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One of the most challenging aspects of selling an online business involves starting over after the exit. Starting and growing a new business can be a grind, but having an existing personal audience makes the process much easier.
Joe Pulizzi has built and sold a few different businesses over the years, but he also maintains his own personal website and newsletter with 50,000 subscribers. “Those are connections and relationships I can keep no matter what I decide to do with my other businesses,” Joe told us.
In 2021, Joe launched a content marketing newsletter, The Tilt. With some help from his existing audience, The Tilt quickly became a success, and Joe sold it just two years later for a six-figure sum.
Joe’s story is inspiring, and his approach to building a personal brand alongside other businesses is a model that other entrepreneurs can emulate.
The Birth of Content Marketing
Joe’s story began in 2007 when he left his corporate job to blaze his own trail with content marketing, even though content marketing wasn’t a mainstream concept yet. Joe saw the need for content marketing coming, and he began using the term even though others weren’t using it yet.
“I believed the term for this would be content marketing,” Joe said, “so when starting my blog, I led with that term and used it like it was the industry’s term (even though it didn’t become that way until years later).”
Joe launched a website called Junta42, which matched brands and content creators. After running the site for a while, Joe pivoted and merged Junta42 with an active blog on content marketing that was growing rapidly, and Content Marketing Institute was born in 2010.
CMI became much more than just a website. Chief Content Officer magazine launched in early 2011, and Content Marketing World, an in-person event, began later that year. Speaking about that first conference, Joe said, “We were hoping for 100 people to come to Cleveland for that event. We ended up with 660. Four years later, we hit 4,000 attendees and $10 million in revenues.”
In 2016, Joe sold Content Marketing Institute and Content Marketing World for a reported $17.6 million, plus performance bonuses.
Launching and Growing The Tilt
A few years later, Joe launched The Tilt during the COVID-19 pandemic. “During the initial parts of COVID, more and more of my friends and colleagues were reaching out about starting their own content businesses,” Joe said. “It seemed to me that a lot of the wrong information was being shared about how to do this. So we decided to launch a newsletter (The Tilt) for content creators who wanted to do this full-time (what we call content entrepreneurs).”
Thanks to more than a decade in the industry, Joe had a strong personal network and an established audience of content creators.
The Tilt also got some initial momentum thanks to an acquisition. Joe purchased the domain name and content of Econtent magazine, which gave The Tilt about 5,000 subscribers to get started.
Joe and his team focused their efforts on networking to grow The Tilt. “We worked extremely hard on building relationships with other creators who had newsletters so we could get referrals for the newsletter,” he said.
The Tilt was launched during the newsletter boom, and before long, many other newsletters for content creators were competing in the same space. “We believed there was an opportunity to differentiate through an in-person event for the ‘middle class’ of content creators,” Joe said. “There were lots of events for influencers and social media stars, but not a lot of events for newsletter creators, authors, and consultants who led with content-first businesses.”
As a result, The Tilt launched the Content Entrepreneur Expo in 2022.
The Six-Figure Exit
Joe never had big aspirations for The Tilt, so in 2023, he was ready to move on. “After the team got The Tilt and CEX up and running,” he said, “I was ready to focus on other things.”
The online self-publishing company Lulu was The Tilt’s biggest financial supporter, and they were interested in launching an event. Instead of creating their own event, they acquired The Tilt and CEX.
As Joe told us, “It pays dividends to spend time talking to your financial supporters.”
For now, Joe is still very involved with Content Entrepreneur Expo and will serve as the show’s host in 2024. He’s also working on Tilt Publishing, helping content creators and non-fiction authors to publish their books. Authors will be able to distribute directly to their fans and subscribers without going through distributors, while still keeping their customer data.
“I’m totally in love with this model,” Joe said, “and I’m excited to see our Tilt authors succeed with a different kind of publishing. I firmly believe that directly selling a book (versus Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart) is the best business model for authors.”
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