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Empire Flippers - Our Journey To $1MM In 2014 (Ask Us Almost Anything!)

Discussion in 'My Journey Discussions' started by empireflippers, Jan 2, 2014.

  1. empireflippers

    empireflippers Newbie Premium Member

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    Hey there,

    I'm Justin Cooke, partner at Empire Flippers and host of the Empire Flippers Podcast. I've been mostly lurking here, but I wanted to get more involved in the community through 2014 and, hopefully, share some of our successes and failures along the way to help out.

    Story

    My business partner and I live and run our business from Davao City, Philippines after we "outsourced ourselves" from our previous corporate jobs in the US. We started our own outsourcing company and had our previous employer as our first client. Towards the end of 2010, we ended up losing that first client and needed to find something to do with the loyal/talented crew we had in the Philippines, which marked the beginning of our IM journey. You can read more about our story here, listen to this podcast episode, or find out more about baselining your business in the Philippines.

    We started out building small niche websites and selling those sites off via Flippa. At the time, this wasn't our main business and we were much more open about the process and what we were up to on our blog. Our sharing of information through 2011/2012 resonated with people and we started to attract quite a few readers/listeners/customers during that time.

    In 2013, we switched direction a bit with a rebrand and wanted to focus more on the business aspects of what we were doing and provide an opportunity for others to list their valuable websites for sale with us. We opened up our products/services and brokering in 2013 and have watched those two sections grow as stated in our monthly reports.

    We spent most of the second half of 2013 building infrastructure that would support significant growth. We grew by around 40% from the previous year, pulling in somewhere around $600K total for 2013. (I don't have the final figures yet for Dec, 2013)

    Focus

    We need to grow by around 65% to hit our revenue goals for 2014. My business partner and I are both fully committed to re-investing any additional profits from the business back into growth (customer acquisition, staff, infrastructure, etc.) so I think we've got a shot. Here are the areas we plan to focus on to accomplish this:

    $10K - $100K Brokered Sites - We're aggressively targeting both sellers and sites in this area through 2014. We'll be starting off the year with quite a few new and varied sites for sale to help us accomplish this and our plan is to "own" this section of the market by the end of the y ear.

    Products/Services - We've done well adding these in 2013 and we're planning to test additional offers this year. We've had a few winners (Starter Packs, Site Listings, KW Research, etc.) and some losers (Site Maintenance, Mobile Apps, etc.). It's relatively easy to put together new products/services and test the market. We'll dump the losers and keep the winners.

    Creating More Sites For Ourselves - We got our start creating smaller niche sites that would earn anywhere from $3 - $300 per month, but we'd like to move up the value chain here. My business partner is testing out some new strategies that should improve our earnings per site and, hopefully, improve the margins and ROI on the sites we create. We're still testing through this, though.

    Tactics

    This section is likely to change as we test through what's working, what's not, etc. Still, I thought it might be interesting to discuss how we plan to add more readers/listeners and, ultimately, customers in 2014.

    More Apprenticeships - We've hired Interns/Apprentices to come out to the Philippines to work with us and I expect that to continue and even grow in 2014. We understand the need to build a strong team. Some we'll be bringing out here to work with us while others might be in a remote position. (Focuses: Marketing, Conversion Rate Optimization, Paid Traffic)

    Interviews + Guest Posts - Nothing ground breaking here, but putting your message in front of the right audience is still a useful strategy. We know that we've got strong engagement once others are exposed to our brand, so getting ourselves in front of as many potential readers/listeners as possible will help us find our "true fans".

    Improved Conversions - Getting more traffic is great, but keeping customers around is even better. In the end of 2013, we revamped our email lists and auto-responders to allow readers to specify the content they want to hear. (Site building, site buying, or site selling) They can choose from any/all of those categories so that we can deliver the right message at the right time. The first few months of 2014 will be spent improving our on-site conversions to email, products, etc. We have our marketing apprentice working on this now, but we're considering bringing out a CRO apprentice in Q2 to specialize.

    Paid Traffic - More specifically, we'll be starting a remarketing/retargeting campaign for those who have visited our marketplace, product pages, etc. We'll have a "general" retargeting campaign for anyone who's been to our site and specific (builders/buyers/sellers) campaign with messaging, depending on their interests and where they've visited on the site. We're also looking at FB marketing and (possibly?) SoloAds.

    Free Tools - We spent thousands creating an ebook that we then gave away for free. This led to more than 40K downloads and an awesome opportunity to spread our brand. We also created a Niche Profit Calculator which has been shared here on BHW and other places a few times, driving new potential customers to EF. We plan to create more of these free tools through 2014 and get them shared. (Any ideas you'd like to see?) I see free tools/software as excellent lead magnets if they're truly helpful/valuable.

