This is a guest post written by my friend, and fellow Boise resident, Trent Dyrsmid. Trent is very good at content marketing and marketing automation (you should see his Infusionsoft funnel, it’s crazy!). He’s got a new book, The Digital Marketing Handbook, coming out on Tuesday. In today’s guest post he talks about how blogging and automation landed him a $5,000/month retainer client. Take it away Trent!
If you are thinking about embracing content marketing to help grow your business, I hope that what I’m about to share with you will motivate you to begin immediately.
At 9am one morning last week, I hosted an online meeting with a prospective client in need of the type of help that we offer via our consulting company, Groove Digital Marketing. There were three people on the call from the prospect’s company: the owner, their copywriter, and their marketing/technology pro.
At 11:45, the call was finished, and without the need of a proposal, the owner said, “At this point, I cannot see why we will not be proceeding with you.” Two hours later, they’d made their first payment of $5,000 and we had a deal.
How Did This Happen?
Now that you know the outcome, I want to give you the back story. My hope is that when you see what happened, you will realize how powerful content marketing and marketing automation can be.
On November 5th, Brian (their technology/marketing guy) somehow found BrightIdeas.co as a part of his search for a solution to their marketing and operational challenges.
When he found my site, he decided that the free offer I make on the home page was valuable enough to become a subscriber.
The “lead magnet” I offer on the home page is access to my Conversion Tactics 4 part video training series. (If you would like to see the videos in this series, just go my home page and enter your details.)
This offer is the #1 way that I use to fill the top of my marketing funnel. Once in the funnel, subscribers are sent video #1 on day one, video #2 on day two, etc…
In Brian’s case, he watched video #2 on November the 8th and video #3 on November 9th. He watched 100% of video #1 and #2 and just 75% of video #3. I know this because I am able to track how much of my videos that each subscriber watches. In fact, the emails a subscriber receives from me actually differ, depending on how much of the videos they watch.
After watching 75% of video #3 Brian, who was unknown to me at the time, emailed me to ask if we could arrange a time to chat. I replied with a “yes” an asked him to book a time via my online calendar.
Houston, We Have Contact
Brian and I’s first call happened on November 18th and during that call, he gave me an overview of their business. He also took time to describe the problems and challenges that they wanted to overcome. Upon hearing these challenges, I knew that I could probably make a huge impact on their business over a period of time, and asked Brian to arrange another call for he and I, as well as the owner of the company.
Brian concluded by saying that his boss was a “very tough sell”, so I suggested that he have his boss listen to a few of the podcast interviews I’d done with other entrepreneurs whose businesses were more automated than Brian’s.
Houston, We Have Touchdown
The call with Brian’s boss (Paul) was a very long call and I spent most of the time asking questions. One of the challenges with conversations like this is that, with so much to talk about, the conversation can “wander around” for quite some time – and not necessarily lead to the desired outcome.
To avoid this, I decided to use a Lifecycle Marketing self assessment as a framework for the discussion. By using this framework, we were able to have a productive conversation about each area of their business. More importantly, I was able to learn a lot about Paul’s needs, wants, and desires in a very short period of time.
I was also able to learn a fair amount about Paul’s values and quickly realized that he was very passionate about his product and wanted to give his customers the best possible experience.
It probably took me a solid hour or so of questions before I ever got to the point of making any suggestions. In fact, after asking Paul to rate himself on each of the steps of Lifecycle Marketing, I would ask if he believed a change needed to be made or not. The goal of the self assessment and “is that really important to you?” questions was to figure out what Paul was most motivated to fix first.
Getting the Deal
Many inexperienced salespeople think that “closing” requires all sorts of fancy techniques and magical statements.
The truth is exactly the opposite.
The “close” is the logical conclusion to the consultative approach to selling – which is a fancy way of saying, to sell, you must ask questions – and lots of them.
The more questions I asked Paul, the more he began to trust what I had to say – and as time went by, enough trust was eventually built up for Paul to decide that we were the right fit for what he needed – so he made the decision to move forward.
Key Take Aways
Regardless of what you sell, there are always people looking for your product or service. The key is to let them find YOU. This is the primary goal of content marketing.
For over a year, I have been dutifully creating and publishing content that would help my target market to solve their problems. Had I not been publishing and promoting my content, Brian would have never found my website.
Once Brian did find my site, if I wasn’t capturing leads with a free offer (called a Lead Magnet), it would have been impossible for Brian to become a subscriber, and had he not become a subscriber, he would have never been exposed to the three videos he watched prior to reaching out to contact me.
Video is extremely powerful on the web. By using it, I was able to give Brian a first hand look at my personality and communication style. Had he not been exposed to these videos, I doubt that his motivation to reach out and ask for my assistance would have been nearly as high.
