Build a Profitable Brand in One Year

Why is this project marked: running?

This is a past failed experiment that's been turned into a challenge. I tried to build a "niche site" a few months back, but other business ventures got in the way. Now, I'm taking this project serious and trying to build a long-lasting, profitable, and popular brand/website.

New here? I recommend learning about me and this site.

In January of 2017, I started an experiment to build a “niche site” about homebrewing beer. People wanted to see how I would create a site like SwimUniversity.com or RoastyCoffee.com from the ground up.

However, two months into BrewCabin.com, I stopped working on it. Instead, Amazon threw a monkey wrench into my business revenue, so I was forced to put the project on hold.

It’s been a little over six months, but during that time I’ve been hoping to work on it again. And that hope came to head when I met JP.

Who’s JP And How Did He Get Involved?

First, I love this site and what it stands for. But the best part is how it’s helped me meet new and interesting people.

JP emailed me after a friend sent him my email marketing page. He found out I was in Colorado and wrote…

…you seem like a smart person, and I’m currently trying to meet smart people. I’m a serial entrepreneur based in Denver. At the moment, my past companies are paying the bills, while I search for the next fun project(s) to work on. I’m a CTO of 15+ years and looking for fun new stuff to build and grow.

We met over coffee for like 10 fucking hours. We talked about business, travel, and upcoming projects.

JP seems eager to team up, but since he’s a programmer, the only project I had in mind at the time was building and selling my hacked-together Amazon Affiliate WordPress Plugin.

Later, we organized a group dinner with other entrepreneurs in Denver. A few days later I presented this project idea and we agreed to build it together.

The Challenge

JP and I are going to assemble a small team and re-build BrewCabin.com into a large brand based around homebrewing beer. And we’re going to make it profitable in less than a year.

Assets will include:

  • CONTENT: A website with weekly published, in-depth articles, videos, and infographics.
  • CONTENT: An email newsletter (sent weekly) packed with highly curated homebrewing resources from BrewCabin.com and around the web.
  • CONTENT: A curated, searchable homebrew recipe database filled with only the best-tested recipes. Users will be able to instantly calculate for batch sizes and brewing methods.
  • PAID PRODUCT: A Homebrewing Recipe App that allows users to generate, store, and share their own beer recipes.
  • PAID PRODUCT: A homebrewing video course.

We also have plans to create our own homebrewing products and swag to sell through our own e-commerce platform. Although, this is more of a back-burner thing.

Niche Site Vs. Brand

When I started the Brew Cabin experiment, I was building a “niche site.” It was just a WordPress site with articles that made money from affiliate links and advertising.

Instead, we’re turning this project into a massive brand. Something that will allow us to expand outside online content. The future of Brew Cabin could include events and teaming up with other major brands.

I hate the term “niche site.” It forces me to think small. And I’d like to consider all my brands to be bigger than just a website.

Let’s Talk About The Homebrew Recipe Software Product For a Second

I’ve been homebrewing a lot – at least once every two weeks. Earlier this year, I invested in a bunch of equipment, including a two faucet kegerator.

My Kegerator

My very first homebrews in the new kegerator: Spring Snowball IPA (I brewed it in May while it was snowing).

I’ve technically been homebrewing for the past 10 years, but it was very infrequent – maybe once a year at most. And during those years, I used clunky brewing software. The kind of software you download and install (he said, gagging).

I’ve always wanted to build my own custom web-based software for creating, storing, and sharing homebrew recipes. But alas, I’m not a good programmer. I found out the hard way on the Web App challenge.

After researching all these brewing apps for my own use, I landed on the best-looking one called Beer Tools. I’ve been using it for years, but there are so many things I wish it did. At the very least some better UI and UX design.

Beer Tools Software

I told JP I wanted to do this as part of the Brew Cabin brand project, and he was game to build it.

What We’re Starting With

When I started Brew Cabin in January of 2017, I could only buy BrewCabin.co because someone owned the .com.

Luckily, the owner reached out a month ago and offered me BrewCabin.com. I knew I would eventually build the brand, so I bought it for $2,000. I know that’s a lot of money, but I’m a sucker for .coms.

Also, I have a rough version of the site built and 14 articles published. Here’s what that looks like:

Brew Cabin Homepage Updates

But I’m blowing it all up and starting from scratch. So we’re basically starting with nothing.

TECH STUFF:

  • The domain I bought from a guy in Austrailia using Escrow.com for the transaction. In the deal, I also got the Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter accounts.
  • The site is built on WordPress and hosted on my WPEngine account, which currently has 7 sites including Roasty and SwimU.
  • I use Coda 2 for Mac to design and code my own custom WordPress Theme. (If I’m asked ONE MORE TIME where I get my themes, I’m going to lose my shit!)

The Team

I have a small team to help with this project. I’m going to through my own resources towards this project (and by “resources” I mean money).

