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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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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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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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4 Traffic Strategies You (Probably) Haven’t Tried

Traffic: we all want it. We all need it. Traffic creates leads, and leads create sales. But what creates traffic?

Getting people to your website is one of the biggest challenges new entrepreneurs face. In fact, it might be the number one stumbling block that holds people back from pursuing their own business.

You can create the greatest content in the world, but how in the heck can you get people to see it?

In an online marketplace so crowded with content, it can seem almost impossible to stand out and be heard. That’s why you have to get creative. You have to pull moves that other people won’t. You have to veer off the beaten path and come from a new angle. You have to give yourself the advantage of competing against fewer people doing the same thing you are.

The following four strategies are different. They take a little time and work to implement, but it’s well worth it. Because most people don’t even attempt these tricks, the results can be way, way better than run-of-the-mill SEO strategies.

So get clever, get creative, and give these untapped techniques a try!

“Affiliate” Programs

When most people think of affiliate programs, they think of an arrangement in which people sell their product in exchange for a cut of the sale. That’s all well and good, and can be a great business booster. But what about the marketing end?

What if you adopted the affiliate strategy for traffic rather than sales? Get your current audience, however big or small, to find your new audience!

It’s simple. You offer incentives (other than cash) to your current audience in exchange for introducing new visitors to your content. Contacts of yours who refer other people to your website get a free month of services, or free shipping, or an upgrade, or whatever you deem a fair price for being your evangelist.

You’ll measure your affiliate’s performance in subscriptions. For every referral that becomes a new blog or newsletter subscriber, your affiliate gets credit towards the incentive. There are some tools online just for this kind of program; e-commerce stores can use Gather for a simple, stripped-down tool. For a more complex (but more powerful) affiliate marketing tool, check out IDevAffiliate.

Write a Book

Before you scroll past this, think about it for a second.

Everyone’s writing blogs, as they should be. But not everyone’s reading blogs — and not everyone who’s writing blogs is necessarily gaining the level of credibility it takes to drive traffic. For all the SEO power a great blog has, there is an alternative that’s slightly more involved, but potentially waaaaay more powerful: writing a book.

And if you can write a blog, you can write a book.

It’s easier than ever to self-publish, especially through Amazon. It doesn’t have to be a War & Peace; a 100-page e-book can be enough to have the desired effect. It can even be an amalgam of the blogs you’ve already written, reworked and repackaged into a bigger narrative or instructional form.

It also doesn’t have to be a New York Times best-seller. It just has to reach the segment of the market you want on your website. Charge a dollar, or two, or zero! The goal isn’t revenue, it’s traffic to your site. Include calls to action or incentives that link to your website, and watch the contacts roll in.

A solid, helpful, valuable book sticks with readers in ways a blog never can. It engages the reader over a longer period and creates a deeper relationship. That relationship doesn’t just drive traffic, it lays the groundwork for sales. Book-driven contacts aren’t casual contacts — they’re essentially pre-qualified leads.

It’s a no-brainer.

Guest Edit

We’ll get to guest posting below, but this brilliant strategy is just too good, and too creative, for me to wait any longer. I have to give credit where it’s due, however; this idea comes from the King of SEO, Brian Dean of Backlinko. It works like this:

Step 1: Google the most relevant search terms related to your niche.

To use an example, let’s say you’re a travel blogger who specializes in European travel. You Google various terms like “Europe travel visa” and “Europe rail pass,” etc. You get the idea. Find the most popular blogs and articles related to those terms.

Step 2: Identify older posts that still get heavy traffic.

You’ll find that posts from years ago still rank high in the search results, despite potentially being outdated or full of less relevant information — which is exactly what you’re looking for.

Step 3: Identify which of these older posts are in need of updating.

To use the European travel example, there are tons of high-ranking posts about the European visa system from 2016, 2012, and even further back.

Since they were written, different nations have changed their rules and policies regarding visas, new nations have agreed to enter certain visa agreements with others, political realities like immigration and Brexit have changed the game, etc. There’s more to know since these posts were written, but they’re still being read, every day.

The same holds true for just about every niche. Fitness, food, ferret grooming, whatever. Times change, and that’s good news for you.