Marketing automation also played a huge role because Brian didn’t watch video #2 or #3 when I first sent him the links. He, like everyone else on the planet, was probably too busy on the day that these first emails arrived, so it wasn’t until he received a few reminders that he actually took the time to watch them. Had I not created the reminders in my funnel, it’s unlikely that I would have a new client today.
Want to Get Results Like This?
There is a very specific process to achieving success with content marketing and marketing automation and in today’s post, I have given you a glimpse of the results that can be achieved when you get the formula right.
When your marketing campaign fails to deliver value, who’s to blame – the marketer or the platform? The answer could fall into both camps.
Marketers who concentrate more on the creative than the target audience could get a lot of likes but very little return on investment. Likewise, putting more focus on the platform tends to make customers feel detached and uninterested in the same stale, boring ad.
So what’s a marketer to do?
A recent Forrester research survey asked just such a question: “How satisfied are you with the business value your company has achieved by using [each of the following] marketing channels?”
With 1 being “very dissatisfied” and 5 being “very satisfied,” the results fell mostly into the average category, with a few notable exceptions. What’s most important to note is which marketing platform was at the very bottom – Facebook.
Facebook marketing scores at the bottom of the list when it comes to measuring value.
Granted, a .30% difference isn’t a drastic change, but it still begs the question: Why is this happening? And more importantly, what can we do about it?
Why Is This Happening?
To help answer the first question, Forrester’s own Nate Elliott surmised two key reasons:
Facebook doesn’t truly drive the engagement that it claims to. Although anyone who “Likes” a brand page automatically opts in to receive messages from that brand, Elliott notes that, on average, Facebook shows “each brand’s posts to [only] 16% of its fans.” That’s an awful lot of missed opportunities.
Facebook uses very little of its storehouse of collected social data to target the right people with the right ads. This means marketers get little ROI for display ads and can (and do) get better results on other networks.
The Fault Lies with Both Groups
Both the platform and the marketer are to blame for the lack of value. The platform is responsible because, at its core, Facebook was never really built for advertising. It was made to facilitate interactions and communication. Once major brands started seeing discussions taking place, they latched on, and Facebook had to change its focus.
Right now, it’s treading a very delicate balance between being a social network and being an ad network, trying desperately to juggle both to each one’s satisfaction, and being successful at neither.
Furthermore, in its drive to monetize “big data,” it throws up some vague advertising guidelines, false promises, and hopes for the best. There’s no clear statement on which types of advertisers would benefit most from the program or if there are any prerequisites (sites with X number of likes and Y number of fans).
There are over 15 million brands on Facebook. Why are there only two success stories being featured?
Marketers Aren’t Off the Hook
This exact same strategy was played early on when Google AdWords entered the scene years ago. The “throw money at it and hope people stick around” method gets less and less popular the more choices people have. Now they can read reviews (the top position on the chart), ask a friend, sign up for the newsletter, and comparison shop.
That means companies can no longer capture and hold attention in the traditional broadcast sense. They need to start communicating with customers and discussing – answering issues, sharing entertaining tidbits, asking questions, and getting involved.
For many marketers, especially those not seeing a good return on their investment in Facebook, there’s a big disconnect between the ad they place, the audience they target, and the landing page they direct them to. Facebook is, at its core, a social machine. Therefore, the ad has to match the platform. It doesn’t work for the marketer to try to wrangle the social machine into something it’s not.
So, should you abandon Facebook as an advertising channel?
Never in the history of the web has one company been able to gather so much data from willing customers and leverage it to its fullest extent. But as a company and a brand, it’s still suffering some growing pains. It’s like a clumsy toddler taking its first awkward steps. Marketers who get results from a wobbly system like this are the ones who match and merge the platform with the message.
Sure, this might take some creative thinking, but that’s where advertisers shine!
What Can We Do about It?
No matter what type of ad you choose, there are a few rules to follow to get the most out of it, on Facebook and elsewhere:
Keep Status Updates Simple – You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you produce content. A single status update gets more engagement than a status with a link, or a link with a thumbnail, according to retail studies.
Even if you think no one is listening, a simple question can be all it takes to ignite some discussion. For example, if you are a personal trainer, you could post workout ideas regularly, but your Facebook fans also might like:
Before/after photos or success stories of other clients
Healthy, easy-to-make recipes
A music playlist for their next run
Snack ideas for the midday work slump
How to work out stubborn muscle soreness from doing too much too soon
Work-it-Out gym regularly posts healthy recipes on its Facebook page.
Realize There Is Always Room for Improvement – Few companies are measuring their social media engagement levels. Do you know the impact your ads are having and if they are reaching the people you want to reach?
Tools like SproutSocial can help you measure which posts get the highest levels of participation and sharing (and optionally segment social profiles into different groups), so you’ll better understand who responds to what.
