The $1,000 Challenge

by Benas | Last Updated: May 18, 2020

That’s what I am here to find out!

If you heard of Medium and their “money program” you have probably seen people making thousands of $$$ per month or even per article.

This is not surprising, everybody somewhere can make it – there is always that 1% that is doing better than everyone.

However, what about the average Joe? Is it possible to get into this money-making game or the ship has sailed?

As with any challenge, there has to be an end goal. There are a couple of things I want to track:

  1. How long does it take to earn your first $1,000?
  2. Is the income sustainable month-by-month from each piece of the article?

The official Medium statistics say that only 7.1% of writers earn more than $100/month. That is not a good sign for my $1,000 goal. With this data, it may take more than a year to earn that! However, I am going to try to shorten that period as much as possible.

For the second goal – I want to see how long it takes before an evergreen article dies out or maybe it balances out and brings a sustainable monthly income. The worst part would be to put so much effort and then see your earnings disappear after a few months.

The origins story of this challenge

Side note: if you are only curious about the experiment, you can skip this section.

I used to use Medium back in the days when it did not have a paywall or even a profit-sharing model. And I really liked! The app was great, the content was interesting.

I don’t think there was a particular time, as I don’t even remember why, but I stopped using Medium. I think I may have got tired of the same type of content or moved on to get my “content hunger” from other places.

However, I think I completely deleted and said goodbye to Medium once they announced the $5/month subscription. I was already away from the platform, so paying was not an option for me.

Last year, I found out that Medium has a partner program, but again, it did not catch my attention and I didn’t do anything with this information.

This year, in 2020, I had a discussion with a friend and to keep it short, I mentioned to him that Medium offers a percentage of profit based on reading time. My friend, who is a writer, got really interested.

After one week, I get a call from him saying that he is almost finished with the first piece that he wants to publish on Medium.

He sent me the draft, I gave him some feedback and suggested to do some outreach before he published the article. It was a research-based article, so it made sense.

Finally, the article was published and it was… a success! Got great feedback, over one thousand claps and made around $400 in the first two months!

That was all I needed to get my interest and attention.

Phase 1: The Topic

Naturally, the first thing that I need is the topic that I am going to write about.

I don’t want to write any generic or cheap “9 ways how-to” article. I want something more in-depth, something useful, based on data and my own experience.

I am looking to write a sort of evergreen useful piece of resource/content that would actually bring benefits to the reader.

The first topic that popped in my head was something that I am doing right now – podcasts!

I started playing with this idea, about the history of podcasts, added some elements of my own experience, but the title fully formed when I searched for some concrete data (using Google’s Dataset Search) about the podcasting industry. This is where I found some interesting points which all connected to one nice article.

And so the basic structure and the title was born:

The 2020s: The Decade of Podcasts

Not only, this is an awesome topic with great data, but it also overflows with the current podcast experiment I am doing. Although Medium is quite strict with promotions and sharing your links, my podcast experiment at the end of the article makes sense.

If I was reading the article, it would fit very nicely! So let’s hope this is okay with publication editors (more on that a bit later).

Side note: after researching data on the whole podcast industry, I am not even more inclined to do one! The future for podcasting seems bright!

Before I continue with everything else, I need to go and actually produce a stunning piece of content! Once, that is done, we can move to the next phase.

Phase 2: Writing

It has been a few days and I am almost finished with the article. It turned out a lot better and way longer than I expected! Well, the “better” part is subjective and I will let you be the judge 🙂

On the other hand, it took WAY more time than I anticipated. I think the total number of hours spent on this article adds up to around 14 hours.

Going through various research, statistics and Youtube videos – this is where I spend most of my time and I really hope it was worth it. On the bright side, I know a LOT more about podcasting industry and actually see great potential, but I’ll leave these thoughts for my article.

Here is a little teaser.

Medium article teaser

At 3261 words, there is only one last thing this article needs – contribution from podcasters. More on this, in the next phase.

Phase 3: The Outreach

I believe this is a very important part as it gives you two things:

  1. Quality content for your article
  2. Promotion

The goal is to write an email to people that can add their expertise or experience to the article you are writing.

In my case, I was contacting various podcasters to get their thoughts on 3 key questions:

The full email is revealed in the next section.

This will enrich my current article, may provide some insights or ideas I haven’t thought or talked about and of course – it provides credibility to the article.

All of these put together make up quality content!

The second benefit is the promotion. If you use any quotes, details or anything else from the people that you contacted – they are now part of your article.

This means they are more inclined to share it with their audience, with their colleagues or on Twitter.

More exposure – great!

However, these are more benefits to this promotion. If your article is actually good and people are reading it, sharing it and clapping it, they are sending “quality” signals to, especially important in the first few hours/days.

So now you have a lot better chance of your article being promoted inside Medium by its own algorithm, where the actual money is. Remember, you get paid a percentage of the monthly subscription of the readers that are paying $5/month to Medium.

I believe this was one of the key aspects of why the article posted by my friend succeeded and earned over $400.

Results from the Outreach

Below is the exact email I used to contact everyone.

email screenshot

The results:

That’s around a 44% conversion rate! Not bad 👏

All who replied, without any exceptions, wanted me to send the article once it’s published. Some already committed to sharing it, so we are definitely on the right track!

Phase 4: Publishing

Publications, publications, publications!

