Five startup income reports you need to be reading

Hey guys, Dan here. I asked Ross to pull this list together because our transparent monthly income reports have been a huge part of our success at WP Curve. The are constantly topping our list of most popular content, they always get huge interaction in terms of comments and replies and they are big trust builder.

They have directly resulted in some pretty awesome things. I met Alex my co-founder through one of our first income reports. Our business has built a reputation and a brand based on our transparency, to the point where it’s regularly mentioned in articles about WP Curve. We’ve also built an awesome community and a 12,000 strong email list of people who love our content. 

I personally love doing them and Alex and I find them extremely motivating. What I love the most is the email replies I get back from people who read them and appreciate something real in their inbox. That’s what I pay attention to. The language used in the replies we get to our content. The monthly reports always generate a groundswell of support from the community and I know they inspire other entrepreneurs.

Put simply, our business would not exist in any recognizable form, without our monthly income reports. 

All of the sites in this list have directly inspired us here at WP Curve and I highly recommend checking out what they have to offer. 

Over to Ross. 

As an entrepreneur I love to learn from what others are doing. Seeing what is actually happening inside a business is far more useful to me than the next top 10 list post.

Fortunately there are companies like WP Curve, that have elected to share all the nitty gritty details about their business.

In this post I’ll review five other startups doing monthly reports, and go into detail about why you should consider reading them.

1. Entrepreneur on Fire

entrepreneur_on_fire_monthly_income

EOFire have blown us away with their revenue figures.

Entrepreneur on Fire (EOF) is a blog founded by John Lee Dumas and partner Kate Erickson which focuses on inspiring entrepreneurs through their entrepreneurship journey. John’s podcast is one of the most popular on the topic and he’s turned his following into a very profitable business. EOF sells a range of products, but its main revenue comes from subscriptions to Podcasters’ Paradise, an online community with informational videos and other tools to help grow and profit from your podcast.

John started his monthly income reports when he and his partner, Kate, realised they had a lot of value to share with their audience. John says they were inspired by what Pat Flynn was doing and wanted to do the same for podcasting.

They are on a mission to give back and help other aspiring podcasters. Each monthly report is broken down into four areas: a quick segment from their accountant, insight into what happened in the prior month, income breakdown and key takeaways.

Let’s take a look at the monthly report for July 2014:

What makes Entrepreneur on Fire monthly reports interesting?

John and Kate inspire their audience: John clearly knows his audience well. He knows they are entrepreneurs just like him, trying to build their own businesses using podcasting. Many of these entrepreneurs have great aspirations and products, but they struggle with actually generating revenue. John inspires these people through his monthly reports.

They provide key takeaways that add value: The numbers that John shares are inspiring, but it’s the key takeaways that add the most value. By sharing what worked and what didn’t work for him over the previous month, John is able to pass on valuable advice to other budding entrepreneurs.

They offer the monthly reports via podcast: This medium makes it easy to listen to the reports while in the car or working out. Since his main product is a podcast, this is the preferred medium for his audience.

They engage the community: The monthly reports show John and Kate hanging out with fans and other entrepreneurs and provide a real insight into what their business life is like. Other entrepreneurs love seeing this other side and aspire to achieve the same things.

john_dumasJohn has these tips for any entrepreneurs thinking about writing monthly reports:

If you are going to be transparent…be 100% transparent. We share EVERYTHING, and we bring our CPA on to verify our income and ​add value with tax tips. CLICK TO TWEET THIS

Related links:

2. Baremetrics

baremetrics_MRR

Josh is building the dream SAAS business and sharing every step of the journey.

Baremetrics is a SaaS application that provides analytics based on dozens of metrics for companies with Stripe accounts – all in one simple-to-use dashboard.

Josh Pigford is the founder of Baremetrics and produces their monthly reports. He previously founded PopSurvey and Temper, so when he launched Baremetrics and started sharing his insights, I was very interested to hear how he was travelling.

Josh started doing monthly reports for Baremetrics when he first made the company’s revenue dashboard public. “Honestly, I started doing them for my own sanity so I could go back and see how things had progressed month-to-month,” he says. Josh presumed that other small businesses would find it interesting to see how he and his team had been doing each month.

