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 August, September and October of 2016.
Here's the breakdown for each of the sources for the month of October:
- Speaking: $1200
- YouTube (adsense): $161
- Critical Thinker Academy (one-time course sales): $608
- Udemy (one-time course sales): $1472
- Patreon (monthly recurring): $619 (from 126 active Patrons)
- Sustaining Members (monthly recurring): $112 (from 23 active Members)
- Total: $4172
There's a big jump from August and September to October. That's mostly due to a better-than-average month on Udemy (orange) and revenue from a speaking gig (blue).
Speaking: Invited keynote presentation for a professional conference (Municipal Internal Auditors Association) in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Topic: "Cognitive Biases, Debiasing and Critical Thinking in the Auditing Process". Fee was $1500 but I paid for transportation out of that, leaving approximately $1200. Hotel and all other expenses were paid for by the association. It was a very nice visit, and I got lots of positive feedback on the presentation. But it rained the whole time, so I didn't get much chance to wander around near the falls.
YouTube (adsense): Google puts ads on the videos on my YouTube channel. When someone clicks on an ad I get a few cents. With enough videos and enough views, it starts to add up. Still, you need a huge audience to make any real money from adsense ads on YouTube.
Critical Thinker Academy (one-time course sales): From August to October I was offering a very cheap site-wide bundle deal at $49. That's where the bulk of these sales come from (note: in November I raised the price of the site-wide bundle to $99). 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 $608 earned in the month of October, that's actually for sales earned from August 1 to August 31. Teachable holds the money for one month and then pays out at the beginning of the following month (in this case, Oct 1). When I report earnings for November, it will be for sales earned in September, and so on.
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 was an above-average month for Udemy, but that $1472 was actually for sales earned in August, when Udemy was doing a big promotion. I'll see another jump in Udemy sales in November when they promote their Black Friday sales, but I won't see 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, partly because I've struggled with finding the right kinds of bonuses to incentivize people to join, and partly because I shifted more of my focus to the Academy and how to motivate people to sign up and stay on the Academy site. I've since 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.
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. Teachable offers recurring payment plans for their course sales pages, but they're connected directly to courses, and you can't place the signup form anywhere you want, like on a "Support" page, or at the end of a blog post. I wanted that kind of flexibility, so that's why I went with a third-party service that lets you embed a signup form anywhere on a web page.
Goals: Crowdfunding the Argument Ninja Academy program
When it became clear to me in September that I was looking at the last of my savings and the end of my runway was in sight, I knew I had to change course and find a way to significantly boost revenue within a few months. If I fail at this, the consequences are severe. We'll be flat broke by the time spring rolls around. I have a family that depends on me, obviously I can't let that happen.
The question was how to do this without abandoning the projects that I've started. I decided that I needed to develop a new product -- a next-generation critical thinking program that is more structured, more focused and more demanding than what is currently available at the Critical Thinker Academy.
In episode 011 of the Argument Ninja podcast I outlined such a program. I'm calling it the Argument Ninja Academy. It will draw inspiration from the martial arts themes that I've been discussing on the podcast, and my experience with how martial arts training programs are structured. And it will focus on a combination of rigorous training in (good) argumentation and rigorous training in the art and science of persuasion. This will be my flagship product, and I'll be able to charge a premium price for it.
I realized that this project will take time to develop. But time is what I will quickly run out of if I don't find a way to boost revenue.
So I decided that I need to crowd-fund the development of this program and ask my audience to support me as a Sustaining Member.
Sustaining Members will get access to all of the content at the Critical Thinker Academy, plus all future content I put up there, plus they get a reserved seat in the Argument Ninja Academy, for no extra charge, when the program is completed.