In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about content promotion tactics. Breaking the tactics down in three categories (Social Media, SEO, and E-mail Marketing), the guys share thoughts and expand based on some previously written articles on the topic.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us. The podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: I’m Rob. You know, I’ve been thinking about my next act for a while.
Mike: Have you now?
Rob: I have.
Mike: Is this where people start cashing in on the pool?
Rob: Totally, yeah. What is Rob’s next startup going to be, right? This has been a question for a while.
Mike: I think it was my timing, actually. Not just what it was going to be.
Rob: Oh, was it?
Rob: Because Rob said I’m never going to do this again. Who put money on never? I think…
Mike: Probably nobody.
Rob: …no one. My wife definitely did not put money on never. Well, my next act is not a startup. It is an accelerator for bootstrappers. It’s actually a small fund and an accelerator for bootstrappers. It’s called TinySeed. You can check more info at tinyseedfund.com. But it’s really the first startup accelerator designed for bootstrappers, so startup accelerators is something like Y Combinator, TechStars, and as you and I have talked many times, those are geared around people who have these unicorn ideas, who are going to move to a location for three months, work the 80 hours for little pay and little sleep, and that doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of us. I mean, the name of our podcast is Startups For The Rest of Us, right? You did this after Y Combinator came out.
Rob: That’s what this accelerator is. It’s designed for folks like you, me, listeners of the podcast, attendees of MicroConf–kind of the people in our ecosystem and our community where building $1 million SaaS app, $5 million, $10 million annual SaaS app, is actually quite lucrative and there are so few funding sources for folks like us. The idea is, to put more money where my mouth has been for the past several years.
I’ve made a dozen angel investments, half of those have been in these businesses that only want to raise a single round of funding. Often $100,000, $250,000, maybe $400,000, whatever some small-ish amount, and then they want to get to profitability and never do that institutional money. The idea is, we know a lot of founders, I know a lot of founders, who are somewhere between idea and $10k a month MRR–is the sweet spot. Because most of these folks are unable to work full-time on their business and that’s kind of the value prop of TinySeed is it gives you runway for a year.
It basically provides you with a small amount of capital but it’s going to be enough capital to basically live on for a year and keep you from having the nights and weekends stuff, to be able to focus full-time, and you don’t have to relocate so it’s remote. It’s going to be in a cohort model […] maybe it’s 10 in the first cohort, and weekly Zoom calls, and I’m assuming like a Slack or chat group, and then weekly office hours. Basically, all the things you hear about in an accelerator except that it’s designed for us, by us; it is remote and it’s just another option.
I think the other thing is, it’s longer term. You and I both know, I don’t think we could’ve built and launched Drip or Bluetick in three months. It’s just not long enough. The idea is to get longer runway to get more traction and since people are remote, it winds up being easier. Because Y Combinator couldn’t be a one-year thing because you’re not going to relocate to a place for a year. There’re different elements to it but that’s the basic gist.
Mike: We’ll have to talk about it. I almost think that we might want to talk about it for either longer period of time and it’s part of a direct episode on funding. I think there’s different ways that it could work. Obviously, you guys have to talk internally about what you are going to publicly disclose now versus things that you’re just talking about or ruminated on for ideas. But I do think we should definitely revisit it as a part of a longer discussion topic as part of Startups For The Rest Of Us.
Rob: Yeah, that sounds like fun. I would say, at this point, we’re about probably 80% locked down on terms and ideas, and curriculum and thoughts, and all that. But definitely more than happy to talk about it. The wee of it is, myself and Einar Volsett, who has been at MicroConf many times, he’s a YC Y Combinator alum, he’s had a couple of exits, and right now, he’s a Micro-Cap M&A advisor, which I think, he’s like a scout for private equities; he works with private equity companies. But you know him. I think you’ve talked a bunch of times.
Mike: Yeah. I’ve had dinner with him a couple of times at MicroConf. He’s a super sharp guy. He used to teach at Cornell, I think.
Rob: Yeah, he was a CS Professor at Cornell for a couple of years.
Mike: Right. He’s got a Ph.D. in computer science but he also knows a lot about the business side of things. What was the startup that he ran? It was inbox spelled backwards, it’s xobni, something like that?
Rob: It wasn’t xobni, it was something else. There was one called AppAftercare which he exited in 2016.
Mike: Oh, ReMail
Rob: Yep, ReMail, that was it. Y Combinator and it was acquired by Google in 2010. He has some experience and that’s where he has more of the fundraising and the private equity venture capital, more knowledge of that and the terms, so he’s good at figuring out models and running IRR calculations. If you don’t know what those are, you don’t need to unless you’re going to run a fund but that’s one of the reasons that I’ve never wanted to get into this is I didn’t want to do all that side of things.
Mike: Well, like I said, it will definitely be interesting to see how this plays out. I think that you guys are the first ones that are doing this in this particular space. We used to talk about why Y Combinator was aimed at people who are just going straight for funding versus like, “Hey, let me build a product. Let me get a little bit of traction for it and then go out for some funding, but I still want to not have to grow it into his giant thing.”
Rob: That’s right. I, of course, did a bunch of market research on accelerators and incubators and remote accelerators, they’re really–you can find a list of remote accelerators, but almost of them, they’re rather defunct now or it’s like a remote accelerator tied to like a city government launch or a university and it just kind of feels like a ghost town. No one has nailed this model. That of course could be a risk if you have no competition. Are you first or is it not going to work? Are you going down a wrong path? That’s always the question but I personally believe I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think that it was going to work.
Mike: I think every single entrepreneur […] of doing business. If I’m first, it’s like I’m seeing things that other people aren’t seeing. But it’s one of those things that you have to let it play out to find out whether history will remember you for being right or wrong.
Rob: Absolutely. That’s the game of being a founder, I think. If you’re listening to this and you’re just interested in hearing more whether it’s from the founder side, whether you are experienced, interested in being a mentor, somehow being involved, or just wanting to hear more about it, tinyseedfund.com. There, of course, is an email opt-in form in there. We’ll be communicating with that list as more details come out.
Mike: Awesome. On my end, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to schedule a personal retreat in the very near future just to straighten out where my marketing efforts are going to go for Bluetick. Because I’ve had things all over the place for several months now and I haven’t really had a solid thought on what the direction should be and where, strategically, I should be going with the marketing efforts.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to take that time right now just because my wife teaches on Saturdays, and my son has soccer games on Saturdays. For the next three or four weeks, he’s got those games. It’s just like she can’t be in both places at the same time, so I kind of have to wait, push off on that a little bit, but that is on my short-term road map, I’ll say.
Rob: That’s always a good idea. Frankly, since I started doing retreats, there always comes this time where you just don’t know what to do next, you don’t know what to try next, and you need some distance in order to do that. Because if you sit around at your laptop, at your home office, you’re just going to write code, you’re going to respond to fires and support requests and all that stuff and getting away for a couple of days–super valuable.
Do you have Sherry’s retreat guide, The Zen Founder Guide to Founder Retreats?
Mike: I’m not sure. I think I might. I’m not sure if I have it or not.
Rob: It’s just a very good guide to revisit. Every time I go on a retreat, I’d pull it up. If you’re listening to this, haven’t heard of it, go to zenfounder.com. I think there’s a products link in there. It’s $19 or something and it’s 30, 40-page e-book, in essence, but it’s kind of everything. Because Sherry introduced me to Founder Retreats and I talked about it on this podcast and it’s kind of spread from there which I think is a great thing. I’ve always found them so valuable. Sherry put together the guide and had me add as much as fill-in-the-gaps basically on it, and so it’s really, in my opinion, kind of the definitive guide for things you should think about as you go into your retreat.
I hope you’re able to do that soon. It’s a bummer to have schedule be the issue. Is there a way—just to throw out ideas—like he has soccer game on Saturday, could you leave Saturday evening and come back, basically 48 hours, come back Monday evening or Monday afternoon before the kids get home from school?
Mike: Probably. Last week was a holiday so I could not have done it that week. Then this coming week, I can’t leave on Saturday night because we’re basically going out to dinner for our wedding anniversary to celebrate that. Then the following week I leave for MicroConf.
Rob: You just cancel.
Mike: Oh, yeah. Sure. I’ll just cancel that.
Rob: Oh, for Pete’s sake.
Mike: I’ll cancel either our anniversary dinner or MicroConf. One or the other. It’s going to be several weeks no matter what at this point. There’s no way around it, I think.
Rob: I have a great idea. Do your retreat in Croatia. Just extend your trip a couple of extra days. Be like, “Hey, Ally, I’ll be back. Peace out. Have fun with the kids. I’ll be back.”
Mike: If I were leaving early, I can’t though. Just because she teaches during the week […] like Sundays.
Rob: I’m joking.
Mike: I know.
Rob: Yeah, man. It’s hard. I totally get it.
Mike: Oh, well, moving on. I guess we’re going to move on to our actual topic for today. We’re going to talk about content promotion tactics.
Rob: I am digging it. We’re revisiting a topic that we covered in 2010.
Mike: Yes. This is a little bit from episode six. In episode six, it was all about how to get traffic to your website. I went back, and I took a look at that, some of the links that we had in there like seobuilding.com just totally defunct at this point. You can buy that domain if you’re really interested for like $3500. If anyone’s interested…
Rob: You’ll at least be getting graphic from us at this point. No, not some of the links, Mike. I think, 40% of the links that we listed, and the approaches are just completely, they either don’t work anymore, they’re just gone, but this was eight years ago. It’s an eternity.
Mike: Yes. But I went back, and I looked at it. I was kind of inspired by, I was reading the SaaS mag article that’s put out by FE International. They launched it at MicroConf. You can go to saasmag.com, we’ll link that up in the show notes, and sign-up, and start getting issues of that. It’s aimed at SaaS founders. It talks about various things that are related to the industry and they interview experts from different fields on what they’re doing and kind of what the future looks like, and how they got to where they are, etc.
Most recent one I saw has interviews from Patrick Campbell from Price Intelligently, Brennan Dunn from Double Your Freelancing and RightMessage, also David Cancel from Drip. There’s a bunch of different people they’ve interviewed. But on one of the pages they had, it was kind of a poll that they have taken inside of a Facebook group called SaaS Growth Hacks. They asked the question, “What are the best marketing channels for SaaS companies?” and people voted on different things. Content, by far, was the highest voted thing. Below that you have forums, and Quora posts–answering questions there, and then cold email, and paid ads ranks about the same. Then below that was partnerships, word-of-mouth. Below that, free tools, and then the last couple of ones on the list were Twitter, conferences, and LinkedIn messaging.
The way that that shook out does not necessarily surprise me, but the fact the content was still so far up above, I felt like that was a little surprising.
Rob: I find that really interesting too, actually. I think, as you mentioned, it’s from basically marketers, so whether it’s founders or growth marketers or whatever, it’s what they are doing these days. I wonder if they’re doing these because they’re measuring, and it works or they’re doing it because this is kind of the current wave. The current mindset is, content is king, and it’s the thing that you should start with.
I don’t know that that’s worth even diving into, going down that rabbit trail. But it is something that comes to mind is, is there a group thing going on and zigging when everyone else is zagging, is the best way to go or is this really right now with social and the fact email marketing is so powerful in with the SEO benefits of content that content really is where it’s at and that’s why everyone’s there.
Mike: I think it’s partially because of the fact that with content, you can create an article through your website and it’s going to continue drawing traffic in versus if you do cold calling or a joint venture with somebody, I call them one-off activities even though you can do them repeatedly, but you don’t continue to reap rewards if you’re not picking-up the phone and cold calling, for example. You have to keep doing it versus if you go through the effort to creating an article, put it on your site, and you do well enough with the SEO, you will continue to get traffic much further down the road. You can also promote that piece of content multiple times.
It’s not about that content is king so much as this that content is reusable and it allows you to put it in front of people, not just multiple times, but put it in front of new people because you’re creating this asset of some kind that other people could find useful. You can’t really point somebody to an empty page on your website and expect that it’s going to continue to drive clicks.
Rob: Right. That’s the thing. We’ve talked in the past about how if you’re in super early stage, you’ve pre-product market fit or pre-product then content’s probably not the right play for you because content is a long game. But once you’ve found your audience, your product is something people want, and you’re scaling, that’s when I think, in general, content is going to be a really good play for you to get you that 5K or 10K MRR that you’ve just scratched and clawed and manually done maybe cold email, whatever it is to get your first 100 customers. But once you want to go from there, I think you need more scalable things and content is one of those avenues, and that’s why we’re talking about it today.
Mike: I think what we’re going to focus on is, we have a couple of resources that we’ll link to in the show notes. One if from orbitmedia.com and the other one is from neilpattel.com. one of the things that this really points to is the fact that when you are promoting content there are three essential pieces or channels you can look at. There’s SEO, then there’s sending out emails to drive people on your mailing list back to your site, and there’s social sharing. Where those intersect is you can promote your content into each of those places but depending on what your needs are, you’re going to put more effort into one versus the other.
The whole idea of this is, if you do it through social media, you’re going to try and get additional shares or followers. If you’re trying to get additional subscriptions to your mailing list, it’s going to help you grow your list for email marketing. If a visitor comes in and they link to your content from someplace else, you’re going to rank higher in search engines. The idea is to create this feedback loop, of you doing all of those three things in order to amplify your traffic and from that, you essentially end up with leads on the other side of it. It’s really just an engine that you’re creating.
If you have a ton of people on your mailing list, you can start asking them in trying to help promote on other things. You can say, “Hey, can you promote this on social media?” You can leverage them back and forth between each other to amplify the entire system.
Rob: Content does have this unique advantage which is one of the reasons that marketers like it so much is, it really has this trifecta of value that it brings, these three uses. I’ll step to another example; let’s say I’m running Facebook ads and I’m getting that to work. Facebook ads send typically cold traffic to a page, you might get trial sign-ups, you might have to retarget them, you might have to get them on an email list, but those ads you’re paying for—and they really have one purpose—and it’s to drive some traffic one time.
Content on the other hand has three uses, maybe it has more, but the three main ones that I’ve seen, and I’ve used, and it worked really well. The first one is social media. It’s getting that buzz because you put out a new article or essay or e-book or video or whatever, but you get people to talk about you on Twitter and LinkedIn, Facebook or wherever else your folks reside, and you can get that quick social media bump of, “Hey, everyone’s talking about this cool new thing that came out.” Then it dies down and that would be one use.
But another use for this exact same content is you email your whole list. That can help with the social media aspect. It helps if more people know about it then more people talk about. But it gives you an excuse to contact your email list. Every time you contact your email list, you’re probably going to get more trials, more interests in your product.
The third use is this long play of SEO. If you put out good content and it hits the right keywords, and you do have links back or you have social shares that are pointing back, it rises in the ranks. Long-term, people searching for these terms in Google, come back to it.
I haven’t given it a ton of thought, but I don’t know, off hand, of another marketing approach that has that many solid benefits, this super short-term bump, the email list bump, and then the long-term paly of SEO. I believe it’s pretty unique in that respect.
Mike: Let’s dive into the first section which is social media. What we’re going to do is we’re going to throw in, just very briefly, highlight some of the different tactics that are listed on a couple of these reference articles that we pointed to earlier.
The first one is to mention people who are going to like your article, they liked the content of it or directly reference people who are quoted in the article. One example of how well this would work is if you’ve interviewed somebody and they are relatively high-profile in the industry that you serve, for example. If you’ve mentioned them in the social media posts, they are more likely to share it than if you were to email them directly and then say, “Hey, can you tweet this out for me?” Because then you’re asking them, “Hey, can you create a tweet and then post this?” versus they see it in their social media feed and they can just literally hit retweet and they don’t have to do any work. It’s just a matter of what your ask is of them.
If I see something where it has referenced me for example and I’ve commented on an article or was on a podcast, I’m almost certain to retweet that and like it just to give it more of a visibility.
Rob: That’s a nice tactic. I’ve definitely seen that. At a minimum, I’m going to like something if I click through and it’s like, “Oh, yeah. That was that quote I gave you two months ago.” Then like you said, if it’s a legit post, because sometimes you’ll get asked for a quote or a comment on, what’s the hardest thing about validating product or what are the market approaches that are working today or whatever, and they’re doing an expert roundup and I’m just cool to participate in those. Some of them are really, really good and really well put together and others are kind of someone doing a halfway job or maybe they’re new or whatever. But the best ones, when I get a mention like that, it’s pretty certain I’m going to click through and then based on the quality of it, decent likelihood that I will retweet that.
Mike: Another one is to tweet quotes from the content. The nice things about this is you can create multiple tweets and schedule them using Buffer, a variety of other tools, and get them out there in such a way that you’re not repeating yourself. Different quotes are going to attract different types of people. There’s a quote about, I don’t know, a search engine marketing for example, you could put that in there, and then there could be something else which is optimizing search engine marketing. One is very broad and then the other one is a little bit more specific, depending on the person who sees it, if they’re more interested in one or the other, they’re going to click on it.
Rob: Another approach is you’re not just going to tweet this once especially if it’s a big piece of content because the longer form, frankly, more expensive, whether it’s time-expense or actual cost in paying someone to build it. The longer form more expensive pieces of content are the ones that are winning today and the ones that are getting the tweets. You’re not just going to tweet this once and be done. A good strategy is to tweet it once and then schedule some near future and distant future tweets because, if you think about it, in three months, the buzz from this e-book or audio piece or whatever, blog post, will have died off but it’s probably still relevant and valuable. It’s something not to bother people with but to bring back up and remind them, “Hey, this is still is valuable and legitimate.” Obviously, even within the first week, I forgot what the number is, but isn’t it like 5% of your followers see any of your individual tweets?
Mike: That’s not a per day basis, I think.
Rob: Yeah. One approach is to, as we’ve said in the past, kind of have a once a day tweet this out for the first three, four, five days, so that people more people see it especially if it’s a really big piece of content. It can be worth it. You can also irritate people and they’ll unfollow you if you’re just spamming them with the same links over and over. You have to use your head here, like any other strategy, but this is definitely something I’ve seen marketers are doing.
Mike: It’s offshoot is that is to share a short video on Twitter, Facebook, whether it’s Facebook groups or one of your Facebook page or inside of LinkedIn. The idea of the short video is to more or less give a very quick overview or summary of what the piece of content you have is not to talk about the entire content. It’s not that you’re trying to drive people to watch the video. What you’re really just trying to do is help get those people who prefer a different medium. Some people like to skim things and read it, and then there’s people out there who like to watch a video. But you also don’t want to overwhelm them with, “Oh, I just popped on to Twitter and I’m expecting to be here for a couple of minutes.” They’re not going to have time for a 30-minute video. But they may sit down and watch a 30-second video or a 15-second video that just talks about like, “Hey, if you’re interested in this, come over and check it out.” You just want to be sensitive to the fact that some people like to consume that information in different formats. The other nice benefit of sharing it like that is that you tend to get the videos will be shared on Twitter, on Facebook, and LinkedIn as your face and there’s a very different type of algorithms that those companies use in order to highlight those types of posts.
Rob: Another approach is to syndicate your content on LinkedIn, Medium, and other avenues. Syndication is just a fancy word for either reposted there or taking excerpt from it and repost there. You can imagine if you’ve written this 100-page e-book, the definitive guide to social media marketing or email marketing or whatever, you don’t post that whole thing on LinkedIn. But maybe you take, because you can put LinkedIn kind of blog post-ish, you take a really great 1000-words from that, and you post it on LinkedIn and then you link out the book.
You can do same with Medium although you can go longer form there. You can post an entire chapter from that book, so maybe you do 5000, 3000, 5000-words on Medium. Again, say, “This is an excerpt from this book.” Or if it’s a video, maybe you’d do a transcript part of.
