Resource-Based Marketing: 5 SaaS Companies That Are Doing It Right

Want to put your company on the map? There are many ways you can approach your marketing in order to get eyeballs and grow your business.

From press releases that result in media mentions to a great paid campaign for your social media page, and from an ad that gets you seen in search engines to a commercial on TV or an ad on a website, there is no shortage of opportunities to grow your online footprint.

A lot of people use the aforementioned tactics to build visibility. When you think about it, online marketing typically encompasses the three standard marketing components: SEO, social media marketing, and PPC. That’s your SEM (search engine marketing) in a nutshell.

But what people don’t seem to recognize is that there are other creative tactics to use within SEM that could be incredibly valuable to your company’s bottom line.

What tactics, you ask?

Tools and education!

Lots of companies are using free tools and resources as well as education to power massive customer acquisition. In this article, I’d like to showcase five companies that have created significant resources which really helped grow awareness of their product.

1. HubSpot: Building a Product to Drive Leads

Inbound marketing company HubSpot is your classic example. Years ago, it launched to appeal to a niche audience of marketers by creating the now defunct Twitter Grader, which would grade your presence on the social media platform. At the time, the social media space was abuzz with news about the tool, and everyone wanted to share their statistics. The result was significant awareness (the company went public last year).

While Twitter Grader doesn’t exist anymore, HubSpot replaced it with a more ubiquitous (and more appropriate for its product offering) Website Marketing Grader. But, now, even that’s out of date, so HubSpot is building a better version at Website Grader.

hubspot-website-grader

Once you grade your site, you get pitched to try out HubSpot’s service offerings, all of which can help with your website presence online. By doing this, HubSpot not only offers a tool that’s relevant to what it does, it also captures leads regularly.

What you can learn from HubSpot: Product-based launches that are relevant to your business are best. Offer a tool that will lead people to want to know how to “fix” the problems you identify for them.

2. Groove: Building a Business on the Back of a Super Informative Blog

If you haven’t checked out Groove yet, you should. It’s one of my favorite blogs, and if you have a look, you’ll see why.

GrooveHQ is a relatively simple helpdesk application for small businesses. Beyond having a really great interface, their customer experience goes far beyond the product offering. Their blog is a goldmine of great content, and it keeps on getting better and better.

Groove has three blogs. Their main blog is the Startup Journey, and it is authored by their insanely intelligent CEO, Alex Turnbull. In it, Alex talks about his journey and gives tips on how people can learn from other businesses just like his. For example, he talks about how he grew his email subscription base to 50k, how to manage remote teams, and what he learned from failing to hit his 12-month growth goal. The blog is beautifully designed, giving readers a true chronology of his successes (and failures).

groove-startup-journey-blog-screenshot

Groove’s second blog is the Customer Support blog. True to its name, it covers topics related to customer support, such as a weekly customer service maintenance checklist and articles on how to reduce the number of customer service emails you get, how to deal with bad reviews of your business, and how to turn your most unhappy customers into brand promoters. It is chock full of good content, as is their third blog, which is product-oriented.

The Product blog covers new feature additions written in such a way as to engage the reader. It also covers topics like “how Company ABC switched to Groove,” product hacks (i.e., how to make the product better with some hacking), and more. The way these posts are written is refreshing and really conveys a true interest in connecting with the reader. It’s not your typical educational blog. It is passion in (digital) print. No wonder Groove is growing so much.

What you can learn from Groove: If you write amazing content, your business blog can soar above the rest. It’s even better if you are transparent about your journey as a business, discussing your successes and failures so that people can really identify with you and the situations you describe.

3. Synup: Building a Resource that Drives Awareness on top of What You’re Already Selling

Synup, a local listings tool, has been really making waves in the local SEO space. Earlier this summer, it launched the Local SEO Checklist to help anyone working on local SEO to learn what steps need to be taken to ensure their local website has the best possible SEO. The tool is totally free, and it is a true checklist of every step necessary to grow a local online footprint.

synup-local-seo-checklist

Synup’s tool has worked. Their service has attracted thousands of new users in the past three months who needed to do more with their local SEO. After all, Synup’s offering is tangential to review monitoring for small local businesses. This complements the standard local SEO tips wonderfully. With the checklist, one will learn the steps it takes to be visible, while their review offering gives companies the tools to maintain positive visibility.

What you can learn from Synup: Customer acquisition can be jump-started by offering value-added functionality that enhances what you already offer, especially if it is tangential to your product offering. With Synup’s checklist and its review management solution, one gets a great grasp of local online marketing.

4. Zapier: Gated Content that Drives Product Awareness and Customer Acquisition

Zapier is a tool that connects apps you use and helps you automate tasks to get more out of your data. For example, you may want to use Zapier to add a Google Calendar entry to your to-do list or add basic information from LinkedIn contacts to a Google Spreadsheet or send emails directly to Slack.

Zapier has grown on me, especially through their great content promotions. Beyond their blog (which is incredible, just like Groove’s), they also have a learning center with more exhaustive guides that are way too big for a standard blog post. My favorite, by far, is “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work” because it speaks to my lifestyle as well.

zapier-learning-center-gated-content

As you can see, not only are these guides beautifully designed, they are also pretty informative, too. The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing talks about how great emails are made, the top 25 best apps, how to grow your subscriber base, how to segment email lists, how to import/copy/remove subscribers, the basics of drip marketing with 25 tools to do so, the best 7 tools for transactional emails, how to a/b test, 21 mistakes to avoid, and how to keep sending great emails.

In other words, there are 15-20 blog posts in one super cool and informative eBook. And it’s free. This puts Zapier’s amazing service in front of many people who would be interested in learning more about what they have to offer.

What you can learn from Zapier: Going a step beyond what Groove did, rich pieces of informative content that read like eBooks are fantastic ways to acquire customers. Significantly, they shouldn’t be boring whitepapers, but rather cool content about a variety of topics that would be of interest to your audience, even if they’re not actually about what you’re selling!

5. Dropbox: Building a Product that Enhances the Usefulness of the Main Offering

Dropbox is one of the world’s topmost file sharing and storage tools out there, allowing people to easily store their most important files online with cloud backup and redundancy. Files can be synced from one computer to the next seamlessly. Dropbox has gotten better and better through the years and has enhanced its offering substantially.

While Dropbox has a lot of business applicability, it also has a lot of personal applicability. Dropbox encourages users to automatically upload photos to its platform, and that’s synced to its Carousel gallery app.

Carousel advertises itself as a “lifetime of photos, simplified.” It’s an amazing organizational tool for photographs, allowing users to see the photos anywhere. This app can also help you review what you’ve been doing in previous years, giving you small flashbacks into your life in the past.

carousel-dropbox-app-android-screenshot

These flashbacks are similar to a lesser-used Facebook feature (and what Timehop already does), but they are far more appropriate to the medium in this case. Since Dropbox stores files from the past and the present on the cloud, having photographs with a historical perspective at your fingertips is not just fun but applicable to the primary tool. Carousel is an optional download that simply enhances the Dropbox experience.

What you can learn from Dropbox: Offering tools that make your service more appealing to use is a great way to acquire customers. Your SaaS service or business may not be very exciting, but adding small tools that make product usage fun (even if it isn’t directly correlated to your business offering) is another great way to acquire new customers.

Create Resources to Grow Your Business

There are many terrific ways to market your product. Creating content or an app to enhance its presence online is an excellent way for your brand to stand out.

Has this article inspired you to create something outstanding? Then I hope you do so and reap the benefits.

About the Author: Tamar Weinberg is a professional hustler and author of The New Community Rules: Marketing on The Social Web. She blogs about all things tech, productivity, and social media customer success at Techipedia.

How Can We Really Measure The ROI of Optimization?

Imagine you’ve been working on optimizing a site for a while now, say 3, 6 or even 12 months.

You’ve had solid winners each month, and you’re confident in the test results. These are not imaginary lifts. But now your conversion rate looks the same as when you started. How do you explain this to the boss/client?

Another scenario: you’ve been optimizing for 12 months and your revenue per customer has increased by 2%. Same question: how can you justify your contribution? How can you tell what caused that – optimization, SEM, seasonality, word-of-mouth, or something else?

How do you measure the the ROI of your optimization efforts? The question is actually more complicated than it sounds.

ROI is Difficult to Measure

In fact, it’s easy to project the predicted ROI of optimization (click here to download conversion optimization ROI calculator). It’s just really hard to measure it, post-hoc.

roi of optimization calculator

In 2012, MarketingSherpa posed the question, “Did optimization or testing demonstrate ROI in 2011?” Here are the results:

roi of optimization chart

Not really surprising, really. Measuring ROI of optimization is hard. If anything, I’m skeptical of the 38% that demonstrated positive ROI. How, indeed, did they demonstrate ROI?

There’s a quote in the article from Amelia Showalter, former Director of Digital Analytics for Obama for America, that explains how hard it is to track and measure everything, at least in the long term:

“When we’re working on the campaign, we’re actually working so hard to run all those tests that we didn’t always keep perfect track of exactly what results were long term. It’s hard to calculate this stuff out when we want to put all our resources into running more tests. So, we don’t actually ever have a perfect estimate of actually how much extra revenue was due to our testing, but I think that $200 million is a fairly reasonable estimate.”

The article also sums things up by saying, “You can also take heart that if you’re running valid tests, you are likely improving the bottom line.”

While that’s heartwarming, it’s not going to satisfy a neurotic boss or client. We’ve got to corner a way to measure our impact. How can we possibly do that?

Time Period Comparison in Analytics (and Why It’s Wrong)

If asked to measure improvement in conversion rate due to optimization efforts, most people would point to Google Analytics. They would perform a time period comparison, looking back 6-12 months ago when you started the campaign and comparing with the conversion rate you have now (linear analysis).

This won’t tell the full story for a few reasons, the big one being the variability of your traffic quality.

As Chris Stucchio from VWO said:

Chris Stucchio:
“Time period comparison doesn’t work simply because, in mathematical terms, time period is not statistically independent of visitor behavior. Visitors arriving, e.g., before Valentine’s day, are simply more likely to buy flowers. So if time period A is in Jan and time period B is in Feb, you’ll sell more flowers in period B regardless of any changes you’ve made to the site. There are a few ways of drawing weak inferences from time period comparisons, e.g. Google’s causal impact and similar tools, but these are pretty advanced, hard to use, and strictly less accurate than a holdback set.”

Several things can affect your traffic quantity and quality, including but not limited to:

  • Season
  • Holidays
  • Press (positive or negative)
  • PPC/SEM
  • SEO
  • Word-of-Mouth

Let’s say you’re at a 2% conversion rate with 100,000 monthly visitors to start. Over the course of a year, a lot can change the quality of your traffic. If you’re selling novelty gifts, the holidays might improve your conversion rate with negligible impact from your optimization efforts. Similarly, if you hit the front page of Hacker News, you’ll get a lot of traffic – but the quality might be really shitty, lowering your present average conversion rate.

Conversion Rates Are Non-Stationary Data

A stationary time series is one whose statistical properties (mean, variance, autocorrelation, etc) are constant over time. According to an article on Duke University’s website, “A stationarized series is relatively easy to predict: you simply predict that its statistical properties will be the same in the future as they have been in the past!”

But as Investopedia says, data points are often non-stationary:

“Non-stationary data, as a rule, are unpredictable and cannot be modeled or forecasted. The results obtained by using non-stationary time series may be spurious in that they may indicate a relationship between two variables where one does not exist.”

Stationary data
Image Source

As Andrew Anderson from Malwarebytes told me, “All data is sinusoidal, it goes up and it goes down, despite test results.” Like this:

1024px-Sinusoidal_temperatures.svg-1024x588

That’s essentially the nature of data. Whether because of seasonality, day of week, external factors, press, advertising, etc, data just fluctuates. Even if you didn’t change anything on your site for a month, you’re not going to get the same result every day. It will fluctuate – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

Andrew cites this as the reason time period comparison in analytics won’t work for accurately measuring your ROI, and he gives a great example below:

Andrew Anderson, Head of Optimization at Malwarebytes
“Because linear analysis can only show you where you are, not where you should have been. You can have a much better outcome and still end up lower then when you started. Just as you can have an awful outcome and end up higher then when you started.”

In both of the examples the blue line is the best option, but in one, the yellow line (the worst outcome) is much better than when the test started. Just as in the second part the blue line is very superior but also lower overall than the start of the period.”

sinusoidal data

He continues:

“You can be costing your company millions and think that everything is better by relying on pre/post. Because of this it is less useful than just flipping a coin. Both have nothing to do with measuring the outcome of a change, but at least with the coin you won’t confidence yourself that the data means something.”

fluctuating data sets
You can see the fluctuations in the raw data as well as the trends

A Possible Exception

After talking to Craig Sullivan, I found out it is possible to do time period comparison. However, you have to have a predictable traffic stream (ie PPC) and even then it is rough. Craig explains it well:

Craig Sullivan, Optimal Visit

“The problem with time period comparison is that you can’t ensure that the visitor traffic is reliable over the two periods. Seasonality, advertising, marketing, competitor activity, market changes, weather and many factors can skew your two samples, so you’re not comparing apples with apples. However, if you can maintain a predictable traffic stream of people with similar intent and makeup across the two time periods, you may have a chance to do a rough comparison. For example, if my PPC advertising is consistent over an 8 week period, I can make a flawed but useful comparison of the before and after effects – because I’m comparing a segment rather than ‘all traffic behaviour’.

Of course, this won’t tell me with precision but it can indicate if it’s much worse, much better or we’re not really sure. If I’m comparing deep segments (for example, the people that arrive and start filling out a lead gen form for a tractor model) then why not compare them over the two time periods? Sure there is variability but some of these segments are consistent in desire and intent across the time periods. If I’m comparing traffic at the outer layers of a site, time period comparison becomes much less reliable.

Lastly, there are some tools now like GA Effect that help you work out if the change you made was responsible for the ‘effect’ you saw. Did those 30 new SEO pages cause the rise in conversion or was it just noise or something else? I feel that time period analysis is flawed in the way it’s normally approached – there are some exceptions though!”

