The other day I sold a passive income site I built 2 years ago for $1,830.40 with Empire Flippers.
Here’s an in-depth look at how I went and sold my first website ever (and what I thought of the whole process).
Table of Contents
A couple years back, I started a new web site (to protect the buyer’s privacy, let’s call it GWP.com). It was in the WordPress themes space.
I had seen some success from other sites in the space and knew there was opportunity.
I built the site quickly with the help of an AWESOME virtual assistant, but then had other projects come up that were more important.
The site did well from the get-go because of my initial enthusiasm, but it wasn’t a game-changer for me. It made a few sales a month (off which I made about $30), but I did basically no work on it and it was very under-optimized. It was THE definition of a passive income site.
That said, even if I optimized it, I think I could double or triple the earnings, but probably not enough to make it worth directing a lot of attention to it.
The site was was making about $100/month, which for some people is great, but I had a lot of other areas in general that I could optimize that have greater returns (this site, for one).
In addition to revenue reasons, over the last year, I’ve been working on focus, and I’ve made the decision that I don’t really want to be spending time on anything that isn’t Impossible or Paleo related.
For that reason, this site no longer fit in with my goals and I decided to sell it.
Picking Empire Flippers
I used EmpireFlippers.com, who I know through the Dynamite Circle.
I’ve never met them, but they’ve got a good reputation and a decent buying audience, so I decided to give it a shot.
I know several guys who have bought and sold sites through them. Also, because it wasn’t a HUGE dollar amount, I figured I would give it a try.
Empire Flippers charges $297 to list a site for a first time seller. They charge $97 for any future sites.
That’s not a bad deal, especially on bigger sites (most brokers work on a percentage), but if you’re selling a small site (like I did), the fee actually cuts into your profit by a large number since it’s not a scaled percentage.
Either way, I decided the listing fee was worth it and went full-speed ahead (Note: I found out about another “commission” fee later on in the process. More on that later).
The experience started off a bit bumpy. I did an analysis on the numbers and had to separate them out since these sites shared a few affiliate accounts I used for other projects.
This is a good lesson for the future: create separate affiliate accounts for each site if you intend to sell them in the future.
That said, I ran the numbers and provided a detailed breakdown in the spreadsheet.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough.
They wanted a login directly to my affiliate account so they could verify the numbers themselves. This is understandable, but a little invasive if you have multiple sites running through the same account. Also, it would have been a much less of a big deal if they would have gotten the numbers right.
Even after providing the numbers (on my end), the numbers they came up with were way off.
In less words – for this sale specifically – ShareASale (the affiliate marketplace that I used for affiliate links) provides the total transaction amount AND the commission you actually make.
The Empire Flippers VAs added these two numbers together instead of just counting the commission.
This meant that for each sale I “made” through ShareASale, Empire was counting my total revenue on the site as 130% of the purchase price – even though I was only making 30% of the purchase price!
Because of this, the initial estimate I got for the site was close to $8k!
While I could have taken their valuation and kept the listing price at that, I have this darn conscience that would have bothered me for a while about it.
I pointed out the error to the team and they re-ran the numbers and agreed to list the website at $1830.40 or about 20x monthly revenue.
Here were the exact calculations:
I gave them a login to my site, Google analytics, and ShareASale, and they approved my listing.
They approved the site for a 20x multiple. I pushed for a higher multiple, but they reminded me I was looking for a quick sale, so I agreed to go with 20x.
The sale went up 1 day and was sold within 24 hours.
That was fast!
In fact, I went back to look and it sold just over 8 hours after it was listed.
Getting it sold FAST was awesome, but it also reinforced my opinion that the listing price was too low. That said, I didn’t cry too much because again, my goal was on selling it fast rather than maximizing a few hundred bucks off it.
I figured if I got the sale over and the cash quick, then it all would be good.
The only other thing that bothered me about the listing was that I never got to see it before it went live. As a marketer, I would have liked to have been involved in the listing name, language, etc.
I guess that’s part of their process (and maybe a benefit to people who don’t want to have to deal with it), but it bothered me a bit after the fact (although that could just be because of my inner control freak tendencies).
Again, these were all minor things – I wanted to focus on my other projects – and the fact that they could get a buyer in less than 24 hours was impressive.
The Migration Process
Migration is where I had my biggest issues with the process..
First, I had to provide access to the Filipino techs to transfer my site.
That’s okay, but I had other projects on the same host and it’s a bit nerve-wracking to give someone you’ve never met wholesale access to your hosting backend.
The migration process took a bit (as they had to coordinate buyer and seller info), so I think this part took a few days.
The other annoying thing was that as part of the migration, they had to verify and change what sorts of ad info and affiliate info you had.
In my opinion, this should be solely on the part of the buyer. The seller sells the site as-is and the buyer should have to do the work to swap out ads.
