2016 Year in Review: How My Business Grew with Niche Sites and Ecommerce Brands

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2016 Year in Review: How My Business Grew with Niche Sites and Ecommerce Brands

At the beginning of each year, I think it's important to reflect on the successes and perhaps failures that I've had in the previous year.

In addition, since I no longer provide regular monthly updates on my own business, I think this review post will give you some good insight into my business and what's working for me.

In particular, I haven't really talked much about the new websites that I built in 2016, and so I'd like to share some stats from those sites.

Overall, 2016 was a fantastic year for me and my business!

I Sold Long Tail Pro

The biggest event in my business for 2016 was the fact that I sold Long Tail Pro in Feb. 2016.  I wrote an entire post about the deal here if you want to catch up.

Overall, I had been running the business since 2010, and so it wasn't an easy decision to let this business go.  However, I was offered a great deal and I still retain some equity in the business.

Going from spending a large amount of time working on Long Tail Pro to virtually no time after the sale, has given me a chance to rethink what I want to pursue.  Some of those ideas are discussed below.

Growing and selling Long Tail Pro was a life changing event for me, and this is by far the biggest business accomplishment of 2016.

I Got Serious About My Amazon FBA Business

I launched my first physical product on Amazon in early 2015.  However, I didn't “try” too hard with this business until after I sold Long Tail Pro.

I took a look at all my businesses, and decided that selling products through Amazon was something that I could scale faster than some of the other options I was looking at.

With the help of Jake (my employee), we grew this business significantly in 2016.  I provided a more in-depth review of the lessons I learned in 2016 from this business right here.

I launched several products and towards the later half of the year really started to focus on more unique ideas.  I've found that more unique offerings tend to sell better and command higher prices.

This probably seems like obvious business advice; however, many of the Amazon FBA courses or “gurus” teach that you should start by mimicking products that are already successful.  I've found that throwing up a “copy” product doesn't always get the job done.

If I were to start over again, I'd only focus on unique or improved product offerings.

2016 Amazon Sales

2015 Amazon Sales

So, in 2016 the top line revenue was roughly $775k, while in 2015 the revenue was just $185k.  That's some serious growth in 2016!  I'm hoping to more than double the revenue in 2017.

(And in case you are wondering, the net profit is roughly 28%).

In December 2016, we did about $87k in sales.  We would have likely done over $100k in December if we hadn't run out of stock on 3 of our products.  A couple of our products starting selling MUCH better than expected and we didn't have enough stock.

However, the holiday season was still huge.

We have a few new products in the works and expect to launch those early this year.  I have no doubt that 2017 will be a high growth year, and I look forward to expanding this business.

Hiring

Part of my plans for growth is additional hiring.  I now have 3 brands that can essentially “afford” to pay for a brand manager.

As a result, in the last week, I've hired 2 new employees to help grow a couple of my physical product brands.  These brand managers will be able to put the time and energy into the products and websites needed to help them grow.  I'll provide the strategic vision.

I've hired one manager to grow the brand I have in the music niche (sells physical products and has a Shopify store).  The other manager is going to grow the brand I have in the household goods niche (sells 7 products in one particular niche).

Niche Site Growth

I know it's been a little while since I've discussed what I've been doing on the niche site front.  In 2016, I've built or been focusing on 5 niche sites.  Here's a quick review of each of these:

Niche Site/Ecommerce Brand 1 – Household Goods Niche

This is a site that I technically started in 2015.  However, most of the growth has happened in 2016.

This site also sells 7 physical products (that I sell on Amazon).  So, I'm driving traffic to my Amazon listings using this niche site.

I've actually written in depth how I've grown this site in a previous post here.

The primary strategy has been low competition content. I have done absolutely NO linkbuilding in all of 2016.  I'm a big believer in keyword research and writing quality content.  That strategy has worked really well for me on this site.

Between a couple of different tracking ids (only 1 shown above in screenshot) and Google Adsense earnings, this site made just over $4,000 in affiliate commissions in December 2016.  However, the real win of this site is that it contributed MUCH more in sales to my Amazon listings.

