Design Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

Customer Onboarding: The Basics

Customer Onboarding: it’s a concept every entrepreneur needs to wrap their head around, but that too few understand. It represents a crucial element in the long-term success of your business, doing what neither marketing—nor even the strength of your product—can do. It’s how you keep the customers you earn. It’s how you guarantee that those customers get what they paid for. It’s how you keep them coming back for more.

Put simply, onboarding is how you create the experience your customer has immediately following their purchase. Whether it’s an online or offline business, a soft or hard product, a membership service or priced per item, it’s a must. What happens after your customer pays can’t just happen. It’s something you should plan conscientiously. It’s your chance to make your customers, customers for life.

Why Onboarding Matters

Onboarding is where your customers form their first impression as customers. As first impressions go, this one’s really important. It’s as important as—if not more than—the first impressions your marketing made on them as potential customers. This is the stage at which they can feel one of two ways: like you’ve gotten their money and moved on, or like you’re every bit the reliable, genuine problem-solver they’re paying you to be.

For the customer, it solidifies their relationship to your business and product. For you, the benefits of good onboarding are myriad. A quality onboarding system can:

  • Reduce the need for refunds. Surprisingly, many refunds aren’t the result of the product being defective or the customer being misled. Often, customers are dissatisfied simply because they don’t know how to use the product. They haven’t been guided in its best use, or how to get the most out of it.Even the most seemingly self-explanatory product should come with some basic guidance. sells razors, which at first seem like the kind of tools that don’t need instructions. However, Harry’s makes sure that each customer gets the guidance they need in order for the system to work for them.Other refunds happen because the customer never used the product at all! Sometimes, without the right encouragement, customers put the product aside for later…and later never comes. Unopened (literally or figuratively) merchandise loses the appeal it had on the day of purchase. Next thing you know, they’re un-buying it.
  • Reduce churn. For membership services, slowing the churn is always a top priority. How can you keep your members coming back month after month or year after year? Onboarding goes a long way towards this. By getting your new members started right away, you can create the habits that build the momentum of their dependence on your product.
  • Create more effective word of mouth. If your customers use your product right away, and they get what we call a “win” (a substantive result that addresses the need they’ve come to you for), they will be excited. They will share that excitement. That excitement will spread, and that excitement will bring you new customers to onboard.On the other hand, customers who don’t get a reasonably quick, concrete benefit from your product won’t be likely to sing its praises.
  • Reduce misconceptions about your product. Of course, bad word of mouth happens too—and it’s not always deserved. Customers who haven’t been guided to the best possible experience may have a bad one. They can get frustrated, and they can share that frustration. That’s not good.
  • Help with branding. A great onboarding experience makes customers feel connected and cared for. That in turn makes them see your business as something personal, relatable and un-corporate. These days it seems like every business—especially the massive über-corporate ones—are trying to appeal to people’s desire for the genuine and organic. If your actions show your business approach to be genuinely accessible and caring, you achieve better branding than McDonald’s could ever buy with all their ads for “artisanal” chicken nuggets.
  • Add perceived value. People seek out guidance on how to best use the products they already own. People even pay for it. By giving your customers more than just the product, you tilt the exchange further in their favor. When the business—not just the product—is there for the customer, it seems like money better spent.
  • Reduce the need for support services. Again, too many customers get frustrated with products they don’t know how to use properly. By engaging with customers right away through tutorials and walking them through their first use or two, you make them less likely to need help later. That makes them happier, and lowers your costs.

The 2 Kinds of Onboarding

There are countless examples of onboarding systems out there, some better than others. Almost every business follows an online order with an immediate follow-up email that includes a thank you, a receipt, and some kind of access password if applicable. Unfortunately, that’s where many businesses stop.

To fully engage customers in the onboarding process, you’ll want to go further. There are two main kinds of onboarding, and while one is more directly powerful than the other, it’s a good idea to use both.

In-product onboarding is exactly what it sounds like. The onboarding system comes with the product, so the customer is using it from the second they “open the box,” so to speak. On a physical product, it’s generally written instructions inside the literal box or on the product somewhere. For software and online products, it can be even more direct: popup windows that prompt customers through each step of the user process or a guided “tour” of the program.

For example, our software company WebinarNinja features an onboarding system that helps the customer create their first webinar. We recognize that if we don’t get the customer to complete their first webinar as soon as possible, we might lose them. We can’t let them get away without feeling what it’s like to accomplish this. Our goal is for them to come out with that first win.

