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Quit Like an Entrepreneur

You’ve dreamed of this moment. You’ve done the planning, you’ve run your own business on a part-time basis, and you’re convinced it has legs. The concept is proven, the numbers are there. You can go full time. You can go all in. You can make your living on your own, without the 9-to-5 job you’ve been relying on until now.

It’s time to quit.

Leaving your day job is no small thing. It’s one of the most important transitions of your entire life, right up there with puberty and giving up jean shorts. The exit has to be well thought-out and well executed. Your exit strategy has to take some of the pressure off, and set you up to succeed.

Crucially, your departure has to be communicated in a way that leaves bridges unburnt.

I know the feeling. I was a successful, comfortable department head and teacher at a university when I decided to break out into independent business. It was anything but easy to quit, but quitting with an intentional mindset made all the difference.

When you’re finally ready to pull the plug on your 9-to-5, make sure you do the following:

Plan

I didn’t quit my job until a year after I decided to.

That’s right, a full calendar year. Part of that was due to the special requirements of a teaching position, which require very advance notice of a resignation. But long before I was contractually required to announce my departure, I was making moves. I was plotting and planning, putting the pieces in place so that I could move seamlessly into my new life.

You really can’t plan your departure soon enough. The more planning you do, the better it will go — even if new factors arise that change some of the details or push the date back. Get every duck you can in a row, now. The fewer gaps you leave, the easier it will be.

Above all, get your revenue projections in order. You might not be able to predict exactly how much money will come in once you’re full-time, but you know how much is already coming in from the current part-time version of your business. Based on that, determine if your business can really replace your income. If it can’t, stay put.

Adjust Your Expenses

Way before you head for the exit, start living lean. Do whatever you have to do to get your personal expenses within the boundaries of your projected revenue.

Start by making a complete budget. Write down every single expense you have, down to the penny, on a spreadsheet. Then, start cutting. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, a penny ruthlessly sliced from your cable bill and sushi budget is a penny added to your overall profit.

Don’t be afraid to go big. Despite all the bootstrapping lectures from personal finance bloggers, giving up your morning coffee won’t be enough to balance your books. Move to a smaller home, or one in a less expensive area. Cut the major expenses, and let the size of your sacrifice reflect your commitment to your independence.

When I left my job, I made two huge cuts: I sold my car, and relocated to a city with solid public transportation. With no car payment or insurance to worry about, and a stripped-down lifestyle that included very little by way of new clothes and dinners out, I was well in the black every month.

Schedule

Preparing to be an entrepreneur means getting your time management game on point. The worst thing you can do is wake up on your first day post-conventional-job and not know what you’re supposed to do, or when. A consistent, planned schedule will keep you in a productive mindset when there’s no longer a clock to punch.

Take the time to sit down and work out what schedule will work best for you. Build your ideal schedule around the personal things that matter most, including time for working out, relaxing, socializing, and (don’t forget this one) sleeping enough. Now that you have the freedom to dictate your own schedule, do it with intent.

Not having a schedule — or not sticking to it — will eventually derail you. Do not let the freedom of entrepreneurship be your downfall. Decide when your working hours are, and during those hours, work without distraction of any kind.

Break the News

Let me be clear: there is no advantage to pissing off your employer on the way out. Your last act as a conventional employee should be to exit gracefully, and leave as a respected, valued person who’d be welcomed back in a heartbeat.

Obviously, that means taking some responsibility for easing your employer’s transition. Give as much advance notice as you can — nothing less than 2 or 3 months —- and offer to train your replacement.

Don’t sneak out the back door. Request a face-to-face meeting and break the news in person. It might be awkward. It might even be extremely unpleasant. But if you can’t navigate awkward, unpleasant interpersonal business matters, you’re not cut out for running your own company. Best to get your practice in now.

Explain that you want a challenge, that you have a passion to see how far you can go on your own. Express genuine gratitude for whatever you got from the job, even if it was just a means to keep a roof over your head. Be as impressive in your exit interview as you were in your hiring interview.

Be nice, even if your boss was a jerk and you can’t wait to get the hell out of there.

Most importantly, take the opportunity to get some feedback. Ask your employer what they think your strengths and weaknesses are. Encourage them to be honest and open, and get a valuable picture of yourself from someone else’s perspective. Take that information seriously, and use it to make yourself a better entrepreneur.

As you come to the end of your time, don’t coast. Finish strong, and do the kind of great work that will make you missed. Leave knowing you did a great job right up to the last minute, and let that momentum carry over into your new work.

