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How not do to SEO/SEM, lesson #1

By , August 30, 2011 12:58 pm

Today we received this wonderfully attractive offer for a company to improve our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) with their Search Engine Marketing (SEM) services.

I reproduce this in full, edited to change the phone number and icq number to random numbers. What strange things about this communication do you notice?

ONLINE ADVERTISING

Resources:
- SEO - website optimization;
- Banners;
- Context advertising;
- Mass email distribution.

Any type of payment.
Detailed statistics in a personal cabinet.
Great results.

Minimal order starting from $ 100.

please contact us:

Phone:  +1  (2 3 4) -5 67 -8 9 -0 1 
icq: 123 456

The email title was Business Promotion, the sender was Glen.

For a company that claims to demonstrate that it is capable of helping you they do some interesting things.

  • Unsolicited email communication to a non-existent email address at our company.
  • Generic Email title
  • No business name to identify who is contacting you.
  • No website URL for you to visit to view the quality of their work.
  • Anonymous contact name (Glen). Even if the person is called Glen you still don’t know their name.
  • Generic email address (in this case gmail) preventing you from identifying the company using the email domain.
  • Telephone number provided with multiple dashes, presumably added randomly to try to hide the number from spam detectors.
  • Various claims of competence but zero way for you to verify that by visiting their website.

Doesn’t that email just inspire you with confidence that the sender of the email can and will do a good job and will do it without using tactics that will damage your business?

This email did in fact get past the email filters, which is how I came to see it. Totally clueless marketing of their service. Although the email inspires me with zero confidence that the purveyors of this service are worth hiring, what if they are worth hiring? Perhaps they can do a good SEO job but just don’t know how to do other marketing properly? Its easy to dismiss them on the grounds they must be clueless based on the email, but if they are good at SEO they are seriously messing up.

Lamb not spam

At the very least in the UK, you need to do the following:

  • Email communication to a real email address at our company. If the email is on topic and relevant then it may not be considered spam by the recipient.
  • Informative, non generic email title
  • Include your business name to identify yourself.
  • Include your full name to identify yourself. Not just your first name.
  • Website URL for your prospective customer to visit to view the quality of your work.
  • In the UK, email communication must also include the business trading address (not the registered address), by law. You also need to list your registered company number if in England or Wales.
  • Optionally include your telephone number.
  • Lastly and most importantly, a relevant message for the recipient.

I’m not suggesting that you spam anyone (far from it), but I am suggesting that if you want people to respond to your email, you need to include a few minimum items in your email. The more things you omit or try to hide (as in the example above) the more red flags you raise that will result in your email being rejected.

BTW. Even if this particular email had been presented to me properly it would have received short shift because it is not relevant for what we want to do. But I thought it was interesting as an example of how badly email communication can be done.

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Why you should go to conferences

By , August 25, 2011 10:12 am

Why should you go to a conference?

I’m sure there are many different answers to this question, but I’m posing this question in response to the first question Rob Walling asked me when I arrived at MicroConf. “What are you hoping to get from MicroConf?”. I was a bit blindsided by the question – I’d had 5 hours sleep after a long journey starting at 5AM in a timezone 8 hours different. I just didn’t have an answer. Which I guess left those in the group we were talking in a bit puzzled – its not the hardest question in the world.

I never used to go to conferences. I was full of the self-doubt and “I’m a fake, a fraud, I don’t know what I’m doing.” anxiety that it seems so many entrepreneurs have. I live in the middle of nowhere and despite Cambridge being 20 miles down the road with the famous university, Science Park, Innovation Centre etc I don’t know any of the folks there. So my view of my business was rather limited to my own perspective. And you really do need other people’s perspectives. I still haven’t got to many meetups in Cambridge – something to work on (its work that keeps me away from the meetups!).

European Software Conference

I’d ummm’d and arr’d about going to Business of Software twice and never quite done it. So having screwed up on going to BoS 2010 I thought what the hell I’ll go to the European Software Conference in Vienna in November. The worst that could happen would that I’d speak to no one and have a boring few days on the outskirts of Vienna. The ESWC website is horrible. Its living in the past, design wise – it doesn’t fill you with confidence. The conference is not particularly well attended. Some of the speakers are good (for example: Dave Collins of Software Promotions) and some less so. A mixed bag. But the good speakers were worth listening to. I hired one of them for a consulting gig a few months later.

However the socialising, meeting other software developers and business owners. That was great. It was also tiring – not uncommon for some people to still be in the bar at 2AM (on the last night it was about 4AM for some of us) talking about stuff. And all done sitting down, having a drink and a chat.

This experience was great – people were surprised at what I’d managed to acheive. Plenty of validation for what I’d been doing. And from the speakers I found interesting, some useful hints, tips and ideas.

This was completely different to the MicroConf meetup experience which was all standing up and which ended early (everyone had gone by 11:30PM). I think that may be a cultural thing. I can live with it ending early, but I hate the standing up chatting thing, sitting is so much nicer (and you drink less if you sit).

