What do you get when you send a personal trainer and an accountant to Nicaragua for a month? Well if you’re Lauren McManus and Alex Nerney (who built Create and Go) you get a 6-figure business teaching people how to build successful blogs and online courses.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, of course. And their first attempt at this kind of site wasn’t so successful. There were failed strategies. Plus a break-up. But Lauren and Alex are living proof that if listen to your audience, focus on building out one traffic channel at a time, and willing to evolve and pivot when necessary, you too can be successful in your online business.
Keep reading to find out all the nitty-gritty details behind their entrepreneurial adventure.
A Little Bit About Lauren McManus (and Alex)
My professional career actually started out in accounting. I was a tax accountant working for a small firm in Dallas when I met my now ex-boyfriend, Alex Nerney, on Tinder and wound up on this path towards entrepreneurship.
Alex and I started building websites together and eventually turned it into a 7-figure online business. We aren’t dating anymore, but we’re still business partners.
Since then, I quit my job as an accountant and started traveling the world as a digital nomad. I lived abroad in various countries for 3 years, working on my business while traveling. I met my husband while traveling and we have since moved to Germany to be closer to his family.
How and Why They Created Their Website
Alex and I started Create and Go because we just felt like we had to share our incredible journey of entrepreneurship with others.
We started a health and fitness website back in 2015 and we were able to get 500,000 views a month from Pinterest just a few months later. We took a lot of the experience that Alex had in the real world and put that into the online diet and weight loss programs that we created.
Not everything was a home-run, hit-success from day 1 though.
We first created a version of these programs with a website that wasn’t getting much traffic yet and they were a big bust. But we learned some things along the way, started a second website, worked on building that audience first, and then repackaged the same diet programs for this new audience. That time, they did sell from day 1.
We earned our first $20,000 in just the first few months. This great and initial success was enough to quit our full-time jobs and start traveling. We spent a month in Nicaragua, working alongside the monkeys in the jungle and that was where we started Create and Go.
We wanted to teach others how they could do this too. Plus, with a background in business, the management and growth side of the business was the most exciting part for me. I enjoyed teaching people about running an online business a lot more than teaching people how to lose weight.
The Website’s Earnings
We made $972,369.93 in 2021.
We make most of our money from selling our online courses (around 40%) and from affiliate marketing partnerships (around 50%). We’ve also dabbled in sponsored posts in the past, although it’s never been big for us.
A much smaller portion of our income comes from YouTube ads and we’ve also had ads on our health and fitness website in the past, but we prefer not to have them on Create and Go. I think ads compromise quality a lot and are only worth it if you have a really high-traffic site that isn’t monetized in other, better ways.
How Courses Changed Everything
Our online courses have always been the real game-changer for us on both the health and fitness website and Create and Go.
Selling your own stuff gives you complete control over the product, price, and selling process. I really think it’s the only way to really scale what you’re doing without limits.
Our online courses cover all of the topics necessary to start, grow, and monetize your own online business.
Launch Your Blog Biz will help you start and launch your first website with content, an email list, and an audience.
Six-Figure Course Creator will help you create your own online courses to sell to your audience and scale your income.
And then we have two courses just on driving traffic: SEO Blueprint for Bloggers and Pinterest Traffic Avalanche.
I think what sets our courses apart from others is just our honesty and transparency throughout this entire process. A lot of people give you the plan but they don’t dive deep into what all of this means every step of the way—what it means to you and what it means to your audience.
We teach from our personal experience and try to make our strategies applicable to our students in various niches without getting so high-level that the advice gets vague and generic. I think this is a problem with a lot of online courses that are made to be applicable for the masses.
We have a serious focus on blogs and content-driven businesses.
Their Growth Strategies
Diversifying our traffic sources and focusing heavily on growing our email list has always been our best strategy in terms of growth.
We like to give our full attention to a particular traffic channel to learn it inside and out and how to grow on that platform in a way that minimizes our time while also serving our audience really well.
Pinterest was first, then YouTube, then went full steam with SEO, and my latest project was starting a podcast. And we also sometimes use paid ads to scale traffic as well.
The important thing here was to stagger growth on these platforms. We didn’t start on all of them at once. And we used our email list and existing audience to promote each new channel as we started them to help get them that initial following and engagement.