When I quit my job, it was not an easy conversation to have. It was hard to put a positive spin on what is, professionally speaking, a non-mutual breakup. That’s why I did the only thing any of us can do when we’re announcing a major change: I reached for honesty. I simply told the truth as someone who was undeniably called to something new, and couldn’t possibly be fulfilled if I stayed in one place, unable to grow or change.

Each of us has the right to make the most of ourselves, even by taking a huge risk. Any decent employer can respect that, and won’t hold it against you. If your employer can’t see it that way…you know where the door is.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

How To Explain What You Do (For Entrepreneurs)

What do you do?

It’s a question you’ll hear all the time, whether it’s at social gatherings or professional occasions. It can be the ubiquitous, standard get-to-know-you question, or it can be the start of an important conversation about business.

Whether the person asking really wants to know, or is just being polite, we all need to have an answer ready. However, too few of us put the necessary time and effort into crafting an answer that makes an impact.

For entrepreneurs, the answer matters more — way more than it does for the conventionally employed. Being able to explain your “job,” your background, and your motivations is a huge part of your personal branding. Whether you’re interviewing a potential business collaborator, or just making nice with your significant others’ relatives, your answer needs to resonate.

Being able to explain what you do will show the world that you’re competent, confident, and dedicated to a mission that makes sense. It’ll separate you from those who are just playing entrepreneur, and demonstrate the legitimacy of the path you’ve chosen.

In fact, having a good answer might be just as important to you — and your understanding of your own goals — as it is to others.

Stories Are the Answer

The key to explaining what you do comes down to being a good storyteller. People understand — and are interested in — narratives, not isolated information.

If you master a few basic stories about your entrepreneurial journey, you can not only avoid the awkwardness of explaining your career; you can fascinate people. You can impress. Knowing, practicing, and delivering a few good stories can simultaneously fill people in, and make them want to learn more.

This can give you serious advantages, socially and professionally. The doors you can open with a good story are endless.

So before your next conference, interview, or cocktail party, master the stories that — in just a few short minutes — will introduce yourself and your business in a way the listener won’t forget.

Story #1: The Story of Your Product

As an entrepreneur, you sell something: a physical product, a service, software, whatever it is. It may be easy to explain and understand, like “I sell horse grooming kits.” In that case, you may be tempted to get specific about the product. It may be a little tougher, like “I help people learn how to develop effective chatbots,” in which case you might want to be more vague.

Both options are bad. Whatever you sell, you need to ditch the context-free information, and tell the story.

For example, our product is The $100 MBA. To simply say I sell an online business training course is all well and good, but it’s neither memorable in a social situation nor impressive in a professional one. Instead, I tell the story of how I went to Wharton business school — and dropped out.

Realizing that business school doesn’t offer a great ROI for would-be entrepreneurs was a pivotal moment in the story of our business. Yes, offering an alternative to blowing thousands on an overpriced degree is what I do, but walking out of Wharton is what I did to get where I am. And it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than describing our course format.

It takes less than 30 seconds. I went to a school, decided I could do better on my own, and walked away to build something for everyone who has a similar impulse. I don’t go into any further detail unless I’m asked (which I often am). But the story itself is short, sweet, and leaves people curious.

Story #2: Why You Became an Entrepreneur

Another advantage we entrepreneurs have in the “What do you do?” conversation is that entrepreneurship is inherently interesting. That’s because danger is interesting. Risk is interesting. A perfectly capable person choosing to leave the safety and stability of a regular job is just plain interesting.

It’s also fascinating because it’s rare. In a given room (outside of an entrepreneurial conference), you won’t find many independent business people. So when someone asks what you do, your answer will pique curiosity. When someone’s answer is “I’m a banker,” or “I’m a teacher,” or I’m an accountant,” the conversation usually ends there.

Take the opportunity to explain — briefly — why you chose to color outside the lines. Present yourself as someone who isn’t reckless, but isn’t afraid of risk. Emphasize your love of a challenge, but explain why you take risks that are manageable and sensible. And explain what inspired you to take the leap iin the first place.

In my case, it had a lot to do with a book. In the early days of the Internet, I wondered about the potential to make money independently. I experimented with selling items on eBay, and with other small projects that produced a small profit. Then I read Anyone Can Do It: Building Coffee Republic From Our Kitchen Table.

The book convinced me that I wasn’t crazy, that leaving my comfortable, secure teaching career wasn’t an act of recklessness, but a calculated risk. By explaining how I came to believe that entrepreneurship was a plausible, realistic option, I lend credibility to everything else I say.

Story #3: Your Biggest Screwup

Believe it or not, this comes up often. Whether it’s a follow-up question in a longer conversation, or an opening question from a fellow professional, interested people want to see your weak points. They want to know how and when you’ve failed — and you should be willing to tell them.

