Episodes for New Founders:
Episode 4 | 8 Things We Wish We Knew When We Started Out
Episode 11 | The Five Biggest Hurdles to Getting Started
Episode 29 | 5 Steps to Beating Your Startup Demons
Episode 72 | 8 Tactics for Building Your Pre-Launch Mailing List
Episode 152: Strategies For Loading Up Your Pre-launch Email Lists
Choosing an idea
Episode 92 | 12 Rules for Building Your First Profitable Startup
Episode 130 | Capitalizing on Your Unfair Advantage
Episode 134 | The Product Test (9 Attributes that Will Determine the Success of Your Product)
Episode 17 | Eleven Ways to Make Ends Meet While Starting Up
[00:00] Rob: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I discussed quitting your job when you have a mortgage, how to get 1,000 pages of content indexed by Google and more listener questions. This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 166.
[00:20] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
[00:29] Mike: And I’m Mike.
[00:30] Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week sir?
[00:35] Mike: Well I finally got all the new pricing code in place for my sales website for AuditShark this week but it was just a total nightmare. It should’ve only been a couple of days worth of work and it was probably 3 or 4 weeks ago and back and forth with one of my contractors and I think I just didn’t get what I wanted across very well and he didn’t understand how things were setup or how they needed to be changed. And I just got fed up with it at one point and I just said look, just check in what you’ve got, I’ll take care of it. And it took me probably 4 or 5 hours to get it done but it’s just all the back and forth totally killed my productivity.
[01:09] Rob: Yeah that’s a bummer. This is in your billing code? It’s like upgrading and downgrading people?
[01:14] Mike: It’s on the sales website so it gives me the ability to change the pricing options that are out there. It allows me to setup like custom billing entries for people like if they had a very specific situation or for enterprise pricing which is not something I had until now. And that was a big thing, it’s basically making it so that if somebody wants to sign up for an enterprise plan, they basically have to contact me. But I don’t have any way to put them onto any sort of enterprise billing plan unless they create an account and then I can go in and modify things which I’m not real happy about. So I’d rather give them an option where they can actually just signup for something directly from the website if they get in touch with me and just setup the pricing plans the way that they need to be.
[01:58] Rob: Right. Have you had any enterprise folks trying to sign up? You mentioned you had some calls or at least some discussion going on?
[02:04] Mike: Yeah, I have the discussions going on. Nobody’s followed through yet. I just didn’t want to be in a situation where they try to and I didn’t have a good way to handle it.
[02:11] Rob: Well, we’ve nailed down dates for MicroConf. MicroConf is on April 14 and 15 in Las Vegas at the Tropicana. If you’re interested in attending its conference for self funded startup founders that is at microconf.com. So in addition to that, I’ve added a yearly goal. Remember how we did our 2014 goals? My goal this year is to not file a tax extension again. I don’t want to be filing taxes in August or September. By March 15th corporate and April 15th I’m trying to do it for the personal stuff.
[02:42] Mike: And that’s really going to throw a wrench in things because of MicroConf because MicroConf is on the 14th and 15th of April which is when your taxes are going…
[02:49] Rob: Right.
[02:50] Mike: You’re going to have to do them even earlier.
[02:51] Rob: Exactly.
[02:52] Mike: And on that note I’m actually really close to handing off all of my book keeping and personal finances to my new bookkeeper so almost migrated to a completely new bank and incredibly excited about the handoff because it means I’ll never have to look at most of my mail ever again.
[03:05] Rob: That’s a really big deal. What a big time saver and a recurring time saver at that. So I haven’t had a bookkeeper do anything with my personal stuff. My personal stuff, I don’t know if it’s simpler than yours or I guess – see, I do all electronic bills. They go directly to my bank so I literally get just a couple physical paper bills in the mail each month from companies that are too small to do e-bills or even recurring payments I can setup online. So I haven’t done anything like that with my personal stuff.
[03:34] The business stuff I did as we discussed on the podcast, I hired a bookkeeper early in 2013 I had him go all the way back through pull everything out of indinero go into Xero and then we also moved some stuff in the outright for different business. I’m feeling good about it though. I was just looking at my profit and loss for 2013 and I know it’s all dialed in and the numbers are correct and I don’t have to go back and do a bunch of comparing with PayPal spreadsheets like I used to because that’s just been done, I hired somebody to do that.
[04:05] Mike: I don’t know if my personal stuff is any more complicated. It’s kind of all over the place. Part of the issue is because I got like investment accounts and I’ve got checking accounts and savings accounts, it’s just kind of complicated how things come into my bank account and kind of get spread out from there. Up here we’ve got these local vendors who come in for just various services for the house. For example, we have oil delivery comes in because we heat our house with oil and they just put a little thing in the door when they come and do an oil delivery. It’s not like they mail out invoices or anything like that. They definitely don’t do anything electronically. You just have to send it on your own.