The monthly reports focus on giving SaaS founders advice on running their businesses. Josh shares tips on a number of topics including how to boost customer loyalty, how to reduce customer churn and how to use retargeting to drive customers. He knows his audience well and continues to educate them using the experiences and knowledge he has gained from growing Baremetrics and his previous startups.

The monthly report itself is very transparent. Josh shares all his numbers via a Baremetrics open dashboard. Yes you read that right. He uses his own product to showcase the revenue he is making from that product. Meta yes, but awesome indeed! Awesome enough to inspire a company the size of Buffer to do the same thing. More on that later.

baremetrics

Josh’s July monthly report is very well laid out into four sections: revenue, churn and lifetime value, marketing and plan for next month.

What makes Baremetrics monthly reports interesting?

Josh’s journey is exciting: You don’t often get a chance to follow a fast growing software company from the very beginning. Josh is getting the early traction that every other startup founder dreams of.

Josh talks about churn: Not enough founders place emphasis on churn. It’s an area all recurring based startups struggle with and it’s a breath of fresh air to actively learn what Josh is doing to try and improve his churn. Learn from the tips and strategies that he’s been implementing to help you improve your own retention.

Josh shares his marketing tactics: Josh is building his business off the back of transparency and content marketing. He is always trying new things and measuring the effectiveness. Some of the strategies he tries work – others don’t. Josh doesn’t claim to have all the answers. He’s running a small and volatile startup, just like his audience. He even asks his community for advice and suggestions. This creates a sense of trust and builds rapport.

Josh shares his plan for next month: Startups move quickly, so he needs to be constantly trying new things and showing what works and what doesn’t. By giving you an update on what his plans are for the next month, Josh keeps you engaged and wanting to come back for more.

If you’re interested in writing your own monthly reports, Josh says “you really don’t have anything to lose.”

josh_pigfordSure, it can be a hit to your ego when you have a bad month, but the response has always been really encouraging. As long as you’re honest and don’t sugarcoat things, the community will reciprocate that and help out however they can.

The monthly reports drive a good bit of traffic for us. People love reading and, even better for us, sharing them. CLICK TO TWEET THIS

Related links:

3. Empire Flippers

empire_flippers_revenue

Empire Flippers are re-creating their business and reporting on the ups and downs.

Empire Flippers is a website founded by Justin Cooke and Joe Magnotti. It helps entrepreneurs expand their online empires through buying and selling online businesses. They have a marketplace that facilitates close to $200,000 worth of business sales per month.

Their monthly income reports are used to inspire their audience and share their successes and failures. Justin tells me that they “started off as a hook to attract more audience but quickly became a new way of thinking about transparency in business.” He was impressed with guys like Pat Flynn and loved reading his reports. Justin wanted to follow in his footsteps and share insights into the Empire Flippers’ business.

The exciting thing about their business is they are undergoing a big change in strategy. That makes for very interesting revenue figures as they switch off parts of the business to focus on other parts.

They do a great job of detailing their revenue numbers and explaining their new initiatives. In each monthly report, Justin and Joe break it up into the following sections: what they’re working on, traffic and audience, monthly revenue and customer experience.

What makes Empire Flippers monthly reports interesting?

Justin and Joe get detailed with traffic numbers: Just like WP Curve, Empire Flippers breaks down their traffic – both to their marketplace pages and to their blog. This is great for content marketers who are looking to see what works and what doesn’t. The guys share some of their insights into what referral traffic has worked best at converting visitors into email subscribers. Here’s a screenshot, direct from Google Analytics, from their most recent report.

empire_flippers_traffic

Justin and Joe focus on the customer experience: This is my favorite part of the report. Not many monthly reports focus on the experience, so I’m excited to see it listed here as one of their sections. The guys have identified the experience as an opportunity to build loyalty and create advocates. Learn how they handle customer service and use customer feedback to improve their business.

I asked Justin how he sees the monthly reports benefiting Empire Flippers. He says:

justin_cookeOur monthly reports provide transparency in an industry that is typically secretive. As far as I know, we’re the only website brokers that provide these details, insights, and analysis about the internal workings (and failures) in our business.

This transparency provides a high level of trust with our readers, partners, and customers. You know exactly what you’re getting when you do business with Empire Flippers, and that makes our business so much easier for all involved.

