How I’ve Grown a No-frills Service to $4,000/Mo in Revenue

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hello, my name is Preston Lee and I run a membership program for freelancers called SolidGigs.

Every week, we search through thousands of freelance job listings around the web, cut out about 98% of them based on quality, and deliver the top 1-2% of freelance jobs to our members via email. In addition, we've got a growing resource library with courses, interviews, scripts, and templates to help freelancers level up their business.

In the last 15 months, we've grossed over $50,000 in revenue and have a steady MRR that currently sits at about $4,000.

home

What motivated you to get started with SolidGigs?

It all started when I was in college. I was freelancing as a graphic designer to help make ends meet and, as an experiment, I started blogging about graphic design as well. My graphic design blog ultimately turned into a blog for freelancers of all kinds—writing, marketing, development, design, coaching, etc. Today, it's called Millo.

From there, we started to build out lots of different resources for freelancers, including podcasts, a Facebook group, a weekly newsletter, blog posts from experts every week on our blog, and more. But even after years of producing a lot of really great content, every time we'd send a reader survey out, we noticed that 80% or more of our readers still struggled with one key issue: where to find quality freelance jobs.

We published blog posts sharing the best freelance jobs sites and dove deep with experts on how to make money as an artist/creative. We’ve also put out numerous podcast episodes, including a full year following a brand-new freelancer and his journey to build a freelance business.

Unfortunately, none of it was working. Freelancers were still stuck, still frustrated.

So, instead of launching a course or creating more free content that clearly wasn't going deep enough on the real issue, we decided to create a basic product instead. We launched the MVP of SolidGigs. Here's what the basic MVP of SolidGigs looked like at launch:

first MVP

We charged a fraction of what we charge today to our first round of members. Freelancers who wanted to get our weekly freelance job list and save time hunting for gigs each week could become a member for just $8/mo. It was a steal. And it worked—freelancers started signing up. We knew we had something good on our hands.

What went into building the initial product?

The initial product was incredibly rudimentary. From start to finish, it took about a week to build the landing page (coded in basic HTML for the moment), set up the payment gateway, and connect Mailchimp. We hired a PSD-to-HTML editor to create our landing page quickly so we could focus on other tasks. I think it cost us $20. We then connected Stripe to Mailchimp where we could charge users a recurring monthly fee and send them an email every week.

As creators we tend to also be visionaries, imagining all the possibilities and opportunities available to us. Keep it simple.

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We had a grand vision for what we ultimately wanted it to be, but we knew we had to prove the model before investing more resources into the idea, so we intentionally kept it very small. Letting in only 50 members at a time (usually with a month or two between), serving only designers, developers, marketers, and writers, and not even having a website (aside from our landing page) where users could log in.

In order to get the product that we delivered weekly my small team and I combed through dozens of freelance jobs sites to find the best possible freelancing opportunities. We then manually put them into a Mailchimp email and sent it to all of our members.

Because both the product and the means of producing it was so basic, it was easy to self-fund this little pilot, and after the first few customers, we broke even on domain registration/hosting and the tech required to connect Stripe to Mailchimp. We were basically profitable from day one.

How have you attracted users and grown SolidGigs?

As I mentioned, in the beginning, we only let in around 50 users at a time. We didn't want to grow too fast so that we could ensure that we were offering our members a quality experience. We came to realize that the limitation worked to our advantage, as it created a scarcity that motivated people to sign up for our waiting link and register as soon as we opened more seats. In addition, because we had been growing our blog audience over the past few years, we had more than enough freelancers we could contact to get an initial member base.

All of this combined meant we hit our first 100 users in a couple of months (opening the doors to 50 members once a month for two months). From there, we were off to the races, learning what our members wanted and needed from us.