Telling the story of your greatest failure makes it clear that you’re not just some self-promoting narcissist. It demonstrates that you’re not naive or inexperienced, that you understand risks sometimes result in failure, and that you’re capable of moving forward after a stumble.

Think of a time you fell flat on your face in business (if you’ve spent any time at all in business, this has happened). Admit your errors candidly, and show how the lesson made you a better business person. The tale of your screwup can be more impressive than any success, because it shows your adaptability, your agility, and your resilience when things go badly.

And yes, I have a story about that, too.

Our beloved podcast, The $100 MBA Show, was not our first podcast. My business (and life) partner Nicole and I got in the podcast game with a little-known show that…let’s just say, was not great. It failed, miserably, because we weren’t playing to our strengths. Once I worked up the courage to admit that I was a way better teacher than interviewer, we were able to start over with a new format.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s been said that all a person is is a collection of stories. Tell yours, truthfully, and see what kind of mileage you can get. Write them down, and rehearse them. Get so comfortable with your stories that when you hear the question “What do you do?” it’ll be more than a polite inquiry. It’ll be the start of a meaningful conversation.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

How to Boost Sales With a Pre-Launch Page

Your big launch is on the horizon. You’re ready to market the living heck out of your product with all the smart content-based strategies you’ve learned about, just as soon as it’s ready. You’re excited. You’re pumped. You’re primed for the moment when your course, or software, or book, or whatever it is finally comes out.

Problem is, you’re the only one.

Add this to your list of rules for entrepreneurship: you (and your team) should never be the only ones excited for your next product launch. There should already be an audience of potential customers chomping at the bit along with you. Well, well in advance of your launch, you have to put in the groundwork.

Enter the pre-launch page.

A pre-launch page is a deceptively simple, unexpectedly powerful thing that can make the difference between a huge launch and a total flop. It creates demand before the product exists, which is the best time to create demand. It also helps you launch the right product, one in which your audience already feels invested.

Here’s how it’s done.

When to Make Your Pre-Launch Page

Now.

There is no such thing as…let’s call it “pre-marketing”…too soon. I’ve seen successful products launch with a full 18 months of pre-marketing behind them. If a year and a half of marketing a product that doesn’t even exist yet sounds like a lot to you, adjust your perception.

Every week your pre-launch page is live is another week to do what matters most: gather opt-ins.

Now, 18 months may not always be feasible. But I’d recommend never pre-marketing for less than 2 or 3 months before your launch. It’s a long, slow build to a big conclusion, like a Michael Mann movie or a Queen song.

The investment of time pays off, in two ways:

  1. Conversions. Your pre-launch page has one function: to gather email addresses. The longer it’s up, the more addresses you get. The more addresses you get, the more sales-qualified leads you can generate. The more leads, the more sales.  
  2. It helps you refine the product. You’re not just gathering leads, you’re fishing for feedback. The longer you have to hear and implement suggestions from your audience, the more tailor-made — and exciting — your product will be.

What You’re Shooting For

Genuine interest, emphasis on “genuine.”

What qualifies interest as “genuine?” At minimum, the pre-launch page visitor should be interested enough to opt in with an email address. If people aren’t taking this one, tiny-but-crucial step of actively choosing to come on board, the page isn’t doing its job.

Ideally, though, the visitor is interested enough to opt in, read your follow-up emails, take further action, and even help you design the product.

So how do you create that level of genuine interest? The answer is simple, clean, efficient page design. A visitor to your pre-launch page should know exactly what your product can do for them within a few seconds. It should require almost nothing from the visitor to get the gist — no scrolling around, no clicking, no in-depth reading.

The page should say one thing, quickly: what problem your product solves.

Write that on a Post-it and stick it to your monitor. Spray paint it on the wall behind your desk. Say it out loud before you touch the keyboard to work on this pre-launch page. The page should identify a problem (or “pain point,” for you marketers out there), and promise to solve it. No more, no less.

What to Include

Your pre-launch page has to hit hard and fast, getting your message to the visitor before they have time to click away. To that end, you have options regarding what content to include:

  • A short video: make a 2-3 minute video about your product, and place it dead center on the page, with nothing else but your company name/logo and your opt-in. No need for elaborate directorial style; you can shoot it on your phone’s camera or do a simple screencast with Quicktime, Camtasia, or Screenflow. Efficiency, not artistry, is the name of the game. 
  • Text + images. Again, the simpler, the better. With or without a video, include text and pics that are to the point. No dense paragraphs, no elaborate sentences. Just state in as few words as possible what problem your product solves. Consult a marketing copywriter if you need to, on sites like UpWork or ProBlogger.