Empire Flippers tries to mitigate this by having their techs do it – but the end result is that it slows everything down for the seller.
The other annoying piece was that I kept getting comments and questions that should have never come up
- “This link doesn’t work”
- “What banners perform best?”
These are good questions, but should have been figured out when the buyer was purchasing the site or did their due diligence – not after the sale has been entered into agreement.
As for links that don’t work – they didn’t work when I sold the site and that’s part of the buyer’s opportunity. The site was under-optimized from the get-go and I hadn’t spent anytime looking at it. Changing that link is the reason you get it for 20x vs. 36x.
Also, throughout the process, the migration ticket is handled on 1 ticket for both parties. That means each party can see what the other is typing.
That makes it easier for Empire Flippers, but could be a security risk if 1 side provides passwords or other sensitive information in it.
This was the second annoying thing.
It costs zero to create an account on any domain registrar. The best practice here would be to push the domain to whatever registrar it’s currently on, then let the buyer transfer it on their own time down the line.
Domain “pushes” are instant on the same registrar, while a domain transfer (to a different registrar) can take anywhere from 3-10 days. Instead of doing a registrar push, the buyer insisted on a domain transfer which is a bunch more hoops that the seller has to jump through.
They can fix this just by allowing the seller to push the domain to whatever registrar the domain is currently owned at.
Waiting 5-10 days to see if a domain is transferred correctly is annoying and a waste of time as a seller.
Empire Flippers holds your money until the other party verifies traffic and sales.
This is annoying as a seller.
I understand why – they want to verify that they’re selling legit sites – but it’s VERY unfriendly to sellers.
As a seller, you’re selling a site based on past performance – not future guarantees. In any site, technical changes affect SEO and performance. A seller shouldn’t be responsible for changes that the buyer could potentially jack up.
The seller is on the hook for poor implementation by the buyer.
Imagine if you wanted to buy a stock, but only had to pay if the stock went up?
That’d be great as a buyer, but as a seller, there’s only downside. No other market does that.
If something goes bad, the seller is screwed.
The buyer I dealt with wanted it transferred to his specific domain manager.
That’s cool but when you transfer registrars, you are automatically locked from moving that domain again – per iCANNs rules – for 60 days.
This is very annoying.
- This means that if the buyer screws things up – the seller is on the hook.
- This means if the buyer doesn’t “verify” the earnings – the seller is on the hook.
- This means that if the buyer for whatever reason doesn’t like the domain or website – the seller is on the hook AND can’t get back the domain for 60 days. So they’re out the sale, the domain AND 60 days of earnings (at the least).
That’s a terrible policy.
I tried to put in a ticket on this, but the support team manually merged it into my transfer ticket (which let the buyer see it as well – which, again, is not what I intended) and is another problem with the shared transfer ticket.
Adding In A “Bonus” Site
Part of my deal with the listing was that I was going to throw in another WordPress theme related site (let’s call this one RT) to the buyer. It was a very similar site that did less traffic due to neglect – I hadn’t really done much with it.
The site generated no revenue and had minimal traffic, so throwing in the domain was meant to boost interest in the sale.
The problem came up (again) that the buyer wanted it transferred to a specific registrar and I was asked to do so.
Again, this is a terrible policy.
I was throwing in the domain and the site as a bonus, and it was a pain that it was taking even MORE of my time.
The buyer ended up creating an account at the registrar the domain was at, which was nice, but that should be the standardized policy.
Surprise: A Commission Fee
I should preface this: this is MY fault. This is pretty standard in brokering situations, but (for some reason I still don’t know), I was under the impression that the listing fee was the only fee I was going to be responsible for.
That said, once I was told how much I was getting paid ($1555.84), I was surprised to see the number lower than the sale price. After inquiring further, I only then realized the commission was on top of the listing fee.
I don’t know why I didn’t realize this (I think I was just focused on clearing house and had other things going on). I was so sure that the listing fee was the only fee, that I went back and looked and sure enough, they say it RIGHT ABOVE the button to “sell the site.”
While this is reasonable on larger sites, in total, between the listing fee and this, EF basically ended up eating 33% of my sale price which sucks.
Again, this is in the terms and conditions and is MY fault, but it’d be cool to see a “profit calculator” or a notice of “this is how much you’ll sell for” and “this is how much you’ll get” earlier on in the buying process so bad speed readers like me don’t get surprised 🙁
That said, let’s talk MONEY.
Getting Paid (Cash MONEY!) $$$
All right, the deal was done. The buyer was happy and everything was good to go.
After trying to haggle Paypal minus the fees – I settled on bitcoin.
I got this message from Joe:
At this point, I was antsy to get paid, so waiting a full week to get paid seemed like ANOTHER preventable delay. I know there’s a bit of volatility with the price of bitcoin, but I think they should probably carry some bitcoin as a cost of doing service in order to accelerate some of these smaller transactions).
