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How I Built A Golf Website That Now Funds My PHD On Motor Control

The concept was brewing for a while, but the pivotal moment came whilst I was waiting to get my haircut, I picked up a well-known golf magazine (it shall not be named). I was saddened by how poor the advice was, in a particular article, I decided there must be a market for high-quality, in-depth golf content.

‍Golf Insider UK aims to build the world’s best resources for golfers wishing to get better. To date, it mainly offers written content, videos and some basic analysis tools, but I have grand plans for the future. I see the website as the hub and marketing channel for all that follows.

‍The site started off with instructional content and a small amount of affiliate content, this covered the running costs for the first 2-3 months. The next key business goal was to grow to 25,000 sessions a month so I could apply to join MediaVine and earn advertising venue.

How did you validate the idea?

I produced 5 articles on Blogger to test if there was a demand for high-quality, in-depth golf content. The 4th or 5th article got shared on Reddit and received ~3,000 reads in a few hours. That was the time I decided to get my head down and build a proper website on Wordpress.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

A lot of experience, knowledge of golf coaching and sport science, but zero experience in building websites and SEO. The Authority Hacker Podcast and content from Matt Diggity's blog helped a lot in understanding how to build a site and understanding the business models available for website to generate income. Both of these resources are two really useful for anyone wishing to build a website and business model similar to Golf Insider UK.

How did you fund the project?

I invested all of $150 to set up the business, buy hosting and a domain name. Based on my previous start-up experiences (covered later on) I was keen to bootstrap this project and keep it really lean. The aim was to see if this venture could become something worth pursuing by the time I finished my PhD. I also love the idea of keeping complete control of what I do and where I take the business. Besides my own time, the running costs for the business for the first 12 months were under $50/month. Discounting my own wage, I can still scale the business back to run on under $150/month if I need to.

I know this flies in the face of Silicon Valley and the VC world, but my two aims are to:

  1. Build something unique, of great value to the golfing community.
  2. Maximise profitability.

Because of this approach I’m not constrained like the larger golf publications and competitors to keep churning out content and blasting messages across social media. I can take different approaches and build interesting content and tools. I’m not saying this approach is perfect, but to date, I’ve been really surprised with how much I have been able to grow on such little funding and resources.

Being different from your competitors doesn’t end with your branding and marketing pitch. Your usp should be leveraged across your business, from day-to-day decisions, to growth strategies.

Who is your target demographic?

Golfers, surprisingly. I initially thought it would be 1% of the golfing population, and predominantly advanced players, but I quickly realised the site reaches a far wider demographic. It is closely aligned to a psychographic that loves to understand how things work and also loves playing golf. It includes, beginners, golf coaches and every level of golfer in between.

How do you drive visitors to your website?

80% of the traffic has been from SEO, 20% via golfing forums and growing an email list. For the first 18-months I only had 10 - 15 hours a week to grow the business. For this reason I decided to focus on growing one traffic source and to do that really well. I think this focus on SEO was a key reason traffic grew so quickly.

Currently I do feel too dependent on Google and their blackbox algorithm, a key aim in the next 12-months is diversify the traffic sources. Youtube and Pinterest are two I’m currently researching and planning.

How long did it take you to monetize?

Within a few weeks I began to see some incoming revenue, it was patchy, but really exciting. It took 8-months for the site to consistently make a few hundred dollars a month, this was when I started with display ads. That figure jumped to $1,000/month by month 13 with increased traffic and some new affiliate content, like guides for buying beginner golf clubs. Then it really took offer to mid-four figures 2-3 months later, with a combination of how-to content and more affiliate reviews.

At the moment the the site is funding the end of my PhD, paying me a wage and I am still building up a sizable amount to reinvest back into the business. Last week I transitioned from 10- 15 hours a week at evenings and weekends, to dedicating 3-days a week on growing the business. I’m excited to see how far I can take it.

Did you run any companies prior?

I was previously a director for a start-up, building a golf coaching app. The company raised $450,000 and we built a really cool product, hired some great coaches, but there wasn’t a strong product - market fit for the paid golf coaching service. Ultimately, the business ran out of money soon after the launch date. A key learning from this venture was to be frugal with resources and having enough time to tweak and refine any products.