MicroConf

So Why did I go to MicroConf? Simple – if I got one good idea from any of the speakers or from any of the attendees that would be a good enough reason to go to MicroConf. Good ideas are hard to come by. People complain at the cost of books. Rubbish, books are cheap – a good book is filled to the brim with advice, some of which may be application to your situation and which may not know. How much would it cost to hire a consultant or expert to get the same advice? Exactly. So although my plane ticket to MicroConf cost more than the conference itself, I got a lot of interesting hints, tips, insights from MicroConf. And I came home a lot more focussed and more importantly interested in different things than before I went to MicroConf.

Business of Software

I haven’t been to the previous Business of Software conferences and each time afterward I’ve regretted it. I’m going this year. Its much more expensive than MicroConf. But if I get one good idea, or a change/improvement in focus/attitude then I’m sure it will have been worth the effort.

Conclusion

So next time you’re umming and arring about whether you should spend what seems like a lot of money travelling to another country, paying for the conference, the hotel and all the other costs, stop thinking about the expense and think about that possibilities for change as a result of attending.

That said, there is a limit. I would not attend the $10,000 a day marketing conferences. I can’t see that level of expenditure being recouped – I’m not in that business. After all, what you get is an intangible.

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MicroConf 2011 – Website teardowns and wrapup

By , August 22, 2011 12:00 pm

In this final article about MicroConf I’m going to cover the speakers at MicroConf that I haven’t written about – Todd Garland, Marcus McConnell and David Hauser.

David Hauser

David Hauser runs grasshopper.com. He was going to speak about generating buzz.

David arrived at MicroConf then had to leave before he could speak due to a personal emergency. I hope that things worked out well for him.

Todd Garland

Todd Garland is founder of BuySellAds.

Todd’s story is a rather unusual one. He grew BuySellAds from nothing to $1.5 million in 11 months, while at the same time holding down a 9-5 job at Hubspot, a rapidly growing inbound marketing company. Most people working somewhere like Hubspot probably would not look to jump ship, but that is ultimately the decision Todd had to make.

I didn’t record Todd’s speech. I can’t remember why. I have a few brief notes. The key points are:

  • Overcome fear by doing.
  • Automate everything.
  • Do not do one-off work for customers. It is better to discard such work as it keeps you focused on the business and keeps the product simpler to use and simpler to maintain.
  • Invest in customer happiness and good vibes.

Marcus McConnell

Todd Garland is founder of BV Software.

I didn’t record Marcus’s speech or take any notes during his speech. I think this was because it was about a shopping cart and I thought it wouldn’t be interesting. I was wrong. But I have no notes or recording to recall the interesting bits of the speech.

I apologise if this leaves you feeling empty handed, but my initial reason for recording was for personal use. It was only afterwards that I decided to write up my notes and audio.

Website Teardowns

Due to the space left in the programme by David Hauser being unable to speak at the conference Rob and Mike decided to have a couple of website teardown sessions where different speakers would provide feedback to anyone brave enough to put their website forward for critical analysis.

The first session was with Ramit Sethi, but Ramit has declined to let me post the MP3.

The second session was with Hiten Shah and Patrick McKenzie. The MP3 is linked below.

The following URLs were the subject of tear downs in the audio. Its probably a good idea to look at the website in question as you listen to the audio. Note that some of these websites may have changed appearance since the talk because the authors acted on the criticism provided by Hiten and Patrick.

00:00 pluggio.com A Twitter client.
06:46 passwordrn.com Password recovery software for registered nurses.
09:27 freelancefunnel.com Freelance recruitment software.
12:30 bridallive.com Bridal shop management software.
18:15 grazely.com Bookmark management software.
25:30 studguru.com Make men happy by keeping their woman happy.

Conclusion

I cross the Atlantic and the USA to go to MicroConf. No one else from Europe could be bothered. No one from Asia came except for Patrick McKenzie. I’m glad I made the effort. The people, the place, the information, its all good. Would I do it again? For sure. Will I attend in 2012? Almost certainly.

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MicroConf 2011 – Hiten Shah

By , August 19, 2011 12:00 pm

Hiten Shah is founder of Crazy Egg and founder of KissMetrics. This is the closest I could find to a blog: hitenshah.name

There is a lot in this talk, some of which I couldn’t accurately write down. You will get additional insight by listening to the audio.

Hiten starts by listing some key ideas he wants to talk about.

  • Make something people want. Create a product people want to buy. Seems obvious, but many people create a product people don’t want to buy.
  • Always test your ideas first. Don’t waste time building the wrong thing.
  • Nurture earlyvangelists. You’re looking for those crazy people that are really into what problem it is you are trying to solve. These people will be willing to try your rough ideas before they are polished products.