If we were to assume that PPC traffic is “reliable”, we’d also have to assume that you haven’t changed daily budget, haven’t changed your keywords, and haven’t changed your ad copy. Three, six of twelve months is a very long period and there are too many variables. It’s not the same traffic anymore. In fact, the variables are constantly changing in AdWords, sometimes daily:

Also – you also can’t draw broad conclusions from PPC data because you can’t assume that all traffic sources will behave similarly. What works for PPC traffic might not work for returning direct traffic, SEO traffic and so on.

Tests to Gauge Impact

“It can be extremely difficult to explain results when it looks like things are flat or overall down. The fundamental problem is that people are using a linear correlative data set instead of the comparative data that a test provides, or in other words you are saying that you are X percent better, not necessarily X percent better of a specific number. All data is sinusoidal, it goes up and it goes down, despite test results.”

-Andrew Anderson

If time period comparison won’t work, what will? There are a few ways to measure impact. None of them are perfect – and there are pros and cons of each – but nonetheless, they’re better than nothing.

1. Retest old versions of the site later on

One of the easiest ways to measure ROI is to retest old versions of the site as part of larger tests later on. Basically, all changes made during the testing period (combined into one metric) tested against the old version.

As Andrew Anderson said:

Andrew Anderson, Head of Optimization at Malwarebytes
“After 5 months of continual optimization and an estimated impact of about 120% increase we decided to include the original design of the site as part of a larger test. What we found was that the actual impact was actually 257% better and that what was really driving down performance was an SEM approach of pushing for quality leads over all leads, dropping overall performance. This lead to eyes being diverted from blaming the testing program and instead a re-evaluation of the SEM program, while at the same time really granting the optimization program unlimited access to changing the user experience.”

Though like most methods here, there are some pros and cons. According to Craig Sullivan, if you’ve been continuously improving and learning, it might not be worth the time to test an old version. Craig:

Craig Sullivan, Optimal Visit
“It’s like Mcdonalds saying ‘Let’s go back to the 2007 restaurant format, to see how it works’ or Facebook saying ‘Let’s use an old design for the app’ – it makes sense to validate this stuff but I think it makes more sense to move the product on so far that this validation is worthless.”

2. Weak Causal Analysis

Another method is weak causal analysis.

As Andrew Anderson said, “use weak causal analysis to get a read on estimated impact. In both cases (cause analysis and retesting old versions) you will often find that you are actually having a bigger impact than you imagine. It is important that you are doing this analysis without prompting and proactively giving others a full evaluation of the overall program.”

What’s is weak causal analysis? Basically this: Do a long term trend line with an estimated error rate. Take that based on prior data before the change and look at the outcome as compared to the expected outcome of the trend line. Make sure you are using independent variables as a basis (like users) so that you can get some read on where you would have been versus where you are.

correlation vs causation
Image source: correlation vs causation

“Anything that can approximate causal information is better than nothing but has a much higher chance of Type I or Type II errors (a ‘false positive’ and a ‘false negative,’ respectively),” according to Andrew.

Not perfect but better than nothing.

3. Measure Impact Through Various Stages of a Funnel

According to Chris Stucchio, another method is to attempt to “measure the effect of your optimizations on the various stages of a funnel.”

Say these are your stages:

  • Step 1: click from email to site
  • Step 2: add product to cart
  • Step 3: go to checkout
  • Step 4: buy

It’s possible you might not have enough data to actually measure a difference at step 4. But as Chris said:

“You can often infer data about step 4 from steps 1-3 (i.e. if you made a significant impact on the percentage of people reaching step 3, it is *likely* (though not guaranteed) that you increased conversions). There rigorous ways to estimate this statistically, but they are again somewhat difficult to do.”

4. Send a small part of your traffic to a consistent base

Here’s what Lukas Vermeer said in a previous quote:

Lukas Vermeer, Data Scientist at Booking.com

“If you really want to know, you can do that by sending a small fraction of all traffic to a consistently stable base, which never changes, will tell you how much better your site is performing now than it was before.

Usually this is technically difficult, but might be needed to shed light on the cost of inaction/not testing.”

Sending a small part, 5-10% of your total traffic, to a consistent control seems to be the most accurate way to track impact of optimization. This is the method that I heard most consistently from expert optimizers, anyway.

Chris Stucchio explains how this works:

Chris Stucchio:
“The only real reliable way to measure the ROI of a sequence of optimizations is to use a holdback set. One of our (CRO only) agency partners plans, with all their customers, to refuse to optimize more than 90% of traffic. Then they will compare the traffic of their 90% to the remaining 10%; the difference (provided it is statistically significant) can be reasonably attributed to them.”

Of course, the question then is with the opportunity costs. If you’re not optimizing 10%, you’re (maybe) missing out on increased revenue. You’re also dealing with less optimizable traffic, so tests will take longer to reach significance.

Are There Opportunity Costs?

As Peep said in a previous article, “Testing something is an opportunity cost – means you can’t test something else. While I’m re-validating something here, I could be testing something else that gives me a lift (but of course, it’s not possible to know whether it would). It’s also questionable whether you should be re-testing it.”

Or as Joshua Kennon put it, “everything in life has an opportunity cost.”

This is a question of your specific goals and risk tolerance. Andrew Anderson explains that it’s always worth it to improve your performance, which might mean taking the time to test impact over the long term:

Andrew Anderson, Head of Optimization at Malwarebytes
“It is always worth trying to improve your performance, but if you are too small to do more rigorous testing, then the key is to go big or don’t do it at all. The issue is that it is really hard to measure small changes (like 2%, or even 20% in some cases). Those changes add up and can be more valuable than shooting for a home run, but if you can’t rely on the data, you have to keep trying to change the largest things and hope you get a meaningful and business shaping impact.

Remember that your opinion is always the most limiting factor, and the smaller you are the more you need to go past your comfort zone.”

Here’s Craig’s take on opportunity costs:

Craig Sullivan, Optimal Visit
“There are many arguments here about measuring all the small changes and not being able to separate these influences from background noise. From my work, site optimisation done with velocity and prioritised changes, as well as fixing bugs and broken stuff, will deliver a lift, whether you care to measure the atomic impacts or not.

My advice – if you’re not continually improving the key metrics you live by or are optimising for then does it matter whether you can measure each tiny impact?

This is why I batch changes or bugs onto a site or optimise 30 page templates rather than one – because I can clearly see impact from the compounding nature of the changes I’ve made.

Fix 235 browser bugs and you’ll lift conversion – do you need to measure or test each one? Hell no.

Take the lift, move on and keep testing faster and better, with quality hypotheses. Aiming for velocity and prioritised volume testing will get you places that endless over analysis will not.

Then again, optimization is more than just a/b testing and lifts. Matt Gershoff, CEO of Conductrics, put it well, saying part of it is about “gathering information to inform decisions.” In other words, optimization is about reducing uncertainty, and therefore risk aversion, in decision making. So you have to factor in everything else you gain from conversion optimization.

Craig also mentioned that conversion optimization isn’t just about the testing. It’s about the big picture:

Craig Sullivan, Optimal Visit
“You’re just running a bunch of tests whose expected output is valuable knowledge for the business – it isn’t about the testing, it’s about setting it up for learning. The quality of the work comes from forming test hypotheses and test programs that drive learning – not short term impacts. It’s like creating Intellectual Property for your business out of customer data.”

Conclusion

Measuring ROI is hard. But there are a few ways to do it.

There are some statistically rigorous methods of calculating impact (GA Effect, weak causal analysis), and even though time period comparison analysis is generally wrong (due to non-stationary data), as Craig mentioned, there are a few exceptions when you can get a rough estimate (if you have stable and controllable traffic, like with PPC – though you might not be able to draw overall conclusions this way.). Finally, one of the most common answers I found was to send a consistent amount of traffic to a small holdback set.

Keep in mind, too, that when done correctly, optimization and the insight you gain can be used in all of your marketing. It’s a process that leads to information that informs better decisions, so the return on investment compounds with the customer insight you gain.

The post How Can We Really Measure The ROI of Optimization? appeared first on ConversionXL.

How Marketers Can Survive in the War on Mobile Ad Blocking

It’s likely that when you opened a news app sometime this week, you saw a headline screaming how “Ad blocking is going to destroy mobile!” These articles are hard to avoid; they’re ubiquitous.

If you’re a brand, or work directly with brands, don’t be alarmed. Mobile may be the main key to your digital strategy, or perhaps its newest proponent. In any case, you don’t want to lose control of your audience. This “survival guide” will help brands master the mobile domain and understand that a few obstacles don’t mean the end of the road.

After all, ad blocking is nothing new. It’s been around for decades; this is just its first foray into mobile.

To recap the history of ad blocking, flashback to 1999. That year at CES, TiVo emerged, enabling viewers to fast-forward through commercials for the first time ever. Then, the popular extension AdBlock began to rise in popularity, allowing surfers to erase ads from desktop web pages. Now, mobile gamers opt for premium apps over their free counterparts, so they don’t have to click out of interstitials in between levels.

So when news broke about Apple possibly adding ad blocking on mobile, advertisers around the world took a collective breath. After years of evaluating where their consumers play, shop and browse; after slaving over ROI numbers on the mobile medium; after endlessly wondering if shopping cart abandonment on mobile meant something different than on desktop – it seems all the hard work would go to waste.

Here’s some real talk: The advertising industry as a whole needs to step up their game if people are going to block less. The key to surviving mobile ad blocking is adding value. Create ads that people want to see and viewers won’t remove you.

Sounds simple, right? Yet most advertisers ignore these best practices. Take a few steps in the right direction with these four tips that ensure brand success.

1. Respect Consumers

Successful advertising is about respecting user behavior. This means timing your ads to appear without interrupting app content. When your ads appear during natural breaks in in-app activity, users are less likely to be annoyed.

IPG ran a study that discerned the mobile moments when users were most engaged. By tracking the biometrics and facial coding of volunteers as they played games, IPG discovered that people were 40 percent more excited after they won a level in a mobile game. When advertisers reached out during these moments, users were more receptive to their messaging. Timing increased brand favorability, respect and even purchase intent.

moment-of-achievement-mobile-kiip

Basically, brands can reach audiences when happiness and attention levels are at their peak to make the most memorable, positive engagements.

Excitement isn’t limited to gaming. Other ideal moments in mobile to do this include:

  • When a runner logs a completed workout in a fitness app
  • When a reader shares an article in a news app
  • When a multi-tasker crosses off an item on a to-do list

2. Think Creatively

As an industry, we’re creating increasingly inventive ads. Consider how these three players got it right:

  1. Chevy’s latest ad made waves by running digital video inside of print.
  2. At Cannes last year, Nivea won the Grand Prix for a makeshift wearable. Targeted at young mothers spending time on Rio de Janiero’s busiest beach, a strip of the magazine ad tore off into a bracelet, activated by your smartphone. The bracelet tracked up to a limited distance, so moms could keep an eye on their kids from afar.
  3. And who could forget Moto X’s interactive print ad? The featured phone changed colors when readers played with the corresponding buttons.

This creativity – this playfulness – is where advertising flourishes. We need to bring this energy into an era filled with new mediums and more expansive capabilities.

3. Demonstrate Relevance

Provide content that is relevant to the app or site where your ad appears. There’s a rather famous story about an ad for a tech job posted on a German tech site. The ad received a whopping one percent clickthrough rate. Compared to the industry standard of 0.1 percent, this is huge. Depressingly so.

However, the incident shouldn’t surprise you. After all, the ad was relevant to the site – many people reading about tech might be looking for a career change in that same industry. It makes sense that the ad was successful. If other ads followed suit and only showed endemic content to viewers, advertisers would see undoubtedly higher rates.

There’s a reason this approach works. It makes people happy.

4. And Most Importantly: Address the Root of the Problem

Let’s face it. More ads equal slower loading times on a mobile browser and sucking the life out of someone’s limited data plan. Those two reasons alone give people enough reason to look forward to mobile ad blocking.

Advertisers are responsible for improving load time and the overall content of their ads. Don’t shuffle the blame of this onto publishers – they can only control so much of the content delivery. Jim Edwards of Business Insider explained the problem well in a recent article. He argued, “Until I hear an ad tech exec say, on the record, that ad tech itself slows down pages, then ad tech will remain part of the ad-blocking problem and not part of its solution.”

The lesson: Optimize your content to enhance and add value to the user experience. If you follow best practices, people won’t pay to remove you. Instead, you’ll gain new and loyal consumers.

About the Author: Brian Wong is the CEO and Co-Founder of Kiip, a rewards platform that targets “achievement moments” in mobile games and apps. Once the youngest person to ever receive venture capital funding, Brian received his Bachelor of Commerce from the University of British Columbia at age 18, after skipping four K-12 grades. Kiip’s innovative approach to mobile marketing creates meaningful engagements between users, developers and advertisers. To learn more, visit www.kiip.me or shoot us a note at hello@kiip.me.

Did you know you can create AdWords image ads with a few mouse clicks?

If you’re only using text ads within AdWords, you’re missing out on opportunities to attract even more business.

While text ads are easy to create, they aren’t as noticeable as image ads (also called display ads).

Text ads are sometimes displayed alongside other text ads which can make it more challenging for your ads to be noticed. For example, the following text ad block:

AdWords Display Network text ad block

When it comes to image ads, one ad takes up the entire ad block, so you don’t share space with other advertisers. Image ads also receive an average position of 1 because there isn’t a second place.

In some cases, websites on the Google Display Network only show image ads within prime locations. If you’re only using text ads, you might not be seen.

It couldn’t be easier to create them.

If you think that image ads are time-consuming to create, require a graphic designer, and they’re expensive, think again.

You can login to AdWords right now and in a few minutes you’ll have some free, decent looking image ads with only a few mouse clicks.

How to create AdWords image ads.

Step 1: Login to your AdWords account and find one of your top performing text ads.

Step 2: Select that one single top performing text ad and then click on the button “More actions” in order to click on the sub-menu to “Generate display ads”.

Within a few seconds, AdWords will take a text ad like this:

Adwords text ad

And then generate some image ads like these.

AdWords image ads - in only a few clicks!

Step 3: Edit the ads you want to use by hovering over the ad and then clicking on the “Edit” button.