Remember, this is (pre) marketing, not sales. Save the details for later. Like any good appetizer, your pre-launch page should leave the visitor excited to see what’s next.

Above all, you need that opt-in field with a CTA (Call to Action). Whether it’s included on the page itself or functions as a pop-up, you need to make it very, very easy to submit an email address.

Your video, text, and images should steer the visitor towards the opt-in with a clear direction — “Sign up to get an update on our release date,” “sign up for our waiting list,” etc. You may even incentivize the opt-in with a discount or bonus offer.

What Tools to Use

When it comes to software for building your pre-launch page, you have to make a choice. You can spend more money, or you can spend more time. Pre-fab launch page tools can cost a pretty penny, but the convenience and effectiveness may well be worth it.

Particularly impressive (and pricey) is Product Hunt’s Ship tool. For packages ranging from $60 to $200 per month, you not only get the easiest page-builder, you also get exposure to Product Hunt’s wide audience of tech-savvy and passionate consumers. For the ease and visibility, the price tag can be more than fair.

For the DIY type, the options are endless. Leadpages, Clickfunnels, HubSpot, and many more can give you the basic functionality you need, while leaving it up to you to design and build the page. You’ll also, of course, have to chase down your own audience through content marketing strategy.

For our time and money, we find that WPEngine works best for us, with appropriate plugins. That said, everyone’s needs are different. Whatever you choose, just get the page up and running, bells and whistles be damned. What matters most is that the page is live and functioning, as soon as possible.

What to Do Next

Once your page is up and the email addresses start rolling in, it’s time to employ the Internet’s single most effective marketing strategy: email marketing. Start the conversation, offering valuable content that keeps the reader engaged and your emails out of the spam folder.

To really get the most out of your pre-launch opt-ins, don’t just talk; listen. Use emails to ask recipients what they want to see in your product, what functionality matters most to them, and how you can improve. Invite a select few to be beta users, and let them take your product for a spin. Then use their feedback to perfect your product by launch time.

Once your pre-launch audience is engaged, the sense of investment and shared participation in the launch will do more to sell your product than any number of ads. Because they were with you from before the beginning, your audience will see a purchase as a foregone conclusion.

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MBA1124 My Personal Website Results

Considering building a personal website to boost your brand?

In addition to business and product-specific sites, sites devoted to your personal outlook and character can have a powerful marketing impact. They can help consolidate and leverage your most important asset — the audience you build — across multiple business ventures.

We decided to find out for ourselves what it takes to build an effective personal website. We launched omarzenhom.com to promote your favorite podcast host’s public speaking services and highlight his other business accomplishments.

Today, we take a look at we learned from this project.

Mostly, we learned a lot about the importance of deadlines, and how to build your website in the smartest, most efficient way — even if it means making some tough choices in the name of getting the job done. To get the most out of a personal website, you’ve got to learn an age-old business lesson: that “done” is better than “perfect.”

We discuss how to design, plan, and launch your personal website with a focus on what matters most to your business.  Before you get started on your website, give this episode a listen. Click Play!

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Make It Appen: Your Guide to Creating and Selling a Mobile Application

Many, many people have a great idea for a mobile application. Very, very few of them will actually do anything with it.

Only a handful will actually create their apps. Even fewer will bring the app to market and establish a sustainable business. It’s not because their app ideas are bad. It’s not because app development is some impenetrable thing only “tech people” understand. It’s not because the competition is unbeatable.

It’s because they lack an action plan.

If you have a genuinely useful, valuable app idea, you can build it. And you can sell it. You don’t need to be a professional software developer yourself. You don’t need massive financial backing.

You just need to know how apps are developed in the real world, and what the steps are.

The Creation Phase

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Every app (every product on Earth, really) needs to do one thing: it has to solve a problem. It’s not enough to simply say “I think it would be cool if there was an app that…” Why would it be cool? How would it make someone’s life easier, or better?

The very first step in app development has to be establishing what your app can do that no other app is currently doing. This where market research comes in. Whatever topic or industry your app will address, find the other apps in the same space. Whether it’s fitness, business, hobbies, etc., your first move should be to see what else is out there.

Head to the App Store (for iOS) and/or the Play Store (for Android), and search the key terms relevant to your app. Read the reviews for the most popular apps in your space, paying special attention to what those apps are missing.

Focus on 3-star reviews. 4 and 5-star reviews come from people whose problems are entirely solved. 1 and 2-star reviews tend to be emotionally driven, without much constructive information. But 3-star reviews will tell you exactly what you need to know — ie, what your app could do differently, and better, than existing apps.

Step 2: iOS or Android?

