In order to constantly challenge myself and my creativity, I spend a lot of time working on various side-projects. One of these projects was dyfemgazine.com. Yeah, you've read it right, it "was" dyfemagazine.com, because now it's time to shut that side-project down and start a new one.
Over the past three years, I have put a lot of time and money into this side-project. But first a little bit of context. Architecture, photography, art and other creative areas have always been one of my main sources of inspiration for me as a designer. In addition, I think it's very important that we designers fall into other areas and inquire new fields. At the beginning of my studies, I dealt intensively with all the numerous cross-connections of design. I've read many articles and took as many notes. After that, I discovered my passion for writing. Therefore, I started writing blog posts about architecture, photography, art and design. First and foremost I wrote these posts just for myself, at that time I did not even bother to publish them.
Through Twitter and Product Hunt, I came into contact with the "Maker Community" and side-project enthusiasts. I was intrigued by various side-projects that were either really that, just side-projects, or that actually evolved into real business. Quite quickly, I recognized the numerous advantages of a side-project: it's a great way to acquire new skills, it is a great balance between study or work, they strengthen mental health and, one of the key points, both creativity and productivity are challenged. So I recalled my countless unpublished blog posst back in thought and considered starting an online magazine as a side-project. Shortly afterwards dyfemagazine.com was born, the online magazine for architecture, design, photography, art and other creative fields.
Learnings and takeaways
Already in the initial phase of the side-project I was able to take some learnings for myself: How does the domain purchase work? How do I set up a web server, How do I set up WordPress, How do I use WordPress? What is FTP and how does it work? How do I gain readers? Which marketing strategy fits my project best? etc. Apart from the fact that I designed a complete CI and website, I also dealt intensively with the areas of marketing and SEO. I knew that a blog post must be optimized for certain keywords in order to be found on Google. However, I did not realize how difficult it would be to actually be found on Google.
After countless hours of optimizing my blog posts, the entire side-project finally went online. Given the marketing channels, I initially focused on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to promote the online magazine without using a marketing budget. On Instagram, user-generated content worked best to grow my account fairly quickly. I shared only pictures of other users, of course, with the consent of the author of each image. If a new blog entry went online, I shared the appropriate picture for the post on Instagram and always linked the most recent post in the description on Instagram. So after a short time, a community of 200 followers formed, of which one or the other landed on my website again and again.
Gaining 10,000 views
On the other hand, Facebook was slow to make progress. To drive this channel forward and attract new users, I would have had to run some ads on Facebook. Pinterest turned out to be a very valuable channel. I set up various pinboards that reflected the topics on my website. Every day I added 10 pins to each pin board. In between there was always a pin, which was linked to a new blog post. Because of this consistency, I reached just under 10,000 monthly views on my Pinterest account. Furthermore, some of those also turned into some site visitors.
It was incredibly fun for me to raise these channels and to see that there are also people who enjoy my posts on my website. Of course, from a certain point of time, I thought about how I could monetize this side-project. I have running costs for domain and web server, which I would like to cover. In addition, I also put a big investment in the form of time in dyfemagazine.com. I did not want to advertise on my website, because that bothered me with other online magazines. The flow of reading and the entire experience is lost if a banner is displayed at regular intervals. And in most cases it shows an advertisement that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject area of the website.
For Affiliate Marketing, I knew that I did not have enough traffic on my website to convert the visitors into Sales. Still, it was worth a try as I had already written about different products. I was able to monetize this blogpost without great effort by attaching named products via affiliate links. Since my online magazine was also about hotels, travel and lifestyle, the partner program of Booking.com was very convenient for me. In addition to being able to explicitly link individual hotels, I implemented a plugin that would automatically place a banner in the sidebar where it was possible to enter travel dates and destinations directly when a post appeared in the Travel category.
The booking.com affiliate links worked amazingly well. The reason was probably that the posts that were about traveling performed best in terms of SEO. With articles like "The 5 Most Beautiful Lakes in Austria" or "The 5 Most Beautiful Ski Areas in Austria", I quickly made it through SEO to the second page on Google for different keywords that related to the topic. Since I was aiming for the monetization of the online magazine at this time, I have also optimized some posts entirely regarding SEO. These showed a very good performance, but I noticed quite quickly that the quality suffered. I just concentrated on placing different keywords.
After a post was done, it had little to nothing to do with my original idea. Also, I noticed after a long time that I could only generate micro amounts of money through affiliate marketing. In other words, those could not cover my fixed expenses by far.
Overthinking the whole project
Dyfemagazine grew very slowly, until the traffic eventually stagnated and it then came to a significant decline. The last resort of a designer: I planned a complete redesign. For over three months I rebuilt everything, designed a new logo, a new website, a new design system. Likewise, I redesigned the structure of the online magazine, new categories in which contributions should appear. I was confident. Because after this relaunch I wanted to concentrate 100% on content. This content should be SEO-friendly, but I did not want to break up the posts by placing different keywords. My plan was to grow organically through good and informative content.
My euphoria, however, only lasted briefly. The fact that I usually had 50-100 visitors per month on my website made me question the whole project. Especially when you consider how many of these visitors actually clicked on a post and read it. I wondered for whom I actually run this project and what was my intention to start it. I wondered what my goal is and what I finally wanted to achieve with this side-project.
