Graphic Designer Shares How She Started a Business With $100 in 30 days

Graphic Designer, Serial Maker

Dianna Marie Allen

Dianna is a good friend of ours who we met through Krista Aoki (one of our first interviewees). We spent some time together traveling around Thailand, and learned that Dianna is a graphic designer by day and a serial maker by night. Among some of her projects are a no-code app, a paid newsletter and an online store. In this interview, we ask her about how she got started and what no-code tools she used to build her projects.


Hi Dianna, why don’t you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?

I’m Dianna. I’m from St. Louis, Missouri in the States, and I am a graphic designer. I have started a few things, just as hobbies. The most recent ones are Budget Meal Planner which is a weekly newsletter and Terra which is a Shopify site where I sell handmade scented candles.

Do you know how to code?

I would say I don’t know how to code. I dabbled with code a little bit, but I just know a little HTML and CSS, and it takes a really long time if I were to make something. 

Where did you get inspiration to start your side projects?

It all started when I discovered Product Hunt. It was a big motivation to start something. I was browsing it and I saw a lot of people making things and I thought that I could also build something.

Also, I had a lot of free time because I was traveling for the past 2.5 years. When I would get bored at night and I would think – what can I make and how can I make this in the easiest way possible? I follow a lot of developers on Twitter and see what they’re doing but because I am not a developer, I would think to myself – maybe I can do that without code. So that’s how it began.

We know you won an award from Product Hunt for building something without code, can you tell us about that?

Early last year they did a no-code contest called Product Hunt Makers Festival where you had to use Coda to make an app. I thought it sounded easy enough because it’s just made through a spreadsheet. I also really wanted to win the MacBook that was the main prize for that contest. I didn’t win it in the end, but it was still fun.

What I made was a tea recommendation app called Remetea. Tea has healing properties, so how my app worked is that you had to type in what you wanted to fix and then the app would give you recommendations for which tea to drink. 

Let’s say, you had low energy, so you would type that in and the app would recommend you drink spearmint tea.

And that app got won in the health and wellness category, and that was what sparked my interest in building things.

Where did the idea for Budget Meal Planner come from?

Budget meal planner

As I was traveling, a lot of people around me were saying – I wish I could eat healthy, but it’s so expensive. But I think it is not true, I think it’s actually cheap and super easy. I like food and cooking, and also writing and sharing information, so I thought I could have a website with a newsletter. 

I made a website with Wix, made some blog posts and setup a newsletter form with Mailchimp. But I noticed that nobody went anywhere on the website besides the newsletter. So that’s why I decided to drop the blog posts and just have the newsletter. 

What no-code tools did you use to make and send this newsletter? 

I went through a few tools. 

First I started with MailChimp because it was just the easiest and it’s free for up to 1000 subscribers. But then I passed 1000 subscribers and had to pay for it. I realized that MailChimp is actually expensive. 

Then I moved to MailerLite where you get up to 2,500 subscribers for free. I really like it, but currently I don’t use it because around that time paid newsletters were becoming a thing. So I started looking into how I can do that because MailChimp and MailerLite didn’t have options to make your subscribers pay for your newsletter.

That’s how I discovered Substack which was perfect for what I wanted to do. So I moved all my subscribers there. It was also free until I decided to have paying subscribers. There’s no upfront fee, they just take a small percentage of your subscription price, so once you start making money, they also start charging money. This worked well for me because I didn’t want to have to pay for a tool if I wasn’t making money yet.

So I actually have two separate newsletters. I have a free one on Wednesdays and it’s just 3 recipes. And then on Fridays I send out to my paying subscribers a 5 day meal plan along with those three recipes. 

And what tools did you use to build your website?

I started with Wix because I wanted to have blog posts and multiple pages, but I was constantly having issues with them. So I ended up moving to Carrd because when I got rid of the blog posts, all I needed was the landing page with the newsletter. I love Carrd, it’s so easy. I just used one of their regular templates, changed the photos and the colors. It took 20 minutes to set up and it looks super nice.

So about your newsletter, how many subscribers do you have now? 

I have about 3,500 subscribers, but around 1,600 are active and opening the newsletter. And then out of that, I have 17 paid subscribers.

When I started the newsletter I was really excited about it and very engaged in writing it every week. But then towards the end of last year, maybe the last 3 months, I had a really hard time getting into it. I guess it just became repetitive because I do it every Wednesday and every Friday.

One guy actually contacted me and he wanted to buy it from me. I was like “Great, take it!” But since then I talked to a couple of people about it and they said that I should definitely keep it. Because I told them how the deal would have worked. The guy wanted to buy the entire project, right? But then he wanted to hire me and basically keep it going with content. So I’d sell him my newsletter, but he’d pay me a salary to keep it alive. And my friends were like, why don’t you just do what he would have you do? Why don’t you just actually think of it as a job? Because that’s why my head is out of it, I don’t associate it as a job. If I were to actually focus on it and do what the guy would probably have me do, which would honestly be better, to write better content, because I’m kind of lazy writing everything right now.