These are ways that if you have built a following, or if you think that those networks with be intrigued by the title and the content and stuff, then reusing this content is a nice way to reuse that effort because if you spent a month or two writing this e-book or making this amazing tutorial video or whatever, you want to get it out in as many forms as possible. That’s what syndication is.
Mike: The next section we’re going to talk about is email marketing. Many of these, I think, are probably going to be pretty familiar to most people listening to this, but we’re going to go through them anyway because this is kind of a major section of the, as Rob talked about the trifecta here of content marketing.
The first one is sending out the links to it through your email list. One thing you definitely want to make sure that you’re doing here is you’re putting calls to action in there. I have mixed feeling on whether or not you should post the entire piece of content in the email versus having it on your website. Because there’s advantages and disadvantages to both. I think you just need to make a judgement call about whether you want it on your website where people can go to it versus, you’re just trying to make sure that you get it in front of people on your email list. If it’s something that you want exclusively for people on your mailing list, obviously, you’d put it in there. But people also have a somewhat limited attention span if it comes to something in their email. I do think it’s worth being cautious and making some measurements around, “Are people actually reading that and then taking action on it?” But again, that’s a judgement call.
Rob: Yeah. My default rule of thumb for this is if you’re doing personal brand stuff, if it’s Patrick Mackenzie or Brennan Dunn or Rob Walling blogging, and then sending it to their list, it’s probably fine if you post the entire article in the email. Because people are engaged with you and the content is really gripping and they tend to want to—or hopefully, it’s really gripping—and they tend to want to read the whole thing and they could read it on their phone or whatever. That’s my general rule.
If you’re doing it as a business, when Dripping was sending it out or if Bluetick were sending out a post, I would probably do a teaser and a really snazzy excerpt with an image, and then say, “Click through to read the full thing.” Some people will click, and some people won’t, but it will get you traffic. The end goal there is to get traffic to your site. Hopefully, get people to share it from there, and sign-up for a trial or whatever.
Again, that’s my general rule, how I link. But I think you can certainly break those rules if you know your audience better or as you said, if you look at the numbers, it’s telling you that that’s not the best way to do it.
Mike: If you had an email course for example, a lot of times you’re going to put the course directly in the email, and you may not want that course directly on your website. You may want to reserve it just for people on your mailing list, and maybe that’s because they don’t get to the mailing list until there’s certain amount of trust gained, or maybe the purpose of that email sequence is to establish trust, and then you send them shorter emails later on with the links back to the articles. But again, as you said, there’s lots of different ways to do it.
Rob: Right. This particular point, of whether to include all the content in an email, is really only relevant for probably blog posts because if you’re putting out an e-book it’s going to be too long. If you’re putting out a video course or one video, you can’t embed that in email, you can certainly embed an image that links out somewhere. If you create any kind of downloadable content, you’re not going to be able to put that in email anyways. It’s only if you’re doing kind of the blog content engine or short essays.
Mike: As kind of an addendum to this, you can send out, “In case you missed it,” follow-up emails. Obviously, you can put those directly into the email campaigns and it works really well because I’ve seen Drip actually put this in their directive and specifically for that reason. But you get anywhere from 20%-40% lift in opens just by resending an email with a different subject line for the exact same emails. If somebody didn’t open it, you basically resend them that email.
Rob: We did that. It’s quite successful. Another tactic you can do is, let’s say you’ve put out three blog posts a week, you can recap either at the end of the week or at the end of the month, and just have a separate email that you pull up, “Hey, in case you missed it, here are all the posts from the past week or the month,” or, “Here are our top picks or the most popular five from the past month.” and it’s just one more way to reach out to the audience, provide them with additional content, and you didn’t have to produce that content. It’s just linking back to stuff that they’ve probably missed because they probably didn’t read every article.
Mike: Next on the list is you can also send those notifications directly to some of your high-value contacts. You can either do this as personal emails instead of broadcast emails or you can find people that are on your list, who may not necessarily be subscribed to a particular campaign or they’re tagged in a certain way or segmented somehow and you say, “Hey, I think that these people would be really great candidate to receive this particular piece of content.” Maybe it they opted-in to a particular lead magnet, then you would send the content to them. But it’s really about being a lot more targeted about who you’re sending it to.
Again, this is where personal emails to people can really shine just because if they do see an email coming in and it’s from your company versus from you personally, they’re probably a little less likely to treat it as, “Hey, this person took the time to really reach out to me, so I’m going to pay a little bit more attention to it.” But sometimes the emails that are coming in from a general newsletter email address, sometimes people have rules or filters set-up so that they go into a certain place. By sending it directly, a lot of times, it will bypass those defaults because they just didn’t think to set them up.
Rob: There are 50 content promotion ideas in the Orbit Media post alone, but another one that you pulled out is to notify your source of a new post. I think this is similar to doing it on social media but emailing people directly, “Hey, do you remember the article where I interviewed you for? That’s live. If you’d like to share it, it’d be great. Here’s a link.” Or, if there’s 10 people because it’s a roundup, you do the same thing. You notify them all and certainly a few people will likely help promote that for you.
Mike: If you give them a short snippet or a summary, you can also ask them to promote it to their own email list, and then you’re essentially amplifying the efforts there.
Rob: Let’s dive into SEO.
Mike: When you’re looking at SEO, obviously, what you want to do is you want to align the content of those posts with key phrases that you have pulled out after doing some keyword research. There’s a lot of different tools that you can use for that. We’ve talked about them in the past. But the other thing that you can do is when you take that phrase and you plug it into Google, scroll all the way to the bottom, and there’s a place where it says, “Related phrases.” Those are things that Google also recognizes that people are searching for. It doesn’t tell you numbers or how many people are searching for them but there’s a good chance that if you were to take those and put them into the article and sprinkle them around, you’re also going to pick up additional SEO benefit and additional traffic by using those phrases and it’s going to end up in front of more people.
Rob: SEO is such a–it’s a large and ever more complex subject than eight years ago, we could probably give you the five things you have to do to rank. These days, the list is just longer and longer and it’s more complicated. I don’t think we can do a full treatment of, “How to SEO your blog post or your e-books.” It’s probably, not only an entire podcast, but at this point, probably an entire e-book or book. You need a way to get it down.
But another tactic is to crosslink from other posts you have or other resources or other websites you have because obviously, while links are slightly less valuable than they used to be, you could just build links in the old days and rank for everything, links are still very valuable especially from authority sites. If you have control of an authority site or authority sites, you can crosslink from relevant posts or relevant sites and help that new content rank higher in Google.
Mike: Previously, you had mentioned that you can create a short video and post it on various social media sites, you can also use the video there to embed into the website itself just to give people the top of a brief intro to what they’re going to be reading about. The nice benefit is that when people are doing searches inside of Google, they have a tendency to show videos very, very high up in the list because most people aren’t creating videos that they’re using directly for content. They’re really trying to push people in that direction. I do see a lot of videos get posted or show up in the search results even though I’m not personally looking specifically for videos, but there is a significant benefit that I’ve seen for posts that included video in them.
Rob: Of course, they’re submitting to the–there are social platforms, there is Reddit, Hacker News, Product Hunt, even Digg, although I’m not sure that’s worth doing at this point. You and I were just looking at it before this episode, but those are the things and that whole list shifts based on what your content is and who your content is. You can also do paid promotion on StumbleUpon, Outbrain, LinkWithin, Tabula, they’re often lower quality and they’re more consumer-oriented and its people just kind of skipping from one thing to the next, so if you’re a true B2B enterprise SaaS, it’s probably not worth doing any of these. I would look more at LinkedIn paid promotion or something like that. But there’s this whole world of both these social new platform, social discovery platforms, and these kinds of paid ways to get in front of them. Getting on those, if you can get a backlink, if you can get voted up, it will help in the short-term with the social media bump because more people know about it, but then in the longer term, it’s going to link back to you.
With that, I think we’re wrapped up for the day.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about the pitfalls of commonly recommended marketing tactics. This topic was inspired by a tweet from Scott Watermasysk from KickoffLabs. Some of the tactics discussed include split testing, affiliate programs, content marketing, and more.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us. The podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you build your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: And I’m Rob.
Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you with the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on, Mr. Rob?
Rob: We received a voicemail from someone, I believe he was in Brisbane, Australia, but it was definitely an Australian accent and I could barely make out the audio. The audio quality was so bad that we don’t even know his name or the question he asked. If that is you, please call us back or better yet, just record an MP3 on your local machine and just attach it or send us a Dropbox link to email@example.com. Because it sounded like a good question but couldn’t really make out what he’s saying during that. How about you? What are you up to?
Mike: I’m in the middle of testing a new road map process with one of my customers using Teamwork. The basic idea is that I set up a project in Teamwork, mainly because this customer’s been with me for a while and it’s not a really complicated stuff that they’re asking for what they need, but they need assurances or like timeline and implementation and everything else.
I’ve got a road map that I’ve been using in the background using Trello for a while, but I just haven’t kept up with it. I’ve never really gotten into Trello like most people have. What I did was I created a project in Teamwork and then I invited them to look at it. I took their […], threw them in there. Basically, I’m working through them and it gives me the opportunity to comment on those things directly and allow them to comment back on them as well. It creates this really nice feedback loop between those things.
I haven’t added any other customers into it yet, but I think that that might be something that I’ll look into the future. But I’ve looked at other road mapping tools in the past and I’ve never really quite found one that suited me.
Rob: Is this for communicating your road map to customers?
Mike: If a customer asks for something, how do I communicate it to the rest of the customers, like, “This is what is going to be going on and this is what the priority is.” It’s a little bit different than like a bug tracker, obviously, if there’s a bug or somebody needs support or something like that, it’s different, but I’m the only one who can add stuff in so that it’s visible, but anybody can comment on it, at least so it seems like.
Rob: I’m trying to think there’s a tool that we use at Drip and of course, I can’t remember the name of it and we always used it to announce what we had built. It’s like, “This is what we released in September.” It’s like a change log tool but it was user-friendly. It was not super techie. I’m trying to think if you could use that pretty easily to suggest like, “Here’s what we’re working on in order.” I think there was actually a little feature where you could just add a bulleted list, but it was super stripped down. It was a very simple tool. It was $10 a month or something. It’s probably someone’s side project, although it’s pretty well-designed. Is that all you need is just a list of things? Why not just have, maybe a public Google doc or even just a static page on your website that’s like /roadmap? It’s just five things in bold list like, “Here are the next major five efforts we’re doing.”
Mike: There’s two things. One is we’ve been going back and forth through email and I said, “Look, I understand you got all these different things that you want to see, but I need a list of them. Just going back and forth one at a time is really not working. Send me the whole list.” They sent me the entire list and broke it out into three different sets like, “These are things we need very, very soon, these are things that can wait a little while, and these are things we’d like to eventually see down the road.” I looked at them and they all mapped pretty well like my internal road map anyway, which I have in my bug tracker, but I’m not going to pay for other people outside of business to have an account there just because it’s going to get expensive.
I was trying to figure out how do I work back and forth with them because I had a bunch of questions on some of them and there were comments on other things. It was a question of, “How do I work with them to flesh out what each of these things is?” because if I got an email that’s, let’s say, two pages or something like that, like bullets that they email to me, it’s hard to go back and forth about one line item and five line items in an email. I really needed something that was going to break them out so that I can comment on things individually and separate them a little bit more. Does that makes sense?
Rob: It does, yeah. It’s not just for outbound communication, it’s kind of like you’re almost collaborating with a client. It’s not that they’re paying you for this and not that you’re going to build it exactly as you’re expecting, but they really are. It’s much more customer development process than it is, “Hey, we’ve got suggestions in here is what’s we’re going to build.”
Mike: Yeah, I’d say customer development is probably a better way to phrase it than I did. It is a lot of back-and-forth to figure out like, “Is this going to work for you or what exactly did you mean by that? How are you going to use this?” for example. Because some of the questions are like, “I hear what you’re saying and it makes sense but where you going to use this for? I want to know, is there a better way to do this or is there something else that we could do either short-term or manually that would get them there faster?”
Rob: Right. Cool, it sounds interesting. I think of it as less of a road map process and more of, I guess, it is impacting your road map, but it’s more like a customer collaboration or a customer development process that you’re doing using Teamwork. That makes sense?
Mike: Yeah, it is.
Mike: But I went on Google and searched for road map software a while back and I came across all these other things, like there’s ProductBoard, aha.io, ProductPlan, ProdPad, and things like that. It’s just none of them really seem to fit what I was looking for in terms of this back-and-forth communication with either individual customers or with small groups of them. I really think I just want to identify a couple of more customers to maybe work on this with, but it’s really a matter of, does it make sense in that particular context for that customer?
Rob: That makes sense. Have you seen MailChimp’s new branding?
Mike: I got an email about it, but I haven’t looked at it yet.
Rob: It’s a trip. I think I saw a news article. I think I was on SparkToro Trending. SparkToro is Rand Fishkin’s new startup and there’s a trending page and they talked–there was an article written about MailChimp’s new branding. Obviously, I think of MailChimp as the ESP. There are other email service providers but they are the biggest one. They are the ones that send a billion emails a day. Like the title tag on their homepage, which is what will appear on Google now, is marketing platform for small business.
I don’t know if it’s a pivot as much of just a rebrand. But like their homepage used to say, “We help you sell more stuff at MailChimp,” or something like that, it’s very much commerce-focused, but their headline is now, “Your business was born for this. Become the brand you want to be with smarter marketing built for big things.” It’s very, very interesting. It’s a gutsy move. The colors are different. I actually like the design of the site. It’s definitely jarring.
Remember when the Drip rebrand happened and there was the magenta and the other colors, I feel this is similar but different, but the headline and the value prop on it feels not nearly as focused as what I’ve always thought of as MailChimp. The fact that the sub-headline is “Become the brand you want to be with smarter marketing built for big things,” that doesn’t resonate with me as a customer and never would have at any point in my entrepreneurial career. I’m concerned. These guys are smart, let’s not fault MailChimp, but I feel like maybe they’ve made a misstep here.
Mike: I don’t know. I think it’s easy to think that if a company changes their brand name, that, “Oh, this company isn’t for me any more. This tool isn’t for me,” but at the same time, the tool itself hasn’t change. It’s really just a marketing message. I forget who said this, but the line is something along the lines of, “What got you here won’t get your there.” Like you said, they’re sending a billion emails a day but that doesn’t necessarily acquire them more customers faster, they need a marketing message that resonates with a larger group of people than they currently have or they’re currently after because they probably saturated the market. The ESP market is really highly saturated. There’s tons of players there so they need to differentiate themselves an go after people who are either just not using something or are using something else and want to find something that is going to fit them better.
Rob: Yeah. That makes sense and that’s thing. When you’re not inside an privy to the conversations that they’re having and who they’re competing against when they’re going for big deals, you don’t know. That’s where I’m like, “Who am I to say?” but this is my opinion on the outside. Again, with the Drip stuff when there was that rebrand, it was right before I was leaving the company. It was happening and rolling out. There were so many naysayers and haters on social media and all the stuff, but they were privy to the information that is actually going on inside the company.
I guess what I’m saying is, it could be so easy for me to sit here and just rail on this MailChimp rebrand because it’s “different,” but I trust that MailChimp is pretty damn smart and pretty good at what they do, and that they took the information. It’s either going to work or they’ll change. If that headline doesn’t resonate with people, they’ll change it. I think that’s the thing. When you make these big gutsy moves and you’re trying to land and expand or pivot into a larger space or whatever it is that they’re doing, apply to more people, as you said, you have to do risky stuff at some point.
What’s interesting is in the early days of a startup, you take a lot of risks but no one’s there to notice and no one cares. But when you have 1000, 10,000, 50,000 customers and you take these risks, a lot of people get up in arms over it, but really it’s the same risk that you’ve been taking all along.
Mike: I think for large companies like that, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as we might sit here in armchair quarterback it, you know Monday morning quarterback. Just because their existing customers are still going to be paying them money, it’s about them acquiring new customers, not appealing to the ones that they already have. That’s the way I see it.
Rob: That’s the thing. As long as you don’t do such a pivot that you completely turn your existing customers off and have a bunch of churn and stuff, man, that would be really hard to do, especially with ESPs where there is some lock-in in the space.
Mike: Yeah, it is hard to move from one to another. I’ve done that before. It sucks.
Rob: Yup. So what are we talking about today?
Mike: Today, we’re going to be talking about a couple of pitfalls of some commonly recommended marketing tactics. This topic was inspired by a tweet from Scott over at KickoffLabs and we’ll link that into the show notes. But he said, “One of the worst startup diseases is AB testing. Such a colossal waste of time when you don’t have significant traffic,” and it got me to thinking, what other things are there that are commonly recommended marketing tactics that I see and hear about or you’ve see and hear about, that are either colossal waste of time or there’s pitfalls or things that you don’t necessarily know about until you get into it, and only to realize that you’re walking into a hornet’s nest and there’s more trouble than it’s worth or it’s just not going to work for you or it’s something that you can do short term, but it’s not going to be sustainable for you.
Rob: Cool. Let’s dig in. I was pretty excited when you talked about doing this topic today because I think there are a lot of, I won’t say misinformation but it’s more like myths or people making things look easier than it actually is in order to sell things, in order to sell their software or sell their infoproducts.
Mike: I think that’s the big piece of it is that they think it look easier or sound easier than it actually is. For split testing, we’ll start off there because of the tweet from Scott but you need substantial traffic and most early entrepreneurs don’t have it. It’s not just that you need substantial traffic, you need substantial traffic and a short enough time window where your test is going to be able to give you at least some sort of significant results.
The other thing that I think is a little bit misleading is about whether or not the split testing that you actually could do, if you were to get 1% results or an increase every month for 12 months, would you actually be that much better off? I have seen some odd anecdotes where people will say, “Hey, we did all these split test or we split tested something against itself and one was significantly different than the other.” It does make me wonder a little bit as to whether or not with the resources that we as small business owners have available, can we actually even effectively execute on that stuff in a way that is going to move the needle for our business?
Rob: If you’re thinking about the early days of your startup and you’re trying to build something people want, you’re in customer development, you have a website, a little bit of traffic, split testing is the furthest thing from your mind or should be the furthest thing from your mind. You need to be talking to customers in those early days, to figure out what is that I can build that people are willing to pay for, that’s different enough from the competition that I can communicate that and people will sign up.
Typically, you’re going to split test your home page or your pricing page or your sign-up funnel, and I would not even consider it before I had, let’s say 5000 or 10,000 uniques a month. Really, at that point, it depends on what revenue is and if I have the time to test the headline here or there. But if I were to do split testing at that point, let’s say I had 10,000 uniques a month coming to their home page, I would probably just set up one or two alternate headlines and just let it run and see what happens. But it wouldn’t be some massive effort where I would be redesigning the entire page to spending a bunch of time to try to get some major difference in conversions, because there are other levers you should be pulling at that point. When you have 5000 or 10,000 uniques, you should be worrying about more traffic, or you should be worrying about, frankly, converting more of the existing trials you have to pay the customer. It’s going to tend to move the needle more than spending a lot of time on split testing.
Mike: The next marketing tactic is using affiliate programs. I see a lot of startups from Product Hunt, BetaList, and a couple of other places that startup it up where they’re pitching this affiliate program and saying, “Hey you can manage your affiliate program through our SaaS and you’ll be able to get more customers for your business.” But the reality is that the attribution itself is fine within those pieces of software, but finding the affiliates who are able to bring in enough leads to make it worth your time is actually pretty hard.
I’ve done this a couple of times. It seems to me the software itself is reasonably straightforward in most cases to implement, but finding the people who are actually going to bring leads that are qualified to you is a lot more challenging. It’s just, you have to do a lot of education to those people, you have to make it worth their time, and you have to be finding affiliates who have a substantial traffic source already or existing list where you can point them back to your website, give them an affiliate code or something like that, and give them an offer that’s actually going to get them to convert. If you don’t have all of those things, then it’s just not going to work. It doesn’t matter how many people you sign up for your affiliate program. You need the qualified leads to be coming in.
