A year ago I flew to Austin, Texas and started my tenure as the Editor in Chief of the personal finance website I Will Teach You To Be Rich and the entrepreneur community GrowthLab. It’s a fully remote company, one of the properties sounds like a scam, and most of the content is signed by the company’s founder Ramit Sethi.
It’s pretty much the opposite of most media jobs where you write articles in a loft office somewhere trying to drive as much traffic as possible while secretly hoping that your byline makes you internet famous. As someone who checked Twitter three times while writing this, I say that with love.
On the surface, IWT (as we affectionally call the company) is weird. But look under the hood, and I believe we’re laying the ground work for the future of digital publishing. And it’s the reason I joined the team, and it’s something I don’t talk about enough.
- Direct reader payments. While some publications are just now beginning to try and distance themselves from advertising, our business has always been built on the back of online courses, books, and online information products. So when we help our readers, we stay in business. When we don’t, we suffer.
- We own our platform. We rely on a combination of our WordPress sites and email newsletters for traffic and sales. Yes we share stuff on social media, but Twitter and Facebook could disappear tomorrow and we wouldn’t notice. Instead, we mostly use social media as a place for our various sub communities to gather (like students of Zero to Launch our course on starting a business).
- We measurably improve the lives of our readers. Rafat Ali challenges writers and editors to ask themselves: if your publication disappeared would your readers care? I measure my work this way. I’ve spoken to dozens of readers who have had our content and courses dramatically alter their livelihoods. I spoke with one entrepreneur whose business allowed her to quit a toxic workplace. Another whose side project blossomed so she could move out of a poor neighborhood in Eastern Europe. The testimonials we collect are truly magical:
Here’s a snapshot of how my salary has grown over the past 5 years – 2013: $28k, 2014-2015: $42k, 2016: $50k, 2017: $75k, 2018: $102k.
Just signed a $100k Part Time job (30hrs per week, with 4 weeks vacation) with an employer who supports me growing my agency and writing my book!!!
This foundation is the reason I chose to work at IWT, but I realize I haven’t written about what I’m actually working on professionally. So I’d like to offer this as a year in review:
The big picture
We write the best damn free content we possibly can, continue to deliver that value creatively via email, and then open up our courses every few months. There’s no ads, and the size of our audience isn’t as important as the right audience. We’re doing our best to build out our Universe by choosing niches that directly correlate to problems our readers face and I’ve spent most of my time making this process smoother while upping the quality of our content across our two brands:
Internally we refer to our strategy as the “ascension model.” We hope you find us via search, social, or referral and are so in love with what you read you sign up to hear more. We then offer you our course suite throughout the year, starting with our “flagship” course. There are then a collection of smaller, more specific courses.
For example “Zero to Launch” teaches students how to go from no idea to growing online business. Those graduates can then sign up for “Call to Action” which teaches students how to be top-rate copywriters.
Now we’re asking ourselves: how can we add more elements to this that provide value to our readers? And are there other subjects we can tackle in a few years?
1 – Scaling our editorial operation
What started as Ramit Sethi blogging about personal finance in a dorm room has blossomed into a full-fledged business with more than a dozen courses, complex SEO strategies, a handful of writers, and two publications. All of this happened organically and according to the needs of the business.
As with any business in its adolescence, it’s acquired a bit of operational debt of all kinds: editorial, brand, tech. So the entire IWT team is “cleaning up” to set a stable foundation for future aggressiveness.
That includes fixing a tech backend that was built piecemeal and removing vestiges of old content efforts. Editorially, it means putting in the building blocks that every publication needs: A guiding mission, cohesive branding, a regular content schedule, content pillars, and reliable workflows to ensure the things we publish are consistent and of high quality. Some wins here:
- Growing the team. We’ve hired two new writers to bring our editorial department up to six people. Shout out to Copy editor Nasrin Chiappetta, Director of Editorial Ryan Johnson, and staff writers Tony Ho Tran, Katie Parrott, and Stephanie Lee.
- Less sales, more fun, and more fun sales. We’ve dialed back the number of weeks we launch courses to our email list to instead email blog posts and fun one-off emails from each brand. And when we do send marketing emails, they are written hand-in-hand with our “regular” writers. Our readers often like our sales funnels more than some of our “regular” blog posts.
A steady stream of expert contributors. On GrowthLab we ask our students and community to share their insights. The result has been some great writing from those in the trenches. Like this post about being realistic when starting a business. Or this one about how hard it is to change your identity as an entrepreneur. Or more tactical stuff like how to hire an expert copywriter or how to find your business idea on Reddit.
- “Leading with creative.” In the past, much of the blog content existed to support the current sales cycle. Now, each blog is to help us serve readers and advance new ideas in each niche. Changing the “why” behind content has lots of secondary and tertiary effects on its quality.
2 – Laying the ground work to serve more communities
Our mission is to “build no-BS personal development brands that deliver real results.” And personal development can take forms beyond just personal finance and starting a business. But first, we need to build the internal muscles and processes that are required to run a successful publication at scale. So I’m working on things like…
- Attracting a reliable stable of guest contributors to make our brands the home for the best insights in their niche
- Making the reader experience seamless from blog to email to course
- Surfacing reader feedback to other parts of the team so we can build better products, host better events, and more. Speaking of…
3 – Events
My last responsibility is building out GrowthLab’s events arm. More to announce soon, but the events are the most recent step in treating each of our brands like communities and audiences. And every community needs a reunion.
If what I wrote above sounds appealing, GrowthLab is currently looking for freelance contributors. Read our contributors guide, and drop me a line!