Backstory

Hiten started a consulting company ACS. They re-invested money from this into creating products. The most successful of these was Crazy Egg, a self funded software as a service company. KissMetrics is a venture funded business. As such Hiten has run companies on both sides of the funded/not funded equation.

Hiten had one venture where they wasted $25,000 in two months following a bad idea (a podcasting advertising network). They followed lots of ideas without testing the ideas or the price points. At the end of this their partner said “I was sincerely hoping we’d find some magic combination of events that would jumpstart us”. Wow! Hiten never wanted to be in this situation again.

They also built a social media search engine.

Survey.io

Also built survey.io. The idea is “People want feedback but they don’t know what questions to ask their customers.” They created a template that works for most businesses.

Customer Development

Hiten mentions Steve Blank‘s book Four Steps to the Epiphany and the core concepts behind customer development.

You need to start with a hypothesis you can test. An example could be that “product manager” has the problem “schedule management”.
Things they wanted to learn about their target market:

  • What are they doing now?
  • What other tools are they using?
  • Who else is involved with the company?
  • How frequent and severe is the pain they have with this task?
  • What else are they complaining about?

They did 24 in person interviews, about 15 minutes each asking questions with a paper prototype. They tested calls to action. Turned out to be people intensive. Interviewees often wanted developer feedback. They built lots of user tracking detail into the product to track all sorts of action and gather feedback. All combined with easy to understand reporting.

Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg was created by trying to satisfy the problems designers had with no knowing which parts of the web page people were interested in.

Collected lots of emails prior to launch. Spent $10,000 to do it.

Early Access, not Beta

From A/B testing research they determined the Early Access makes people feel special having access to the software compared to Beta which does not.

Test yourself, don’t rely on other’s results

Hiten gives the example of the 37 Signals Buy Button which 37 Signals tested and published the results for. Hiten thinks that most people use this button without testing it. His recommendation: “Don’t do that, you need to test what works in your situation”. I think he has a point.

Recommendations

  • A/B test each landing page.
  • A/B test video for each product if you have video.
  • You should have between 3 and 7 key metrics that you measure.

Tomorrow I’ll publish the final article on MicroConf 2011.

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MicroConf 2011 – Justin Vincent

By , August 18, 2011 12:00 pm

Justin Vincent is the creator of pluggio a tool for managing your twitter account. Justin blogs at justinvincent.com. Justin talks about his experience prior to pluggio and then how he created and grew pluggio.

I’m afraid the beginning of this talk is missing, mainly I think due to me being absent minded and forgetting to press record. Sorry! You only missed a little bit of preamble.

The Big Idea

For Justin’s first business idea, he planned the idea and thought over every deal. He didn’t write any code. He spent some time on this activity. Finally after chatting with some people he realised he wasn’t going to get anywhere. But he had nothing to show for all this time. He spent $60K of VC money doing this.

Conclusion? Just get on with it.

Nanoflirt

Nanoflirt mixes online dating with real world dating. Real world cards, write their profile number on the back and then hand it to someone they like. Research indicated a possibly good idea. Build the site. Then printed a million flirt cards. But when a stranger walks up to you and hands you a card the reaction is not what he expected.

This was a fail.

Knowledge

Got involved with a social media knowledge website, spent $250K in the same space as Wikipedia.

This was a fail.

mashapi

Mash API was a good idea to put together components to allow others to easily build websites with pre-built functionality. This was probably ahead of its time and the timing was important. VCs were not interested in ideas at the time they were trying to do Mash API. The VCs liked the team and the idea, but ideas were not on the menu for funding.

This was a fail.

Its hard

Doesn’t matter how good an idea is. Sometimes that isn’t enough.
Bootstrapping is hard.

Interviews

Started interviewing people with Jason Roberts. Interviews formed the techzing podcast. Learned a lot by interviewing people.

pluggio

Justin wanted to grow his twitter following. He found posting this every day was a pain. So he started by creating a simple RSS reader that could provide stories for him to feed into twitter. This grew from a simple idea into a product that was generating revenue in a few months.

Then he ignored pluggio for 9 months until a big argument with his wife. The result was that she persuaded him to re-focus on pluggio. Pluggio was generated revenue but he wasn’t interested in marketing it. After his refocus, revenue improved 3x immediately.

Customer research showed that his simple user interface was a bonus. People were using it in preference to the complex multi-screen twitter helpers.

Trial or Refund?

Pluggio used to offer a 30 day free trial. Used to get about 50% of people cancel and receive no revenue for that 30 days. When he switched to 60 day money back guarantee much fewer people cancel and he receives revenue for every day of the period.

Its an interesting tactic and based upon the idea that once people commit to something (they commit by completing the credit card payment form) they mentally then switch models to one that supports their decision. The main problem with this is that some people will be reluctant to commit to such a refund based trial.

Free Email Course

Pluggio provide a free email course (even if they do not signup) providing useful marketing information over a 5 day period.

Free plans pay!

35% free plans convert to paid accounts. This demonstrates that freemium can work, use the free account to demonstrate the value of the service.

