Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Turning a Failed Blog into a Multiple Six-Figure Business

Biron Clark
Biron Clark
March 9, 2021
Category of startup
Education
Country of startup
United States
Revenue of startups
$25k-$100k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Turning a Failed Blog into a Multiple Six-Figure Business

Biron Clark
Biron Clark
March 9, 2021
Category of startup
Education
Country of startup
United States
Cause of failure of the startup

Biron has been traveling for the past few years while growing Career Sidekick, a job search advice website. He's still the only full-time employee and is responsible for operations and strategy. They are a multiple six-figure per year business with 85%+ profit margins.

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Hi Biron! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

Hi, Biron here. I’m a 34-year-old entrepreneur from Boston, USA. I’ve been traveling for the past few years while growing my online business at the same time.

My business is a job search advice website called Career Sidekick. We earn revenue from a mix of products (a course and e-books), affiliate marketing, and display advertising. As founder and owner, I’m responsible for strategic decision-making and the overall profit/loss of the business.

I’m also our PR person, for now, so I am responsible for getting press coverage, getting more exposure, etc.

Finally, I’m involved in the content planning and creation process for our web content, even as we’ve grown to a multiple-six-figure business. While this wouldn’t be optimal for a founder/CEO in many businesses, we’re primarily a content website, so our web content is vital to our success. And since we publish a relatively low volume of content (one to four articles per month), with a focus on high-quality, evergreen content that will be relevant for years to come, I feel justified in spending some of my time ensuring our content remains excellent.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Before Career Sidekick, I was working as a recruiter in Boston. That’s how I learned the job search tips that I share on the website, and that was the original premise of the site: Practical advice from an executive recruiter. However, the website didn’t grow or succeed initially and eventually took a back seat to other projects for a couple of years.

During this time, I continued working as a recruiter and eventually quit, moved to Thailand temporarily, and began working as a freelance digital marketer. My dream was always to succeed with a web business and leave freelancing behind, though. However, I made many mistakes that stopped Career Sidekick from growing initially.

One mistake was beginning too broad and not choosing a narrow enough niche. The saying, “niches make riches” is true in my experience. The website was originally a career advice blog where I wrote about all sorts of topics, from why it’s unfair for employers to require a two-week notice, to how to succeed while working for multiple bosses.

I had two big problems here in terms of the content marketing strategy: First, it was too scattered. I was writing about all sorts of different things, so nobody had a reason to pay attention or follow me for any of those topics. Second, I was writing content that I felt like writing, instead of writing about topics that my audience was searching for help with online!

This seems so basic and simple now, yet I see many blogs (both personal and corporate) making this same mistake. If you want to succeed with SEO and blogging, you need to research what people are searching online and write posts that directly address the information that people want help with. I only started seeing success when I recognized these errors and niched down into just job search advice, and began writing content that directly answered my audience’s questions.


How did you go from idea to product?

Very quickly, without much thought (for better or worse).

I decided I wanted to build a career advice site, so I spent a couple of days researching a domain name, then I bought it on NameCheap. From there, I paid for web hosting, installed WordPress, and got to work. The slowest part of this process was picking a brand/domain name. And I feel this is where the most time should have been spent, since it cannot be changed easily and has a big impact on whether people can remember the site, type it easily, etc.

I’m not claiming I’ve got the best domain name ever, but for a .com name that was available on the open market, I’m happy with how things turned out. The first version looked very basic and used a free WordPress theme. And I paid $5 for the logo on Fiverr. But I started, and that’s half the battle!

Career Sidekick Homepage

You can see how old some of the initial posts are, dating back to 2013. As mentioned earlier, I founded the project and then let it sit semi-dormant (one new article per month) for a few years before I figured out how to grow it. Over the years, the site has gone through many iterations and gradual improvements. We’ve changed the WordPress theme multiple times, improved website navigation based on user feedback and viewing user heatmaps (using Hotjar), and more.

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

We’ve always been focused on organic marketing. Organic search is our biggest traffic source. Of our 1,000,000+ monthly visitors, more than 80% come from search. Here is the general trend of our monthly pageviews from 2015 to the Present:

Sidekick Organic Traffic

Quora has also been fantastic for us, and the answers I’ve written years ago continue to bring in views and website clicks. I haven’t written answers on Quora for approximately two years, yet you can still see steady views on my content:

Sidekick Quora Answers Analytics

Pinterest has been surprisingly good, too, especially if you set your website images to have a “Pin” button that invites people to pin the image when they hover their mouse. That’s one of my favorite, easy-to-implement tricks because it gets other people sharing your website for you.

LinkedIn has also been excellent since Career Sidekick is in a business-related niche. I’ve found LinkedIn to be a “blue ocean” with less competition and more opportunities than other big social platforms like Facebook and Instagram. There are just fewer high-caliber marketers with great tactics on LinkedIn, meaning it's easier to stand out and build a following. I wrote about this for Social Media Examiner and revealed some of the ways I grew to 200,000+ followers while being named a LinkedIn Top Voice in 2019.

LinkedIn has become a bit more competitive this past year, but it’s still easier than most of the other big social sites. LinkedIn was also incredibly valuable in terms of building connections and relationships with industry peers. These relationships got me article features (from other blogs, but also big news sites and journalists), podcast appearances, partnership opportunities, and more.

I think LinkedIn was our most valuable marketing channel, aside from organic search/SEO, because of the direct traffic it drove and the relationships and opportunities it opened for me as a founder. If I could only do two things to promote my site, it’d be SEO and LinkedIn.