Rob: Yeah. Finding affiliates is way harder than most people think unless this is a primary strategy for you and you have a network. The people who I’ve seen make it work—let’s talk about Clay Collins of LeadPages—it was built mostly on the affiliate model. He did that because he knew all the people in the internet marketing space. He had the clout to get them to do webinars with him. It wasn’t just, “Hey, send me some traffic.” It was, “Let’s do a webinar,” and then he pitch an annual deal and it was 50% off, there was time pressure and there were bonuses, I should say, that you got if you sold there. That’s how he grew it that fast.
ConvertKit did the same thing. It was the same playbook. If you’re going to do that, then do that and go all in on it. I recall, at one point, Clay was doing 20 webinars a month or something in the early days, 15 or 20. It was crazy. He’s just a machine. In that case, you’re an exception. You’re not going to start from a cold network where you don’t know other people who have big audiences and make affiliate programs work from the start. It’s going to be a ton of work. In addition, the process side I just talked about, I’ve only seen it work in one niche and it’s in this aspirational business niche. It’s in the people who want to be bloggers or be info marketers and they’re being sold info on how to start your own biz from home.
You look at LeadPages and ConvertKit and they both serve that same path Flynn-ish niche. You can’t just go to enterprise software and think you’re going to do this big affiliate model, sell to Fortune 500 companies or Fortune 1000 companies using that. Or even freelancers would be possible because there are people with those audiences, but it wouldn’t work to the same extent that it does because the audience is just aren’t as big and they aren’t as prone to buy. I’d say there is one or two other spaces that I know of that are similar to that, that aspirational thing where you can sell them the idea or the promise of, “Hey, you’re going to have a landing page provider or here’s an ESP and here’s how to start your blog and make money.” But beyond those, it is really hard to get an affiliate program profitable one off the ground.
I had affiliate program with HitTail and Drip, and they made money, they were profitable, but they were not major driving factors. Even when we did joint ventures and we did joint venture webinars, we’d do JV mailings, it made money and it was fine, but these were not the major drivers of growth that I’ve seen in most of my startups. Again, not saying it can’t work but it’s definitely different than it appears.
Mike: Yeah, it’s definitely a lot harder than it appears. You have mentioned enterprise software sales where affiliate models wouldn’t really work and I agree with that, but there’s a slightly different model for those enterprise deals where it’s basically a reseller arrangement. You don’t have direct contact with the enterprise companies, you resell to other companies, you sign them on as resellers which is a slightly different take on an affiliate program, but it’s not substantially that much different. It’s the same basic idea–somebody else is bring in the lead in. The difference with a reseller is that the reseller is basically managing the customer relationship versus with the affiliate, they’re bringing them in and then they’re hands-off at that point.
The next one is content marketing. I think that the content marketing has been all the rage for the past several years and I don’t see it necessarily ending anytime soon, but I think the bottom line for content marketing is that it is time and resource intensive to general content on a repeated basis. If you’re trying to blog once a week or put out a few articles each week or each month, that’s fine, but it’s not just the generation of those which is time and resource intensive, it’s also the marketing and distribution of those. If you’re trying to post it to Quora and various startup list and out your email newsletter and social media, that gets to be time and resource intensive, especially if you’re trying to cross-promote between different channels and schedule everything–it just gets complicated.
There’s also very long lead time to getting results and getting measurable results from them. It could be anywhere from three to six months, it could be as much as a year or 18 months. Regardless if that, it’s a lot of time and effort to get that engine running. But once it’s running, you’ll do really well with it but it just takes a long to get there and there’s probably better places for you to spend your time if you’re early on.
Rob: Yeah, this one is tough because content marketing can and does work. You just got to remember content marketing is more about SEO and it is a long-term play. That’s why when we get the questions from someone like, “Hey, I’m at $2000 MRR. Should I start my content marketing?” It depends. Probably not, but it really depends what niche are you in? Are there distribution networks? Not even networks but like growthhackers.com and YCombinator are distribution avenues for you to get the content out and are there people daily reading stuff like this? Are you going to be able to drive it? Are you going to build your list? And then long term, are you targeting SEO terms? Organic terms that are going to bring traffic? That’s how the play has really been successful for these larger companies.
Of the three we’ve talked about so far, I think content marketing is the best and most viable, but your critiques are absolutely correct in that it often takes a long time to get results and it is very resource intensive to generate content at the quality, and these days at the length that’s required to make it dent because there’s so much noise, man. I have not been on the social news sites like inbound.org used to be one but it shut down. growthhackers.com is still there, Hacker News, even SparkToro Trending, I had not been on any of those. I just don’t go on them regularly.
I’ve looked at a few of them this morning and the volume of content is crazy. It’s so much more and so much of it is highly targeted and you can tell it’s targeted to try to just get clicks to it. It’s a startup that is trying to get people to come through from Hacker News or from Product Time or from whatever to generate traffic to then funnel into the leads. We’ve all been there. I totally know that playbook. I was doing it back in 2012-2013 or even before that from my blog in 2010, but there is just a lot of noise out there. To rise above that, it’s a lot of time and money to create content that is good enough to warrant people’s attention.
Mike: The fourth item on our list is social media marketing and by this, I don’t mean paid ads like if you’re going on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, whatever you like. You can pay for advertising, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about building an audience and then trying to market content to them. I think the reason that this can be a substantial pitfall for people is that it seems like it should be easy but it’s time-intensive to gain followers. When you post things, a lot of times only a fraction of your followers are going to see a particular piece of content.
For example, I think on Twitter, the stuff that I’ve heard is about 5% of your followers are going to see any given tweet that you put out. So even if you have 100,000 followers, only about 5000 of them are going to see that. So the strategy to overcome that is you tweet multiple times a day and use something like Buffer to put those tweets out at different times a day to try and catch people on different time zones.
At that point, I feel like you’re also oversaturated in the people who are on Twitter a lot and it could very well be a turn-off to those people, but again, it’s a matter of, “What type of product are you promoting to people and is it going to be relevant to the people who are on Twitter?” I tried Twitter advertising for AuditShark, for example, and it just absolutely did not work because the people who are in the enterprise are just not the type of people who are looking for security software on Twitter.
Rob: Yeah and that’s not to say that Twitter advertising won’t work for anyone. I also think LinkedIn could be better for you, but I tried LinkedIn many times with multiple products and never got LinkedIn advertising to pay itself back. Again, not saying it won’t work, it’s just going to take trial and error if you can get it to work at all.
Mike: On that note, James Kennedy is going to be speaking at MicroConf Europe on a LinkedIn strategy for acquiring leads, so that might be interesting to you.
Rob: Awesome. That would be a cool one. I agree, man, social media marketing is great for B2C and it can be great for prosumer stuff, aspirational entrepreneurship, or even photographers–they tend to be aspirational. But when you’re talking about real sales tools, or real email marketing tools, or real tools that you want people to buy and use for years, and you need businesses that are making decisions, comparing you to competitors and all that, social media is a nice to have. It is not something in general that’s going to drive your bottom line if you are a B2B SaaS app. I’m sure there’s one exception to this, maybe two, I’m sure there are a couple, but overall as a bootstrapper or as someone who is really just trying to block and tackle, there are so many more things that you could be doing than to tooling around on Facebook and Twitter.
Mike: I think the real challenge here is just the fact that entrepreneurs tend to be on the internet a lot, we see Twitter a lot and we see Facebook a lot, so it’s natural to assume, “Hey, I should test that out or use that as a marketing strategy.” But again, it’s time-intensive to gain the followers. The reality is that what you want and most of those cases is actually just send them over to an email list anyway so you […] email address. Assuming you can get an engine up and running that can do that for you then that’s fine, but you still need a way to make it work and it can be very time-intensive to gain those followers and it’s not obvious always how you’re going to be able to do that.
The last one we have on our list today is offline advertising. By this, you can take it a bunch of different directions. It could be billboard advertising, […] response in a conference or podcast or anything where the direct attribution is a little bit more challenging. That also include things like sending postcards or physical mailers to people. I think, is it GRC marketing that does that? They advocate that a lot for sending out the bulky mail to people just to get their attention. That works great for those situations where you have a higher price point product or it’s a service, and there’s going to be a relationship that you’re trying to establish with them or the dollar amount is high enough that it’s worth it to send those.
The biggest downside of those is that it’s extremely hard to do the attribution in most cases and then there’s also a much longer iteration cycle. Instead of looking at couple of weeks for paid ads on Facebook or Twitter, you’re looking at a month, two months, maybe three months for an iteration cycle to send out a mailer and then figure out whether or not you got results from it, track those back, then make some adjustments or tweaks, and then move on to the next group. It can get very complicated to juggle all of those things at once because even if you’re just doing it repeatedly over the course of a month or two, it’s just going to suck up all of your time and attention. You’re not really going to be able to do very much else.
Rob: Yeah, it is expensive, too. It’s a long turn-around time and the iteration cycles are just, I would say, too long for a startup. Now, once you’re down the line, you have product market fit and it you’re in a space where offline is a really good option, obviously you could experiment with it. But it’s not something I would be messing with in the early days. And as you said, attribution is rough. I did some trade publication magazine advertising for one of my products once or twice and it didn’t work. Again, it’s not saying it wouldn’t work for you, but I quickly realized how expensive it was and just how you can’t tell if it’s working.
There’s a little adage, “50% of advertising doesn’t work.” You just can’t tell which 50% and that’s when people are talking about magazine and TV and radio and that kind of stuff. Obviously, you can tell which 50% works when you’re online and we are spoiled by that, in all honesty. I think that’s a real boon to the online marketer today. Offline is not something that I think you should get into lightly unless you really know what you’re doing.
Mike: I do know people who make offline advertising work. The problem is just that the iteration cycles are anywhere from 8-12 weeks just to find out whether or not a particular mailer got through to the right people and whether they got those people into their sales funnel. It does work especially in his particular business, but again, it’s just the lead time for you to go from one iteration cycle to the next and get the information back. It’s just hard if you’re still trying to make ends meet.
I think generally speaking, when you are trying to evaluate a marketing tactic is to whether or not it’s going to work for you or decide whether it’s going to be something that you want to try, there’s a couple of things to keep in mind. The first one is, is there a complicated setup that needs to be done first? Are you going to need to go create a bunch of accounts or are you going to need to integrate a bunch of different tools together? Is there ongoing effort that needs to be done? Are you going to have to constantly be creating or doing things? Any of those things where it takes your involvement on a very repeated basis is going to eat into the feasibility of using that strategy in the long term.
For blogging, for example, or content marketing, if you have to do that every single week, it can be difficult. It’s not saying you can’t outsource it. If you have money, you can obviously substitute that in for your time, but again, that’s a resource trade-off that you’re going to need to make down the road. You can start off doing it yourself or you can outsource it to somebody else. But those are the type of things you need to think about when you’re trying to figure out, “Is this something that I’m going to try and do long-term?” or are there better places that you could be spending your time?
Rob: Right because it’s one thing to intentionally try something and know that it’s not going to scale, but to do it as an experiment. It’s another thing to try a bunch of different tactics that really you don’t have much hope of sustaining without really doubling down on them. If you shotgun it and you try five different things but all of them need a tremendous amount of resources and effort, and you only go 10% of the way with each of them, you’re throwing an article here and you set up an affiliate plan here, and you do a Twitter and Facebook post a week, it’s like you’re not doing anything well.
But if you dive into one and experiment, figure out is there any way to make this possible, you dig in for a month or six weeks or whatever it takes, and you do these sprints where you dig in, learn everything you can about it and execute on it or you hire someone to do that if you have the budget. Determine, “Is this going to work right now given my business, yes or no?” Answer that question and then move on to the next thing–that is much more of the approach that I would recommend and the approach that I’ve taken in the past. You don’t need many of those to work in order to scale your business. If you find one or two pretty substantial marketing practices and you figure out the angle and you figure out how to get in there, that can grow your business to well under seven figures. It doesn’t take 10 different marketing tactics to get there.
With that, we’ll wrap up for today. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt, used under creative commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about how to rank number one for a high-volume organic keyword in under 3 months. Based on a case study posted by Moz.com, the guys give their opinions on the eight steps listed in the blog post.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss how to rank number 1 for a high volume organic key word in under 3 months. This is Startups for the Rest of Us, episode 338. Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products, whether you’ve built your 1st product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: And I’m Mike.
Rob: And we’re going to share our experience to help you avoid the same mistakes we made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike: Well, I’m spending most of my time these days working on support issues and as I on board people more often, what I’m finding more often is that there’s certain usability issues that keep coming up and I have to keep going back and either help people get through them and then go see what it takes to fix them or just kind of implement the work arounds for them. Then on the other side of it is fixing some outright bugs that I found, which were not obvious. Most of them are just little things like
Mike: sorting issues or stuff like that that’s just affecting the UI, but it’s going pretty well so far. Kind of exciting I guess.
Rob: Yeah. There’s 2 sides to this, right? It’s like, on the 1 hand, you don’t want to be spending time working on this stuff and trying to work out kinks and improving usability and all that stuff because you just wish it was done. But on the flip side, you know that these are problems that, at scale, are going to be even worse, right? At 50, 100 or 1,000 users, you need to fix them now. There’s that needing to invest the time, but also it feeling really productive, you know? I don’t know. Like you’re ironing out the rough burs, the rough edges of the product and just smoothing it out over time. I think that this is where you want to be, right? You don’t want to be where you were whatever, 6 months ago and you have 0 customers and is there people using it? It’s like, you don’t know what you should be working on technically. You know? You’re kind of flailing around and it’s like, now there’s people using it and it’s probably pretty obvious what you should be fixing at what point in time.
Mike: Yeah. As you quoted, like the rough edges. That’s kind of what I’m spending part of my time on and then figuring out how to fix it. It’s 1 thing to know what is busted and where you need to spend your time, but it’s another to figure out how to do it, so that it’s clearer. Obviously, you wouldn’t design a product that you thought was confusing, but at the same time, when other people get in there and use it, they weren’t inside your head when you designed it. They don’t have the same perspective.
Rob: On my end, this actually is a pretty good week for us. We turned the corner on some scaling challenges that we’d been working on for well, I mean we’ve been working on them for years. You know? They just come back every 6 months. You get just enough ahead of them that you scale up again and then they rear their ugly head. Every time we, I don’t know. Maybe it’s 2 to 3 X, the user base, we see stuff again. In the early days like, well just add an index to the database or add more hardware. But you hit a point where you kind of start exceeding the physical bounds of a single database. You know? You’ll
Rob: get a quarter or a half terabyte of RAM and disc IOPS through the roof and it’s expensive. You still just, it isn’t making enough of a difference. We’ve had to circle back and we attack it from a bunch of different directions. We’ve re architected some things. We’ve actually piped some new relic stuff that allows us to really see some detailed traces and we’re seeing, you know? There are some query issues, but there’s also code issues that creep in as you write more stuff where you’re doing N plus 1 queries, in essence. So, we’ve just started to see those creep in and as we’ve been pulling them out, we’re seeing these incremental bumps. We’ve pushed like, 3 or 4 developers pushed 7 different performance improvements over the past maybe, there was a week where we did 7. Then this week, we’ve probably done 3 or 4. It just little by little, it is just making the throughput so much higher, so much faster. We’re sending between 2 and 4 times the volume of email right now than we were even 3 or 4 weeks ago. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it that way. It was
Rob: a bit of work to get there, but once this stuff started rolling, it really made a big difference.
Mike: Yeah, it’s funny you mention performance improvements and that. I just rolled one out this week where people can go through and they can identify who has sent them emails and who they’ve received emails from and how many of those in each direction. There was a performance issue earlier where it was just a little bit slower than it should have been and it wasn’t returning all results because there were so many. Just pushed out a fix this week where it’s lightning fast now. It’s amazing how much better the experience of the app is just from those little improvements.
Rob: Yeah. It’s super cool. Sometimes it’s noticeable by users and other times it’s not, but you know that even if users aren’t noticing yet that it’s eventually going to catch up with you. It’s nice to get that done. I remember the days where we’d have a customer with 3 or 400,000 emails in their account. They’d do a big send and we’d be like, man we can totally handle this, but as long as another big sender doesn’t send at the same time. Now it’s just common place. I mean, for 3 lists of 3 to
Rob: 500,000 to send within minutes of each other. We’ve gotten to the point now where it’s like, we can hammer through that stuff. It really is just like climbing that mountain and doing things that you never think you’re going to have to do. Denormalizing databases, starting to shard things. Right now considering stripping a table out and literally putting it into a different kind of data store. I mean, just crazy stuff you would never architect from the start when you’re building an app. It would be gold plating when you don’t have any users, but when you do hit scale and you have tens of thousands of people using your app, it is necessary.
Mike: Yeah. I was talking to somebody. I think it was Help Scout at Micro Conf and he was asking me about how some of the back end stuff of Blue Tick was done and I didn’t tell him because it just didn’t occur to me, but the back end data store for the mail, I rewrote it 4 times over the course of 8 months just because it needed to go bigger and faster and it just wasn’t doing it at the time.
Rob: Yeah. It’s crazy how the stuff that you need to do in order to make it work from an engineering prospective, you wouldn’t ever want to do because you’re like, I want to have referential integrity on these things. At some point, you realize that
Rob: speed trumps that.
Mike: Yeah. We interviewed a [UNKNOWN] architect this week. We have an open position for that right now to just help handle this because we’re trying to build the product and it just really is a completely separate discipline of being able to scale things to this level. One thing he brought up, which I hadn’t heard of, but as soon as he said it, it made sense. He brought up CAP theorem. C A P. C is consistency. A is availability and P is performance and you get to pick 2. He said, in most databases or most apps, you go for C and P and your availability is 99 point whatever percent and it’s fine because if you were to go down for like, an hour, it’s not catastrophic. But if you pick the other 2, it’s just trade offs, but he said at a certain point, once you scale, there’s a bunch of big companies in town, like Target and Best Buy who run these massive e commerce sites and he was saying once you scale one of those sites, you have to give up some consistency. You have to have availability because it’s millions of dollars per hour and you have to have performance because obviously being slow is costing money.
Mike: So, you give up consistency and you have to dealing with that. You have to start writing code and you have to start thinking about what happens when it all doesn’t sync up? There isn’t referential integrity in this certain instance and data consistency in the reports are just not going to be exactly matched across everything. It’s pretty fascinating. Today we’re going to talk about how to rank number 1 for high volume organic key word under 3 months and this is based on an article on moz.com, actually on their blog. It’s a case study that Pipe Drive co wrote with Moz and it was the former Director of Content Marketing at Pipe Drive is where the case study took place. This article is detailed. It’s very long. We actually won’t be able to cover in depth every step, but there are 8 steps that they talk about and we, at a minimum will cover the 8 steps and then go into as much detail as we can, given the time constraints. Then you, of course can come to the show notes at startupsfortherestofus.com. This is episode 338 and click on the link if you want to read the entire article. This thing,
Mike: I didn’t do a word count, but it’s got to be like 4 or 5,000 words. Pretty cool. The article starts by outlining the 8 steps and we’ll go through those 1 at a time. They talk about how much more difficult SEO has gotten and that SEO these days is much more about content and content marketing, whereas it used to be more about just straight up link building and it was a lot easier to game and Google has done a really good job of essentially closing those loopholes, much to the chagrin of a lot of marketers I know. Let’s dive right in with these 8 steps. They basically said they got a top search engine ranking position, which is a SERP spot. It was a focus of a 3 person team for a better part of 3 months to get this. It’s pretty crazy. They invested a lot of energy in it. Step 1 is to find a good topic, one that has significant key word volume and he goes right into the Google key word planner where he said when they ran the search, they picked a key word with 9,900 searches per month and we’ll go into why that’s enough later on. Now, the key word planner doesn’t even get you that close. It gives
Mike: you like, 1 to 10 K range, which is like, horrendously helpful. He said the same key word, how to search volume of 1 point 7 to 2 point 9 K in the Moz key word explorer in case you have a Moz account. They give you tools to help do this kind of stuff to help rank for key words. He looked at a chart that Moz had published and they said that if you ranked 1st for a term, you’re likely to get, it was like 30 or 32 percent of the clicks. If you rank 2nd, it’s about 14 percent and if you’re a 3rd, it’s about 10 percent. They figured that if they can rank 1st for this 9,900 search term, they would get around 3,000 visitors a month for a top position. If they could convert 5 percent into leads, which I’m assuming they are trying to email capture. I’m assuming they’re thinking about that. That would net them 1,800 leads a year, which they said it would justify the time. That’s kind of the 1st part of the 1st step of finding a good topic, is to make sure there’s enough volume that if you rank 1st,
Mike: given whatever it is you’re email capturing or trial rate or whatever it is you think you can do that it’s going to be justified time wise and financially.