The free version also has a nag screen that starts after 3 days and eventually gets more persistent over time.

Bootstrapping

To help Pluggio get off the ground Justin used the following techniques:

  • Used the techniques he had learned from the techzing interviews.
  • Found 1000 users using a signup page.
  • 100% free for all users for the first month so that he could watch what users did and determine who the top 5 users were.
  • Approached the top 5 users and asked them what functionality they wanted.
  • Get Satisfaction link on every page.
  • When Pluggio was first launched Justin was getting 10 emails per day asking how Pluggio worked. So he created video answers to each question. Each video is 1 minute long. This turned 10 question per day into 1 question per month.
  • All customer questions he uses to build relationships with customers.

Tomorrow I’ll post Hiten Shah’s talk.

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MicroConf 2011 – Noah Kagan

By , August 17, 2011 12:00 pm

Noah Kagan currently runs AppSumo. Prior AppSumo, Noah worked at Mint.com and Gambit. Noah blogs at http://okdork.com/

Noah starts his talk with an MP3 rap looping “buy something, buy something…”

He surveys the room for entreprenuers, developers, wannaprenuers, etc. Says he wants to change your life, gives brief bio of where he has been etc. Intel, Gambit, Mint, AppSumo.

His talk is in 3 parts: Improving yourself, being unique, improving your business.

As his talk progresses Noah gives out hot sauce for interesting insights from audience. Also gives out stickers with one having a special code on it for a prize from appsumo. Audience engagement is good.

I didn’t know a thing about Noah Kagan before this talk. He is high on energy and focused on things that most people probably are not. I really enojoyed his talk, although the handing out of Srircacha sauce got slightly out of hand at one point (not Noah’s fault).

Improving yourself

Email

Noah only answers email twice a day. Once at the start of the day and once at the end of the day. He does this to avoid wasting time by being in reactive mode always scanning and answering email.

Benefits: Lots of free time.
Downside: Hard to have fast moving discussion.

I can relate to this. I think this will work for you or not work for you depending upon your business. If we operated Software Verification this way customers would wait a long time for customer support – I don’t think it would work for us. But there is a good germ of an idea here. If you can’t just reduce it to twice a day, can you reduce it to once per hour, or once per two hours?

Typing

Don’t waste time typing, ensure you type efficiently.

If you type 30 emails day, 50 words/email how much time do you save? If you go from typing 50/wpm to 60/wpm that is a 20% improvement. Over a year you can save a day of typing. This is fine at these speeds but doesn’t work if you are already typing at 80..100/wpm, the % improvements are smaller (12.5% & 10%).

This topic generated quite a bit of discussion later. Not many folks agreed with it because they already typed reasonably quickly. Later on several of us had a chance to chat to Noah about this over a beer. He is really focused on people that haven’t learned how to type with this comment. In that context I agree. However I think its more important to think about what you are typing before you type it. Doesn’t matter how fantastic you are at typing if what you are typing is rubbish.

The point is not typing so much as “what things in your life can you improve to save you time? To give you more time?”

Examples of this:

  • Type efficiently
  • Better tools, don’t use gmail – reactive waterfall
  • Use chrome
  • Use a faster computer. If you are waiting for your computer you are wasting time. Speaking to many MacBook Air users it seems that SSDs are a major win.
  • Annoying people, filter them in gmail. Don’t delete, filter that way they are gone for good.
  • Annoying email, filter.

Don’t allow people to waste your time. Ensure you use your time effectively.

During this part of the talk, Noah upsets a member of the audience and handles it really well. The member of the audience had won one of the bottles of Sriracha sauce and Noah had passed it back to her. What Noah didn’t know was that she was upset with him for a graphic he had shown (which he had intended to be a joke) and she threw the bottle back at the stage. She didn’t throw it far enough and if landed on some guy’s MacBook, split open and covered his keyboard with sauce, then bounced up, just missed Noah and splattered the back of the hall with sauce. No idea what happened to the MacBook, I hope she helped the unfortunate recipient to clean/fix it. (I didn’t see this incident, I was watching the slideshow. I saw the end of it, but the MacBook part of it was related to me by someone else, so it may not be correct, if you know better, please let me know).

Exercise

Found out that the routine of exercises for the marathon was really effective at improving his life and how he thought. Make a routine for exercise.

Interestingly since Noah’s talk some studies into depression and brain function have been released and they confirm improved brain function is linked to exercise. I don’t have references to this, I heard this on a BBC Radio 4 program related to this. On a personal note I swim 1km several times a week. I often get solutions to problems while swimming.

Finance

Noah puts everything on credit cards. Never puts anything on debit cards.

Knowledge

Noah sets aside time time for reading every day. During this time he does nothing else. This is a good way to take a break from “normal” work and also to educate yourself.

Difference between remembering and forgetting? Writing things down. This is also particularly effective as writing things down forces the information to be internalised differently in your brain. So as well as having a permanent written record the information is also stored in your brain in a different form.