  • I have an Editor-in-Chief – who currently manages SwimU and Roasty – that’ll help coordinate, edit, publish articles, and send the weekly emails.
  • I have a writer (who also homebrews) who’s going to do most of the writing. Also, help curate outside content to use in the weekly emails and homebrew recipes for the free recipe database.
  • JP will be the CTO handing the homebrew recipe app and recipe database. He will also help build and manage custom WordPress plugins if needed.
  • I’ll act as CEO and CMO. I’m going to create videos and take photos for the site. I’ll act as creative director, too. And I’ll manage the WordPress theme code and promotion.

So that’s four people ready to go!

How We Plan to be Profitable

The first 3-6 months are focused on building an audience of homebrewers. During that time, we’ll make money on affiliate links to start. We’ll build that audience with articles, videos, and infographics that are WAY better than what’s on the internet right now.

Next, we’ll have a subscription-based homebrewing recipe app and a one-time paid video course to sell.

Finally, we’ll offer advertising spots in our emails and popular articles. (This is how I make money with SwimU, but it’ll take time to build an audience).

JP and I won’t be taking a salary until the site is profitable. But we will be paying the rest of the team and anyone else we bring on to the project.

The following plan for building a profitable brand is broken up into three phases:

  1. Phase One is building an audience.
  2. Phase Two is monetizing.
  3. Phase Three is scaling up.

Phase One: Building An Audience

Estimated Time to Complete: 2 months.

We want to launch the site on September 1st, 2017. In the meantime, I’ll work on designing an updated logo, website, and editorial calendar.

1. Update The Overall Branding

This will include a new logo and website design. I want people to eventually sport branded swag, so the look and feel have to be cool and modern.

I’ll start with designing the logo and move onto coding the WordPress theme around it.

Then, I’ll set up the social media accounts, static sub-pages of the site (like the about page), and create a brand style guide that the team can use as a reference.

2. Create a Massive Editorial Calendar

I want to come up with 100 article titles drawing from my own homebrewing experience and popular books.

Once I have a list, I’ll prioritize publish dates by researching highly searched keywords using SEMRush.com and highly-shared articles using BuzzSumo.com. I’ll try to get away with the free versions for as long as I can.

I’ll also use Headline Analyzer to help me create the final article titles before they’re written.

THOUGHT: There’s thriving online community of homebrewers who love to share. I have a gut feeling I’m going to rely less on search engine traffic and more on social media.

3. Publish Content, Send Emails, Curate Recipes

I’ll have all the assets needed before we start publishing. At that point, I’ll be moving into the content side of things. My goal is to focus on video production and growing the YouTube channel. I may hire people to help me with this part, which is sinking more money into the brand before it’s profitable.

However, I would love to start a video production company to help with all my brands, so this might be the start of that.

4. Design and Build The Homebrew Recipe Database App

This will be a free app where users can create an account, log in, and search for high-quality homebrew recipes. It’s free to help send traffic to BrewCabin.com via SEO and Social Media. And it’ll start getting users familiar with logging in and out of the website.

I’ll be designing the front-end (HTML, CSS) while JP will be coding the rest in Rails (Ruby, Javascript). While it’ll be part of the site, it’ll live on a different hosting account managed by JP.

While it’ll be part of the site, it’ll live on a different hosting account managed by JP. We’ll use a subdomain like recipes.brewcabin.com.

Phase Two: Monetize

Estimated Time to Complete: 4 months.

5. Design and Build V1 of Paid Homebrewing App

I will work closely with JP to build our first paid product. Since I know a lot about homebrewing, I’ll be designing the front-end and helping with populating databases of ingredients.

The app will be a low monthly membership. And we’ll be competeing with apps that already have a low price point. That means, we must make this app really useful and user-friendly right out of the gate.

That works to our benefits since the app will be lightweight in the beginning anyway.

6. Creating The Paid Homebrewing Video Course

I’ll work on filming and launching a small course for beginner homebrewers. If that does well, I’ll move into more advanced lessons.

I’m not sure the direction we’ll take, but it could go two ways:

  1. Start with a small course and continue to add videos until it becomes massive!
  2. Create a bunch of small, inexpensive courses that can be bundled together.

7. Start Selling Advertising Packages

At this point, we should have a decent audience. I envision three ways for sponsors to advertise:

  1. Banner ads in weekly emails.
  2. Limited-run banner ads on popular posts.
  3. YouTube video sponsorships.

We’ll most likely hire a salesperson to run with this task.

Phase Three: Scale

Estimated Time to Complete: 6 months.

8. Improve the Paid Homebrewing Software

Traditional homebrewing software is pretty complex. It’s based on a lot of formulas to create recipes. The app will improve to accommodate all homebrewers.

On top of that, we’ll have to always add new ingredients to the database since there’s always new hops and malts popping up.

The good news is, once the app does everything, it’ll rarely need new features. Just updates to the static ingredients database and bug fixes. Hopefully, by this point, JP will have some team members to help if we’re profitable enough.

9. Add More Courses (or Lessons to Existing Course) and Maybe Physical Products

Again, I’m not set on whether there will be one massive course to add to, or a series of micro courses, but they’ll have to be developed over time.

