How Business of Software Conference & Mikey Trafton taught me to Love Hiring People

Shawn Anderson Admin Arsenal

Shawn Anderson, founder of Admin Arsenal, and long time Business of Software Conference regular writes about something he learned from Mikey Trafton – how to learn to love, not loathe, hiring people.

“The only thing more stressful than firing an employee is hiring one”.

I’m not sure if that’s a popular quote.

I first heard it from a lawyer friend. I wholeheartedly agreed because I used to hate the hiring process. During interview week I would scowl (more than usual), turn snippy, and just plain be a pain. Just ask my partners or employees. During interview week I could go from 0 to prick in 3.2 seconds.

Our company just hired employees number 9 and 10. That’s a big deal for us. But this time around the hiring process was different. Actually, it was enjoyable.

During BOS 2013 I was riveted with Mikey Trafton’s talk on how to hire employees. I walked away excited. I didn’t doubt Mikey’s assertions for an instant because they just made sense. How could I have been doing it wrong for so long? To sum up Mikey’s process in my own words, the key is to have job candidates disqualify themselves before you even see their resumes. It works. Just compare two processes below.

Old hiring process:

Action Company hours Candidate hours
Write great job description 2:00
Read great job description 0:00:5
Email resume 0:00:1
Receive, print, sort resumes 1:00
Review resumes 16:00


So how much time was spent by each party up to the point that the resume is submitted and reviewed?

  • Company: 19 hrs.
  • Candidate: 0.6 seconds

Clearly something has gone wrong here. Up to this point the candidate has no skin in the game.

New hiring process

Action Company hours Candidate hours
Write great job description 2:00
Read job description 0:00:5
Submit web form 0:02
Complete written assessment 1:00
Review written assessments 1:00
Review resumes 2:00


New tally of time for steps through resume submission/review:

  • Company: 5:00 hrs.
  • Candidate: 1:02:5 hrs.

Resumes are NOT the first step of candidate elimination. For our market, it’s not uncommon for a job offer to garner around 200 resumes. If you are using a resume as the first line of elimination you will waste time and will more than likely miss the needle in the haystack. I know it sounds corny, but with this new process by the time a resume got into my hands I was actually excited to read it. At this point 90% of the candidates had already eliminated themselves for whatever reason (didn’t fill out web form, didn’t complete written assessment, or the assessment didn’t pass review).

Putting it into practice

I’ll admit that I was a little nervous with the new process. That same nervousness intensified after we submitted our first job description on a local job board. In the past, using the old system, I knew that within minutes of a posting I would start to receive resumes (thank you job board bots). This new system eliminated auto-submission.

We had to wait a couple of hours before the first web form submissions came through and it took three days before we received our first written assessment. During that time I was really starting to second guess myself. Was the assessment too hard? Were we kidding ourselves? Was our old system really that bad?

Once the written assessments started coming in, it was very clear that only the best of the best had stayed in the game. From that point on I was sold. Keep in mind that up to this point we hadn’t needed to eliminate candidates because they were eliminating themselves. To use another analogy, the candidates were dropping like flies before they even got to the picnic. It was awesome.

The Written Assessment Must Be Tough

The two positions that we recently filled were for a marketing lead and an IT sys admin. The written assessment for the marketing position seemed to hit the sweet spot. Almost every written submission came from a qualified candidate. The same was not true for the System Admin position. We started seeing a large number of submissions, and more than a few were not as qualified as we would have liked.

Solution? We toughened up the written assessment. By adding a little more complexity and time needed to complete the assessment we started seeing a significant decrease in unqualified candidates. A difficult written assessment piques the interest of gifted candidates. They seem to intuitively understand that only a few submissions will pass muster. They are driven. Like a needle in the haystack that gets pulled up by a magnet, they will rise above the rest. It’s pretty cool to witness.

The flip side is also true. I am certain that a large number of candidates started the written assessment but didn’t finish it. There is something inherently beneficial to someone being alone during the written assessement. After using Google for the sixth time to answer a difficult assessment question they probably think to themselves that they may not be as qualified for this position as they had hoped, and rather than embarrass themselves they simply drop off the radar. Since there has been no human interaction to this point they don’t feel like they are losing face.

Devour, Gulp, and Digest Resumes

After approving a written assessment it’s time to request a resume. If you’re like me this will be the first time you’ve ever been excited to read a resume. But there is something else that you may notice. You don’t just skim a resume, you completely absorb it. You read and reread every single line. Within minutes the margins on the resume will be filled with your notes and questions.

With the old system the best I could do was skim a resume. It was like I was daring each resume to give me just enough of a reason to place it in the keep pile. I never actually timed myself, but I’ll bet on average I would spend 20-30 seconds on a resume with the old system just to see if I wanted to keep it for consideration.

The Beginning and the End

I have left out the beginning and the end of Mikey’s process. That’s OK. I’m writing an article, not a book. I suggest that you watch his video which is hosted on the BOS site.

The actual beginning of this hiring process used Lominger cards, which Mikey spends some time explaining. In short, it’s a quick way to determine the skills needed for a particular position. This helps with everything from writing the job posting to formulating interview questions. The subject of these cards is an entire article in and of itself.

The end is the actual interview process. Mikey goes into great detail in his talk about how to hold these interviews. We followed his suggestions and they worked. It may seem like overkill, but having a second  (i.e. gauntlet) interview will make all the difference. Remember, you’ve saved hours and hours by allowing candidates to disqualify themselves. That isn’t free time that you get to save up for a Disney cruise. Spend it on the interview process. You’ll need it. Trust me.


It works. Our new employees fit into our company very well. They bring diversity and some really great strengths. Our company is better because of them, and I didn’t have to get an ulcer tracking them down. Thanks Mikey. I hope to see you at BOS 2014.


This year will be the 7th Business of Software Conference – 15-17th September 2014, Boston.

A three day conference for founders who want to build sustainable, profitable software businesses. BoS has always been a special conference for our delegates and we want to keep it special. Attendance is restricted to just 400 attendees in 2014. Registration open now.

This year we are also running Business of Software Conference Europe, 25-26th June. For more details, visit the dedicated BoS Europe site. Two days in the birthplace of computers – Cambridge, England.

Join our mailing list to be the first to know when this year’s talks go live and to hear the latest news from the conference.