[04:43] Rob: So a little update on what I’ve been up to in terms of my businesses. Drip has basically been just in development mode, haven’t done any marketing for the last couple weeks because it’s been Christmas and new years and so I’m going to resume marketing on it next week. I have paid acquisition and some content marketing, this can be starting. In addition there’s a potential partnership that’s in the works but I would say if you’re considering a partnership, really be critical about who you’re dealing with. The only reason I’m even considering doing this is because 1) the guy’s a successful founder. I’ve known him for about a year. I know that he’s at the goal and he’s ever to work with and he also has a large business with a large customer base. And so the upside for drink is substantial.
[05:26] I think upside for him obviously is there as well but this is not someone to contact me out of the blue. I almost find that none of those work unless it’s a warm intro or some kind of a relationship someone I know and can trust and verify what they’re saying is legitimate. It’s just too easy for someone to approach with kind of a sky high idea that requires a lot of work for me that isn’t actually going to yield you any customers.
[05:52] Mike: Its interesting you mentioned that because I just gave an Audit Shark demo to a consulting company that’s past week and they were really impressed by what Audit Shark can do and they’re looking at their customer base to see which of their customers would be a good fit for it and I’ve known these guys for probably 5 or 6 years so I totally agree with you when you say anyone who’s a cold intro or cold calls you to ask about partnerships is probably not necessarily a good fit. Funny enough, I recently was approached to be acquired.
[06:18] Rob: Wow. How did that check out?
[06:20] Mike: It didn’t because it was one of those things where they just said hey, we’d like to look at your finances because we’re looking to acquire businesses that are in your realm and I’m like you have no idea what I do.
[06:32] Rob: Wow that’s crazy. I’ve never been contacted like that. You think they were just trying to get an idea of your business so they could copy the model or what’s the story?
[06:39] Mike: It looked like it was some sort of investment firm out of Philadelphia or something like that and I really think all they did was they went through listings of domain names and businesses and just said okay which of these have been around for 5 or 8 years or something like that and how many of them are in this general region of the country and how many of them are in the software technology space. I think that’s all that they did because they did virtually no research on me what so ever. There was just a letter in the mail saying hey, would you be interested…
[07:07] Rob: Wow. And I happen to have the acquisition offers. I probably get an email a week from some unknown venture capital firm saying they’re looking to invest, wondering if we’re going to take investments. They send to the HitTail, to my email address at HitTail or the one at GetDrip and that’s always fun and I know a lot of Saas apps that are one or two persons that get those and aren’t looking for funding, so probably something similar it sounds like.
[07:32] Mike: Most likely.
[07:33] Rob: So we received a very nice email from Henry Oswald with the subject line you’ve helped my profitable bootstrap more than any other resource. And he says hey guys, one of the best parts about my bootstrap businesses is the nice user feedback I get from people saying it’s changed the way they work and how grateful they are for it. This is the way I feel about your podcast. My online LaTex editor sharelatex.com, it’s a software tool, says it targets the niche of scientific academics in students. A cofounder and myself went full time six months ago and are now making enough money to get by which we are really pleased with. Whenever I meet someone who wants to start their own business, the first thing I do is point them to your podcast. Thanks so much for your help.
[08:14] So I think we should add Henry to the list of success stories if he’s not already on there, on our website, startupsfortherestofus.com/successstories. We have several folks who have quit their job after being influenced by the podcast or implementing stuff we’ve talked about. So we only have a handful out there now. I know there’s literally several dozens of people that I’ve talked to so we need to get going and build that list out a little more.
[08:37] The other thing I wanted to mention before we dive into some really good listener questions is a productivity tip. It’s going old school with your bug and to do trucking. And this is from Carlos from Spain. He says I like to share a small productivity tip with you. I recently purchased a big white board and attached it to the wall behind my development computer. I track all bugs, features, to-do’s, etcetera there. It’s awesome. I turn my head from time to time to make indentations, erase things that are already done and draw small diagrams. Thanks for the podcast. Keep it up.
[09:07] So while I like this idea, it would be really hard if you were working with anyone else, if you’re working with a team because no one else can access those bugs. The weird thing about to-do is that to be able to reorder things, what are you really cumbersome, almost like having paper like I used to. So that’s where I like a software tool like Trello for that convenience but I totally wish I had a wall in my office that I could paint as a white board because there’s nothing like having that tact out feeling and having everything written up there where you can just use your own two hands to move things around. A lot of benefits to that, I agree.
[09:44] Mike: You know, I had the exact same thought that you can go in with a white board would be the thing to do and I have two of them in my office. I wish it worked for me. It just doesn’t.
[09:54] Rob: So let’s dive into questions. Our first question today is about quitting your job went you have a mortgage it’s from Chris Soils and he says hi guys, thanks so much for putting the time and effort each week into the podcast. It’s a big source of inspiration for me. Quick question, I know you’ve already done an episode a long time ago on how you quit your jobs but I was wondering whether you had a mortgage at the time and how you handled that both psychologically and financially. How much runway did you leave for yourself etc.
[10:19] Mike: When I first started out, I did have a mortgage and to be perfectly honest, if you have a mortgage already, it’s a lot easier to quit your job than it is to quit your job and then go get a mortgage just because the sheer amount of paperwork that the bank will send you in order to get a mortgage if you’re self employed is just astounding. You’re much better off just going and finding someone to pay them to hire you at whatever salary you want and in order to be on their payroll instead of having your own just because banks have this thing about you’re self employed, you’re risky. And it’s like you’re probably making decent money in order to be able to do that.
