I believe in transparency when it comes to my online business, especially when I’m asking people for recurring monthly support. My supporters should have some idea of how my business is doing, where the money is coming from, what challenges I’m facing as an academic entrepreneur trying to make a living online, what strategies I’m using to meet my financial goals, and what progress I’m making with new content development.
The graphic below gives a snapshot of my income sources for the fall of 2016, including the most recent month of November.
The gap between the income total and that dotted black line is the difference between my monthly bills that I have to pay and my monthly income. For most of 2016 I've been running a $2000-$3000 monthly deficit, which I make up by dipping into a savings pool.
That savings pool is rapidly depleting, so I have an urgent need to increase revenue before it runs out, which will be some time in the Spring of 2017 if nothing changes. That would be a devastating outcome for me.
Here’s the breakdown for each of the sources for the month of November:
- Speaking: $1500
- YouTube (adsense): $176
- Critical Thinker Academy (one-time course sales): $1100
- Udemy (one-time course sales): $791
- Patreon (monthly recurring): $596 (from 135 active Patrons)
- Sustaining Members (monthly recurring): $400 (from 70 active Members)
- Total: $4613
November looks good, but looks can be deceiving. My income for the past two months was boosted by revenue from speaking gigs. I don't have any more of these scheduled in the near future. That blue block is going to disappear for several months, so imagine removing the blue block and shifting the column to the left. That's what I'm looking at.
I'm putting more energy into promoting recurring memberships through the Sustaining Members program and Patreon supporters. That's the leading edge of the revenue column, the red and purple blocks. Those are the blocks that I'm trying to grow, because they represent stable, sustained financial support.
Speaking: I delivered a two-hour workshop at a professional association meeting for Sign Language Interpreters of the National Capital (slinc.ca). These are professional sign language interpreters who work for a variety of clients and industries in Ottawa, Canada, and surrounding areas. It was great fun and a unique opportunity to give a different kind of presentation. The first half of the workshop was on conceptual issues involving language, meaning and interpretation, in language generally and in the context of sign language interpretation. The second half of the workshop was on critical thinking and cognitive biases. The fee was $800. I live in Ottawa so no transportation costs to worry about.
They even made a cool little promotional video for the event. I show up around the 25 second mark.
I was also paid for three webinars I conducted for CCAF, the same non-profit auditing organization I've worked with in the past. I jump in for a one-hour webinar to talk about cognitive biases and critical thinking in the context of performance auditing, during day-long training sessions that are going on in different parts of Canada. I'm paid around $250 for each of these, and I did three of them, so that added up to $750.
YouTube (adsense): Ad revenue from Google/YouTube is up a little bit this month. You can never really know why ad revenue goes up or down with them.
Critical Thinker Academy (one-time course sales): With the plan I’m using there’s a one-month lag on payouts from Teachable, the platform that I’m using to host the Critical Thinker Academy site. So when I report $1100 earned in the month of November, that’s actually for sales earned from September 1 to September 30. Teachable holds the money for one month and then pays out at the beginning of the following month (in this case, Nov 1).
Actually, my revenue from course sales was $1000 in September, not $1100. I added $100 to this total because in November I received a $100 one-time donation from a very nice gentleman in Hungary who is a fan of my content and the podcast.
My one-time revenue sales will be lower going forward, since I've raised the prices on one-time course sales and the site-wide bundle deal, to make the low monthly recurring payment option (Sustaining Membership) more attractive.
Udemy (one-time course sales): Udemy is a video course marketplace where students can purchase courses and instructors can offer courses to sell. I have three courses up on Udemy, which cover about 80% of the content available at the Critical Thinker Academy.
Udemy pays out in the same way that Teachable does. It holds the money earned in a given month for another 30 days before paying out.
This $791 was for course sales earned in September, down from August because Udemy wasn't running a big promotion that month. I’ll see a jump in Udemy sales earned for November because this was their big Black Friday sales promotion, but I won’t see any of that money until January 2017.