Eventbrite - Business of Software 2014

How to Do Content Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

“Content marketing” sounds expensive. For a lot of companies, it is expensive. Most of the businesses I work with aren’t exactly rolling around in piles of money.

I get questions like this — “Where do I get the budget for content marketing?” “How can I afford this?” “Why is it so expensive?” “Is content marketing really worth the cost?”

The Tough News About the Cost of Content Marketing

Here’s an email that I received just last week. This business owner was asking me about the cost of good content:

small company response to content marketing

I understand his concern.

65% of companies consider content marketing to be too expensive (source). But at the same time, content marketing is a huge industry with incredible amounts of money being spent.

According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, B2Bs spend a whopping 30% of their marketing budget on content marketing. The Custom Content Council (CCC) reported that the content marketing industry is on a meteoric rise (9.2% growth last year). The digital marketing industry is huge, with figures hovering around the $118 billion mark.

But where are these buckets of money coming from?

For small companies, they’re not.

Statements like this are oh-so-typical:

content marketing is the new black

In addition to fielding questions about how to afford content marketing, I’m reading about people throwing up their hands in despair:

content marketing too expensive

For a lot of small companies, there’s no such thing as buckets of money to spend on content marketing. According to E-Consultancy, a paltry 34% of companies have a dedicated content marketing budget. They report two obstacles to content marketing:

  1. Not enough money (35% of companies)
  2. Not enough people (42% of companies), which is kind of the same thing as not enough money.

Those are big obstacles. In other words, a massive number of great companies can’t succeed in the digital space, because they can’t afford content marketing.

The Good News About the Cost of Content Marketing

That’s tough news. But I’m convinced that content marketing doesn’t have to be as expensive and scary as these numbers make it sound.

Can you identify with any of these?

  • “I just don’t have enough money for content marketing.”
  • “I’m starting an online business, but I’m funding it from my kids’ college fund. There’s no budget for content marketing.”
  • “I’m trying to persuade my cash-strapped boss to do content marketing, but he says it’s ‘not financially feasible.’”
  • “I’ve already run the numbers for content marketing. I know it’s too expensive for me right now.”
  • “Um, I’m a startup. ‘Nuff said.”

If any of those points resonate with you, I’ve got good news.

Content marketing is not as expensive as you think.

I’m going to explain several ways of doing content marketing that cost dramatically less than conventional estimates.

This article will show you how you can launch a successful content marketing campaign that gets results, while not plunging your company into bankruptcy.

Let me give you the quick two-point sketch of content marketing on a shoestring budget:

  1. Create a spot on your website for a blog.
  2. Post content once a week.

Now, let me explain how to do it with a teeny budget.

What do I do? The Bare Minimum Essentials of Content Marketing.

Content marketing does not have to be complicated. I created the Advanced Guide to Content Marketing, which explains in exact detail how to do content marketing.

But for some companies who are just walking into this content marketing thing (clutching their budget with nervous hands) the complicated way might not be the best. They get intimidated by the complexity, and end up doing nothing.

I want you to do content marketing, without having to blow 190% of your marketing budget. Here’s what you do:

1. Start a blog.

Cost: Free or basically free

You don’t even have to call it a blog. This is basically a page on your website where you can post content. Let me give you a few pointers:

  • Post it on the same root domain as your main website. For example, don’t create a new site that’s called That creates a different root domain, and a new link profile. One goal of content marketing is SEO, and you’re not going to get the SEO benefit to your main site if you launch a new one — like Instead, use this format:
  • Use WordPress. It’s the easiest and most versatile CMS for blogging. If you’re going to be recruiting the help of others for the blog, this is going to be important. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything. If you already use a WordPress site, simply add a new page, and call it “blog.”
  • Link to it from your main page. This is content marketing best practice. I’ve discovered that a few simple menu links works best for any website, especially from a conversion standpoint. You can look at the top of this page to see how I’ve positioned my blog link.


How much does it cost?

Creating a blog is going to cost next to nothing. With a WordPress site, creating a blog literally takes ten seconds. If you have a complicated custom theme, then redesign may take 15 minutes.

Do you have any ability with websites or work with someone who does? Then you’re ready to launch a blog. You can start now.

If you have to hire someone to create your blog, then the cost should still be low.

2. Post once a week.

Cost: Free or low cost options discussed below.

Now that you have a blog, you’re officially almost doing content marketing. Welcome.

It’s time to start creating content. This is the fun part. Here’s where you start to refine your message, gain first-place rank, get linkbacks from the New York Times, field interviews from CNN, and consider retiring in a mansion on the French Riviera because your company will be so successful.

Okay, let’s take a step back.

We’re going to take small steps here. The goal right now is to just create some content. Do it just once a week if you have to. You have to start somewhere.

So, let’s talk about how to get that content on the proverbial shoestring budget.

How do I do it? Where do I get content without spending much?

Content can be expensive. Some copywriters command $25,000 for putting together just a few hundred words. Other professional blog writers charge $400-700 per post.

That’s why I have to write a post like this. That’s why other blogs have to deal with the money objection:


You can’t afford $700 for an article on your blog. (Yet.) Someday, hopefully, yes. But not right now.

I’m going to give you several options that cost less. This list is arranged in order of least expensive (free) to slightly more expensive than free.

1. Do the writing yourself.

How much does it cost? Nothing except your time. This is a free choice. It’s also the choice that most small online businesses make. It does, however, take time.

How much time does it take? 45 minutes to an hour and a half per week.

That’s not a ton of time, but it does mean that you’ll have to find it somewhere in your schedule. If you’re a CEO of a small company, a mom or dad, or just plain busy (aren’t we all?), then you’re going to have to fight to find the time.

How do I do it?

  • Find time in your schedule.
  • Come up with a rough schedule and article titles.
  • Write and publish your articles on the blog.

Is it right for me?

This is a good choice for you if any of the following are true:

  • You’re a self-starter.
  • You’re relatively disciplined.
  • You’re running a really small company, or are the only person who can do this.
  • You’re able to find an hour a week, and stay consistent.

2. Assign team members to do the writing.

How much does it cost? Nothing additional. Keep in mind that your employees aren’t exactly “free.” If you choose to assign this task to your workers, be aware of their existing workload and ability.

How much time does it take? 15 minutes to 1 hour a week.