You don’t want to over-complicate things, wasting time and money trying to simultaneously develop Apple and Android versions of your app. Pick one, and stick with it. Once your app gains momentum and a critical mass of users, you can then create a version of it for the other platform.

Which you choose will depend on several variables, but one school of thought holds that you should always design for iOS first. The reason? Given the expense of Apple products, iOS users are generally more affluent, and therefore more likely to take a chance on new apps. The more budget-conscious Android users may balk at spending money on something that isn’t already well-established.

Step 3: Get Your MVP On

Once you’ve figured out what problem you can solve, it’s time to design your solution. You might be tempted to create the most incredible, awesome, comprehensive app ever in the whole history of software, but do not.

Instead, you have to build the Minimum Viable Product: something that does just enough to solve the problem. No more, no less.

No bells. No whistles. The first version of your app needs to be the most bare-bones, stripped-down iteration, because it’s not the final version — it’s proof of concept. Yes, one day you’ll make something bigger, better, more complex. But the MVP approach is essential for three reasons:

  1. The MVP allows you to test the premise of your app, and only the premise. You don’t want other variables tainting the results. The question you’re asking is: do people want an app that does [insert your app’s basic function]?
  2. The MVP costs you less money to create. You want to run a lean start-up, with as little financial risk as possible until you get your company off the ground. 
  3. The MVP costs the customer less money to purchase. You want this thing in as many hands as possible. Most apps people are either free, or cost only a few dollars. Anything over 4 or 5 bucks is prohibitive.

Step 3: Find Your Team

Making your app a reality comes down to two main tasks: design and coding. With each, you have to decide whether to handle it yourself, or find professionals to handle it for you. Which you choose will depend on your own budget and skill set:

Option 1: DIY

Even if you don’t have a professional background in tech, you can learn to design and code an app yourself, as long as it’s a very simple MVP.

Naturally, this way is much, much cheaper. There are resources that can give you the training you may lack. In particular, I highly recommend Udemy’s Complete iOS App Development Course.

Option 2: Outsource

DIY is cheaper, but as they say, you get what you pay for.

To get the most out of your MVP, consider shelling out for a professional or two — and ideally, it’s two. While there are “full stack” developers out there who can design and code, they’re generally much stronger in one area than the other.

The best move is to find one design specialist, and pay them to create the best, most effective design for your app. Then, turn the designer’s work over to a coding specialist, who can make the design a reality.

Your solution, a designer’s vision, and a coder’s execution combined will create the best version of your app.

There’s no shortage of job boards and professional sites like LinkedIn to find the help you need. I recommend UpWork, where you can see extensive reviews and ratings for each candidate. Be sure also to interview potential hires. Above all, make sure your hires are good communicators, who can understand exactly what you’re asking for and produce it on the first try.

Step 4: Get the UI/UX Right

Whether you hire a designer, or design the app yourself, you’ve got to make sure it’s intuitive, easy to use, and enjoyable.

Nothing discourages use of an app like a complicated user interface. Even if your app’s functionality is incredible, an annoying user experience will sink it. Remember that with mobile apps in particular, you’re working with very limited screen space. That means less is definitely more when it comes to the design.

Once you have a clean, simple, well-designed MVP, it’s time to bring it to market.

The Marketing Phase

You’ve got your MVP. Now, it’s time to get it out there and get it downloaded by as many people as possible. If the creation phase turns an idea into a product, the marketing phase turns a product into a business.

Of course, you can’t just put your app on the App Store (for iOS) or Play Store (for Android) and hope for the best. People aren’t going to stumble across your app, and even if they do, they won’t have much reason to download it. You have to take an active role in marketing and selling your creation.

Step 1: Build a Website

No website, no business. You cannot — cannot — rely on the App/Play Store to connect customers with your app. You have to build an audience of your own, in your own little corner of the Internet. You need a digital storefront, a “shop,” even though you’re not selling a physical product.

Your website doesn’t need to be fancy, and it shouldn’t be complex. It needs 4 things:

  1. A Home Page: this should include nothing more than a simple, concise explanation of what your app does. Create a headline, a brief description, and perhaps a short demonstration video. 
  2. An About Page: A simple, engaging, honest description of who you are, and why you created this app. Modern consumers like to see how the sausage is made, and who’s making it. 
  3. A Blog: You need content. More on that below. 
  4. Lead capture: An opt-in that allows you to collect email addresses from visitors to your website.

Step 2: Produce Content

No one has any reason to try your app until they trust you.

The only way to earn trust is to build credibility. And the only way to build credibility is to produce regular, valuable, quality content that actually engages and helps people. You have to build a relationship with an audience by producing blogs and other content that showcase your understanding of their needs.