Niche Site/Ecommerce Brand 2 – Music Niche

This is actually an ecommerce brand that I purchased in early 2016.  This site came up for sale on EmpireFlippers.com and I just couldn't pass up on the deal after I spoke with the previous owner.

The product that this site sells is a very unique and high quality product for musicians.  The business has actually been around for 15 years; however, the website was a new addition in the last couple of years.  Also, there's a long story, but the business was at rock bottom, very little monthly sales when I purchased it.

However, the product was so cool, I just couldn't pass it up.

As a first order of business, we revamped the website to make it more user friendly and ramped up the content to start getting some traffic.  Our strategy here was simple, we focused on low competition keywords and quality content (we found a musician/author to write the content).

We essentially did no link building.  We did outreach to get mentions on Youtube and Instagram, etc…but our intention was not to get links; although that may have been a by-product.  The growth in the traffic you'll see below is all due to our content ranking well in Google.

When we bought the site, it was only getting about 30 visitors a day, or close to 1,000 per month.  As you can see, we've grown that significantly since we purchased the site.  The site now consistently gets 2,000 to 2,500 visitors EACH DAY!

The brand sold about $5,000 worth of product in December.  Yes, this was higher than normal due to the holiday season; however, I see huge potential here that hasn't been fully tapped into yet.

As a result, I just hired a brand manager (that happens to be a musician) to help us take this brand to the next level.  With an amazing product, now a great website with real traffic, and a dedicated brand manager, I expect great things for this ecommerce business in 2017.

Niche Site 3 – Health Niche

In October 2016, I got the itch to buy another site.  However, instead of going to the available marketplaces, I decided to reach out to owners of sites to see if I could pick something up.

Well, I found a site in the health/dieting niche that I thought was a good deal for $1500.  I basically wanted something that had age and would help me “skip” the Google sandbox.

So far, we've hired writers to add new content and we revamped the look and feel of the site a bit, but haven't ramped things up too serious yet.

We haven't seen any huge success yet, but its only been a couple of months, and I still think there is potential here.

Traffic stats

Niche Site 4 – Treasure Hunting Niche

This site was started in February 2016.  As you can see from the screenshot below, the growth has been pretty consistent.

The strategy on this site has been very simple: find low competition keywords, write great content, then repeat.  We have done NO link building whatsoever on this site.

This is an interesting niche and we don't sell any physical products in this space.  As a result, I have focused only on growing the traffic (through content) and not so much the earnings of the site. In 2017, the focus will shift to get more serious about monetizing the site.

In Dec. 2016, this site earned about $78.

Niche Site 5 – Automotive Niche

This site was started around late Oct. or early Nov. of 2016.  The site only has 10 articles or so published right now.

However, we've hired a writer that is very knowledgeable in the automotive space, and he will be producing content on a regular basis.  And you guessed it, the strategy is the same: find low competition keywords and produce high quality content.  No link building for the foreseeable future.

This is a space that has the potential for us to build physical products around and build into a real brand.  I'm hoping that by the second half of 2017, the site will have grown enough that I can start experimenting with my own products there.

Traffic

Investments Made in 2016

Outside of my own projects listed above, I'm also a financial investor in a few businesses.  Clearly, when I sold Long Tail Pro I had a little extra money that I was able to use here.

I think this just gives a bigger picture idea of where I'm involved and where I'm invested.

  • Long Tail Pro.  Even though I sold a majority of the business, I technically still own a minority stake.  I'm no longer involved in the day to day operations, so it's a passive investment for me now.
  • 50% of Jake's eCommerce Brand.  I invested the start up capital needed for Jake to launch a couple of products on Amazon.  This is already profitable for me.
  • 6% of PicReel.com.  I'm just a financial investor here and discussed it briefly here with Kevin Peterson who manages the business.
  • 33% of 2 Niche Sites.  These are just a couple of sites purchased with some partners.
  • 7% of Personal Finance Site.  This is another financial investment that I made; someone else runs the day to day operations.
  • 23% of a Digital Marketing agency.  This is a deal I did with WiredInvestors.com.  It has some complexity to the deal, but I'm planning to be a financial investor only here, not actively promoting the services it offers (even though my audience here is clearly a perfect fit). I'm not involved at all in the day to day operations.
  • 9% of a travel/destination site.  Again, I'm just a financial investor here…a team is already in place to run and grow the site.
  • 50% of my brother's ecommerce business.  We launched one product last year that didn't go anywhere, but we have a couple of new products in the works that I think have potential.  My brother is pretty much doing everything, I'm just providing the seed capital.
  • Bitcoin.  I also took the plunge in early 2016 and bought some bitcoin.  Last time I checked, the value of this investment had doubled.  But don't ask me to check again, because it's so volatile!