Step 4: Offer to update the outdated posts in exchange for backlinks.

Simply decide how best to make the outdated posts relevant and correct for today, then contact the author. Propose that in exchange for reworking your post, you get to include a link to your own website.

It’s a win-win. The original poster’s SEO (to say nothing of their reputation) gets a boost from being updated, you get new traffic, and readers get better information. What’s not to love?

Not everyone will say yes. But spend a day or two per month doing this, and the results can be incredible.

Traffic-Similar Cross-Niche Guest Posting

Yes, guess posting on another website is always a good move. But finding the right site to post on can be tricky, and getting them to let you put your content in front of their audience can take some convincing.

That’s why you have to think just slightly outside the box.

Instead of offering a guest post on a site that’s directly in your niche, find a website that’s niche-adjacent. If you’re a fitness coach, try to post nutritional tips on a food blog. If you’re an interior designer, try to post staging tips on a real-estate site. I once guest posted on a photography website, discussing the business end for professional photographers.

A different but relevant perspective from someone outside the usual circles can be incredibly valuable. Website owners are always looking for more content, but unique content is worth its weight in gold.

The trick is to find niche-adjacent websites with similar traffic to your own. This way, they’re more likely to accept your proposal. It’s an opportunity for them to reach people they may never reach normally, just as it is for you. Go to SimilarWeb to figure out what websites in your chosen niche have roughly the same traffic as yours, and go from there.

As in every aspect of business, you have to find your own path.

To make it in an overcrowded marketplace, new entrepreneurs have to find angles that other people miss. Try these 4 strategies, and you may find that the best things come out of left field. Don’t be afraid to be an outlier — most successful entrepreneurs are.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

What Does Your Home Office Need?

Working from home: for some, it’s The Dream. No commute, no dress code, no question as to whose job it is to clean the coffee maker. No sad breakroom birthday cakes or awkward water-cooler banter. No listening to Earl from accounting tell the same story about his vacation to Cabo in ‘04.

What’s not to love?

But The Dream has a pitfall: conflating your home and your home office to the point where you don’t get much done. A laptop on the couch, friends, is not a home office. There’s a subconscious psychology to home work that you ignore at your peril. You have to purposefully, intentionally design your home workspace for maximum productivity. 

Depending on your approach, working from home can be the best, or worst, thing you can do for your business. Use the following tips to ensure that your home office is conducive to success.

Keep ‘em Separated

The first rule of the productive home office is that it has to be its own space.

Your office must be your office, and nothing else. When my business/life partner Nicole and I chose our current house, one of our first priorities was to choose where we’d work, because that room would no longer be eligible for the role of bedroom, or guest room, or workout room.

We’re not saying you have to seal yourself off like a hermit. But your working space, like your working time, has to be dedicated to a single purpose.

Your office must be behind solid walls and (closed) doors. Yes, your kitchen has a dining table. Your living room has a coffee table. But if you try to work in and among the rest of your home — even if no one else is home — your productivity will suffer, guaranteed.

The office is the office, period.

Importantly, keeping your office separate from the rest of your home doesn’t just protect your work time and space from the rest of your life. It protects the rest of your life from your work!

When you take a break (which you should, regularly), or when you’re done for the day, you need to physically “leave.” The psychological benefits of having a physical barrier between work and not-work create a more productive workday and a healthier personal life. 

In the end, you’ll find you can accomplish more in 3 hours of focused isolation than you can in 6 to 8 hours of working in the living room. You’ll also find yourself more fully relaxed in your off-time.

Work Stuff Only

Not only must your office be work-only; the contents of your office must be work-only, too.

Only objects with a specific work-related function should be allowed in this room. If it’s not helping you do your job, it goes. That’s not to say everything has to be a direct working tool (plants, for example, can’t type or code, but they’re still good to have), but you can’t allow distractions, even visual ones.

Again, this helps maintain the separation of workspace from non-work space.

If you need a coffee or a snack, you should have to leave your “office” to get it. If it’s time to work out, you should have to go to wherever you keep the exercise equipment. Wanna watch the news? Head to the living room. It’s all part of managing your mindset, so that you subconsciously enter a productive “work mode” the second you cross the office threshold.