And sometimes businesses make the mistake of either getting too personal with their fans or selling too much. There are some topics that are always fun to share, though, including:
Antics of kids and/or pets
Unique people and their stories of triumph
Know What Adds Value – A list of features and benefits does not add value. What adds value is the kind of results the customer will get from using the product/service. When they can picture themselves using your product without you even saying a single word, you’ve already sold them on it.
One of the best performing engagement tools is a money-off coupon. It’s just the nudge some people need to try something for the first time:
Notice how low the word “sale” ranks on this chart.
And if you’ve tried these points and still aren’t getting the kind of response you’ve hoped for, take heart. Even the top brands on Facebook have an average 0.5% engagement level. There may be some awkward silence at first, but in time, as you continue to deliver value and reach out to people, they’ll warm up and respond with ideas, feedback, suggestions, and discussion that will make all of your marketing efforts go much smoother.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Have you had good results advertising on Facebook? Or are a few “bad apple” marketers spoiling it for the rest? Share your thoughts and opinions below!
About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at iElectrify.com and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!
Typically, nonprofits are not known for having stellar marketing strategies, but there are a few that do stand out. They recognize the power of investing time and energy in marketing to broadcast their message, build a loyal fan base, and obtain donations.
Charity: water, a nonprofit that provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations, is definitely at the top of the list. They are exceptional at inbound marketing. (They focus on creating powerful content to inspire people to join their cause.) And their marketing has tangible results. In 2012 alone, they raised $33 million, of which over $8 million was raised through their online fundraising platform.
Yet charity: water is not just a model for other nonprofits wanting to up their marketing game. There is a lot that for-profit companies can learn from them as well. In the spirit of the holiday season, here are nine marketing lessons businesses can take away from charity: water’s incredible marketing.
1. Encourage Customers to Spread the Word by Sharing Their Personal Experiences with Your Brand
Charity: water truly has mastered the art of getting people to form personal connections with their brand. One of the most powerful ways they’ve done this is by building an online platform that allows people to create fundraising campaigns linked to personal events, such as marathons, holidays, or birthdays.
This is pure genius for enlisting others to spread their message. As each fundraiser shares their campaign with their personal network via word of mouth and online, the number of people who know about charity: water quickly multiplies.
Paull Young, Director of Digital at charity: water, describes the strategy this way: “We are trying to build a movement of passionate people who are going to form a relationship with us for years…. We want our donors to be advocates. We want them to share content, we want them to feel really connected to their impact, and we want them to represent that to all their friends and family.”
At the time of writing this article, nearly 180,000 people have raised collectively almost $29 million on charity: water’s online platform. That’s 180,000 people telling their friends, family, and whoever else follows them online about charity: water. Brilliant!
How can your company apply this? Think of creative ways to encourage people to link important personal experiences and events to your brand. Nike does this again and again with their digital marketing campaigns. An example is The Chance, a campaign designed to give youths around the world the chance to win a year at The Nike Academy.
As a result of the campaign, which first ran in 2010, participants created more than 17,000 Facebook pages that reached an additional 5.5 million fans. Moreover, 2,000 user-generated videos and 28,000 player posts were created, and the brand received 3.4 million YouTube views.
Finally, just as Young talks about building relationships with their donors that, hopefully, will last for years, you should approach your customers with that same mentality. What can you do to make your customers so happy that they’ll become your brand advocates and stick around for the long haul?
2. Tap into the Power of Social Proof
Brian Gardner defines social proof as “the positive influence created when people find out others are doing something – now, suddenly, everyone else wants to do that something, too.”
Charity: water is excellent at using social proof to encourage people to fundraise on their online platform. They employ numbers throughout their site to make people feel aligned with thousands of others, and they give a face and a voice to those thousands with pictures, videos, and written stories.
Here are a few images from the charity: water website that show how they employ social proof.
Social proof is particularly powerful when famous people are setting the example.
On the “birthdays” section of their website, after discovering that many others with the same birthday as you – and 47,492 people in total at the time of this writing – have asked for donations instead of presents for their birthday, charity: water tells you how cool celebrities like Depeche Mode and Tony Hawk pledged their birthdays to the nonprofit.
How can your company apply this? Put customer testimonials on key pages of your website. Include photos whenever possible, and try to get at least a few testimonials from people who are well known in your industry.
Ryan Holiday does a great job of this on his marketing company’s website, with testimonials from Tim Ferriss and infamous celebrities like Tucker Max and Dov Charney.
Also, if your numbers are impressive, find a way to integrate them into your web copy. For example, you can say how many people are currently using your product. Buffer does this on their homepage, where they state that over 1 million people are using their application and that these users have shared more than 100 million pieces of content via Buffer.