Patreon (monthly recurring): Patreon is a platform that makes it easy for fans to pledge small amounts of money to support their favorite creators who are producing content and distributing it for free on platforms like YouTube and iTunes. I’ve had a Patreon page for a while, but I haven’t been aggressively recruiting new Patrons since I’ve set up a Sustaining Members program on the Academy site (see the sign-up form below), which is effectively the same as becoming a Patron on Patreon. Click here if you’d like to visit my Patreon page.
Revenue from Patreon was down a bit this month due to an accumulation of declined charges from Patrons, which is usually due to expired credit cards not being updated. It's doing better in November, but I won't receive that revenue until next month.
Sustaining Members (monthly recurring): In September I started using a new recurring payment provider on the Critical Thinker Academy site, and on the Argument Ninja site. The provider is MoonClerk, and it’s responsible for the sign-up forms you see on my “Support” page and on the “Unlock Every Course” page, where you can choose a level of monthly support starting at $3 per month.
I'm very happy to see the numbers of Sustaining Members steadily increasing this month.
Impact of the Argument Ninja Podcast
I've been producing episodes of the Argument Ninja podcast that focus on themes related to critical thinking, argumentation, persuasion and how the martial arts can serve as a useful source of inspiration for thinking about critical thinking under ideal conditions (in the "dojo") and critical thinking in the real world (on the "street").
I'm also using the podcast to brainstorm the foundations for a new approach to thinking about and teaching critical thinking. My goal is to create a whole new online training program structured along the lines of a martial arts program. I'm tentatively calling this the Argument Ninja Academy.
It's hard to measure the reach of the podcast (I put versions on Facebook and YouTube as well as through normal podcast channels, so the analytics are scattered across a range of platforms), but almost all of the unsolicited email I've received over the past two months has been from people who are following the podcast and who are interested in these ideas.
I know that one of the reasons for the boost in Sustaining Members is the offer that I've advertised in the podcast and on my various support pages: new Sustaining Members get access to all of the content at the Critical Thinker Academy, AND they get a reserved seat in the Argument Ninja Academy, locked in at the same low monthly rate.
This is highly motivating for me, but it also puts pressure to actually make progress on developing this program. That's a good thing, but in conjunction with financial worries, it's also a new source of anxiety.
The Challenge of the Next Couple of Months
For me, there are always five or six different components of my business that I could be spending time on.
- Do I start working on the next Argument Ninja podcast episode?
- Do I work on videos for the new Udemy course on the philosophy of mind and artificial intelligence that is only half-finished?
- I've never enjoyed blogging as much as creating audio and video content. For marketing purposes I should be doing more article writing. Should I spend time doing that?
- I need to find new audiences. Should I be soliciting myself as a guest on other podcasts?
- I need to improve my email sequences and email marketing tactics. Should I be spending my time on that right now?
- The Argument Ninja Academy program is going to require a customized LMS to run, which is beyond my capabilities to develop on my own. I'm currently in discussions with different LMS providers about this. Should I be spending more time working out the organization of the program?
I can't work on all of this at once, that's the worst kind of multi-tasking. So for me, the challenge of the next couple of months is setting the right priorities, given where I am right now in my business, and what needs to happen to avoid a financial disaster in 2017.
But these decisions have risks associated with them.
If I double down on the Sustaining Members strategy and keep up a steady podcast schedule, will it grow fast enough to avoid hitting the financial wall?
Does it make more sense to take the next month and power through the rest of the Udemy course I'm working on? That would be an additional source of revenue when it's published, and for all I know it could be a big source of revenue. But will doing this stall the progress I've made on the Sustaining Members program?
You get the picture.
I have a mastermind group that I meet up with once a month, and we talk about issues like this. They're a great resource but they can't make these decisions for me.
Still, I Couldn't Be More Grateful
Despite the very real pressures I'm feeling, I'm also deeply grateful for the opportunity to do what I'm doing.
I chose to quit my academic job and do this because I wanted more freedom and fulfillment in my life (yes Jeremy and Jason, I'm a fan). I'm very happy with the life I've chosen, and I will never regret this decision.
So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to say THANK YOU to all my supporters who have helped to make this possible and who continue to inspire and motivate me!
Not Yet a Sustaining Member?
I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't remind readers that if you're not already a Sustaining Member of the Critical Thinker Academy and the Argument Ninja Academy, you can sign up right here!