Nevertheless, on September 2nd, Joe sent $1,000 to my bitcoin address and sent the remainder on September 6th.
Website Sold. Transaction finished. #boom
Vital Stats For This Website Sale
For those of you scanning this, I dug up some of the numbers for this sale in order to give a quick overview of everything. I think it’s pretty interesting:
Average Monthly Revenue: $91.52
Revenue Multiplier: 20x
Listed Price: $1,830.40
Profit after Commission: $1,555.84
Profit after Commission + Listing Fee: $1,258.84
% of Sale Price Profit Realized: 68.7% (ouch!)
Time from submission to listing: July 25th – August 17th = 23 days
Time from start of transaction to sale: August 17th: 11:07pm – August 18th, 7:15am = 8 hours, 8 minutes – WOAH.
Time from sale to $$$: August 18th – September 6th = 19 days.
Time from submission to $$$: 43 days (1 month, 12 days).
Lessons Learned From Selling My First Site
If you’re going to sell a site, separate earnings out by the account / website level
This would have helped with the earnings numbers and verifications and cleaned things up from a security standpoint. I would have felt way more secure in sharing multiple accounts with them, and it would have sped up everything.
Get all the terms up front
Part of what annoyed me about the sale was that it wasn’t until after I made the sale that I was told I wouldn’t receive funds until the buyer verifies that they’re making money. I also didn’t realize that the listing fee was in ADDITION to the commission fee. I still would have listed with them, but I would have been aware of it, rather than surprised (to be fair, I take responsibility for this part, but I think it could have been clearer).
Understand the domain transfer clauses
I mentioned this above, but this was annoying as well and added 5 days to the transaction time. Domain pushes and transfers are very different things and can add a huge differential of time to the transfer process.
Know it’s going to be a PITA
I was really hoping that for such a small site and transaction, that it would be quick and painless. It ended up being a minor pain in the a$$ when I had a lot of other things I’d rather focus on – which was the reason I was selling it in the first place.
If you’re a buyer, Empire Flippers might be a good deal. Most of their policies are buyer-centric. This makes sense. Buyers will often buy multiple sites (they have money to spend), but sellers don’t sell nearly as often. It makes sense to build in policies to their business model that protect the people giving them money.
If you’re a seller (especially looking for a quick sell), the sale happened SUPER fast, but the transfer took way too much of my time to be worth it.
I was hoping they’d be much more direct and quick with the sale and hassle-free. However, it seemed like every step of the way (except the actual sale), I was dealing with a headache.
Part of their model includes using Filipino VAs. I have no qualms with that, but it did delay the process somewhat as most of the interaction took place on Filipino time (night-time stateside) and required solving miscommunication issues that did come up. Interestingly enough, if I worked normal hours (9-5 US time), this would have taken even longer – chalk another one up for night owls. This could be fixed by having VAs on duty round-the-clock or on US shifts (which is not unusual for outsourced services).
My Verdict on Empire Flippers
Based on my experience with Empire Flippers, I would give them a 6/10.
I’ve been building sites for a long time, but I’m a newbie at selling them.
Again, I’ve known the Empire Flippers guys since way back when they were Adsense Flippers and they do a ton of volume and move a lot of sites, so maybe people are having better experiences than me, but on this sale, I found a lot of things they could fix or improve on to be more seller-friendly.
I think a major part is that selling a site (especially one that could be considered a “small site”) is a headache in general. I felt like this took an inordinate amount of time for such a small site but to be fair, I’m not sure it would have been better with Flippa or anyone else (since you have to manage the process yourself), but it would be nice for it to be a little less painful.
It’s probably much more worth the squeeze if you have a bigger site that you’re listing, but if you’re thinking about Empire Flippers, here’s my verdict:
- Fast Sales
- Less headaches than other sites
- Process needs a lot of refinement
- Focus is on buyers over sellers
- Not going to get top dollar for your site
- Transfer is a headache
- No insurance if things go bad (that I know of).
I talked with Justin Cooke (one of the founders at Empire Flippers) at a conference in Barcelona this past weekend about a lot of these issues.
One thing that I didn’t realize is that this size of deal (under $5k) they don’t really do much of anymore. For a lot of the reasons I outlined above, they don’t take on smaller sites, but also, the people BUYING smaller sites tend to be less experienced and delay the process (via many of the things I mentioned above).
For this reason, I think you’ll run into MANY of these problems with ANY sale UNDER $5k. It’s just the market and there’s not a lot of good options for getting rid of them. If I knew that going into this, I would have either 1) deleted it, 2) hired an assistant to grow it to something salable, 3) just forgot about it.
Given the new knowledge, if I had a site to sell in the 5-10k range, I would consider giving them another shot, however, there are things from the seller’s side that I would like to see fixed.
Did you like this write-up? I have a bunch more case studies that I’ll be sharing in the future.
photo credit: Antique Register