3. Identify Your Unique Value Proposition and Broadcast It to Your Audience
Charity: water explains clearly on their homepage the three things that make them different from other nonprofits: their 100% model, their emphasis on proving where donations go with GPS tracking, and their collaborations with local partners in the countries to which they supply clean water. Any site visitor thinking about donating to charity: water knows immediately what makes them special.
But charity: water didn’t decide on this value proposition haphazardly. They hit on three major pain points for nonprofit donors:
Most donors prefer to know that their money goes directly to helping people rather than to operating costs (hence the “100% model”).
Donors often feel confused about where their money ends up or don’t really trust that it’s being used as promised (hence “proving it”).
In the nonprofit space, there often is concern about western organizations barging into foreign countries and implementing solutions without really understanding the people’s needs (hence “local partners”).
How can your company apply this? Before deciding on a value proposition, get to know your customers and talk to them about their pain points and what’s most important to them.
Once you’re confident you’ve nailed a unique value proposition that both sets you apart from your competition AND represents what your target market wants, make sure to include it on the most important pages of your website.
Ideally, it will appear in the headline on your homepage and/or product page, but don’t stop there. Follow charity: water´s lead and weave it into other parts of your site, your social media messages, blog posts, and your explainer video.
Charity: water is great at doing this subtly because their value proposition is an integral part of the way the organization operates, and your company’s should be, too.
4. Identify Brand Evangelists within Your Organization
Charity: water’s CEO Scott Harrison is the face of the organization. His personal story of how he went from being a “selfish” nightclub and fashion events promoter to volunteering with Mercy Ships and then starting his own nonprofit, which he tells in nearly every speech he gives, is intertwined with the charity: water brand.
Harrison has over 61.5k followers on Twitter and nearly 10k followers on Instagram. In both social media profiles, his publications are mostly about charity: water, including anecdotes about the team, photos from the field, and retweets from the official charity: water account.
How can your company apply this? People like to associate faces with companies, as it makes them seem more human and less inaccessible. Identify who can be the public face of your company. If not your CEO, then someone else who is high-ranking and who probably will be there for a long time.
You certainly can have more than one brand evangelist. Apple had Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, and each had a different style that worked in different situations. What’s important is that you have employees who embody the company brand, who are (ideally) well known in your industry, and who promote the brand through their personal channels.
5. Harness the Power of Storytelling
Harrison’s emphasis on telling his personal story when he talks about charity: water sets the tone for the organization’s marketing strategy. After all, the people on the charity: water team are masters at storytelling. They do it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as on their blog, their website, and in their email marketing campaigns.
Charity: water even has an entire section of their site dedicated to stories from the field, where people who work for or collaborate with the nonprofit tell stories about the experiences they’ve had delivering clean water to people in Rwanda, Uganda, Bangladesh, and more.
What makes charity: water’s stories so powerful is the use of impactful images and stunning video combined with a very personal, candid style of writing. In fact, Harrison has said that if he talks for an hour, he uses over 200 photos and videos in his presentation.
The video from their 2010 September campaign is a great example of how the nonprofit uses storytelling to communicate its message and inspire donors:
Also, Chartiy: water is excellent at using data to enhance narratives, which they do beautifully on the landing page for their current holiday campaign to furnish water to families in Cambodia. (Hint: roll over each tile for a fun animation.)
How can your company apply this? Make storytelling a central part of your marketing efforts. Tell your company’s and your founder’s stories on the website, and tell your customers’ stories through testimonials and case studies. Use photos and video to compliment each narrative as much as possible.
You also can weave storytelling into your educational blog content. Let’s say your company is a social media agency. One of your community managers can write a post detailing the process he followed to become great at converting leads via social.
Keep in mind that not all stories need to be long-form. Charity: water’s Facebook content shows how you can tell stories in just a sentence or two, like in the post below.
6. Create Content that People Will Fall in Love with
I mentioned above that charity: water raised over $8 million through their online platform last year and $33 million in total. Guess how much they spent on marketing during that same year: just shy of $9k.
Paull Young explains their marketing strategy as such: “At our core, we are an amazing content marketing shop… We don’t buy advertising. We 100% focus on word-of-mouth marketing. We create amazing content that we then distribute through the web – through social media – and then we give that to people we hope are passionate advocates who will take the content and share it with their friends.”
While charity: water sometimes accepts donated advertising space, the majority of their marketing focuses on creating content that inspires and allows people to experience the work that the nonprofit does (and where their donations go) through beautiful design, images, and video.
How can your company apply this? Figure out what inspires your customers and what gets them excited, and then create a content marketing strategy around that. If you’re a Big Data company, perhaps your target customers love looking at beautiful, complex infographics and reading musings on what the impact of Big Data on business will look like in five years. Or perhaps they get inspired by tutorials and how-to’s.