Blogs in particular are the most vital kind of content. While videos, podcasts, and other content (especially webinars) can do wonders for your marketing, written content has the unique advantage of simultaneously boosting your credibility while also boosting your visibility through SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Step 3: Capture Leads

Once you’re producing great content that attracts visitors, you have to convert those visitors to leads. That means collecting their email addresses. Of course, you’ve got to offer them something in exchange for their contact information. Among the options:

  1. Content subscriptions: Ask visitors to sign up for updates whenever a new blog or other content is posted. Also, offer a weekly or monthly newsletter. 
  2. Exclusive downloadables: pdf’s, e-books, infographics, or anything else you don’t offer on the site can be gated behind an email opt-in. 
  3. Discounts and trials: offer coupon codes, free trials, or temporary upgrades.

Once you’ve got some contacts, you can really start marketing.

Step 4: Email Market

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: email is king. Email marketing is the most effective way to turn leads into customers. Design a smart, effective, action-based email marketing campaign and implement it. Your email contact list is worth as much to your business as the product itself — maybe more. So use it.

Step 5: Create Evangelists

Once you have people using your app, get them to do some of your marketing for you.

Offer incentives to get users to share your app with others. Offer discounts, credits, or upgrades in exchange for bringing new business, and watch your customers multiply. Be sure that the ability to share your app with others is included as an in-app feature. There is no more effective advertising than the word of someone you know personally!

For a fantastic in-depth explanation of this kind of viral marketing, read Ryan Holiday’s Growth Hacker Marketing.

Believe It

As I said at the top of this post, so few people actually turn their app idea into a functioning business. I think the reason for that is simple: they can’t see a realistic path forward. But if you’ve done your market research, have a great concept, and are willing to execute a plan…what’s stopping you?

For more on testing the viability of your app idea, check out our free Idea Validation Course. Imagine, research, create, test, market, sell, tweak, and repeat. For a total investment of as little as $3000 to $5000 dollars, a solid app idea really can become a viable business.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

Make Your Online Course Stand Out

You’ve got something to share: knowledge, experience, a skill, insights. You know it’s valuable. You’re ready to monetize it. People want to learn, and you’re willing to teach them online.

You’re just not sure how.

Whether you’re a fitness coach, a language teacher, a cook, a ferret trainer, or anyone else who can show someone how to do something, building an online course is a great idea. You won’t just enhance someone else’s skill set. You’ll evolve your own abilities, by gaining the insights only teaching offers. You’ll also grow the kind of personal reputation and branding cred that can be the foundation of a business.

But it won’t work if you’re not engaging

No matter how much you know about your field, no course can really stand out if you’re not hooking your audience, empowering your students, and creating a memorable experience. Here’s how to make your online course shine.

Engage!

I’m in a unique position to discuss education as a marketing tool. That’s because I’ve worn two main hats in my professional life. In the first phase, I was a full-time educator, teaching and working in administration at the high school and university levels for over a decade.

Eventually, I came to see both the power and the limits of traditional education. Ultimately I chose the entrepreneur’s path, creating our alternative to conventional business school, The $100 MBA. So as an entrepreneur, I’m still a teacher. Even the marketing for my other businesses, like WebinarNinja, are based on an educational approach.

As a teacher/entrepreneur, I’ve learned something: lessons are meaningless without results.

Learning isn’t relevant until it produces a tangible outcome. And the only way to produce results, to produce outcomes, is to engage students in those shared, tangible goals. If the students aren’t invested — personally, emotionally — it doesn’t matter how much you know, or how good your advice is.

Your lessons have to give your students a win. And then another. And then another, until together you reach a place where your students can do (that’s do, not know) what they couldn’t before.

The Content

The first thing to do when planning the actual content of your lesson (we’ll get to the delivery below) is to establish the course goals. You’ve got to apply what formal educators call “backwards design” lesson structuring.

Put simply, you start with the result you want. Teachers often use the abbreviation SWBAT (Students Will Be Able To). Any decent lesson plan begins and ends with the SWBAT goal. This way, everything you plan to do — talk, give exercises, demonstrate, etc. — is student-oriented, not you-oriented.

If you’re teaching an online course, start with your SWBAT. By the end of the course, your Students Will Be Able To…play intermediate-level songs on the guitar. Improve their golf handicap by 10 points. Lose weight, sink free throws, finally get their ferret to do celebrity impressions. Whatever.

The point is to establish a measurable difference between now and then, rather than just “teach them about….”

Next, break your overall course goal into smaller micro-goals, one for each individual lesson. If your overall goal is to get students “To Be Able To” build their own website, then the micro-goal of lesson one is to design an effective homepage layout. If it’s a fitness course, a micro-goal could be to master a push-up technique.