Lauren McManus’ Main Marketing Strategy
My primary strategy, is that I try to be as relatable as possible to my audience. For instance, I talk a lot about my background in accounting because I know what it’s like to feel like you aren’t cut out for a certain life, that maybe you aren’t creative enough to be an entrepreneur.
Honestly, I didn’t know how to write and I still don’t like being photographed or on camera. And I run my business how I want to and I encourage my students to do the same.
Your options are endless these days. I think it’s important to be able to really connect with someone that you want to learn from. There are enough “experts” out there. But people want straight answers and real results. I try to deliver this and communicate it in this style as much as possible.
Marketing is really just a form of communication. A lot of people forget that when they’re so focused on “sell, sell, sell.”
Their Winning Strategy
I don’t really have a golden nugget to share here, but Alex and I have always paid a lot of attention to traffic and conversions. Rather than just listening to what worked for other people or just believing that something will work, we tested everything ourselves.
I mean, at one point during our first year of trying to scale our income, we had 5 different email opt-ins with 5 different funnels selling 5 different products. We ran webinars that less than 20 people showed up to, which included our moms. We have an opt-in graveyard that must contain at least 40-something freebies that just never made the cut.
Testing and optimization can be a really time-consuming process, but it’s been incredibly valuable to us.
It’s not just learning how to figure out what works. It’s also important to learn about what doesn’t work and why it doesn’t work for you specifically. This is what helps you begin to see which strategies are best for you and your audience.
As far as testing goes, all we really did was pay close attention to the numbers. We didn’t wait around to see if things worked. We tracked the numbers every day: the clicks from content, the opt-in conversion rates, the email open rates, the sales page conversion rates… everything!
Even to this day, I keep things pretty simple and only spend time and resources on traffic sources and projects that really reward my business. I let the rest go.
For example, I don’t use Instagram for my business because I don’t want to and I think there are much better sources of traffic out there. Scaling your business starts with a hell of a lot of trial and error and really paying close attention to the results of those trials.
The Importance of SEO
SEO is a pretty high priority for my business, and not just because we have an SEO course.
Google SEO is probably the highest-quality form of traffic because there’s just so much of it to be had and you can attract really targeted users to your content. But I also wouldn’t say it’s the end-all, be-all.
Our traffic strategy is pretty diversified and comes from several different platforms, so we don’t have a huge reliance on SEO. I think that’s the way it should be for everyone, so you aren’t keeping all of your eggs in one basket.
We’re also open to the evolution of our business and new and different keywords that come with that. We will continue to focus on Google SEO, but it’s only one part of our overall strategy.
YouTube has also been pretty good to us. It’s not a massive traffic driver, but our channel has been a really powerful tool for building relationships.
It can be difficult to get yourself on camera and put yourself out there like that, but when you do, people gravitate to it. They are able to relate to you on a totally different level and it just gives a lot more depth to your content.
Lauren McManus on Content Creation
Honestly, our SEO strategy is mostly about creating some of the best content possible—content that is both very thorough and also very engaging.
We share our personal stories, thoughts, and opinions to try to keep content engaging and maximize time on page. But great content is only one part of it.
That content also has to be optimized for high performance. We’ve done a lot of work with our web developer to make sure our website is running as fast as possible. That’s been a long and expensive project but so worth it.
We also do the basics of keyword research, outreach, link building, etc.
Getting backlinks is pretty important, especially in the earlier stages to get that initial traction and prove some E-A-T (Expertise-Authoritativeness-Trustworthiness).
But over time, if your content is great, written to rank, and loads quickly, then backlinks will start coming in easier and you can take a more passive approach. It doesn’t always have to be a serious hustle and it shouldn’t be. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
We have dedicated some time to link building in the past, but it’s not something that we dedicate much time to anymore. Now, we focus on networking and building partnerships with brands and companies to build better links through great, shared content. I think this is the best strategy once you’ve built a foundation.
The Path to Current Revenue
It took us about 6 months to reach our first $10,000/month but we made it to $40,000/month just a couple of months after that.
It took us about 2 years to reach $100,000/month and we’ve actually had two single months where we earned over $200,000 in a month.
Our income has fluctuated over the years based on the amount of time we’ve invested, changing platforms and algorithms, etc.
Our traffic fluctuates throughout the year, but it generally falls between 30,000 and 50,000 sessions per month.
We’ve seen as high as over 100,000 sessions a month, but it also depends on what kind of ads we’re running and what we’re working on in that department.