Following this business I’ve worked with elite athletes, in and out of golf, applying sport coaching and sport science concepts; on a self-employed basis. I wouldn’t class this work as building a company, as it couldn’t scale, but the core concepts of Golf Insider UK are based on testing and tweaking concepts from these first two ventures.

Golf Insider UK is based on the same concepts, but has been designed on a very different business model. Business models are something that really fascinate me. I would urge any founder who thinks they have something of value to an audience to scribble multiple models they could use to build a profitable business around their idea.It isn’t always the most obvious approach that succeeds.

What motivated you to start your own business?

I love the idea of building and developing things, whether it be businesses, content or improving elite athletes. I used to love playing games like Theme Park World and Sim City growing up. Start-ups are just like playing these games in the real-world.

What were your family and friends first thoughts you creating your own your company?

I’ve always been known as the ‘happy, weird one’. From golf coach, to lecturing at university, to starting a PhD in Biomedical Science - I’ve taken quite a strange path through life so far. I don’t think people are surprised I decided to build a site like this, but my Mum certainly doesn’t understand how it is a ‘job’. I think she thinks I’m secretly selling my organs to fund my lifestyle.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Set clear aims, and try to do 1-2 things really well. I feel most start-ups succeed because they get 1-2 things really right and provide value. This is far more valuable than setting off with every aspect being sound, but having no strengths.

Test, re-test and tweak your product/service. Try to do it in a way that gives you a long runway to get the product/service and business model optimised.

What is stopping you from being 3x the size you are now?

Time - I’m delighted I’ve grown the site to reach 100,000 golfers a month and built a profitable business on 10 - 15 hours a week with minimal start-up capital. Next, I can invest more time and begin to outsource some tasks to graphic designers and videographers to up the level of content production.

I could outsource a lot of the writing too and become a manager of systems, but I really enjoy producing content. The great thing about building a business is that you have control over what you build and what your days look like. I’m not trying to build the biggest business in my space, but I do want it to be known as the best.

Which is your favorite article?

This article on Golf Practice Routines - it is an old piece, I hate the way it looks, but it does exactly what great content marketing should do. It ranks number 1 in google for relevant queries, it gives readers great value and then up-sells my product - a Golf Performance Diary. This one piece of content has been really valuable for attracting new customers and converting them into loyal followers.

What are the top apps your blog could not run without?

Wordpress takes a little getting used to, but is a great content management platform. I’ve recently invested in Ahrefs, this is the swiss army knife for SEO. It saves me hours each week and gives me great data to build and grow the site.

Lastly, a really nice notebook. I do like google drive, but I still scribble down ideas in a notebook whenever they come to me and plan out my key tasks every day. I re-read my notebook every 2 weeks, it is so useful to see my progress, grab missed ideas and keep on top of my workflow.

My aim is to keep growing the site and the business. The next big milestone is reaching 250,000 unique golfers in one month.

Are there any new features you’re working on?

I’m currently planning an interactive tool for golfers to find practice games and drills. The idea is that they enter the area they want to improve (iron-play), currently ability (18 handicap) and practice aim (improve strike). Based on this data the site returns the optimum way for them to practice with videos, notes and training targets.

I’ll hopefully have a draft version built by January 2020, before deciding if it is worth filming a lot of videos to fully deliver the idea.

What is current revenue?

The site generates mid-four figures a month, which is a pretty good for one person working 10 - 15 hours a week. I can see a pathway to increasing the monthly revenue by 2 - 3x . If I can get close to that in the next 18 months I will be happy to take a step back and consider what is next.

Would you ever sell the company?

I’ve had three offers in the past 3 months, but I don’t plan to sell any time soon, I aim to finish my PhD in the next 3 months, then move onto Golf Insider UK full time and see what I can achieve. I wouldn’t ever rule out selling a share or all of it, but that is a distant thought at the moment.

Company Name: Golf Insider UK
Founder: Will Shaw



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