My 2018 Annual Online Business Review

By Matt Giovanisci •  Updated: 12/19/18 •  17 min read  •  Articles

Last year, I wrote a year-in-review post (and the year before that).

It’s the annual online entrepreneur holiday tradition that lets me see all my fuck-ups and successes on a single page. I can cry and pat myself on the back at the same time.

But before we get to that, watch this short video glorifying my monotonous life as a self-employed online entrepreneur who works alone from home.

Full disclosure: the entire video was shot in one day on an iPhone X and a built-in webcam on an LG 5k monitor. The magic of editing.

My Current Brands of 2018

If you’re new to Money Lab, here’s a list of my current projects and the total annual revenue for each. If you’re familiar, skip it.

Swim University ($293,255.92)

This is my website about pool and hot tub care. I started it in 2006 and it’s been my main source of income ever since. It makes money with affiliate links and digital product sales.

Roasty Coffee ($11,155.35 + $55,000)

This was my website about coffee. I started it in 2015 and sold it in April 2018 for $55,000. It made money with affiliate links and an online video course ($25).

You can read that tear-jerker here. Ok, it’s not really a tear-jerker. Who “jerks” tears anyway?

Brew Cabin ($2,866.11)

This is my website about homebrewing beer. I started it in January of 2017. After about two months, we stopped producing content. You can read about that part here.

Then, I started it back up in September 2017 with my friend JP. Then, I bought out JP from the project in January 2018. Then, we stopped producing content again in June 2018.

Goddamnit, Matt! Make up your fucking mind!

You can read about the entire Brew Cabin project here.

Money Lab ($27,062.84)

This website is my home base. I started it in March of 2016. It makes money with digital product sales including Asana for Bloggers and SEO for Bloggers video courses.

And there’s a podcast now, which also makes some money.

Listen Money Matters ($4,728.15)

This is the podcast I co-host with my buddy Andrew Fiebert. Back in 2013, we started a personal finance podcast under Andrew’s brand. After eight months of struggling with the show, we turned on the thrusters and managed to get the podcast up to 20,000 downloads an episode using these non-douchey tactics.

But at the end of 2014, I was stressed out and walked away from the project. It was a bitter break up. There was a lot of yelling.

But Andrew and I remained friends (sort of) throughout the years.

In June 2018, we realized we loved each other and decided to bring the band back together. I’m co-hosting the podcast again and I take a small cut of the sponsorships sales each month.

Lasso ($0.00)

Of course, now that we’re back together, Andrew and I started a new SAAS company that will offer a premium WordPress plugin for managing affiliate links. This will replace my 2017 project: Earnist.

You can read all about the project here.

2018 Challenges and Experiments

Here’s a list of all the projects I started, accomplished, launched, and shut down on Money Lab this year.

Build and Sell a BIG Online Course in 7 Days

In February 2018, I created a seven-hour course but in the same amount of time as my first challenge. In fact, I was able to complete the challenge in only five days. Like a boss!

Spoiler alert: This challenge passed. The course is called SEO for Bloggers and it’s doing pretty damn good. See the full challenge here.

The Great Website Optimization Experiment

My goal with this experiment was to double the revenue of Swim University without adding any new products or content; relying solely on improving the site’s conversion rates.

Did I double revenue? No.

But I did increase my overall revenue on the site by 50%. I’m chalking it up as a success and this challenge as a “pass.” Read the full experiment here.

The SEO Impossible Experiment

I’ve started and stopped this experiment so many times. Ok, twice.

I’m very excited to re-start this project. In fact, I get asked about this project the most, so it must be finished. It’s an “in progress” experiment” and you can read what’s been done so far here.

The goal: to prove I can rank on the first page of Google for a highly competitive keyword simply by creating the best page on “affiliate marketing.”

The Podcast “Marketing Burst” Experiment

Andrew and I joined forces to co-host the Money Lab podcast this year.

We had success growing Listen Money Matters by publishing a metric fuck-ton of episodes in a short amount of time. So we wanted to try that again to see if we could grow the Money Lab Podcast.