Whatever it may be, take a cue from charity: water and make inspiration a core element of your content strategy. Young says, “Inspired people with the mouthpiece of social media can do amazing things.”
How can your company apply this? You don’t have to partner with A-list celebrities. Instead, start by targeting industry influencers, and make it your goal to convert the most important ones into ambassadors for your brand. In my experience, the best way to do this is by building face-to-face relationships, but social media is a great way to start connecting with influencers.
You also should think about how you can partner with other like-minded brands, including established companies within your industry or bigger consumer brands, if it fits your company’s strategy and style.
8. Be a Brand Purist
When Harrison founded charity: water, he set out to create a great brand that revolved around storytelling with multimedia, inspiring people through highly-sharable content, and connecting people to the impact of their donations, always using beautiful design.
Since then, he and his team have strived for excellence in all the materials they produce. In fact, the second person Harrison hired was a designer. The nonprofit’s web design is pixel-perfect and its printed materials are stunning. I am always excited when I see the charity: water name in my inbox because I know the email will be a joy to look at and fun to read.
In short, charity: water is always on-brand, whether they are launching a landing page for a new campaign, publishing their annual report, sending an invite to their annual gala, or partnering with Jambox to create charity: water-themed wireless speakers.
How can your company apply this? Establish clear brand guidelines for your company regarding design, tone of voice, and personality, and make sure the senior team prioritizes brand consistency. Hold yourself and your team to high standards when publishing anything that will be seen by the public. If it´s not in line with your brand guidelines or up to par in terms of quality, tweak it until it’s just right.
9. Get Creative with Your Copy, Especially in Your Headlines and CTAs
I probably could write a book about all the amazing things charity: water does with their marketing, but I know you have important things to do (like applying these nine lessons to your marketing strategy). So I’ll wrap it up by talking about copy.
Charity: water writes great copy. They make their headlines pop with eye-catching numbers and a dash of humor when appropriate. On the web, they break paragraphs into short, easy-to-digest chunks accompanied by photos or graphics. And they have big, beautiful buttons with text that often parts from what you typically see in CTAs.
Here are a few of my favorite headlines from their website and emails:
Here are a few of my favorite buttons:
How can your company apply this? If you want to convert leads or customers online, invest time in learning how to write great copy, or even hire an expert to do it for you. Start by defining a tone of voice that reflects the brand personality you want to convey, and then rewrite the headlines and body copy on the most important pages of your site following web copy best practices.
Neil Patel has talked about the importance of creating cult-like connections with your customers (think Apple). Harrison seems to have woven this idea into the foundation of charity: water from the start.
Through a commitment to storytelling, beautiful design, broadcasting a unique value proposition, putting donors at the center of their strategy, and creating highly sharable content, the nonprofit has built a brand that incites the kind of loyalty, excitement, and inspiration most companies dream of.
Throughout the holiday season, charity: water will be raising funds for their Cambodia campaign, which will help provide clean water to more than 15,000 homes in Cambodia. Learn more here.
About the Author: Chloe Gray specializes in digital marketing strategies for startups and medium-size tech companies. She currently leads the marketing team at the Big Data company Ondore. Be sure to say hi to her on Twitter. You also can follow her on Facebook,Google+, and LinkedIn.
The Traveller’s Guide To Remotely Building Your Future…
We all love to hear stories of those people with the guts and ambition to take on new challenges in what many see as challenging environments. So during Tim’s recent trip over in Bali, he met up with a truly inspirational couple doing exactly that, and has invited them on to the show to share the knowledge they’ve gained from starting a family and building a successful business abroad.
Originally from New York and now based in Bali, David and Carrie McKeegan are the founders of Greenback Tax Services, a company specializing in preparing taxes for US expats. Both sharing a real passion for travel and seeking out new experiences, they found it completely natural to settle down overseas and lay the foundations for the future of their company and family.
The prospect of setting up a new business in an unknown environment can be exciting and life changing, but for many of us knowing how to step out of our comfort zones can seem almost impossible. By sharing their experiences and achievements, David and Carrie are sure to give you that extra motivation you need if you have ever considered taking your business or family on the road less traveled by.
Lifestyle Design Isn’t Just For 20-Somethings…
How to benefit your family life without compromising your ambitions.
The financial and lifestyle benefits of moving abroad.
Tips on hiring and structuring a new company.
Being picky with your employees and building company culture.
Running a distributed workforce in a difficult timezone.
Where does the business relationship end and the happy marriage begin?
It’s an exciting time for Buffer. Toby Osbourn just joined and we’re now 16 people. Toby joined us as a Backend Hacker, and he’s been a joy to work with so far. Within just a few days we can all feel his impact.
In the first few days, Toby has been fantastic with asking questions and learning about the Buffer culture. One thing he asked me is how we think about email at Buffer. I thought that writing a blog post as the answer could help lots of other founders too.