[10:55] But I think in terms of dealing with that psychologically I didn’t really have any issues with it because at the time, I was making enough money to be able to make ends meet and then some. So to me, I didn’t see it as any sort of risk to go down that path the money that was coming in was substantial more than it was for me to make ends meet and in addition to that, my wife was working at the time. So there were a lot of things that played into that. It felt comfortable. Now, things change over time of course but when I was first doing it, it was just not a big deal to me.
[11:28] Rob: And for me I definitely had a mortgage. I may have had multiple at the time because I was investing in houses in Los Angeles but those are rented out. So it’s fine. But yeah, I’ve had a mortgage the entire time I mean really since I got married in 2000. Financially, the way I handle it, so there were two breaks from me. One was from salary to consulting and then the next one is from consulting to products. The first time when I made the leap I was actually making more consulting than I was from salary. So financially it wasn’t a big deal nor was it really that much of an emotional deal because I knew I had a project that was going to last at least a few months and then I could get a nice stock pile in so that I could have a pretty easy 3 to 6 month runway within a month or two of starting consulting. I just honker down. I saved a lot of money really quickly and that gave me at least a bit of an unwary in case consulting work dried up.
[12:16] Making the leap to products was a little scarier since I wasn’t dealing with Saas at that time, I didn’t have recurring revenue for the most part. It was not as financially as much of a burden because I have been consulting then for several years and so I had a bit of a stock pile setup for myself that I could probably – I couldn’t have received zero income from my products but at the level they were at, I could’ve gone off 6 to 12 months at least and still made the mortgage without trouble. So that’s how kind of the financial part worked out. Psychologically I was a bit concerned. There’s always a concern especially me being less likely to bet the farm or to lose a house on this kind of stuff. I think psychologically I had to get to the point where I felt comfortable quitting and I knew I could get to the point where the mortgage was covered quickly.
[13:09] Different people have had their own risk tolerances. It really depends on what you feel good about and how much stress you can handle and live with. But for me, with consulting, I was making 2-3 times what I needed to live so what I did was look at how much product revenue do I actually need? I don’t need as much revenue as I was making consulting. I really only needed – it wound up being $7,000 to $8,000 a month at the time. And so it was much, much less than I was making as a consultant and so when I was about 70% to 80% of the way there with my product revenue and I realized I was going to have a ton more time once I quit in order to build that number up, that’s when I decided to take the plunge so thanks for the question Chris. I hope that’s helpful. Our next question is a voicemail from Dave in Ohio.
[13:56] Dave: Hi guys, this is Dave from Ohio, just calling with a quick question I’m actually traveling but I thought I’d give you a quick call. I just finished episode 163 and Rob says something really interesting I thought I’d maybe comment on. You mentioned something earlier in the podcast, unless I’m mistaken that HitTail now has like 1,000 pages of indexed content and that really struck me as a huge number for a web app where if you might comment on that a little bit more. Thanks so much. Have a great day. All the best.
[14:23] Rob: Yeah. So thanks for the question Dave. The quickest way to find out how many pages your site is indexing Google, I mean you just go to Google and type in site: and then your domain name. Site, colon, domain name. And you can put sub domains in there or you can just do the top level domain and it will show all the sub domains included underneath that. So as of today, at least via my search here, it shows HitTail with 889 pages indexed in Google. And what it amounts to, it’s around I think it’s between 150 and 200 pages are the actual core marketing website and then the rest are all blog articles because you remember when WordPress and most blogging engines, every blog post gets its own individual page.
[15:08] And so the question is how you get there? The first thing that the previous owner said all this up, I haven’t created that much content for it. Previous owners added a new page for each FAQ question that they answered. I think that’s a pretty interesting approach to it. It all depends on if you think that people are going to find those pages based on those searches are actually going to convert because if not, then having them as individual pages isn’t that helpful.
[15:31] The other way that people who started HitTail set this up is they used HitTail on itself. So they took the suggestions that HitTail was giving about what to blog about and the guy blogged 2 to 3 times a week on these topics and that grew the traffic over time and actually created a nice bit of a long tail flywheel. Now I would back up and say is your market right for SEO? Is this even a good place to head into? Because having a thousand pages in Google doesn’t actually do that much for you if your audience is not online, if your audience isn’t searching for some of the terms that you’re covering and if those terms aren’t going to actually convert into business, so that’s the first question that I would ask.
[16:11] But if the answer to all those is yes, then thinking about scaling content out, there’s a number of ways to do this. Mike, you’re trying one right now. I’ll give you in a second you can talk about that. But Patrick McKenzie’s talked at length about this. Brecht Palombo on bootstrap with kids. There are ways to do it where you just cover a bunch of long tail keyword terms and you’re able to generate the pages or you can do it the old fashioned way, use a tool like HitTail, get suggestions and write it short even if it’s a 200 to 300 word blog post, a couple of times a week and you can build that flywheel up over time or hire a writer which is what I’ve seen. There’s a couple other SaaS folks I know who’ve had success building up long tail traffic using hired writers.