Related links:

4. Buffer

buffer_MRR

Buffer are leading the way in startup transparency

Buffer is an app that makes it super easy to share any page that you are reading. You can schedule and send social media updates to all your profiles using one simple platform.

Via their Buffer Open blog they share a full range of insights into the company from culture to marketing results. Their marketing reports like this one share insights into their content marketing efforts. In the report you will learn how Buffer generates new visitors and converts them into email subscribers.

In addition they share all of their live metrics via their Baremetrics dashboard.

buffer_metrics

What makes Buffer’s approach interesting?

They are a funded company: It’s one thing for a bootstrapper to share their revenue, but it’s much less common for a funded company to do so. Transparency is a core value at Buffer and their investors clearly understand that.

They are content machines: Buffer are leading the way with content marketing and they share all of their statistics for each of their four blogs. You can learn what content works and what doesn’t. This is really actionable if you plan on using content marketing in your own business.

Buffer is the dream SAAS business: Like Baremetrics, Buffer has succeeded in the SAAS world of high growth and even higher margins. You can follow their progress from their original pitchdeck through to multiple 7 figures. If you run, or are planning on running, a software business, there is actionable info and inspiration every step of the way.

Related links:

5. Groove

groove_MRR

Groove’s MRR. Note not all months are included on their blog, so I extrapolated a few missing months.

Groove sells a help desk software solution that they believe is simple to use for both your team and your customer. From their messaging, it looks like they are targeting software and ecommerce companies who are growing and finding it hard to handle support inside their email clients.

Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, is the mastermind behind the successful Groove blog.

Groove doesn’t release a monthly report with income figures. Instead, their real focus is on showcasing what the company has been doing to grow. It’s all about growth – sharing insights into how they are growing the company to $100,000 monthly recurring revenue. They also track their progress via a sexy email optin widget at the bottom of each post:

groove_opt_in

What makes Groove’s monthly reports interesting?

Alex knows his audience and why they subscribe: Alex provides actionable insight into the strategies and tactics that they have been using to grow their business. As a reader, you’ll fall in love with this blog because it’s easy to follow – you know exactly what to expect from Alex’s blog posts – tips about growth.

Alex isn’t afraid to try new things: As a startup, challenging the status quo is a given. Alex shares what Groove has learned and isn’t afraid of admitting when things don’t quite work out. This is great because it shows that Groove is just like any other startup – there are good months and bad months. Learn from Groove’s mistakes and capitalize on some of the strategies that have worked for them.

Alex uses transparency really well: Groove’s blog builds a loyal following because Alex is so transparent about the company’s ups, downs and numbers. As a reader, you can’t help but feel a part of the journey.

Alex has some advice for other entrepreneurs thinking about sharing monthly reports:

alex_turnbullFor most entrepreneurs, the instinct is to keep things close to the vest, because we fear what will happen if our numbers get out. We fear how our customers, our prospects, our competitors and our colleagues will react.

But from our experience, I can tell you that these fears will not play out the way you imagine. Your customers and prospects will appreciate your openness — it says a lot about the way you run your business. Your colleagues will respect your contributions to the startup community. And your competitors, while I’m sure they’ll look at your numbers with interest, won’t do anything in response that’s going to have an impact on your business.

For Groove, the results have been overwhelming. Alex says:

Other startups appreciate how candid we are, and it helps them to benchmark their own progress. That helps us make connections and build partners that make things like the Small Business Stack possible. On the customer acquisition end, we ask every new customer why they signed up for Groove, and we’ve had hundreds of businesses who’ve become customers because of the blog. So it’s certainly been a win for our business. CLICK TO TWEET THIS.

Related links:

For inspiration, here are three of the best blog posts from the Groove:

How to start your own monthly reports

So you might be asking yourself, “should I start a monthly report?”

Good question! Here are some benefits to consider:

  • They give you opportunity to build trust with your audience.
  • They force you to be transparent – this creates a sense vulnerability that builds rapport.
  • They show off your successes and give your product offering more credibility.
  • They are great pieces of content – they are stories which are easy to consume and full of emotions. People love them!
  • They are easy to relate to. Your audience can relate because they are often facing the same revenue and growth challenges as you are.
  • They build an engaged community – when you invest in sharing valuable insights, your audience will appreciate it and invest in helping you to grow by sharing the content with others.