Once you’ve done so, you’ll be presented with the ad editor where you can make further modifications to the ads.

For example, you’ll be able to add new supporting images like logos. You can change the copy of the ad and move elements around. You’ll also be able to pick the ad sizes you want to use as well as configure the destination URLs.

Step 4: Preview your new image ads to make sure they each display correctly.

Step 5: Press the “Save” button.

That’s it. In as little as five steps and no more than 5 minutes, you’ve created nine image ads based on one single text ad.

Here’s an example of what that looks like:

9 image ads in 5 minutes

If you’re not happy with the results that AdWords produces, have a look at Fiverr where a graphic designer can create image ads for as little as $5.

This is one of the graphic designers that I have used and been pleased with the results: https://www.fiverr.com/arienne/design-google-banner-ads

You no longer have any excuses so start creating your image ads today.

[83] Thomas Smale on Selling Your Online Business


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Today Jordan is talking with Thomas Smale the founder of FE International and today’s topic is how to sell your business. Many business owners are considering selling their business, but don’t know how to prepare a business to be sold.

A question that is top of mind is how do business owners prepare their business for sale. Thomas does spend a lot of time with business owners who are often considering selling a poor performing business. In his experience, it is hard to sell a business that hasn’t shown a profit. If you want the business to sell then make sure it can make Revenue.

Revenue then effects multiples and price level. This begs the question, “what is a reasonable multiple?” The answer is the longer you work to build the business and the more money you put into the business the higher the return. A loose rule of thumb is 3 times the annual net of 3 months.

Anything 500 thousand dollars and over a year will multiple above 3. Business buyers will buy a business for their own reasons. Under 100 thousand dollars, and a wide spectrum of buyers will take an interest in a business. Above this number the buyers only look for profitable business moves.

Thomas says he sees a lot of investors looking for opportunities they can “scale” or build up to a larger profit. For example a business could be making 30 to 40k a year, but the buyer believes they can grow it to 300 to 400k. These buyers are rare. Most will accept the normal 3 times net. Businesses don’t grow for a number of reasons. Sometimes the seller has taken it as far as they can and have hit a wall. While others need buyers to offer the needed resources to make it larger.

In a 2 sided marketplace like this, how do buyers and sellers connect?  Thomas and his company have turned to the content market.  They publish a blog and podcasts, which draw in more buyers. Over time a list will form and FE International has a whole department dedicated to contacting these buyers and helping them invest.

So what happens when a buyer/seller deal isn’t the right match? Some  buyers don’t know what they want. That is why FE International helps talk to buyers about their expectations of a business.  Sellers are often original owners and may need a little help letting go of a business. In the end Thomas and his company have found that keeping regular contact with a buyer and noting their preferences is an effective way to get the right buyer/seller match. He also adds that educating the buyer is also important to making a good sale. Buyers should know the expectations up-front. Content marketing is very helpful with educating buyers.

Regarding how to plan to sell a business, Thomas recommends considering what a buyer would want to do to improve or change the business. Then make sure you as the seller are to able to break cleanly away from the business. Build a business around a brand, not a person. Brand names are easier to sell than personally named businesses. Next make sure your records are easy to follow and neatly organized. Basically build a business that can run without you.

FE International has done over 300 transactions and every one of them was unique. A system is in place to prepare every business for their sale. For sellers just beginning the sell of their business Thomas has this advice:

  • Hire a broker so those processes can help make a sale run smoother.
  • Unknown things will stall a deal, but don’t panic!

Jordan shares that he wasn’t prepared for the time length it took to close a deal. He was glad he hired FE International to guide him through the process. Entrepreneurs seem to forget that business should be built and made more valuable to an overall business community. Look at the business from an outside perspective. Thomas adds that there is nothing wrong with enjoying your business, but always be open to selling it later on down the road.

All of these processes are essential to running a successful business. Even if you don’t plan to sell, the topic today will help you manage a good business.

If you are interested in learning more about FE International and how to scale up a business visit feinternational.com

If you enjoyed today’s show, please give us a five-star review and we’ll mention your handle on a future episode of the Bootstrapped Web Podcast.  Head here to leave a  review in iTunes.

The post [83] Thomas Smale on Selling Your Online Business appeared first on Bootstrapped Web.

How To Grow and Scale A Culture with Limited Funds – Alicia Navarro

Scaling is a challenge which presents itself to any company starting out. Further to this, cash flow is the single greatest reason companies fail in the beginning. So how do you scale, whilst remaining respectful of your budget?

Skimlinks is a company that in 2014 facilitated $625 Million worth of transactions, and over it’s lifetime has grown to a team of over 60 people. Alicia Navarro, CEO of Skimlinks describes how she got there, shedding light on how she maintains culture, particularly through her recruitment process.

Video and Transcript below. 

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Mark: Please put your hands together, I want the biggest cheer of the day. Biggest, I want animated clapping and I want to follow a few woops. Welcome to BOS, Alicia Navarro! [Applause]

Alicia: Hi, everyone, lovely to be here, thank you. I’m quite blown away by what an animated and communal atmosphere this is, and thank you for having me. I’m here to talk about a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, and the thing that I’m probably the most proud of having done, which is…

“How to grow and scale a team and a culture, and how to do it on a limited budget.”

Let me tell you a bit about, I guess, me and why I’m here, and why I have the qualifications at all to be standing here in front of you all. So, my name’s Alicia, I, seven years ago, started a company called Skimlinks, this is my co-founder Joe, and for those who don’t know Skimlinks, it’s not a very sexy company, it’s not front end, it’s a monetization technology for websites, and when I started it seven years ago, I, for the first year, was doing it pretty much on my own savings, money that I got from my boyfriend at the time and some friends and family and a bank loan. So, for the first year, I had, you know, almost nothing.

And even when we raised our seed round, we still were doing a lot with very, very little. But I always knew from the beginning that to build a great company — and not just one that just kind of delivered results, but to build one that would make you want to wake up and go to work every day — you needed a higher-grade team and to build a great culture around it.

And I think it’s become the thing that I think of as my role as CEO, as the most important thing that I do.

So what have we done right, and why am I here? So, when I started the company, it was obviously just me, and now we have a company that is 70 people currently employed in the company, based mostly in London, although we have a team in San Francisco and a few scattered around working remotely.

One I’m very proud of — this is the picture that they did for me as a surprise on the day of our 7th birthday as a company, you can see me at the bottom. Here, [Laughter] with my co-founder, and every single one of these is an individual picture of one of our team members done, showing a kind of intrinsic personality trait of them, which is kind of cool.

So, that is actually our CTO [Laughter] and very funny event that happened at a Christmas party when we got dared to do the Kate Upton skinny dance; he hasn’t forgiven us. [Laughter] Anyway, the thing that I’m most proud of is that it’s not just a team with 70 people, because I’ve talked to a few guys here, and I am not by far the biggest company, or the most successful, by any stretch, but I do think that we manage to build a brand as an employer and a brand as a company of our culture, that is really well known. It is the reason that people stay in that company and the reason that people join. It’s to the point where even our cleaner, our office cleaner who comes in every night, says that her favourite point of her day each day is when she comes into our office, because of what we’ve kind of created there.

So what I want to kind of talk about today is how I’ve gone from hiring, you know, from nothing, and hiring a team of 70 fabulous people, and the tricks and tips that we did along the way to do that with very little money, and how to build a culture simultaneously to that.

So, it started off as just a very small team, and then became a very large team over the last kind of seven years. So…

So, what is culture?

And I think it’s kind of useful to talk this a little bit before I talk about the hiring, because I think that they are very entwined and all the… most of this talk is going to be around how to hire and how to hire well and to build a team. I think that fundamental to that is understanding what culture is.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever read… Have you ever read the Ben Horowitz book The Hard Thing About Hard Things? If you haven’t, you must; it is the book… it is the only business book that I have cried while reading — it is that powerful. But he has a really great section on building a culture, and he says (I’m going to be paraphrasing this): “Culture is not the fact that you have a ping-pong table or the fact that you have massages or the fact that you can bring your dog to work. They’re perks. A culture is the systems and processes and organizational design elements that you have that institutionalize or create a set of values that then self-perpetuate beyond. And so how do you kind of build these… What are the core values that are really important to you in your culture, how do they help produce the company goals that you want, and what are the ways that you can make that intrinsic?”

And the story that he tells, he tells a couple about what culture is, but I find them really interesting.

He said that, for Amazon… Amazon’s, you know, culture is all about… They really want to create an environment of being careful with money. They want to grow a company where it’s all about being the leader in cost price products. You need to create a culture that also embraces that. So for all their employees, he says, they all have doors rather than desks. They buy doors from home base and they put legs on them, and that means that every person that walks in and starts their job at Amazon says, “Why do I have a desk for a door?” And the answer from the team members is, “Well, because here at Amazon we really want to kind of be the cost price leader, and so we really want to install that in everything we do.”

So it’s a way that they permeated that kind of cultural element. He also talks about how Facebook never took off the signs of Sun off their doors, so that they always… every time you open up a meeting-room door, you would always be reminded of what you will become if you do not move quickly every day. Now, keep in mind that I think that the other thing is, you can’t actually on day 1 go, “Right. What is the culture that I want to create, and how do I do it from day 1?” A lot of this becomes something that you recognize retrospectively, and a lot of it is a direct reflection about who you are as the kind of leader, and those first few employees that you hire. And that’s why hiring is so important, because those first few hires are really critical.

Now, for us, and I’ve talked about this a little bit… Oh, thank you. What the previous… What I forgot to mention, for us at Skimlinks, we actually were very lucky and were able to quite organically almost create a name for our company culture, and that is this concept of Skimlove.

Now, I’ll explain what that means. Skimlinks is a terrible name. I mean, it really is. It’s a company name, I’m embarrassed about it, but it grew very naturally because it was a pivot from a previous company that I had called Skimbit which was also a terrible name. [Laughter] But it just because this kind of habit in the company to prefix everything with “Skim”. So, you didn’t have an intern, you had a Skimtern, you didn’t have a baby, you had a Skimbaby, it just was a thing, you know.

And so there was this kind of very natural thing that happened once when we were celebrating wins, and we were all on Yammer together, kind of talking, and there was this… how do I describe it… It’s a very difficult concept to explain, because it’s almost, you know, a transcendent thing, but as a company, we very much valued being kind to each other, and if we were going to win, it was more fun when… because we were good people, than because we were the cheapest or the fastest or the most aggressive. We wanted to win business, and we wanted to do good stuff just because it made us feel good, and it was a nice way to kind of work. So we call that Skimlove.

So, for instance, if someone celebrated because… won a customer because they were really, really nice, and that customer was so impressed with who we were as a company that they chose us instead of our competitors, we would celebrate it and write #Skimlove. When someone in the team helps someone else out and someone else out in a team, and it was just a really nice thing they did, they praised them on and said, again, #Skimlove.

And I just thought it to embody the kind of thing about our company that was really special, and now it’s so important to us that it is on neon letters in our coffee area when you first walk in the office. It’s a really, really cool part of our identity. And I didn’t force it; it wasn’t something that I came in on day 1 and said, “Right, everyone, we’re going to be talking about Skimlove, this is the way it’s going to work.” It was something that happened very, very, organically, and… But I went with it, and that’s kind of what the next slide talks about.

What I then did was break it down into what the letters represented, and tried to describe what it was to be… you know, what does Skimlove actually mean, what does it mean when you are hiring someone, what does it mean when you are looking for someone to add to the team?

So we break it down, for those who can’t read it or read it out. The “S” stands for “sparkle”, you know, the fire in the eyes, that glint that kind of makes someone feel that they’re passionate and excited. “K” was “kickass”, because you want them to be really good at what they do. “I” is “inventive”, you want to be kind of a hacker. “Master of our domain”, you wanted them to be the best at their job. Likeable, obvious. Open-minded, which is quite important to us. We have a female CEO, we have a female head of technology, we’ve got gay people, we’ve got people from different nationalities; we only wanted to hire people that were very, very open-minded, that were not easily offended, and that kind of embraced diversity. That was really key. Vocal, again, a really important thing for us. I don’t like people that… Hierarchies are useful for some things, but not if it squashes the opinions of others, so we kind of celebrated people being vocal. And lastly, entrepreneurial: we only hired people that wanted to be entrepreneurs themselves one day.

Anyway, the point of raising this is that once I’ve recognized that we had something special, I wanted to understand what it was, and find ways that I could perpetuate it via a kind of organizational means. So, we’ll talk about what some of those were. In fact, the rest of this talk is just going to be examples of what I’ve seen work. And it’s interesting, because I’ve done this talk a couple of years ago, a similar version of it, and actually, over the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of other companies try things and not work, or try things and work, so I put that into this talk, and I’ll make it a very kind of example-driven one.

So let’s break it down. Why… Actually, before I progress, I’d love to know, out of people in the room, put your hand up if you have… if your company’s sort of 10 people or less. OK. How about sort of 10 to 50? And then more than 50? Oh, good, so it’s a really good mix.

What I’m going to talk about now is the differences that… How is hiring different when you are a very small and you don’t have a lot of money, and I’ll talk later on how to hire when you’re a much bigger company.

So hiring in the early days. Cost matters a lot more, obviously. You can’t hire the best, most experienced person on day 1, so you have to find someone that hasn’t done their job before and that you can pick up for much, much less. Culture fit matters more. So, in those early days, I would deliberately not hire someone that might have been just the perfect fit for the job if they were even remotely not right from a cultural perspective. Now that we’re a much bigger company, a much less… if they’re, like, 20% off-culture and they’re perfect for the job, we might still go with them, but in those early days, when you’re like 10 people or less, the culture fit is one of the most important things because they are the building blocks of what your culture will become from then on.

A sense of ownership matters more. Ooh, I’ve gone nosier. [Laughter] Sense of ownership matters more. So in those early days, you want someone that is joining because they love the idea of being part of that early stage of the company. You do not want someone in your first 10 people that is doing it because it’s just their job, that’s doing it because they don’t feel any sense of entitlement. You want those first 10 people to feel that they own this child. Because let me tell you, in 7 years’ time, they’re going to be your senior managers, and you want them still to be around and still perpetuating the culture that you start in those early days.