You’ll have to take time to plan the approach, then to assign the tasks. If you have more than one team member, you can rotate the blogging schedule around. If you have four employees who are good writers, you can have your employees write once a month.

How do I do it?

  • Speak to your team members about it.
  • Create a schedule, and assign responsibilities.
  • Come up with topics, or let your team members do it.
  • Provide a way for your workers to submit their posts (email, WordPress, or your CMS).
  • Proofread and post each submission according to schedule.

With WordPress, you can provide blog access to as many people as you want. You’re also able restrict their access to writing and submitting posts only.

Is this right for me?

Like any management decision, you have to consider the capability of your team and yourself to do content marketing. Here are three positive indicators:

  • You have team members who are willing.
  • You have team members who are good writers.
  • You are a competent manager with good delegating skills.

3. Hire a freelancer.

How much does it cost? $10-75 per post. As with any cost-based decision, this principle is true: The more you pay, the better quality you’ll be able to get. Since this article is focused on low-budget content marketing, $10-75 is in the lower tier of content costs.

You’ll still be able to find quality writers, but it may take some time to find one.

Note: The average cost per article is around $20-30.

How much time does it take? 15 minutes a week to 1 hour or more. Startup time may take from 2-4 hours.

How do I do it?

  • Post an ad for a freelance writer. You can use Craigslist or to look for writers. The more details you provide about the job, the better your job post will be. Include these details:
    • How much you’ll pay.
    • Payment method (check, Paypal, etc.)
    • Areas of expertise required (e.g., in-depth and working knowledge of widgets)
    • Whether you’d like samples, an interview, or some other form of application.
    • How much experience you want the writer to have.
    • What topics the writer will need to be familiar with.
    • Any other expectations you have (e.g., familiarity with WordPress, word count requirements, weekly phone calls, etc.)
    • Language abilities (e.g., native English speakers only)
    • State your hiring process: 1) Phone interview, 2) Paid sample, 3) Selection
  • Sort through the avalanche of applications. You will receive hundreds if not thousands of applications for your posted position. Quickly weed out the good from the bad based on their sample writing quality and any features that stand out to you.
  • Select a handful of candidates, and conduct phone interviews. Ask them a few questions to gauge their level of competence. Hubspot provides an interview guide for working with freelance writers.
  • Ask the writer to create a sample article. I recommend paying them for this, since you are asking them to do some work on behalf of your company. You should assign them a topic or title, word count, and deadline.
  • Select the writer(s) you want, and begin working with them consistently.

Is this right for me?

  • You’re comfortable working with freelancers and/or remote workers.
  • You have a small budget ($20-75 weekly)
  • You’re able to spend the startup time selecting and hiring a freelancer.

4. Use a content provider.


How much does it cost? Starts at $3.90 per post. Textbroker’s rates start at 1.3 cents (USD) per word. At this rate, a short blog post of 300 words would cost just shy of four dollars. These articles are considered low quality, however, and are expected to have errors. Higher quality work costs substantially more. Using a top-grade writer on Textbroker costs $21.6 for a 300-word article.

How do I do it?

  • Textbroker: Start a free account, deposit money, and post your job.
  • ODesk: Select a freelancer, and communicate your project.

Is this right for me?

The low quality writing on Textbroker is very inexpensive — a viable choice for cash-strapped companies. You may have to perform extensive editing on such writing, but you’re still able to get content for a fraction of conventional prices. Using a writer from ODesk, or ordering high quality content costs more, but it’s within the budgeting reach of some companies.

Here are some signs that this is the right move for you:

  • You and your team are not able to do the writing yourselves.
  • You’re looking for quick turnaround times.
  • You’re comfortable with a third-party system like Textbroker or ODesk.

Other Options

Hire a content marketing firm.

This is usually a pretty expensive option, and I advise against it for several reasons:

  • They usually lock you into a long-term contract. If you’re unsatisfied with their product, you’ve still contracted to pay a set amount for a specified duration.
  • The cost is high. Often, such companies simply use the same resource of writers (e.g., work-from-home freelancers, Textbroker, etc.), but add a substantial markup.
  • The quality is often subpar.

The great thing about a content marketing firm is that you get a completely outsourced process, from start to finish. No more worrying about SEO, no juggling an editorial calendar, no vetting writers, or proofreading work. There are, however, cons that I think outweigh such pros.

Reallocate marketing funds.

One possible option is to simply take some funds from “traditional” marketing and assign it to content marketing. There’s no additional cost, although there may be some added time requirements.

Reallocation could work for you, if the following are true:

  • You have an existing marketing budget (even a small one).
  • You identify a budget item with low ROI.
  • You identify a budget item that is outdated or too expensive.

Simply take some of these funds and invest them into content marketing. Kapost, in a summary of DemandMetric’s findings, report that content marketing costs 62% less and generates 3 times as many leads. There’s definitely an ROI.

The Golden Touch by Sean Work

It is possible to do content marketing on a shoestring budget. However, the success depends on your oversight. You can’t set it and forget it. You’ll need to watch over your content marketing initiative like a hawk. Here are some tips to ensure that your content marketing campaign is effective:

  1. Realize that you and your company are experts on a certain subject matter. Chances are it’s related to the business you’re in. So how can you teach your customers and prospects things that will help them get ahead? That’s where you will find your best content.
  2. Based on the answers above, create an editorial calendar. Craft headlines for articles or videos based on the answers you come up with. Set publishing dates for each topic proposal. This will keep you on the right track.
  3. Outline your topics. A lot of the details and juicy tidbits that you want your audience to know about are probably stuck in your mind somewhere. It’s important to outline your vision for each post thoroughly so that your writers are on the same page. Otherwise, they’ll likely come up with something completely different.
  4. Create a guide for your writers to follow. Be explicit as how you want your images formatted, how you want articles packaged for delivery or even how to set up a post inside your blog CMS. A great guide can ensure consistency and cut down time and costs.
  5. Teach your writers how to improve. Review each post that is published and send your writers tips for improvement. And if you find that your guide could be improved, always update your guide accordingly.

Power Tip: Use in-house team members to write content. The point of your blog is most likely to educate your audience and to show that you’re an authority in your space. Who else can write excellent content like that?

Conclusion: Where do I go from here?

