What the Hell Happened in 2023?

Well, hello you gorgeous people!

Happy 2024!

Judging by the emails I’ve been getting saying “Are you ok? What happened to you?”, I conclude that not everyone got my November message about taking the last month off!

But take it off I did.

And I’m pleased with that decision because I’m back, and raring to go like a rocket on launch day.


Damn, I missed writing!

Nothing like an enforced break to help you get your priorities straight.

My plan for this newsletter in 2024:

Make $1,000,000.

And I’m going to tell you exactly how I’m going to do it.

But not yet.

That’s coming next week.

Today, you’re going to have to put up with a god-awful “year in review”, where I sit down, pour myself a whiskey, and take a gushing look back at 2023 – what went well, what didn’t.

See, it’s only by understanding the past that you can plan the future.

And if you pay cloooose attention to today’s newsletter, you’ll see why I feel confident predicting such a large revenue number for this year.

So let’s go…

But first…

Despite my hiatus from this newsletter, yo’ boy has been continuing his trip around the podcast circuit.

Here are some great shows that’ve come out in the last month:

  • The Art of Selling Online Courses (YouTube | Apple Podcasts | Spotify) - Diving deep into how creators can make money with courses, and all the mistakes they seem to make along the way.
  • The Founders Lounge (YouTube | Spotify) - We get into some real business nitty gritty in this one, from profit to hiring.
  • EMJ SEO Podcast (web) - We cover a lot here, from emails to cross-channel marketing, plus a lot on my back story.

So WTF happened in 2023?


Let’s start back at the beginning.

I started my newsletter 12 months ago in Jan 2023.

After 10 years growing my main business, storylearning.com, I felt the strong urge to start teaching what I’ve learnt.

If you want to go back and revisit my full rationale for choosing my niche, deciding on the newsletter format, and why I thought it made long-term business sense, you can read the write-up here.

And here’s what I did in 2023:

  • Settled on the niche of 6-7 figure online education business owners
  • Wrote my 117-page case study as my “calling card”
  • Chose newsletters as my main content of choice and published weekly
  • Grew my audience through newsletter sponsorships and social ads
  • Also started organic social (Twitter and LI) and YouTube

To fund all this, I allocated $200,000, which I loaned out on a 20% note, repayable over 20 months, giving me a $12,000 monthly budget to work with.

(I didn’t even spend a fraction of this, but we’ll get to that later.)

Truth be told, the first year went better than I could have ever imagined.

Took me by surprise, actually.

I feel like I’ve managed to become a genuine reference in the online education space, at least to those who are paying attention.

A lot of attention, a lot of big names coming into my orbit, and significant revenue that seemingly came from nowhere. (More on that later).

When I boil it all down, here’s why I think things have gone so well:


This is the lesson that nobody seems to learn, but hopefully by demonstrating this as I go, I’ll encourage more people to take it more seriously.

Here’s all the way I niched down:

  • Business
    • Online business
      • Online education business
        • 6-7 figure online education businesses

My niche is 4 layers deep.

The result:

When the right person finds me, there’s a never-seen-anything-like-this response.

For example:

  • People devour my case study in a single sitting
  • They share it with their friends and insist they read it
  • They email me in a panic when I miss a newsletter one week

I’m not saying any of this to gloat…

But rather to make the point that:

You’ll generate an irrational passion that can blow up your business if you’ll only niche down far enough.

The internet is a noisy place in 2024.

To stand out, you’ve got to be a category of one.

Anyway, enough hot air.

Let’s look at what went well…

2023 in numbers


So, remembering that the business literally didn’t exist 12 months ago, here’s what happened in 2023…


  • Newsletters sent: 41
  • YouTube videos published: 32
  • Podcasts (guest): 15-20

Current Audience:

  • Email subscribers: 12,631 (55% open rate)
  • YouTube subscribers: 545
  • Twitter followers: 2,489
  • LinkedIn followers: 2,954


  • Total spend: $109,331

Of which…

  • Social ads: $6,743
  • Sparkloop partner programme: $8,890
  • Newsletter sponsorships: $48,964
  • Social team: $24,012
  • VA: $3,329
  • Software: $4,890
  • Podcast booking: $12,500


  • Total revenue: $175,461

Of which…

  • 7FMS workshop: $17,961
  • Mentorship: $157,500

Net profit for the year: $66,130

What went well in 2023?

1. Case Study - I’ve already mentioned my case study, Anatomy of a $10M Online Education Business.

I’ll just say that the case study has been the single most powerful piece of content I’ve ever created.

Like, ever.

Because it’s been shared so far and wide.

Advertising to an entrepreneur audience is so expensive that I estimate I’ve already received well over $1 million worth of free advertising from people just sharing that document with their friends…

(Probably much more when you remember that referrals are ongoing and hopefully will continue for years to come.)

The lesson here is not that everyone should write a case study.

The lesson is that you should deeply understand your avatar and create something so epic that it creates that never-seen-anything-like-this-before reaction.

“Write epic s**”, as Corbett Barr once said.


The case study was by far the best thing about 2023.

Here’s what also went well:

2. Newsletter sponsorships - These have driven the majority of subscribers. What’s interesting about sponsorships is that the good ones perform amazingly well ($2 CPL), while the rest totally tank. ($50-100 CPL)

Success with newsletter sponsorship seems to be a lot like influencer marketing – you have to set a healthy budget for testing, throw money at the wall, and then aggressively cut your losses and double down on the ones that work.