Overall, I made a number of website purchases and business investments during 2016.  Most of these I have very little input in the day to day operations of the businesses.  I definitely am enjoying the passive nature of these investments, and I hope they continue to do well!

NichePursuits.com

As I look at NichePursuits.com and what was accomplished with this site, I see both some wins and some areas that need improvement.

In 2016, we conducted an epic case study: Niche Site Project 3.  Jake, Perrin, and I coached 3 students on starting a niche site from scratch.  As a result, we created some VERY in-depth training videos and podcasts, that outdo almost any training course on the subject.  And all of this was provided for free.

The students have all created sites and a couple of them (Samara and Colleen) are now making money.

I also launched a private Facebook group that has gone from 0 to about 14,000 members.  The group is active and lots of great discussions are happening there.

I see these as some big wins for Niche Pursuits.

On the flip side, I see some areas for improvement.  The Niche Pursuits podcast hasn't had a new episode in months.  And I haven't produced as much high quality content on the blog in the second half of the year as I did in the first half of the year.

As a result, I have some plans under way to “re-launch” the podcast…just give me some time!  I also plan to focus more of my time and energy into producing high quality content on the blog.

Now that I've hired a couple of people to help me manage my ecommerce brands, I think I'll be able to dedicate a bit more time NichePursuits.com.

At the end of the day, I really think this will be a good thing for you, the reader of Niche Pursuits.

How Was 2016 For You?

Overall, 2016 was a very eventful and successful year for me.  I sold a company.  I launched several physical products.  I built a few new niche sites.  I invested in several businesses as a passive investor.

I expect good things to happen in 2017.

What about you?  How was last year for you, and what do you expect for 2017?

Yes! I Love to Learn

Want to learn step-by-step how I built my Niche Site Empire up to a full-time income?

62 Comments for this Post

  1. Marcel

    Marcel

    Great post, congrats on your results-helps me get motivated for 2017!
    For something like your $1,500 health niche site
    -any minimum requirements you are looking for (DA, traffic, etc)?
    Thanks

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      I was more concerned with finding a site with age (over a year at least) and what appeared to be a clean link profile and quality content. I wasn’t concerned with traffic or earnings.

      • Babs

        Babs

        I have a website exactly In that niche that meets your requirements for sale 🙂

        You shoulda seen my post on your group.

        Great job with the site BTW ✌✌✌

  2. Darren

    Darren

    Hey Spencer, congrats on the business so far.
    Id love to know if you have a process for finding niche, expert writers?
    All the best for 2017!!

  3. Brian

    Brian

    Wow. Lots of success. Do you have failures with fba products (so much tied up in inventory having to create custom everytime vs ordering smaller amounts of non custom products)..Curious how you find brand managers(are they overseas)

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Yes, I’ve had lots of failures. I launched over 20 products, and close to 10 I will shut down because they just don’t sell that great. I’ve had inventory issues (like going out of stock at Christmas), etc. I had a listing get shut down (one of my best sellers) because of a safety incident…but I was able to get it reopened. My brand managers were found through personal/business contacts…both US based.

  4. Michelle

    Michelle

    Thanks for this rundown. Can you give an overview of your brand managers job description. What are the average hours and salary.

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Short description: Grow the website traffic through content and outreach, sell more products by contacting influences in the market, help run paid advertising. Overall, sales and marketing to grow the business. Right now I’ve hired part time managers for the first 90 days to see how it goes, at about 20 hours a week. The pay is higher than average for a US based person.