Being unique

Be unique. What makes you, you? Differentiate yourself.

Noah consumes information from a variety of sources and recommends that you do to.

Interestingly Noah does not rate HackerNews. He gets his information elsewhere.

Interesting / Boring

Shows a job posting (boring) then another job posting (interesting) for the same job. The boring one is the standard one. Which application would you prefer to receive? The safe, boring one, or the one taking a risk by being unique?

Noah gives some examples of other people being unique. How do you do extraordinary things? How do your surprise people? He then follows this with a story of how AppSumo messed up which ultimately improved how AppSumo behave today.

Customer for life

Noah thinks you should treat people as customers for life. How would you treat customers if you could never lose one of them? What changes would you have to make to meet this goal?

Noah uses followup.cc to automatically create followups and never miss an appointment again. For him its a real time saver and email management helper.

Improve your business

Create Rules and systems for improving your business.

Noah gives an example he uses at AppSumo, the Rule of three: Three deals per week. Make it happen. Simple.

  • Checkboxes for each stage in a deal. All have to be checked before it can go live.
  • Prevents foul ups.
  • Anything done more than once, automate it.

Time

Plan your time each day so that you spend parts of each day doing tasks you need to do. Sure you can function without a plan, but things will be forgotten or left on the side and before you know it they are not getting done.

Success: The percentage of people that will work with you again

Advisors

Find an advisor that is complementary to you. For Noah that person is Andrew Chen: Marketing guru, super advisor.

Commitment

If you really want to do something, do it. No excuses.

At about this time Noah notices a conference attendee has fallen asleep. So he plays a trick (gets the audience to make a lot of noise) and the sleeping attendee wakes up wondering what he has missed.

Data driven decisions

AppSumo use data to drive all decisions in their business. Get people that bring problems to also bring potential solutions. Empower your employees to make their own decisions and take initiative.

Build models and test the models and experiment with new models. Google spreadsheet models are quite useful.

To close, Noah talks about RewardLevel – an AppSumo idea that failed.

Summary

I enjoyed Noah’s talk and found it interesting.

  • Value your time better (faster computer, etc)
  • Stop working on the wrong idea with the wrong people, use your time effectively – right business with the right people.
  • Test, experiment, use data.
  • Type Faster (wrong! type more efficiently)
  • Slides appsumo.com/noahkagan

Tomorrow I’ll post Ramit Sethi’s talk at MicroConf.

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MicroConf 2011 – Patrick McKenzie

By , August 16, 2011 12:00 pm

Patrick McKenzie starts with a “I didn’t believe I could do this” preamble explaining how he ended up learning Japanese and choosing a career with a Japanese firm that nearly killed him through exhaustion until one day he stumbled across his future business idea by accident while trying to help a colleague create some bingo cards. Patrick blogs about his business at kalzumeus.com

For reasons I can’t remember Patrick’s talk is in two parts – perhaps the batteries ran out part way through. I’ve glued the two parts together. Hope you can’t spot the join (its about 3 minutes in).

No budget

Patrick had no budget ($60) and as a result had to be creative about how he did his marketing. He researched the bingo card market and found niches to target and went after those for his bingo cards. Slowly grew the business while working on it in his spare time.

Google Conversion Optimizer

Patrick found that Google Conversion Optimizer was useful for using with Google’s content network. Only display’s content adverts at places that convert.

The Google Halloween

Discovered that Halloween is useful for bingo cards – another spike of traffic for Patrick. He wrote a blog article about it, ended up getting called by Google because his blog article was out-ranking Google’s own blog articles!

Exact Match Domain

Exact Match Domain (EMD) is when your domain name is a perfect match for the search phrase. When this happens Google give you a boost to search ranking. An example would be a search for “New York Plumber” finding the domain newyorkplumber.com. EMD works for .com, .net and .org.

Breaking Free

Eventually Patrick realised the revenue from Bingo Card Creator was starting to outstrip his paid salary job. Finally one night while he was asleep he sold quite a bit of software then calculated the hourly rate for the job that was killing him and decided it was time to quit his job and start working for himself.

Pricing

Patrick had some interesting observations about software pricing.

  • Programmers consistently underprice their software. You should double your price.
  • By charging more you automatically select out pathological customers.
  • Revenue is dominated by people spending other people’s money – monthly budget.
  • Recurring revenue is best.

Web apps

Reasons you should consider building a web app rather than a desktop app.

  • Sales double
  • No piracy
  • Faster iteration
  • Easier support
  • Better tracking of actual use
  • Better conversion rates

Make things easier for your customer, focus on the user experience.

SEO

For Patrick’s business 50% sales come from SEO, 75% profits come from SEO.

Create a reason why non-purchasers should cite your website. If someone doesn’t purchase still give them a reason to rave about you.