External onboarding is everything outside the product. This includes the first follow-up emails, separate tutorial pages, support agents, forums and even how-to blogs. The difference is that the customer has to elect to seek these out; theoretically they could use the product without them—not that you’d want them to.

There are dozens of onboarding features to choose from when designing your own system. Before you decide what your customer’s experience should look like, ask yourself these three questions:

  • What should the customer accomplish? Between the moment they pay and the moment the onboarding is complete, what should your customer be working toward? For Webinar Ninja, we want the onboarding result to be a completed webinar. For a book, it may be getting the first chapter read. For a course, it may be completing the introductory lesson. Whatever it is, define that concrete goal and tailor your onboarding to its completion.
  • What “onboarding” strategies are you currently using? Even those who’ve never heard the term are doing something to follow up on a purchase. It may be inadequate, but we’ve all gotta start somewhere! What do your customers get after they pay? An email? A receipt? A handshake? Establish what you have, and build on that.
  • What’s your refund rate? What percentage of your customers are satisfied? How many are choosing to give your product back? See if you can find out why. You may be surprised to learn that it’s not a problem with your product, or with them. It may just be that there’s too wide of a gap between the purchase and the result they’re looking for.

Simple Onboarding

How much effort and money you can devote to onboarding will depend on the particulars of your own business. Fortunately there are many low-cost, relatively easy onboarding features that anyone can employ. Beyond that, there are some more pricey services designed to truly perfect your onboarding. If it’s possible, they’re worth considering too.

The first easy, simple onboarding strategy is to make sure you’ve got a functional onboarding page. Your customers should be directed there the second the sale is closed. For example, on the $100 MBA, the first customer payment automatically brings up a gif of myself and my partner Nicole. Underneath is a “Get Started” button. That button takes the customer to a short video of the two of us welcoming the customer, thanking them for their business, and offering some words of inspiration.

From the video, we encourage the customer to click the “orientation” button directly underneath (literally pointing at it from within the embedded screen). We do everything we can from the second payment is accepted to get them to click that button. That’s because that button starts the first lesson. Finishing that lesson is an accomplishment. Once it’s done, the customer is truly ours. If they don’t want to continue with our service after that, it’s not for lack of information.

The key is to create a controlled environment. Simply accepting payment and leaving the actual use up to the customer just leaves too many openings. The less guidance they have, the more chances they’ll have to get lost. Onboarding is like a cattle chute, except instead of leading steer to slaughter, you’re leading customers to a full commitment. Don’t leave it up to them to find what they need. Show them. Make it easy for them now, and they’ll be around later.

Yes, your customers are probably capable of figuring your product out, but if you relieve them of that chore, you can get the momentum going immediately.

Even for a physical product, try to excite the customer about its potential use. Even something as simple and self-explanatory as a t-shirt should come with guidance—what to wear it with, care instructions, whatever. As long as you start moving them towards the goal the product represents (even if it’s just having something to wear with jeans), you’re onboarding.

On the external side, set up automatic emails and schedule them for delivery upon purchase. While in-product onboarding is crucial, every bit helps. Go beyond a simple thank you and receipt. Offer tutorials and complementary products. Use the emails to forge a deeper bond, and the customer will be more enthusiastic about their purchase.

Advanced Onboarding

If you’ve got the capital, it’s possible to go beyond DIY onboarding. There are several services out there who specialize in the post-sale customer experience. They can help you analyze and perfect your onboarding and ensure maximum customer retention. Note: none of the following services are sponsors of the $100 MBA. is an onboarding service that we use for Webinar Ninja. It allows us to create the pop-up tools and tips that make the initial user experience so much more seamless and enjoyable than it would otherwise be. For complex, multi-faceted software products with multiple features, it’s an excellent tool. Best of all, it doesn’t require the business to write a single line of code. Of course, it comes at a cost: $99 per month for a thousand unique visitors. It’s not cheap, but we’ve found it to be worth the cost. provides an advanced study of the customer experience, right up to and including video of their reactions to your product, for $49/month. Hotjar is an analytics service that offers detailed breakdowns of customer activity on your sites, with options ranging from free basic service to an $89 “business” level. Both of these services exist to paint a picture of your onboarding experience so that you can determine how best to improve it.

Take the time to get your onboarding right. Before you launch (or relaunch) your next product, dedicate a full day or two exclusively to your onboarding sequence. Ask yourself the questions posted in this article, and answer them honestly. Give your customer onboarding the care it deserves. Study the results, and adjust as needed.

It’s a long-term principle, so it may take time to see the broad results. Once you do, you’ll be glad you gave it the same effort you give to your product, your marketing, and the rest of your customer service.