Time to shut it down ...
The project was born out of my own interest to write about topics that are close to my heart and that I am worried about. Accordingly, it was very difficult for me to completely discontinue the project in June 2019. I closed the social media channels, shut down the newsletter and discontinued the domain. Dyfemagazine was history. Of course, I already thought about what to start next, because without side-project some insights, experiences and learnings would simply be lost.
... and start something new!
So one month later, July 2019, I started working on my next project, designsupplies.xyz. Again, a background story to create more context. I'm a big fan of Content Curation. Over the years I've spent on Twitter, Product Hunt, Medium, The Gadget Flow, Pinterest, etc., I've been able to create a huge archive full of apps, tools, software, resources, books, podcasts, blog posts, etc. In many situations, I always resorted to this archive and in most cases, I found the solution to one or the other problem.
One day I was sitting in the studio of our study course with my fellow students. It was about the launch of our group work and in detail we were just setting fonts and colors. My classmates scoured their font libraries in Illustrator and wildly turned the color wheel to find the right combinations. Then they put on a huge file, with samples of favorites. Since my archive is structured, I searched only a few minutes and found a color selection tool. We worked with khroma.co. The wonderful thing about this tool is its features. Not only is there the ability to display simple color palettes, which are chosen by machine learning, based on your needs, but the colors can also be displayed as gradient or typography. My classmates were excited and asked me how I could keep such a tool for myself.
Coming up with an idea
First and foremost, it felt interesting to have this small but fine "competitive advantage" over my colleagues. Above all, they did not even know what was in my archive at the time. As I wrote my bachelor thesis, I scoured my archive every day, always looking for tools and resources to make my work more efficient and productive. During this time, the archive grew strongly, as I was always on the lookout for new software, new apps and tools and new blog posts. Every weekend I did an inventory and transferred all the new items to my personal archive. It was just this time when the question of my classmates suddenly crossed my mind again: "Why do you keep such a thing for yourself?" I found no answer to this question.
So I quickly decided to share my discoveries. The question was, how? An old idea came to my mind, and so I decided to start a newsletter. If you are actively involved in the maker scene, you will quite often read that community building is one of the most important tasks to be successful with your projects. Many makers operate this via email marketing, that is newsletters. For me, that always made sense, because I can address my target group directly. My products, blog posts, resources, etc. reach my users directly in their inbox. You do not have to go to a website and after five clicks you finally reach your destination.
With tools like Mailchimp, Mailerlite or Convert Kit, creating a newsletter is incredibly easy nowadays. I spent a weekend working on this project and the following Monday, Creativerly went online. This is a weekly newsletter that always appears on Sundays and is packed with new apps, tools, software, resources, books, etc. More specifically, I pack everything in the newsletter, which I stumble across during my week. Everything that finds its way into my personal archive, is now finding its way into the inbox of creative people every Sunday.
Gaining the first few subscribers
Through large Facebook groups, in which I had the permission of the admins to promote my newsletter, I quickly got my first few subscribers. After 30 editions of the newsletter, I am currently at 29 subscribers. When the newsletter went online, I set myself the goal of 100 subscribers within 12 months. Eight months have already passed, so you can imagine that in the next four months I still have to properly activate the advertising drum, so that I can inspire 71 creative minds for my newsletter. A tactic that I use for this, among other things, you just read through. That's right, my blog.
Through my side-project and also my work, some thoughts have been whirling through my mind lately that I did not just want to capture, but also to share. Is there a better way to do this than with a blog? I do not think so. Said so and you're reading the first blog post on my personal blog right now. In the future, contributions will be published here on a regular basis, which on the one hand revolve around my projects and on the other hand also affect my opinion and thoughts on certain topics.
What is coming up next?
As a foretaste of the next blog post, I'd like to introduce my latest project, designsupplies.xyz. This project, or rather the idea behind it, was the result of my newsletter, Creativerly. Can you still remember when I told you that at the end of each week I would always transfer my newly discovered apps, tools, resources, etc. directly to my archive after I packed them into my newsletter? Well, designsupplies will be my public archive for tools, apps, resources, templates, books, podcasts, for creative minds. I will always expand it with my new finds and keep it up to date.
There are already many such websites. However, I noticed that in most cases the same apps, tools, and resources always appeared. In addition, these sites primarily advertised only free resources. Do not get me wrong, everyone loves free software, apps and templates. However, there are also numerous independent creators who provide excellent resources for an affordable price. On designsupplies.xyz both free and chargeable resources should find their place.
My MVP from designsupplies is already online and you now have the option to sign up for my mailing list. So you're among the first to know when my new side-project officially launches online.
You are a forward thinking creative mind and you are interested in new apps, tools, software, resources to boost your workflow and productivity? Well, you should definitely consider to subscribe to my weekly digest Creativerly. Every sunday I drop you a nicely and carefully curated email, packed with useful tools, apps, software, resources, books, blog post, for creative folks. If you want to get a taste of it, you can scroll through the archive or just go ahead and subscribe.