In terms of revenue, we’ve slowly rolled out e-books on various topics as the site has grown, and then developed a job search video course after that. We looked at what topics were doing best on the blog and wrote books around those topics. This seemed logical for two reasons. First, we know the topics are popular and relevant to people in general. Second, we already have traffic coming to our site looking for help with these exact areas, so we know we’ve got “warm” leads.

We’re not big on launches, unlike many online info businesses. We usually just do a quiet launch where we work these products into our email sequences, set the product to be offered as an up-sell or down-sell after other purchases if relevant, etc. We’ve never done a big, attention-grabbing launch. That may be a missed opportunity that I can look into in the future.

Beyond our products, we’ve also started capitalizing on affiliate partnerships and display ads through Mediavine (they’re a fantastic ad network and I can’t recommend them enough). For affiliate partnerships, we’ve been able to refer visitors to career coaches, resume writers, online coding bootcamps, e-learning platforms like Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning, and many other services that can help job seekers beyond what we offer. However, we focused on traffic and growth first. We didn’t monetize for the first few years. And even now, people often come to our homepage and are unsure how we earn money at first glance. I like that!

Here is what the site’s homepage looks like now:

Career Sidekick Course

How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

Each of the past four years has been a record year for Career Sidekick in terms of revenue and profit. We’re a multiple six-figure per year business now and profit margins are 85%+. I’m still the only full-time employee; I hire contractors/freelancers rather than bringing in full-time staff. The company is 100% remote/distributed, too. We don’t have an office that anyone on the team works from.

The goal for the next 12 months is to double our annual revenue. I’d like to see profit margin dip, believe it or not, because that would indicate that I’m doing less of the work myself and hiring people to do more! I think that’d be fantastic for long-term growth. Expenses are very low right now, at less than $4,000 per month, and I think we could grow more by increasing that figure.

I also hope to delegate more of my tasks, in areas like content writing, content planning, and PR, to free my time for bigger ideas and initiatives which I’m hoping can eventually grow the business 10X or more. But to do that, I need to spend less time working in the business, and more time working on the business. I think that’s key for any leader. My goal is also to enjoy my non-work life more. I’m going to end each workday at 2 pm, while getting more done, thanks to better prioritization and more delegation. I’m excited about this change because I think it’ll bring tremendous business growth as well as personal growth.

Since starting Career Sidekick, what have been your main lessons?

  1. Niches make riches. You’re not limiting yourself by choosing a well-defined niche for your business. You’re often limiting yourself by trying to appeal to everyone and starting too broad. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one. Even Amazon began by just selling books.
  2. Collaborate with competitors. There’s room for more than one business to succeed in a niche. You can befriend a few like-minded founders in your niche, help each other, and all benefit. Abundance mindset!
  3. Who you know matters, a lot. Build relationships whenever possible, and look to help others first. Asking for favors upfront isn’t networking!
  4. Consistency is key. I didn’t do anything particularly quickly, but I kept making progress and chipping away. I had slow months but I kept moving forward. As long as you’re inching closer to your goal, that’s okay.
  5. Don’t reinvent the wheel. For most business challenges, someone else has already solved it (and written about it/talked about it). You don’t need to try to tackle every problem on your own, from scratch. Use templates for things like sales pages and marketing emails, search Google for problems you’re facing, etc. Hire help. It’s okay to take inspiration from other businesses, too (just don’t plagiarize).
  6. Never stop learning. Every time I’ve thought I knew everything about a topic, I discovered how much more I had to learn. Stay humble and keep learning. Or else one of your competitors who’s doing that will pass you!


What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

The biggest obstacle I overcame was uncertainty and doubt. I came very close to giving up and selling Career Sidekick multiple times, for a shockingly low amount (I was earning very little from it for years, and the sale price would have surely been below $10,000). Now, as my site competes with much larger businesses (some with 50-200 employees) to get attention and search traffic, I’m facing new obstacles, but I’ll have to return in a few years to describe how that turned out :)

The biggest mistakes I’ve made: Trying to do everything myself for too long instead of hiring help and trusting others. I think because the nature of my business is so scalable, it allowed me to get away with doing everything myself for a very long time. I would have been forced to delegate tasks much sooner in another business model like a service business (marketing agency, content writing agency, etc). However, the business began growing faster once I overcame this mental block and trusted others to help with the operations. This is a transition that’s in progress and that I still need to improve upon. This also allows me to play to my strengths. I’m not very detail-oriented, for example, so I’ve hired an editor and proofreader so that I never have to read any content before it gets published. That’s a huge help and frees me to do higher-impact tasks.

Also, at the very beginning, I was far too hesitant to spend money and invest in the business. I learned that trying to save a few hundred dollars (on website software, marketing tools, etc.) often costs you far more in the long-run. My business is still highly profitable… 80%+ profit margin… just because of the nature of the business. But I always look for ways to invest and buy the best tools/resources for myself. It’s worth it.


What tools & resources do you recommend?

Favorite tools:

  • WordPress for building a scalable website
  • Active Campaign for email marketing
  • Ahrefs for SEO research
  • Canva for designs and graphics
  • Sendowl for selling digital downloads
  • Teachable for selling a course
  • Paypal and Stripe for payment processing

Favorite blogs to learn from:

Books that inspired and taught me:


Where can we go to learn more?

My business is Career Sidekick and you can connect with me on Instagram and LinkedIn, too.

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