
It’s currently generating between $10-15k per month, depending on whether or not I do any brand deals. About 60% of this revenue is from advertising, and the rest is from affiliate programs and digital product sales.
But it could be much bigger. I see no reason not to shoot for $500k/year revenue within 2-3 years.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Assuming your basic needs are met, time is more valuable than money. Don’t spend any time doing things you don’t enjoy. If you dread going to work on Monday morning, it’s time to find something new (or start something).
Passive income is more valuable than non-passive income. My main metric each month is passive income (rather than total income).
For this reason, I focus on increasing revenue from affiliate programs and advertising, rather than working with brands.
Know yourself and your “seasons” in life. I know I get bored working on the same thing for a long time, so I structure my day accordingly. I also think about the next few years and try to plan for the next chapter now, before I get there.
Like most entrepreneurs, I have lots of ideas for other businesses…
If you’re starting a content business (like a blog), I recommend niching down. Try to cover a specific topic (style for short men), rather than a broad one (men’s style).
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
So many, but some favorites are WordPress, StudioPress, WPEngine, Canva, Wave Accounting, Google Analytics, Upwork and ConvertKit.
Full list of resources here.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The book that changed my life was The 4-Hour Work Week. It opened my eyes to the world of location independent work, passive income and mini retirements.
Another great book is How to Win Friends and Influence People. It taught me how to talk about myself less and ask more questions.
I try not to spend too much time listening to business podcasts and reading non-fiction, as you can burn a lot of time on “infotainment” these days.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Everyone is different, so I won’t try to say “do this” or “don’t do that” to anyone. But for me, it has to be about more than just money.
Some people can look at business as opportunity. Look at all of these online mattress companies, for example. You think those founders are passionate about mattresses? Probably not. They probably used their business school analyst chops to find a hole in the market, then they seized the opportunity.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Many of the best growth companies take this approach.
For me, I see business as a creative outlet. If I’m only doing something to make money, I’ll probably give up on it before the money starts flowing in.
Especially for young people, I recommend asking yourself: what do I love doing?
Don’t even think about money. If you love doing something and get really good at it, money will find you. Instead, think about who you want to be and how you want to spend your time.
If you want to be an influencer or content creator, my best piece of advice is to just start. Now.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, I’m looking for a part-time video editor and freelance writers (especially with experience in men’s lifestyle and fashion).
Where can we go to learn more?
My “home” is themodestman.com, but you can also find me around the web:
If you want to ask me a question, hit me up on Twitter!
The Modest Man has provided an update on their business!
About 2 years ago, we followed up with The Modest Man to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Over 3 years ago, we followed up with The Modest Man to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
12 months ago, we followed up with The Modest Man 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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