The more products we have to offer, the more profitable we can be. Online video courses are great to start because they have low overhead to sell them. Plus, I happen to be really good at making high-quality courses.

Physical products, however, will be a horse of a different color. Luckily, JP has some e-commerce experience. This, again, is a back burner idea. If it’s something that seems to fit into the plan at the time, then we’ll tackle it.

10. Hire a Team to Takeover

Finally, we need to grow. And if it’s just JP and me, we can only take things so far.

Both JP and I don’t know how we’ll feel after a year of running the project. It could go one of two ways:

  1. We hire ourselves out of the project and continue to manage from a far distance.
  2. We love the homebrewing community so much that we continue to get our hands dirty.

Either way, we need a team to grow it. But first, we gotta start at the bottom.

28 Days Before Launch: Outline a Simple Launch Plan

I love me some Asana. I live and breathe by it. So I created a quick outline for myself after talking with JP in person while in Denver.

I need to get the brand fully fleshed out. That includes the logo, colors, fonts, web design, email marketing templates, etc.

In Asana, I have a single Organization called Ace Media (which is the name of my LLC). Under that, I have multiple Teams (which are also my brands). I created a Team called Brew Cabin, which just has me and JP in it for now.

I created a Project under that Team which has all the tasks I have to do before we launch. Here’s a screenshot:

Launch Project in Asana for Brew Cabin

They are broken down into Sections like Website Design and Article Design.

I’ll probably do a lot of these out of order based on what I feel like doing. So these are not in order of importance because they’re all important and must get done.

However, the only priority is a logo because the entire design will be based on it.

24 Days Before Launch: Update The Logo

Before I start a website or a brand, I consume a lot of online content. I’m not just looking at comparable sites, I’m just trying to get a sense of what I like in general.

I’ll visit my favorite sites and watch my favorite YouTube channels. During this phase, I’m keeping an eye out for things like:

  • Design elements (like buttons, colors, layout).
  • Video transitions and color grading.
  • Music.
  • Feelings and emotions.

I think about who my audience is going to be. In this case, I’m targeting what I call, “The Modern Brewer.” In other words, I’m targeting myself: a young male who likes cool homebrewing gadgets, professional equipment, and sharing beers with friends.

Remember, I’m building a brand, not a niche site. So the logo is very important because it’ll be printed on T-shirts, pint glasses, etc.

I like starting by building Pinterest boards. It helps me to quickly choose things I like to get a feeling for the overall brand. I created two boards: design and photos.

Design Pinterest Board for Updated Brew Cabin Logo

As you can see from this view, I was really digging dark colors and simple designs. But I was also leaning towards photos. This is something I haven’t relied on before. My other sites are vector graphic driven, but for beer, I feel like you need to see big, beautiful photos. Beer porn!

Cozy Cabin Photo Board

This board represents the cabin side of things. I was building this because I wanted to get a sense of what photo styles were resonating with me. Warm, cozy, cold. Fucking Bob Ross shit. Now I just have to apply that to beer.

Thankfully, I already designed a logo. And a lot of people really liked it and thought it was clever. As much as I tried to distance myself in the new design, I couldn’t escape it. So I just updated it.

Here’s the original Brew Cabin icon.

Brew Cabin Icon

While I still like this, it felt too cartoony and silly for what I think the Brew Cabin brand should represent. So I took the same concept but made some tweaks.

Brew Cabin Updated Icon

Still got the windows, still got the foam/snow, and the drips. But I feel like it’s a lot cooler.

Then I messed around with some fonts. I wanted it to be bold but not as cartoon-like as this old logo:

Full Brew Cabin Logo

And here’s the new one:

Brew Cabin Updated Logo

22 Days Before Launch: Design The Article and Home Pages

I usually design the article page first because it’s the page that visitors will see more often. But this time, I had such a clear vision for the homepage, I decided to knock that out first.

The Homepage

It was a bit of a challenge because I had to employ some PHP functions in the theme to create the alternating posts layout.

What I have so far is a navigation area, a feature box to collect emails, and alternating latest posts. The feature box and posts have stand-in stock images which will be replaced once I take some real photos on my own.

Brew Cabin website Mockup with Stand-in Images

Unlike my other brands, which rely heavily on illustrations, Brew Cabin will be photo heavy. I’m really trying to challenge myself with this project.

Illustrations are easy because they can be done in the comfort of your office, but photos force you to interact with the real world.

I’ll be taking the initial photos myself, but will probably end up hiring a photographer in the near future. Taking photos is actually a weakness of mine, just like writing.

The Article Page

I like simple, clean, and centered articles. All of my sites follow this format because I design mobile-first. That means articles should load super fast and be easy-to-read on a small smartphone.

This page isn’t fully fleshed out yet, but here’s what I have so far. Note that the top image will change to the Featured Image of the article.

Brew Cabin Article Page First Draft

I’m happy with the way this looks and feels so far.

I had comments for awhile because it was a "best practice." However, fuck that! I much prefer to have personal conversations via email or Twitter. So, let’s do that instead.

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