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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.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

2 Way Marketing: How to Have a Conversation With Your Audience

Of all the questions we get at The $100 MBA, I’d say about 80% of them concern marketing.

In one way or another, everyone is asking the same thing: how can I build my brand to the point where buying my product is a no-brainer? Companies have been asking this question since the dawn of commerce, but recently the answer has changed. Gone are the days of “blasting” information about your business into the public sphere and hoping for the best.

Marketing is different now. It used to be a speech; now, it’s a conversation.

Marketing Now

The internet created incredible new marketing opportunities, as email, social media, and the web opened countless avenues by which to reach consumers. But for a while, marketers still used outdated strategies: blasting info into the digital space, sending countless (mostly unwanted) messages to anyone they could reach.

These were the days of “spray and pray” marketing: just yell your message as loud as you can, and hope customers hear it.

Now, that strategy (or lack thereof) will get you nowhere. If your marketing isn’t intentional, strategic, and precisely aimed at the right niche, you won’t last long.

It takes work, but intentional, conversational, 2-way marketing is very doable, no matter how small your business is. It’s just a matter of finding your specific audience, and doing the one thing truly great entrepreneurs always do first: listening.

Ideally, you start marketing before you create your product. Yes, you read that right. Your product should be influenced by your marketing efforts, not the other way around. That’s because conversational marketing is about giving consumers what they want instead of what you want to give them.

Now, if you already have a product, it’s not too late. You can still market the right way, and you can align future improvements to your products with your marketing insights going forward.

The Strategy: From Stranger to Customer

2-way conversational marketing isn’t some radical outside-the-box strategy. It’s the proven method, used by businesses big and small.

It’s often referred to as “inbound” marketing. Whatever you call it, the general principle is the same: replacing a company-centric approach with a consumer-centric approach. Stop trying to convince people to buy what you’re selling. Instead, show people what you can do for them, and let them decide to reward you for it.

Different marketers divide the stages of this approach to their liking, but generally, it looks like this:

  1. Identify consumer problems you can solve
  2. Offer consumers free valuable content
  3. Engage consumers in a conversation
  4. Educate consumers about your solution to their problem

Let’s take a look at each stage.

Identify Problems

First things first (and this is why we recommend you start marketing before you actually produce your product): get to know your audience.

In conversational marketing, listening is just as important as speaking. Join social media groups focused on your industry niche. Ask questions. Engage. Interact. Become a part of the community you want to serve, if you’re not already.

One exemplary trick is to use Amazon as marketing research tool. Go to Amazon, and search for books on the topic of what you want to sell. For example, if you’re a weight-loss coach, look for the most popular books on weight loss. Then — and here’s the crucial trick — read the reviews.

Skip the 5-star reviews (they’re not likely to mention any “pain points,” which is what you’re looking for). Skip the 1 and 2-star reviews (they’re likely just on the “hater” end of the review spectrum). Focus on the 3 star reviews. These reviews come from people who found some value in the instruction, but still have needs that aren’t being addressed.

That’s where you come in.

If you can identify a problem that isn’t being well-addressed by others in your industry, that’s your niche. You’re looking for an opening in the market, a place where you can help in ways that others can’t, or won’t. Maybe all those fitness books lacked good advice on working out while traveling, or eating well on a budget.

Whatever it is, it’s there somewhere.

There are other ways to engage in the “listening” part of conversational marketing. Create surveys on social media (easy, fun, and invaluable for gathering info on people’s pain points). Host a strictly Q&A webinar — no pitching, no persuading, just make yourself available to consumers with questions.

Set a timeframe for the listening phase. After a few weeks or even months of gathering intel on what your audience wants, you’ll have an idea of where to steer your product development and your marketing.

Offer Valuable Content

Content marketing is increasingly popular, almost standard procedure at this point. That’s because it’s the absolute best way to engage with discerning, picky, consumers who insist that you demonstrate your credibility before they’ll consider hearing a sales pitch.