And…it didn’t work so I marked this experiment as “meh.” But it’s a fun read. Ok, I’m overselling it, but you should read it here anyway.

The Ultimate Upsell Experiment

This is the two-year experiment of creating the Swim University pool care companion video course. It’s a lesson in how procrastination can lead to FOMO on easy revenue.

This experiment is still running, since I won’t know if it really increased revenue until the spring. But it’s selling so far and you can read all about it here.

Build a Profitable Online Brand in One Year

This is the latter half of Brew Cabin’s story and how I teamed up with JP to turn Brew Cabin into a profitable brand by creating software and content.

That didn’t exactly go the way we originally planned so this experiment is marked as “meh.” Read here.

Launch a SAAS Product on New Year’s Day

Our latest challenge. Andrew has been hacking away at a product for a full fucking year but hasn’t yet been able to launch. Too many features, too many ideas, and no solid plan led to this lack of launch.

Then I step in. Not that I’m magical or anything, I just have a Money Lab mind of getting things done ASAP. So we challenged ourselves to limit the product scope and launch the damn thing in 30 days. During the holiday time. Like a bunch of dumb dumbs.

See how it turns out here.

2018 Articles

I don’t write a lot of articles, but when I do, they’re big and filled with hairy details about my business:

The Not-So-Great Things in 2018

Here’s a rundown of what I thought went terribly this year on Money Lab and my other projects. First, let’s start with the biggest flop.

The Debt Crisis

The biggest issue this year was my business credit card debt. It started piling up at the end of 2017 and it really sucked up a lot of mental energy and money at the early part of this year.

My company was producing content (articles) on three websites at the same time: SwimU, Roasty, and Brew Cabin. We had to hire more writers to manage the workload. And winter is the slowest time for my business since my flagship site is seasonal (swimming pools, duh).

But I was trying to build a real-deal media company with a decent size team. I took a risk and spent money I didn’t have to grow the company. And digital publishing can be slow, especially when you’re doing zero promotion and relying solely on SEO.

By March of 2018, I had reached $40,000 in credit card debt. I knew I would recover by the end of the summer when the big checks started rolling in. But it was stressing me the fuck out. So I had to do something quickly.

Selling Roasty to Get Out of Debt

In April I sold for $55,000, instantly resolving my debt.

This was not an off-the-cuff decision. I’d been contemplating selling the site after a bug had been put in my ear by Jason Zook. I was against it at first, but it made sense.

I had fallen out of love with the coffee lifestyle. I love coffee, but not as much as I thought. Not enough to be “the coffee guy.”

Plus, I knew I wasn’t going to put the time or resources into growing the revenue. Affiliate marketing only could take the site so far. It needed more diverse income streams that my media company wasn’t willing to tackle.

Selling Roasty ended up being a blessing and I have zero regrets. I put the site in good hands and happy to see it growing like gangbusters. I’m just bummed I had to throw a lot of that cash towards my stupid debt.

Shutting Down Brew Cabin Production

In June, I hit the big ol’ proverbial pause button on Brew Cabin. After getting out of debt, I needed to reduce spending. Brew Cabin wasn’t growing fast enough to afford the once-a-week content production schedule.

Luckily, despite the lack of new content, traffic has been growing every month. But I’m the kind of guy that likes things to keep growing so letting it just run on its own bugs me.

We’ll pick production back up in 2019. However, I don’t know what that’ll look like yet. I’m sure I’ll be sharing all the gooey deets on Money Lab.

Letting Go of Team Members

In October I decided to let go of Ace Media’s writers. Michelle (Editor in Chief) and I had a chat in August about the company’s finances and what we could do to lower costs.

We were spending too much on sites that weren’t making enough to cover the cost (Roasty and Brew Cabin). When I sold Roasty and shut down production at Brew Cabin, we realized we didn’t need to have a large team anymore.

This was a tough decision for me, but the right one. I thought it would be hard to restructure the business, but it wasn’t. My pessimistic brain thinks the worst when actually things are never as bad as I make them out to be.