    Challenges

    I think we've got a real shot at hitting this goal in 2014, but it's not going to come easy. There are some challenges in our business and our plan that we'll have to overcome.

    Shift From Task-Based To Project-Based Management - My business partner and I have run teams in the US and Philippines, but it's always been task-based management. We're slowly-but-surely moving ourselves up the value chain in our business and having others take on our work, but it remains difficult and there are things in your biz that are just hard to give up. We'll really have to grow here to make this happen - we need a strong middle-management team to achieve our goals.

    ROI-Focused Spending - It helps that we're willing to reinvest additional profits into growth, but choosing the RIGHT spend is critical. Making sure we have the tools in place to measure all of our marketing costs will keep us from blowing cash on unprofitable ventures and allow us to re-direct funds towards those that are crushing it.

    Vision-Based Team Building - To build a strong, engaged team...we need to be better at sharing and inspiring our vision for the company in others. This doesn't come naturally to us and there's some learning we'll have to do. We've spent much more time towards the end of 2013 discussing and laying out our vision, though, and getting buy-in from our newest team members in 2014 will be the goal.

    I'll update this thread at least once a month in 2014 or as new things develop. I'll share where we're at, the good and the bad, etc. I hope you find some inspiration from our journey that you can apply to your own business.

    Feel free to ask any questions you'd like and I'll do my best to answer them. If you have any ideas, shares, or tips that you think would be helpful/useful we'd be happy to hear those as well!

    tl;dr - We brought in around $600K in 2013 and want to drive that to break $1MM in 2014. We'll be sharing our strategy, tactics, successes, and failures in this thread throughout the year.
     
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  2. lucasbraydon

    lucasbraydon Supreme Member

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    This is something I have been contemplating for a while but not known much about or even had the time to look into it so I will be following your journey and hopefully you can teach me a thing or two about site flipping.
     
  3. mindlesswizard

    mindlesswizard Supreme Member

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    Seems good and interesting. Way to go at 2014. Wishes
     
  4. nethead01

    nethead01 Regular Member

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    i have a website for sale, you can sell it for me. its not a big site but it has value
     
  5. jem001

    jem001 Junior Member

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    subscribed! will follow your journey to IM success! mabuhay! from a filipino canadian! ;)
     
  6. partymarty4870

    partymarty4870 Elite Member

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    yawn...............
     
  7. Boriss

    Boriss Supreme Member

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    I've been waiting for this, wish you all the best.
     
  8. The SEO

    The SEO Jr. VIP Jr. VIP Premium Member

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    Your journey looks more professional, just subscribed for future posts and updates by you.
     
  9. Boriss

    Boriss Supreme Member

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    $1MM is $1million?
     
  10. empireflippers

    empireflippers Newbie Premium Member

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    That's likely something we can help you with. We're really looking for sites that are $200-$5K per month with at least 90 days of stable traffic/revenue.

    Hey! Lots of Filipinos at BHW, it seems. :) Glad to have you along - do you ever head back to the Philippines?

    Awesome! Yes, $1MM = $1 million USD

    Awesome - glad to have you with us! Please let us know if you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions - we'd love to hear 'em.
     
  11. 97695695089

    97695695089 BANNED BANNED

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    Hey Justin - That is a great analysis of your business and I wish you great success in the year 2014.

    You wrote in the OP - "ask us almost anything". Your post, though useful from the perspective of someone who may gain some insights into how you run a successful business, falls short of the WIIFM(what's in it for me) quotient. So let me help you with a sort of FAQ for the benefit of a large majority of those going through this thread:

    1. What kind of sites sell on Flippa today and what is the opportunity to make a fast buck with less work(most popular question!). Believe me, no one has the patience today to create a site and then try and rank it, with so much of confusing information about how it can be done. Actually no one knows how to rank a website now, and anyone who claims to know is BS-ing IMO - at the risk of annoying some of the SEO gurus here. It is of course a different issue that that is Google's aim - make more and more people give up on rankings so that they start using paid advertising to drive traffic to their websites

    2. What are the different ways of selling websites, other than Flippa. There's very little competition actually, with DP being a garbage bin and some of the other sites which tried to emulate Flippa not making the cut. So is Flippa the only real marketplace for websites?

    3. There was some buzz when a product released at the WF claimed that it was possible to sell a new website with no monetization behind it, no page rank, no revenue records whatsoever, on the basis of sheer traffic coming to the site built through various means like Twitter and Stumbleupon. Is that a realistic scenario, and do prospective buyers on Flippa see any value in such sites - after all they are untested for earnings. I have always imagined buyers on Flippa desirous of turnkey websites being handed over to them inclusive of Adsense/ Amazon monetization or from established services being run through the website and forming a ready made source of income.