Blogs, videos, podcasts, webinars: they’ve all got a single purpose. Your content should be a gift to consumers that builds trust, credibility, and good will.

Of course, you can’t just “spray and pray” your content, either. Don’t write a hundred blogs just to write a hundred blogs. Don’t clog YouTube with video after video just because you can. As in many things, quality beats quantity.

Or in the case of content marketing, specificity beats quantity.

No one cares about your general musings on weight loss, or horse training, or baking. What consumers want is help. You have to produce valuable, useful, applicable information and insights that make consumers feel informed and empowered. That means addressing the specific problems you identified in the listening/research phase.

Build your content library thoughtfully. Take a month or so, and devote yourself to producing a solid amount of blogs and other content. Then, commit to a regular content schedule. The more content you produce, the greater your reach. The more useful the content is, the greater your credibility.

Never sacrifice quality for quantity, but balance both.

Whatever medium you choose — video, podcast, etc. — don’t forget to blog. Blogging not only forces you to articulate your message thoughtfully, it’s the key to growing your reach and bringing traffic to your website via SEO (Search Engine Optimization). For now, search engines still rank sites primarily by the written word, so get writing!

Remember, you’re going to need practice producing great content. Writing, recording, and otherwise producing the good stuff isn’t something you learn overnight. Personally, I can’t listen to the early episodes of The $100 MBA Show, or read some of my first few blogs, because they’re simply awful.

Really, just awful.

Engage Consumers

Once you’ve put the content out there, it’s time to hear back from your audience. You listened in the first research stage. You responded in the content creation stage. Now, it’s the audience’s turn to take the next step. That’s where CTA (Calls to Action) come in.

CTA’s are the entire point of content.

If your blog, video, or podcast doesn’t include a next step for the consumer to take (sign up for a newsletter, download another content offer, etc), then you’ve wasted your effort producing the content! Use links, buttons, oral instructions; whatever’s appropriate and available to you given the platform. Get the reader/listener/viewer to move the conversation forward by taking action.

The most important aspect of this stage is collecting email addresses. We’ll say it ‘till we’re blue in the face: email is the most effective marketing and sales tool online.

When you send an email, the recipient has to engage on some level, even if it’s just to delete it. That means you always have at least a chance to keep them interested. A quality email list will ultimately be your primary source of revenue.

Of course, you’ll have to give the consumer a reason to trust you with their address. Again, we rely on content. It could be as simple as asking people to subscribe to your blog, podcast, or channel. Or, you can offer exclusive content that’s “gated,” accessible only to those who opt in with their email address.

Once you have that address, you have the power to continue the conversation. When they get your emails, it won’t be the digital equivalent of a flyer stuffed in their physical mailbox. It will be something the consumer asked for and has ownership of.

That’s the biggest advantage a marketer can have: engagement by choice.

Educate, Help, and Sell

Now that you have a conversation going with your audience members, it’s time to really give them a reason to trust you. Your job is to educate them on the benefits of your product or service, so that they take ultimate ownership of the decision to buy it. This is where you really demonstrate your value, before asking for a sale.

It’s critical at this stage to be specific — you should not be sending the same emails or making the same offers to everyone.

Instead, you’ve got to tailor your emails to the recipients based on how they opted in. For example, if your blogs on equipment-free exercise caught the attention of people who travel often for business, they may have opted in by exchanging their email address for an infographic on, say, strength moves you can do in a hotel room.

The people who opted in for that particular piece of exclusive content have different needs than people who opted in to get, say, an e-book on nutrition. Therefore, those two groups should not be getting the same follow-up emails and offers.

Even if you’re ultimately offering both groups the same thing — a free trial of your fitness coaching service — you should appeal to their specific needs.

Fortunately, pretty much every CMS (Content Management System) and email platform out there includes the ability to track opt-ins. Your website, CTA’s, and email systems should be integrated such that you always know what brought the consumer to you, why they opted in, and therefore, how you can help them.

In fact, “How can I help you?” may soon be a barely-remembered phrase from the distant past, because modern online marketers aren’t like floor salespeople talking to strangers. Modern marketers already have an idea of how they can “help you,” because the consumer already told them!