And then… General skills matter more in those early days. So now, these days, I hire, like, a very specialized skill, and they do this one job, but in those early days you hire generalists and people that are not fussy or precious, because that person that I’ve hired to do account management will also do support, will also do office management, will do everything, and you want people that don’t mind. Because they feel that sense of ownership. You don’t mind what job you do; you’ve got a title, but actually it doesn’t really matter, you do… All of you do whatever you need to do to get the job done.

And so these are kind of the four things that really are important when you’re in those first days of hiring. And so how do you hire? I get asked a lot, “How do you find that first developer, how do you find those kind of first few hires?” And we did… Again, we had no money, we would do things in kind of the cheapest possible way. So we couldn’t even afford recruiters, so we were using… It’s not a big deal these days, but back then it was very odd to be using things like Gumtree or Craigslist, but we would be going to events, we would be… kind of the usual things that you would think of, but when you’re at a very, very early stage and you’ve got no money, it’s looking at graduate affairs or job boards that you would not expect to be using at that stage. But that made a big deal in those early days, when, again, we had no money.

We made it very hard to apply. The problem with putting a job ad up on Gumtree or Craigslist is that you’ll get 50, 70 applications, most of which are just people, clearly, that have just pressed copy-paste, copy-paste, and copy-paste and… And so what we used to do was ask at the end a couple of difficult questions, or even just “Tell us how you would do this,” “Tell us how you would do that,” and it was amazingly good at filtering out people that clearly did not care. OK.

This is one of my favourite things to do, and I do it deliberately, because, as I said, open-mindedness is a very important cultural value for us. So I will always swear in an interview. I will throw in a couple of really dirty words or some dirty jokes, or I’ll ask them what their favourite drink is. And it’s nice. I like doing that, because I kind of want them… to see how they react, and you want them to kind of be very obviously someone that can handle a little bit of filth.

Again, if you’ve read the [Laughter] Horowitz book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”, in those early days it’s actually important to have a culture that values a little bit of… not depravity, but you know, a little bit of… [Laughter] You need to be able to swear a lot around your employees in those early days, I think. And it’s nice to kind of weed out the kind of people that don’t deal with that very well. I once told a really, really, really bad joke, which… the person didn’t last very long.

Anyway. We also look for open-source involvement for engineers, particularly, again… For most of you, this isn’t that big of a surprise, but at the time it was a really big deal for us, because there was a lot of people out there that could code and that were, you know, seemingly good engineers, but what we looked for, entirely, were engineers that… I didn’t really care about their jobs so much, but I loved how involved they were in open-source projects or on projects on the side.

One of my favourite stories is my second engineer — I had put a job ad up on Gumtree, and it was just for an engineer, and I had a bunch of applications. We interviewed a few people, but there was this one application from a Hungarian guy who… his CV consisted literally of his name and then 3 URLs. So I was about to throw it away, going, “OK, clearly this is not a serious applicant.” But then I checked out what those 3 URLs were, and he had actually conceived of, designed, built, and in some cases had sold these quite clever kind of script social media automation tools that were really quite clever, clever concepts that he had done from beginning to end. So I thought, “Oh, OK, this guy’s clearly really passionate about coding that he’s done this on his own without even needing to do so for the sake of a job.”

So I brought him in, and it was the funniest job interview, because he had never been to a job interview before, he hardly spoke English, he had dreadlocks to his arse, and in his job interview I asked him, “So what do you think about my company?” And this is the pre-Skimlinks one, and he said, “Yeah, I don’t really get it, but, you know, whatever you like.” [Laughter]

It was really awkward. It was very funny, because then he left, but there was something about his eyes, and I just thought, “You know what, he’s got the sparkle, he’s got the S from the Skimlove,” so I called him and I told him later that day, “You’ve got the job, you can come back.” And he did, and I put him to work straight away that same day. Years later, he tells me, “Do you know what? When you called me back, I was drunk with my friends and I couldn’t understand what you said on the phone. All I heard was ‘Come back’. I didn’t hear that you said I had the job. So I came back and you immediately put me to work while drunk, but I did your Facebook integration that day.” [Laughter] Bless.

Hire future entrepreneurs. This is one that has recently caused me a lot of grief, because the problem with hiring future entrepreneurs is one day they decide to become entrepreneurs and they leave you. I just had one of my favourite employees leave after five-and-a-half years to go start his own company. What can you do? But it does mean they stick with you for a long time, and that they value the experience more than the salary you can pay them. And this is a really key thing for us. We deliberately went and hired people that, when I asked them “What do you want to do in 5, 10 years?” they said, “I want to start my own company.”

And that meant, a) they were going to be much more used to the ups and downs which inevitably come with a small company, and 2) they value the learning, and so… the commitment that me and my co-founder made from the very beginning is that what we would… we wouldn’t give people salaries that could compete, but we could be really open about our learnings, what we did right, what we did wrong. To the point where we, when we do fundraising now, we take the whole team through the term sheet and explain every term and why we negotiated that, and what was that difficulty with that piece of negotiation. We tell people the things that don’t work, we tell people what happens in the board meetings — not everything, but enough so that, as people, employees in my company, they are now in a position, much, much, better than I was when I first started, to one day do their own company.

And they love the ride. They love the journey .They’re kind of addicted to the highs and lows themselves, and that makes hiring on a budget extraordinarily better.

This makes a lot more sense if you’re in Europe… I think it’s harder to do here, but in Europe we’re quite lucky, because we have essentially the whole of Europe to hire from, which is great. And one of the things that we’ve started to do now, even though we have now… we’re not as poor as we were seven years ago, we now have raised several rounds of funding, but hiring is still tough because of the scarcity of great engineers. So we now deliberately look all over Europe and pay to bring them over to London.

But back then we didn’t have that much money; instead, what we did do, is pay to become a visa sponsor, and so we were then able to hire people not just from Europe but even from India, from Australia, from the US, and you can pick up people that are really excited about the idea of working in London, in their 20s, etc. So that was a really effective way for us to get people that we might not otherwise have been able to get, and attract them not with the money, but with the lure of being sponsored to live in a new country. The same, I guess, works in the US. I think with entrepreneur’s visa it’s a little bit easier… I know… I mean, actually, I’ve gotten a lot of US visas for my team, and it’s not easy, but if you can look afield, I think that can sometimes make hiring on a budget easier.

  1. Here we go. Personalized packages. This was a really big thing for us in the early days. Again, we didn’t have a lot of money, but what we could do was listen when we were interviewing people. And so we would deliberately ask them a little bit about themselves, about their family, their interests, and when we gave them their offer, we… I mean, the salary was never very high, but we always put in a kind of special perk that was deliberately customized to what the person had said they loved during the interview. So, for instance — you can’t see these pictures very well, but one person said they loved rock climbing, so we gave them a one-year membership to a local rock-climbing centre. Another person said that they loved to travel, so we gave them an EasyJet voucher for 500 pounds. Another one said that they, you know, had kids, so we gave them a membership to Gymboree. Another one said they were just moving house, so we gave them a voucher for IKEA. And someone said that they loved animals, so we gave them a membership to the zoo.

You know, these silly little things, but they really show to the person that you care and that you really want them, specifically, to join your team, and it does wonders for both hiring and competing against bigger, badder companies that don’t necessarily give as customized packages. And it also creates a really great cultural blossom for that person when they start.

  1. I’m doing something. Oh, here we go.

So there’s this thing that we call “Alicification”. So, my name is Alicia, Lici’s my nickname, and there’s this process that we call “Licification”. So my co-founder will say, “OK, it’s time for some Licification.” So what that will mean is, we’ve done the offer, we’ve gone through the interview process, but now it’s time to really show them some love. So I’ll write them an email that goes beyond, kind of, the job and starts talking about the vision, what we’re trying to do here, why they’re the most important person for this role, and it’s very hard for people to say no to me when I do that. And it’s worked wonders. We have gotten people that I thought were so far out of our league, because I put in so much effort into really showing that they were an integral member of what we were trying to build. And I recommend that, again, as a way of hiring awesome people on a budget. You’ll be amazed at how some people will drop their salary requirements when they feel that they are going to change your life.

  1. Aim for a rainbow family. I think this one of the… I don’t know how, kind of, common it is here, but I think many kind of UK companies that I’ve seen, and even West Coast companies here in the US, will still be kind of mostly US or mostly UK people. And it’s been something that we deliberately have tried not to do. We deliberately love hiring people from different nationalities, different sexes, different everything, because I think it creates an electric environment. When you’ve got people that are all so different, you look around, those different accents, different faces, it creates something really special in a culture, something about the openness, the willingness to listen, the understanding that great insights come in lots of different shapes and packages, and I think it’s a fundamental thing that we embraced at the beginning that’s become a more defining characteristic of our company. And just to give you a sense, our team is 70 people, we’ve got over 21 nationalities, which I think is pretty awesome. We also… I should actually have made it one person and a half, but yeah. [Laughter]

We’ve got a pretty ratio for a high-tech company. It’s 35% women, and this is… not all of them are just kind of in sales or marketing. Most of the women we’ve got have got computing science degrees, even if they’re not engineers themselves. And it’s, again, a wonderful environment. You walk in, and it’s not just a bunch of boys in a corner; it’s a real co-ed environment. The founder’s a woman, our VP of engineering is a woman, our head of marketing is a woman, it’s a really diverse workplace, and what that does is create, again, an environment where people want to work. Women are attracted to working in our company because it’s a really safe, embracing place for them, and men like it because the women are hot. You know, I’m kidding. [Laughter] But it does… You want to create an environment where people want to come to work every day, and they create relationships and bonds that are more than just a 9-to-5 existence.

Another thing that I have learnt over the years is how to be really good at — especially in those early days — of being open-minded about who you hire for a job and how they kind of progress through their careers. So let me take… These are going to be four examples of people in my company. We can see how unexpected a career path they’ve had. So, this person was a really funny one, because I decided one day that I needed a kind of PA  and I didn’t have time to kind of put a job ad up for it, so my cofounder’s wife runs a fashion PR company, and he said, “Oh, my wife is always getting offers for people to be an intern. Why don’t we just take one of those ones to do this job?” So he literally picked the top one off the pile, and it ended up being this woman, this girl, that has… used to… was a blogger on the side, and we thought, “She’d be all right.” And it turns out she was. She came on first as a kind of PA/PR person, she then was so good that she kind of became a communications manager, and eventually she became a marketing director and was with us for years before, for health reasons, having to leave, get back to New Zealand. But that was a really unexpected career path, and I would never have chosen her to be our marketing director on day 1. But it’s about finding the right person that has the sparkle, the kickass, all those letters I talked about in the first place, and really kind of identifying where their talents lie, and created a career path that made the most of those.

This one here is one of our current product managers, who started life as a… she was a competing science graduate with no job experience, she had just finished her degree, so she came on as an intern. And she was literally categorizing websites. She saw a lot of pornography her first few weeks on the job, because her job was to look at the top 10,000 sites in the world, and categorize them as potential customers for us or not. [Laughter] There’s more porn out there than you would think. It’s amazing.

She then moved on to be, you know, Business dev team and she did that for a few years, and then, you know, we realized that because she, you know, her skill set was more on the techie side, we moved her into product management. And, again, on day 1 we would have never hired her as a product manager, but she’s growing into that role.

We then have one of our current QA managers, who, again, started as a competing science graduate. Started doing categorization as well, it was a real common thing for us. Moved into operations, and then moved into QA, and then finally, you know, one of the guys in my team, I think, could be the future CEO of the company, and again started as a graduate with no experience.

So, again, when you have no money and you can’t hire someone who’s done that job before, you learn to be very good at finding gems of specialness in people that you can kind of grow and develop into other roles. And it’s hard, because what’s going to differentiate one CV from another? So we did things like look for personality in their CV. Did someone kind of say something in a funny way, did they show if they had really interesting extracurricular activities, were they involved in some societies. Whatever is important to your company, find a way to be good at identifying those gems and identifying what they’re good at, what their passions are and developing career paths that work for them.

And it’s been really successful for us. Out of 70 people (I just counted this last night to make sure these numbers are still current), 15% of our current employees joined as interns, and 18% started as grads. And these are now… Most of these are quite senior people in our company now, and now we’re also hiring interns to work for them now. And it’s fantastic. We could never have hired the kind of calibre of employees that we wanted to, if they hadn’t had started as interns or grads themselves.

Some of the things that I’ve learned that didn’t work well…

You know, it’s not all roses and blossoms. Out of the 70 I said we have now, we have 21 or so have resigned over the last seven years, and another 20 of those we’ve fired. So we haven’t always got it right. And one of the things that I think we realize is that when we hire too many or too quickly and don’t spend too enough time with induction, you know, you can actually expect some churn. And I think we realized that there was this… Doing some numbers last night to kind of see the patterns, and I saw that there was a year where this one… most years…

So, let me say this the right way. I looked at each cohort of employees, and I looked at how many of them were still around today, and how many had resigned, and there was this one year where it was the biggest number of people that resigned or were fired. And it was also the year that we had hired the fastest and I think probably had spent the least amount of time on cultural induction. And it’s very true, I think. The second you hire too quickly, you don’t pay enough attention to the cultural side of things, it can be very disruptive to the company, it can be very difficult for the employees. And even now, when we are hiring very, very quickly at the moment, we spend more time than we’ve ever spent before on induction, on team-building, on team activities, because otherwise you’ll see this problem, you’ll see people that are not attached enough to your company, and therefore much quicker to leave if they feel that anything’s not working quite right.

Create traditions. So, this is one of my favourite things. I think this is something that you… again, that starts quite organically; it’s not something that you set up on day 1 going, “Right, I’m going to create this tradition now and create this tradition.” They happen very organically. So, in our case, one Friday, for example, someone was playing “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, and one of our engineers put, you know, “Oh God, not this song again. #Fleetwoodfriday.” And it became a thing, somehow, organically, that now every Friday, at 6:30 or 5:30 when we’ve done our tech demos, we play “Go Your Own Way”. It’s just a silly thing. Because it’s about breakups; it’s not even really a relevant thing. But we’ve kind of embraced it as our company anthem, about how if you’re going to do it, if you’re going to make it, if you’re going to get somewhere, let’s do it our way so that we feel proud at the end of it. And it’s become a thing that really identifies us that my team now play of their own accord at Christmas parties; it’s taken a life of its own. And I think it’s a really… It’s something that I’ve been very encouraging of, because I’m aware of how cohesive something like music can make a culture feel.