Business School Design Entrepreneurship Uncategorized

The 3 Tech Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

Advanced technology can be intimidating for new entrepreneurs. While the stereotype of millennials being born with smartphones in their hands has something to it, that doesn’t mean we’re all programmers or coding experts (or even millennials, for that matter). The inescapable need to be wired in to today’s online techno-scape can be a hassle for people who aren’t confident in their skills. Unfortunately for them, tech skills are becoming a requirement, even for brick-and-mortar businesses.

Fear not, though. Anyone can learn the basic tech skills that most businesses require. Even if you’re not exactly Richard Hendricks, you can do it. Even if you can’t program a VCR, you can do it. Even if you’re a person who still owns a VCR, you can do it. The key is to learn just the few most important, basic, widely-applicable skills that apply to pretty much any industry. They’re not too hard to learn. Once you’ve got them down, running your business is as easy as updating your Myspace page (first tip: do not have a Myspace page).

Full disclosure: some of the following recommendations include recommendations for products and services. Some of them have been sponsors. One of them is our own company. However, we haven’t been paid to mention any of them in this article. They are products and services we genuinely use, and we sincerely think you should, too.

1. Editing and modifying your website. Every. Business. Needs. A. Website. Even if your business isn’t an online business, your business needs to be online. That doesn’t mean you have to be a web designer (you can just pay one of those), but you should be able to update your own website when and how you choose. Otherwise, you’re surrendering too much control to whoever’s running it.

The key to a successful website—one that converts browsers to customers—is that it stays active. New blogs, new pictures, new videos, new anything keeps your website alive and interactive. Otherwise, it’s just a virtual flyer. You’ve got to know how to share the experience of running your business with your audience, and that means being able to get in there and add, subtract, or otherwise modify your site. The good news is that this doesn’t take that much skill.

You can hire someone to create your website, but part of the service they provide should be some basic training in how to do simple updates without being at the mercy of their schedule. Alternately, you can sign up for a ready-made website template service like SquareSpace, which gives you complete control of your site while doing most of the work for you. You can also create a WordPress site and use OptimizePress. You can even get a crash-course in how to run a website on The resources are there, so take advantage of them.

2. Using Google Apps. Google has bestowed upon us a wealth of great business applications that everyone should be using. They’re mostly intuitive, they perform beautifully, and they do everything short of showing up to your house and doing your laundry. Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, it’s all there, and it’s easy to learn how to use.

Google Calendar in particular is fantastic for scheduling, especially since the calendar can be shared among multiple employees to coordinate schedules and avoid conflicts. Sheets works like Excel, only better, and is perfect for budgeting and inventory. Any other “paperwork” can be created and shared via Google Docs, on which I’m writing this very blog.

The best part? All of it is completely mobile and accessible from any smart device. Simply set up a Gmail account, and Google’s own tutorials will show you the way.

3. Hosting webinars. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: webinars are the best way to make sales conversions. Whatever you do, whatever product or service you sell, a good webinar can establish the kind of credibility that breeds unparalleled customer loyalty. I’m not just saying this because we created our own webinar platform—quite the opposite. We created WebinarNinja because we love webinars so much.

Whichever platform you go with, you won’t regret putting on a webinar. At the very least, webinars are proven to build email lists like nothing else. As long as email marketing remains demonstrably the most effective kind, that’s something of a big deal. Learning how to host one isn’t hard, either. With some basic presentation and public speaking skills, expertise in your field, and some good intuitive software, anyone can do it. Webinar Ninja in particular features extensive tutorials.

As an entrepreneur, your job is to grow. That doesn’t mean just growing your revenue and growing your business. To do either of those, you have to grow as a business person. You have to grow in experience, in wisdom, and definitely in skills. Taking the time to learn, read, take classes, and to otherwise add skills to your arsenal is the difference between growth and stagnation. These three skills are a great place to begin, and they’ll open the door to even more growth down the road.

Design Entrepreneurship Uncategorized

How Important is Your Look?

Do appearances matter? Most people – especially business people – would say yes, though how much so is up for debate. When it’s time to project competence and success, most of us reach for a suit, even if it’s not something we’d normally wear. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs single-handedly revolutionized the tech market with nary a departure from his black turtlenecks over blue jeans and sneakers. The question remains: are looks powerful enough to make or break a business?

The importance of your look isn’t limited to your style of dress, either. What about the look of your entire business: the storefront, the website, the service vehicles? The business card? The way you and your business are presented to the world matters, but understanding how and how much is the key to leveraging your style into profit. While the number one priority of any entrepreneur should be the substance of the product, the right look can be the key to finding that product’s market.