Michelle is a damn good writer and editor. She’s a professional through and through. Like me, she loves publishing high-quality shit. Managing is not so fun for us. So this actually worked out for the best.

We now have a very small team of just four people that are primarily focused on the brand that’s paying all the bills:

Shutting Down Earnist

In December, I teamed up with Andrew Fiebert to work on a new project called Lasso. Lasso is Earnist on steroids. It’s a project that Andrew has been working on for a year, right before I launched Earnist.

A lot of the same ideas and features in Earnist are also in Lasso. So I decided to shut down further development of Earnist to focus on Lasso.

I have a feeling Lasso will be more successful. But it’s still a blow to the ego to shut down something you’ve built yourself.

The Good Things in 2018

Now that I’m finished being a sad sack of shit, let’s talk about the fun stuff that worked this year! A lot of the bad moments actually turned into good ones.

Money Lab Made Money!

In 2017, I only made $1,673.84 on Money Lab. In 2018, my revenue shot up to $27,411.39. Most of that came from my SEO For Bloggers course that I launched in February.

It was my goal in 2018 for Money Lab to make money and it looks like I did! I want to take Money Lab’s revenue streams to the next level in 2019.

Finally Finished My Pool Care Video Course

After two years of very intermitted work, I finally sat the fuck down and finished the course. I was able to finish it in three weeks and launch in early November.

Funny how things work out when you’re focused.

Not a lot of people bought it because it’s the winter and, well, it’s about pool care. But that was the point! I only wanted a small group of initial users so I could work out the bugs before the spring/summer season hit.

So far I’ve only sold 15 courses, but with no problems. And the upsell is technically working, so that’s awesome.

Updated The Hot Tub Handbook and Increased the Price

This year, I made the most money I’ve ever made on my first digital product (ebook). We updated the book from 55 pages to 150 pages. And we increased the price from $19 to $29.

This year, sales from that ebook alone totaled $21,252.

Stopped Selling Sponsorships on Swim University

This may sound like a bad thing because technically I lost money. This revenue stream made $33,000 last year, so that’s a significant chunk of money to give up.

But I got my sanity back.

I hate selling one-on-one. I rather spend that time creating something that’ll sell itself and that’s infinitely scalable. A.K.A. digital products.

Stopped Social Media

This happened very late in the year, but I finally decided to put the kibosh on social fucking media.

After looking at the numbers (and really trying), it just wasn’t bringing in significant traffic to my sites.

I was using Pinterest and Facebook for SwimU. Pinterest still works, but I’m not actively creating new pins. Facebook doesn’t bring in shit. So I just stopped posting altogether. And honestly, they can go fuck themselves! Morally speaking.

I was using Instagram for Brew Cabin. My audience was growing, but it was bringing in zero traffic (which is how the site makes money). Also, Facebook owns Instagram, so again, they can go fuck themselves.

Letting Go Of Writers

This was one of the hardest things I had to do this year. Because of the debt crisis, I had to lower my expenses drastically and my writing staff was one of my biggest expenses.

However, this ended up being a great thing in the long run. I was spending about $5,000 a month on writers. Letting this go streamlined my business expenses, increased my profits, and made things easier on both Michelle and myself.

It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made this year.

Buying Out JP Twice

JP and I teamed up last year to work on developing software for Brew Cabin and building Earnist.

However, in early 2018, I asked JP if I could buy him out from Brew Cabin because I wanted to change directions with the brand. I didn’t want to build software anymore, and instead, focus more on the media side which didn’t require a developer.

Thankfully, he was cool with that.

And a few months later, his other SaaS project was taking off and he asked if I would buy him out from Earnist. Which I did.

While it cost me quite a bit of money to buy someone out twice, I was happy to finally be the only owner of both projects.

The Money Lab Podcast

I had been going back and forth on starting a podcast for a long time. I finally decided to pull the trigger and start one.