Go Natural

A depressing workspace is just as unproductive as a distracting one.

I’ve been pretty adamant in this post about how “functional” your home office has to be, but that doesn’t mean it has to be sterile or sad. After all, entrepreneurs are supposed to enjoy work, right? Natural sunlight and plant life is key to a happy workspace. Our biology simply works that way.

There’s a reason the phrase “windowless room” is shorthand for “saddest possible place.” Our bodies get a lot from the sun (Vitamin D comes to mind), but our mental health is totally dependent on that friendly star, too. Windows with natural light help us avoid the feeling of being “trapped,” both literally and figuratively, by our work.

Similarly, plants provide both physical and emotional benefits. They clean the air in a room, and help fight the feeling of being isolated from the natural world. Like it or not, even the most hardened city-dweller is biologically wired to be soothed by organic life and green spaces.

And by the way, natural sunlight is also the most flattering for filming videos and live conferencing. Bonus.

Keep A Clean Desk

A cluttered desk, piled with papers and office gadgets, is a surefire productivity killer. If you have things you don’t need on your desk, you will get distracted, and you will get slowed down. If you have too many things you do need on your desk, you’re doing too many things at once!

Your desk, like your office, should be a minimalist paradise, a zen statement on the nature of focus. A keyboard, a monitor, a pen and pad; unless you’re using it at the moment, there really shouldn’t be anything else out. If you’re not using it, put it away (more on storage below). This will keep you focused on one task at a time.

As to the whole standing vs. sitting debate, that’s a matter of preference. Volumes of research have concluded that standing is far healthier (“sitting is the new smoking,” in terms of heart disease), but being on your feet all day has its drawbacks, too.

I prefer a compromise: a standing desk with a high drafting stool. This way, I can stand most of the time, but fall back into a seated position when I need to.

Walls Matter

Like your office, like your desk, your walls should be (you guessed it) clean and functional. Again, this does not mean plain, sterile, and sad. It just means not distracting.

A neutral, soothing color, with minimal decoration, will have the best effect on your subconscious. Some entrepreneurs use a large wall calendar, which is a good way to plot and reference long-term goals that are harder to envision on a daily or weekly calendar. Others use a whiteboard or chalkboard with tasks or goals for the day or week.

And yes, a little artwork is ok, as long as it’s soothing, non-distracting, and more of a background thing than an object of focus.

For those of us who shoot videos and video-conference, you’ll need at least one wall to use as a background. Naturally, you’ll want it to be clean and neutral (we have simple blank paper on ours), and ideally facing a window to allow natural lighting of your face.

Storage

Keeping your space clean requires a strong storage game. Again, the idea is to only pursue one task at a time, and to only have out the tools you need for that task. That’s where multi-functional furniture comes in.

Desk or desk-adjacent drawers are good, as are whatever closets the room features. In our home office, we keep a large ottoman/bench from IKEA that has space inside. There, we keep tech, cables, and various other things we use on a less-than-daily basis. When it’s time to break out things like lights and cameras for filming, we simply take them out and put them on spots we’ve marked on the floor with some gaffer tape.

Don’t fall for all the “cool” storage solutions you see in office stores, things that hold your stuff while still leaving it all visible. Clear or otherwise exposed storage creates a kind of visual chaos that won’t serve your subconscious well. Ideally, someone should be able to look into your office and not even know there’s anything in there but a desk and computer.

Music?

This one’s tough.

For some with very busy minds, music — even the fast-paced kind many would find distracting — helps focus. For others, a little light classical keeps the brain stimulated without causing distraction. For others, dead silence is the only option. I find that writing with music playing is almost impossible, but non-creative tasks are more enjoyable with a little background melody.

Research tends to indicate that music (even without lyrics) is a net distraction, statistically lowering productivity. But as with many things, what works for you is all that matters. Run an experiment, and see if you can measure how much you get done with and without music. Proceed accordingly.

When you’re ready to work at home, don’t just plop yourself down at the first flat surface. Design your home office with intent. Keep it clean, keep it comfortable, and keep it minimal. The best part about working from home, from a business perspective, is that you’re in control.

It’s up to you to create the space that gets the most done, freeing yourself up to enjoy the world outside your office as much as possible.

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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.