Rob: I think the thing I take away from this, in selecting the right topic is more about doing the back of the envelope calculations to figure out what you should be going after based on what your return on that is going to be and it’s not so much about a specific raw number that you’re going for in terms of the search volume. It’s more about how many of those people you can convert to leads because if you’re conversion rate is higher than other peoples based on your content, then target search terms that have lower search volume because they’re going to be worth just as much or more to you than they would be to somebody else, assuming that you can convert them better. I kind of like that idea of starting from this side of it and not focus in solely on, what should we focus on for content or what should our ad line be or anything like that? It’s really about what your ROI is going to be on that.
Mike: Continuing with step 1, which was finding a good topic, the 2nd thing they looked at was to pick a winnable topic. This is actually where Moz is really handy. They said for example, if you’re trying for content marketing,
Mike: the 1st page is dominated by the Content Marketing Institute and they have a domain authority of 84 and that is very high. It’s a scale of 1 to 100. What they did is they looked at Moz Bar, which is just like a Chrome plug in and you can check domain authority and page authority on the fly. It overlays them in Google. There’s a screen shot of it here in the post. They looked at a bunch of different key words that had search volumes between, I think it was like, at least 3 to 10,000. That’s kind of where they were thinking. They were searching for like, sales management. They were using page authorities in the 30’s and 40’s. Domain authorities, there was 40’s, 70’s, 30’s and 20’s. Given that some of these 20’s and 30’s, they knew that they could kind of get in and then they used Moz key word explorer to look at the actual difficulty versus the potential scores. Then they kind of outlined some loose ranges. You want your opportunity to be above 50 and your potential to be above a certain amount. There’s obviously a bunch of different ways to do this. I have always used Moz for
Mike: this kind of stuff. I know there are other tools that do it, but their data is solid and they’ve been around a long time. At this point, they wound up with 4 key words. Sales techniques, sales process, sales management and sales forecast. One of them has 4,400 searches and then it goes up to in the 8’s and 9,000’s and they said any of the above would work for them, but for added impact, they added a 3rd and final filter to help them pick the key word and that is strategic relevance. If you’re going to turn your visitors into leads, they say it’s important to focus on key words that are strategically relevant to your conversion goals, and in their case, sales management is the optimal key word because Pipe Drive is a sales management tool. It described them perfectly. In contrast, sales techniques and sales forecast are key words a salesperson would search for, not a sales leader or a small business owner who would be a decision maker to decide to buy Pipe Drive. It’s pretty in depth here, but it’s something to think about, right? If you see a key word with low difficulty and high search throughput you think you can rank for, it may not actually
Mike: be that helpful, right? If it’s not strategically relevant to your business.
Rob: I like the fact that they point out in the article that you’re looking for a competitive score of under 50 and a potential or opportunity score of above 50. I don’t know if that side of it is so important to me or at least it wasn’t when I started out, but knowing that under a score of 50 for difficulty is a lot easier to rank for and it is possible to get it than going over that. I mean, even trying for things that are in the 50’s or 60’s, those can be very, very difficult to get, especially if you’re going against certain types of companies, trying to rank against them for those terms can be really, really hard, but anything below 50 is not actually all that difficult to do, especially if you are kind of limited in the amount of time that you can spend on it in your budget, those things are definitely attainable for the average person.
Mike: Step 2 is to write a bad ass piece of content. That’s the words they use in the article. Theirs is broken up into multiple parts. The 1st is extremely thorough research of the
Mike: existing ones that rank in the top and they kind of look through them and figured out what works, what doesn’t, what are they like both from a reader’s perspective and with an SEO eye in mind? When the pages had way too many headlines, it was over key word stuffed, basically. Then they looked for anomalies and 1 thing that caught their eye was 2 of the top 10 results were dedicated to the key word sales manager, so they realized all right, we know that we’re going to want to talk about at least sales managers in our article. Then this was 1 I hadn’t seen before. I went all the way down to the bottom of the SERPs and there’s a related searches thing that Google puts there. They looked through for those terms and they realized we probably want to include some of these in there. Part 2 of this, of writing the piece of content is the actual content creation. They say you don’t need to be a subject matter expert, but if you do a lot of research, you can put something together and they go through some steps on how to write, I don’t think it’s super relevant here, but it’s like, don’t multitask and work alone and put on some play lists and such.
Mike: Personally, I like Spotify’s Deep Focus. They have a different one. Then they talk about going through and adding images and adding headers, subsections and all that. That really caps out step 2. As I said, they go into more detail, but it’s almost like its own little article on just how to write a decent piece of content.
Rob: Yeah. The 1 piece that I took away from this is paying attention to the part at the bottom where it says, searches related to, in this case, it was sales management and you can use those for kind of off shoots. If you want to create dedicated pages for each of those. In this case, they’ve got objectives of sales management and sales management PDFs. Those are the types of things you could target as a secondary page with a different article and trying to drive related traffic to those pages as well. I think that’s a perfectly vital strategy, especially when it comes to things like where people are searching for PDFs and you can give them a PDF of, like a template or something like that. Lots of people have used that strategy where it’s like they drive people to that page
Rob: using SEO because they’re specifically looking for something that they can download. You give it to them in exchange for an email address and that’s one way to drive up the level of your email list.
Mike: Step 3 is to optimize on page SEO and engagement metrics. This is the steps they took to optimize the on page SEO. Number 1 is to fix the title. They wanted traffic from people searching for words related to sales management, such as sales management definition, sales management process, sales management strategies, sales management resources and so, their headline, their title and their H1 tag is Sales Management Definition, Process, Strategies and Resources. So, they covered them all right there in the headline. It says Google is now smart enough to know that a single article can cover multiple related key words. The common [UNKNOWN] to the list, they said should work for them.
Rob: I wonder how long it is before Google realizes that people are key word stuffing into headlines now.
Mike: I know. Well, it’s interesting because if that’s all you’re doing, it’s not going to work. You know? It’s all this other stuff they did that then propels that to work. You know?
Mike: It’s writing this massive piece of content, spending months doing all this optimization. So, part 2 of that is to fix section headings. One example is instead of writing Sales Management Definition as a header, they actually wrote the header as, it’s a sub heading, but it is, So, What is Sales Management, question mark. It’s an actual question a reader might ask. 1, it makes the article easier and better to read, but 2, it’s a natural question, which makes it more likely to rank for voice searches and for Google’s answer. This is good stuff. They also peppered related key words in the headers throughout the article. Later on, they realize they key word stuffed, basically. They actually go back and roll this back a bit. Then the 3rd step was to improve content engagement, like they have colons and line breaks and internal links and outgoing links. They just make things kind of easier to skim and easier to read. The 4th thing, I had heard this as kind of a rumor that this might exist in the Google algorithm, is to shorten the URL. There’s this graph they include where the longer your URL,
Mike: the less likely you are to rank for number 1. It’s fascinating. They have these really long blog URLs. They just shorten this way down. They essentially just have sales dash management, aside from the date in the URL. Then they improve the key word density. Obviously including the key word in the 1st hundred words of your content is kind of a well known thing, but then they talk about going through it and adding a glossary at the bottom, so they can include a few more key words. They do point out how important it is to make these as organic as possible because otherwise, it looks and feels like key word stuffing and Google and users are pretty smart about this stuff. They said, as a result of the on page key word optimization that their traffic went up and they have a screen shot of 19,000 page views. As they say, we over optimize key word density in the beginning, which slightly hurt rankings, but once we stopped this, we changed things around and saw an immediate improvement. We’ll get to that in a step or 2 later. They don’t show that 19,000 page views, they don’t show what the time frame is on that, but they did indicate
Mike: that this definitely had a positive impact on the post.
Rob: You know, I do wonder if adding, what is blank and adding in the key word is something that Google specifically looks for. The reason I think that is, or at least I kind of have an inkling of that is when I was doing Audit Shark, I had a bunch of pages that said, what is blank. So, for example, what is compliance management and if you would look around for compliance just in general, then that’s a very difficult thing to rank for just because there is all these different compliance institutions and it’s government regulations and it’s really difficult to rank against those, but if you go out and search for, what is compliance management, Audit Shark’s website actually ranks higher than the fdic.gov website for, what is compliance management system.
Mike: That’s crazy. Should you sell that? You should sell it to the FDIC. Hey guys. I have this site that ranks above you.
Rob: Right. But I wonder if that is something that specifically Google looks for. What is blank and whatever that key word is.
Mike: Yep. Totally. I would totally imagine that’s part of it, I think. More and more of these voice searches are happening in the Google answer stuff. I think it’s become more common for people to search like that as it has worked better. So, step 4 is to build internal links to the article and that means linking to this article from other articles that you have. It talks about how Google bot discovers your content by crawling your links and it also tells Google that this page is important if a lot of your pages link to it. You don’t want to just put a link in a header or footer. You actually want to link from individual pages in your site and kind of pick the right key words to link through. You look for high traffic. You look for high page authority and then they have a kind of site colon search you can do on your own website to find these key words that you want to use that appear in your other posts. You can link them out. This gives you just that basis of page authority on this new article.
Mike: Step 5 is stepping out and finding external link targets, meaning external links that will target you.
Rob: So, just to kind of clarify what Robert said, this is a little bit different than putting a footer on your website and having pages that you basically put a site map in place. This is specifically looking through your site where you refer to these terms whether it’s in your blog posts or in different articles or white paper pages, point those back to the page that you’re trying to rank for. It’s very slightly different, but it kind of achieves the same thing. It gets those internal links back and forth inside of your website.
Mike: And as I said, step 5 is finding external websites to link to this new article and they outline using open site explorer, which is a Moz thing, I think. They allow you to crawl the top 10 search results for this term and look at those back links. They dug through a few pages of that, built up a list of a few hundred prospect websites they thought might link to it and it’s a very raw list. Then they
Mike: only look at domain authority above 30. They eliminated sites that are free hosts, like BlogSpot and wordpress.com and put it in an Excel file. Then they go through finding the email addresses for people on these sites. They used Email Hunter, which is at hunter.io and they did their outreach. They don’t go through specifically what text they use or whatever. This is kind of a slog, right? It’s called outreach and I’m sure that most people, because I get these emails and I just delete them. But I think if you have a compelling case, apparently whether it’s the Pipe Drive name or whether it’s their approach, they said they just outreached like crazy. They used tools like, you could use one of these tools like Mix Max or Lead IQ or Tout, Perspectify. I suppose you could use Blue Tick as well. DO you allow outreach like this?
Rob: Yeah, it is because it’s going out through your own email server, so you could use that. I was actually going to recommend Links Spy, which is linksspy.com from Christoph Engelhard, who has [UNKNOWN] several times and been our scribe on a number of occasions and taken copious notes.
Rob: So, I would probably point to that instead.
Mike: Instead of open site explorer, right? Because Links Spy views your competitor’s back links.
Rob: Yes, it does. You could use it in conjunction with it as well, but Link Spy also has the built in capabilities to reach out to people who have those other sites, so you could use it to do that outreach step.
Mike: Yep. I’m glad you pointed that out. I remember him building that in. I think he has like, boiler plate templates and everything to make it super simple.
Rob: Yep. All the templates and stuff are there already.
Mike: Awesome. This whole outreach step, I’m actually going to skip. I’m going to say you can look at it if you like or you should just go use linksspy.com. That’s links with an S at the end, and then another S for spy. Step 7 of 8 is, they say be prepared to guest post. Guest posting and then when you guest post, you can link back to, within the content of your guest post you can link back to this article. I was doing a ton of guest posting with the aid of the growth marketer, Zack that I’d hired at Drip and it was doing stuff for us. It was sending traffic.
Mike: Traffic that converted. It was also building up some SEO juice in our blog and guest posting is most certainly not dead. I know at one point, Google said they were going to start penalizing guest posters, but high quality posts on high quality domains, we have never seen any negative repercussions from all of that.
Rob: Yeah. I’m not sure how they would really find out, other than a manual review that it was done by somebody else. It just seems kind of crazy. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Google has got some really smart people that are way smarter than I am.
Rob: Yeah. I don’t know how you would do that at scale.
Mike: I think it’s like byline stuff, right? You can say, this post was written by blah or this was a guest article, this was a guest post. There tends to be certain phrases that are used. They use machine learning. They’re like, translating languages to hundreds of crazy, exotic other languages. I feel like this is a pretty solvable problem using technology like that.
Rob: All right. Well, let’s leave our idiocy in the dust and go on to step 8.
Mike: Totally. The 8th and final step is something I’d never heard of. They say fine tuning content with TF IDF. TF dash IDF, and it is Term Frequency dash Inverse Document Frequency. I won’t really go into what that means here, but basically it’s a way to analyze a document to figure out, what are the important terms based on how many times they’re used and in what context. They just simply counted up the number of times that sales management occurred in their article. They said it occurred 48 times and their article was 2,500 words and they thought that was just way too much. They hypothesized that they were actually being, not penalized, but they weren’t ranking as high as they should because they looked like they were key word stuffing. They backed it off to 20 and they replaced it with terms that have high lexical relevance to sales management, but were not the exact phrase, sales management. They said that it
Mike: bumped them up. Their organic page views went from 0 when they started, to over 5,000 in just over 8 months. So, they ranked number 1 for the term in 3, I guess based on the headline of the article and then got these 5,000 recurring page views in 8 months.
Rob: I think if you’re trying to be objective about this, it’s a little difficult to take every single piece of this at face value when it walks through and says this is what we did and this is exactly what happened because there’s so many factors that come into play. Over the course of 8 months, there’s a lot of different things that can happen. Even though they backed off the number of times that sales management came in to the article at a certain time and yes, the search volume went up after that, but it is hard to say that’s exactly why because if you look at the graph that they show, it went up for 2 months and then it went down. Then it kind of meandered a little bit and then it went back up. You know? Over that time period, lots of different things can happen and a lot of them are just
Rob: completely out of your control. You don’t have any control over the rest of the internet. It’s hard to say definitively like, hey we did X and Y happened, but there’s certainly correlations that you can make between them to say this is the general direction that we wanted things to go. These are the things we did and yes, it went that way. But you can’t put a velocity on those things or a hard metric on every single one of these things.
Mike: Yeah. I mean, that’s SEO. That’s been organic SEO since it became a thing. It’s gotten a lot harder over time. It used to be easier to gain, but you’re right. There is no way to know that this specific change actually did this or was it just coincidentally just something else? You know? So much of it is correlation and if you do it enough times and you can say I’m confident that it’s causation until Google does their next update. But yeah, you’re never going to know for sure, which is tough. That said, there are these best practices. I mean, there’s a lot of things in this article as I read through that I thought yes, that’s what I would do. That’s what I would do. Then there were a bunch of things that were, I kind of called them out. I was like,
Mike: I hadn’t heard this, but this must be kind of a newer thing. I haven’t been knee deep in SEO for, I mean it was 2 or 3 years ago. I was doing it for Drip. It was a couple years before that, I did it for Hit Tail and I tend to do it in little bursts of, I get up to speed and do it, make a bunch of decisions and then kind of move away and work on the product, but people like this who are literally doing it full time, they’re going to always have, doing so many experiments that they’re going to be kind of at the bleeding edge of these tactics. I think there’s something to be said here, like yeah. You could game Google and you could try to get a piece of crap article up to the top of the results, but it’s like, I’ve always felt like we should all be trying to make the internet a better place. Even when I have used SEO and I’ve optimized to get there, I always thought my content was amazing. Like, it was really high quality content. I would either write it myself or pay a lot of money to have a good writer do it. I feel like if you’re trying to push crap to the top of the results, don’t bother. Don’t do it. It actually makes us all, it makes the results crappy, right?
Mike: Then it makes the internet a worse place to be. I guess that’s kind of my recommendation. There’s certain people that say you shouldn’t do SEO at all because it just pollutes the internet and I believe that you can do SEO, but in an ethical and high quality way.
Rob: Yeah. That’s not really any different than how some people view marketing. I don’t want to do marketing because it feels sleazy or I don’t want to do sales because it feels scummy and SEO is exactly the same way. I mean, you kind of have to do some level of marketing in order to get your product out there. There’s wrong ways to do it and there’s right ways to do it. This article outlines a mechanism that works so long as you have content that is appropriate to be promoted. That’s it. I think we’ll wrap it up today. If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1 888 801 9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt of We’re out of Control, by Moot used under creative comments. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike reflect back on MicroConf Vegas 2017 and give you their key takeaways from both the starter and growth edition talks.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- MicroConf Recap
- Smart Marketer
- Giant Robots Podcast
- Startup Event Solutions
Rob: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Mike and I talk about our key takeaways from MicroConf Vegas 2017. This is Startups For the Rest of Us Episode 336.
Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike: I’m Mike.
Rob: We’re here to share our experiences, to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike: I am still dehydrated and hoarse from last week. At the moment, I’m not sure if it’s just from being in Vegas for seven days or if it’s combination of that plus the pollen and stuff that I came back to in New England.
Rob: Yeah. Yeah, it’s crazy, the dehydration ability of Vegas. Right when I landed, I pull out the ChapStick. I was wearing ChapStick the whole time this time so my lips never got super raw. Yeah, I was drinking a ton of water. I didn’t stay up too late any night this time either. That was good. I think that helps.
Mike: Yeah. I tried to avoid that as well but I think there were couple of times where I was in bed sometime after midnight. I don’t think it was several hours late, it’s like one or two except for the very last night. Going to bed early certainly helps.
Rob: Yup. It also helps that we start the conference now at 10:00AM instead of 9:00AM. It’s just that extra hour gives you time to have a good breakfast and wake up slow. I didn’t feel tired at really any day at the conference, which is interesting considering that we basically had four days of back to back conference.
If you’re new to the show or you haven’t heard, we split MicroConf. Normally, we do two days and this time we did two back to back two day conferences. We did growth edition which started with a welcome reception on Sunday evening, and then we did two full days of talks, and then hanging out on Monday and Tuesday. We did starter edition which is for people who aren’t yet making a full time living from their business. That’s the differentiator between starter and growth. If you’re already making a full time then you should come to growth. Starter ran on Wednesday and Thursday. I was in Vegas close to a week by the time we took off.
Mike: You and I haven’t really talked about this. How did you feel about running the two of them back to back?
Rob: I have to admit, the fact that we’ve sold both of them out, heading into it made me think it was probably the right decision, because it really was a gamble. We decided to do this six months ago, realizing that we preselling the conference out too quickly. We didn’t want to grow it. There’s always the struggle of do we just keep raising prices till we just make the conference super big, make it a 400 person conference, 500 person conference. We’re trying to figure out how to do that. We eventually decided to split it up this way.
I was hoping that it would work well but I was, with any new thing, I’m always a little concerned about what could go wrong. Given the fact that we sold both of them out, my expectations were high that we made the right choice.