Buffer Value #2: Default to transparency
One of our highest values at Buffer is to default to transparency, and we aim to live to this value in many dimensions. We stick to this through good times and bad, and we had a chance to demonstrate this recently with our unfortunate hacking incident. It was amazing to see the support we received by staying transparent and trusting our customers with the full details of everything happening.
Within the Buffer team we have complete compensation transparency and every team member knows each others’ salary and equity stake through stock options. We go all the way - we share whether we’re fundraising, we share when we have acquisition interest, and we share the bank balance. In fact, we share the bank balance and revenue numbers publicly.
Transparency builds trust and triggers better decisions
"lots of traditional, widely accepted, and perfectly legal business practices just can’t be trusted by customers, and will soon become extinct, driven to dust by rising levels of transparency, increasing consumer demand for fair treatment, and competitive pressure" - Don Peppers and Martha Rogers in Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage
There are many reasons we default to transparency at Buffer, and perhaps the most important is that I genuinely believe it is the most effective way to build trust. This means trust amongst our team but also trust from users, customers, potential future customers and the wider public who encounter us in any way. For example, we have a whole blog dedicated to sharing everything about how we run the company.
By sharing all our decisions, numbers, successes and failures, we are showing our customers and supporters that we are responsible and strive to do the right thing.
Ultimately, if you want people to make smart decisions, they need context and all available information. And certainly if you want people to make the same decisions that you would make, but in a more scalable way, you have to give them the same information you have.
Defaulting to transparency with email communication
Narrowing down to the aspect of team emails, this is an area where we also strive for complete openness and transparency. Stripe do something similar and provided great inspiration for us.
When you start working at Buffer, it can come as a little bit of a shock. Instantly you’re receiving every email exchange between team members, in every single team. If you’re in our Happiness team you still see all the emails going on in the engineering and product team. You see design iterations and progress on our mobile apps. You see emails about our content marketing and work towards getting press.
This might sound a little crazy, and probably certainly seems totally overwhelming. But that’s the price we’ve decided it’s worth to have complete transparency. Nothing is more important to us. We have chosen to be open, and we find ways to handle the volume.
You also see emails of external communications happening. Interview requests, getting press and discussions with partners.
When you experience it, there is a magical aspect to it. You learn how Leo goes about getting us in all the top tech news sites when we launch a new feature. It all contributes to a faster pace of learning for the whole team, and means that everyone naturally knows a lot of what is going on.
How email transparency works in practice
We have several internal email lists, which only Buffer team members can send to:
team@ - this goes to the entire team
engineers@ - includes all our engineering team
heroes@ - for our happiness hero (customer support) team
crafters@ - related to content marketing
design@ - for design discussions
product@ - for product feedback and signals
metrics@ - anything to do with company metrics
biz@ - related to buffer for business
bizdev@ - for BD activities (partnerships, integrations)
marketing@ - related to press activities
Whenever you email something to do with Buffer, you almost always cc or bcc one of these lists. For example:
email a specific team member and cc a list
email an external person and bcc a list
email to a list to notify a whole team
The general rules are as follows:
if it’s “to” you, you’re expected to reply
if you’re specifically cc’d, you’re expected to read it
if it’s your own team that’s cc’d, you should read that
you should strive to always cc or bcc a list
Handling the risk of email overload
Admittedly with a growing team the overall email volume has gone up a lot in the past couple of months. We’re so bullish about transparency that this isn’t a huge concern for us. That said there are a few things we’re doing to ease that volume:
we’re starting to encourage filtering out some emails between other team members so they’re not in your inbox but they’re easily accessible and browsable
transparency often simply means that you can access that information when you want to, not that it’s pushed in front of your face
we’ve set up a private Facebook group to share links and emails that don’t need a reply. The concept of a “like” is proving to be very powerful for messages where you want to show appreciation but might not need to reply
Times when we might keep email private
There are a few times where email transparency doesn’t feel quite right. Usually this revolves around specific personal circumstances or a potential upcoming team change (e.g. a promotion or thinking about a firing). With this said, we truly strive for transparency and want to improve here too. Currently we try to always ask each other whether we can accelerate some of these discussions and bring in transparency.
How do you handle email at your company? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
Download this episode, in which Ian and Andrey talk about kids’ toys, Uberdeck, making sense of Adwords, Snappy, content marketing, finding a regular job after years of running a bootstrapped software company, selling physical products, Userscape’s new hire, running a conference, and moving to a consultancy.
With five days remaining before The Lean Startup Conference, we wanted to lay out what we’re offering that’s unlike any other entrepreneurship conference and explain the different levels of participation available to you. From livestream simulcast to a six-day, high-intensity immersion experience, it’s possible to join the conference to whatever degree suits your interest and your schedule. And we hope that when you join, you'll come ready to share your experiences and advice with other participants.