    4. How do you avoid being ripped off as a buyer or a seller on Flippa since it is a known fact that Flippa is the abode of some of the biggest scammers on the internet. A few tips will help many, especially those who want to step into website-selling for the first time(inspired by you!).

    5. Is there an opportunity to buy websites that have potential and resell them after bringing about improvements? What do you look for and what are the main improvements that you would carry out? What kind of budget should one start out with if starting a business of buying and reselling websites.

    6. Related to the question above - do you look for websites on Flippa or is it better to contact owners of websites directly? Which method works better?

    7. I have heard of people buying sites for making their own blog network. What do you look for if you want to buy sites for making a blog network and what is the budget one should have?

    I am sure there must be more questions and they will surely follow but this I guess would be a good start.

    Thanks for the thread and I am sure this will be one of the top threads in the days to come.
     
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  12. Boriss

    Boriss Supreme Member

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    +1. Very well said.

    And good questions in your post. Hope Justin will answer them.
     
  13. TehEpidemick

    TehEpidemick BANNED BANNED

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    I've been following empire flippers for a long time, actually when it was adsense flippers, and have actually spoke to you through email. Welcome to bhw and I look forward to reading your posts here
     
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  14. empireflippers

    empireflippers Newbie Premium Member

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    Hey Ricky,

    Thanks for the questions! I'll answer what I can, although there are better people to answer a few of the questions you asked. (I'll reference appropriately)

    Flippa can be a bit frustrating to sift through. Although their search function is pretty effective, you'll still struggle to sort through the crappy sites to find some that are worth it, IMO. Shopping on Flippa can take some time - I would suggest finding sites from (repeat) sellers that look interesting and putting the seller on a watch list. That way, you'll be updated when they have new sites for sale. Over time, you'll have a list of sellers that offer sites that match your interests, price range, etc.

    I think some of the eCommerce sites I've come across on Flippa are pretty interesting, although my experience at running eCommerce sites is pretty limited. (Careful with the margins if they dropship...not much room for advertising and you can get squeezed by your providers) Gotos for me on eCommerce have been Andrew @ ecommercefuel.com and Billy at ForeverJobless.com

    For AdSense-type sites, I think there's opportunity for sites with high traffic and lower earnings. Many sellers that create sites monetized with AdSense miss some of the higher-value opportunities (list building, affiliate sales, etc.) Go into the purchase having a plan for adjusting (improving) monetization. Be aware that a site about genital herpes (for example) is not likely to collect many emails! :)

    Most of the Flippa competitors underestimated the difficulty in driving a marketplace on both ends, I think. It's an expensive proposition. There aren't many good auction sites aside from Flippa on the low end of the market. (eBay is pretty weak and DP/WF are less than awesome) Some competitive auction sites have tried to offer free listings, thinking that would attract more sellers, but they end up with a ton of crappy sites for sale. :-(

    There are a few brokers in the mid-range I'm aware of. (TrustedSiteSeller, DigitalExits, etc.) It's a bit fragmented, though, and the reason we're going after this market ($10K - $100K range) with our sites for sale.

    In the $100K - $500K range you've got brokers like QuietLightBrokerage and FEInternational (formerly Flipping Enterprises) which I'm sure you guys are already familiar with. You can also look for private equity firms at this level and beyond, although that's getting a bit outside of my scope.

    There's obviously a market for pre-revenue sites on Flippa. (There are sellers with hundreds/thousands of sales that total 5-6 figures) I DON'T think that's a good market to get into, though. Most will end up in a race to the bottom situation...margin squeeze/pressure from kids sitting in their parents basements able to build those sites cheaper/faster than you can. I think you're better off adding monetization to the site. You'll be able to separate yourself from the competitors that can't accomplish this.

    We've come across sellers that have very large social media networks. They're able to drive traffic (and AdSense clicks) to any sites they like...for a while. There's a scam where they'll boost traffic to a set of sites, boost the income/revenue, and then dump the sites off to a buyer. They'll leave the traffic for a month or two and then pull it, redirecting to the new sites they're prepping for sale.

    Aside from the seller scam, I think it's a bit risky to build those networks out yourself if you're using AdSense. Your traffic is bound to be less targeted and, although you might get clicks, you're likely driving crappy clicks to advertisers, which isn't likely to be good for your AdSense account. If you're driving social media network traffic to affiliates sites go ahead, by all means!