I am sure that I’ll make more money if you take it more seriously. And since I’ve talked to my friends about that, I thought, you know what? You’re right. So since the new year came around, I’m back into it!

So you said you write every Wednesday and Friday, is it hard to find inspiration every week?

It’s super hard. But because I’ve been doing this since March last year, I have a whole backlog of content written. So if I really don’t feel writing for the week, I can always just pull something from super early, when I had no subscribers because then no one knows. So, yes, it is hard but I can always fall back to my archives if I am really uninspired.

What is your favorite no-code tool? 

I think Carrd is my favorite. It’s so easy to use, you can get a website up in 10 minutes and it’s so cheap. I got a special deal during Black Friday for $9 for the whole year! Right now I have 6 websites hosted on there and I can host 4 more, so 10 in total. That’s a great deal, I don’t think there is anything similar on the market for this price.

Do you think you’d ever need to learn how to code to build something you want and you think you can kind of get away without coding? 

I definitely think I can get away without knowing how to code because the entire past year, everything I’ve made or looked into, I never had to write a single line of code! It’s just little things that I’ve tweaked. 

For example, I have a Shopify website now, which you can have without knowing how to code. They give you product pages and everything you need to start an online store. 

The only things I ever needed to fix with code was small cosmetic things, for example, the centering of the text was off. So I needed to add the center tags in html. I feel that’s literally the only amount of code I’ve needed this entire year. So yes, I’ll be fine without it.

What resources do you wish you had when you got started? 

Substack seriously changed the newsletter for me. I switched to Substack in November and someone just emailed me saying: “I’m so glad you started charging for this, because your content is great!”

When I made the switch I had 8 paying subscribers just show up over the next few weeks, and then even just the past month, I randomly get an email telling me someone’s just subscribed monthly, or someone just paid for the whole year. And I’m like – why didn’t I do this earlier? So, yes, I wish I knew about Substack earlier for sure. 

Was it hard to start charging for the newsletter?

Yes! And for the longest time I thought – I can’t charge people for this, it goes against everything I’m doing. Because it’s in the name, “Budget”. It just felt so wrong. But then I realized that I’m helping people save money. And I thought if I just keep the cost very low it will be fine, now It’s $6 a month. So it’s the price of a hamburger, just don’t eat that hamburger and you can afford the subscription and eat healthy, you know? 

Do you have any tips for people that are trying to start a business or launch something new or have an idea but don’t know how to code? 

Well, if you have an idea and you really want to do something, start as small as possible. 

For example, I want to sell a million candles and have a physical shop. But that’s not realistic right now, so I have to think about what is literally the very first step I can take. For me, that was setting up a pre-order page, even though I didn’t even have a product yet. 

And you can do that for digital products as well. 

Let’s say you’re making an app, you can have a simple page where people sign up while you’re building the app. This way you can already start growing your audience without having everything fully ready. So I think the first step is to just get people interested. 

Why did you start your online store?

Image

So it actually was a challenge that I did. I gave myself $100 and 30 days to make something profitable. 

Later somebody told me that there is a similar challenge that is going around, but I didn’t know about it!

The reason why I decided on $100 and 30 days is because I had a travel website that I wasted 6 months of my life trying to make it a thing and it never became a thing. 

So I didn’t want to spend much money trying to get something off the ground. I felt $100 is enough money to get going with something, but not enough to overspend. And then I also gave myself 30 days because I didn’t want to waste a lot of time on it. 

This time I’ll only dedicate a month to try and get something off the ground, and then move on if it doesn’t go anywhere.

How are you promoting your current candle business?

I’m not doing anything paid yet and focusing mostly on Facebook and Instagram. I’m trying to just put it in front of my city. You know how you have the geo-tag on Instagram? So I just go into that and message everyone, and then I follow them too.

I think I’ve actually kinda cracked Instagram, at least for me not paying for ads. So what I’ve done is I followed local businesses and I stalked their stories because they’re the ones re-posting people who are actively buying from small businesses. So then I go into their stories and then I stalk those people and then I message them.

And I even got soft-banned on Instagram, they stopped me from liking because I was liking so many things. They told me I need to wait a little bit. 

But then that’s when I just go on Facebook and do the same thing. There’s a lot of local Facebook groups that are either craft related or handmade stuff related. There are also buy and sell groups for my area. What I do is I share a post from my main candle Facebook page that into a group. 

So that’s all I am doing now to promote my business. I guess you can say I am a spammer these days. {laughs}

Are you also launching a candle-related newsletter now?

I’m actually writing a weekly reflection of running the candle business, but that has also turned it into a newsletter, but it’s honestly more so for my own benefit just because I feel it’ll help keep me on track.

What are you currently working on?

My only focus right now are the candle business and the budget meal planner.  I want to see how things play out in the next 3 months and then maybe I’ll drop one and start something else.

Thanks Dianna, it was great chatting with you! Where can people find more about you?

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