Tim Stoddart makes $250,000 a year with a directory site

|

I’ve come across Tim Stoddart’s name on Twitter/X often but it wasn’t until someone tagged Tim’s story under one of my tweets that I started researching Tim.

And boy does he have an interesting story to tell!

Over the last decade, Tim managed to combine a personal problem with alcohol with his passion for writing and grew that into a $ 250,000-a-year side hustle!

Intrigued? Me too! I spent the last 2 days going down the rabbit hole of Tim’s business empire to put this report together.

Let’s get straight into the juicy details:

What You Will Learn

  • How Tim turned a directory business into a $6.7 million micro startup empire
  • Why directories are great no-code starter businesses anyone can build
  • The 2 ways directories make money (and which you should choose for maximum profit)
  • How to stand out in a competitive market without experience
  • Why you should copy successful entrepreneurs like Tim and where to find them

Who is Tim Stoddart

Tim Stoddart is a digital seriel entrepreneur, CEO of Sober Nation, Copyblogger and Stodzy. He founded Sober Nation in 2011 as a daily journal to record his recovery from alcohol addiction and went on to build a million-dollar business empire since.

It’s hard to find out what Tim Stoddart did before building Sober Nation because he had been playing this internet game for so long (13 years and counting). What we do know is that he started Sober Nation after listening to a podcast by Seth Godin where he advised young entrepreneurs to “just write every day and publish”.

That’s what Tim did.

And that writing habit turned into a $250,000-a-year blog about sobriety and the start of his digital business empire that includes newsletters, agencies, memberships and digital products.

Tim Stoddart Revenue
Tim’s projected revenue in 2024. Source: TimStodz.com

How Tim grew Sober Nation into a $250,000 passive income business

In 2010, Tim Stoddart was addicted to alcohol and lost. He was crashing on his cousin’s couch in Florida trying to figure life out when he came across a CD from Success magazine featuring Seth Godin (author and internet entrepreneur).

Seth Godin was sharing some advice with young entrepreneurs. He said if he had to start again he would start writing content every day and grow an audience.

Tim was hooked.

From that day onwards, he wrote in his personal blog daily, which eventually turned into a blog about sobriety. Gradually people started commenting on his blog and asking for treatment recommendations and he started forwarding these “leads” to treatment facilities.

Some time later the facilities started paying attention. They were struggling to find customers and yet this random guy from Florida seemed to be able to get them quality leads consistently. So they decided to pay him.

He turned a personal problem into a business

Eventually, Tim started automating, turning his blog into a lead-generation directory site. He ended up building at least half a dozen such directories, turning his knowledge and experience into another service offering (content marketing agency).

In 2024, he expects to make $6.7m from his businesses combined.

I’ve gone through his old blog and tweets to figure out exactly how he did it.

And here 5 of the most important lessons to help you grow your business:

  1. Understand how directories make money – If you are building any kind of content/directory website, you need to get clear on what business model you are using to grow your business. In this article, you will learn the 2 main ways directories make money, and which Tim prefers.
  2. Don’t confuse who your customers are – Many blogs get thousands of page views a month but don’t translate any into revenue. You will learn how not to fall into the trap of chasing vanity metrics and start making consistent income.
  3. Call to actions that print money – Every article on your website should include a call to action (“CTA”). You will learn how to make sure you are using the right one so that you don’t waste previous website visits on your site.
  4. Copy what works – Good entrepreneurs build. Smart entrepreneurs copy. Tim built Sober Nation by copying another brilliant entrepreneur. In this section, I will share with you a few resources to find good playbooks you can copy.
  5. Find your unique angle – Building a business is hard. It is ten times harder if you don’t have a unique voice or positioning in the market. I will share with you one last advice Tim has for entrepreneurs to help you avoid this trap.

That’s what you will learn.

Now let’s get into each of those 5 lessons in detail.

p/s: At the end of the article, you will also get a 1-minute summary on how you can implement these in your startup today.

1. Understand How Directories Make Money

Since researching Tim’s story for this article, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of researching directory sites in detail. If you are serious about building directories that make money, check out Profitable Directories by Chris Osborne, but for now, here’s what you need to understand:

Directories site make money in 2 ways: advertising and lead generation

a. Advertising

These directories focus on premium listings. Customers pay to have their business listed at the TOP of the directory.