    I have a friend that has used purchased FB ads to build likes and, ultimately, a list of 5K-ish email subscribers. It was AWFULLY cheap to do and he's in a niche where they buy the stuff he promotes to them. It's a bit outside the scope of what we're looking to accomplish, but I still want to try it, heh.

    You're right, there are a ton of reasons to be cautious as both a buyer and a seller. Here are a few pieces of content we've put out on the subject:

    Buying Sites Without Getting Scammed podcast episode
    Selling Websites At A Premium
    7 Secrets Flippa Sellers Hope You Won't Notice
    8 Tactics To Building A Sellable Website podcast episode

    Justin's blog over at FlipFilter puts out some excellent content and case studies on Flippa sales, tactics, scams, etc...really valuable stuff. As a first-time buyer you need to be especially careful. Know that there's a learning process and it will likely cost you some time/money to figure it out. There's much more to due diligence than I can cover right now, but here are few quick tips:


    1. If it's too good to be true, it probably is. - That site making $500/month net should not be selling for $1,500.
    2. Sellers ALWAYS underestimate work required. - Sometimes it's intentional and sometimes they don't realize how much they're doing...just be aware.
    3. Don't buy from anyone you can't find (legitimately) online. - Don't buy if they don't have a FB page with real friends, LinkedIn profile with real connections, Twitter account with back-and-forth, etc. You might miss out on a deal or two, but this alone will save you a ton of cash/time. (Good business advice in general...took us years to learn to not even go down the rabbit hole with leads/deals that don't have verifiable people behind them)

    Funny enough, we DON'T do this, but some of the sellers that list their sites with us do. We interviewed one of them in this podcast episode. He's taken some big risks and has spent some decent cash to get it up and running, but it's been profitable for him and, this last year, he's put processes in place, hired agents to help him with the work, etc.

    You can build your way up the value chain. We wrote a post about how we'd attempt to get to $3K/month in 6 months if we had to start over from scratch. With this method, you're likely to be down around $10K-$12K before you have a shot at turning the corner. You can do it even faster if you're buying sites, obviously, but you'll probably be closer to $20-$30K invested. If you wanted to buy $3K per month worth of sites with us from Day 1, it would cost you $60K.

    When buying/selling AdSense sites you're probably better to shop around until you have a few builders you can buy from regularly. It's always a risk going with someone new and you're better off establishing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships, IMO. It will take you some time and $$ to find those people, though.

    You can always start with Flippa, find some site builders that offer quality sites for sale, and then work with them directly on any future purchases after the first. If you establish a regular buying relationship, you can likely negotiate the price down to a lower multiple than you would be able to otherwise.

    Trying to find and contact site owners to see if they'll sell COULD be worthwhile, but it seems awfully time consuming and you'd better have a process and a few Virtual Assistants working with you. I think your best bet in targeting sites to buy directly would be looking for strategic purchases that you can improve immediately.

    Alright, that's almost a blog post on its own! Please let me know if you'd like me to expand on anything or if I wasn't clear and I'll see if I can break it down a bit better. Hope that helps!
     
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  15. Methusalem

    Methusalem Newbie

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    Hi Justin - Nice to meet you here at blackhatworld I have been following empireflippers/adsenseflippers for two years now. I subscribed to your thread and am looking forward to follow your journey.
     
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  16. innozemec

    innozemec Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

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  17. chachajp1

    chachajp1 Newbie

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    Big fan of your blog and podcast. I've tried your approach of zero backlinks, but with little success. Seems like I cannot get out of the 2nd or 3rd page of google without generating some back links. Any tips and if you don't mind me asking what's your monthly $ goal for each site?
     
  18. empireflippers

    empireflippers Newbie Premium Member

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    Thanks!

    We have a failure rate with zero backlinks as well - some sites get the long-tail traffic but never end up ranked on the first page for the keywords we're targeting. We consider a site a "win" if it makes $8/month or more. (After approximately $40-$50 spend on site creation)

    We're currently testing out a process that costs us around $300 per site to create. We'd like them to make $50 or more per month to be considered a "win". We're still testing this, though, and don't have enough results to come to a conclusion yet. (Joe thinks we're on track with this, but I'm doubtful. We'll probably know more Mar/Apr)

    We do quite a bit less site creation right now and are more focused on the brokering aspect of what we do. We're not giving up on site creation and strategies (Joe's working on this with our team) but my marketing focus is on the marketplace and supporting buyer/sellers in 2014.
     
  19. maheshsingh

    maheshsingh Junior Member

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    Following this journey. Looking for how you guys are improving ROI on your small niches sites.
     
  20. the-dream

    the-dream Regular Member

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    Any updates guys?