There are some potential downsides and some people think it makes you a target. But I think that comes down to confidence. If you are confident in your ability to drive leads and stay ahead of the pack, then the benefits far outweigh any downsides.

Here’s four tips to help you write your own monthly reports.

1. Have a clear purpose and ‘why’

All of the monthly reports we have looked at in this post have a clear purpose. Their authors know why they are doing them. Most authors write the reports because they want to inspire other entrepreneurs. Some are doing it to help entrepreneurs by sharing their insights in a hope that they won’t make the same mistakes.

Before you think about monthly reports, work out why you want to do them.

2. Know your audience

Who are the people reading your blog and/or buying your products? You need to narrow down your audience and try to understand them better. Think about what their challenges are. Groove’s audience wants to grow, EOF’s audience wants to build a web-based business, Buffer’s audience wants to get better at content marketing.

What are your audience’s challenges and what can you help them with?

3. Keep a structure

Monthly reports can get pretty messy if you don’t keep a solid structure. Some of the reports we’ve reviewed here are certainly easier to read than others. With a structure, your audience knows what to expect from you and can easily follow you on your journey.

4. Be transparent

The best monthly reports are the ones that share information that you wouldn’t believe they’d share. Great examples of this are Buffer’s strategy behind their blog redesign and WP Curve’s process for how they hire developers.

5. Differentiate

There are plenty of monthly report posts online, but I’ve chosen these five because they are different. If you can think of a unique angle on your reports, you can stand out from the noise.

What do you think?

I’m a big fan of transparency in business and I know it’s a core value for the WP Curve guys. What do you think? Lease your comments below.

About

Ross Beard is a marketing specialist. He helps companies with their content, SEO and PPC. Connect with him on Twitter @RossBeard.

29 responses to “Five startup income reports you need to be reading”

  1. James Clark says:

    I’m not big on income reports myself but maybe that is because I’ve been exposed to too many income reports from the “make money online” subset who are making money by telling you how to make money. I like how you’ve listed businesses with actual products and services.

    Anyway, I’ve been enjoying following along the WP Curve journey 🙂

  2. Dan Norris says:

    I don’t disagree haha.

    Thanks James.

  3. WOW, great article and thank you for the kind mention…I am honored! Love the graphs…makes me realize my 14 day trip to Europe was high on experience, but impactful on the bottom line 🙂

    Keep up the killer insights Ross!

  4. What an incredible write up! Very interesting to put this in a graph over time and check out what’s working and what’s not. I also loved checking out how different reports are “created” by each: what they include, why they include it, etc. Love it! Thank you so much for including EOFire here, too!

  5. Ryan Gum says:

    Hey guys,

    Nice piece Ross. I love following along with the transparency of WP Curve and the startups mentioned above.

    I’m wondering, do you ever worry that talking about yourself might not be relevant for your audience?

    In your case, it might be suitable as I imagine you have small business owners in your target market who like to hear how other small businesses are doing.

    But for example, if you have a saas product aimed at salespeople, do you think taking the “this is what we’re working on, this is how we’re growing” approach can work?

  6. Josh Pigford says:

    Ross, thanks for including Baremetrics! Great to see other folks being transparent. 🙂

  7. Dan Norris says:

    Thanks Josh great work on Baremetrics mate.

  8. Dan Norris says:

    Hey Ryan, it definitely works best if what you are putting out is interesting to your audience. But I think any attention is good attention. It’s pretty hard to get your message out there and if you put out content that is interesting to people who share content then you are going to get backlinks, social shares, comments, social proof, authority, brand recognition and everything else that goes along with it. And I think that is a good thing for any business.

  9. Dan Norris says:

    Thanks Kate, you guys are an inspiration.

  10. Dan Norris says:

    Thanks man, maybe it worked well going off what happened since!

  11. Ryan Gum says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Dan.

  12. Ross Beard says:

    Hey Ryan,

    All pieces of content certainly need to be relevant to your audience. I think income reports make the most sense when you’re audience is entrepreneurial and on their own business journey. That way, they can follow along and learn from your mistakes and triumphs.

