Mike Cardona is a solo founder who has managed to build a $200k online business by specialising in automation content and consulting. He's also working on an AI newsletter and got his first taste of success from selling an Airtable database for $7k.
So Mike is someone who has definitely tried and succeeded with a lot of different ways to make online money which is cool! Read on for all of his backstory and advice on making a $200k a year business.
Can you tell us how you made $200k last year?
I have various sources of income streams.
The majority came from automation consulting, freelance automation work, and selling an Airtable database. I also earned some money from coaching, digital products, and affiliate niche site (I’m a silent partner).
In January I noticed my energy levels were down even though my income was up. Likely because I was doing more consulting and coaching and I wasn’t able to do more of what I really wanted to do: write content, grow my newsletter and build digital products.
Feb 2023: I decided to eliminate services that would cut 25% of my income.
April/May 2023: I stopped consulting and coaching and went all in to focus on my newsletter (Hidden Levers AI). And now I’m focusing more on creating digital products. My goal is to help busy solo entrepreneurs by sharing practical systems, frameworks, and templates and help them remove busy work.
Currently, I’ve launched a premium newsletter where I provide more in-depth and exclusive content. Here is a breakdown of my different revenue streams:
What have been some of your business lessons over the years?
- Avoiding shiny object syndrome is definitely at the top.
- Having clarity around my goals and optimizing for the life I want and not what’s trendy
- Creating systems and automating low-value repetitive tasks. Automation is an investment, not an expense (just don’t over-automate either)
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- Learning to say no and not overextending myself
- Not trying to do everything myself.
How did you get into automation consulting?
It was purely by accident. After selling the Airtable database in Jan ‘22, I started posting more about automation on Twitter and LinkedIn. This led to receiving a lot of DMs on LinkedIn or replies from people in my newsletter.
I learned about common pain points and problems and created content around them. This led to inbound requests and DMs. And because I’d already spent the previous the year before sharing what I knew about skills I’d learned from my previous failures and few wins, and helping others (for free), I’d accumulated a lot of testimonials.
Sales calls were easier because of the trust I had built through my content. I didn't have a an offer or even a website – my website was my newsletter content. I’m not saying you don’t need an offer – you definitely do. Just sharing what worked for me. I knew consulting wasn’t a long-term thing so I didn’t spend time building one.
What are some low-hanging fruit that people can do to automate their work?
- Appointment & Booking
- Requesting feedback/testimonials from clients or customers
Why did you create the Hidden Levers newsletter?
I created Hidden Levers as a way to build my email list and connect directly with my readers. I didn’t want to rely on social media. And it allows me to get feedback, and build digital products based on what they want (and how my paid newsletter was born and a collection of ChatGPT Workflow mega-prompts).
Plus, writing a newsletter is always what I wanted to do but was too afraid to finally publish.
How do you get automation clients?
- LinkedIn was the main channel that generated the most inbound leads and clients (Twitter was second)
- Share everything you know without fear clients won’t hire you — clients are busy and would rather hire someone to do it for them
- Share practical tutorials (helps prove your expertise) for a specific audience (marketing automation for [type of agency], lead gen automation for email marketers, etc). The more focused the better
- Engaging with others on LinkedIn is the most important part
- Build social proof/testimonials asap (if you haven’t’ already)
Consider volunteering if you’re starting from scratch
How do you compete with other AI newsletters?
I focus on automation + AI, which isn’t as common. There are others who create AI+Automation content but since their focus is on lead-generation for their agency their content is different. I’ve also positioned it for busy solo entrepreneurs who aim for a lifestyle (time-freedom) business.
I don't talk about much about AI tools or AI news. Because it’s more niche it’s not going to grow as fast but my goal isn’t more subscribers or fast growth. Not that there is anything wrong with that model!
What does an average day look like for you?
I typically write for ~2 hours a day. Writing either my newsletter or social media content. I also block out time to engage. And 2 hours are spent either learning, tinkering and testing new ChatGPT prompts that I build for my readers. Another hour is usually spend on researching what people are saying on Reddit, or social media.
Since I’ve just launched my paid newsletter and working on another product I’m spending more time researching. I’ve also partnered up with a developer to build more products.
Can you talk about what tech you use?
- Airtable, Zapier, and Make are my core automation tools.
- I also use ChatGPT and Claude 2.
- beehiiv for my free and paid newsletter.
- Plausible for analytics. I use dictation tools like AudioPen and TalkNotes.
- LemonSqueezy for products but I’ll be moving to ThriveCart soon.