  5. Bill

    Bill

    I am a 56 year old Niche Site Newbie just shaking the shiny object syndrome. I have settled on using your published techniques and processes as a starting point for finding my own way to profitability. My question is with NichePursuits being as large and seasoned as it is are ALL the articles still relevant?

    In other words, is there a date where past offered data may no longer be useful?

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Yes, some of the articles are out of date. I would stick with Niche Site project 3 for the most relevant.

  6. Leo

    Leo

    Wow! Your post and the amount you were able to accomplish in a single year was so humbling for me. I am free of the confines of the 9-5 working for others; however, I was not remotely as productive as you this past year.

    If you have a chance, I’d love to hear how you structure your day to get so much productivity.

    Thanks,

    -Leo

  7. Michael

    Michael

    Very inspiring – not sure where you find the time for everything you do.

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Honestly, I just hire great people (Jake and other “VAs”). I don’t work that much; less than 40 hours a week for sure.

  8. Victor

    Victor

    Hi Spencer,

    I have been following for years and it’s amazing to see your journey. You are still humble and genuine in sharing information here. I’m sure you effect the lives of many by giving so much to all of us on your site. You deserve all the success you’re having and I wish many more success for you.

    I have subscribed to many other blogs and lists and there are only a few left that I follow now. Many have stopped posting, I unsubscribed to many too. You are one of the very few I still follow and excited when you posting something new. I love the case studies you’re doing. It’s very motivational.

    So, I want to thank you very much for that!

    Wishing you and your readers a great and successful 2017!

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Thanks so much, Victor for sticking around! The main reason I have this blog is to try to inspire others and to keep me accountable.

  9. Nate

    Nate

    Awesome stuff Spencer, your huge FBA earnings make my $2k earnings look pitiful. Time to ramp up the product offering in 2017. Glad you still see Amazon FBA as still a great business to be in.

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Thanks Nate! $2k in earnings is more than most people make…since they don’t even have a side business!

  10. Sandy Taylor

    Sandy Taylor

    Hi Spencer, Thanks for a great post. You mentioned in your post that you basically didn’t do any link building for one of your sites and that they are getting traffic based on quality content and low competition keywords. This seems to be contrary to what everyone else is saying in that links (white hat ones) are pretty much the blood of SEO. How many pages of content targeting low competition keywords did you post in order to achieve those numbers?

  11. John

    John

    Are you disappointed with the earnings of the sites made in Niche Site Project 3? It’s been almost a year and all three are barely making anything compared to what you’d expect with that amount of time invested.

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      I’m about to post a new report early next week. The earnings is lower than I would hope if I were working on the sites myself. However, these students don’t have much time to put into the projects, they have an hour or 2 a week (or less). So, even though its been almost a year…the sites themselves don’t have tons of content. Overall, I’m happy with the growth as you will see in the next post. I expect their sites to grow much faster over the next few months.

    • Ray

      Ray

      Good question John. I thought the same – Samara in particular has done a ton of work but many months later just now turning circa $150 dollars per month. Sure it will grow but it would be interesting to see what level Spencer would have it at by now. I doubt he will say (Perhaps he will !) but pretty sure it would be more.

  12. Mohamed Belal

    Mohamed Belal

    Hi Spencer,
    Congrats for your great success. I’ve been following your website for months and I’m inspired by your journey in online business. I had learned a lot from your great content, Thank you.

    Wishing you all the best in your life 🙂

  13. Eva

    Eva

    Holy amazing! Congrats Spencer!
    I’ve just started my own niche site in late 2016. Hopefully I will be able to hit my 3k goal in July.

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Good luck, Eva…I wish you all the best!

  14. Jamie

    Jamie

    Awesome job Spencer, as always. I can’t wait for your next podcasts 🙂

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Thanks Jamie…it will be out soon 🙂

  15. Christian

    Christian

    Great article Spencer and I love that you are so open about your projects. I’ve also written a review about 2016 (https://slagtermedia.nl/jaaroverzicht-2016-vooruitblik-2017/ in dutch 🙂 ) and always find it a good and transparant way to look back and share some insights.