These sites are easy to set up and get monetized. However, they don’t make as much money as a lead generation directory. That’s why Tim doesn’t run these kinds of directories.

This is an example premium-listing-focused directory I found from Google:

Featured listing marketing

b. Lead generation

This is Tim’s preferred method of monetization. I will cover this in depth in my directories report, but here’s a quick overview on how it works:

  • [Step 1] – Build your directory
  • [Step 2] – Collect leads from your website traffic
  • [Step 3] – Send the leads manually to providers/suppliers for free
  • [Step 4] – Build a relationship with the providers/suppliers and start charging for leads
  • [Step 5] – Automate by routing enquiries directly to the providers/suppliers

Want to see what it looks like in real life? Let’s look at a screenshot of Sober Nation.

Tim Stoddart Sober Nation marketing

As you can see, that “Sponsored Hotline Call Now” button is what generates $250,000 for Tim Stoddart every year on autopilot. Every time a reader clicks to make a call, Sober Nation routes that call directory to whoever paid to receive leads from Sober Nation.

All Tim has to do is to 1. track those calls and 2. send an invoice to his clients every month to collect his commission.

It’s easy to scale

The beauty of this approach is that Tim can have as many sponsored hotlines (AKA clients) as he wants – one for each city, each treatment type etc, as he scales the business.

Pretty cool if you ask me.

Lesson:

To make meaningful money from a directory site, become the lead generation partner of other businesses. Segment your directory to work with multiple partners and scale.

2. Don’t Confuse Who Your Customers Are

Many founders fall into the trap of churning out a lot of content that doesn’t serve their startups. You know SEO is important to grow your startup but end up writing tons of keyword-stuffed articles like “10 reasons why you should use xyz” to get traffic to your website.

Tim made this mistake when he first started growing Sober Nation.

His keyword-rich articles ranked well and were bringing in thousands of website traffic. But he had a problem.

They didn’t convert into sales.

You see, most directory sites have 2 customers:

  • Your readers: Those reading your articles, tutorials and guides. You need them (sometimes A LOT of them), but they don’t pay your bills.
  • Your (real) customers: These are the businesses in your directory who are either paying for leads or paying to be featured on your site. In other words, these are your REAL customers.

Your directory site is NOT built to serve your readers (although you need to keep them happy enough to avoid Google penalties).

Your directory site is built for one single purpose – to generate leads for your customers.

This means every copy (this means words on your page), should lead your readers to a singular purpose, to pick up their phones and call the number on the page.

Let’s look at Sober Nation’s front page again. Sober Nation’s ONLY goal is to get readers to call the helpline, and this is what you see at the bottom of each article:

Tim Stoddart Sober Nation

Which leads us to the next point.

3. Call-to-Actions (CTAs) That Print Money

Call-to-actions (CTAs) are what you want your readers or potential customers to do after reading or watching something from you. This can be to book a call, to schedule a demo, to sign up for a newsletter etc.

Every piece of your content should drive people to take an action.

And the clearer and more intuitive that action is to your reader, the more likely they will do it.

CTAs should be logical

In other words, your CTA should be the logical next step after reading your article, even if it means having multiple CTAs targeting different groups of website visitors.

For example, Tim has a personal blog where he shares updates on his entrepreneurship journey – Tim Stodz. I’m guessing his blog is read by:

  • [Group 1] Aspiring startup founders looking to get started
  • [Group 2] Potential clients from CopyBloggers (his agency) vetting his expertise
  • [Group 3] Business owners finding him via Twitter or other social platforms

At the bottom of each of his updates, he shares this CTA menu:

Tim Stoddart personal blog

Notice he didn’t pitch his agency services on his personal blog. No casual reader would jump into a long-term contract with him straight away. Instead, he pitched a consulting service starting at $300.

Contrast that with his CopyBlogger site. Visitors of CopyBlogger skew towards people more familiar with content marketing. In this case, it makes sense to pitch his content marketing agency services:

Tim Stoddart Copyblogger

Lesson:

Make your CTA the most logical next step for your website visitors.