It began in May with me talking with my business friends about different parts of entrepreneurship. That eventually evolved into bringing on a full-time co-host instead of a different co-host each time.

But the best part of starting this podcast, besides just talking biz with my buds, is the consistent revenue it’s been bringing in for Money Lab.

On every episode, I promote one of my Money lab products, and that’s actually led to consistent sales.

Here’s the most recent episode where we recap the year.

The Listen Money Matters Reboot

After three long years, Andrew and I teamed back up as co-hosts of the Listen Money Matters podcast. We’re still working out the kinks and trying to get our groove back, but it’s been going well.

This move alone led to Andrew becoming the permanent co-host of the Money Lab podcast and our new partnership with Lasso.

Lots to look forward to in 2019 for sure.

Last-Minute Fun Facts About 2018

There’s a couple of things I wanted to mention that don’t have to do with Money Lab. These are just things I think are fun to mention that happened this year.

I Only Went to ONE Conference

For the most part, I stayed the fuck home this year. And I’m glad I did. I’m not a big traveler and conferences always tire me out. I stay up late, drink, and party like it’s the end of the world.

This year, I just didn’t see the benefit. In fact, I don’t see the benefit of attending conferences anymore. That’s not the reason I didn’t go to any this year, but it’s the conclusion I came to by not going.

That said, I attended my first Homebrewing conference.  I didn’t like it.

I Only Read Five Books This Year

That’s only two more than I read last year and that makes me happy. Why?

I used to read a lot of books, but now I find them distracting. Every time I read a business book, I get derailed. They spark new ideas and send me to chase the next shiny object.

Now I only read books about beer. And I’m good with that.

  1. Artemis by Andy Weir
    It’s a story about a girl who lives on the moon. Not for me.
  2. IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes, and The Evolution of India Pale Ale by Mitch Steele
    The book is mostly about the history of the IPA beer style (my favorite). I loved this book. And when I love books that I buy and read on my iPhone, I will also buy a physical version for my bookcase. Which I did.
  3. Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski
    Hands down the densest and nerdiest book I’ve ever read in my whole fucking life. It’s filled with water chemistry formulas and…just a bunch of other nerdy-ass shit. Christ!
  4. Eclectic IPA: Pushing The Boundaries of India Pale Ale by Dick Cantwell
    Another book about IPAs but not as good at Mitch’s. It’s more about modern IPAs.
  5. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
    My favorite book of the year. I know that’s not saying much since I only read five books. But it might arguably be one of the best books I’ve EVER read. It’s just so good.

What’s The Plan For 2019?

I’m not going to start any new major brands in 2019; this is my hard-and-fast rule. And I had the same rule last year. But then I joined Listen Money Matters and Lasso Analytics. So I fucked that up.

But seriously, in 2019 my focus will be on growing my existing ones (and new ones) by creating digital products and increasing my marketing efforts. Especially on Money Lab.

My goal is to hit $500,000 annual revenue in 2019. That was my goal last year but I didn’t achieve it. And I want to diversify my revenue streams.

Here’s a quick list of things I’m thinking about doing in 2019:

Thank You

Finally, I’d like to thank YOU for reading and supporting Money Lab. I want this to be a place you can escape the other shitty make-money-online sites. I want this site to be something you would actually want to bookmark and revisit and share with your friends.

The best part of running Money Lab is sending emails and answering the responses. So thank you for reaching out and keep it coming!

If you have any ideas on how I can make this site better, please email me.This is the third full year of Money Lab and it continues to be my favorite project.

In 2017 I said I wanted Money Lab to start making money on its own. And I was able to achieve that goal this year with my courses and the podcast. My mantra for next year is:

Stay Lean In 2019.

I’m looking forward to a less stressful 2019! My endless pursuit.

I love you.

Matt Giovanisci

I own three authority sites across different niches, including Swim University, Brew Cabin, and Money Lab. They earn a combined total of roughly $1,000,000 a year. I design and code all my sites. Write the words. Film and edit the videos. Produce the podcasts. Illustrate the graphics. And I have a small team that helps too.

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