For all the non-core projects you do (A/B testing rather than bingo cards, etc) write about it and make it available for everyone. Give other people a reason to cite the work you’ve done. This is what Patrick calls the “Iceberg Effect”, the tip of the iceberg is the visible part of your company, the rest of your company is below the waterline and effectively invisible to everyone (and Google!). An example of this is the A/B testing system Patrick wrote for Ruby On Rails. He wrote about this and contributed the software to the community. The result was a lot more links pointing at his website, improving his Google rankings.

Create a system which makes content at scale. This isn’t possible for all businesses, but if it is possible for your business you should focus on this area for easy wins.

Optimise

A/B testing, cheap + easy to do.
Optimize the first run experience
Work on sales funnel optimization
Collect stats on eval users and re-uses.

Customer support

Do not outsource customer support. Customer support is an important source of feedback plus a great way to make a customer happy or ruin the customer relationship. This needs to be under your control.

Awkward customers

Its a fact in life that some customers are much nicer to deal with than other customers. Its also a fact that some days you are just not in the mood for dealing with awkward customers. I know I struggle with this. Patrick has an interesting, if unusual solution for this problem. When he has an awkward customer, Patrick does not write the email. Patrick’s friendly customer support puppet writes the email instead. Patrick has never known his puppet to write a snarky email to a customer.

I don’t know what Patrick’s puppet looks like, but you can see Gwendoline on the right of this text. She’s a rather sweet witch I picked up from a Cambridge market years ago. I’m sure she’d never write a nasty email to a customer – although she might be tempted to cast a spell or two!

Summary

Outsource: Web design, web content, self contained programming projects.
Automate: Routine customer support tasks. If more than 3 times, automate it.
Eliminate: Don’t do stuff that isn’t useful, ask customers before doing (lean!).

Patrick has also written up his talk.

Tomorrow I’ll post Justin Vincent’s talk.

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MicroConf 2011 – Ramit Sethi

By , August 15, 2011 12:00 pm

Ramit Sethi is author of the book I will teach you to be rich and also blogs at iwillteachyoutoberich.com.

Ramit’s talk was excellent and I’m glad I was present. He clearly knows a lot about pyschology. As with the other speakers I did record Ramit’s talk but Ramit has declined to allow me post the MP3 recording of his talk. Please do not ask for the MP3, I will not provide it. Sorry.

Ramit talks about behavioural change. How to get people to change their behaviour. For their own benefit and possibly yours too.

People are obsessed with micro-tests. Testing is important. But don’t over-test. Some tests are meaningless. You cannot test your way to success. You need to combine running the right tests with insight into what is significant and what is not significant.

You can cause behavioural change by deeply understanding your customers. Behavioural change can lead to business and/or personal success.

Said not received

Don’t do words that are said not received. Example of words that people use but which which wash of customers like water off a ducks back: “easy setup”, “fast”, “convenient”, “secure”.

Instead of “easy setup”, try “1 minute setup”. More specific benefit is better. “easy” doesn’t mean anything as it is a relative term, where as “1 minute” is a specific time amount and none-relative.

Think like a customer

Stop Thinking like an expert – don’t show off. Your customers don’t think like this or care.
Customers have their own problems, these are the problems that you should be answering.

Example:
Wrong: “What is the difference between corporate bond and mutual bond?”
Right: “How can I invest this $10,000 for the best return in 10 years?”

No one wants to be “financially literate”, they want to “know how to invest their money”.

You should write copy as if answering questions your customer have.

Paper Shredder

Ramit gives another example, this time using Paper Shredders. We’ve all used them. Ramit discusses the upsides and downsides of papershredders. He asks the audience for their ideas. Answers range from technical to benefits:

  • durability
  • security
  • number of pages
  • robust
  • hide your secrets
  • peace of mind
  • fear replacement
  • protect your identity
  • stop worrying

The number one problem with paper shredders is that they break. They typically break when they jam. Ramit then shows a very effective paper shredder marketing message.

“100% Jam Proof Shredder” (They even shred your scepticism).”

Note that there is no message on security even though all the competition messages on security. This works because the customers already know about the security benefits but they are sceptical on the reliability aspect of this product.

Customers come to learn, evaluate and buy. Your job is to improve this. Stop describing your product and start answering customer concerns. You need to understand your customer’s hopes, fears and dreams.

Proxy answers

When asking customers questions do not just accept the first answer. It may be the majority answer is a proxy for another answer. For example “I want to earn $1000 per month on the side” because “long term I want to be my own boss”. The second answer came from pushing back on the first answer.

Why ask people if they want to earn $1K on the side? Because $1K seems acheivable. On the side because you then know you don’t have to quit your job.

What do customers fear?

  • Price.
  • Isn’t worth the time to change.
  • Too hard to use.
  • Scared of breaking the computer.
  • Not enough time.
  • Is it right for me?
  • I can find this material myself.
  • I never finish things.
  • Price objections are often a proxy for some other objection.

Your testimonials should answer specific objections customers may have (using the list above).