[15:50] Because these articles don’t need to be as high quality as say a pillar piece or some type of big piece of content marketing. They need to be decent. They need to be readable. But they don’t have to be sharable as long as it provides solid information, you are likely to actually get someone in there and provide them value and hopefully guide them into signing up for your app. But Mike, what have you been up to with your scalable content stuff for Audit Shark? How’s that fairing?
[17:12] Mike: What I did was I went through in all the different things that Audit Shark looks for on people’s servers, basically what I did was I took every single one of those thing and I’m calling them controlled points because the idea is you just take a look at one specific question that you’re going to answer basically yes or no to does this conform to whatever the standard is supposed to be, yes or no? And what I did was I created a code that just generates a page from every single one of those. And if you go into Google right now just plug-in site: www.auditshark.com it comes up with says 746 results. So there’s 746 pages indexed and I would say probably at least 700 of them are all auto generated content over the course of the last month.
[17:54] And December is about the time frame that this went in, my organic search results have increased by around 50% or so. The last two weeks of December I had very, very little traffic to my site. It was substantially lower over the last two weeks of December than it was. It was probably half. Basically my traffic probably about doubled for organic search results over the course of the first two weeks of the month and then the last two weeks, it dropped back down to I guess what I would call normal levels. So it’s still kind of working its way through. I’ll probably have a better idea of it in the next couple of weeks but my guess is that over the course of January I’m probably going to see my organic search traffic double because of doing that.
[18:36] Rob: So thanks for the question Dave. I hope that’s helpful. Next question is about how to land your first paying customer and that’s from Sebastian. He says I recently launched my new startup queuerific it’s a queue management app to better serve as your waiting customer sousing their mobile phone and SMS technology. Although I have a couple of early adaptors within this open beta stage, I’ve researching sales strategies to get my first paying customer. How did you manage to get your firs paying customer and what sales techniques might be best when you’re starting out. Thanks and love the show.
[19:06] Mike: So Sebastian, if I understand you correctly, what you’re really asking is how do you convert those beta people or beta customers into paying customers? And I think what you have to do is have one on one conversations with them and understand that those conversations, it’s not about getting the money from them. It’s about getting that vote of confidence from them that you have something that they’re willing to pay for. And when you talk to them, what I’ve been doing for Audit Shark is asking people very poignantly are you seeing value from this and if not, where would you see value from it? What are the things that it doesn’t do that you would need it to do in order to see value?
[19:45] You have to phrase it in such a way that you’re asking them where is that tipping point? What feature is it that’s critical for them to have that they need to have in order to justify giving you some amount of money. And whatever that money is whether its $5 or $50 or $5,000 it doesn’t matter. What you want from them is the information about what the things are that are essentially pausing their buttons and providing them the value. And I’ve had conversations with people about Audit Shark where they’ve told me flat out this particular report will be really nice to have and that’s essentially what’s preventing me from paying for it. So what I did was I basically took that back and said okay, in order to get this person to pay then I need to build such and such report.
[20:24] And is that going to be generally useful? Most likely to other people yes. For me, the key piece of information there was that he needed better reporting. So whether it’s just that one report that he’s willing to pay for, are there other reports that other people would need that they would be willing to pay for? And this is going to be very dependent upon what your product is and what source of things that it does for people because those are the things that you’re looking for as what is the value that your product is offering to them.
[20:53] And those are the things that you want to hit on and you want to ask them leading questions but not ultimatums I’ll say because there are going to certainly be people that you talk to where they’re going to tell you flat out I don’t see the value in this or its not doing enough for me or I’ve got other options that are better. And you’re going to have to be able to take those on the chin and walk away and go find other customers who are willing to try it out.
[21:14] Rob: I think the important thing that you pointed out is its much less about sales techniques and sales tactics. It’s not really a sales job at this point if you don’t have a paying customer. You’re still really in product development as far as I’m concerned because until you have someone who’s willing to pay you, you don’t know that you have a product that anyone’s willing to pay you for. Now, let’s say you’re at 100 paying customers and you know your value prop nd you know that people are willing to pay for it, then knowing sales techniques is important.
[21:40] But as you pointed out and as we’ve done both with Drip as you’ve done with Audit Shark these early days, it’s about finding out what is that one more feature that you can build, what’s that one more piece of value you need to deliver? I was the same way. I was constantly asking people who were in my trial, my early access, is this providing enough value for you to pay $49 a month and I wait to her back. And if they’d say no then I’d say alright, what else does it need? And typically they’d be very forthcoming with well, it needs to do this. It needs to show me this. It needs to be able to integrate with this.
[22:10] I didn’t build all of those features because I had a general roadmap in my head of the market we were after and some people just went off the rails and they went in a very different direction than what we’re building. So you can’t just blindly listen to folks and invest a month of development just to get your next customer. But at the same time, if its something that you think you may be building ultimately anyway, then there’s no better time to build that right now when you can actually get someone to pay you some money for it. So I hope that helps. Our next question is a clarification of concierge services and it’s actually a voicemail from Nathan. He’s an academy member.
