How Long Should It Take to Make Your First Dollar? Two Different Approaches

How long should it take your creative business to generate your first dollar? Let’s look at two extreme examples: those techniques used by Noah Kagan to build AppSumo effectively overnight, and Neil Patel’s strategy to build the Nutrition Secrets blog. Noah Kagan advocates an extremely quick turnaround from idea to the first dollar. Neil Patel is a master of the long-haul strategies of audience building and search engine optimization. Let’s examine Neil’s strategy first.

Neil Patel conducted his famous blogging experiment to prove that “anyone” can build a blog from scratch that generates $100,000 in monthly revenue within 12 months. His strategy revolved around creating a niche blog and then driving traffic to it. When the blog’s audience reached “critical mass” he developed a product that his audience would like to buy and sold it to them. In his blogging challenge, he set up a nutrition blog and then used it to promote his own private label fish oil capsules that he sold through Amazon. He did succeed in making $100,000 of revenue a month. In the twelfth month, he had a revenue of $121,492.65. That is a lot of fish oil.

Neil did not even begin to monetize the blog until the eighth month. That was when the fish oil was first rolled out, and I don’t believe the revenue really started until the ninth month which had $22,702 in sales. $3,588.57 of that was profit. Blog building is a long-term strategy, but Neil knows how to do it. Importantly, Neil wasn’t particularly passionate about fish oil (or nutrition, for that matter). Private label fish oil was just the product that his audience would buy and it also fit all of the technical requirements he needed his product to meet. Neil’s $100k challenge may give hope to people who are very passionate about blogging and may already have a fair readership. If you have been carefully tending your blog for months, there can be money at the end of the rainbow if you follow the right procedure. But, I can also see how Neil’s strategy would be disheartening to many people. It took a lot of work for Neil to build the blog, and many people will not be able to work for nine straight months without ever seeing a dollar.

So, Neil’s blog building strategy works, but I can easily imagine Noah Kagan and his adherents looking at it and shaking their heads. Noah Kagan is famous for recommending extremely short time horizons for validating a business idea and getting the first sale—sometimes this is as short as a single day or even 10 minutes. Noah isn’t going to put in all the effort building a blog for months and months and then see if he can make the first sale. He designs the product and then finds out if people will pay for it as quickly as possible. Famously, he built AppSumo for only $50 and had paying customers from basically Day 1. There was no nine-month lead-up to making money with AppSumo.

So, where does that leave us as creatives? I think new creatives should channel Noah Kagan more than Neil Patel, but what they teach is not as opposed as you might think. They are working in two different areas. In Starting Right I write that developing your product and building your audience are two very different things. You need to know if an audience is waiting for what you are creating or if you need to build the audience yourself. Especially in the beginning, creating for an existing audience is preferable. Noah Kagan skips the audience-building effort. He finds an existing audience and then puts a product in front of them. This allows him to immediately validate whether or not they will buy. If not, he revises the product. That is exactly how he built AppSumo. He had a product and knew where there was an existing audience who would want it, so he connected those two. At its core, that is what running a business is all about—connecting customers with a product they need or want. Both Neil and Noah ultimately did this, which is why their businesses work, but Noah was much more direct.

For your first creative endeavor, channel Noah Kagan. When you are confident in your ability to execute and want to build an audience for creations that are uniquely yours, take a deep dive into Neil Patel’s material and channel him. But even with Neil Patel, it is very important to note that when he decided to monetize the blog, he built his product (the fish oil) under very tight constraints and he did it quickly. The blog was not the product. The fish oil was. From what I can tell, Neil went from searching for the right product to having the fish oil ready to sell in only one or two months. He did not spend another nine months trying to create something for his audience to buy. He also had tight constraints that the product was going to have to fit. He found that product and then he sold it. (Here again, we also see the importance of creating within constraints.) Audience building is a separate animal from the product development effort. Make sure you are conceptually separating them in your own creative business.

There is also an important element here about how psychologically comfortable you are with asking for a sale. Noah has no problem with that. He has no problem developing a product idea and text messaging people he thinks would be interested with a PayPal buy link. That isn’t something that a lot of creatives are comfortable doing. Therefore, it is tempting to start audience-building efforts in an attempt to “hide” from asking people for the sale. If asking for the sale is not something you are comfortable with, it is all the more reason to start with a Noah-type approach to clear that psychological hurdle as fast as possible.

I struck something of a middle ground in Starting Right when I recommended setting a time limit of three months for taking your first project from an idea to something that a customer could buy. That three-month mark is a bit arbitrary. I would not go above it for your first project, but if you can dramatically reduce that amount of time, even down do a week or less, then you should do it. Three months isn’t a lot of time for audience building anyway, but it will give you enough time to sort out the technical parts of executing a small project and also to build a small but targeted list of people who might be interested in your creation.

In conclusion, it is important to study both Neil and Noah’s techniques, but they must be understood in the right contexts of product creation/validation and audience building. Be clear on what your goal is, and avoid long product development cycles, especially for your first project.

Further reading:

  • For the story of how Noah Kagan built AppSumo for $50, click here.
  • For an overview of Neil Patel’s $100,000 blog challenge, Romu Gaboriau has compiled all of the information and linked to Neil’s original blog posts right here.
  • Neil’s main website can be found right here.
  • The Nutrition Secrets blog that Neil built during the challenge is here.
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