4. Copy What Works

In an interview with Niche Pursuits (a popular site that teaches people how to blog for profit), Tim Stoddart shared how he first got started with Sober Nation by copying exact what worked for Brian Clark from CopyBlogger.

(Yes, although Tim Stoddart now owns CopyBlogger, it was not a site Tim founded. He just loved Brian’s work so much that he became a partner and eventually acquired 100% of the business. You can listen to the full story here):

Anyway, I digress.

The main lesson here, is that you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to growing your startup. Whether you’re building a directory site or a microSAAS, find successful examples and COPY ruthlessly.

If CopyBlogger was doing it, Sober Nation did it. I couldn’t have been more deliberate in my ruthless copying of CopyBlogger.

Episode 84 – Tim Stoddart podcast

How Tim copied CopyBlogger

Although CopyBlogger and Sober Nation were in completely different niches – one in internet marketing and the other in sobriety – whenever Brian changed something on CopyBlogger’s website, Tim did the same on Sober Nation.

For example, CopyBlogger taught Tim how to structure his website into 2 parts, the front-end and the back-end. And that’s what he did:

  • The front end = an SEO-friendly blog to build an audience
  • The back end = an email list to nurture the audience and convert them to paying customers.

Where YOU can find ideas to copy

If you like the idea of not reinventing the wheel, you will also enjoy these websites that highlight strategies to copy:

  • Juicy Ideas by Hazel Lim (this site!) for growth strategies
  • Marketing Examples by Harry Dry
  • No Code Exits by Katt Risen
  • They Got Acquired by Alexis Grant
  • Make What They Want for proven business ideas you can copy

Growth Strategies of Top Indie Makers Delivered to Your Inbox

Each week, we will reverse engineer the growth and distribution strategies used by top indie makers to grow their startups past $100k annual revenue. Subscribe so you don’t miss the latest issues!

5. Find Your Unique Angle

I started taking notes when I heard Tim say this in his podcast interview – “I wouldn’t even start a project unless I have a unique insight or angle I can share about the topic.

Being at the bottom end of the market is hard. Being in the middle is impossible. The only logical way forward is to aim to for the top.

Tim Stoddart – paraphrased from his Niche Pursuit interview

Here are 2 ways you can apply this framework:

a. Niche down

I’m sure you’ve heard of this a million times. Niching down works because it makes your offering more relevant to your target audience, which makes ranking on Google easier.

Instead of expanding Sober Nation into an all-purpose mental health site, Tim built multiple sites targeting different niches and keywords like drub rehab and addiction treatments.

Source: Semrush

b. Make sure you know what your client cares about

Many agencies shy away from talking about revenue metrics.

A social media agency might boost being able to generate 100k impressions, ignore the only metric clients ultimately care about – revenue and profits.

In the early days of growing Stodzy, he struggled to retain clients despite getting them lots of exposure. It wasn’t until he shifted his mindset to focus on client-centric metrics that Stodzy started to grow.

Lesson: Speak in the language of your clients to stand out against competitors.

Juicy Ideas To Replicate Success

Hopefully this article got you excited about building a no-code directory site. If you want to build one, make sure you learn how to set your your directories to make money (this course by Chris Osborne on Profitable Directories is a good start). Regardless, here are 5 lessons from today’s article to help you grow your startup:

  1. Directory sites are great beginner no-code businesses to start. You can sell advertising or premium listings on your directory but if you want to make real money, turn it into a lead generation engine.
  2. Focus your site on getting results for your REAL customers. For Facebook, this is their advertisers, not users. For Sober Nation, this is treatment facilities, not readers trying to get sober. Avoid busy work by getting your priorities right.
  3. Make clear and logical CTAs for your website visitors. Even if your main offering is a done-for-you content service, think from the perspective of your website visitor. It’s easier to place a lower ticket offer to get them into your product ecosystem than to jump straight into a high value offer.
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Find resources and websites (like this one!) that show you what works. Ruthlessly copy the strategies for your startup.
  5. If you struggle to stand out in the market, either specialize further or make your offering more aligned with client results.

What’s Next

In a future issue, we will look at how Tony Dinh built Typing Mind into a $ 33k-a-month app using ChatGPT.

If you haven’t already, sign up to get notified when a new issue of Juicy Ideas drop!