[22:40] Nathan: Hi Mike and Rob, this is Nathan Stuller from Unstoppable Software and I’m also a member of the Micropreneur Academy. So all the talk about concierge services, what approaches should be taken to make sure that service offerings don’t seem scammy? As an extreme example, some malware programs nag these computer users until they pay to have it removed. I assume there’s a balance between offering service as a value add versus giving the appearance that the product only exists to drive potentially un necessary service revenue. Thanks and keep up the good work.
[23:13] Mike: So I think there’s a couple of different factors here. The first one is that you can have paid concierge services and then unpaid concierge services. So with your example of malware where it’s essentially popping up all the time saying hey, if you pay us, we’ll get rid of these popups for you. That is definitely scammy and nobody wants to see that kind of thing. In contrast, when you’ve got a website where you’re trying to sell somebody something and you are offering them free services to help them get onboard onto the software, that’s completely different because for a couple of different reasons.
[23:48] The first one is that they probably came to you and it’s not like you’re already on their machine and popping stuff up. The second thing is you do have to strike some sort of a balance between how much you are I’ll say getting in their face versus how much you’re letting them come to you. And if you’re popping something up on their desktop or sending them emails every single day without any way of them opting out of it, then of course that’s going to come across as scammy. But if you setup for example a Drip campaign or an email newsletter or something like that and you have unsubscribe links in those, those are obvious ways to essentially opt out of the relationship.
[24:24] So as long as you’re offering those types of things, and you can be very clear about what it is that you’re offering, what it is that you’re trying to accomplish with those email campaigns, you tell them upfront we don’t like spam. You can unsubscribe at anytime. There’s all these things that you can do to essentially help people have trust in the information that you’re sending to them.
[24:45] The other thing as I said before, there’s a difference between paid services versus unpaid services. And when you’re trying to learn and do product development for your product, that’s the time when you really want to offer a lot of the free concierge services because you want to get people using your product with as little obstacle in their way as possible. For example if you have an email campaign software, what you might want to do is offer them hey, we’ll come into your existing software and we’ll export everything and import it into our software so that you don’t lose stuff.
[25:16] If you have an accounting software, you might offer the same sort of thing. That would probably be cost just in terms of the sheer amount of work but at the same time you would probably learn a lot of information about what sorts of other products people are using and you could use that to essentially build translation software to go from for example QuickBooks into your software or from any of the other accounting vendors into your software. So there’s a lot of different plays there that you could use but the bottom-line is if it feels scammy to you then it probably is.
[25:47] Rob: The thing to think about, does it push towards you value proposition? What is the value that your product offers and do your concierge services push towards that? Whether they’re free or paid, if its helping them take that next step, I don’t know how it could be viewed as spammy if you’re doing that. If someone signs up for an SEO tool and you offer to write articles for them or to build links or to do anything manual that is obviously not able to be done by a computer, people are either not going to expect them for free, not going to want to pay for it either way.
[26:24] I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a concierge service where I felt like oh man, these guys are just trying to sell me services. If it was an app that I was actually using and already getting value out of and they were just trying to help me get there faster or help me get there with less work on my part, it almost always comes across as a value add for the customer. So thanks for the question Nathan.
[26:43] Our next question is about blogging and it’s from Scott at digitaltrackandfield.com he says hey guys, I’ve been writing articles providing free small video segments and I occasionally write about another video on YouTube with some comments and tips. After about 18 months of almost weekly posts I’m wondering if it’s worth the time to do this, I make a small income from the website but if for an hourly wage it might b $2 an hour. So I wonder, is it better to have 7-8 great pillar type articles on the site that link back to specific products or should I post weekly content? Do weekly posts make it harder to navigate the site and potential customers lose focus and move on? Thanks for the help. Scott.
[27:19] Mike: I think part of the issue that you’re probably experiencing is when you’re doing blogging, there’s something of a disconnect between you and the end users and its difficult to figure out whether or not any given article that you’re writing is resonating with your audience. And that becomes a lot easier when you start migrating over to email lists. And I would choose to use email lists as more of an engagement mechanism than a blog. Because if it’s something like a blog, you’re going to want to us that for SEO, for attracting in bound traffic versus an email campaign where you may very well send the exact same articles from your blog to the email list but essentially what you’re doing is you’re using that to get that feedback look from people. You can interact with people ask them questions at the end of the email.
[28:07] You can also use it to drive traffic to very specific offerings that you have on your site or through an affiliate link or something like that. I think there’s definitely a lot of ways that you can leverage the content that you have. In terms of making it harder to navigate the site, I think that’s more of a design question than anything else. I don’t want to say it’s impossible to have too much content but there definitely ways to organize your content so that it isn’t something that’s completely overwhelming to people versus stuff that if its clearly organized and people can get to the things that they want, it really doesn’t matter how much content you have as long as you have the content that they’re looking for.
[28:44] So those are probably my thoughts on it but it really depends a lot on specifically what your goals are for blogging. And if it’s to attract traffic then great I mean that’s probably what you’re doing with it. If it’s to engage in a feedback look with people and connect with them, I’m hesitant to think that a blog is going to be able to do that as well as something like an email newsletter.