Know Your Audience

The first thing to understand is that there is no universal dress code. The CEO of an investment firm might wear a suit, but if an automotive tech showed up to work in a three-piece from Calvin Klein, many would question his grasp on the business. What you wear and how you present your business depends on what exactly you’re trying to say. More importantly, it depends on who you’re saying it to.

Take the example of Jordan Richter. Richter was a skateboarding pro who decided to parlay his passion into a service business: teaching skateboarding. If he presented himself to his audience in anything double breasted, they’d be more suspicious than interested. Likewise, if he wore flip-flops, he wouldn’t be taken seriously. His look, from his carefully unkempt beard to his hyper-functional wardrobe, announces that he’s a professional who not only knows how to skate, but personally understands his customers’ desire to learn how.

That’s not to say that it’s never appropriate to suit up, even if the business you’re in is creative or technical. When my partner Nicole and I used to do video work, our wardrobe had to reflect the setting in which we filmed. As videographers we were strictly on the artistic side of things- but when it came time to shoot at financial firms, we made sure to adhere to the dress code of our clients, suiting up out of respect for the setting.

When it comes to your personal style, the key is not simply to look like a professional. It’s to look like a professional something. Whether that’s a professional motivational speaker, a professional writer, or a professional acrobat, your look has to strongly suggest, at a glance, that you’re what the customers are looking for. By dressing the part, you don’t necessarily convince anyone that you’re the right person for the job, but you do convince them to look more closely and find out for themselves.

The Business Makeover

Of course, the look of your business has to reflect the same dedication to professionalism as the look of your person. If you own a brick-and-mortar business, it’s vital to pursue the kind of curb appeal that sends the right message to passersby. That might mean stark and minimalist, or it might mean eclectic and homey, but whatever it is, it has to speak to what you’re offering.

More importantly in today’s economy, the look of your web presence needs to be on point. Your website should have a clean and intuitive interface, an attractive layout, and an overall design that reflects the character of your business. In an environment where most consumer decisions begin with a Google search (even if they end at a physical location), your online look may be the most important look of all.

The key to projecting a professional web “look” is quality images. When it comes to images, nothing looks more unprofessional than poor quality pictures and illustrations. If you have to hire a professional photographer in order to have quality pictures for your site, it’s worth every cent. In fact, it’s better to have no images than blurry or poorly framed ones. The same goes for profile pictures and other images for use in social media and online ads.

Combine strong e-style with confident and relevant personal style, and you’ll not only draw more potential customers in, you’ll notice a difference in your own outlook. A great image raises expectations, including your own. It may seem superficial, but anyone who’s nailed their image can tell you that the effect on their self-confidence and drive is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

While substance is always the first concern, it’s a fact of life that appearances matter, so come correct. Whether we admit or not, everyone makes instantaneous judgments based on visual first impressions; it’s just how humans are wired. Those judgments then lead to decisions. In a crowded marketplace, this means that your look could be the difference between piquing interest and being passed over.

Design Entrepreneurship

How to Guarantee More Traffic to Your Website

For new businesses, web traffic has become what physical location used to be: paramount to success. As a result, whole industries have sprung up offering products and services that promise to bring more of it. Books and blogs offer pages upon pages of advice on how to maximize it, constantly adjusting for new revelations in analytics and the inner workings of search engines.

Unfortunately for many entrepreneurs, this creates the impression that traffic is something that can be conjured up like a spirit. The experts promise strategies and formulas that will send traffic streaming into your little back-alley of the web, if only you’d trust in their incantations. The premise is that traffic-building is a speciality skill in and of itself, like graphic design or coding.

This is only partially true. While there are certain basic strategies that any business person should employ, they’re no more than that- basic. Anyone can master them in less time than it takes to decide on a font for your home page. What really drives traffic is something much more fundamental, yet impossible to encapsulate in any formula.

What really drives traffic is quality content.

The Myth of SEO

Feathers, prepare for ruffling. Established dogma, your time is at an end. What I say now, I say knowing it would have me pilloried by the defenders of conventional wisdom. I say it nonetheless: SEO is bunk.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the collective term for all the different ways one can allegedly cause a given website to climb the rankings of Google and other search engines. The higher the rank, the more people searching for information will see your website in their results, and the more they’ll visit. The more visitors come, the more popular your product becomes, the more you succeed, and the brighter the future for you and all the coming generations that bear your mighty name…or so the theory goes.