I spent $48,964 on sponsorships, but would have happily spent double that if I could find good audiences.

(If you have an audience of online business owners, drop me a line.)

3. Content - The content I’ve created has performed well overall. I feel like I’ve got good “content-audience fit”, which comes from knowing exactly who my avatar is and writing specifically for them.

Newsletter, YouTube and social have resonated strongly with different kinds of people, which is a lesson to continue creating across all different platforms. (I put most of my effort into the newsletters, and then create other content from those.)

Talking with my video team the other day, we landed on a formula that we think describes the content that has performed best for us:

  • Content with a unique take you can’t get anywhere else
  • In extreme depth
  • Packaged very well

I think this video is a great example.

4. Revenue - The most surprising thing about earning $174,461 last year was… I didn’t plan to sell anything!

My goal was just to build audience. Sow the seeds of a “future business”. However, from the very beginning I had entrepreneurs starting to reach out asking to work with me one-on-one.

I turned people away for a few months. I wasn’t ready for a new business. However, I eventually relented, mostly because I got so excited by the kind of entrepreneurs applying, and I knew I could help them grow.

So I devised an offer that made sense, made it available, and began working.

Here’s what’s crazy:

All the revenue from this mentorship came with zero selling.

I didn’t advertise it, put it in my website, or try to sell anyone. It all came from inbound requests.

The might of content marketing done right!

(Assuming you nail your niche and positioning.)

I’ll come back to this later, because I think it’s one of the biggest growth opportunities for 2024.

What DIDN’T go well in 2023?

Quite a few things were underwhelming last year.

1. Meta ads - When I first launched the newsletter, I ran ads on Facebook and IG. This was a negative experience. CPL was $4-5, low quality subscribers with <10% open rates, and a bunch of snarky comments on the ads.

Makes sense, really. Facebook just can’t target my avatar with enough precision. If I were to continue, it would be a pure “volume play”, spending a bunch of money and only expecting to keep 10% of the people who come through.

I cut it quickly, because I didn’t like the energy.

2. Newsletter sponsorships - For the same reason that some newsletter sponsorships performed really well in 2023, others hugely underperformed.

My metric for “performed” is: How many people converted to buyers?

Problem was, I wasn’t selling anything, and this is why I created the 7-Figure Marketing Stack product in September. I needed some way of gauging which sponsorships were sending me actual buyers, as opposed to just email addresses.

Turns out some of the publications I assumed would be perfect fit… really weren’t. And in many cases resulted in a big, fat ZERO buyers of 7FMS.

Just goes to show: test, never assume!

3. Sparkloop - I got caught in the hype of “newsletter co-registration” along with everyone else last year. I started paying for leads from Sparkloop’s Upscribe feature, meaning that other newsletters could recommend me to their new subscribers.

I was spending $3-4k/mth at one point, but virtually nobody converted into my 7-Figure Marketing Stack programme when I first ran it, leaving me to conclude that audience-fit is poor.

This isn’t a knock against Sparkloop, but it paints the picture that my particular brand is so niche, that broad-market platforms like Facebook or Sparkloop just can’t deliver the people I need, and I need to be laser targeted.

This was the case even with newsletters that you’d think would have a very tight fit. But in the end, co-registration is just low intentionality, so it’s to be expected.

4. Social Media - I put a lot of effort into social media last year - Twitter and LinkedIn. Safe to say I’m not very happy with results.

As my friend Kieran Drew told me: “You’re starting on Twitter at a weird time, mate.” He was right. Reach has been way down, algorithms are f*****, and no-one knows what’s going on.

So maybe it was silly to expect to become the next Justin Welsh in only 12 months… but I still would’ve liked to grow to more than the 2,489 Twitter followers that I have.

Still, I’m going to keep it up. I’m long enough in the tooth to know that you have to play the long game with content, and frankly I should be thrilled that anyone’s paying any attention to me at all. So it ain’t all that bad really.


Opportunities for 2024

So that’s what happened in 2023.

If I didn’t mention anything in particular here, it’s because it was neither good nor bad.

Nothing to report.

YouTube and 7-Figure Marketing Stack were a bit like that.

So what’s next.

Well, I’ve spent most of my business career following one simple mantra:

Do more of what’s working!

And so in 2024, I’m going to do exactly that.

I’m going to do a radical slice-and-dice…

Aggressively cut the stuff that’s not working, and double down heavily on the stuff that is.

But most importantly, I’m going to make a few specific changes that I believe will make me $1,000,000 next year.

How will I do that?

Tune in next week to find out!

For now, I’ve got to nip down the road to see if I can help with this:


There’s a massive storm today in Hobbitshire, and this beautiful old tree was tragically felled earlier.

It fell right in front of my car, so if I hadn’t been a few minutes late, things could have ended differently.

Looks like I caught a break!

And that means unfortunately you’re going to have to put up with me for a while longer!

Until next week… (The million dollar week!)



CASE STUDY: Blueprint Of A $10m Online Education Business:

  • Business model blueprint
  • Product ecosystem
  • Team structure
  • Evergreen sales strategy
  • And much more

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