8 Steps to Build and Sell a Profitable Web Tool, Without Knowing How to Code

In early 2023, I built a tool to help newsletter operators grow their email lists by partnering with other newsletters.

I built it in a week, it was immediately profitable, took less than a couple of hours per week to run, and I sold the whole project five months later for 5 figures.

I can’t code (and still can’t).

Here’s what I did, step by step:

1) The Problem

I’d started a newsletter that was getting some organic growth but not as fast as I’d like (is it ever?). But it was still early days, and I wasn’t ready to start paying for ads to attract subscribers.

I wanted a way to grow without churning out more and more content and I didn’t want to spend money.

I’d heard about some newsletters doing well with cross promotions — partnering and promoting each other. Simple shoutouts or content collaborations.

Sounded ideal.

But there was a problem.

How do you find willing partners?

I wanted to be able to source contacts of newsletters in my market, of a similar size, and that wanted to cross promote other newsletters.

After exhausting my close contacts, it was down to cold outreach.

But there was no efficient way to target the right newsletters.

There were a couple of sites promising to help match you with other but they were disappointing. I didn’t get a single bite.

So… if this was a problem for me, it might be a problem for others. Could I build something better?

2) Validation

I had a head start with this step. Let me explain…

To validate if an idea has legs, you need to get it in front of the right people.

Before I stumbled into this problem, I’d created a free community on Discord to chat all things newsletter. It had a few members and I had their email addresses.

I’d also been talking about newsletters on X / twitter for a while and built up a following of like minded newsletter operators.

I had access to the right people.

First thing I did was set up a basic landing page in Carrd with an opt in to capture email addresses. When someone signed up they’d get redirected to a form to fill out the details of their newsletter to add to a directory when it went live.

I set a target of getting 100 newsletters onboard before I started to build.

There’s no point in building something nobody wants.

I got the landing page out in front of my audience and impatiently waited…

Things started well and then slowed down. My audience wasn’t that big (tbh, it’s still not).

But that’s where some simple cold outreach can work.

I got a bunch of lists of newsletters and their email addresses and started sending messages.

Short, to the point, telling them I was pulling together a list of newsletters who wanted to cross promote and if they were interested, let me know and I’d send them a link to the page.

I didn’t mass send. It was manual, newsletter by newsletter and personalized by name.

That got me over the magic 100 a few days later 🙌

It looked like I was going to build this thing

3) Tool Choice

Now we get into the weeds.

Thankfully I’d already found a domain name (lettergrowth.com). Amazingly it was available and cost me a whole $10.

Normally I take forever choosing domains so this was a bonus.

But I made up for it by spending way too long choosing a tool stack.

I can’t code. A no-code tool would have to work until I could justify hiring a developer to build a custom solution.

Thankfully there are a lot of no-code tools on the market. With varying levels of sophistication and price points.

The downside is there are a lot of no-code tools on the market. With varying levels of sophistication and price points 😀

So much choice.

Before I settled on a platform, I tried two others: Softr and Webflow. Even building out basic MVPs before realizing there were small obstacles I couldn’t get round.

They’d work as an MVP but I wanted something closer to a final product.

In the end I went with Glide which ticked most of the boxes. I wouldn’t have to worry about building a customized solution for a while — it could scale.

I’d played with Glide in the past so at least there was some familiarity with how it worked.

I used Carrd for a fancy looking front page and ConvertKit to manage the emails from users and send out a weekly newsletter.

And I used Make (Integromat) to “glue” Glide and ConvertKit together to capture email addresses.

4) Monetization Plans

I didn’t have one 🤦‍♂️

Not a good one anyway.

It didn’t feel like I was going to be able to charge for using the tool until there were enough newsletters using it and getting value. The challenges of a marketplace.

So the fallback was sponsorships. And, at some point, a premium listing.

There was a third option that came after launch but we’ll get there in a minute.

But this was my weakest part of the project. No solid monetization outside of sponsors.

5) The Build

With tools decided it was time to build.

Not much to say about this — head down and pulled together a first version.

Showed a few people the work in progress for some feedback.

All in all it took a week, part time, to get it into something I was happy to show to the (newsletter) world.

6) The Launch

Lettergrowth was ready to be unleashed on the world.

Remember all those emails I gathered when validating the idea…?

They made launching nice and easy — I sent an email to them all.

And posted in the community that I ran.

That got the initial buzz going and more valuable feedback. As well as a few bugs to iron out.

And then posted in the usual places — Twitter and LinkedIn for my audience.

Those social posts and the word of mouth kept a steady stream of newsletters listing.

I also didn’t stop on the cold outreach emails. Sending a few messages everyday but now I had more than a google form to show them.

7) Actual Monetization

When it came down to it, was I able to monetize?

Yes. Quite easily.

The advantage of having a niche audience, all with similar needs, is that other businesses want to get in front of them.

I didn’t need to do any prospecting to find sponsors. No listing on ad exchanges. No cold emails.

I booked out a sponsorship slot in my weekly newsletter weeks in advance from businesses reaching out to me.

The list was small so it wasn’t huge money. But it paid for the tools I used and put some $ in my pocket.

But this wasn’t all… remember the newsletter community I mentioned earlier? I turned that into a paid membership and promoted it via Lettergrowth’s email list.

In each issue of the newsletter I had a sponsor and I’d promote the community to people who weren’t already members.

And in the welcome sequence for new users of Lettergrowth, I would “sell” the community too.

8) Acquisition

A few months into the life of Lettergrowth, I was approached about a potential partnership.

It wasn’t something I wanted to do, so I declined.

But we kept in touch and in the summer started talking about an acquisition of Lettergrowth.

At that point things were going well with the tool. But I wasn’t sure about where to go with it in the future.

The potential buyer could integrate it with other parts of their business, bringing more benefits to users. And a payout to me.

I took the deal.

I’m a zero to one kind of person. I enjoy starting things. But when they become part of the day to day, I start to lose interest and look at new opportunities.

Mid summer 2023, we signed an agreement, I got some cash and I handed over the keys.

As I write this Lettergrowth is still running and growing. I’m happy to see it continue as a useful resource for newsletter operators.

So What?

What’s the point of telling this story?

I think that anyone who’s looking for a business idea can follow a similar path.

I didn’t do anything special.

I found a problem whilst I worked on something else. I wanted to solve it for myself and figured others might have the same problem.

I was able to validate a need using simple, cheap tools.

I had an advantage — a small audience. If I didn’t have that audience, I would’ve done more outreach. It was still possible to validate.

I can’t code, but there’s an abundance of no-code tools that make it possible to pull something together quickly.

My mistake was not having a clear monetization plan.

It all worked out in the end but I’d recommend thinking beyond sponsorships. It’s not a terrible fallback option but at the beginning it was my only solid option. The community was more accidental.

If you only take away one thing from this article, it should be this:

Go find a problem, find others with the same problem, figure out if they’d pay to have it solved and build a solution.

My newsletter helps creators figure out how to build financial freedom online with digital products. You can get it here

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