Once we arrived there, I pretty much heard almost exclusively positive feedback about the split, both from the growth folks and the starter audience. How about you, how did you feel?
Mike: Xander had asked us, it was Tuesday night, how we felt so far and whether or not we were going to be able to do it again. My mindset coming into Tuesday night was just, “Hey, we’re coming up on the halfway point.” It’s not like it was running two conferences back to back. It really felt like one giant conference just spanned four days. I think that from that perspective, it was more about mindset shifts.
I was also cautious about having this idea in my head that, oh yeah, I’ve talked to people here and they’ve said that they thought it was a really great idea because I feel like the people that don’t think it’s a good idea, or are not happy with it, or were uncomfortable with it, are probably not going to tell you basically to your face. Some people will but I feel that’s the stuff that’s going to come out in the reviews afterwards. You’re not going to find out right away. I don’t know, I was a little cautious about it just because I was hearing from people, “Hey, I really like the fact, this split.” Like I said, they’re not going to tell you necessarily, “Hey I really hate this.”
Rob: Yeah. I could totally see that. In the feedback though, in the survey we gave afterwards, people seem to have generally, a positive outlook on it as well. I think it really helped that we’re able to target the talks so well. We’re going to talk through some handful of a growth talks and a handful of the starter talks. Obviously we can’t talk through everything we did. Over the course of 4 days, we had 18 talks, 10 attendee talks, which are the shorter 12 minute talks given by attendees, two Q&A sessions, and two workshops. There’s a lot to pack in there. We obviously can’t cover everything in the span of a single show.
You’ll see as we talk through the topics that the growth ones are definitely more oriented at existing products, trying to scale up, or trying to stay sane while you’re doing it. And then the starter stuff is a lot more focused on these very first steps. That was the goal from the beginning, it was to be able to target the content specifically at the audience so you didn’t have someone coming feeling half the talks weren’t aimed at them.
Mike: Yeah. I think we did a really good job at that, in terms of splitting the content between those two. Going back and looking at the reviews, I think you’re right. As I said, Tuesday, I was cautious about just accepting things at face value but even in the reviews as you said, there’s a lot of good feedback there about how they liked how targeted everything was directly at where they were. Of course, we did see this from some of the reviews. People like, “How I wish there is a little bit more commingling of the two.” There’s always going to be a suggestions of, “Hey let’s do a two track conference or something like that.”
That’s really hard to pull off, especially if you’re trying to manage everything all in the same venue. There’s a lot of logistical stuff there but I think generally what did went over really, really well.
Rob: Yeah. The two track thing has only been success to the few times over the years but it’s tended to be something that we have intentionally, very deliberately avoided. I don’t know, we should probably crack that open again and just talk through and spit ball what it might actually look like to do that, to have a single conference for the starter track and the growth track.
Mike: Right. I figured in the past, all of our thoughts about that particular thing had been geared with the idea of having the entire conference aimed at one audience. And then of course, that’s where you do get in the logistical issues of let’s say, just for raw numbers. You’ve got 100 people coming and let’s say 70 go to one, and then 30 go to the other. If you’re really targeting two different audiences, then the two track conference idea kind of makes more sense. It’s easier to manage those logistics instead. I think you’re right, I think we just revisit it and think about it and see if it would work or see if it’s something we want to try.
Rob: The interesting thing is the cross growth and starter if you include the attendees, the speakers, the sponsors, and then we sold better half tickets where people can bring their significant other to evening events. Across all that, I think there were something like 420-ish attendees across both.
Actually day to day attending, growth was about 230, 235, and starter was around 165 or 170. Definitely healthy numbers but a good size in terms of manageability. I felt I was able to talk to a lot of people and it didn’t feel a sea of people to me.
Mike: Yeah. It’s hard once you get up to those numbers to be able to talk to every single person there but I do feel like I got to talk to it a decent chunk of people. That size is nice because everyone is still approachable. It’s not like I’ve talked to people while we were there and they said that they’ve been to a couple of other conferences where there’s 3000, 4000 people. It’s really hard to I guess maintain and establish relationships with people there but at the size, it’s a lot easier.
Rob: Yeah. Let’s dive in. As I said, we won’t be able to discuss all the talks but we do just want to take some highlights based on feedback that we received in the surveys we sent out at the end.
Russ Henneberry from a Digital Marketer made his first MicroConf appearance. He appeared based on a recommendation from Ruben Gomez, who said this guy is super sharp. He knows what he’s doing. He has a really unique insights on content marketing.
We had him speak on the first day. I instantly started hearing people being blown away. His talk was The Perfect Content Marketing Strategy. He talks a lot about misconceptions that content marketing is blogging. He looked at the seven characteristics of perfect content marketing.
This is a guy who’s been doing this since before it was called content marketing. He knows what he’s doing. Right in the hallway when we left, I heard some people saying, “Boy, that blew my mind. I’m going to change up my content marketing strategy because of it.”
Mike: What I really like was the way he identified specific pieces of the content marketing strategy and called them assets. I heard that from several other people as well, referring to the pieces that you plug in as an asset. We could give us an idea that you can reuse those assets in other places but by what referring to it as an asset and treating it as such, it gives you a more focus clear idea of exactly what you’re going to be doing with that particular asset or that piece of content and gives you the ability to build it in such a way that it’s not templatize but it’s got a specific purpose and that’s what it’s for. It was an interesting way to look at that that I haven’t really seen or heard before.
Rob: By the way there are summaries of all the MicroConf talks. If you go to microconfrecap.com. Thanks to Shai for taking notes and they’re very detailed outlines of what speakers were talking about.
Next talk I think we should discuss the same to have an impact was James Kennedy’s talk. It was how to stop giving demos and build a sales factory instead. I was super into it even though I’m not giving demos. I have noticed, I ought to give demos but he just had this whole process of how he grew Rubberstamp.io and how they’ve been growing it using essentially sales demos.
What was funny is I walked out at that talk and Anna on my Drip team, she came up and she said that talk made me want to do demos again. You know it’s having an impact when it makes you miss doing demos.
Mike: Yeah, that’s funny. I really liked how he’d laid out the entire process, the follow ups, what they do, how do they get people to the demos, how do they follow up with them to make sure that, “Hey, you have this demo coming up.” The foreshadowing aspect, the letting people know, “Hey, this is going to be the next step. This is what we’re going to do next.” So that it’s not a surprise to people so people aren’t wondering, “Okay, when is this person going to call me again? Are they going to send me an email or am I going to get a reminder?” It’s all about foreshadowing what those next steps are. I really liked that aspect of it.
Rob: I rounded out the day with a modified version of the talk that I had done in Europe about selling Drip and it was called 11 Years to Overnight Success: From Beach Towels to A Life Changing Exit. I tweaked the talk quite a bit for the growth audience. I just thought through some more aspects of it. Also, I have so much more distance from the sale now. A lot of it was about the Drip acquisition, the thought process, and the mindset behind that.
I definitely enjoyed talking about it. Since it was essentially the second time I’ve given the talk, I find that my second, third, fourth times of giving talks are always better. You just have more of an idea of what resonates with people and it’s better practice and that kind of stuff. I felt like it came off pretty well.
Mike: Yeah. I think in your talk, one of the things that you pointed out, this is not a surprise to anyone but the fact that it takes a long time to get to that point, there are all these different missteps or places you go where it’s either just the learning opportunity or you feel you’re making a lot of progress, if you take it as a whole then you get to see that entire journey. It’s interesting to see that. I saw in Europe as well. I do think that you gave a better talk here in Vegas than you did in Europe. It probably is a direct result of hearing yourself give that talk on a stage, and then talking to people, finding out what resonates, then plug in those things back into it. It’s nice to get that feedback and be able to incorporate it later on.
Rob: On the second day of growth, this would have been Tuesday, we had Ezra Firestone from Smart Marketer. He talked about the exact formula they’ve used to generate $5 million in revenue from software in the past 3 years. It’s pretty obvious that Ezra does a lot of speaking because he commanded the stage and really kept people captivated.
Mike: Yeah. As you said, he obviously speaks a lot. It’s nice to be able to see somebody get up there and be able to just do things off the cuff. It’s clearly not rehearsed. Clearly, he has the ability to get up there and speak to things from the audience. Almost like a comedian when you see them perform and they’re able to either deal with the hackler or comments from the crowd and incorporate that into what it is that they’re talking about. Ezra definitely had that ability. It’s clearly a direct result of being up there in front of a lot of people and talking to a lot of people. Some of that could just be the personality in terms of being what appears to be a strong extrovert. I think that being able to incorporate those things really helps to send the right message when somebody is up there on stage like that.
I do like the fact that he went into some detail. For example, the multi-touch marketing and creating multiple touch points in your sales funnel so that people are hearing different messages along the way through that sales funnel. They might hear one message and then they hear a different one. In some cases, they’re getting reiterated to them so they are essentially strengthening the original messages.
Rob: That afternoon, Sherry Walling talked about understanding your past, current, and future self. Really kicked off with how founders view their startups as they do their children. That there is a study done that was doing brain scans of founders as they showed pictures of children they didn’t know versus their own children and it showed parts of their brain activating. It was people seeing companies that were there versus other people’s companies in that sense. It was showing that the brain activity when you see your children is very similar to when you see your own company.
She talks about the pluses and the minuses of this. She looks at how your past contributes to who you are, what to do in the present, and then looking ahead, asking yourself, “What will my future self want me to do about this decision right now?” I was pretty fascinated by it.
Mike: Yeah. I thought that when she dove into that part of the talk, that was kind of fascinating to me just because when you’re building a product, you’re working so hard on it and you’re pouring all of your energy into it. It’s not something I think that most people think about in terms of what would my future self think of me doing this or what would my future self want to be the result of this. She really dug into that and tried to portray it as a situation where you do have to think about those things and you do have to let things grow on, in some cases on their own, without too much input from you, whether it’s hiring people to take over certain pieces of it or just being cognisant in other fact that what you’re doing today is not always going to be correct but you have to make the best decisions that you have with the details you have right now.
Rob: Lars Lofgren wrapped this up. He finished off the growth speaker docket. His talk title was 2 Inbound Engines that Drive 30,000 Leads Per Month, actually more than that. I think he said they’re collecting more than 40,000 emails a month, which is just fascinating. He runs marketing for Ramit Sethi.
He really talked about the two engines are one, ramping volume and two, split testing your choke points. He talked a lot about going really deep on one thing and how they’ve spent a year just going after, they started going after SEO with the ultimate guide and then that wasn’t working so they switched it up. He said he’d rather have 49 amazing blog post and one PDF than 50 amazing PDFs because he need the blog post to drive the organic traffic, so that people will download PDF and become a lead.
He has talked a lot about how he doesn’t do any campaigns. He only puts in systems that he doesn’t want to go from marketing campaign to marketing campaign. I thought was a really interesting look attitude. It’s a very long term way to think about it but it’s also the way to think at scale in terms of really scaling up sustainable traffic.
Mike: I thought it was really interesting that even given the size of the team that Lars runs, that they really are only focused on one channel at the moment. I guess I would have thought that they would have done more or I would have thought they were been going after two or three. In the context of this talk and looking at it retrospect, it does make a lot more sense as to why they’re going so deep on one particular channel. It’s because it’s working well for them. You really want to double down on those and optimize everything you possibly can until you get to a point where it’s no longer working or you’re longer getting the gains that you could be getting.
I think you and I have talked about similar things in the past where people have said, “Oh, I want to take my app and go multilanguage with it or localize it for different places.” The reality is most people are not at a point where they’ve saturated the market. This is the same idea. It’s really going so far deep until you get to the point where the diminishing returns are so little. That’s when you would start focusing on something else. It’s amazing with 40,000 email addresses acquired every month, they’re still not there.
Rob: Tuesday night, we had the closing reception for growth and we had that opening reception for starter. That was a time for people to mingle and have S’mores, and an open bar.
Mike: You’re not kidding about the S’mores either.
Rob: I know. There were fire pits in the back and people are making S’mores. That was a lot of fun, though. I see everybody mix in together. It was a big group and that allowed the starter folks to meet some of the growth folks, and then the growth folks to do their last hurrahs before they kicked off for home.
Like I said, starter was around 165, 170 people. We did something interesting. For those who don’t know, we worked with a conference coordinator who handles a lot of the logistics. His name is Xander. He suggested that you and I not try to emcee two conferences back to back. I think his original phrase was consider getting some fresh blood on the stage. Just someone new with a fresh voice who maybe could our starter audience could really relate to.
We invited Jordan Gal to do it this year. I think our plan is that every year, we’ll either do it with ourselves or we may bring in a different guest emcee. I thought that went really well. My thought, it was nice to not have to be present and constantly thinking about what was going to happen after the next talk and what we’re going to say. I think it took definitely took a load off of me.
I’ll toss it to you in a second here if you felt the same way. I thought the feedback was generally positive. I didn’t really hear anybody who was surprised or shocked that you and I weren’t up on stage all the time. Even then, you and I, were introing some things and you were handling sponsorships so it wasn’t like we weren’t present.
Mike: Yeah. It definitely felt some of the load was taken off for the starter edition just because with the growth edition, there were so many things going on. You and I were back and forth on stage pretty much the entire time. I felt I couldn’t concentrate as much on the talks during the growth edition as I could in the starter edition. It was really nice to be able to I’ll say step back a little bit but still be pretty heavily involved in all the stuff that was going on.
I think that I agree. I’ve heard from some of the different attendees that they thought that it was interesting that we did that. I didn’t really see any negative feedback on that particular piece of it. I think there was maybe a little bit of disappointment that people, they don’t get to see you as much up there because you spoke a growth but not at starter. I think there was maybe a little bit of an expectation of that. But generally, it was pretty positive feedback.
Rob: Yeah, that’s interesting. You know about half way through starter, I started thinking to myself, “I think I should speak. I think I should have spoken this year.” I think neither you nor I knew how challenging that it would be to run these back to back conferences and so didn’t want to commit ourselves to speaking at both, which is why we divided and conquered. I spoke at growth and you spoke at starter.
Given how things went and how I felt it was fairly smooth and I wasn’t exhausted. I don’t know if I could have written two talks from scratch but certainly I might have some material that I could have pulled together for starter.
Mike: Yeah. I think for this year, I think it was definitely the right decision to have you speak at growth and have me speak at starter just because there were so many unknowns. That’s really the issue. With MicroConf, you really only get the one chance of that specific event, whether it’s MicroConf in Vegas or MicroConf in Europe. You can’t just do it over again. It’s not something that you do every week. You don’t want to go too far in a direction that is going to be difficult to manage moving forward or for the rest of that week.
I think for this year, it was definitely the right choice. Whether we change that in the future is up for debate or discussion but I don’t think that we made the wrong choice there.
Rob: Jordan Gal also kicked us off and did the first talk of starter. He talked about all the mistakes that they made along the way with his startup Carthook. You know how they’ve continued to grow during that and the learnings that came from it. When we originally talked, we talked about him doing the same talk he had done in Europe but he basically just wrote a completely new talk for the Vegas audience.
Mike: What I really liked about Jordan’s talk was the fact that he showed all those different failures along the way, at least the ones that he felt were failures but if you looked at how things were going for the business, things were still generally going up into the right. It’s interesting to note that your own personal viewpoint of how things are going, are always going to be worse than how things are actually going. Not always I guess. There are some exceptions where things are just tanking and you have no idea. I think at the back of our mind we know that things are going in that direction.
From external, you look at the business saying, “Oh things are going fantastic, things are going great.” But the founders we’re like, “Oh man, we screwed this up or we screwed that up.” It’s a very different viewpoint when you’re talking to somebody about, “Hey, we’ve made this mistake, we made that mistake.” Externally, people have a different view of what’s going on inside the business than you do as the founder.
Rob: Another notable talk from that first day was Ben Orenstein. He works for thoughtbot and he’s a co-host of the Giant Robots Podcast. He was another one who had obviously had quite a bit of speaking experience. Just really nailed the audience engagement part. I thought he did a very, very good talk. He had actually surveyed the starter audience in advance and he had rewritten his talk multiple times to try to really nail exactly what they needed.
When he surveyed the audience, he found out that about half of folks, it’s starter edition so it makes sense they seem split about, but about half of folks had basically $0 in revenue and then half had in the hundreds and on up. He actually just had two parts to his talk. It was like, “If you have $0 in revenue, do this.” It was super prescriptive and it was really good. I think it hit home with people. It gives a good message to have. If you are over that, then he had these 10 tactical wins that they had implemented over at Thoughtbot because they have a couple different SaaS apps that he runs over there. I thought it was pretty fascinating.
Mike: I think part of what resonated with his talk was that he zeroed in on those tactical pieces where it’s essentially a switch or a lever that you can use to get more out of your business and move things forward faster. Some of them are not necessarily obvious. Some of them that are obvious like for example, created an email course. Then there are other ones where integrating and partnering with other people that’s not quite as obvious but in retrospect, it makes a lot more sense that you can leverage those partnerships to grow your business because you’re essentially leveraging other people’s audiences. If you’re starting out and you don’t have a lot of discussions with other founders, that might not come to you as an obvious tactical piece of advice.
Rob: Rounding at that first day at starter, it was Sujan Patel, who many of may know as a growth marketer. He worked for When I Work and has a number of SaaS apps that he runs now.
He talked about from idea to launch your first 1,000 customers was zero marketing budget. He broke it up into three separate sections. The first was about prelaunch marketing, the second was about nailing your launch, and the third was about scalable marketing approaches.
I really like that differentiation. I think folks who are just starting out often get confused of, “How do I fill my email list?” And that’s your pre launch marketing stuff. “How do I market once I’m out and I’m trying to grow?” They are highly related but they are different. I like that he differentiated that. And then he just kept throwing out ideas that they had tried, things that had worked, things that hadn’t. Again, I took away a lot and I think the audience probably did as well.
Mike: That’s something that I saw from the survey results is that people really liked the speakers who dug into things that didn’t work because it was easy for them to look around and find examples of, “Oh, somebody did this and it worked for them. Somebody did this other thing and it worked for them.” The thing that stuck out in people’s minds was the fact that some of the speakers talked about, “Hey, I tried this and it didn’t work.” Or “I was going to go down this path and we backed off because of X, Y, and Z.”
It was interesting that that piece of it, not even just failure but the pieces that resonate with people were the ones where the speakers started to go down a particular road and pulled back because those are not the things you typically hear about on blogs. You read about the success stories but not necessarily the failures or the missteps. People really found that those aspects of the talks were really helpful to them.
Rob: On the following day, one of the notable talks was Mr. Patrick Mckenzie Patio11. He dug into basically a paint by numbers approach to productized consulting, which is a pretty good option for folks just starting out, wanting to get their first dollar. He broke down an approach of how to build that up. I think he said within 12 months you could be a $12,000 MRR in terms of a productized consulting business and then he laid out the steps to do that.
Mike: I think it was probably surprising to people that when he laid out that approach that he was talking in broad strokes numbers about, “Hey, you could charge $800 to a large business for just taking out the trash for example.” That’s not a huge amount of money to them because companies with more than 20 employees pay way more than that sometimes.
I’ve seen business plans or businesses for sale where that’s exactly right. I’ve seen literally that line item before. It can be fairly high. You don’t really think about it but there is all those business problems that larger companies have. By larger, I mean 20 employees and up that is a genuine business opportunity. You just don’t typically think about it unless you see what those line items are. That’s difficult for most of us who are developers or just not involved with any sort of budget discussions for a larger business.
Rob: Another talk that I heard positive feedback about and I thought he did a good job commanding the stage was Justin Jackson talking about the freedom ladder, financial independence through products. He talked about a lot of different ways that he had tried over the years to make a full time living. In essence, he said January 1 of 2016 is when he finally was able to make it from his own products and he didn’t have to consult anymore.