I’ve just explained how you can start content marketing. It can cost nothing to next-to-nothing, and gives you incredible ROI through increased traffic, improved SEO, more leads, increased sales, and higher profitability.

As you gain more money through your nascent content marketing efforts, you’ll be able to invest that money back into content marketing.

Here’s how to keep improving:

  • Scale up your quality. Be willing to improve your content spending to improve your quality.
  • Increase your output. Eventually, you may get to the point where you can post daily or almost daily.
  • Use a variety of content. Videos, infographics, and webinars cost more, but have huge results. As you earn more via content marketing, consider launching additional content efforts.
  • Integrate content marketing with social media marketing.
  • Leverage your content marketing to grow a mailing list and start email marketing.
  • Create free resources (e.g., ebooks) that you can give away to gain leads.

Content marketing will pay for itself. Even though your budget may start small, you can snowball it into something that will totally change your company. Content marketing can take you from a nobody’s-ever-heard-of-it business to a massively popular brand.

The potential is there. You’ve just got to take those baby steps and start out.

What low-cost content marketing method are you going to use?

About the Authors: Neil Patel is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout. Sean Work runs the blog at KISSmetrics.

Bootstrapped, Episode 39, “Take them to Hooters”

This week we discuss profanity, Microconf, Peersconf, business evolution, Andrey Do-gooder, product trials, Notch and motivation beyond money, Minecraft, multiple saas apps, acquiring products and building vs buying, coder vs marketer, Andrey should do an ebook

Discuss this weeks episode on the forums

Also, don’t miss the short After Dark episode this week.

67 Tools That Will Help You Grow Your Email List

Your email list is the heart of your marketing strategy. When you write a blog post, the people on your email list will be the first to read it. When you have a webinar, the people on your list will be the first to sign up. And, when you offer a new product, the people on your list will be the first to try it.

This article will show you 67 tools you can use to start growing your email list today.


Whether you hate them or love them, there’s one undeniable fact about popups – they work. Case study after case study proves that if you want to grow your email list, put a popup on your blog.

Here are 10 popups that will help you collect emails.

1. PopUp Domination: One of the most popular popups on the web. It is both a WordPress plugin and standalone software that enables you to place it on any website platform you choose.


2. OptinMonster: Lets you place opt-in forms in a variety of places on your blog, including floating footer bars, slide in sidebars, and full page covers.


3. Hybrid-Connect: Gives you the power of traditional popups, includes regular opt-in forms and squeeze pages, and integrates with Facebook.


4. Bounce Exchange: A popup that appears only when your readers intend to leave your site. For instance, when your readers hover over the back button, the popup appears, prompting them to enter their email address.


5. Pippity: A WordPress plugin that allows you to make beautiful popups in minutes.


6. Ninja Popups: An inexpensive WordPress plugin that allows you to create a professionally designed popup to get readers to sign up for your newsletter, get coupons, and increase social media visibility by locking content until your readers share your blog.


7. Viral Optins: As its name suggests, this popup contains a viral component. After a reader enters their email address, they will get your freebie when they invite more friends to join your email list.

8. List Builder: A free popup WordPress plugin from the folks over at AppSumo. List builder enables you to capture your reader’s email address when you have their attention, and it currently integrates with MailChimp and AWeber.


9. Pop Over Plugin: A WordPress plugin that allows you to create professional-looking popups.

10. WordPress Popup: A WordPress plugin that allows you to create professional-looking popups.

Unobtrusive Popups

Let’s say you’re still completely against popups. You’re not alone. There is an entire segment of tools that bill themselves as “anti-popups.” These are tools that appear in front of your readers without obstructing their view of your content.

11. Unpop: A WordPress plugin that pops up in a place on your blog that grabs the attention of your readers without blocking their view of your content. (Disclaimer: I helped launch Unpop last year, though I am no longer affiliated with the product.)


12. Drip: One of the new kids on the block. Not only can you create an email opt-in form that will be placed out of the way, but Drip is an entire email auto-responder service.


13. Slide In: An easy marketing tool that allows you to create messages that slide in and show themselves to your users at the exact moment you pick.


14. Interrupt: Another tool from the folks over at AppSumo. This free WordPress plugin enables you to place an email form at the top of your website. However, once your reader scrolls down, they won’t see it again.


15. Optin Footer: This beautiful plugin makes it easy to create a popup that appears across the entire footer of your blog or website.


16. Hello Bar: A free optimization tool that allows you to show a message to your visitors. It appears at the top of your blog or website. You can send your readers to a landing page where you can capture their email addresses.


17. Viper Bar: Similar to Hello Bar, Viper Bar appears at the top of your blog or website and allows your reader to enter their email address within the bar.


18. Foobar: Similar to Viper Bar and Hello Bar, but it has more of a billboard feel to it. You can create scrolling text, insert multiple messages, and link to various landing pages.


19. Dreamgrow Scroll Triggered Box: As your reader scrolls down the page, this plugin will appear to grab their attention, but it won’t conceal your content. You can customize the look, feel, and message of the plugin.

20. Welcome Gate App: A cross between a popup and a squeeze page (and not as aggressive as either). A welcome gate redirects readers to the plugin when they visit your blog’s home page. Readers can choose to enter their email address, or skip it altogether.


21. Feature Box Plugin: Made famous by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers. It is a form you insert at the top of your blog. Generally, the Feature Box allows you to add more information than you can put into the Hello Bar or Viper Bar.


Additional Apps and Plugins

Besides popups, there are several additional apps and plugins you can use to collect emails from your visitors and grow your list.

22. upPrev: As your reader scrolls through your article, this plugin creates a slider that appears in the lower right or left corner of your blog. This concept was made famous by The New York Times.


23. Subscribe to Download for WordPress: A WordPress plugin that allows you to create subscription forms, deliver your freebie, and manage your subscribers directly in your WordPress admin panel.


24. Subscribe by Email: A wordPress plugin that allows your audience to easily subscribe to configurable, personalized, clean, regular HTML digest emails without having to purchase a third party email provider.


25. Thesis Theme Feature Box: If you have the thesis theme, then you can create a feature box using this code.

26. LeadBoxes: Allows you to create an opt-in box anywhere simply by adding a link.


Once you click “click here,” the opt-in box in the picture below appears.