Exclusion

Ramit deliberately excludes certain customers based on their profile. Ramit will not accept people with credit card debt. He knows that they are not good candidate customers, so he does not wish to waste time with them.

Solve the customer’s problems

Customers do not care about you. They care about solving their problems. Deeply understand their hopes, fears and dreams. Ethically help them acheive what they want to do, but they will not do for whatever reason.

Surveys

Example survey: http://earn1k.com/members/how-to-write-a-mind-blowingly-effective-survey/

Surveys are good. Ask surveys occasionally. Surveys should be no more than 5 questions and always fun to complete. Use the results of the survey to write another article for your blog. Use a good survey tool. Ramit uses surveymonkey.com

Perry Box

At one point in Ramit’s talk he showed a long form conversion page that converted really well. He then focused on a part of the page and said this is the “Perry Box”, it helps convert even more customers. I wasn’t quite sure what this was but when I asked Ramit he kindly provided me with a link about this. It’s type of button designed by Perry Belcher. This video describes how it works.

Results in Advance

Spend time writing material for your website. Deliberately set time aside to do this. This provides a lot of free material for your customers to digest. If they like what they find that increases their chances of becoming a customer. Ramit did this 6 hours a day for 30 days for one of his projects.

Price objections

Price objections are often a proxy for some other objection.
Ask your customers what their concern is – why are they visiting your site?

Testimonials

Asking people for testimonials is good, if they say yes they will be more commited to your product.

Web Forms

Remove all facebook and twitter badges from web forms. You do not want any distractions on a form.

Recommended Links

delicious.com/ramitsethi/psychlogy
delicious.com/ramitsethi/marketing
delicious.com/ramitsethi/emarketing
quora.com/Ramit-Sethi

Ramit also recommended a website firstclassliar.com but it does not appear exist.

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MicroConf 2011 – Mike Taber

By , August 12, 2011 12:00 pm

Mike Taber runs his own consulting business and also writes, markets and sells a financial compliance auditing software tool for use in the banking industry. This tool saves customers a lot of time by automating the drudge work involved proving PCI compliance with laws such as Sarbanes Oxley passed after the collapse of companies like WorldCom and Enron. Mike blogs at singlefounder.com. Mike runs MicroConf with Rob Walling and also runs Micropreneur Academy with Rob Walling.

Mike talks about the ups and downs of consulting life and why he tends to either do consulting or do product development and marketing and how the two do not sit well together.

This particular talk has been rather had to notate as so much of this talk has adlibs and references to parts of the talk that it doesn’t sit too well as text. Thus I’ve tried to give a flavour of the talk. Listening to this talk is probably best.

Hope is not a strategy

MIke starts his business with $10,000. After doing doing 8 weeks of work he has $35,000 of invoices. Then the contract is cancelled and he is informed that the invoices will not be paid. He is $35,000 out of pocket.

Hope is not a strategy. Do not assume things will fall into place. They do not always.

Have a backup plan

Always have a backup plan. Not just for your data. But also for your software and for your business.

Learn to negotiate and know the bounds of negotiation

If a deal is agreed too easily maybe you accepted too low a price. Try to identify the upper and lower bounds before negotiating.

Mike relates a story about his success then failure in 2008. You can learn a lot from failure.

  • Don’t buy fancy offices, waste of money.
  • Hire if you have to no, not because you can.
  • Overheads are too high. Leaves you exposed to economic downturns, should they happen. 2008!
  • Mike lost all his consultancy work as a result of the 2008 wreck.
  • He racked up lots of credit card debt to stay in business. Went from $80,000 profit to $90,000 on credit card. That is $170,000 swing from profit to debt. The debt was on his credit card (not ideal) because banks would not finance anyone in this time period.

Deals

Big deals are luck, not building a business. Do not confuse landing a big deal with the idea that your business is growing.

Revenue

If you have one revenue stream, obsess over it. Monthly revenue is better than one shot payments.

Mega Corp Clients

The size of your clients is irrelevant compared to size of cheques they write.

The pain point the customer has is what is relevant.

Expenses

Don’t take on expenses that you cannot mitigate. For example: Office expenses, Employees, Leases.

Know when to quit

Sometimes hard work isn’t enough. Reorganise or quit.

Last ditch efforts

Don’t invest in last ditch efforts. Last ditch efforts are called that for a reason. Do not double down on something that may or may not work. You could be investing in a failure.

Maybe its time to walk away before you double your debt level.

Changing course

Backtracking is OK, if you can correct course. Just because things have failed does not mean you cannot be a success.

You need to plan, possibly back track a few steps then start again.

Focus

Don’t forget why you started the business.

Mike stopped consulting and started working on the AuditShark.com. Consulting was killing him. Consulting brought in lots of money but he had no life.

Questions

“What is Mike currently working on?”. Mike is currently working on AuditShark.com which checks 300 compliance points on computers in small banks.