What you’ll see at all of our events—whether on the stage, in the workshops, at a mentoring session, or in the site visits—is something other than conference regulars pitching presentations on the usual themes. Instead, we’ve assembled a diverse, energetic roster of experts prepared to talk about advanced entrepreneurship topics like maintaining a culture of experimentation at a growing company, bringing an analytical and iterative model to non-profits (including mission-driven and educational organizations), or converting enterprise teams to a cross-functional structure. And that’s not to mention the advice for very early-stage companies on topics like getting your first users, or choosing metrics. If you already know the topics that interest you, you can browse all the talks and events on that theme—whether it’s MVPs, Analytics, or Education—on our “sessions by theme” page.
We chose our speakers for the expertise they have to share, not their familiarity on the conference circuit, and as a result, we offer an exceptionally diverse group. We’re committed to opening up not just the stage, but participation in the conference itself, too. For anyone not able to attend in person, we offer free a livestream to any community group in the world that has at least 10 people gathered together at a single location. There are already over 100 confirmed livestream hosts worldwide; join one near you, or apply to add a new group. The livestream site will include a chat area for all of the livestream hosts, an opportunity to connect and network around the world.
The livestream will let you see all of the events in the Masonic Theater in San Francisco on Monday and Tues. That includes Monday talks like Eric Ries on the state of the startup; Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code on accomplishing a lot with limited resources; Dan Milstein on balancing risk, information, time and money; Kent Beck on Jazz Engineering; plus meaty interviews with Mutt Mullenweg and Reid Hoffman. You’ll also see the afternoon breakout sessions in the Masonic Theater, including Laura Klein on testing ideas. Tuesday’s Masonic Theater talks include Kathryn Minshew on acquiring early users; the Intuit team talking about lessons of Lean Startup leadership; and Steve Blank on evidence-based entrepreneurship. You’ll also see afternoon breakouts on advanced A/B testing from Wyatt Jenkins and Microsoft’s Cindy Alvarez and Ethan Gur-esh on transitioning teams to Lean. And you'll get Tuesday's closing session with entrepreneurship experts Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon.
Of course, there are some major perks to attending in person. Anyone with a conference pass (including scholarship recipients) can join us on Sunday, December 8 for Ignite, a high-energy, rapid-fire event, in which our brave presenters get five minutes and 20 slides, with each slide advancing on an automatic 15-second timer. Anything can and will happen. On December 9 and 10, you’ll have in-person access not only to everything in the Masonic Theater, but also to breakout sessions held next door at the Fairmont Hotel, such as, on Monday, Summit Public Schools’ Diane Tavenner on institutionalizing innovation, or, on Tuesday, Optum’s Maureen Allen discussing Lean Startup at regulated companies, and Beth Kolko on working closely with global customers.
On both days, in-person attendees can sign up for office hours, in which you sit down face-to-face, individually, with a mentor or conference presenters and talk about what’s on your mind. For example, you can ask Diana Kander of the Kauffman Foundation about pitfalls to avoid when launching a new product, or Joe Dunn of Cloudbreak about how to get buy-in for Lean Startup within your organization. All conference attendees are also invited to two workshops on December 11: one, sponsored by Modus Create, teaches you five Lean Startup planning exercises you can immediately use to add mobile to your enterprise app portfolio; the other, sponsored by Rackspace, focuses on using cloud infrastructure to experiment and innovate rapidly.
In response to feedback from last year requesting more ways to meet and learn from fellow attendees, we’ve created an online attendee network, among other things, so that you can connect with others who share your professional interests. Of course, you’re also invited to our December 9 evening reception, an event sponsored by Pivotal Labs and designed to foster productive networking in a professional, alcohol-limited environment. During lunch, you can sample some of San Francisco’s famous food truck culture from trucks we’ve invited especially for the conference. And in the evenings, we’ve organized small-group dinners around San Francisco that attendees can join. Conference registrants will also get some very nice freebies via access to the sponsor tables and giveaways. Our sponsors include companies like Intuit, O’Reilly Media and Amazon Web Services.
For those who want a deeper Lean Startup experience, we offer the Gold pass, which includes access to our exclusive workshops and site visits on December 11. These workshops include hands-on, intense instruction in techniques like continuous delivery; innovation accounting; Lean Analytics; and Lean Startup for HR, IT, and finance teams. These aren’t just talks, they’re interactive entrepreneurship training sessions. You can also join site visits to Square, Kiva, Pivotal Labs, and WeWork Soma, where you’ll learn what each of these successful companies is doing to build and keep its edge.