27. Scrolling Side Bar: If you have a blog with a side bar, chances are you probably have an ad leading to a landing page. One way to get more attention to the ad is to have it scroll down the page as your reader continues to read your content. (Note: I couldn’t find a widget or plugin, so I’ve linked to some code that will enable you to create the sidebar.)

28. Subscribers Magnet: A wordPress plugin that allows you to create beautiful subscription boxes that you can place anywhere on your blog or website.


29. Gravity Forms: You can create advanced forms for WordPress sites that integrate with your email service provider.


30. Comment Redirect: When commenters make their first comment, redirect them to a page of your choice. After they leave a comment, you can ask them to subscribe to your email list in order to receive future updates.

31. WP-Leads: This plugin seamlessly integrates the WordPress registration and commenting processes with the web’s most popular lead management tools, such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, and

32. AWeber Webform Widget: Allows you to install an AWeber web form on your WordPress blog and lets visitors subscribe to your list when commenting or registering on your blog.

33. OptinSkin: Create professional-looking sign-up forms and social media buttons. OptinSkin comes complete with an analytics package that includes split testing so you can optimize your conversions.


Online Contests and Giveaways

Due to their viral nature, having a contest or give away is one of the fastest ways to grow your list and your brand. Here are 4 tools that will allow you to quickly set one up.

34. Rafflecopter: Allows you to create contests and giveaways you can host on your blog and on your social media platforms. Rafflecopter has a viral component where contestants can get their friends to join the contest.


35. Splurgy: For those businesses deeply concerned with design, Splurgy allows you to create contests and promotions that enhance the experience for your fans.

36. PromoSimple: For those just getting started with contests and giveaways, PromoSimple might be for you. They focus on getting you up and running as easily as possible.

37. Giveaway Tools: This giveaway tool is free to use.


Your blog and website aren’t the only places where you can grow your email list. Email and Facebook go together like peanut butter and chocolate. They’re the perfect match.

Below are a few Facebook tools that will help you grow your email list right from your fan page.

38. ShortStack: A custom iFrame tab-designing tool that allows users to create custom Facebook tabs by using widgets for elements such as blogs, videos, newsletters, Twitter, and more.


39. Heyo: A drag and drop Facebook contest platform where you can drive engagement, capture emails, get likes, and convert sales.


40. PageModo: A do-it-yourself solution for customizing Facebook business pages. Users can create a professional, custom business Facebook Page for free without design, graphic, or coding skills. Because it is free, there are limitations to its customization.

41. Thunderpenny: Allows you to create a static HTML custom app for free in no time.

42. WooBox: Stands out with its a la carte pricing. You can create a free static HTML tab to collect emails. You get full customization of the app and only pay for what you use, such as contests, coupons, and deals.


43. Vocus (Formerly NorthSocial): The landing pages and apps from Vocus are integrated with their entire marketing suite.

44. Clickappy: You can start running contests and sweepstakes, and collect email addresses for just $2.99 a month.

45. OfferPop: This tool has over 19 Facebook and Twitter apps built to engage and grow your fan base interaction. OfferPop’s apps are designed to build your brand whether you’re a B2B or B2C company.

46. TabSite: Allows you to create custom welcome pages and tabs with deep levels of content right within Facebook. You don’t need coding experience to create and customize your pages. TabSite provides you access to a simple content editor to add content, images, coupons, links, and more.

47. Social App Tool: Allows anyone, no matter what their skill level, to create and build viral Facebook applications.

48. ActionSprout: Rather than relying on like, share, and comment, ActionSprout allows you to connect with people around 25 unique actions, including endorse, congratulate, suggest, and volunteer.

Landing Pages and Coming Soon Pages

Landing pages are the backbone of any email marketing effort. The tools listed below will help you create professional-looking landing pages without having to write code.

49. OptimizePress: More than a landing page, OptimizePress is a WordPress theme that enables you to create entire websites focused on collecting email addresses. OptimizePress is extremely helpful for those who wish to create membership sites.

50. LeadPages: If you’re looking for an easy way to create and manage multiple landing pages, sales pages, and webinar registration pages, then LeadPages is the tool.


51. Unbounce: This is a popular software that gives you the power to create, publish, and optimize landing pages without doing development. Unbounce has a heavy emphasis on customization.


52. Instapage: Allows you to get started with a professional-looking landing page without breaking the bank.


53. Launchrock: You can create a “coming soon” page with a viral component. It has the social widgets, and you can create viral loops through referential links.


54. Clickthroo: Clickthroo is a little more expensive than the other tools; however, they differentiate themselves with their unparalleled level of service. They provide software and consulting services.


55. PageWiz: An all-in-one landing page tool that allows you to get professional landing pages up and running in no time. As with the other tools, no design or programming experience is needed to get started.


56. Kickoff Labs: Kickoff Labs positions itself as the startup toolkit. It has a built-in email marketing solution so you don’t have to purchase another service provider, and it offers sign-up widgets and contest features to grow your startup after launch.

WordPress Landing Page and Coming Soon Plugins

Many of the WordPress plugins mentioned below are free. However, they offer fewer customization options than their stand-alone software cousins.

57. Launcher Theme: This free theme is responsive and comes with a countdown clock. You can make the rocket ship move by hovering your mouse over it.


58. My Blue Construction: If blue is prominent in your brand’s color palette, then this free under construction theme is for you.


59. WPLauncher: A free premium WordPress theme that is simple and has a single purpose: to provide an attractive, customizable domain parking theme for WordPress users.


60. Felice Theme: A free responsive theme that comes complete with a progress bar so your visitors can follow the progress of your website construction.


61. Under Construction: This theme from Themes Kingdom is fully responsive, allows customization, and comes with a countdown clock.


62. WPChimp Countdown: A responsive theme that provides a coming soon landing page and allows visitors to subscribe to a mailing list.


63. Launchpad: A WordPress plugin that allows you to set up a beautiful pre-launch landing page to let users know what you’re launching and when you’re launching it.


64. Ultimate Coming Soon Page: Simple and flexible, the Ultimate Coming Soon Page plugin works with any WordPress theme you have installed on your site.


65. ThemeFuse: The ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode is a coming soon plugin that enables you to inform your users when your new website is going to be live while you are working on building it.


66. WordPress Landing Pages: This landing page plugin gives site owners the ability to monitor and track conversion rates and to run a/b or multivariate split tests on landing pages to increase lead flow.