We deliberately spend money on getting teams together, so we now have people in San Francisco and all over the place, but every year, no matter what, we fly everyone to the same place and we do it at the moment every Christmas and summer, but we might just make it Christmas now. And we actually now, even take them… well, sorry… We take them for treasure hunts. So, we create this kind of city- or town-wide treasure hunt, and for the last two years, we’ve actually done it in foreign cities. We took the whole team first to Slovenia and then to Rotterdam and did treasure hunts there. And it’s fantastic for new employees. We would actually bring along people that hadn’t yet started but were due to start in the next few weeks, and it was an awesome way to create a sense of adventure and inventiveness and team-bonding that really carried on throughout the rest of the year.

Related to that, and I haven’t included it here because it’s not necessarily a tradition, but we always… Spending money to bring people together is always money well spent. So we have a large number of team members in San Francisco that we regularly will send people both to the San Francisco office or bring the San Francisco team over to London. It costs a lot. But the benefit that you get in terms of team cohesiveness, this sense of shared culture and shared experience — it’s absolutely worth it.

And we’ve got, you know, some of the things that — I’m sure you guys all do the same thing, like welcome questions where we get everyone to say “Two Truths, One Lie,” which can be a great way to kind of get people to know the quirkier parts of a person’s history, and I’ve really covered the Skimlove side of things. But it’s incre… I’m a massive believer in the power of narrative and the power of stories as a means of creating a bond and creating a culture that permeates even beyond you being in the room.

Make start-up education part of the overall package. Again, if you are going to hire future entrepreneurs, one of the things that they will get out of being your team is learning about what… how to start a company themselves one day. So, as I say, we’re very, very open about the fundraising processes that we go through, our financials, our CFO will stand up every Friday and go through the numbers, what’s working, what’s not working. We’ve just been doing a fundraise, for example, and I’ll stand up and tell the team, who I’ve pitched to, how that’s gone, what works, what didn’t work, and the team love that, and a lot of them say, “Gosh, we know previous companies I’ve worked at don’t do that. This level of transparency and trust is incredible.” And it creates an immense sense of loyalty and cohesiveness.

Celebrate wins. Again, as a technology company, we are very keen that we remind everyone in the company that we are a technology company, that we are a product company, and every Friday, for example, we do tech demos, or now we call it “Skim-and-tell” (you can… we use Skim in front of everything) — and it’s great. It gets the engineers, who are normally the ones sitting in the corner, kind of hiding from the world, but on every Friday they have to stand up and tell the team what they’ve worked on, what great things they’ve built, and we all celebrate it. There’s cheers, chinks of glasses, and everyone gets a real sense of celebration at the things that we build. Because what I’m trying to do is create a culture where we celebrate technology, where we love building great products. And to perpetuate that, I’ve created this tradition where we celebrate technology wins.

Another thing that I think is incredibly important that people don’t tend to do is hire internal HR early on. So, about… I think we did it at 20, but we should’ve done it at 15, so hire an internal HR or team development person. And they’re not just about hiring. They’re about having a person that your team feels that they can speak with about their own problems, that worry about team packages, that worry about team development, that worry about getting people onto courses and so on. It’s incredibly valuable, and the team really respond to knowing that you’re investing in them, in their career development, in their team happiness.

Even though we’re still 70 people now, still to this day every person that joins the company will be interviewed by me and my co-founder. And it’s silly because by the time they get to us, the team have already said that they really want to hire this person, so it’s often a formality, but we still have veto power if we really don’t see them working. And it’s an incredibly important process to make that person really know… There’s two things: one is, if I believe so strongly in the importance of culture in creating a cohesive, exciting team, I want to be sure that every person that walks in and becomes a Skimlinks employee has that special something. So we’re out there looking for that. And there have been a number of times when I’ve pulled the rug even if everyone else said that they wanted to. It’s that important.

And secondly, it’s a chance to sell. So, again, if this is, increasingly now when it’s so hard to hire engineers, I’ll get put in at the final round to do my Licification as part of the interview process. So I’ll go into this poor little data engineer, who’s kind of timid and scared, and I’ll be there telling him about how amazing it is and how important… what our mission is, and why this is important, and why you should join. And it’s wonderful. They… It’s wonderful to see that these guys are so necessary to the company’s mission, you know, that the CEO is taking time out of the day to hang out with them and talk to them. I don’t actually interview them; I just talk to them about their life, their aspirations, and it’s incredibly powerful, and you get the engineers, you know, a month later starting, and they still come up to your desk and say, “Oh, hello!” And I love that. I don’t sit, by the way, in an office; I sit right in the middle on a normal desk, because I want, again, the whole company to feel approachable to me and to each other.

We spend an awful lot of time on hiring and retention. Probably 30% of my time is spent either hiring or interviewing or thinking about team culture or thinking about processes or thinking about ways that we can make our team happy. It’s probably the most important part of what I do each day and continues to be, and I think will be, going forward.

This is a really important thing that I have seen a lot of other CEOs perhaps fail at, and that’s not recognizing that the culture of the company is a direct reflection of the CEO’s personality, and that if you want to create a certain type of culture, you have to live and breathe that every day yourself.

I see a lot of (I’m not going to name names here) CEOs that really want their team to work hard, and work, you know, 10 hours a day, and really care about things, but they don’t rock up to the office until 11, and they’re doing 5 other things on the side. And the team know that and there’s no way you’re going to create a culture of excellence and passion and dedication if you’re not the one that’s living and breathing it and showing it yourself every day. And I really… I think this is one of the most important things, and I think if you ask, you know, anyone in my team, that they will say the same. A lot of them (and this sounds so vain, but it’s not), they work hard and they care because they see I work hard and I care, and they know that that’s important, that they’re here because… they joined because they want to be part of that mission.

And so I think, as a CEO, or, you know, any senior manager, you are incredible responsible for setting your own company’s culture by the way that you act, the way that you hold yourself, and the kind of expectations you put on yourself.

And progressing along that is making yourself someone that others want to work for as well. So, I spend a huge amount of my time now talking, and it’s one of those silly things, because I actually don’t think that… I don’t think I’m anything special; I’m constantly critical of myself — but you have to create a brand for the company that you work for that makes other people want to join and want to join… want to be part of your story. And so you put yourself out there, and I’ve spoken to a couple of other people here today that, you know, recognize the importance of that as well — that if you want to create a great culture, you’ve got to be very external with talking about your mission, and that’s going to help attract people to work for you.

We do a lot of sponsoring of events. Now, this is obviously something that is easy to do once you have some money, but there’s still some things you can do without money. So, this weekend, actually, when I get back to London, we’re hosting a Stemettes hackathon, which is a… For those who don’t know, Stemettes is a group of females in technology, and so we really want to create… you know, hire a lot more female engineers, so we’re hosting a bunch of women engin… hacking at our offices this weekend. Similarly, we sponsored a woman to study at a coding school and we wanted to hire some great data scientists, so we sponsored a data science conference. Some of these things can be expensive, but, as I said, the hackathon is not, and it’s awesome for creating a reputation and brand for hiring a certain type of people.

This is an interesting one. One of my most recent employees is a failed entrepreneur, and I tell you, failed entrepreneurs are the best people to hire, if you can. They’re awesome, because they believe in you, they kind of now need money, so they’re kind of now really eager to get back into the workforce [Laughter] and they’re really eager to learn what they did wrong. And anyway, he’s great. But one of the things he said to me, “We spent…” This is a photo of our office. It’s beautiful. We spent a lot of money on this recently. And this guy on my team said, “I was kind of amazed that you would spend that much money. I know in our company we would never have spent that. A couple of desks, and spend your money on something else. But now,” he says, “I recognize why you did it.” And it’s because if you…  I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Architecture of Happiness. It’s a really great book by Alain de Botton, and it’s all about how the degree to which culture and mood are a direct reflection of the environment that you’re in. And so if you want to create happy people, you create a happy physical environment.

And it’s an awesome book, if you haven’t read it. But it really kind of inspired me, and so we deliberately spent more money than we probably should have on creating a really, really beautiful space. And we can see on the pillars here is… We have these things called The Three Pillars, which are the way that we kind of frame the way that we work, so one’s “building great technology”, one’s “creating engagement”, and the other is “driving revenues”. There’s a lot more behind it, but at a high level, that’s it. And what we’ve done is, we’ve got a designer to create these beautiful murals that represent each of those, and paint them on the pillars. Ironically, we have three pillars in our office. It couldn’t be more perfect. And so we’ve gone and invested in these beautiful offices that people love to come in, they feel inspired to think and to dream. Now, again, if you don’t have a lot of money, you obviously can’t spend a lot on a great office, but you can still spend a lot on finding… You don’t spend a lot of money just to create a great environment, one with lots of light, one that has good communal areas, one that smells good.

Smell is one of those underrated things. In fact, I think the next slide shows, I deliberately placed… the first thing that you see when you walk into our office is the café bar that has a toaster right in the middle. Because I think that the smell of toast is one of the most beautiful smells for creating a sense of homeness and comfort and safety, and I think that, you know… Our office always smells of toast. It’s wonderful. [Laughter] You see there. So this is what happens when you walk in: you walk in, and there’s a coffee machine going, so it’s, again, this smell of coffee, and it’s the smell of toast that permeates the entire office. And it’s little things like that that make an office feel like home; it makes people want to work late nights.

I’ve covered this already. Create visual reminders of your culture. Now, this is something I’ve done more retrospectively. It wasn’t something that on day 1 I thought, “Right, what’s my culture, what are the letters, how do I draw those?” It was something that I did a couple of years into it and thought, “OK, what is it that we’ve created here? What is it that has organically come about because of the kind of people that I’ve hired? And how do I kind of visualize that or put some kind of memorable structure around it? And so we’ve got a wonderful visual designer on the company that’s created these beautiful murals and painted them on the walls and then painted them on our Skimlove signs, and there’s a beautiful kind of visual language that permeates our office, our website, our… what do you call it… swag products that we give at conferences. And again, it’s something that the team felt this sense of bond… unity with. They are proud to be identified by this kind of visual language. It’s these little things that you never think about that actually are so important to create a great culture and to attract people to work for you.

So, what are the kind of challenges of hiring when you have no money? So this is… I’ve talked about how you can hire cheaply in those early days, but it doesn’t come without problems. You’ve saved on money, but now you actually have to spend a lot of time overseeing. And I have to say that’s been one of the hardest things that I’ve had to go through with, you know, a young team. For a long time, the average age of our company was under the age of 25, which is exhausting. Oh, my God, these people, they constant… affirmation, what’s in it for me, and, you know, it’s draining. They’re very energetic. [Laughter] It comes at a price, so there is a lot of time that you now have to spend overseeing, guiding, reviewing, calming down, you know. It’s hard.

This is another really tricky one. Eventually you have to replace them. The great CTO that you hired was an engineer, and you called him a CTO because you needed to do that. One day you’re going to have to hire a replacement CTO that actually knows how to scale a business. I’ve had to do this in my business countless times, and it’s caused me incredible amount of inner pain, because you’ve got these people that joined that ascended in the company with you, that love this company, that are so proud of what they’ve achieved, and then you’ve got to go and hire someone above them, or that replaces them. And you’ve got to let them go or you’ve got to make them now report to someone else. And it’s really, really hard, but it is absolutely inevitable if you hire junior people when you don’t have a lot of money. And you just have to kind of toughen up and do it, but you also… I mean, the clever ones recognize that it’s an awesome opportunity for their career to learn from someone that’s done it before, that hopefully you’ve hired people that are humble enough to appreciate that they don’t know it all yet.

One of the other hard things that comes with hiring young people and starting very small is that eventually, when you do hire better people, you need processes, you need to grow up as a company, and you need processes and systems and performance reviews and management meetings and all these things that I hate, frankly, but you have to do, because you’re now a bigger company and that’s required of you. And there’s a little part of you that feels that that Peter Pan side of you is now dead, but it is what is needed to kind of grow a company and is an inevitable result of growing with younger employees.

And mistakes will often happen. I mean, you hire junior people that have never done it before, sometimes they’re going to, you know, screw up, and you have to be patient and understanding, and that can be hard. I’ve seen a lot of fellow entrepreneur friends of mine that have hired, again, junior people when they didn’t have a lot of money, and then they get really, really angry when they screw up. And I’m like, “Well, of course they did. You need to mentor them, you need to be there with them, and you’re going to have to expect that if you hire junior people that are not best of their breed yet, they’re not going to always be perfect, and you just have to accept that.” And you do.

So how have things changed with money? So now, you know, we’ve raised… We’re received a Series C fundraise, we’ve raised quite a lot of money, and there are some things that are better. I can now sleep at night a little bit. Gosh, in my early days, I remember that first year, our technology service would… When you’re on a website, it tracks when you click out of that site and click onto a product link, and it helps you make money from that. But I remember in those early days when our server architecture was terrible, we would bring down newspapers, really important (I’m not going to say their names in case it comes out to them), but they were national newspapers that ran our technology, and for like two hours, we killed every single one of their outbound links. And so that was a very unpleasant two hours of my life. And now that we’ve hired excellent people that know how to set up redundancies and all sorts of necessary technical architecture, I can now sleep at nights a little bit more. A little bit more.

The other great thing that happens is that you hire people that are much smarter than you, and again, you have to be humble enough as a leader to know that that’s actually a really good thing. There, it’s awesome when you hire people who know a lot more than you do, and that you… I actually tell them, “Tell me what you need to lead you, because I can’t actually tell you how to do your job. I can just tell you what the overall vision is, and kind of what the expectation is, but everything else you need to tell me.” And that’s a really nice aspect of hiring senior people that have done it before.