You get the idea.

Each time your students achieve a micro-goal, they get a feeling that no amount of lecturing can produce: the feeling of a win. Every win builds faith and confidence not just in themselves, but in you. Most importantly, every win improves the most important metric in any paying student’s view: the ROI on their time and money.

The Delivery

Of course, the greatest content in the world is useless without effective delivery. The course and its structure have to be engaging, but so do you!

Use the following very simple, but way too often overlooked, strategies to keep everyone awake, interested, and open to your instruction:

Interact. Don’t lecture; converse. Every course needs to have some way in which the students can interact with the teacher and/or each other. It can be as simple as a space to put comments or a chat box. A forum, a Facebook group, or even a small email chain will do the trick.

Whatever you do, make sure that you’re not just talking, but listening and adapting your teaching to the students’ needs.

 

Use visuals, and not just of your talking head. Any relevant imagery, even basic “B-roll” footage, will help keep your students’ brains engaged in what you’re trying to convey. Even basic editing skills will allow you to create lively lessons that maintain everyone’s interest. For a great example, see Brian Dean’s YouTube page, where he offers lessons on SEO. It’s a dry topic that Dean’s clever editing brings to life.

 

Set expectations. One practice I’ve never understood is when online teachers hide the duration of a lesson.

Every student should know exactly how much time they’ll need to put into each lesson, so that they can mentally commit to it. Even written content can have an approximate read time. Doing so creates a focused space around the lesson, reducing multitasking and committing the student to the shared micro-goal of the day.

 

Use examples. Engagement is all about relevance. If your students can’t connect the content to the real world, you’re likely to lose them. You’ll notice I often use the examples of fitness coaches or music teachers or trainers of various housebroken rodents. Whatever you come up with, the content needs context.

 

Less is everything, not just more. Fewer words, shorter videos, less time in front of the screen. Keep. It. Tight. If you take an hour to convey what could’ve been conveyed in half an hour, you’ve stolen your students’ time. The value of a course is in the time-to-results ratio — there’s a reason most episodes of The $100 MBA Show are 10 to 15 minutes.

Resources

Speaking of The $100 MBA Show, we’ve got several episodes specifically designed to help you build your online course. Some of them are from our early days (we’re at over a thousand eps), so you’ll have to subscribe to the show to get access via the podcast app of your choice. Otherwise, check them out on our website:

How to Create an Online Course, episodes MBA325- MBA327

Online Course Pricing, episode MBA351

Sales Videos for Online Courses, episode MBA511

Remember, teaching is a skill. It takes practice, years of it, to get really good.

Whatever your field of expertise, keep teaching. The more you teach, the more you’ll deepen your own understanding of the topic, and the more you’ll hone the skills of engagement that make yourself truly valuable to your audience.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

3 Ways to Destroy Your Small Business

I’m going to make an assumption: you want your business to succeed.

That’s usually how entrepreneurs feel. And while there’s no shortage of advice (including our own) on how to achieve that success, the vast majority of it is positive.

“Wait, what? Positive advice is a good thing, right?”

Well, yes. But so is negative advice.

Lost among the positivity and optimism are those crucial “DON’Ts.” As independent business people, we need to learn what to avoid just as surely as we need to learn what to aim for. We need to understand the pitfalls, snares, and other terrible things that can (and do) crush entrepreneurial dreams every day.

But we don’t want to sound negative, so we avoid talking about things like that.

Well, dear readers, I’m gonna bite the bullet. I promise to return to my upbeat, yes-you-can, “DO”-style advice just as soon as this blog post is done. But it’s time we talked about the monsters under the bed. It’s time we slayed a few demons that regularly slay new businesses. It’s time we faced the dark places.

It’s dirty work, but it has to be done.

There are three things I’ve seen people do that are guaranteed to destroy any business. These things won’t hurt your business, or slow its growth — they will destroy it. Permanently.

Some of these things may seem a little obvious (especially to more experienced business people). Some may be surprising. Some may be things you’re aware of, but with twists or applications you haven’t considered. Either way, burn them into your business brain. Tattoo them to your memory.

As you go forward, never forget to not do these things.

1. Neglect Your Audience

Inviolable rule of marketing: no audience = no business.

Every minute and every dollar you put into outreach is an investment in the foundation of your business. You could have the greatest product in the world, the best customer support, even the best advertising. But if no one hears it, it’s the proverbial tree falling in the woods, not making a sound.

The very first step in building a viable business isn’t necessarily creating a product. Yes, you read that right. The product shouldn’t come first; the audience should. Too many would-be entrepreneurs think that coming up with the Next Big Thing guarantees success. It. Does. Not. Period.