[29:05] Rob: I think the other thing to think about with a blog is is your market online and are they searching Google for this? Because if you’re looking to build an audience with your blog, that’s one thing in which case you don’t rely on a lot of long tail search traffic. But if you’re looking to build inbound search traffic by spreading out like we talked about earlier getting a thousand pages index in Google, then that’s a different approach.
[29:29] And so that’s probably the first question I would ask is are people searching on those keywords or is this more of a play where you can actually build an audience. Because if you’re working with more of offline audience and digitaltrackandfield.com, my guess is track and field audience is not going to be heavily online the I think you’re going to have to go for that first one, the inbound traffic thing of just trying to get a lot of long tail stuff. And if you’ve tried it now for 18 months, and you’re not making enough money to make it worthwhile then either you’re not hitting the right keywords. You don’t have great calls to action perhaps on your post kind of funnel people into an email list like Mike said where you can build a more sustainable relationship.
[30:08] Because if someone searches for a term and they find a single blog post, they’re going to read it and they’re never going to come back. So if you can’t get them onto an email list, get them to somehow subscribe, then the value of that visitor is very, very low. So that’s what I would look at. I would almost definitely would not continue to post weekly if I felt like I’ve been doing it for 18 months and I’m still not actually yielding that much revenue out of it.
[30:33] The last thing to think about is the time you spent on your blog. I wouldn’t consider it wasted because now you have so much content you realize that you can repurpose that and do all kind of stuff. You can make it into email courses, you can make it into a long auto responder sequence over time because those things that are a year old, people very likely will not dig through your archives and find them. And so packaging them together into an eBook that you giveaway when people sign up for your list or as I said, just turning it into an auto responder sequence is a good way to get continued value out of that content you’ve already created. So I hope that helpful Scott. Our next question is another voicemail and this one’s about high touch SaaS app.
[31:16] Robert: Hi this is Robert Hartline founder of callproof.com. Love the show. Your podcast keeps me pushing to make a better product. Over the last three years, we have built a SaaS app for sales managers to manage outside sales tasks. We currently work on android and iPhone and are only listed for North America in the app stores. My question is we know we can be listed in the app store for other countries and we’ll get more signups and increase sales but it seems that by adding other countries, we would be challenged with language barriers, time zone issues, not understanding laws for each countries and a list of other challenges. We have a long sales cycles and are high touch with our customers.
[31:59] Our team is less than 10 employees. It would take only a couple of weeks of development for our platform to go international but we don’t know if the signups would be worth the trouble. We’d like to hear your thoughts on going international with a SaaS product. Again, Robert Hartline here. You can reach me at Robert@callproof.com. Thanks again for the show. Keep it up.
[32:17] Mike: I guess here’s my take on it. If you have a business that is probably less than several hundred people and you’re thinking about going international I would probably advice heavily against it and here’s why. The idea that you have almost entirely saturated the entire local market is probably not well founded. Unless you really have saturated your local market to like 95% and every single one of them is using your product, then there’s still room for you to grow in the existing market.
[32:51] So that’s probably what I would caution you against because there’s open field for you to push your product and grow it bigger and bigger in the existing market where you do speak the language where you’re not going to have to deal with international issues. You’re not going to have to deal with international laws. You’re not going to have to deal with international taxes and international businesses and all that other stuff because that stuff gets complicated. And when you have less than 10 employees, that seems to me like it has so much overhead that it’s just totally not worth the effort.
[33:20] So I think as a general rule of thumb, if you have a small team and you’re considering going international, I would definitely take a really hard look at that and figure out whether or not you have saturated your local market. And if you haven’t, try and figure out how far you have to go in your market before you do saturate it. Now if you have saturated it, that’s a completely different story but looking at callproof.com I would say if a mobile app or field sales people, I would be hard pressed to believe that in the US market that it’s been completely saturated.
[33:51] Rob: It sounds like Robert you’re talking about app store listing as a marketing channel. It’s basically a search engine listing and you rank well for some terms. I think that’s really cool. So one way to think about this is as you said, just expanding to other app stores, kind of a no brainer. Another way to think about it is what are the other marketing channels that you can explore that don’t require you to go outside of the continental United States or North America as you’ve said. So obviously there’s SEO, there’s content marketing, there’s just straight up paid acquisition driving folks within the US to your site whether that’s through LinkedIn, Facebook ads, ad words, you know all the traditional stuff that we talked about with paid acquisition.
[34:32] There’s all the JB partnerships and all the tactics that we basically spouse here, how to get new customers for SaaS. Consider looking at those and keeping it within the US at this point rather than branching out into other countries. And I say that because I think there’s probably other marketing channels you haven’t explored. They may not be as low hanging fruit but if you expand into those you are going to be able to grow this business. Now with all that said, I’m actually a little bit more bullish on this than Mike is I think. If you aren’t already in Canada, I don’t remember if you said North America or Canada, but if you aren’t already in Canada I do think that’s a no brainer to get listed in the Canadian app store to give it a try because what’s the worse that happens? If things go sideways with it, you can always pull it out of the app store and just call it a failed experiment.