In reality, this approach is at best outdated and at worse a fool’s errand. Years ago, when search engines were simply keyword-searching services, SEO was a worthy pursuit. The Internet was young and malleable. Formulas for manipulating search engines were simple and likely to work, because search engines were simple and likely to cooperate.

No more. Then was then, but now is now, and Google will not be manipulated.

Search engines have become so sophisticated in their ability to decipher search entries and find truly relevant results that trying to “crack the code” is about as useful as putting one of those inflatable flailing tube-men from your local used car dealership on your laptop, hoping it will bring passersby to your website. The way search engines rank results these days is a complex process that goes far deeper than the frequency and placement of keywords; it analyzes the entirety of the content and assesses its substance with frighteningly Skynet-esque critical thinking. The future is here; the machine is alive, and it laughs at your paltry human tricks.

Ranking Via Substance

With modern search engines so refined, the old SEO strategies have outlived their usefulness. While basic steps like using the appropriate keywords in titles and introductions are still good practice, they’re not going to make it rain clicks.

Current SEO experts describe the only really valid keyword strategy in terms of the “long tail,” or the ability to use keywords in very specific, very substantive contexts that search engines recognize as aligning with very specific search goals. This is not a sign of progress for SEO. It’s quite the opposite.

More and more sophisticated SEO strategies are being concocted, but not because SEO strategy can somehow “catch up” to Google’s ability to discern. It’s because we’re nearing an event horizon. We’re reaching the point where search engines are going to look for exactly what human beings are looking for: actual substance. Chasing rankings and trying to alchemize a perfect combination of words requires time and effort that would be far, far better spent on simply producing better content.

I know this from experience. Years ago, I was consumed by the search for perfect SEO. I tailored every bit of content to the strategies and formulas that were promoted as guaranteed traffic-builders, and in some ways it worked. The strategies had their uses, uses that are now built-in features of any decent content platform like WordPress or Yoast. But no strategy, no hack, was ever able to bring me the traffic I built when I finally settled on the ultimate SEO strategy: no SEO strategy.

By focusing on the quality, originality and value of the content, I discovered that the only real way to guarantee traffic was to earn it. The way to earn it is to produce valid, truly substantive content that doesn’t read like click-bait or try in vain to pander to the latest search engine algorithms.

The value of my expertise and experience is what brings traffic, because it’s something worth having, not just something worth clicking on. The irony is that once I took this approach, everything I had worked for in my SEO-obsessed days came to pass, without a single keyword stuffed. Since then, I’ve been asked in conversations and interviews with colleagues about my SEO strategy, and what the “secret” is to scoring page after page of Google results. My answer is always the same: there is no secret. You just have bring the goods.

Traffic Practices

Once you have a quality product, a clear and valuable message, and the time and will to produce content, a few good practices will best ensure that your website gets the traffic it deserves. None of them can compensate for a lack of quality in content, but they can maximize the returns your content brings.

First among them is volume. One thing high-traffic sites like and Fast Company have in common is sheer breadth of content. These are full-time big businesses, so they have the resources to pay high-powered writers to produce 5-to 10 articles or more per day. Independent entrepreneurs may struggle to produce on that level, but it’s imperative to produce as much as possible.

Fresh content keeps the public in conversation with your business, and a website that hasn’t been updated in months is destined to be forgotten, even if its now-stale content was revelatory when it was posted. That doesn’t mean churning out filler just for content’s sake; it means staying committed to the constant production of whatever your target audience wants. It’s important to create and maintain a production schedule, allowing ample time to create, review, and edit new content in order to fulfill your publishing calendar.

It’s also important to make use of social media, but not just by automatically posting links to your website’s content. Maintain an active, not passive, social media presence by interacting regularly and genuinely with followers. A Facebook or Twitter feed that simply throws context-free links into the din is unlikely to drive any significant amount of traffic, so take the time to chat. When you post links to your website, do so with a message that puts it in context and gives potential readers a real reason to click.

Lastly, another high-yield traffic tactic is guest posting. Everyone in your professional network needs content just as much as you do. The more diverse the content, the better and more interesting the website. By offering a guest blog or other content, you boost the quality of a colleague’s site and expose yourself to a whole new audience. Allowing others to return the favor and post on your site adds to your content, and can also bring new readers your way.

In the end, the best strategy is an honest one. Creating original, genuinely valuable content (and lots of it), from a place of honesty is the only way that’s guaranteed to work consistently. No tricks, no formulas. Hacks are for hacks. Trust in the value of what you have to offer, and you’ll find that web traffic makes a far better byproduct than an end in itself.