    Buffer is the only company listed here that doesn’t directly appeal to entrepreneurs. Instead, they appeal to marketers. And, as you can see, they don’t have an income report, they have a marketing report.

    So for your example of a SaaS product aimed at salespeople, I would suggest you don’t do an income report. Instead, do a sales report. Engage your audience through your sales journey – what tactics are working well? how many deals did you close this week? what strategies are you going to try next month?

    Keep the focus on sales, so that your audience can relate and follow your journey. Remember, the key is to be transparent!

  13. Ross Beard says:

    100% agree James. Fortunately, companies like WP Curve are making them cool again 🙂

  14. Ross Beard says:

    Next step, we should plot all your major initiatives on the graph to see show what worked and what didn’t 🙂

  15. Ross Beard says:

    I agree Kate – it is very interesting to see the trends between all the reports! I hope this article inspires others to be more transparent with their own business journeys.

  16. Ross Beard says:

    Thanks for your insight Josh – I always love pulling back the curtain and hearing from the source!

  17. Ryan Gum says:

    Ah… I never realised that they approached it from different angles depending on their audience. Great suggestion – will help me out a lot. Thanks Ross.

  18. Dave says:

    Pat Flynn has always been cool.

    I was transparent about my earnings from my start as a blogger going back to 2007, and always found people who appreciated and learned from what I was doing. I still find them inspiring, and like what WP Curve is doing with theirs.

  19. I really enjoyed this post. I have been wanting to right my blog in a “come on this journey with me” style for quite some time, but I didn’t think it would work. I’ve been steered away from being that transparent.

    It’s great to see other companies doing it.

  20. Dan Norris says:

    Lots of people tell us not to do it too (other entrepreneurs) bit it works well for us and I love doing them

  21. This is a fabulously interesting analysis. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Dan Norris says:

    Thanks Charles, glad you liked it mate.

  23. AngelSpan says:

    Couldn’t agree more with the philosophy. Transparency is a sign of a ‘mature’ entrepreneur. Execution defines success, not how much your competitors might know about you. Same transparency should be embraced with investors and stakeholders. The Startup Genome Report highlights the benefits; easier financing rounds, higher valuations, more M&A. Benefits far outweigh negatives. Challenge is time to do it. We serve those CEOs where writing is not in their wheelhouse but are committed to keeping their investors/stakeholders engaged.

  24. Guest says:

    Do you disclose expenses as well?

  25. Jeff Helman says:

    I am confused. How is the Buffer example above not an income report?

    It has identical content (metrics categories) as Baremetrics, and shares the focus of all your examples on Revenue. By “income” are you talking about profit vs. gross revenue?

  26. Ross Beard says:

    Buffer do not share an income report. I pulled the revenue metrics directly from their baremetrics dashboard.

    Instead, Buffer share a marketing report – which focuses more on their marketing metrics/initiatives.

    Buffer use the same principle of ‘transparency’, but they take a different approach that appeals more to their audience (marketers).

  27. Jeff Helman says:

    Thanks Ross.

    I apologize. I thought Buffer shared their Baremetrics dashboard as the link above implies.

    I get the meta concept about the value of transparency (regardless of audience), as well as your point here about tailoring their primary monthly report to their core audience, but I am not seeing Buffer do that in their reports. (Their content marketing strategy is brilliant, as you mentioned.)

    Their latest report (https://open.bufferapp.com/buffer-february-5th-team-retreat-new-mini-product-buffer-com/) is very customer-acquisition/retention and financials focused. I am not seeing how this is fundamentally different than the other examples–but I am not complaining. These seem to be THE core metrics any audience would care about.

  28. Great article Ross! I’ve always admired how WP Curve embraces transparency and openness. Infact we at Hubstaff (https://hubstaff.com/) got inspired and released our public revenue metrics dashboard (https://hubstaff.baremetrics.com/dashboard ) some time back! I was happy to see both WP Curve and Hubstaff here- http://www.incomereports.co/

    And we’re not just transparent about our income reports, we also share about how we run our company, how we manage our remote team, what tools help us grow and all our marketing strategies that worked. You can check out our growth timeline here to get an idea- http://blog.hubstaff.com/grow/

    I’d be elated if you could review Hubstaff sometime in the future! 🙂

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