Without them, I don’t think you have any chances of getting any readers to your article.

Everyone can create a “publication” which is like a “category” for specific types of articles that all follow the same topic. You can check the top publications here.

Of course, you don’t want to create your own – it would have 0 subscribers. So the goal is to join already established publications, with huge user bases.

The one that fits my article topic and accepts outside publications (not all publications accept articles from writers) is the Entrepreneurs Handbook. This is the 29th most popular publication with over 130,000 subscribers.

The way this works is that I have to submit a Medium draft link to my article. The editors of this publication will evaluate if this is something suitable and either add me a “writer” or I am not going to get any kind of response.

They do list their requirement and guidelines here and it looks like I am passing every single one. Fingers crossed 🤞 that I get accepted!

And now we play the waiting game!

Phase 5: The Harsh Truth

The experiment did not go as planned. I’ll be honest, I thought this would work and would earn a little more. After all, I have produced a beast of a research paper!

Okay, let’s start with the numbers – this is the thing we are all the most interested in 😉

Yeah, $3.17 in 30 days. Not even close to $1,000 mark. It seems my friend’s earnings were an outlier and that statistic of that only 7.1% of writers earn more than $100/month sounds a lot more convincing now.

Here is the link to the article case you want to check it out before moving forward.

However, let me take you back a bit and explain what went wrong and what I learned.

Where did it go wrong?

Remember how I submitted my article to the Entrepreneurs Handbook publication? Well, the article was not accepted.

However, I did not give up and actually went ahead and submitted my article to two more publications:

None of these accepted my article and after consulting with my friend and ACTUALLY reading some medium articles (I bought the $5/month subscription) it became a little more clear that the article I wrote is NOT suitable for Medium readers.

Let me explain.

I wrote a humongous 5,000-word article with a reading time of 19 min.

This is WAY too long for a Medium article where the average is between 4-8 min. So, my article obviously stood out here, discouraging people to read the whole thing through.

And it shows that people are scrolling through and NOT actually reading – the avg. reading time was barely one minute👇

Besides, I eventually published my article as it is – not under any publication, so that, of course, impacted its reach and earnings.

Here is the graph below on the traffic sources.

First lesson: write articles up to 10 min reading time – up to 2,500 words.

Another huge mistake was NOT tailoring the story, topic, or title to the publication. Id addition, I only read the submission guidelines once the article was finished. How inconsiderate of me 🤦‍♂️

Although I did mee the requirements (lucky me), still the topic that I chose was not suitable for Medium either.

I came up with it because I saw an interest and potential for a good story and immediately started writing without any consideration if this is the right fit.

And as we saw – it wasn’t.

Second lesson: pick the publication first, read their guidelines, go through their published articles and tailor your article to best match the publication

Medium publications DO NOT like any CTAs (call-to-action) or any type of affiliate links.

I did not have any affiliate links in the article, but I did write a small CTA at the end of the article and link it to my podcast experiment article on Benas Digital.

I thought that it is so relevant and such a small part of this 5,000-word article, that it would not matter.

Of course, I don’t know for sure if this had any impact, as I haven’t got any type of feedback, but after reading Medium for one month now – it seems that CTAs are not allowed.

Third lesson: no type of CTAs or promotion on your article if you want to be accepted into publications.

Why do people read Medium? From what my friend and I have gathered, it seems like Medium readers are there to read STORIES.

I mean it should be pretty obvious as all articles are called “stories” on Medium and when you actually read these, you start to notice a pattern.

My article was not a story, but a little research paper with all the references, statics, and links.

No one wants that on Medium. They want stories about you, about other people or anything else.

Even these “9 tactics of how to sleep better” types of articles are written with a personal touch – what helped me, what I learned etc.

Fourth lesson: structure your article as stories, use the first-person perspective, and don’t be afraid to tell your opinion.

The way you are paid on Medium is this – a person reads X number of articles per month. Those $5 are divided by the reading time of each article.

A very simplified version, but this is needed to understand better. This is not a hard rule, as the algorithm is a bit more complicated.

So for example, if a person reads one story per month, those $5 goes to one person.

So your goal is to attract those occasional Medium readers, that don’t spend their time on Medium but check it from time to time.

This means you need a unique twist or perspective to write about – including your title. A person will click only if it’s something they have not seen on Medium yet.

Fifth lesson: write unique and intriguing content, not yet found on Medium to maximise your earnings.

This one is going to be important.

Being accepted by publications is a great step, but the REAL money is when your story is curated.

What is curation?

To put it simply – someone on the Medium team reads your article and decides that it is worth sharing. Yes, there are actual people reading through new Medium articles and picking them to be featured.

Once you are featured, your article will be shared on the homepage, on-topic pages, in the app, in the Daily Digest newsletter, and in other emails. You can read more about this here.

This will basically make your article explode and use all Medium readership, not just the publication followers.

One Youtuber, Shelby Church, made a video of what happens when you get curated.

Sixth lesson: getting curated is the ultimate goal.

And that is it from me!

I did learn a tone about Medium in the last month and I will try to write a few more articles in the next few months, applying all the techniques, I am just afraid I won’t have enough time for it!

You see, I am already managing quite a lot of different projects that have a higher priority than Medium:

However, I will keep you posted once I have new stuff about Medium, but this $1,000 might be a lot longer than I expected.

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