In the middle of the crazy stream of ideas I then wanted to tackle, I selected a simple one: a Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator for the french market. I wanted to see what it took to build a simple website, market it and eventually make some passive income from it.
I ended up selling it a few days ago (8 months later) for 1900 euros (~ $2500) and have learned interested things in the meantime.
- Lesson #1: No matter how small the idea seems to be, there’s still something to do with it
I mean, the basic idea is to simply apply a mathematical formula:
BMI = height/(weight^2)
But people go to the Internet on droves in order to avoid calculating this. There you can step in the middle and present your BMI calculator.
This actually reminds me of Patrick Mackenzie. Patrick is now an authority figure among entrepreneurs on the Internet. But for a while, he was mainly known as the guy behind Bingo Card Creator, a piece of software so simple he made it and released it in 8 days and whose purpose … is to make bingo cards. It ended up being a full-blown business at some point.
- Lesson #2 Google is a winner-take-all game: It’s better to be big fish in a small pond
It’s of no use to optimize for over-competitive keywords at the beginning. Better to target keywords that are not too competitive at first, since it takes time to reach the top. For example, BMI (Body Mass Index, in French “IMC”) is quite competitive, with a few websites having lots of domain authority and backlinks. Keywords with less volume like “calculate BMI” (in French “calculer IMC”) have much less competition. It’s better to be number 1 for a low-volume keyword than being number 20 for a high-volume keyword. In the former case, you get a good chunk of the searches. In the latter case, you get only breadcrumbs. Big thanks to Eric Normand who helped me with this strategy back when I posted about this new website.
- Lesson #3: Link building is hard and boring.
SEO entails building links to get your website higher in the search engine rankings. But a big part of link building for small sites is quite boring. That’s because you have to write articles and submit them to article directories, press release websites, etc. You end up writing a lot of semi-interesting content. I tried to be creative and had some success, for example with a BMI widget. I would find places on the web where it would make sense to have a BMI widget, reach out to the owners and ask them if they would be interested to host my widget. A few did, but most didn’t.
- Lesson #4: Relationships are key to SEO
In the end, the most valuable links I’ve got were obtained by really connecting to people.
I first reached out to Gilles, who blogs about simplicity, minimalism and personal finance, with a short email asking him whether he wanted to link to my website (widget included). He had written an article about the BMI, and his blog had some following, so it seemed like a good idea. He didn’t even answer. I had found his blog interesting, so I started following it and commenting on it. After a while, Gilles noticed me and told me “I usually don’t do this, but since you are being active on the blog, I’ve added your widget on the page”. So there I had my link, but most importantly, I made a friend. I still follow and comment on Gilles’ blog, wrote a guest post on it, and we have even met in real life.I know it takes time and we all want immediate results, but actually taking the time to know the people behind the websites and interact with them is in your best interest, both personal and professional. And it actually feels good: it means it doesn’t pay to be a spammer, but it does pay to be an active contributor to the community. A real human being.
- Lesson #5: putting your energy into something you’re not passionate about is soul-crushing
It’s a little difficult to be writing about Body Mass Index and fitness related things when you’re not really interested in it. I still wanted this website to work, so I did what I thought was good for improving rankings. So I wrote. I wrote on the calculerIMC blog, and outside the blog. I wrote about the body mass index and all other kinds of indexes that I didn’t even know existed. I like to do a good job so I think the articles are good, but I felt like it was not my calling in life to be doing this.
In retrospect, I should maybe have outsourced this part. But outsourcing content creation in French is something harder than outsourcing it in English (and more costly too). So I don’t know if the ROI would have been great with outsourcing. However, it’s something you should consider if you’re not interested in writing articles for your niche.
- Lesson #6: monetizing properly requires time and experimentation
I figured I would have people calculate their BMI, and then based on the results, display a small recommendation of an affiliate product (Basically if people are overweight, to display a fitness related ebook). The conversion rates were dismal.
Several people told me (on Hacker News and elsewhere) that it doesn’t work to show an affiliate offer so abruptly. You need to nurture your visitor. One advice that stuck and that I’ve tried to do something about was:
- partner with a fitness coach or somebody else who highly values your visitors (in this case, people concerned about weight)
- have him write a autoresponder by email, providing a combination of free tips and paid services (for examples, real gym membership)
- negotiate a fee for each subscriber you send to the partner
- entice people to give their email address by giving away a valuable resource for free. It could be for example tips about keeping track of your BMI (not that I can imagine many things about it!)
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any partnerships going. Only 1 company replied and was not interested. So I was stuck with affiliate marketing for the time being. In the end, I did get some revenue based on affiliate offers. The month of January was very good with $170 of affiliate income (but it was a statistical anomaly, as many people went to the website in January (new year’s resolutions!). Check out my post about my websites’ funny statistics.
- Lesson #7: negotiation is under rated
Mickael wanted to buy the website. He actually owns Calculer Son Imc which is a competitor of my website.
He first asked me if I would sell it a few months ago, but I didn’t bother to reply since I still had ambitions to push the site and the revenues forward. He emailed me again in January and this time I did consider. Considering advice I read on the Internet about negotiations, I didn’t say my price first and instead asked for his price. He offered 1100 euros. I looked around on the Internet, looked at valuations of sites on Flippa and decided it was definitely not enough. So I counter offered at 2000 euros. After a few rounds, we did in the end settle for 1900 euros (2500 dollars), and I think we’re both happy with it.- I could free myself for a good price from a website I didn’t actually want to continue promoting, as I have many things on my plate now (mostly my new SAAS file sharing for small french businesses).- He gets a good asset for a reasonable price that will help him in his quest for French Body Mass Index market domination. I’m convinced the site is very under-monetized at the moment, and it could do well better with someone who can take proper care of it.Back to the mechanics of negotiation : always counter offer. If the other party doesn’t meet your price, then you can still lower it.
In the end, I’m really happy I’ve sold this website now, I’ve made some more cash to finance my current project and my expensive lifestyle in Paris (!), and I’ll try to keep an eye on how much time I spend on my side projects to evaluate the return on investment.