The other unexpected… I thought it would be really hard to bring in senior people. What if it would destroy the culture, hiring these older people? Our average age is now a much more sensible age. To my wonderful surprise, it’s actually been a reason that people stay, because they’re excited to work for someone that is senior and experienced and can teach them something, and they now have a role model they can aspire to. And if you hire those senior people well, like our VP of sales in BizDev, our VP of engineering, our VP of marketing, these are people that now people want to work for. And they’re actually, yeah, a great piece of branding for our company, and it’s an unexpected benefit that happens when you hire awesome senior leaders.

But the focus on…

The one thing that hasn’t changed is that the focus on culture remains exactly the same, you know.

We still are dogmatic about hiring people that are good cultural fits and I still think day and night about, how do I create an environment where people want to stay, where people want to work, where the values that I find important are perpetuated without me having to do it. And yeah. That’s one of the joys of growing a team and a culture. And that’s it. Thank you very much. [Applause]

 Mark Littlewood: Thank you. Right. Some questions. Stick your hands up. Peldi you wouldn’t swear in an interview; why not?

Peldi: Huh?

Mark Littlewood: You wouldn’t swear in an interview.

Peldi: Well, I don’t swear much in general.

Alicia: Well, that’s all right, then.

Peldi: So I was just surprised…

Alicia: Well, it’s because for us, our cultural value was open-mindedness, so I needed to kind of test that on day 1. Are they going to be able to handle, you know, a lesbian manager, which is what they would have to put up with. Are they going to be able to handle a female boss, are they going… Those things that I look out for. For instance, if it’s me and another man interviewing them, are they only looking at the man in the eyes and not the woman? So they’re not going to deal well with a female environment. There are little things that you spot and see that, when you identify what’s important to you as a culture, you start to look for in an interview. And for us, yes, the ability to kind of handle a joke, you know, is a really important attribute, and so we wanted to test that out at the very beginning.

Mark Littlewood: Cool, Mark

Mark A: Hi, my name’s Mark. I’m offering a 20% discount today. [Laughter] To follow up on that, actually, my brother has hired people and had to fire them, and there have been… I mean, we live in the United States, which is very litigious, so any sort of swearing or even asking about family in an interview can lead you into a lawsuit later on.

So, obviously, you’re subject to different rules, perhaps, but I just wanted to hear from you, since you’ve had to fire a number of people or transition them out, can you tell us about some things that didn’t go well at all and how you managed it, both personally and logistically?

Alicia: Yeah, good question. I mean, also, one of the other things that is important to us as a culture is that we’re very good to each other. That we create an environment of love and protection, and that people know that they’re going to be taken care of. So even the people that I’ve had to fire, we’ve thought to do so in as gracious a manner as we good. So, we would often tell them, “This is going to happen, but it’s not because of you, it’s because where we’re going is not conducive to the kind of skills that you have,” and we come up with a way… we let them essentially resign, so that they don’t have the shame of having to be kind of stopped out. And we arrange a very generous package, and it’s a really gracious thing, to the point where I’m still friends with the people that I have fired, as a result. They’re the good ones. There have been some cases where it’s… they’ve not been as understanding, and they’ve been angry, but we’ve always followed all the rules for letting people go, and it’s never been a problem for us.

It’s actually harder to let people go in the UK, where the laws make it very, very difficult to do so. In the US it’s much, much easier, and we’ve never had any kind of major… any litigious issues, at all, I think, if we approach it in a gracious manner and we’re very, again… There are things that I’m generous with, and so, you know, flying people over to meet face to face, I think that’s an expense worth doing, and letting people go graciously, especially if they’ve been a good member of the team, I think is another thing that I’m happy to spend money on. And then in other cases, there have been cases where we’ve had to let people go because they’ve been drunk at work, or… badly so, or have been quite violent, aggressively violent, and they’re easier to do in a way, because it’s like, “That’s it, you’re gone. It’s out.” But I think if you just manage it graciously, we really are very, very proud of acting in a manner that we’re proud of and wouldn’t be ashamed of, and it’s never been a problem for us. But yeah.

Mark Littlewood: Yeah.

Arielle: Hi, I’m Arielle from Axosoft, and you talked a little bit earlier about some of your growing pains in creating processes, and I’m just curious, as you were going through that, how did you come up with processes, and how did you know how much process to create? I’m just sort of curious about what you did.

Alicia: Process is one of the things that I’m naturally not good at, and so we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. And I think that what we’ve tried to do is be very open about, you know, is this working, is this a good meeting, is this a good use of our time, what can we do to improve it. And so, a good example of things like our goal-setting, we’ve gone through probably five different iterations on how to do it, and it’s a constant kind of evolution to make it work with our team, but I find that very, very… It doesn’t come naturally to me, and I now actually hire people that are better at that. And it’s funny, as the years have gone on, I’ve created an environment where I’m allowed to be a little bit batty in a little bit kind of irregular… and I’ve got a wonderful team of managers that bring in the process and the structure, and almost tell me what to do. And that’s worked very well, because I know that that’s not my strength, so I hire people that are good at that side of things.

And I think we can probably still do better, and I think that there’s… I think the key is not to adopt a process just because someone else has done it and it’s worked for them. What we’ve tried to do… what do you call it… OKRs, which is a form of goal management, and it just didn’t work for us, so we kind of evolved it to be suitable for us and it’s been a much better process. Same with agile, same with a few other processes that we tried and thought, “You know what, let’s evolve it.” It goes back to our company anthem, you know, “Go Your Own Way”. I prefer… I hate doing things just because someone else says that’s the way to do it. I’d rather take inspiration and make something our own. And that goes for processes as well.

Arielle: Thank you.

Des Traynor: How do you manage to keep all this consistent across two offices?

Alicia: The first… I learned a lot about this. The first thing to do, when we set up our San Francisco office, is I moved over and I brought over two people from the London office. So our first foreign office was seeded with cultural ambassadors, I call them, so the people that were the kind of firmest representations of our company culture, and we hired from thereon. And then we spend… we make sure we do all company meetings at the same time, and we spend a lot of money flying people back and forth. It is one of those problems where you throw money at it, and it’s an important thing to do, and it’s still hard. That poor San Francisco team… We try really, really hard and they still sometimes feel very much like the satellite office, but it’s something that we’re incredibly conscious of, and work out every single day. Also spend a lot of money on good telecommunication equipment. It’s the only way to do it. But every office that we start, we seed with original cultural ambassadors, and we also do secondments, so every month we send someone from our London office to work a week out of our San Francisco office and it’s kind of a perk, and they love it; they get to hang out in San Francisco and be part of that scene. Our San Francisco team love it because they get a constant stream of visitors, and it’s really fun, and it creates awesome ties between the two offices.

Mark Littlewood: Fabulous. This is going to be a short question and a short answer.

Dan: Hi, I’m Dan from Sterling Medical Devices. I feel like you gave me permission to hire an HR person. I have 55 people, and the advice I’ve been given is, don’t do it until you’re 100, 120.

Alicia: That is so wrong. [Laughter]

Dan: They want to keep outsourcing HR functions, so…

Alicia: Oh, well, I never understand that.

Dan: I don’t either, and actually I appreciate what you said, so my question is, what do you look for in an good HR person, what kind of background?

Alicia: Good question. We’re actually… one of my… Our first of the HR hire, she ended up… she was in London, she was this lovely German girl, Austrian girl, and her husband moved to San Francisco, so she moved with him. And she worked remotely for us for a year, and then it was actually just too hard for her to be running, being a HR person for a team when she was a remote person herself, so she left, and we’re now trying to hire her replacement, and so what we are looking for, you want someone that understands policies and can do that kind of side of things, but the secret to a good HR person is that they also embrace culture, and that they’re not just the person that knows the right way to fire a person, the right way to set up a benefits package, that’s the admin bit of the job. The really special bit is, are they good at identifying that special something? Can they be both good at firing people but good at hiring people? Can they be the person that can lead your induction? Are they the kind of person that you would want to do that first interview when someone come… joins the company and also be the first person that greets that person on their first day of work?

And so we look for someone that is very structured and process-oriented but that is awesomely empathetic, and has a very strong warmth about them. And I think that’s what people get wrong about when they think about HR. It’s not about just the admin and the process side of things — it’s about creating your team, it’s about creating that culture. Every single person that you hire adds another brick to that kind of cultural building of yours, excuse my metaphor, and if you get any of those wrong it becomes an ugly house, to continue that metaphor, and it’s such an important… I think we should have hired ours  even sooner than 20 people.

 Mark Littlewood: Thanks. [Applause] Mark Littlewood: Thanks for watching that talk from Business of Software Conference USA, 2014. Hope you enjoyed it. For more talks, go to thebln.com, or better still, come and join us at the next Business of Software Conference; they run in Europe and the US. See you soon.

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The post How To Grow and Scale A Culture with Limited Funds – Alicia Navarro appeared first on Business of Software USA.

Building a Truly Authentic Business

Cynthia Jamin, Founder of TwirlyGirl, talked with us about the very personal reasons for starting the business. She shares how she’s remained true to her purpose at every step along the way, even when it went against the grain of what everyone else said was “right”. She proves time and time again that staying authentic to your vision and your brand will never steer you wrong.

Show Notes:

  • Cynthia Jamin
  • TwirlyGirl
  • Intro Song by Alex Koch of Digital Dust Studios
  • Outro Song JUMPSWIM - "Fall Out of Love" w/ Ninna Lundberg
  • 5 Growth Hacks You Can Implement Today Without a Developer

    It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need engineers for growth tactics. Here are 5 you can implement on your own.

    I had been emailing back and forth with a reader.

    He asked me for advice about getting traffic, and I suggested he start a blog to attract readers.

    His immediate reaction was an excuse:

    On the one hand, this is a clear example of “but I…” syndrome: a condition that I—and so many of us—suffer from, that sometimes causes our first reaction to a piece of advice to be thinking about all of the reasons why we can’t do something, rather than thinking about the ways we can.

    On the other, it’s a fair question.

    It’s easy to look at other companies with full-time “growth hackers” and engineering teams focused on implementing marketing efforts, and to think, “I can’t do that right now.”

    And the truth is, no, you can’t do exactly what those companies are doing right now.

    But there’s SO much you can do to grow your business that doesn’t require a developer or designer to lay a finger on.

    If you need to grow but are short on development and design resources (like we all are), here are five wins you can implement right now:

    1) An Insight-Collection Welcome Email

    Whenever I sign up for a new product or service, I get an email welcoming me.

    Sadly, most of these welcome emails—especially those with nothing more than a short “subscription confirmed” message—miss a huge opportunity.

    If you’re going to have someone’s attention anyway, why not do something valuable with it? For both you and them?

    One of the biggest onboarding wins we’ve had was when we tested a welcome email that accomplished three things:

    1. A warm, personal welcome from me.
    2. A heads up to set expectations about what they can expect in the days and weeks ahead
    3. A simple question: “why did you sign up for Groove?”

    The responses to this email have been tremendously valuable to our growth efforts.

    We learn exactly the kinds of emotions and pain points that people are experiencing at the moment they decide to try Groove, and the triggers that made them click “sign up.”

    That’s the kind of language that we’ve put directly into our marketing site and email copy, that speaks directly to prospects in their own words and that connects with them in a way that copy written based on assumptions never will.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Simply set it up as the confirmation email in your email software or CRM. If you don’t have any software to email customers set up yet, then simply save the email and send it by hand whenever a new customer signs up.

    2) Giveaways

    We’ve now run giveaways on all of our blogs.

    These have been hugely successful for us when it comes to collecting new email subscribers and driving traffic through Tweets and Facebook shares, as well as simply building the Groove community.

    Giveaways don’t have to be expensive; the 13 books we gave away cost us around $80 per set on Amazon, and that giveaway drew almost 1,500 new subscribers, at an amazing 9.8% conversion rate from the pool of visitors to the post while the contest was running.

    I’ve also seen successful giveaways for prizes that cost the contest promoter nothing but time, including one-on-one consulting and free design services (from a designer).

    You can do giveaways to get email signups, get people to share your name on social media, have people sign up to try your product and more.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Sign up for Rafflecopter (starting at $13/mo), as it’s really the only tool you need. Once you set up a giveaway, if you can’t embed a Javascript snippet onto your own site or blog, you can simply link to the giveaway page that Rafflecopter creates for you.

    3) Blogging

    It might seem obvious, but far too many overlook the power of blogging because they imagine technical hurdles that really don’t exist.

    It’s easy to dismiss a blog if you assume that you’ll need to code blog posts yourself (we do this, but we certainly don’t need to… in fact our first blog was on Tumblr), or that you need fancy widgets and software to optimize.

    The fact is, to get started, you need absolutely none of that. On day one, you can start with no technical aptitude at all.

    Our blog has become the single biggest driver of growth for our business, and anyone can replicate those results with the right process.

    How to go from nothing to a successful blog

    1. Figure out what your audience’s burning pains are. Talk to them. Do keyword research. Send out surveys.
    2. Write content that solves those pains. This is the part that comes least naturally for most people (myself included), but you’re more prepared to do this than you think. Just start. Seriously. Research your posts, use compelling images, tell stories.
    3. Drive traffic and build an audience of people who want to hear from you. This is the most time-consuming part, but it’s really, really straightforward. Get influencers on your side, write guest blog posts and collect email addresses using any number of free tools out there that don’t require a developer to set things up.
    4. Repeat. Do this over and over and over again, and if your product is good enough, you will get customers. Guaranteed.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Sign up for a free Wordpress blog. It’s ridiculously easy to set up, has plugins for all email software that require zero technical knowledge to set up, and you can always switch to something more complex when you can justify the cost and developer time.

    4) Autoresponder

    What do you do with all of those new email subscribers?

    If you’re like most bloggers, nothing. You’ll send them updates when you publish new posts, and nothing more.

    But you’re not like most bloggers. You’re going to use your blog to grow your business. And that’s where your autoresponder comes in.

    Every mainstream email marketing software has the functionality to set up an autoresponder: a series of automated emails that gets sent to every new subscriber.

    We’ve spent a lot of time testing and optimizing our autoresponder, and what we’ve found is that the best performing ones:

    1. Tell the customer what to expect from us in their inbox.
    2. Deliver high-value content that solves problems for the subscriber.
    3. Finish with a strong call to action to sign up for your product.