    Keep up the good work!

  16. Andrej

    Andrej

    Congrats on your success! I’d like to learn more about your automotive site. I love cars, so an automotive niche site could be a great suit for me. I wonder what do you promote? Car parts or car accessories? If you don’t want to share the details with us, I understand that.

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      You can do exactly as you mentioned. Or do car reviews, or other product type reviews. Automotive industry is huge.

  17. Gery Anggriawan

    Gery Anggriawan

    Wow! Very inspiring.

    Sudah lama saya tidak berkunjung ke blog ini. Saya berkunjung karena penasaran apakah proyek FBA ente masih jalan apa kagak.

    Dan ternyata. Luar biasa.

  18. Chris Jensen

    Chris Jensen

    As always – thanks for sharing. It is very very inspirational! Can’t wait to see the title ” I’ve crossed a million in sales on Amazon!”
    I like the way you have started a diversification of your business in that you have begun investing in other areas. I think that is a super smart way to go, as you never know what will happen tomorrow!

    You asked about my 2016 and plans for 2017?
    Well my 2016 started off really slow. I just couldn’t get my ideas in line in order to get them out there. But fall of 2016 sure came at me at a different pace.
    I launched a company and a webshop within the fitness industry, selling just one product. I have created training videos etc, and am exited to see where it will go. I partnered with a 3 time gold medalist within the fitness industry, but unfortunately she went into a deep depression around Oct, and has chosen to leave the company – leaving me to come up with a new concept. Total sales in 2016 – 5 units

    I also wrote an ebook, and posted it for free on a professional network – this was my biggest success of 2016 as 40.000 people gave me their email address! (I had hoped for 50) – this is therefore my main focus for 2017 as I need to find a way to capitalize on this!
    I also need to find a good and solid email service provider, as my current is struggeling quite a bit, (But service is great!)
    So my 2017 mission: New plan for the fitness site, and figure a way to make money off my email list of 40.000

    Proposals a more than welcome 🙂

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Sounds like a great plan Chris! I would recommend trying to capitalize on that huge email list sooner rather than later. If you don’t have a drip campaign or weekly email going out to them, start right away. If you wait a few months, no one will remember who you are and wont bother to open your emails.

  19. Nate

    Nate

    Hi Spencer, how do you track your profit numbers? Do you use any of the softwares out there on the market to better run your FBA business?

  20. Frank Joseph

    Frank Joseph

    Now, this is an in dept review of your 2016! Diversity is the secret here.
    And now that you have the financial/capital…. You will always have the opportunity to invest in a profitable project!

    And I hope I will get to the stage where I have various businesses – invested in some and much more.
    Congratulations.

  21. Marcelo

    Marcelo

    Hey Spencer congrats for the amazing 2016.
    How are doing the 2 niche sites (the one with the 500 articles and the other)?
    Can you say us how much they are earning monthly?
    Thanks.

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Ah, those 2 sites are sites that I’m a partner in, so I didn’t fully report here. I’d prefer not to disclose the earnings of those since partners are involved.

  22. shahab

    shahab

    Hi S.Haws ! in 2016 my best discover nichepursuits.com i am really lucky to find this blog.

    This site change my outlook and help to build my carrier in online. I’m really happy to see your improvement in last year.

    Thank you so much nichepursuits.com as well as Boss S.haws

  23. Avi

    Avi

    Hi spencer. Awesome 2016.

    Here is my question with all your niche sites you do no back links and write articles. But is that really how you get great traffic. With all these sites. Where should I look for a good article writer. Also on article writers can they upload and format it because thats a pain to do in the backend? Also the problem I am facing with this method is that let’s say I get 10 article written for 20 dollars that’s 200 dollars that I need to find how do I know I will get traffic fron these articles and make money from them? I don’t want to spend money without knowing if I am going to make money?

    Thank you I hope you can make me understand

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      We use Upwork or OnlineJobs.ph to find most of our writers. Yes, you can train your writers to upload images and format everything for you. That’s the risk of business, you spend money and you don’t know if you will ever make it back.