And Finally…

67. Newsletter Signup : This plugin allows you to add various ways for your visitors to subscribe to your email list. Newsletter Sign-Up is most known for its “Sign-up to our newsletter” checkbox at the WordPress comment form where your commenters can easily join your email list.

Are You Still with Me?

These 66 tools should be enough to get you started. Do you have a favorite email marketing tool that you think the rest of us should use? If so, let us know in the comments section below.

About the Author: Greg Digneo maximizes your B2B sales through email marketing campaigns that your customers love to read. To learn how to drive traffic to your website, increase conversions, and generate more sales, check out his free report, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing.

What everybody needs to know about tracking

The era of being able to accurately track your online marketing efforts is over. Or more accurately: the era of thinking you could accurately track your online marketing is over.

Only a few years ago, we thought we could track almost every single keyword that was used to find our websites. The reality was that we could track the keywords that were used to click on our websites in the search engine results. If we’d have left it at that, the difference would have been minor, but we didn’t.

Once we could track our keywords, we then wanted to link them to conversions. We wanted to know which keywords resulted in the greatest number of enquiries, signups and sales, and why not? The information was there. Except it wasn’t.

A few years ago we worked with a company who were spending a great deal of money on their AdWords ads. Initially they were confident that the ads were sending targeted visitors to their website, but with time they became accustomed to the smörgåsbord of data that was there for the taking, and started trying to track their ROI more accurately.Precious

After months of implementing an impressive series of steps to track their conversions to previously unheard of levels, they saw their worst fears confirmed. Their AdWords account wasn’t anywhere near as profitable as they’d thought. In order to confirm this they decided to freeze their AdWords account for a seven day experiment to see what impact this had on their sales.

If I remember correctly it was just over 24 hours later that they turned their AdWords ads back on, as the immediate and dramatically negative impact on their sales was all the proof that they needed. Their brief but costly experiment had taught them that conversion data is not to be relied on.

This particular company was fortunate in that they not only had high volumes of fast-converting data to reach this conclusion quickly, but also had the foresight to test their theory before fully committing to it.

I won’t bore you with the variety of different reasons that there may be disconnects in your conversion tracking, but I will ask that you at least consider the idea that your tracking may be dangerously misleading.

Let’s take a step back. If I were to build bird houses and sell them in local markets and craft fairs, I would be able to precisely track my ROI, based on the costs of my time and raw materials, the costs of my selling at each event and the sales from each.

The same rules, however, do not apply online – at least not for most businesses. And this goes far beyond the issue of which attribution model you choose to work with. You simply cannot track all your sources, and more importantly you have no idea how representative this data may be.

When a person fills out one of the forms on the SoftwarePromotions website, we can see where that person came from as a referral source.

In days gone by we used to also ask people where they heard about us, and the disconnect between what people said and where they actually came from was enormous.

So even when you can track, you can’t necessarily rely on the data produced.

We also recently started working with a company that I first met at a conference many years ago. When they filled out the form on our website I could see that they “found us” through Google. This was in fact true, but also quite incorrect.

I can only imagine how many businesses close their AdWords accounts in error because of incorrectly calculating a poor ROI.

I assume that this is significantly less than the number of businesses who spend far too much on their accounts but never realise.

The house, in this case Google, always wins. And they don’t even need to rely on statistical probability – they can weight the system as they see fit.

Conversion tracking is an extremely useful indicator. Using it as anything more can be deadly.

Most of Your A/B Test Results Are Illusory and That’s Okay

Not All Winners Are Winners

A really phenomenal white paper titled “Most Winning A/B Test Results Are Illusory,” published by Qubit, was making the rounds a few weeks ago. If A/B testing is part of your daily life, then you really must take a few minutes to read through it. The gist of the paper is that many people call their A/B tests way too soon, which can cause the inferior variant to appear superior because of simple bad luck.

To understand how this can happen, imagine you have two fair coins (50% chance of landing on heads). You want to see whether your left or right hand is superior at getting heads, so you will know which hand to use when making a heads/tails bet in the future. You flip the coin in each hand 16 times, and you get these results:

ab test example coin toss

Since we know the coin is fair, we know that getting 11 heads and 5 tails is just as likely as getting 11 tails and 5 heads. However, if we plug this result into a t-test to calculate our confidence, we find that we’re 96.6% certain that our right hand is superior at flipping the coin! Now, we know this is absurd since, in our example, knowing that the coin is fair, we could arbitrarily say that heads were tails, and vice versa.

If our coin flipping example were an A/B test, we would have gone ahead with the “right hand” variant. This wouldn’t have been a major loss, but it wouldn’t have been a win, either. The scary part is that this same thing can happen when the variant is actually worse! This means you can move forward with a “winning” variant, and watch your conversion rate drop!

Doing It Right

So what’s the problem? Why is this happening?

A/B tests are designed to imitate scientific experiments, but most marketers running A/B Tests do not live in a world that is anything like a lab at a university. The stumbling point is that people running A/B tests are supposed to wait and not peak at the results until the test is done, but many marketers won’t do that.

Let’s outline the classic setup for running an experiment:

  1. Decide the minimum improvement you care about. (Do you care if a variant results in an improvement of less than 10%?)
  2. Determine how many samples you need in order to know within a tolerable percentage of certainty that the variant is better than the original by at least the amount you decided in step 1.
  3. Start your test but DO NOT look at the results until you have the number of examples you determined you need in step 2.
  4. Set a certainty of improvement that you want to use to determine if the variant is better (usually 95%).
  5. After you have seen the observations decided in step 2, then put your results into a t-test (or other favorite significance test) and see if your confidence is greater than the threshold set in step 4.
  6. If the results of step 5 indicate that your variant is better, go with it. Otherwise, keep the original.

I recommend you play with the sample size calculator in step 2. If these steps seem straightforward to you, and the sample sizes you come up with seem easily achievable, then you can stop reading here and go get better results from your A/B tests. This approach works and will give you good results.

If, however, you read the above and thought “I also should eat more veggies and work out more…” then read on!

Marketers are NOT Scientists

I believe the reason marketers tend not to follow through with proper methodology when it comes to A/B testing has less to do with ignorance of the procedure and more to do with real world rewards and constraints. For scientists working in a lab, the most important thing is that the results must be correct. Running a test takes a relatively small chunk of time, while getting an incorrect answer that eventually finds its way into publication can have consequences that range from being embarrassing to costing lives.