    Since implementing the current version of our onboarding email autoresponder for new blog subscribers, our 30-day subscriber retention has jumped by more than 25%.

    Click to see our full five-email onboarding flow

    And the final email brings in hundreds of new trial users each month.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Write the emails in a Google Doc, and set it up in your email marketing tool of choice.

    5) Customer Development

    Some of the most powerful growth tactics we’ve implemented don’t involve actually signing up a single customer.

    The welcome email is one example, and customer development is another.

    The 100+ hours I spent last year talking to all of our customers (and the many more I’ve spent since) have been some of the most highly productive hours we’ve spent on growth.

    I sent every customer an email that looked like this:

    And in the ensuing conversations, I learned things that propelled our growth forward like nothing we’ve done since starting the blog:

    1. Where our onboarding needed improvement to increase retention (and exactly how to improve it)
    2. The things that were keeping some customers from adding more agents and spending more money (and how to remove those barriers)
    3. The exact personas of our customer base (and how to best market to each one)

    And much, much more.

    If you haven’t tried a full-scale customer development effort yet, do it. Trust me. You’ll find the insights you need to grow like never before.

    How to implement this without an engineer: Email your customers to set up a chat. You can use Doodle to manage scheduling, and a Google spreadsheet to track the feedback you collect; here’s the exact spreadsheet we use.

    You Don’t Need Hackers to “Hack” Growth

    In the early days of a business, everything is scarce, including everyone’s time. With every team member wearing multiple hats, people get stretched thin.

    But not having developers at your disposal doesn’t give you an excuse not to implement tools and strategies to drive growth.

    I hope that this post has given you at least a couple of ideas for tactics you can put into practice today.

    5 Hacks to Make the Most of Social Advertising on Mobile

    Social and mobile are exploding. That much is a given. With the powerful insights and data that social brings to the table, and the far stretching reach mobile offers, when we put the two together we’re left with digital’s power couple.

    Perhaps these numbers will paint a better picture: on Pinterest 92% of users are logging in via their mobile devices, compared to 86% of Twitter users and 68% of Facebookers, not to mention mobile-only networks like SnapChat and Instagram. Needless to say, social on mobile is definitely where you want to be.

    iphone-screenshot-on-social-networks

    Here are five proven hacks to make your social advertising more effective and meaningful on mobile going forward.

    1. Utilize Targeting Options Built for Mobile

    One of the most useful aspects of social advertising is its plethora of advanced targeting options – the result of an enormous amount of data that’s unique, accurate and tied to specific users with known interests. What unique targeting options do social campaigns offer that are unique to mobile?

    Hyper-local Ads: As a mobile marketer working with social media, location based ads will become one of your most powerful tools. Engaging with nearby customers can be extremely valuable whether you’re at an event, an owner of a restaurant, or a brick and mortar shop. By channeling the GPS capabilities of your smartphone, Facebook and Twitter can help businesses by allowing them to enter the business’ address along with a predetermined radius to notify users in the area.

    facebook-mobile-ad-targeting

    For example, fashion retailers can target users who have an interest in fashion when they are near one of their stores. If they happen to know that a user viewed a stunning new dress in their app, they can retarget that user when she’s near the store by encouraging her to actually try it on. Lots of potential here.

    Platform & Device Targeting: Another very useful targeting method for mobile marketers is related to the user’s mobile device. This includes fine tuning based on OS, OS version, device type and model.

    OS version enables you, among other things, to exclude users with an out of date OS version that may not be compatible with your app or does not perform as well as with newer versions.

    When targeting by device type, it is recommended to customize your ad using images of that same device you’re targeting. In device model, you should target new phones as the ‘new phone’ market is a great one for app developers as they’re the ones currently on the hunt for all of the latest and greatest apps to fill their 32 GB with.

    Make sure to optimize your bid for each segment, as competition on prices may vary between different OS versions, device types, and models. This will maximize your ROI by paying the right price for the right audience.

    twitter-advertising-device-selection

    Selecting Android devices to advertise on Twitter

    Wi-Fi: If your app is heavy, you should only encourage users to download it when connected to wi-fi. By turning this feature on or off, you’re in control.
    Last but not least, know that there is always a tradeoff between depth and reach. The more granular you target, the higher the cost, but also the greater the value generated. So, if you know your audience, great. If not, you can get a fairly good understanding by investing several thousand dollars, starting wide and letting the social networks’ machine learning figure it out.

    2. Adapt the Right Native Format

    Native advertising is red hot. By creating ads that are in the same format as the editorial content, marketers are providing a much more streamlined user experience, especially on mobile. According to Yahoo, effectively integrated native ads gained 3X more attention than non-native mobile ads, and a 2.6X higher CTR than other Yahoo mobile display ads.

    Within native, social will account for the biggest share of ad revenue, according to BI Intelligence. This comes as no surprise as social is perhaps the “nativist” form of native advertising with powerful social sharing tools and an algorithm that most likely increases frequency of sponsored posts liked and shared by your friends.

    Before choosing where to run your native ad, think hard about which format best suits your product. Facebook, for example, offers advertisers sponsored news feed posts, photo sharing apps like Instagram offer sponsored photo posts, while Pinterest offers sponsored pins. So if you want to advertise design-related products, Pinterest, with its powerful visual platform is a great match. Likewise, if you’re a travel app you can share images of your spectacular traveling destinations on Instagram.

    3. Video in Social on Mobile

    If mobile and social are the dynamic duo of digital advertising, video in social on mobile is what makes up the golden triangle. Although more costly, the format’s level of engagement is a world of its own (take Facebook’s video ads that generate 5-6% higher engagement than non-video Facebook ads).

    Video ads on mobile are already working strong for YouTube, whose users are 1.4x as likely to watch ads on smartphones and also 1.4 times more likely to share the ads they watch on mobile; for Facebook with its whopping 3 billion views on mobile (many of them auto-played but impressive); and for Twitter where 90% of Promoted Video views take place on mobile devices.

    Pinterest has just introduced Cinematic Pins, which can be classified as a form of video ads. They are a new motion-based mobile ad format that moves during scrolling.

    If millennials are your aim, social networks like Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat are rising steadily in popularity, with new native video ads expected to be the next big thing.

    youtube-millennials-stat

    Having said that, it’s important to note that video advertising is expensive and when it comes to creative it’s fairly static. What this means is that you should start running with video only once you already know what you want to say, and what worked for you on other channels. In other words, video is not the best testing format for new companies with limited budgets.

    The auto-play function provides an excellent opportunity to catch your user’s attention. And best of all, you can also use a performance model here as Facebook will only charge you if your video was viewed for at least 10 seconds, while with Twitter you’ll only pay if the video was 100% in-view on a user’s device for at least three seconds.

    4. Deep-Links for Optimal Social Sharing

    Deeplinking is the technology that connects different mobile environments (app-to-app and mobile web-to-app), while allowing the opening of a specific app screen. Linkage is a non-issue on the web but on mobile it certainly is with lots and lots of broken user experiences.

    For example, imagine you’re scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and you receive an invite from a friend to play a game (Farmville, CandyCrush, whatever floats your boat). The invitation promises some type of reward i.e. 10 free coins, or all new powers, etc. If you want to create a seamless experience for your user, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to cash in on that promised incentive. Deep links allow you to bring users to a unique landing page within your app enabling them to cash-in on their freebie.

    There are two ways you can use this feature on Facebook, one being through App Links, Facebook’s deeplinking tool, by following these implementation methods. If you haven’t enabled App Links, Facebook has created a new field in their app creation tool allowing developers to define the exact location they want to link their ads to.

    facebook-deep-linking-ad-setup

    Twitter enables deeplinking as well as allowing users to tap a link in twitter and end up on the specific page within the given app – if they’ve already installed it on their device. If not – they’ll be taken to the app store to download it. In order to enable the deeplinking feature on your Twitter ads, you’ll just need this new set of markup tags.

    5. Measure, Measure, Measure

    It goes without saying that if you want to become a super ‘social on mobile’ marketer, you need to measure your efforts. And do so tirelessly. You can either use the social networks’ analytics dashboards to understand what’s working and what’s not, or an analytics partner to get advanced functionalities like retention and cohort reports, multi-touch attribution, enhanced lifetime value analysis and comparison to multiple marketing activities across hundreds of media sources.

    It is important to stress that the only way to measure campaigns on Facebook and Twitter is by either integrating their SDK in your app or the SDK of its official mobile measurement partners (here’s the Facebook list, and here’s Twitter’s).

    twitter-dashboard-ad-screenshot

    Facebook has also announced that as of November 4th, 2015, advertisers will no longer have access to device level data from app install campaigns running on the social network. That means the only way to use this data in your Custom Audiences campaigns is by working with a mobile measurement partner that can transfer this rich in-app event data to Facebook for this purpose.

    The Bottom Line

    Mobile has taken the popularity of social networks to a whole new level entirely. Social engagement on mobile is dominating digital today, and this includes advertising – because it’s native, it’s video and it’s based on amazing data that leads to super sharp targeting with capabilities unique to mobile devices. When advertisers across the board embrace deeplinking to create unified user experiences and analytics to generate smart, data-driven decision making, the potential will be met in its fullest.

    About the Author: Ran Avrahamy is the Head of Marketing at AppsFlyer.com. Managing a complicated relationship with mobile. (Too) early adopter. Loves being an entrepreneur – Hates the word entrepreneur.

    Be a Better Copywriter: 7 Lessons From 4 Legendary Books

    copywriting

    Although digital copywriting is relatively new, copywriting has been used for hundreds of years to sell products.

    Some of the best books on copywriting I have ever read were written decades ago. Some are even older than that.

    And it’s a shame that they don’t get the attention they deserve—mainly because we often equate new with better.

    But a lot of the new marketing and copywriting lessons and techniques you read about on blogs aren’t new at all.

    In this article, I’m going to break down seven lessons from the following four books:

    In my mind, these four books have all achieved legendary status.

    Every section of each book is gold, which is why I encourage you to read them.

    That being said, I’ve picked out some of the most important lessons that I think will apply to your online marketing and business. I’ll bring any dated advice into the 21st century with some current examples of it in action.

    Let’s get started… 

    1. You should read the rest of this article because it’ll make you a better copywriter

    Animals instinctively react to certain noises in a specific way because more often than not, that action pays off.

    It turns out that even though humans might be a little higher on the sophistication scale, they too have these automatic reactions.

    Dr. Ellen Langer, a renowned social scientist, conducted a study in 1978 to find out how everyday people react to certain words. She had actors approach a line of people waiting to use a Xerox (copy) machine. She instructed them to use one of the following three sentences to try to get in front of the line:

    1. Request only: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
    2. Real information: “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
    3. Nonsense information: “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”

    What do you think happened?

    When no reason was given, 60% of people still allowed the actor to go ahead of them and use the Xerox machine. I’m a little surprised that it was that high.

    What about when the actors said they were in a rush? Ninety-four percent of people let them go ahead.

    Wow.

    So, clearly you just need to come up with a great reason and you can get what you want, right?

    Not quite. The final line that the actors used produced some surprising results. An incredible 93% of people still let them skip ahead.

    Go back and read the line they used (#3). Their reason for jumping the line was because they needed to make copies… But of course, they needed to make copies! Why else would they want to use the copy machine?

    So what can we conclude about this? It turns out that people—when not paying close attention—often follow simple scripts, just like animals.

    In this case, since the favor was fairly small, the people followed this script:

    favor asked > reason given > comply

    But there’s one thing I left out: another part of the experiment was making a larger request. The actors used the same lines but asked to copy 20 instead of five pages.

    When they did this, the actors had the following success rates:

      • Request only: 24%
      • Real information: 42%
      • Nonsense information: 24%

    In this case, the request was large enough to get people to consciously pay attention and evaluate the request. Since the last explanation was silly, it made no difference in people’s response rate compared to the request-only scenario.

    Here’s the conclusion: When making a small request of readers, give any reason why they should do it.

    For example:

    • Could you share this article on Twitter because I would like more people to see it?
    • You should read the rest of this because(hint: go look at the headline for this section)
    • Please leave a comment below because I’d like to hear what you think.

    Does that make sense?

    image17

    Let’s look at using “because” in action.

    I’ve noticed that Pat Flynn has used this in his post introductions in the past. For the long posts (asking more), he comes up with detailed (good) reasons why the reader should read:

    image07

    If it was a shorter post, he could give a briefer and less convincing reason.

    The reason why “because” works is because people like to have a reason for what they’re doing. It just seems logical.

    You can use this concept in blog posts, landing pages, widgets, social media, or even in emails.

    I took a look at Brian Dean’s latest sales page for his course. He used the word “because” a whopping 17 times:

    image14

    Does it have to be “because”? I know you’re thinking it, and it’s a great question. That original experiment only tested the word “because,” but the conclusion shows that the word doesn’t really matter.

    It’s the principle that matters.

    For small requests, as long as you provide a reason (any reason), readers will be more likely to comply.

    2. Your product matters more than your talent

    Have you ever heard the phrase:

    He could sell ice to an Eskimo.

    It’s often used to describe the perfect salesman: the guy who could sell someone something that they don’t need.

    If there was one lesson from Scientific Advertising that you should take to heart (there are many), it’s this:

    The main reason for a lack of success from advertising is selling people what they do not want.

    If your conversion isn’t good, chances are it’s not because you’re not an expert salesman.

    Sure, being good at selling will help you maximize your conversion rate, but the main factor behind your conversion rate is the value you provide:

    image03

    So why does this matter to you and your business?

    The next time you see that you conversion rates aren’t great, take a hard look at your offer.

    You don’t need to read more blog posts about the latest tips and techniques to make a great landing page. You need to learn more about your visitors.

    And this goes for anything, not just a landing page. If you’re trying to get visitors to click something, watch something, sign up for something… anything that requires them to give up something valuable (email address, money, a lot of time), you need to provide value.

    If people aren’t signing up for your email list, instead of trying a different color button, try a different lead magnet. The more your visitors want it, the higher your conversion rate will be.

    Is learning about selling and CRO pointless? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that CRO and sales techniques are useless, but they are a much smaller part of the puzzle than the value you provide.