Our VIP pass is for folks who are serious about building a deep understanding of entrepreneurship, and a corresponding professional network, in one intense week. You can begin the conference early with a one-day Leancamp on December 8, an unconference to help you meet other people, get feedback on your current challenges and actionable advice on applying Lean Startup in your work. On December 12 and 13, after the conclusion of the main conference, the workshops, and the site visits, VIP pass holders can our partner program with UPGlobal (formerly Startup Weekend): a Lean Startup immersion program. You’ll launch a startup in 54 hours, creating mobile, web and software innovations with a team of fellow participants. This includes developing and pitching a concept, customer development, idea validation, and creation of an MVP under guidance from an experienced mentor. You’ll put Lean Startup ideas into practice, getting expert feedback the entire time, and end the week with the sense that Lean Startup has left the realm of theory and become a true practice.
At whatever level you can join us, we are proud to welcome you to an event that we’ve organized to be a different kind of tech conference—certainly because of our speakers’ diversity and range of experience, but also thanks to the commitment, interest, and variety of our attendees. Please join us at whatever level you can, and be prepared to participate in the conversation. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.
I ran my first ‘Start your own software business’ course over the weekend of 23/24 November. It was tiring but enjoyable and, overall, I am very happy with how it went. I think the balance of presentation, questions, exercises and discussions was about right. Thankfully everything went smoothly with the logistics of room, meals, accommodation etc.
Here is what some of the attendees had to say:
“To run your own software business is an aspiration of every programming enthusiast and many professional programmers. Most of them fail without knowing “WHY?”. I’ve known Andy Brice for many years and have met him at several conferences and heard a lot about his product and working habits. When the information about this course appeared it was the easiest decision in my professional career to sign up. The course itself is delivered with passion and ease, yet the information content is incredibly rich. The course covers all aspects of Starting a software business and Andy continuously amends the presentation with elements of his own experience and available data from other people. None of the aspects of starting a software business is left uncovered. He definitively gives an answer to aspiring programmers “HOW?” to start and avoid the failure; or fail fast and learn quickly.” Pavol Rovensky, www.hexner.co.uk
“Andy’s ability to imprint the wisdom he has gained through successfully starting and running his own software business is amazing. The course covered a lot of material very quickly and effectively with plenty of time to ask concrete questions, all of which Andy comfortably answered from his experience in the field. I feel I have a much better focus now on where I need to put my time and energy to build a successful software company. The course venue, facilities and overall organisation were also excellent, from booking through to ensuring we finished on time so I could catch my plane. I highly recommend this course if you plan to start your own software company.” Kevin Horgan, www.balancedcode.com
“I’m a programmer and I’ve been an employee in other people’s software businesses all my working life. For some time I’ve wanted to create my own product to sell but I’ve found it difficult to evaluate the various ideas I’ve had and get started. Andy’s course is broad and covers all aspects of starting a software business, but the parts covering the early stages of product development were especially useful to me. Andy is a great communicator and I highly recommend this course.” Anthony Hay, howtowriteaprogram.blogspot.com
“I was lucky enough to find out about Andy’s course in time, and wasn’t sure if it would help me figure out how to work for myself as an independent software vendor — I have the answer now — and it would be an understatement to say it pointed me in the right direction. I now see the possibilities, and the course has given me important insights into how I might go about the transition from ‘working for the man’ to starting my own micro ISV. If you get the chance, do go on the course. It’s well worth it.” Jason Spashett, jason.spashett.com
“If you’re starting a software business, give yourself a big unfair advantage and sign up for Andy Brice’s course. Andy has spent eight years investigating numerous cul-de-sacs, all so that you don’t have to. Whether you’re working with desktop or web, selling to consumer, enterprise or developer markets, there are pearls of wisdom in there for everyone. Benefit from the advice of someone who’s been there in the trenches – it’s possibly the best investment in your fledging business you can make.” Justin Worrall
I would like to say a big thank you to the attendees of v1.0 the course. I shall be following their progress with interest.
I hope to run the course again in 2014. If you are interested in attending, please fill in the form on the training page.
I’m currently working on a client project where site adminstrators use
the same UI that site users do, so there are permissions checks in the
views and controllers to ensure the current user has the right to do or
see certain things. CanCan provides the access control, which takes
care of most of the issues with a simple can? check or
In one case I wanted to provide search on a list of items (the index
action) to admins so they could search through all items in the database, but users
should be able to only search on their own items. I’m using Searchlight
(highly recommended) for search, which returns results as an
ActiveRecord::Relation, so it’s easily chainable via CanCan, like so:
class InvoicesController < ApplicationController
@search = InvoiceSearch.new(params[:search])
@invoices = @search.results.accessible_by(current_ability, :index)
Searchlight is also smart enough to return all results if there no
search params provided, so this also works as a typical index action
that lists all items the user can see. If you’re curious about the
@search instance variable, that is used in the search form in the
So, if you need search with access control, use Searchlight and
CanCan… they are a great combo!