[35:19] I also think you can consider if you’re already in Canada, you can look at either England or the UK or Australia and New Zealand. Now, these markets are not huge but I think that they’re the easiest way to get out there without having to have your app translated because as soon as you get to other languages as you’ve said, the hassles of marketing sales and support in those other languages crops up. That becomes a large burden. So that’s not something that I would venture into as a 10 person company.
[35:44] But I would consider exploring if you’ve already approached amazing out all your other marketing channels or the app store marketing just seems more appealing and its really working for you, I would consider taking a test, maybe a one month test into Canada, England or Australia and New Zealand since they do share the same language and there would be very, very little localization you need to do on just stuff with dates and currencies and you would still be able to support it.
[36:10] And that way, you could run kind of basically a profit of concept and figure out is this going to work, is this even worth our time to be listed in these stores or maybe these customers don’t have the same process and culturally there’s a difference or something like that. So at least you could give it a try and worst case, pull it out at the end. So I hope that gives you a few ideas to think about.
[36:28] Our next question is from Arthur and he’s asking about episodes for people in the early stages. He says hi guys, I’m really enjoying the show and I feel it’s helping me avoid a lot of pitfalls that as an engineer I would tend to fall into. I’m still at the stage of looking at ideas so the episodes that help me most were episode 133 which was our founder test, episode 128 which is nine steps for finding startup ideas and episode 138 which is more tips for identifying startup ideas. And Arthur asked are there any other episodes that you think are especially helpful for people who are still in the early stages of identifying ideas?
[37:00] We’re going to include a complete list. It’s about 10 episodes. We’ll include these in the show notes. I did want to call a few out. I think I kind a grouped them up into a different areas. One we have the mindset group and this is about getting over the limiting mindset stuff that keeps you from actually launching and one of our most popular episodes for a long time was episode 29. If you haven’t heard, it’s pretty good. It’s called five steps to beating your startup demons. And this is about the fear of launching and really how to get over that. I have a couple other mindset ones we’ll include in the show notes.
[37:35] The next category is mailing list, it’s building your mailing list and episode 72 and 152 are basically the tactics that almost all the tactics we know on how to build mailing list, critical stuff if you’re thinking about building a product, then you’ll kind of want to know how to build that mailing list first. So I’d definitely go listen to those. Then the other episodes on choosing an idea were episode 92 which is 12 rules for building your first profitable startup, episode 130 which is capitalizing on your unfair advantage which helps you decide what kind of idea to pursue. And then episode 134 which is basically a companion to the founder test that Arthur mentioned and that was the product test. Nine attributes that can determine the success of your product. So as I said, there are a few others that I recommend that we’ll go through them all here. I hope that helps and thanks for the question Arthur.
[38:21] And wrapping is up for the day, our final question is about how to handle the frustration of a user canceling. It’s from Jeff Gaudette. He’s at runnersconnect.net and he says I really enjoy the show even though I’m not a technical founder. I have a potential question or topic for the podcast. How do you deal with the disappointment and at least for me, anger when a customer cancels after you spend a lot of one on one time with them? Or customer starts a free trial and then provides no feedback what so ever. For example, you personally emailed them multiple times and they don’t respond. For example, with both of your more personalized on boarding solutions right now, it must be extremely frustrating when you spend hours with a potential clients only for them to say no thanks.
[38:59] Well I know the feedback from why customer cancels is always data we can use to improve, I almost have animosity towards these customers and its one of the most difficult mental aspects of running a Saas company. Am I the only one or is this something that you deal with as well? I’m relatively new to this. I know these feelings will make I hard to stay in the ups and downs a startup must go through. Thanks and I look forward to your answer.
[39:18] Mike: I think when you’re evaluating the reasons that people cancel or they basically say no after you’ve gone through the free trial or if they don’t provide any feedback what so ever, there’s a lot of different reasons for that but at the end of the day its ultimately a form of rejection and nobody likes to get rejected. But the one thing that I point out to people who kind of go through this is that there are people who come to you website every single day and probably 90% of them leave without ever signing up, without ever doing anything. And for some reason, people just completely gloss over that fact and it doesn’t faze them at all its like oh I got 10 signups. For some reason, those 90 people who visited the website, they just gloss over that and they just let it roll off. They don’t think about it.
[40:04] There’s two sides of that. The first one is of course, getting rejected on a fairly regular basis and for whatever reason, you’re just blocking that out. The second thing is that when you do start getting into those relationships and started to talk to people you have to understand that whatever the final outcome is and it has to be a learning experience because you have to understand what are the challenges that people are running into? If they don’t have enough time to implement it, what are the things that you can do that will make it so that they don’t have to? Are there ways for you to make it easier? Can you offer a concierge service so that they don’t have to implement it and you can offer that implementation on their behalf? Is there data that they have to migrate in? Are there importers that you could create so that they would have to do a lot less work? What does your on boarding process look like?