    You’ll be better off:

    1. knowing exactly whom you’re targeting (hint: build a buyer persona)
    2. testing different offers (find out what they value)

    After you’ve done that and achieved a solid conversion rate, then start split testing your headlines, copy, and buttons.

    3. Successful marketing is not guesswork

    Another lesson from Scientific Advertising I wanted to include in this post is this:

    Successful marketing does not involve guessing. Ever.

    It sounds simple, but many “marketers” spout BS about their results without ever measuring the impact of their work.

    Let me share a few stats with you…

    Almost 80% of marketers do not directly track their email ROI. That’s shocking. Email marketing is one of the easier types of marketing to track.

    A study found that only 44% of companies are able to measure paid search ROI effectively.

    That just gives you an indication of how much low-quality work is out there. If traffic goes up over a few months, how do you know you had anything to do with it if you didn’t track it? You don’t.

    If you don’t track your ROI, you could be throwing money down the drain by pursuing marketing methods that don’t produce tangible results while missing real opportunities.

    Step 1: Start tracking

    If you’re a marketer, you should be tracking everything you do on a client’s or your company’s site. If you’re a site owner, this would be a good time to start.

    Having too much data is better than not having enough.

    What do you need to track?

    At the very minimum, you need to track:

    • money spent
    • conversions

    That’s it. You can do that with free software such as Google Analytics, or you can get a little more advanced with KISSmetrics.

    But what about referral traffic, search engine traffic, click-through rate on ads, etc.?

    The answer is that you sometimes need to track them, and it’s usually a good idea to track them all the time. It really depends on your focus.

    If 95% of your conversions come from PPC ads, then search engine traffic isn’t a big concern.

    The good news is that most of this data is collected automatically by your analytics software or ad platform.

    Step 2: Determine marketing ROI

    Return on investment is a simple concept. You can calculate it with a simple formula:

    ROI = ($ of profit)/($ of cost) * 100%

    If you’re tracking your ad spend, content cost, or whatever your marketing campaign consists of, figuring out the cost is easy.

    Assuming you’re tracking your sales correctly through your analytics software, it’s also fairly easy to see which sales came from your campaign.

    A marketing ROI of 5-10% is your goal, but if you’re able to exceed that, you’re doing great.

    Step 3: Revise marketing strategy based on ROI 

    The results of a marketing campaign will tell you if you need to adjust your marketing strategy.

    If you break even on your ROI, you can usually continue the campaign. Once you optimize it, you can typically achieve profitability.

    If you get a negative ROI, your time and resources are probably better spent on other marketing tactics. Re-adjust your overall marketing strategy to reflect this.

    4. Commit your prospect to buying

    Are you a hypocrite?

    Ask anyone, and they will tell you: “Of course, not!”

    Which is strange when you consider that hypocrites are everywhere. In fact, most people (including myself) can point out an instance when their behavior might have been hypocritical.

    So, what does this all mean? It means that sometimes people behave like hypocrites without even realizing it. But if you brought their beliefs to their attention right before that potential hypocritical action, they wouldn’t take that action.

    This is a principle called consistency, explained in Cialdini’s Influence.

    People like to act consistently with their principles and beliefs.

    And it makes sense. The reason why we believe in and value things is because we think we’re right—we think we know what’s logical and important. So, of course, we’re going to try to act consistently with those principles and beliefs whenever we get the chance.

    Use consistency in your copy: Before you ask a reader to do anything (share, answer, purchase), mention a related principle or belief. Sometimes you don’t even need to mention it explicitly. All you need to do is frame your request in terms of that principle or belief.

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    This is a lesson that I’ve seen many bloggers pick up on fairly recently, particularly in pop-ups.

    For example, if you go to ConversionXL, you get the following pop-up:

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    If you’re at the blog, it’s because you’re interested in learning about optimization from some of the best pros on the topic.

    It’s easy to brush off most pop-ups, but when you actually have to choose: “No, I prefer to suck at optimization,” it changes things. To choose that option, you’d have to act against your primary motivation.

    Of course, exiting the pop-up doesn’t mean you suck at optimization, but this phrase alone will help the site collect an extra percent or two of its visitors’ email addresses.

    5. ALL people care about these 8 things

    Humans are complicated, right?

    Everyone’s their own special snowflake, right?

    Not quite.

    Although each of us is unique in some way, we share many of the same traits.

    In Cashvertising, Whitman lists the “life force 8”, which are 8 motivations of all people. At our core, we’re driven by the same things, and you can use that to write better copy.

    Here are the life force 8 motivations:

    1. Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension.
    2. Enjoyment of food and beverages.
    3. Freedom from fear, pain, and danger.
    4. Sexual companionship.
    5. Comfortable living conditions.
    6. To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Jones.
    7. Care and protection of loved ones.
    8. Social approval.

    We’ve known for a long time that people buy based on emotion, not logic.

    If you can relate your product to any of the life force 8 factors, you can stir up emotions in your reader that will help you improve your sales and conversion rates.

    I’m going to break down each of the life force 8 motivations and give you examples of how you can use them in your marketing.

    1. Survival comes first: Unless someone has a mental health issue, they will do almost anything to survive.

    You might have heard of or seen the movie 127 Hours. It’s based on Aron Ralston’s real-life adventure. He was exploring a canyon in Utah when he slipped and his arm became trapped between a bolder and a wall.

    After exhausting all possibilities and unable to free himself, Ralston thought he was going to die. But he didn’t. Ralston amputated his own arm with a dull blade.

    People will go to great lengths to survive.

    If you have a product that could potentially save someone’s life, show it. If you can get a visitor to see themselves in a dangerous situation, you’ll make your sale much easier.

    In one article on the Home Security Superstore website, the author writes about how pepper spray can be used to protect oneself:

    Our first example today is from San Diego where a man grabbed a female pedestrian from a local roadside and sexually assaulted her until she pepper sprayed him and broke free. The assailant jumped the woman as she was leaving her car. After she sprayed him he let her go and ran off.

    If you’re a guy, you might not understand how much of a common fear this is. In big cities, particularly in certain areas, assault of any kind is a serious risk for (typically) smaller women.

    Every time a woman reads the above passage, it brings her very real fear to life.

    They soon get to the end of the article, which has multiple links to products and reviews on the site:

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    Guess what most readers will do now?

    If you guessed go to the store and check out pepper sprays, you’re right.

    I think a short video illustration would be even more effective. The more “real” you can make it seem, the more emotional your reader will be.

    2. Food is an easy sell: We are wired to like food. It’s not surprising that as food has become easier to get and more reliable to produce, people have gotten more obese.

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    If you have a delicious food product, you should have a pretty easy time selling it.

    Describe the flavor and experience of eating your product, and people will be ready to buy it in an instant. Pictures or video will make it easy for people to imagine the taste.

    Even though pizza commercials haven’t changed much in decades, they still work. All they need to do is show a few different types of pizzas, and the goal is accomplished. For example:

    Are you hungry now?

    However, you can easily apply this offline as well. If you do marketing for a bakery, offer free samples to people walking by. After one bite, most people won’t be able to resist walking inside and buying something. This is a big part of many big bakery chains’ marketing plans.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to associate your product with food. Food will get your visitors’ attention, and if you can convince them that your product will make their meal better, they’ll buy. You can sell, for example, cookware, dishware, furniture, TVs (to watch while eating), etc.

    3. No one likes fear or pain: People go to great lengths to avoid pain, and fear is just an extension of pain. Being afraid is natural when you think something bad is about to happen.

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that fears and pains are based on physical problems—just as many are mental.

    Again, anything you can do to clarify fears and pains and then show how your product can relieve them will help sales.

    Take Logitech for example. They know that most parents fear leaving their children with babysitters, even those they trust. That’s why they market their home security cameras by speaking directly to this fear:

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    4. No one wants to be alone: If you’ve ever stepped foot into an Internet marketing forum, you know how popular the dating niche is. Online dating is a $2.1 billion industry.

    Although most products don’t directly help people find a partner, many help indirectly. Think about products and services such as:

    • clothes
    • gyms/fitness classes
    • personal trainers
    • cosmetics
    • flower shops

    Basically, any product that can be framed as a tool to help you appear more appealing to the opposite sex, will awaken an emotional response.

    When you see an advertisement for a gym, do you see overweight, unfit people in it? No, you see attractive models, and you feel the desire to look like them.

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    5. Comfort is underrated: “Comfortable living conditions” is what Whitman calls it, but I like to think of it more as a lack of stress.

    Think about a time where you weren’t sure how you were going to pay rent or worried that you were going to be laid off. These are extremely stressful and worrying times. And at those times, you would have given anything to know that your bills were taken care of and that you had a steady income.

    If your product helps solve a problem for people in uncomfortable situations, show it.

    This is really what the insurance industry is all about. They portray their products to make you feel anxious if you don’t have them.

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    6. People like to win: Even though we might try not to, we constantly compare ourselves to others. We look at others to see:

    • how much money they make
    • how big their house is
    • how happy they are
    • and so on…

    This is one of the biggest factors behind word-of-mouth marketing.

    It’s one of the hardest emotional drivers to market to, but it can be done if you have a “high status” product.

    Essentially, you need to create a product or brand that, when seen, will make others envious and cause them to want to purchase it.

    Apple has done this extremely well by making electronics that are slightly more expensive than those of competitors’ but with a great look.

    Everyone knows that Apple products are stylish, which is why people stand in massive lines for each product release. People want the latest product that puts them ahead of the curve:

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    7. We protect one another: Just as we don’t want to be alone, we also don’t want those close to us to be taken away from us or hurt.

    One way of marketing your product is to tie it to the happiness of others.

    In the weeks leading up to all major consumer holidays, including Valentine’s Day, companies frame their products as a way for you to show the people in your life you care about them.

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    8. People just want to be accepted: Yes, people want to be loved and to find a mate, but they also just want to be accepted and liked by others.

    You can tap into this by marketing your product as a way for your site visitors to fit in with others or become part of a tight-knit group.

    One great example of this is Tough Mudder. It’s a company that puts on insane obstacle courses. People run through water and mud, and over massive obstacles. But the real appeal is the comradery:

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    The event requires you to sign up and complete the challenge as a team.

    In essence, the company is offering an experience that makes you think along the lines of:

    “Yes, I’m paying for something that’s grueling, painful, and unpleasant. But we’re doing it together, so it’ll be fun. We’ll help each other, suffer together, and celebrate in the end together.”

    6. Simplicity always wins

    The hardest thing for most marketers to understand is that your visitors don’t have the same level of knowledge as you do.

    You’ve likely spent years reading about marketing and learning about your product or service. This makes it really easy to talk over the head of your visitors.

    The problem is that if a visitor can’t understand what you’re offering, they won’t buy.

    Whitman summarizes the 4 concepts of successful simple writing in Cashvertising. Here’s my take on them:

    1. Use short, simple words. There’s no need for fancy, rarely-used words. Whitman recommends writing at a 5th grade reading level. I actually write at just below a 4th grade level. You can test your writing level by pasting some of your writing into this online calculator.image16
    2. The shorter your sentences, the better. I rarely write long sentences because that’s when they get confusing. Try to limit sentences to 10-15 words.
    3. The short, short paragraph trick. Whitman correctly advises to limit regular paragraphs to 4-5 short sentences. Having even fewer is better. Most of my paragraphs consist of 1-2 sentences, which makes skimming easier.
    4. Pile on personal pronouns (e.g., I, you, me, he, she, him, they, them, etc.). Writing in a conversational tone helps you connect with your readers. It helps your writing feel personal instead of it sounding like another corporate message.

    While all these rules apply to print copy, they apply even more to web writing. I’ve addressed similar points in the past.

    7. How to stand out from (any) competition

    The final lesson is from Breakthrough Advertising, and it’s about 4 states of sophistication.

    In plain terms, that means that there are 4 stages that a market can develop into. They go from stage 1 to 4:

    1. You are first in your market: When you’re the absolute first to cover a topic or create a product, your copy can be simple and direct.

    Put the need your product fulfills, or a claim of what it does, in the headline. That’s all you need to do to attract attention.

    For example, when SEO was first starting to get popular, a simple 400-word article with “What is SEO?” in the headline was all that was needed to get traffic:

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    2. Second in your market: If you’re not quite the first, but you’ve caught a topic early, just take the direct claim a bit further.image11

    For example, Buffer’s guide to beginner SEO talks about how search engines work at a basic level. It’s a good explanation of why SEO is important and how it essentially works.

    3. Prospects have heard all the claims, all the extremes: Once most visitors know the basics, you need to include more practical information to sell them your product or servce.

    In other words: show, don’t tell.

    A guide to SEO on Search Engine Land goes through all the basics of how SEO works using videos, text, and pictures. But the creators go one step further and include links to SEO tactics and techniques.image08

    4. Elaboration and enlargement: Once everyone meets those minimum standards, you need to go all out. You need to expand on all aspects of the content or product and make it better.

    You could make it easier, quicker, more reliable, simpler, or add extra useful features to it.

    To continue with our example, the SEO niche is pretty advanced now. When I created the “Advanced Guide to SEO,” I included everything about the topic. There were tons of current tactics that worked, accompanied by step-by-step instructions.image04

    These 4 stages are essentially the Skyscraper Technique in action, except that they were written about many years ago.

    Each stage of maturity for a topic or product raises the bar. Make things substantially better, and you will get attention from customers.

    Either create something before it gets popular, or take it to the next level.

    Conclusion

    I’d like to finish this article by giving you one additional lesson: you can learn a lot from the past.

    Whenever you’re learning about a new subject, whether it’s copywriting, marketing, design, or something completely different, don’t head to the most popular blogs right away.

    Instead, read through some of the highest rated books of the past, no matter how old they are. You’ll learn about how some of the fundamental concepts of the field came to be. It’s those lessons that you can build upon so that you can become more adept in a particular field.

    I’ve given you seven lessons that are jam-packed with useful copywriting and marketing knowledge, but I haven’t even scraped the surface of these four legendary books.

    If you learned a few new things from this article, I strongly encourage you to read or re-read any or all of those books.

    What other copywriting and marketing books have you read and loved? Let me know in a comment below because I’m really curious.