He talked about many different ideas but one that was interesting and seem to resonate with a few people that no one else has talked about was just doing workshops, like in person workshops. He says yes, it’s super scary and yes, he has given a workshop where it was just him and two other people but he said, “That’s how you’re going to learn. If you can’t get a couple people to get into a room in your local town, how are you going to get folks on the internet to pay you any money?” I thought that was cool way to think about it.
Mike: I think that’s one of the fears that people have about running those workshops, is that you only get one or two people there. I talked to somebody who had given a talk at a conference where they said they were expecting a couple of hundred people in the room and it was multitrack conference and they ended up with eight or something ridiculously small like that. One or two of them got up in the middle of the talk and left but at the same time those are the places where you learn, those are the places where you figure out what’s going to work and what’s not.
What we all want is to be able to go in and run a workshop like this. We get 30 or 40 people. The problem is at that point, you are essentially performing in and front of a group of 30 or 40 people and you’ve never really performed in front of group of 5 for example.
What you’re doing is you’re making larger mistakes in a larger environment. It’s intuitive that you want the smaller ones first. Those are the ones that help you get the experience so that when you go those larger environments, you give a larger talk or a larger workshop that is not as scary. You’ve got the butterflies out, you’ve been able to answer the exact same questions in that larger workshop that you have in smaller ones. You can refine your answers from there as well.
Rob: You mostly rounded out the day and rounded out starter. You actually interviewed John Collison, did a moderated Q&A with him. For those who don’t know, he’s a co-founder of Stripe. Xander was saying he’s the youngest billionaire, either in America or in the world. Because I think he’s what, 25? Stripe is now worth $9 billion and he owns a big chunk of it. That was cool. How did it feel to be up on stage with him?
Mike: That was interesting. I wasn’t necessarily nervous from that regard because I don’t think that Xander had mentioned that to me. It was interesting looking at the schedule and how things were going to be going for the rest of the day. I realize that I was probably going to be up on stage for a good chunk of that last day.
I think that the Q&A session went well. We took some questions from the audience and let them. There was a list of questions that we had, that we want to get out there and then ask. A lot of the audience asked questions. I thought that was a good split.
Of course, obviously, I’ll say a little bit risky because you never know what somebody is going to ask. I thought that John was very honest and upfront. He just said, “Look, if I can answer the question and help you out, I will. If there’s something I can’t talk about it, I’ll just tell you I can’t talk about it.” I thought that that was very humble of him. I really liked talking to John both before, during, and after the conference just because of how he carries himself. He’s obviously a very skilled and intelligent person. I think he makes for a good founder that is a good fit with our audience as well.
Rob: The last talk of starter was your talk. It was idea validation and customer development. It’s pretty self-explanatory what you went through. How did it feel? What feedback did you get and how did you feel on stage?
Mike: After the talk, I got some good feedback from people. It was odd because the workshop that I did was also on that. That was I’d say pretty well attended. Even during the workshop that I did, there were a lot of questions that I got. I took some of those questions and I went back to my talk and rearrange things a little bit. May or may not have been the best idea to make some of those changes in the middle of it or just before I was going up there but I also think that some of those things are really important to cover in terms of, “Hey, if you do this, this is what can happen.” Going out there and showing a specific idea, that was something else that people are pointed out to me like, “Hey, I thought that that idea had legs and it’s really interesting you showed that hey, you got these data points and were able to prove like hey, this idea is not going to work or it’s not going to work for you at least.”
Rob: Overall, I think MicroConf this year, the MicroConfs in Vegas were quite successful. I had a great time and we’ve already gotten a lot of positive feedback about it. Keep plugging along and we’re looking at doing one in Europe here in late fall.
I did want to give a shoutout to our sponsors, to the speakers that flew in, very busy people coming in to give back to the community, as well as Xander. Xander helps us run the conference. If you have an event that you need help with, even meet ups, product launches, and conferences, Xander really works a lot in the startups space and the techs space. He’s at startupeventsolutions.com.
Mike: I think that about wraps us up for this. If you have a question for us, you can call it in our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our theme music is Next for Periodic Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike continue their discussion on e-mail list building zero to 1,000. They talk about the best approaches that they see working today for people trying to build a product list or launch list.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Pre-Launch Email List Building With Directories
- Episode 199: Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers (with Gabriel Weinberg)
- Product Hunt
- Microconf Europe
Rob [00:00]: In this episode of “Startups For The Rest Of Us,” Mike and I discuss Email List Building: From 0 to 1,000. This is part two in the series. This is “Startups For The Rest Of Us” episode 239.
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.
Mike [00:28]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:29]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help people avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week sir?
Mike [00:34]: Well, today I’m coming to you with a little bit of Star Wars trivia. What is the internal temperature of a tauntaun?
Rob [00:40]: Um…
Mike [00:42]: Lukewarm.
Rob [00:43]: Boom. We need a rim shot right there.
Mike [00:46]: If you want to hear that or any other terrible MicroConf jokes, you are going to have to go to MicroConfEurope.com, sign up for the mailing list. We are going to be sending out e-mails pretty shortly about MicroConf Europe, how you can get tickets for that and hear more of our terrible jokes and hopefully learn some stuff to help further your bootstrap entrepreneurial endeavors. How about you this week?
Rob [01:04]: Well, this week, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Drip was featured in a VentureBeat report on marketing automation and with a few hundred different marketing automation tools, they chose around 20 or 25 and Drip is one, and then actually recommended Drip as the go-to for small and medium size businesses. So, that was, I think about, a week, a week and half ago that went live, so that feels good.
Mike [01:27]: That’s really cool.
Rob [01:28]: That was the good news. The bad news is it HitTail interfaces with Google using a certain type of API log and I’m not going to the details here because it’s kind of all arcane stuff. But, since they deprecated it and I didn’t know it was deprecated, and so this morning we wake up and HitTail’s struggling to connect to Google and import keywords, which is its core function, so we are scrambling now to integrate the newer form and try to get that live as soon as possible.
Mike [01:57]: Do you think that Google would send out an e-mail about something like that to the people who are using it?
Rob [02:01]: Well, that’s the problem because I don’t know if they know who is using it because it’s not like we had to set up and account to do this. It was just kind of this programmatic way of integrating. So, it’s a bummer. It feels like every, let’s say two to four months with one of my apps runs into some type of issue like this, whether it’s an issue with an API that stops working or it’s a scaling issue or it’s someone misusing your service or just some kind of semi random thing that kind of takes you off your game, stops you from developing new features, takes your eye off the ball, and yet, everybody has to scramble to kind of make up for it.
Mike [02:37]: If it’s not one thing, it’s another.
Rob [02:38]: Indeed.
Mike [02:39]: Well, I think today we are going to be diving into part two of our series on Email List Building. And today, we are going to start off by talking about how to get from 101 to 1000 and there’s a lot of different techniques that we are going to be talking about. Some of them will be applicable to what you’re doing, some of them won’t, and I think the key here is to really take a hard look at each of these and try to identify whether or not it’s a strategy that is going to meet your needs to take your mailing lists to that level. And like I said, some of them are not going to work for you just based on the type of mailing list that you’re using. So for example, there is certain social networks that are probably not going to work very well for enterprise software and then there is other types of techniques like video marketing or webinars and things like that, they would work really well for that. So, it’s really a matter of identifying what the type of mailing list you have, it is who the audience is and whether or not some of these different strategies fit into those paradigms for you.
Rob [03:30]: And if you haven’t listened to episode 238, that was the previous episode and it was part one of this discussion where we talked about how to get from 0 to 100 e-mail subscribers, give some techniques, building up in blocks of 10 or 20, and now we are going to take it to the next level and try to TEDx that. And as Mike said, this is essentially a big list of marketing tactics, its marketing approaches and it kind of kills me when I hear on Twitter, “Hey guys, I’ve set up a landing page I’m gonna collect e-mails, how should I build the list?” because that question is so huge. We could seriously sit here for a few hours and discuss every marketing approach that there is, because all of them are intended to drive traffic somewhere, right? and they are intended to drive traffic whether it’s to convert some into a [trial of your app or to get someone on your product list, if you already have a product, or to get someone on your launch list, almost all of them applied to all of those things. So asking, “How should I build my mailing list?” is a lot like asking, “How should I market my product?” which is an enormous, enormous topic that multiple books have been written on. So, what we’ve done is cherry picked what I consider the best approaches, these are, I think, all online approaches, there may be one or two offline. But it’s the best approaches that we see working today with folks who are trying to build either that product list, if you’ve already launched, and you want to get a notification list, to send blog post to, or product updates, actionable contents, good stuff for them but then also a few mentions of every product here and there. Or, if you are trying to build that launch list around a product that has yet to launch.
Mike [05:00]: So, to start off with, I think the first one that we came up with is leveraging existing startup list. And to do something like this, what you would do is you’d post links to your landing pages on relevant websites and that would include things like Reddit, Hacker News, Product Hunt, Launchlist, BetaList, etc. And there are hundreds of these, not just a couple or a couple dozen. There are literally hundreds of websites that you can post your website to or your landing pages to and do product announcements. Now, some of those are going to work better than others, so there is varying levels of activity. So for example, something like Reddit gets a lot of traffic, same with Hacker News or LifeHacker or Product Hunt and then, there’s also the other fact that you have to take into account, which is how targeted is that list going to be, like the traffic that’s coming in from that source, are they going to care about whatever it is that you’re offering. So, if you were to go to SecurityWeek.com, for example, and you are pitching a product that has something to do with e-mail marketing, is probably not going to convert very well. There is not going to be a lot of people who come over even though there is a lot of traffic on that site. But there are others that you can go to and you can start leveraging those to start driving traffic to your site. We’ll link this up in the show notes but, Robert Graham, from Whitetail software had previously put together a list of these prelaunch e-mail list building directories. As I said, we will link it up in the show notes and you can go over there, check it out. There are probably 60 or 70 of them on that list, something like that, but there is a lot of good information there and its serves as a good starting point for you to start doing those submissions.
Rob [06:30]: The nice part about the list that Robert put together is it’s broken up into beta, launched. beta or launched, and there are some [?] several categories here, and so you can choose the categories based on where you are with your app. The nice part about doing is you can either do-it-yourself one evening while you’re watching Game of Thrones or you can have a virtual assistant do it if you provide them with all the information. It’s not hard work and it will yield some sign ups. As you said, they may not ever convert to paying customers, but this is something that I do, this is all of my marketing plans, I’m going to launch a new app. There is really no reason not to do it because it is such low hanging fruit.
Mike [07:09]: The second strategy that you can try to leverage is content marketing, and content marketing by itself is just a huge topic but really, you have to start small. You start with a blog and you start posting content to that blog and into your auto-responders, and this helps with a couple of different things, and it’s a long term strategy. It’s not something that you’re going to do short term and you’re going to expect that you post one or two blog post and suddenly you’re going to go to a thousand people on your list. But, it can help you with long term SEO, it can increase the overall footprint of your website and your content marketing strategies and essentially helps you move the business forward. Now, again, this is a long term strategy. This isn’t just do it once and forget it. This is something that you’re going to want to invest in over time and make sure that you’re going to be able to put a process in place where this will carry forward even after you’re done building that initial list or hitting that initial goal, you’re probably going to want to take this and carry it forward and keep driving people to that e-mail list.
Rob [08:06]: So I haven’t done this one with a pre-launch product. So for example with Drip, we had a landing page before the product was built and ideally, it would’ve been nice to get a blog up around that, so you start building that SEO footprint, but I was never able to do that. I don’t think it’s something that will pay off early, like you said. It’s something that more of a long term process. I think it’s possible, I think Mint.com did this well actually. They had quite a bit of budget and they did get a blog up even before they launch and they got that flywheel going. I don’t know if many bootstrappers who have the funds or the bandwidth to be able to be building a product, planning for marketing, getting a prelaunch landing page up and have someone blogging or be blogging themselves. So I think that’s quite a bit to bite off, given how time intensive and/or cost intensive good content marketing is. Post-launch once you have revenue and customers and you know your customers and you know what they want, you have a lot more certainty in what you’re doing and this is where we’ve had a lot of luck with this. There is good examples like KISSmetrics, and Bidsketch, and Groove are all really good examples and Baremetrics is another good example of SaaS apps that do content marketing and its blog post for their audience and it drives traffic over time through a lot of social shares and then you can easily built up that e-mail list and then use that e-mail list to perpetuate itself the larger it gets. You can notify people when new post come out and then give mention infrequently of an awesome new feature that your product has. But, some people don’t like the term content marketing, they just want to blog about whatever interests them and that’s fine. You don’t have to call it content marketing, but it’s a short phrase for this idea of being able to write good stuff and draw people to your site and hopefully get a few more of them on your mailing list.
Mike [09:51]: The other thing that you can insert in there in addition to the occasional mention is something that people can use specifically in their startup or in their business and it is a problem that would be addressed by your product. I think there is a difference between doing a pitch for your product with this list and embed it into that content versus saying, “Hey, this is this problem that a lot of people have and here is how you can solve it and, by the way, our product also does this.” So, if there are ways to leverage those thoughts or ideas into those types of post, then the social shares alone should help with that especially when your list starts getting large.
Rob [10:25]: And another tip is, within Drip, when we are sending this out, we actually have a liquid template “if” statement at the bottom of the e-mail that only shows up to folks who are not currently customers. And so it say, “If the person is not a customer, then say, “Hey, we noticed you haven’t used Drip. If you’re interested, sign up for a trial.” And so it is, typically, I put that in the P.S. instead of in the body of the e-mail. I like your approach to teaching and tying it in. I think that’s optimal and then having some maybe stuff specific for non-trial users and non-customers that does in fact pitch in link to your trial sign up page can be definitely useful on this type of context.
Mike [11:02]: Next on the list of strategies is leverage in the contest or giveaway. The interesting part about contest and giveaways is that typically, it’s tricky. And the reason it’s tricky is because if you have a contest that you’re running and let’s say that everybody who enters gets a chance to win. The problem is that there is no incentive for people to invite other people to come in and also enter into the contest. So essentially, there is a disincentive for people to share it because of the fact that if, let’s say that there is a hundred people in there and you’re one of them and the company ask you to share it, well, now by inviting your friends. Let’s say you invite two or three people, you’re less likely to win. But, there is a nice little trick that you can use to give them additional chances to win if they get other people signed up. So let’s say that for each person that they get signed up, they get an additional three chances to win or something like that. I believe that idea came from Noah Kagan of AppSumo. I think that they’ve got a plugin over on SumoMe that allows you to do something like that. And so that’s definitely something to look into when you’re trying to do something like this. But in terms of the giveaway itself, there is lots of things that you can giveaway. You can give away a free book bundle, you can give away gift cards, you can give away one on one consulting, you can give away licenses to your products or anything along those lines that you feel is going to be helpful for your customers or the people who are coming to your list. Now, again, it really depends on what type of products you have and what the people are interested in that are joining your mailing list but there are a lot of different things that you could come up with to essentially sweeten the deal for people to sign up.
Rob [12:32]: I personally have not run a contest like this. I am innately skeptical about it because if you’re going to give something away, let’s say a MacBook Air or an iPad or whatever it is, I know that you’re going to get a bunch of people who are signing up for that and don’t really want to hear from you and so it’s going to dramatically lessen the quality of your list. So I would certainly segment this out from my main list and allow the giveaway to happen and then start pruning that list quickly because you don’t want a list with a 10% open rate or 1% click through rate or high bounce rates and high unsubscribe rates. It just doesn’t do well for your deliverability, but with that said, I have talked to a few people who’ve run contest and have had success at it. The thing to think about is that it will spike your e-mail list really high and then if you wind up with even, let’s say half of those or third of those sticking around and being somewhat engaged, then you’re probably doing pretty well. So, I agree. I think this is something that’s worth doing, it’s been in the back of my mind that is something to try for a while. I just think you want to think through it and do it well and do more research on folks who’ve done this successfully and the steps they’ve taken to make it work.
Mike [13:43]: So, my inclination for something like this is that I agree with you on being a little bit skeptical about how well this would work. But, remember back to the beginning of this podcast episode where we talked about the type of list that you’re building and the type of product that you have is going to make a big difference here. And my inclination is that contest and giveaways are probably going to do much better in a B to C offering than a B to B offering. I don’t know for sure, but that’s my inclination, that’s my general impression about that.
Rob [14:09]: Yeah. I think they will do better in the more B to C or B to beginner, maybe it is B to B but it’s folks who are just getting into [?] just getting into becoming designers or entrepreneurs or photographers or whatever, so they are still more in of the consumer mindset. However, the two people I was thinking of who have run contests to a level of success both had, in essence, more B to B topics. And maybe that is why only a third of their folks stuck around afterwards, maybe bunch of folks came in just to enter for the MacBook and didn’t really want to hear about their B to B offering. But this one, like I said, I think it deserves a little more research and some time to think about.
Mike [14:47]: The next strategy in our list is leverage in social networks. When you talk about social networks, it almost come down to the big three, there is Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but there are tons and tons of other social networks that you can leverage, there is Tumblr, there is Pinterest, there is StumbleUpon. The list goes on and on. I think the key with social networks is that if you’re going to dabble in social networking, you really have to post content to it pretty regularly. You have to make sure that you’re staying on people’s radar and that you’re using special offers like lead magnets that almost require an e-mail sign up. So, you use those social networks to get in front of people and you really want to be driving people to an e-mail list. Because just getting in front of them is not necessarily going to help you a whole lot, but at the same time, you really want to make sure that you’re getting contact information from them. And doing so, in a way that it is not, I’ll say, over the top or not too much in people’s faces because you can burn out that audience. You don’t want to go to the point where you’re burning them out and you’re not going to be front of mind because they start tuning you out. I do know somebody who has used, I think it’s Instagram to gain some pretty massive followings through Instagram and they’ve been able to verifiably boost sales by huge percentage, and I was shocked when I heard the story and heard a lot of the details about it. But, it’s crazy the amount of things that you can do on these social networks and there are definitely ways that you can leverage them to drive people through to your site and start getting them on your mailing list.
Rob [16:12]: I have always thought of social networks as hub and spoke model, where my hub is my website that I own and my e-mail list that I own and then the social networks are all just traffic device, right. They are the spokes surrounding that and so, as you said, driving folks back to get them on your e-mail list is always my number one goal. And if you want to see some folks who are using Twitter well in this fashion and more of a B to B fashion, go to the folks that I showed earlier who are doing content marketing really well. Because content marketing and social networks go hand in hand, and so, look at the KISSmetrics, the Bidsketch, the Groove, and Drip is doing so so on Twitter right now. It’s not growing super fast but we definitely have a decent size of audience and are able to drive folks back and get some engagement with some of our post. The nice part is Google is once again using the Twitter fire hose and putting in search results and that tells me that they are probably else using this as a some type of ranking factor. So if you have a blog that ghost town and no one sharing it socially, then odds are good that it’s going to get a little bit of ding or it’s not going to get the plus of having, let’s say each of your blog post get tweeted even five times or ten times, that’s going to be a signal to Google that real people are using your account. And I think of social networks is being used in multiple different ways, the one idea is to send folks back to build your mailing list. It’s also a good way just to engage with folks who were talking about your products online, right, and you can get into conversation. Sometimes feature request or support request come through and that’s a little harder. It’s pretty hard to do support at 140 characters at a time. So, I tend to try to get into e-mail discussions with folks when they do that, but I think the conversations that can be had are often worthwhile. It’s hard to lead this back to some type of return on investment based on the amount of time that you might have to spend on it. And so, if you don’t have a ton of time to devote to something, this would not be at the top of my list for building your e-mail list. I think there are lot more effective ways that we are going to talk about today, but I do think that especially if you’re a B to B in a text space that being on Twitter at a minimum is probably par for the course.