[40:53] And then there’s going to be those customers where they sign up and it really just wasn’t what they thought it was or what they were expecting. In cases like that, it’s difficult to blame the customer because they didn’t understand it. What you really have to do is you have to go back and look at your own marketing material and try to understand why is it that they felt that way. What is it that your marketing material was saying that made them think that? Because it’s not like they plucked ideas out of the air and went to your website and said oh, I’m looking for database software. I’m just going to sign up for this random service and I’m going to get a database. Oh, you don’t do database? Oh I’m not going to pay for this. That’s definitely not what happened.
[41:30] What happened was they went to your website, they looked at it, they thought it was one thing, they signed up and they found out it was something else. What is it in your marketing material that made them think that? And those are the things that you need to look at and use those as learning experiences. And I understand that every single one of those is going to feel like a rejection. That’s actually a good thing. There’s something to be said for filtering people out who are not a good fit for you product. You don’t want to be supporting people who are going to use your product and say oh, well it would be great if it did X or it did Y or if it did X, Y and Z because then you’re going to be building this Frankenstein product that does a lot of things sort of well but nothing really, really well.
[42:11] Rob: I think that’s a good point in that figure out how to prequalify customers early. You know that the sales people who are doing high touch sales. They have basically lead ranking where they can take a list of leads and they sort them based on some criteria that they’ve decided. It means that customers are more likely to convert and more likely to get value out of the product. You have to learn to do that early. I’ll say with my Drip early access, very, very few customers didn’t work out. I spent a lot of time with a lot of them. I learned a lot from them. The ones that didn’t work out, I knew – I’ll say somewhat early on I had a gut feeling that they just weren’t going to be right for the product.
[42:45] Drip offers a lot of value for SaaS startups, for software companies, for info marketers, for the people who are into their lists and are using it as a marketing effort. Bloggers, not so much. And I had someone in early on who had a pretty successful blog and the features that he wanted and the things that he was confused about were so far separate from what everyone else was asking about that I knew he was an outlier and I had a pretty good feeling that he just wasn’t going to work out.
[43:14] And so I think getting that gut feeling that what later becomes a report, it later becomes kind of your customer happiness index, who’s going to cancel next, who’s going to convert next, who’s unlikely to convert, that will be a report that you build. But for now, it has to be that gut feeling of who is a good fit for a product and why and if they aren’t, trying to almost discourage them, I actually have a couple of snippets in our support software that we’ll send to people and I will heavily clarify you need to have X thousand visitors per month, our product starts at $49 a month so you should probably be selling something or that needs to be valuable to you, almost trying to clarify and discourage them from moving forward because you just get that gut feeling that wow, this person’s probably not the best fit for this product or they don’t understand enough to understand the value of this product.
[44:02] So that’s where I lean with it. I think Jeff’s original question is how do we deal with the frustration when someone does in fact cancel after you’ve spent a lot of time with them. And I did have a few of those. It was frustrating. I think the way I dealt with it was I thought to myself I’m going to try not to do that again. I’m going to take this as a learning experience and I’m going to probably not invest a lot of time into someone who has very similar attributes as that person and I’m going to focus on these other 10 people that did convert that I spent time with and chalk it up to a learning experience and then see how I can scale that up down the line.
[44:36] Now that is also helping me as I’m going to start scaling up my marketing efforts that I’m not going to advertise to the niches of those people who really didn’t understand the value of Drip or who didn’t really convert as high a level as the folks who are Saas and software and info and product marketers and that kind of stuff.
[44:56] Mike: One of the things that you can do to help identify those types of people is as soon as they start I’ll say haggling over price or pointing to the price and say well, if it was half the price I would consider it. Those are the people who you definitely want to discourage from using your products because they’re not buying it based on value. They’re buying it based on price.
[45:16] Rob: Yeah and I have an old blog article called how to detect a toxic customer and it’s tangentially related to this. I’d recommend you check it out. It talks about that, about the people who really want price or who want a ton of upfront time, they want high touch sales for $100 or $200 onetime product where you just can’t afford to give that kind of sales and they get really demanding and angry when you don’t give them that or they demand a phone number upfront and they want to talk to someone in sales and you explain we don’t have a sales department. We just don’t do phone support and they get upset about that.
[45:51] But it’s always like huh, then you’re not a good fit. I’ve stopped getting my feelings hurt about that kind of thing because I’m not a good fit for them and they’re not a good fit for us. They need to go talk to sales force or some huge company that can charge them $1,000 a month and can handle basically the high level of need and the high touch they need. But as lower end, less expensive SaaS app. You just can’t offer that kind of both upfront support and the ongoing support. So you don’t even want to bend over backwards to get them as a customer because then they’re just going to be as demanding once they’re actually using your app.
[46:25] And the last thing I’ll note is that down the line, once you start to scale, you’re going to want to remove yourself from that cancellation flow. You don’t want to handle it yourself because it is frustrating and its taxing and so as you start to scale up, and move on to other things and hire someone whether it’s your tier one support person or someone else but let them handle the cancellations obviously with trainings and such. But you need to remove that pain from your day to day because trust me, as you scale up, there’s going to be plenty of other pains in your life and you’re not going to want to be dealing with this one.
[46:54] Mike: So thanks for the question Jeff. If you have question for us, you can call it into our voice mail number at 1-888-801-9690 or email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. You can subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.