Their 3 Top Tools
The two most important tools in our business are what we use to grow and sell are:
ConvertKit for email marketing and Teachable for selling online courses.
We’ve been using both for years now and I can’t say enough good things about these companies.
I’ve met members of both teams and they’re doing great things. And they care a lot about their communities of students and creators.
I guess the third most useful tool is probably Slack. We have a team of 5 and we use Slack to communicate, plan projects, and really just get the work done.
I remember when Alex and I used to use email as our main form of communication. Wow. Slack was a real game-changer.
Lauren McManus’ Biggest Challenge
You mean besides that I used to date my business partner? Our business has managed to survive a 4-year relationship and subsequent breakup. But no seriously, that wasn’t it… I think the biggest challenge that I have faced personally is just trying to evolve with my business.
The world of online business is constantly changing as are all of the platforms that we use to communicate and market ourselves.
On top of that, our lives are continuing to change and evolve.
When we first started our business, there was this huge and long building phase and it was so exciting. It’s constant movement and you often know what step you need to take next. It’s just about putting in the time to get there.
Then you reach a certain level of success and you finally have time to think about what’s next. Sometimes that can be a scary thing. Sometimes you have to align what’s next with where you’re at in your personal life.
There were times when I felt like what was next required me to show up more, on a podcast or on camera, and I didn’t have the capacity or desire to do that. It doesn’t feel great when there is a misalignment there.
Having a business partner with different capacities and desires also impacts this a lot. But even deciding which directions I want to grow in has been more difficult for me than I expected.
Her Most Important Accomplishment
I’m definitely the most proud of the success that some of my students have attained.
I don’t think that this type of online business is very sustainable in the long term if you aren’t getting your students great results and getting some kind of sense of accomplishment from that. Why else would you keep showing up for them? Money alone isn’t enough after a while.
The people are why you get up and do this every day. My students are the ones that pushed me to start the podcast. When I asked them what they wanted, that’s what they said.
Now that it’s going, I realize how important that channel of communication is. I’m able to connect with them on an entirely new level and in real-time as things are happening in my own life and business. I love my audience and they’re definitely my biggest accomplishment.
If Only She Knew When She Started
I’m not very good at delegating or relinquishing control. I’m one of those people that feels like I can do everything better and so I do it all. It’s been really hard for me to outsource parts of my job and trust people enough to do the job well enough.
If I had started this sooner in my journey, I think I would be a hell of a lot better at it now. I think I might have grown in different ways. I could still be a lot better at it now.
There was a lot of time wasted on certain tasks or projects in areas that just weren’t all that important, or not important enough for me personally to be doing them. I’m more of a head-down, workaholic type rather than a seeing the big-picture, forest-through-the-trees type.
Alex was the latter and I relied very heavily on him in that area, so I didn’t give much thought to that particular mindset and it’s something I struggle a bit more with now.
Her Biggest Mistake
The biggest mistake I’ve made is not selling one of my websites sooner. Alex and I just sold our first health and wellness website. We kind of fell out of love with this project and let the website fall into decline over the years.
It became a bit of a burden on us and it felt heavy to keep holding onto it, but I believed it was an asset and valuable teaching tool in our course for Create and Go. But I now realize that our story and strategies are the assets, not the website itself.
We sold it for $75,000. If we had sold it back in 2018 when it was still consistently making over $20,000/month, we could have made a killing, probably over $1 million. But because it was making great money back then, it was also hard to think about letting it go at the time. It would have been the better business decision though, for sure.
It still ending up being a great thing for us because we sold it to someone on our team who already had a keto health blog she was running. She had also been working on our site specifically for a while, so she already knew how everything operated. So we were lucky we didn’t have to go through a marketplace or anything of the sort to try to find a buyer.
Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Enjoy every moment of building your business.
During the building phase, you have such an incredible opportunity to learn so many new and different skills. And each will serve you so well when it comes time to evolve and adapt your business to the ever-changing world and algorithms.
One of the best things that you can do at any stage of building your business – especially the beginning is to just listen to your audience.
Some of the biggest strides that we made in building both of our websites to 6 figures came from implementing ideas that our audience gave us. We asked them what they wanted more of when it came to content and products and we listened and delivered.
As business owners, we tend to get really wrapped up in our own thoughts and ideas. But in order to truly grow and scale, we have to think like our audience and remember that we create and build things that serves their needs.