Mike [18:18]: Yeah. I kind of relate in social networks back to the content marketing. It seems like it’s a much more of a long term strategy and there might be some quick wins that you can get to drive people over. But in some ways, it almost feels like this might be strategy similar to content marketing where it works better if you’re larger. It takes you from 1001 to 10,000 or 50,000 or something along those lines. Next on our list is video marketing. And I think with a video marketing, you essentially choose a platform of your choice and you can throw out all the different video platform providers, things like Wistia, Vimeo, and YouTube, and essentially leverage those to either make videos of yourself or do interviews or screencast or online webinars. There is lots of different ways to use video of something to put in front of your audience and then leverage those things to drive traffic to those videos and then put some sort of an e-mail capture in place or a sign up form that allows people to view the videos. I’m using this on a couple of different apps, I even went so far to create a video course. I think you’ve got a couple of video courses you’ve done as well. I think it’s hit and miss sometimes. There are certain things that will resonate really, really well and there are certain things that just for whatever reason, they just don’t.
Rob [19:28]: Yeah. I think video marketing works really well in the B to C space, that’s where all the YouTube stars come about. I’ve heard of some B to B players doing it, but it’s always the same examples, right, it’s the Will It Blend guys or Red Bull or some big corporation doing something. I know that there is room here for a smaller B to B player to have videos and I guess maybe like SEOmoz, not that they are that small, but they are not Fortune 500 size. Moz does the whiteboard Fridays that have been frankly just excellent and very consistent over the several years. And I kind of think a video marketing in that way, a bit just like a video podcast. It’s kind of a weekly thing that you release like clockwork and I think that if you’re providing value in entertaining way and you provide unique voice on something, then having the recurring nature of video marketing, I think can be powerful. I also agree with you on webinars. I guess you have to have some expertise or some credentials so that folks know to trust you. But once you have that, if you can stack your funnel through other means and get folks to come to a webinar, you do build a tremendous amount of trust if you make a good presentation and you make a good case for something and you offer a lot of value in that webinar, you can definitely build your list quickly by advertising a free webinar like that. Even just building the webinar list itself, you can build a list and then beyond that, it just creates more engagement and I bet you get more opens and clicks in your overall list after doing a webinar.
Mike [20:56]: That brings up an interesting point, do you ask for the e-mail before or after. And I think that it depends on whether or not you’re doing a video versus a webinar. Because when I’m running webinars, what I do is I will drive people to a landing page and then ask them for their contact information, so that I can let them know when and where the webinar will be and it’s usually like a live demo or presentation or something along those lines. In that way, I got their contact information and I can create a follow-up sequence. And I talked to a couple of other people about this as well in terms of what their e-mails to actual attendees and it seems like it’s about, somewhere between 30% and 50% is pretty average. You get over 50% for a webinar where people have signed up for it and then you’re e-mailing them about it the day before and then the day of an then maybe an hour before. The sign up percentage to people who actually is only about 30% to 40%. I’ve seen lower as well. I’ve seen as low as 20 but it does work. You can get people to sign up for those webinars. But once you’ve got their e-mail address, then you can continue to market additional stuff to them. And that’s really the point of this is getting their e-mail address first. I think if you go to the other direction and you put in like a turn style or something like that, either at the beginning of a video or the end of a video, there is varying levels of success with that. Wistia has some pretty good contextual information about whether or not it’s better to do with. But again, it’s all relative based on what it is that you’re doing, what the product is that you’re trying to sell. Some of the data is just a little, I don’t want to say is misleading, but it’s very sensitive. So I don’t know as there is any hard conclusions to draw from, you really have to test it based on what your market is and figure out which approach works whether it’s better to do it at the beginning or at the end.
Rob [22:38]: And this is also the time to ask yourself, “What is your unique gifting?” are you good at writing some blog post, are you good at interacting with people on Twitter, are you good at standing in front of a video camera and dong a whiteboard presentation like Rand Fishkin does, whatever. I’ve heard he just write off the cuff, write some things and then spits it out to the camera. Depending on your gifting, you’re going to lean towards that approach because all of these are things that you’re going to do over time. You either going to do them every week or you’re going to them on a quarterly basis or maybe a twice a year basis in terms of like maybe a contest or something that, but each of these you’re going to have to get good at. It’s going to be an acquired skill and so it’s something you’re going to do often. So don’t pick something that is a fad that is not going to be interesting or exciting for you or that you’re going to be really bad at because then it’s not going to be successful.
Mike [23:28]: The next strategy on our list is leverage in other people’s networks. And by other people, it doesn’t necessarily means just people, but it can also be other companies. So, if you want to do a guest blog post on, for example, KISSmetrics blog, you would talk to them. If you want to do something over on the Groove blog, you would talk to them about it and some people are going to be open to it and some people are not. But, the key is to recognize whether or not your audience is going to overlap with theirs and whether or not there is enough value that you can provide to them that is going to encourage them to essentially lets you come on and talk to their audience. Because the reality is they are giving you a certain amount of trust and regardless to the additional vetting process that they put in place to take a look at your content and make sure that whatever is going out to their audience is appropriate for it. The fact is that they want to make sure that you’re going to be delivering that value and they may say yes at front and then say no later on based on what they actually see. But hopefully you can find and identify those people and work with them to get through those types of issues and put your message in front of them and hopefully drive some traffic back to your website, and you really want to be able to capture those e-mail leads. And some of this is a little tricky because if you go and post something on, for example the KISSmetrics blog, they really want to keep people there, so it’s going to be a little bit difficult for you to drive traffic back to your website and capture leads because they want to be able to do that. But you can put in like a little byline that maybe gets a link back to your site and essentially helps to establish some authorities, then you can use it to say, “I’ve got this authority because I’ve been published over on the KISSmetrics blog for example. And I think that those are definitely things that you can use to help create additional trust on your site to help get people to sign up for the things on your landing pages. Another option is using joint ventures with people, so if you do a joint webinar series with people or a podcast episode or anything along those lines, there are lots of different ways to essentially get in front of other people’s audiences and then use those to essentially pump up your own audience.
Rob [25:22]: In terms of my concentric circle marketing approach, this is the second circle, so the outside of your own audience, but you can start with friends that you have, like colleagues in your network, right, and then branch out to then colleagues or folks who you don’t know, so they are not even warm leads but it’s kind of a cold pitch to Copyblogger or KISSmetrics or Unbounce blog, or whoever you do want to guest post for, and as long as you have some examples of your work, I found that it’s not that hard if you have high quality writing to go in with a cold pitch and get a decent guest post. Now, there is some kind of scare going on where Matt Cutts had made a comment, like guest posting was going to soon be seen as spam and that has not happened high quality guest post as far as I can see are still high quality guest post and they work really well. So, that’s not something that I have been too concerned about. I think spamming guest post like anything are being found out and Google is smarter than the spammers, in essence, and will eventually catch you. But if you’re actually doing high quality stuff, this is kind of a no-brainer, I’ve used this for a number of products and I’m quite a bit of guest posting as well as joint ventures and everything you mentioned, and I think this is a no-brainer. This is a little harder to do if you prelaunch but it’s not impossible to do, certainly the joint venture is something you’re going to want to do postlaunch.
Mike [26:44]: Next on our list, we have paid advertising. And I think paid advertising is one of those things you really want to stay away from until you get some idea of what your leads are worth to you, but it could be valuable to at least start experimenting with it early just to figure out and get a ballpark idea of how much some of those leads are going to cost you, so that you can reverse engineer what your sales going to looks like. But there is lots of different ways that you can go about paid advertising and there is numerous channels that you can go through. I think that I would almost pull in remarketing into paid advertising as well because you can leverage people who visit your site and then market to them later to try and drive them back to landing page or mailing list later on and get their contact information so that you can market to them directly later on. But, going back to just the concept of 101 to 1000, paid advertising can definitely work in that lower range. As you scale it up, obviously, it’s going to cost you heck of a lot more to start gaining those leads. But early on, it’s really not that hard to start using paid advertising to start gather e-mail address. It’s just a matter of your budget at that point and how much budget do you have to allocate to that. I think the last time I did some Twitter ads, it cost me around $4 a lead or something like that, and that was for my book launch. I probably spent around $1500 or so to get around 400 to 450 leads. So it’s definitely possible and it’s not terribly expensive to do it, but again, you have to have the time to do it and you have to have the money sitting around in order to be able to use that strategy.
Rob [28:12]: Yeah. I’m a fan of paid acquisition. This can work with both pre-launch and post-launch products. I drove a ton of prelaunch e-mail sign ups to Drip. I think it was somewhere between 500 and a thousand of the e-mails that were on the list came from Facebook ads and there are several networks out there that are worth exploring, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and AdWords are probably the top four that I would look at especially if you’re B to B, and yes, even B to B ads can work well on Facebook if you target the right audiences. Nice part about paid acquisition is you can turn it on and off very quickly, so it’s like a faucet, it doesn’t have to be a long term strategy, but it can become that if you can figure out your ROI and drive a lot of traffic. There is a lot to be set on each of those topics. What I do is, since this stuff changes every six months so dramatically, I don’t keep up on it when I’m not doing it. But if I decide I’m going to go back in and run a Twitter campaign or a Facebook campaign, then I try to find who is the expert today, who are the folks with the podcast and the blogs on this and try to buy one of their courses because they are going to have the most up-to-date information on exactly how to tweak the dials and the knobs in order to make a paid advertising campaign work for that specific network.
Mike [29:28]: So we are starting to wind down our list a little bit her, and the next one we have is offline or in-person events. And I think for offline or in-person events, you can use things like Meetup.com or you can use joint ventures with existing businesses. To me, this seems much more like a localize strategy than anything else. So if you have a retail store or physical presence some place? This is probably going to be a lot more effective than if you have just an online presence or your software company or marketing company where you’re selling something solely online, it is probably not nearly as effective for those types of things. But if you’re a consultant who works locally or freelancer and you’re trying to land local business clients, then it can be highly effective to offer a presentation or a free seminar or anything like that. You can also talk to local workshops or work groups. There are lots of small business associations throughout the country almost no matter what country you’re in. There is almost always small business association of some kind and you can talk to them and find out more about what their audience is and how they get in front of people and talk to them and say, “Hey, I’d like to do a free seminar on “X” and you just ask people for their contact information once you get there.
Rob [30:34]: I think this also includes conferences. We are at the MS build conference a few weeks ago, not something I would typically do to buy a booth at a conference, but we happen to get it included in it a partnership we are doing with Microsoft. And so, it was nice to be able to meet some folks and we did in fact add people to our mailing list based on this with their permission and we are not interfacing with them whether to get them to check Drip out or there are several partnerships that could potentially come out of that, folks wanting to offer Drip to their customer list which is obviously the more lucrative thing instead of trying to find one off to actually interface with their audiences. And so, offline events I think are so important for that networking site and getting that face to face contact that we have so little over these days with social media and webinars and all that stuff. I think there’s a real value to meeting someone in person.
Mike [31:23]: Next up, we have tweaking your website. And by this, we essentially mean, make sure that the call to actions the lead capture is on your website and that is available for everybody across the different browsers and make sure that you take a really hard look at the call to action to make sure that each page has a single function. And that function in most cases is to take them from one place to another, but in many cases, the function of that page is going to be to get somebody’s e-mail address, and it’s not necessarily to sell them something, it’s really because you want to be able to follow-up with them. I think, Rob, you did a really good talk at Business of Software a number years ago, where, I forgot the exact title, but I think it was the number one goal of your website is not to sell them something, I totally butchered it at this point, but the whole talk was about the number one goal of your sales website is not actually to sell somebody something, it’s to get their contact information so that you can follow-up on it later. Why don’t you talk a little bit more about that?
Rob [32:18]: Yeah. That talk was just based on the idea that you don’t sell very many things to first time visitors and you sell the majority of your sales are going to come to folks who have been to your website multiple times. And so getting folks back to your website is really the number one goal rather than trying to make the sale too soon and asking for the sale too soon is a real danger. It will drive people away for kind of up in their face asking for money with buy now buttons and you don’t get their e-mail or you don’t get away to connect with them later, then you’re going to leave a lot of money on the table, so building your e-mail list is really the whole point of this episode. In the last episode, I know we’ve talked about doing it as a prelaunch thing but frankly, it’s the same thing, it’s just getting permission to contact folks and get them to come back to your site when it launches or if you already launch, it’s to educate them and build a relation with them over time, provide them a ton of value and then as they come back and once they are really ready to move into your product’s market. S
So let’s say they are already using MailChimp and they are just thinking about switching to a different e-mail provider, but it might take them three months or six months to make that decision, and if you’ve been sending them any mail newsletter every week with some pretty valuable content, then you’re going to be top of mind when they do in fact decide to change. Because most of these decisions to buy a product or to switch from one product to another, don’t happen instantly. They don’t happen in the 10 seconds that someone has between launch and the first meeting after they get back from launch, they don’t decide it that quickly. And so getting their e-mail address and being able to reconnect with them is really where the value comes. And to round out our approaches for the day, I had added the invitation viral loop and the idea here is that if you’re prelaunch, you’ve probably seen some places where you put in your e-mail address and then it says, “Hey, you’re on our list, we love it if you’d tell other folks about it.” You can either just ask nicely which won’t result in a ton of shares, but if you have a really sought after product, you can run it almost like a contest where the more people who- this person signs up, the higher they move in the list, the higher the priority. So they get access to it first, and again, this only works on something that folks really want to get access to but I see a bunch of B to C or B to b company has used this to effect and it can help build your prelaunch list faster than if you were just trying to find folks [?].
Mike [34:35]: I think this is interesting concept. I know Kickofflabs has it, but they do it directly as part of the sign up. So when you first sign up for a mailing list, immediately ask you to share it with your friends and I think that works in certain scenarios and I think that there are other scenarios where you essentially have to provide the value before somebody is willing to essentially spend their social credit in order to invite their friends or talk to their social networks about whatever it is that you’re offering. For this particular thing, think about what it is that you’re offering and whether or not it makes sense to have them share it upfront or ask them down the road. I think that there are opportunities for both of those things, you just have to think about which one applies to your situation. And I think last on our list is we had an interview with Gabriel Weinberg a while back and we were talking to him about his book called Traction, and I think that virtually every approach in the Traction book is also something that you could use to try and help build your e-mail list. So we won’t recap that but we will link it up in the show notes, so that you can go take a look at that episode and find out more about it.
Rob [35:34]: As we said at the beginning of this episode, this episode could go on forever because it’s essentially a long list of different marketing approaches, it’s the, “How do I market my product? How do I build my e-mail list?” question. It’s a very large question and for me, I put together a marketing plan in a Google doc., so that I can capture all these ideas and figure out which ones are working and figure out what ideas I hear on a podcast or in an audiobook or somewhere else that I think, “I totally want to try that.” So typically, I will e-mail it to myself, so it’s in Trello board and then later on I will transfer that into a marketing plan that’s more of my long term vision of what I want to do over the next couple of years as I have time, and then as soon as I have bandwidth, as soon as I want to try that next marketing approach, then I pull it out of that marketing plan and I go after it. The short list, this is what we see as a low hanging fruit for building your e-mail list and basically, marketing your business and expanding it, but there are whole lot of other approaches available for your podcast, books, and the like.
Mike [36:29]: If you have any other ideas for building your e-mail list, make sure to go over to the Startups for the Rest of Us podcast website and add them in to the comments at the end of the post. If you have any others that you want to add to building your e-mail list from 0 to 1000, please feel free to go over to the Startups for the Rest of Us podcast website and add them in to the comments. If you have a question for us, you can call our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or e-mail it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We‘re Out of Control” by Moot, it’s used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, and we‘ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike revisit eight things they wish they knew when they were starting out. After five years of additional knowledge and experience they share some new tasks on the topic.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to revisit eight things we wish we knew when we started out. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 234.
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 Mike.
Rob [00:23]: And I’m Rob.
Mike [00:24]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week Rob?
Rob [00:27]: Well, by the time this episode airs, I will be heading to San Francisco for Microsoft’s Build conference.
Mike [00:34]: Interesting. So how’s that going to work out?
Rob [00:36]: Yeah, because when we were offline you said, “Oh, because of all the .NET development you guys are doing these days,” because we’re [?] now, but Drip has been asked to be part of one of the Microsoft programs, and it’s kind of a nice little enterprise deal for Drip. They bought a bunch of licenses and they’re going to be implementing – I obviously can’t give too much. There’s an NDA until they announce it, but they’re integrating it into one of their big programs, so they comped us a booth there, and I think I’m recording a couple podcasts while I’m up there, and doing some lightning talks – couple fifteen minute talks about marketing automation and that kind of stuff. So, if you find yourself at MS Build give me a tweet @Robwalling or just swing by the Drip booth, and I’d love to connect with you.
Mike [01:15]: Very cool. So, I’m still trying to catch up on work after MicroConf. I don’t know about you but –
Rob [01:19]: Yeah, same thing. I just about dug myself out of email as of yesterday.
Mike [01:23]: Yeah, it’s funny. I dug myself out of email, and I was down to I think two or three, and now I’m back up to several dozen again. It’s like, “Oh, just let it stop.” It’s almost like the post office. You wish you could opt out of email, like all email, at some point.
Rob [01:35]: I know. My executive assistant I hired has been really helpful over the past two weeks because I went heads-down on MicroConf, and then she just kept everything sorted. And, it’s not that I’m getting any less email, in fact I’m getting more email each month, but she kept stuff in the this week and the today tab. So, when I came back I really only had maybe fifty emails that I really had to respond too, and typically when I come back from MicroConf there’s like between 3 and 400 emails that I basically have to just spend a few hours sifting through and replying to. So, she saved me quite a bit of time. It made me realize she’s only saving me, whatever it is 20 minutes a day, maybe, 20 to 30 minutes, but over the course of a week of not checking email, that time really adds up.
Mike [02:14]: Yeah, but that also comes down to the fact that you have to be using that time for good.
Rob [02:19]: I’ll say.
Mike [02:20]: Because if you end up wasting that time anyway, it doesn’t really buy you anything.
Rob [02:22]: Right.
Mike [02:23]: I definitely use to have that problem where I’d save some time in certain areas, and then I’d just end up wasting it elsewhere, so I wasn’t really gaining anything. So, this week I’m testing out a Thunderclap campaign. If you go over to thunderclap.it – somebody described it to me as sort of like an aggregated buffer app. So, what you can do is go over to thunderclap.it, you can set up a campaign, and you invite people to essentially help promote whatever your product or service is, and it will schedule people’s tweets, or Tumblr posts, or Facebook posts to all go out at a specific date in the future. There’s specific limits about how many people you can invite. There’s different levels that you have to meet, or you can pay for it to just go out no matter what. If you pay for it, then it’ll give you additional benefits of the service, so they have, essentially a freemium model.
It’s interesting because you can invite all these people to promote something that you’re doing, and then at the designated time, they all basically go into the social networks all at the same time. So, if you get a hundred people contributing, and each of them have say 2,000 followers, for example, then you get exposure to like a hundred times 2,000 people, which can be pretty significant. I mean, the time window for that exposure I think is pretty limited, but at the same time, you can get a lot of exposure all at once as opposed to doing it piecemeal and trying to get it throughout the course of like several weeks or months.
Rob [03:44]: Yeah, it’s certainly convenient. I had never heard of this before. I’m assuming it’s a new service, but it’s certainly convenient, and you’re using it for your book launch right? Your Single Founder Handbook comes out in a couple weeks, and at a certain date, at 11am Eastern, all of these tweets, and tumbles, and Facebook posts are going to go live all at once. So, I’m curious to see what impact it has, and to hear back about the experiment.
Mike [04:03]: Yeah, me too. It’ll be interesting just to kind of watch and see what happens. If nothing else, I mean, it’s not like I spent a whole heck of a lot of money on it.
