Niall Doherty publishes eBiz weekly, a refreshingly candid newsletter about online business and the weird ways people make money online in the creator economy. The antidote to all the overhyped “get rich easy” content in the space.
Tell me about you. Where are you? Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Ireland, near Waterford City in the Southeast. I did all my schooling in my hometown but haven’t lived in Ireland much since graduating college in 2007.
I spent three years working as a web designer in New Orleans – believe it or not, I moved there because I was obsessed with basketball and that’s where my favorite NBA team was located – then started freelancing online and traveling the world. At one point I spent 3.5 years doing a complete circumnavigation of the globe without flying.
Since March of 2020 I’ve been living in Tbilisi in Georgia, and that’s become a nice home base.
How did your newsletter come about?
I had a personal blog and mailing list for years, where I wrote about travel, personal development, and occasionally online business.
Over time the business stuff became my main focus. I had spent years trying out different ways to make money online, with some successes and many failures. I felt I had developed a good sense of what was legit and realistic in the online business world, and what wasn’t.
At the end of 2018 I repurposed my personal blog into eBiz Facts, a website about realistic ways to make money online. I wanted it to be the antidote to all the overhyped “get rich easy” content in the space.
As part of that same effort, I repurposed my old mailing list into a weekly newsletter. I had about 3,400 subscribers at that time.
What else are you working on?
Aside from writing the newsletter every week, my main work is reviewing online business courses. Basically any course that claims to teach you how to make money online… my team and I spend a few hours researching and reviewing it.
We’ve been trying to standardize that process so it’s more consistent, and have developed a 31-factor algorithm to help ensure our reviews are fair and accurate. We’ve also started collecting ratings and reviews from course students, so they can share their insights and experience.
How many subscribers do you have, right now? What have you done to grow the audience? What worked? what didn’t?
We’re over 16,000 subscribers now, and adding about 1,000 new subscribers each month.
Most subscribers come to us via SEO. They search Google for something related to working online – like a review of a course, or how to write an Upwork cover letter – land on our site, then sign up via one of the many email captures.
So the main thing we’ve done to grow the audience is try to create good content and optimize our SEO.
And of course I have to put out a solid edition of the newsletter each week so people stay subscribed.
It’s interesting to see what kind of subscribers we get from different types of content.
For example, last year we spent quite a bit of time and money creating an epic article about typing jobs from home. That ranks well and brings us a lot of traffic, but because it’s about “entry level” online work, many of the subscribers we get via that content are very green and much of the newsletter content goes over their heads. (They reply to the newsletter with questions like, “when you give me typing job?”)
On the flip side, one of our articles about affiliate marketing tends to attract subscribers who have a bit more experience and knowledge about online business, and thereby ask smarter questions and get more value from the weekly newsletter.
All that to say, if you’re using SEO to grow your newsletter, be very thoughtful about what content you produce and the type of subscribers that’s likely to lead to. 10 subscribers from one piece of content can be far more valuable than 100 subscribers from another piece.
What’s your big goal for your newsletter? How does it fit in with your other projects?
The main goal for the newsletter is to keep growing it steadily.
Right now my business is overly dependent on SEO traffic, so growing an email list is an effort to move some eggs to another basket. That way, if our Google rankings plummet someday, we’ll still have an audience via our mailing list.
Aside from that, putting together the newsletter each week is a good way for me to keep up to date with the industry and new ways of making money online, which in turn helps me write better content and attract more readers who come to trust my recommendations.
I’m obsessed with other peoples’ process – how does your newsletter come together? What’s your workflow? What tools do you use? Who else is involved?
My newsletter goes out on Friday but during the week I’m dropping content ideas into Evernote as I stumble across them online.
Then on Thursday afternoon I start actively hunting for stuff to include in the newsletter.
I have a checklist of resources I comb through, such as:
Private communities I’m a part of
Reddit and similar aggregator sites
Suggestions from friends/subscribers/acquaintances
I keep searching until I have ~10 items that I think will be of interest to my subscribers, then write a bit about each item.
I try to tie ideas together and lay out why each item is interesting, rather than make the reader figure it out for themselves.
On a good week the newsletter comes together easy and I’m ready to send it out before noon on Friday. On a bad week it feels like I’ve found nothing good at all, and I slog through Friday afternoon desperately looking for content my subscribers will find interesting.
Once I have that week’s edition written up in Evernote, I transfer it to WordPress, publish the online edition, check for broken links, then send it out to the mailing list via Sendy.
(Sendy is self-hosted email software. You need to be somewhat technical to set it up and keep it updated, but if you can do that it’ll save you a ton compared to popular email services like Aweber and ConvertKit. I’ve spent only about $130 on Sendy + Amazon Web Services the past year, and that’s all the tech I need for the newsletter.)
Lastly, I do some promotion for the newsletter each week on my social media channels, tagging anyone I’ve mentioned in the online edition so they might see it and spread the word.
How are you thinking about the newsletter ecosystem these days?
It’s great that there are so many new tools and platforms coming out, giving publishers more choice and making it easier for them to get started.
At the same time, I haven’t seen anything that makes it much easier to build an audience. That’s always the hardest part, and there doesn’t seem to be any shortcut for it. Building a successful newsletter always seems to take a lot of time, effort and consistency.
What’s your business model for your newsletter?
I don’t worry too much about monetizing the newsletter. I started it more to build trust with my audience and as a way to keep myself learning about different ways to make money online.
The main way I monetize is with affiliate links, but that’s often an afterthought. It’s not uncommon for me to put together a full edition of the newsletter and realize after that I don’t have any affiliate links in there.
Sometimes I will include a “deal of the week” or mention a new or updated training or software that I think is really good, and I’ll affiliate link to that.
But most of the affiliate commissions I earn come via SEO traffic. It’s rare that a significant bump in revenue will come via the newsletter.
I am open to having sponsors for the newsletter but have never sought them out. I still think the newsletter is too small for sponsorship to be a win-win-win (for the readers, the sponsor, and for the business).
What big idea would you love to work on if you had unlimited time and money?
It might sound strange, but I’d keep doing what I’m doing, but better and faster.
The grand vision for eBiz Facts is to be the #1 destination for people who want to earn a living online. We would help them figure out the best ways to do that – according to their specific skills, goals, budget, etc. – and then point them towards the most useful resources to make it happen.
When someone tells a friend that they’d love to make money online, I want that friend to respond, “Oh, you should definitely check out eBiz Facts. That site was really helpful when I was getting started.”
If we can accomplish that, we should have a big impact on the world. We’ll be helping people build legit businesses, gain more independence, live wherever they want, etc.
A world where more people are able to live life on their own terms… that’s the world I want to live in.
I love working toward that vision and feel I’m well suited to the work I’m doing, so even with unlimited time and money I can’t really imagine doing anything else. It would just be nice to have the resources to hire great people to keep the business growing without it being so dependent on me.