Marketers have almost the opposite pressures. Management wants results as soon as possible, but you may have a long list of features and designs waiting to be tested, and you don’t want to waste time testing minor improvements if someone has something that could be a major improvement. Most important: marketers are concerned with growth! Being correct is useful only insofar as it leads to growth.

So, now, we have the question: “Is there a way to run A/B tests that acknowledges the world marketers have to exist in?”

Simulating Strategies

Whenever I’m studying interesting questions involving probabilities that don’t have an obvious analytical solution, I turn to Monte Carlo simulations! A Monte Carlo simulation is simply a way for us to answer questions by running simulations enough times to get an answer. All we have to do is model our problem. Then, we can model different strategies and see how they perform.

For our A/B testing model, we’re going to make some assumptions. In this case, we’re going to have a page that starts with a 5% conversion rate. We then assume that variants can have conversion rates that are normally distributed around 5%. In practical terms, this means that any given variant is equally likely to be better or worse than the original, and that small improvements are much more common than really large ones.

Finally, we address perhaps the most important constraint: each strategy gets only a total of 1 million observations. As you collect more data, you get more certain; but if you need 100,000 results to be certain, then how many tests have you wasted? No one has unlimited visitors to sample from. In our model, the more careful testing strategy might be penalized because it wastes too much time on poor performers and never gets to a really good variant.

The Scientist and The Impatient Marketer

Let’s start by modeling the strategy of “The Scientist.” This strategy follows all of the steps for proper testing outlined above. We can see the results of a single simulation run below:

conversion rate VS. observations

What we see is quite clear. The Scientist has continuous improvement and will stay at a good conversion rate until another improvement is found; rarely, if ever, choosing the inferior variant by mistake. After 1,000,000 people, The Scientist has run around 20 tests and has bumped the conversion rate from 5% to 6.7% at the end.

Now, let’s look at a strategy we’ll call “The Impatient Marketer.” The Impatient Marketer is an extreme case of sloppy A/B testing, but it is an important step toward understanding how we can model a strategy for marketers that is both sane and provides good results. The Impatient Marketer checks constantly (as opposed to waiting), stops the test as soon as it reaches 95% confidence, and gets bored after 500 observations, at which point the test is stopped in favor of the original.

the impatient marketer

Here we see something very different from The Scientist. The Impatient Marketer has results all over the board. Many tests are inferior to their predecessor and many are worse than the first page!

But there are some pluses here as well. In this case, The Impatient Marketer reached a peak of 7.8% conversion and still ended close to The Scientist at 6.3%! It’s also worth noting that if this simulation is run over and over again, we find that The Impatient Marketer consistently does better than the baseline.

The Realist

Now, let’s make The Impatient Marketer a little less impatient and a little more realistic. Our new strategy is “The Realist.” The Realist wants results fast, but doesn’t want to make a lot of mistakes, and also doesn’t want to follow a 6-step process for each test. The Realist waits until 99% confidence to make the call, but will wait for only 2,000 observations. This strategy is very simple, but much less reckless than that of The Impatient Marketer.

the realist conversion rates

In this sample run, The Realist is doing much better than The Impatient Marketer. The Realist occasionally does make a wrong choice, but only very briefly drops below the original. The Realist ends at 6.3% but has spent a lot of time with a variant that achieved 7.4%. Because The Realist is always trying out new ideas, this strategy is able to sometimes find better variants that The Scientist never gets to!

Measuring Strategies

In the above images, all we have is a single sample path. How do we judge how well each strategy performs? Maybe The Scientist does even better, or maybe The Impatient Marketer’s gains make up for the losses?

The way we’ll approach this is by measuring the area under the curve. If you imagine just sticking to the original, there would be a straight line at 0.05 across the entire plot, giving an area of 0.05 x 1,000,000 = 50,000. If we measure the area under each point, then we can compare. And, to get a fair assessment, we’ll simulate this process thousands of times and take the average. After we do that, here are our results:

strategy and scores

There are a couple of really fascinating results here. Perhaps most remarkable, The Impatient Marketer does surprisingly well! Now, of course, if you actually look, The Impatient Marketer does an unrealistic number of A/B Tests. However, if you have a low traffic site that simply will never see a well-designed test converge, there’s definitely a useful insight here: A/B testing is useful even if you don’t have much data, but you have to continuously run tests to avoid getting stuck too long at a poor conversion rate.

But most interesting to everyday marketers running A/B tests is that The Realist and The Scientist do about the same in the long run! Now, it is important to note that we know these conclusions hold true only for the assumptions of our model. Still, there is an important takeaway that, if you’re thoughtful, you can make tradeoffs in your testing methodology and still get great results.


The biggest assumption in our model is that these tests are running back to back without breaks. Veering away from classical tests works only if acting on inferior information is made up for by always having another test ready to go.

If you want to end your test early because a design for the next round is ready, go for it! If other office pressure is making you want to end a test early, feel free to stop, but make sure you have another test ready to go. Additionally, if you have good cause for stopping early, lean toward being more conservative with your results. You assume a lot of risk if you go with a variant that isn’t a clear winner.

Conversely, if you have no pressure to stop early, stick with the traditional testing setup outlined above! Run the sample size calculator and see if the number of samples needed is in a range you can gather in a reasonable time frame. If so, there’s no reason to break what works; and, in fact, you may find your time best spent exploring other, mathematically sound, approaches to running tests.

In all of our models, being vigilant and continuously running tests is a sure way to minimize any limitations in the testing methodology.

About the Author: Will Kurt is a Data Scientist/Growth Engineer at KISSmetrics. You can reach out to him on twitter @willkurt and see what he’s hacking on at

The choices we make when we build startups

We’ve recently reached the point with Buffer where I’ve started to think about a lot of key higher level choices. As a CEO these can be difficult decisions to make. I’ve been taking time to reflect and luckily I also have an awesome co-founder I regularly bounce these decisions off and an incredible team whom I sometimes get together with and have discussions about our direction.

Regardless of all the support I’m lucky to have, these decisions can sometimes be overwhelming to make. It’s easy to feel a lot of pressure due to the potential impact and consequences of the choices. One decision will literally take you down a completely different path than another.