Rob [04:10]: We have some new iTunes reviews, several new reviews actually. We have 417 worldwide reviews, and the most recent are from Trevor Jaye. He says, “Motivational, educational, and entertaining. These guys are great, and the fact that they can put out such great content every week is amazing. I highly recommend anyone looking for a bit of inspiration to tune into these guys as much as possible.” We also got a five-star review from Zach Kessin. He says, “Don’t make all the mistakes yourself. Learn from these guys who are sharing what they know so well.” So thank you very much for the iTunes reviews. If you haven’t given us a five-star review, we would love it if you would log into iTunes, or Stitcher, or Downcast, and you don’t even need to write out any sentences. You can just click the five-star button. We really appreciate it; it helps us keep the show going. It’s motivation for us, and it helps us rank higher in iTunes, and it helps more people find us.
Mike [04:57]: So, I remember reading a blog post from Joel Spolsky years and years ago, about something that they were doing where the interesting part of it was that the CEO was basically dealing with all these printer issues to print labels and manually send stuff out, and I’ve realized that he wasn’t joking when he said that sending products out manually was a logistical nightmare.
Rob [05:17]: I endured the same thing when I initially sold my book. I think I sold 300 copies, and then I had to fulfil them, and I had no plan in place to do that. It’s a lot more work than you think it is to pack 300 books.
Mike [05:27]: It is. It’s way more work than I thought it would be.
Rob [05:30]: I wound up hiring a local college student to come for an eight-hour day and basically fill out custom forms. This is before stamps.com, or at least before I knew it existed, because that’s what I would do now is get the scale and have someone do that. I actually had to go to the post office and do it. So, you had to fill out custom forms basically by hand. So, I had her come over for about eight hours and paid her to affix labels and do all that kind of stuff. It was well worth it. Even beyond that, I still had a bunch of logistical work of printing labels myself.
Mike [05:58]: Got you. Yeah, I found my wife had some things just laying around to be able to print the labels, so that was actually the easy part, but going through all the books and signing them all, that’s the part that really just takes forever. Instead of hiring a college student, I roped my wife into sitting there doing all that stuff for me.
Rob [06:13]: Or your kids, I think any one of those would be a good plan.
Mike [06:16]: I don’t know. My wife put the first couple of labels on incorrectly. They were in the wrong spot. The return address was in the middle, and I’m like, “What are you doing?”, and she’s just like, “I’m sorry, I just wasn’t paying attention.”
Rob [06:25]: Nice. Yeah, I have my eight-year old help sometimes fulfilling Drip t-shirts and books and stuff, and I will often have to correct his work.
Mike [06:34]: It’s almost like hiring.
Rob [06:35]: I know. It’s so hard to find good help, right? So what are we talking about today?
Mike [06:40]: Well, we originally did a version of this topic back in Episode 4. It’s been nearly five years, and the episode at the time was called “8 Things We Wish We Knew When We Started”, and I figured what we’d do is we’d go through that topic again, and see if there are different things that we would say now versus what we said then. So, I wanted to just revisit it. There’s five years of learning between when we did that episode and now. So, is there different advice that we would give ourselves, is kind of the main question. So, I copy-pasted the list into our outline, and I put that at the bottom. I didn’t really look through things before coming up with my list of four and you’ve got your own list of four, but I figured we’d go through them, and see how things are different now than they were five years ago.
Rob [07:18]: This is one of the most requested episode formats. We often get, “Hey you guys talked about x in Episode 15. What do you think now?” It’s pretty frequent, so I can see us doing several of these in the coming months; basically revisiting some old topics and giving a new take on them. It might be interesting to read our lists from Episode 4 before we start. My four from back in 2010, I guess, was that traffic isn’t enough, that one big link won’t make you successful, to thinking years not months, and that marketing and sales take as long to learn as software development.
Mike [07:50]: And my list was: number one, the amount of administrative overhead of creating a business is a lot higher than you think it is, number two, you can’t do everything yourself – outsourcing time consuming tasks is essential to success, three, don’t waste time making the optimal decision, make a decent decision and move on, and four, if it’s easy in the beginning, that’ll probably change – if it’s not easy that’s normal.
Rob [08:08]: Nice. So, let’s dive into what we’ve put together for this episode, kind of the updated takeaways. My first one is to play long ball – essentially, to think in years and not months. Like I said five years ago, I think that still holds true, and it’s something I really believe in, even having moved down the line now and been doing this for longer. I think that kind of ties into the stair-step approach that we talked about a few episodes ago, that I blogged about, that I’ve now had in talks. It’s that the odds are not great that you’re going to start something and have this grand success within a few months. That any time you hear about people doing it, there are typically some extenuating circumstances, that someone has tried five different apps, and then the sixth one caught, and grew really quickly. Or, if someone does it on their first app, that it usually is more of a Cinderella story. It’s a really unique outlier situation if someone does have quick success. So, think in years, not months, and go in it as a marathon, and look to play long ball instead of trying to get instant growth and instant success.
Mike [09:08]: Mine in some ways kind of ties into that theme or idea, because my first one is you can’t skip steps in the learning process. What I’ve realized is that if you try and reach too far, then things are just going to be that much harder for you. And, in some ways, I was kind of thinking about your stair-step approach in this, where there are certain things that you almost have to learn along the way. As you said, I mean, if there’s that Cinderella story, there are people out there who have gone from 0 to 100 in the first shot, but that’s not common. By skipping some of those steps, or trying to intentionally skip them, it makes it that much harder for you. You might as well have gone for something smaller in order to go through that learning process, because you have to go through it in some way, shape, or form. You’re better off doing some smaller things in order to get that experience and the successes under your belt, not just the learning successes but also the financial successes under your belt as you go through it, because if you go too far without those financial successes, obviously your runway’s going to fall short. So, you need to go through those steps in order to learn things as you go along.
Rob [10:09]: My second thing I wish I knew when I started out is the importance of relationships. Especially, seven, eight years ago, as I was really starting to come into fruition and have apps generate the majority of my income, I was trying to do it all on my own, because there really wasn’t a bootstrap community at that point, and I didn’t have connections. I didn’t have a mastermind group. There was no MicroConf . I didn’t have a network that I could leverage. People told me, “You need to build relationships.” Or, I’d read this in books, or hear it in podcasts or whatever. I didn’t realize how important that would actually be, and that having a community of like-minded people – how important that is, how much quicker and enjoyable it can make the journey, not only in ways of people helping you out, offering to promote your product, offering to give you feedback, but even the support of being able to talk to other founders and find out that what you’re going through is normal, and the hard times are what we all go through.
Having a mastermind group to talk to and get advice, some of the key insights of the last couple of years have come out of the two mastermind groups that I’m in. So, I think that if you’re trying to do this all on your own, and listening to a few podcasts, and you’re reading books, and you think that you’re just going to be able to kind of dive in based on pure knowledge and tactics and grow something, I think you’re missing out on a big piece of it, and I think you’re going to dramatically extend the length of your journey, and not in a good way. Right? You’re going to prolong the learning. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes that you would otherwise not if you had folks around to lend you a hand and lend you support.
Mike [11:43]: The second thing I wish I knew when I started out was that establishing trust is a critical step on your marketing path. I mean, I knew when starting out that people do not just come to your website and then buy from you. That’s not common behavior from most people. However, one of the things that I don’t think I fully grasped was the importance of all the different follow-ups and the individual touches from people, whether it’s emails, or different things on your website, or white papers, or phone calls, things like that. I don’t think I fully grasped how important all those little things are, because they add up to a level of trust that essentially helps convince people to buy, because people just online are typically in this mode of “no”. That’s their first thought. “Are you interested in this?” “No I’m not.”
I think it’s just very common for people who are browsing around on the internet, they see an offer of some kind, and their immediate answer is “no”. But, given enough time, and enough trustworthy touches, I’ll say, it essentially brings them over. Especially if they were interested in it at all. I mean, because they need to be able to trust you in order for them to buy into whatever the product or service is that you’re offering. And, it’s not going to be an immediate thing. It might be three or four emails or something like that, it might be an email course, it might be thirty or forty emails. But, you have to get through all of those different things to help establish the trust between you and the prospect in order to get them to essentially come over to the side where they look at it and say, “Hey, I trust this person enough to give them my money, and I think that I’m going to get value out of this transaction.”
Rob [13:09]: Yeah, and there’s varying ways to approach this. I think the two most common are to go out and build a personal brand and build an audience, and people then know, like, and trust you. This is done typically through blogging or podcasting or video blogging, whatever, Instagram, and people feel like they know you. Then you have some type of product you can sell them, whether that is a book, or a conference, or a physical product like Gary Vaynerchuk with wine, and that’s one way to do it. If that’s your thing, and you’re the personal brand type, and you want to build a personality and put in the time, it’s a long road because you have to put in a ton of time creating that content. That does not happen over the course of six months. It’s years and years of showing up every week and producing. I think some people come out and say, “This is the best way to do it, and the only way to do it.” And I totally disagree with that. I think it’s one approach.
The other approach is we see folks who build a software product. They build maybe a SaaS app and they establish trust not through a personal brand, not through blogging and putting out content every week, but through sticking around and building a product name that people start to associate with something, right? It’s essentially a brand, it’s trustworthy. So, you can see examples of this, like maybe with Bidsketch, or I think Baremetrics has a brand, and I think WP Engine now has a brand name. I would venture to say that in our circles, Drip has some kind of brand name. You don’t have to do it through a personal brand; you can build trust, like you said, with getting folks on a product email list essentially, like an email crash course, and building a relationship over time and providing value. Then, when someone’s ready to buy, it’s not some type of cold sale, although it might start off as a cold touch if you’re sending traffic to your site through ads. But, if you nurture them over time through these various touches, you can build trust without having to do the whole personal brand thing.
The third thing I wish I knew when I started out is that certain products have one natural marketing channel, and that in most cases you shouldn’t spend time looking for others beyond that channel. What I mean is certain websites might get a ton of organic SEO traffic. An example of this would be my beach towel website years ago, or if you have an e-commerce site that has long-tail rankings, or if you have a WordPress plugin that ranks in wordpress.org, they get 80, 90% of their traffic from a single source. It’s a very natural marketing channel for that product, but the mistake that I made early on, especially, was to then try to take that product and double down on it, and spending six months or a year trying to find other marketing channels and grow it. Often times if you have a product with a single channel, this is what I call a step-one product, it really isn’t worth the time trying to make ads work or try to do content marketing for a WordPress plugin, or going outside of this single channel that is essentially free traffic.
Mike [15:57]: So, are there any specific criteria that you can think of that would essentially relegate different products into “this is the only channel where this is going to work”, as you said, the natural marketing channel for it? Are there certain criteria or characteristics of them?
Rob [16:10]: Yeah, typically it’s lifetime value. Typically if it’s a one-time sale, and the lifetime value is less than say, I’ll ballpark it at about $120. If it’s less than that, it’s going to be really hard to invest money and acquire customers, because display advertising, pay per click, content marketing, any type of outbound email, any of that stuff, you’re going to need to make more than a minimum of 120. Realistically around 200 is when it starts getting easier. So, if you have one-time sales, and you’re only making 30, $40 off a sale, you just don’t have a lot of choices. If you have a current price, and you’re making more than that, between 120 and $200 that’s when you can start thinking, “Okay, I’m going to invest into some SEO. I’m going to have some articles written. I’m going to start building that email list. I’m going to go beyond buy ads and really expand out.”
Mike [17:00]: The third thing I wish I knew when we started out was that in many cases, it’s better to not know anything about what you’re getting into. Two notable examples I can think of off the top of my head were MicroConf and my book. I think in both cases, these things turned out well, but I wonder, going into it had I known how much work it was going to be, if I was going to go through and follow through with it. I mean, it was something that I wanted to do, but I didn’t fully realize how much work and effort it was going to take. I think a lot of other people have comments on this as well. I think Paul Graham has also said this. Basically, just not knowing what you’re doing can be an incredible benefit because you don’t know how hard it is, and until you get into it you don’t realize it. In fact, sometimes until you’re done with it, you don’t necessarily realize how hard it was. So, you’re willing to take those risks, you’re willing to go through that learning experience because you didn’t know any better.
Rob [17:50]: Yeah, I agree with this, actually. I have found myself in the midst of some things that were worth doing, but they were harder than I wanted them to be. Had I known how hard they’d be, I probably wouldn’t have started them. MicroConf , like you said, is a great example. I think building an app from scratch and growing Drip is another example of the last two plus years of my life spent doing it. These are hard things and I think as founders we have to do them. I think that’s how we’re wired, and if we didn’t do them we would be unhappy, I think, in general. I think that’s kind of what we need to do, but being a little naive about how hard these things actually are I think is a natural benefit, kind of like forgetting how painful childbirth is or something like that. It’s an adaptation that allows us to revisit these pains and keep doing them over and over, in essence.
My fourth thing that I wish I knew when I started out is that having multiple products is good. I like the diversification, I like the experience you get. But, entering multiple markets is not good. This is a mistake that I made early on because there was no one around to tell me that it was a mistake. But, in essence, I feel like I probably wasted quite a bit of time in having multiple small products that were in disparate niches, right? So, I was selling beach towels to consumers, I had some e-books on just random topics that were totally unrelated, I had .NET invoice selling to, essentially, .NET developers, consultants, and some small businesses who wanted control of their data. I had a number of other products, and there was no overlap between the audiences. There’s an old marketing saying that I like, and it’s, “Selling an existing product to a new audience is good. Selling a new product to an existing audience is good. But you almost never want to sell a new product to a new audience.” That’s when it’s hardest, right? When you’re first starting out, you have to do that, but once you get one under your belt, my advice would be to not stray out and try to do this new market and new product thing again, because that’s when the time frame really extends and the learning is so painful. So, if I could do it all over again, I would have looked to take the initial audience of the first product or two that were successful, and double down on that, and essentially, find out what else they needed, and basically build or acquire products like that. I just think the flywheel and the momentum that you build serving the same market, there’s a ton of benefit to it.
Mike [20:13]: The fourth thing that I wish I knew when I started out was that community is everything. I think this relates back to number two for yours, but it’s hard to get by completely on your own. I think that when I started out, back in 2005 or so, there was a part of me that really believed that you could just kind of sit in your basement and work on stuff and things would work out for you. You didn’t need other people. Obviously, a lot of things have changed since then, but I feel like in the last five years it’s really emphasized to me the importance of having all those other people to rely on and talk to, whether it’s MicroConf , or inside a founder cafe, or just in a mastermind group. All these other people, just as you said, they give you direction, they give you these other insights about their experiences that you don’t have, or you’re not privy to, because you didn’t have those experiences. So, they can help direct you on the right path and keep you off of the wrong one.
Rob [21:01]: So, you actually had four more that you came up with, under the “others” category. So, these are like our four bonus things we wish we knew when we started out.
Mike [21:09]: And, it’s interesting. I wrote these down because I was just kind of brainstorming a little bit about what sorts of things that came to mind that either other people have brought to me, or I’ve kind of noodled around in the back of my head a little bit, but we’ll go through these four. The first one was that the more you learn, the harder it is to make decisions sometimes. This kind of goes back and relates a little bit to the fact that sometimes it’s better to not know anything about what you’re getting into. But, if you know a lot about something, sometimes it’s difficult to make a decision because you start thinking about all these “what if” scenarios. You think about all the different challenges and problems you’re going to have, and all these different things, and you view them as roadblocks. So, you sit there and you spend more time trying to think about how to avoid those roadblocks rather than actually sitting down, doing the work, and just saying, “Okay, I’m just going to plow through this, regardless of however long it’s going to take.” So, maybe it takes you a little bit of extra time to plow through them, but you are not procrastinating, you’re essentially wasting all that other time trying to think of ways around the problems that you haven’t even gotten into yet.
Rob [22:08]: Kind of the curse of knowledge, right?
Mike [22:10]: Yeah.
Rob [22:11]: Yeah, I think that the more I’ve learned, I have found it easier to make decisions, but I do think that I found it harder to give clear, concrete advice when people ask questions because I think of all the things that could potentially go wrong now. I see so many more pitfalls. So, I think in talking about it, I have – naturally I put up a lot more caveats. It’s always “it depends”, and there’s a lot of different variables and then you have to give ranges. I think things were so much more clear five years ago when I knew a lot less, and I could just emphatically say, “Yes, you should always do this. You should never do that.” The more I learned, the more I realized that that’s not the case, actually. That’s why I’m suspicious when people come out and use these words: always, never, should, because they reek to me of inexperience, of your view is not broad enough to realize that there are nuances to this and that none of these things are black and white. Very, very rare that you’ll find something that where “never” and “always” apply.
Mike [23:09]: The second one was that you’re never too old to become an entrepreneur. I actually had a couple of people joke to me leading up to MicroConf that, “Oh, I’m going to be the oldest person there.” The reality is it doesn’t necessarily matter. I mean, people have different career paths and different personal life arcs that go along with them. You can be 21 years old, you can be 65, you can be 75. I mean there are definitely entrepreneurs out there who are also advanced in their years. It almost doesn’t matter. You’re never too old to start something new.
Rob [23:39]: The third one is that knowing what you want or need isn’t as important as knowing why you want or need it. I think this depends on your time frame. I think if you’re early in your entrepreneurial career and maybe you’re trying to quit your job, I think knowing that you want and need it and that you’re willing to really drive for it and invest a lot of time, I think that’s as important as knowing why, because I think just getting there is such a journey that focusing on it is huge. Now, once you get there, you’re suddenly going to discover “wow, this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”. It’s great, but it doesn’t fulfil you for the rest of your life, right, the arrival fallacy in that you get there and then within a few months you then need to start sorting out your “why”. I think that’s at every step. At every goal and big arrival that you think you’re going to have over the course of your 20, 30 year entrepreneurial career, I think first you need to decide on “what”, and then you’re going to get there and you’re going to achieve that “what”, and then you have to figure out “Why did I do that, and why did that fulfil me?” And that “why” that drives you to that next “what”, that next thing of what is it that I’m going to pursue and how am I going to kind of chart this course of starting businesses.
Mike [24:48]: Yeah, for me this one was more about understanding that the “why” is not about what it is that you’re achieving, it’s about the journey to achieve it. Your real goal isn’t necessarily to achieve whatever the goal is, but it’s to enjoy that journey, to go through it, and experience all the things that go with it. Yes, it’s great to achieve whatever the goal is, whether it’s $10,000 a month in revenue, or 50 or 100. That’s great, but knowing that your journey is essentially the driving reason behind it, at least for me, that’s the driving reason. Different people are going to have different thoughts about why it is that they want to achieve these different goals. But to me, it’s the journey that’s important; you have to enjoy life and to enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing. If you’re not enjoying it, then why bother?
And then the last one on my “others” list was “quitting while you’re ahead is not the same thing as quitting”. I remember this as a quote from the movie American Gangster. It just struck me as something that is fundamentally truthful, because you look at that and say, “Well, if you’re quitting, nobody likes a quitter.” But, at the same time, when you’re quitting while you’re ahead, because you know that other things are going to come along that are either better or are going to torpedo all the things that you’ve done so far, you’re essentially recognizing what your situation looks like and making a conscious decision to move on, versus being in a situation where you’re fighting a losing battle that you cannot possibly win. For example, a number of years ago where they were trying to create a calendar app. It was going to be all web-based, and then all of a sudden out of left field Google comes along and announces that they’re coming out with a calendar app as well. Instead of trying to fight against that machine, they did what I thought was a very admirable move, and just decided to kind of pull the plug and say, “We’re going to quit this. We’re going to go on and move on to something else.” They made that as a conscious decision and I think that’s the differentiating factor here, is that you’re making a conscious decision to move on versus fighting against a machine that you know you’re going to lose against, and folding up shop well in advance of that because you’re deciding to say, “Hey, look this is not going to work out. I recognize that. I’m just going to move on and I’m going to do something where I can be successful.”
Rob [26:47]: That wraps us up for today. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We‘re Outta Control by MoOt used under creative commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.