Instead, engaging with your audience is the first crucial move. Your business — and your product —  should be guided by a conversation, not a monologue. And that conversation starts with you giving something, not selling or advertising something.

It starts with a little thing called content.

Content is what you offer your audience, in exchange for nothing. You offer it to build your authority, credibility, and good will. Blogs, videos, webinars, etc. are the way you start the conversation that ultimately creates your following. Most importantly, content creates something to which your audience can respond.

Once your audience is engaged with your content, you’ll start to hear back from them. You’ll see what resonates and more precisely identify the problems they’re struggling with. That, in turn, will allow you to tailor your product to their needs.

Give, give, and give some more.

The more valuable content you offer, the more engagement you’ll get. The more engagement you get, the more leads you’ll get. You’ll use your content to capture email addresses, and your email contact list to generate sales. Long story short: a percentage of your audience will ultimately become your customers, so neglect that audience at your peril.

2. A Bad Price/Value Ratio

We can summarize centuries worth of marketing, advertising, and sales advice in a single sentence. You can read all the books, get the highest level degrees, and spend decades in business, but all roads of business knowledge lead to the same universal truth…

People buy products for the ROI (Return on Investment).

That’s it. Consumer or business, all purchases are about one equation: is this thing worth it? This simple truth cuts across every variable, from price to competition to cost of production, from age to gender to nationality, from Monday to Friday, Winter to Summer. People either see the price of your product as a worthwhile investment, or they don’t.

Crazy as it may seem, it doesn’t matter whether the price is high or low.

You can be McDonald’s, and sell things for absurdly low prices, or you can be Apple, charging out the wazoo. What matters is whether the perceived benefits outweigh the cost. People buy McNuggets and iPads for the same reason: they feel like those things are way more valuable than the money they’re handing over.

Apply this basic fact to your product. The customer does not care how much it cost you to produce the product. They care less than you think about what your competitors are charging. All they want is a good deal. Your profit margins are irrelevant.

For example, take our SaaS product, WebinarNinja. We base our pricing on the value that our webinars produce; that is to say, lead generation. At most product price points, if a given webinar converts even a fraction of the audience into leads, and a fraction of those leads become sales, the monthly subscription has paid for itself!

That’s the ROI. For the cost of our monthly service, a subscriber can generate several times that cost in sales. It’s a win, potentially a huge win depending on the business.

Wins are what people really buy, not products.

You can make the same argument about The $100 MBA. The ROI is in the title — you can spend roughly 12 gagillion dollars on a university business education, or you can get the training you need for less than the cost of a night out. The math does half the selling.

3. Forget Old Customers in Favor of New Ones

Speaking of ROI, we all want growth. We all want to add customers to our lists. But the ROI of chasing down new business is nothing compared to the ROI of treating your current customers well.

Your absolute, hands-down greatest sales asset is your current customer base. These are the people who already trust you, who already see the benefits of your product. Depending on the business, it can take relatively few of them to sustain a company indefinitely.

Think about the following statistic: about 69% of all Apple sales come from (you guessed it) existing Apple customers. 69%! Over two thirds of sales come from people who already own an Apple product, because of course they do. These people are already invested in the company, and they’re happy. Selling to them is like shooting fish in a barrel.

About a decade ago, a blogger named Kevin Kelly wrote a legendary blog post called 1,000 True Fans. In it, he broke down the math on customer retention and revenue. Kelly simply pointed out that an entrepreneur can reasonably expect to source $100 per year in revenue from a given customer — but only if that customer is a true believer, a die-hard brand loyalist.

Multiply that by a thousand, and you have 6-figure annual revenue.

The goal, therefore, is not to chase down as many customers as possible. It’s to build a sustainable “fan base” and keep those fans delighted, year after year. The ROI on catering to loyal customers blows the ROI on marketing and advertising expenses out of the water.

To put it another way, look at your “churn” rate, the rate at which customers leave your business. If your customer base is growing by 5% every year, that’s great. But if 10% of your customers are falling away at the same time, your business is shrinking. You’d be better off devoting your resources to retention than marketing!

Then, factor in evangelism. Your customers aren’t just your most reliable source of revenue;  they’re a reliable source of new business. Word of mouth, testimonials, and those oh-so-important customer reviews are priceless.

Now more than ever, consumers trust other consumers more than they trust marketing and advertising…by far.

There are plenty of ways to hurt your business, but the three no-no’s above will do worse than that. They are absolutely guaranteed to strangle your new business before it has a chance to reach its potential.

Develop your product, hone your skills, and continue your entrepreneurial education. But for success’s sake, remember what not to do.