  24. Nick Di Fabio

    Nick Di Fabio

    Very inspiring Spencer!

    Also, wanted to thank-you for you introducing me to Steve Chou at MyWifeQuitHerJob.com for an excellent course on how to build a physical product brand from scratch.

    I feel like I have too much on my plate at times but your posts inspire me to step up and achieve more.

    Thank you and all the best in 2017!

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Thanks Nick! And yep, Steve Chou is great.

  25. Ekaterina

    Ekaterina

    It seems that the previous projects were more successfull. If I’m not mistaken then what’s the cause of more decent results now? Market has changed… too little time has passed… or what…?

  26. Erica

    Erica

    Your niche site #4… are the earnings so low because it is mostly informational content and not “best XYZ” content? That seems really low considering it is approaching 20,000 sessions. Are there any other posts on your site detailing that project?

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Correct, most of it is informational right now.

  27. Ally

    Ally

    Great article! You made a killing in 2016. Totally blew me out of the water. LOL! I started 5 niche sites at the beginning of 2016 and am now making around $1,500 a month with Amazon Affiliates. I had my best month ever in December at $2,200. My goal in 2017 is to continue to grow these 5 sites but also to add 5 more sites to my portfolio. I’d like to be at $5,000 or more per month by the end of the year. I’m also worried about putting all of my eggs into the Amazon Affiliate basket so I’d like to diversify. Maybe start an Adsense site, look into Amazon FBA or start a site to sell my own products. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet but it’s not really my focus right now. I’ll probably start looking into diversifying once I reach the $3,000 per month mark on AA. Good luck in 2017 and I hope you reach all your goals!!

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Sounds like a great plan, Ally…good luck!

  28. Poot

    Poot

    Hi Spencer,

    I just finished reading all of your posts and comments about Amazon FBA and thank you very much for all this content. It is really difficult to stop once you start reading:)

    I’m really tempted to give it a try but there are still some points which are not cristal clear for me:

    1) Is it necessary to have an insurance if anybody hurts himself with one of your product? Or is this handled by Amazon?

    2) Is it necessary to have a legal protection if anybody hurts himself with one of your product and has the good idea to sue you? Or is this handled by Amazon?

    3) You often talk about your product brands. But is it just a logo/name you put on your private label products and you call it a brand? Or is it a “true” brands which have been registered?

    4) If they are registered, how do you do that? Is there any cost for that?

    5) Are you using the same Amazon account for all your affiliate niches AND for your seller account?

    6) If yes, are you not afraid that if Amazon closes your account because of a mistake on only one of your niche, then all your income related to Amazon will be finished? Is there a safest way to handle that?

    Sorry for my middle English
    Thanks:)

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      I’ll do my best to answer some questions:
      1. Required – no. But you would be responsible for any lawsuits, not amazon. So, smart to have, yes, required, no.
      2. Same as above. Your responsibility.
      3. When you say, “registered” brand…I’m not sure I follow. Yes, I’m brand registered with Amazon, but honestly a “brand” really is nothing more than a name and logo on your products. NichePursuits.com is a very real brand. But even without some legal “brand registry” they would still be brands.
      4. No cost, just with Amazon. And definitely not required (i.e. no customer ever knows or cares if you are “registered”).
      5. Yes
      6. Not concerned. But if you are, get a separate account.

  29. Mike

    Mike

    Hey Spencer do you have an update on vylo?

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      For some reason, I thought I had done a final update on vylo, but perhaps not. Bottom line is that although the site still gets traffic, the earnings have never been great. Never more than about $200 a month. So, it will eventually fade into the abyss I’m sure :). Perrin, was the operator of Vylo…and I think he found greener pastures elsewhere and Vylo didn’t get much attention from either of us.

  30. Peter

    Peter

    Congrats to the great results! I just wonder, how did you find those investment opportunities (equity in multiple online businesses/sites you mention)?

    • Spencer Haws

      Spencer Haws

      Just my private network of people I’ve worked with over the past 6 or 7 years of running my online business.

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