“How did Mike deal with the debt?”. Deal with debt by biting off small chunks at a time, not thinking about the overall figure.

“What things did Mike do wrong?”. When I hired a developer I didn’t set him working developing – I had him make sales calls. Bad idea.

Tomorrow I’ll post Noah Kagan’s talk.

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MicroConf 2011 – Rob Walling

By , August 11, 2011 3:00 pm

Rob Walling is a parallel entrepreneur (he runs more than one business at a time), author and conference organiser. Rob blogs at Software by Rob. His businesses include Dot Net Invoice and Micropreneur Academy.

Rob’s talk is about the lessons he has learned during his career. Some of these lessons reflect some of the personal issues Rob has faced as he realised life in the corporate cubicle and consulting world were not for him.

Personal goals

Rob talks about why you are doing what you are doing. Rob has “create” tattooed on his wrist to remind himself to always create.


Being a developer is not enough

Rob demonstrates various websites which people wrote and shows how they are worth nothing because the developers could not market the software. They tried to sell the software via flippa.com website. They remained unsold. Despite being unique. Other sites were generating revenue but when sold they get sold for very little money. This demonstrates that a software business when for sale rarely generates as much value as the cost to create the business.

You need to learn how to market software.

“If my app was done today how would I market it?” Rob asks this before writing any code.

You learn from success and failure

Rob failed 5 or 6 times before succeeding. He created a Digg for person finance news. He also created a blog search engine submission tool. Although these were a success in that they worked and did what Rob needed them to do they were failures in terms of market acceptance.

He learned always solve a problem that:

  • Has a demand. That people care about.
  • You Know how to reach customers.
  • Has a revenue model.

Customers must be able to find you.

Vertical niche vs horizontal niche

Vertical niches are good, cheap to market to, small markets so most people are not interested in trying to market to them. This in turn means you have less competition and what competition you have is probably not from a mega corporation with very deep pockets. Rob acquired DotNetInvoice and that has been a success. Turns out his main market is not small business, but .Net developers developing finance applications.

Horizontal niches are hard. For a small company, don’t try this. Do vertical niche instead.

Pricing

Low prices are hard. One time fees are no-go. High prices are better.

  • $2 doesn’t leave you room to advertise. $200 does allow you to advertise.
  • One time fees suck. No recurring revenue.
  • Adwords is unstable. You will get out-competed for keywords. So what was working stops working because of people outbidding you (unwittingly spending too much) because they don’t know how to run their campaigns.

Outsourcing

Rob likes to outsource a lot of his work. An example is CMS Themer, website theming service Rob acquired. He has since sold it at a profit mainly because it was taking too much time dealing with clients. During the time Rob had CMS Themer he outsourced much of the theming work so that he did not need to do the work. However he still had to deal with clients.

You can outsource your advertising. An example Rob gives is buysellads.com (who also speak at MicroConf, I’ll be posting their talk later this week).

Fraud

Many entrepreneurs and business founders often feel like they are a fraud. Not that they are doing anything wrong or illegal, just that they never feel like they are “doing this right”, as if somehow they feel they could and should be doing it better, but they are making it up as they go along. I’ll include myself in that bunch, I’m in good company.

To illustrate this point Rob gives us a YouTube video to watch. Its worth watching because of the illusion that is created.

The drummer/pianist Lasse Gjertsen doesn’t know how to drum or play piano. He used editing tools to create a musical piece. Rob says he still feels this way. Some of Lasse’s other work is quite unusual and interesting, especially the “life as video game” tribute to 1980s video games.

Hamster wheel vs flywheel

There are different ways of running your business.

Hamster wheel

  • One time fee for software
  • Consulting
  • Using hacker news, digg, twitter, slashdot to generate visitors

Flywheel

  • recurring sales (webapps/maintenance)
  • email list
  • SEO

Examples: The blog post “How to detect a toxic customer” ended up being discussed on HackerNews/Twitter. This required up front work. Rob regards this as Hamster wheel work.

Whereas using SEO to optimize your website for search engines repays over a long period of time. Rob regards this as flywheel work.

Examples of companies that work via their email list:Seth Godin, AppSumo, Groupon, etc.

Why you should start marketing the day you start coding

Examples:

  • Rob’s Start Small Stay Small book did not initially exist. He tested the idea for it before writing the book.
  • Rob and Mike did the same for MicroConf. At the time the Conference was announced the speakers had been contacted but no contracts signed. No conference venue had been arranged. Only when interest was high enough did they proceed with these stages.
  • DropBox tested their marketing idea with a video rather than an image.

Things to do:

  • Test landing page
  • Tweet, blog about it, etc
  • Idea validation
  • Marketing reality check
  • Instant beta email list
  • Good launch day

Easy steps to get the website up and running.

Misc

Rob donates 20% of his time per week to helping entreprenuers.

Question and Answers start at 39:00 into the linked talk.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting Mike Taber’s talk.

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