Since then, we've continued to market to our own list and also tap into the power of affiliate partners. A couple of our affiliate partners have high-ranking articles for keywords that match the solution our product provides, which brings a steady stream of new members, as well as a steady stream of affiliate revenue to our partners. We've also experimented with sponsorships (which were not quite as high-performing) and we plan to ramp up paid acquisition through Google Ads and Facebook Ads this year.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

The business model for this particular product is extremely simple: members pay a monthly fee to gain access to our weekly freelance job lists and other premium content, like courses and interviews.

After my experience building up a blog, an endeavor that is notorious for not making any money in the first few years, I was prepared to start another service that took years to generate revenue and assumed this is how things would go. But from day one, we had payments coming in via Stripe and, although revenue has ebbed and flowed over the last 15 months, overall we've seen healthy, steady growth.

Interestingly, our highest revenue month to date was caused by a looming increase in price. We announced we'd be raising our monthly membership cost and grandfathering in any previous members at their original fee. This encouraged fence-sitters to pull the trigger and sign up while it was still $13/mo (soon to be $19/mo).

pricing

Our attrition rate is still much higher than I'd like it to be, but we've seen it decline ever since we introduced our resource library. Our goal has shifted from solely attracting paying members to also working to extend the amount of time they stay subscribed as a member.

Expenses for this project include:

  • My personal time, which I don't track or calculate
  • One part-time independent contractor who receives a monthly stipend of $500
  • Hosting and registration, which don't amount to more than about $10/mo
  • A portion of my Mailchimp spend, which is about $55/mo
  • Membership to a few premium job search sites, totaling around $30/mo
  • Licensing fees for some of our expert courses, which come out to around $700-$900/mo

All in, we're looking at about $1,500/mo in expenses and have a healthy MRR of about $4,000. To date, the project has added over $50,000 to our top line revenue. This isn’t a figure that will push any of us towards early retirement, but it's certainly starting to make up a nice portion of our blog's overall revenue.

Month Revenue
Aug ‘18 3167
Sep ‘18 3889
Oct ‘18 3720
Nov ‘18 5444
Dec ‘18 3424
Jan ‘19 6026

What are your goals for the future?

Our goal this year is to grow our current membership of 400 to over 1,000. At 1,000 members, we feel we'll hit a tipping point in regards to the quality of the services and, subsequently, the value that we are able to provide to our members. Our plan is to continue to utilize our current audience to network and grow membership, along with some aggressive SEO and paid acquisition strategies we're focusing on this year.

The biggest roadblock is attrition. We've got a natural problem built into the service: If our members become incredibly successful because of all of the jobs we’ve connected them to, we make ourselves somewhat obsolete. When a freelancer no longer needs more leads or more clients, they unsubscribe from our service. Our goal this year is to add value in ways that will encourage our members to stay even after they find new quality clients.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?

Along with our decision to go very simple in our MVP came a poor technology decision. We used a piece of software that connected our Stripe account to our Mailchimp account and, unfortunately, it caused us a lot of problems with customers. It also lacked basic customizability functions that we needed (e.g., being able to send a confirmation email from our email address instead of theirs) that caused brand confusion and UX problems with our first members. All that, plus a lack of quality customer service, meant that after only a few months, we had to move to something else.

Aside from that, it's been pretty smooth sailing. It's not perfect, but it's working steadily and we're happy with it so far.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I've focused on learning as much as I personally can about successful membership sites run by other people who I admire. From there, I try to find commonalities and apply them to our membership community.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

My advice is to start small. Keep asking yourself, could we launch without that? Chances are, over 80% of the time your answer will be “yes.”

While optimism and tireless effort can be your greatest ally, they can also cause you to add far too many bells and whistles to your product far too early. As creators we tend to also be visionaries, imagining all the possibilities and opportunities available to us. Keep it simple. Release it way before you feel great about it. And if people are willing to use it, improve it from there.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can learn more about SolidGigs at SolidGigs.com. As for the rest of the work we're doing for freelancers, you can learn more at Millo.co.

I'm also happy to answer any questions you have about the product or about growing a freelance business in general. You can catch me on twitter at @prestondlee or just leave a comment on this post and let's chat!

Preston Lee , Founder of SolidGigs

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