The choices to make when building a startup

It’s interesting for me to look back at some of the key choices which have made a huge difference to how Buffer looks today. Here are some that come to mind:

  • being a distributed team (spread across 16 cities in 5 continents) rather than having everybody in the same city and office
  • not raising a Series A (and having no investors on our board) when the usual cycle came around after our $450k Seed
  • doing retreats 3 times a year (the last two were Pattaya, Thailand and Cape Town, South Africa)
  • choosing to not have a sales team and instead focus on self-serve and word of mouth marketing
  • serving small businesses rather than large enterprise customers
  • establishing cultural values early and being disciplined about living to them

The questionable impact of each choice we make

The interesting thing about all of the choices I’ve shared above that relate specifically to Buffer is that there are examples of companies succeeding by making the opposite choices in each case. It’s incredibly difficult to say that each choice specifically played any role in any success we have had.

That isn’t to say that the choices haven’t changed the type of company we are. I think they have absolutely shaped what Buffer is today. However, if you were to try and attribute these choices purely to success (maybe take revenue as the metric), then I think we could probably be just as successful with different choices.

Ev Williams has a great example of this around the famous Google 20% time and whether we can say that this contributed to their success:

Google is one of the most successful companies ever. Google gives its employees the ability to spend 20% of their time on whatever they want. Therefore, 20% time is a great idea. Is it? Or was Google successful because they’re brilliant engineers who solved the right problem at the right time—killing it despite the lack of focus “20% time” causes? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

Let’s not always try to tie choices to success

One of the best books I’ve recently read around company culture is Joy at Work by Dennis Bakke. Bakke was the founder and CEO of AES which earned $8 billion in revenues and employed 50,000 people. A fascinating detail is that they achieved this with a highly unusual business philosophy and company culture.

One of the core values that Bakke set in place at AES was Fun. His quest was to create the most “fun” workplace ever. In his journey to fulfill this vision, he found that some supported him and others didn’t. Most notably, he mentioned that several board members had been very skeptical of his approaches but supported him a year later when AES had some of it’s fastest growth. Bakke argued that the value of Fun should not be tied to success nor failure:

I kept saying that our values were not responsible for the run-up in our share price and should not be blamed for any downturns in the future.

This was a point that took me a long time to understand. If we don’t attribute our choices to success or failure, how can we assess if we are on the right track? I think in this case, the point is that our values should hold true in either case, and we should stand by them.

This is the approach we have started to take at Buffer with our cultural values such as Happiness and Positivity or Defaulting to Transparency. I can’t say that creating a company where everyone is happy is something that will make us more successful, and I can’t say that being fully transparent about revenues, user numbers, salaries and other details helps us grow faster than other companies. These are simply values we have chosen to live by.

Even choices like serving small businesses rather than enterprise customers, or being distributed rather than having a single office are decisions which will be difficult to assess at any time. If we fail eventually, I don’t think we could easily tie it to a single one of these choices, and if we succeed we would be wrong to say it was because of these decisions. I think, therefore, the key is to use our intuition and make the changes we feel are right - both in order to succeed, and also to create the place we want to work.

Photo credit: DennisM2

Rebuild 2014 Report

I’m typing this from a café in San Francisco, but just 24 hours ago I was sitting in the Indiana History Center, listening to Julie Ann Horvath give a talk about people.

And just 48 hours before that, I was halfway across the globe, back home in Osaka. So it’s certainly been an eventful couple of days.


When Justin and Tony approached me about speaking at Rebuild, I was both honored and terrified. I had never spoken at a “real” event before (defined as one where people actually pay to hear what you have to say). In fact, I had never even attended a conference like this before (yes, I’ve lived a very sheltered life).

But the fact that you’re now reading these lines is proof that public speaking didn’t kill me, and I actually quite enjoyed the experience, in no small part thanks to the amazing Rebuild crew.

I also got to meet a lot of really great people, both among the speakers (some of which I had known for years online, yet never met) and attendees.

The Talks

To give you a feel for what the event was like, here’s a quick recap of the talks (I’m sure videos will be uploaded soon as well):

Mig Reyes took the stage first to start things off. His talk was a mix of autobiographical insights and thoughts about design, centered around the theme of not letting yourself be constrained: don’t pay attention to titles, move fast, and make ugly things.

After Mig, Benjamin Dauer talked about his work at NPR, and designing for listening. He had a very nuanced message about designing interfaces that fade away to let the user enjoy the experience, and tied it all back to his own love of music.

The third speaker was Julie Ann Horvath. Her talk was very different and very personal, more monologue than presentation. She shared some of the lessons she learned working with all kinds of people (some good, some bad), and reminded us that being passionate about your work shouldn’t be an excuse to treat others badly.

After the break, Morgan Allan Knutson took the stage to talk about his work at Dropbox and the concept of invention. Looking back, I’m not sure I remember what his talk was actually about. But I do remember that it was beautifully illustrated and extremely funny.

Sketchnote by @chrisbasham

Sketchnote by @chrisbasham

After that it was my turn to speak. In contrast to the other speakers, my talk wasn’t very autobiographical or personal at all. It was basically a 45-minute introduction to Meteor, centered around a step-by-step walkthrough of building a simple Meteor app.

I can imagine the material probably felt a bit dry for a large part of the audience, especially compared to the other speakers, but I think overall it was a good idea to have at least one technical talk.

I was followed by Rachel Andrew, who talked about her experience running 2-person bootstrapped company Perch. Nearly every point she made mirrored my own experiences running my various projects. Which hopefully means we’re both doing something right!

The day was concluded by Michael Lopp, who gave an amazing talk about Stables and Volatiles (people, not chemicals). He kept the audience captivated for the whole 45 minutes, and I’m still in awe of how good of a speaker he is.

Thoughts on Speaking

Overall, I would definitely call my first real public speaking experience a success. I didn’t stumble too much during my talk (as far as I can remember), and although I’m still convinced I put the vast majority of the audience to sleep, a few people at least did tell me they enjoyed my talk.

I want to improve, though, even though speaking (public or otherwise) isn’t really something that comes naturally to me (I’m more the quiet, reserved type).

So if you’re holding a conference and want someone to put your audience to sleep with 60 slides filled with 12-point code, I’m your man! Oh, and did I mention you’ll also need to fly me in from Japan?