Whatever your industry, whatever your talent, whatever your product, remember to have a conversation. Listen, learn, and be responsive to your potential customers. That will get you a whole lot further than shouting into the wind.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

Smarter Social Media: How to Narrow Your Focus for Better Results

 As General Custer learned the hard way, you should never divide your forces.

All too often, entrepreneurs think that in order to market effectively, they have to maintain a strong presence on all social media platforms. We Facebook, we Twitter, we Insta and we Snap, but we just don’t get the overwhelming results we hoped for.

We think we have to build huge followings everywhere from LinkedIn to YouTube to iTunes, yearning for that one big “viral” moment.

In truth, if you’re spreading yourself across multiple platforms and dividing your efforts across too many channels, all your hard work is going to waste. Worse, it might even be counterproductive. To create the best chance of marketing success, it’s a better idea to choose your battles, niche down, and focus on one or two platforms you can truly dominate.

The Multi-Platform Problem

Don’t “divide and conquer” yourself! Being everywhere is likely to get you nowhere. Here’s why:

It’s time consuming. You can only create so much content in a day. Creating 5 platform’s worth isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what are you neglecting while you’re crafting all those clever Tweets? There just isn’t time for a busy entrepreneur to spend all day interacting across multiple channels.And before you go thinking you can just “repurpose” content for multiple platforms, think again. This is almost guaranteed to come off as robotic and insincere, which is why most content marketers eschew the practice – and why platforms like Twitter are cracking down on repurposing.Remember, genuine content beats the mass-produced kind, every time.

It creates option overload. Whenever I see the bottom of a blog, email, or business card crammed with social media icons, I’m smh. When it comes to marketing, giving your audience too many options can lead to them choosing “none of the above.”If you want them to follow you on your preferred platform, by all means include your Twitter or Facebook handle in your content — but that’s it. Do you really need to include your G+ profile? Do you actually have a G+ profile?

It’s harder to convert. It’s much easier to funnel followers from one platform to your website, rather than from 4 or 5.If you have a strong following on Instagram or Facebook, you have a great chance of drawing them into your space, which is the only real value of social media. The ultimate goal is to bring people to your website, get their contact info, and start moving them down the funnel to a sale. Speaking of which…

Keep Your Eyes On the Prize

All the “Likes” in the world won’t grow your business if your audience is scattered across half a dozen websites that aren’t yours. Your website, not Mark Zuckerberg’s, will ultimately earn you sales. It’s the content you create and the value you offer under your own domain that turns someone into a contact, a lead, a customer.

That means we should never overestimate the value of social media.

We certainly shouldn’t spend too much time chasing casual affirmations of our content like follows and likes, which really don’t move the relationship between you and your audience forward. Instead, we should focus on turning one or two social media platforms into a traffic feeder for our own URL.

Remember: effective social media marketing isn’t just about throwing posts and updates into cyberspace and stopping there. To really utilize any platform, you should do more than just post — you should interact. That means thoughtfully cultivating your following in a way that’s designed to get them off the platform and into your little corner of the Internet. You can only realistically do that on one platform at a time.

Go All In

Instead of being a jack of all platforms, we recommend you make yourself a master of one. Choose a single platform that’s best suited to your business, talents, and audience preferences. Then, consolidate your efforts there.

For example, a fitness instructor might take advantage of image and video-based platforms, dominating Instagram with before & after pics or short workout tutorial vids. A writer might offer clever commentary or interesting articles on Tumblr. A club promoter might use Snapchat. A great photographer might not want to focus on text-based platforms, while a great writer would.

It all depends on what you’re selling, and what medium you’re most skilled in.

It’s all about finding where the Venn diagram of your talents, your type of product, and your audience’s preferred platforms meet. If you’re chasing hip young millennials, you might not find them on Facebook. The opposite holds true if you’re selling to Generation X (remember them?).

Once you’ve identified the platform where your content will have maximum impact, go for it. Don’t waste your time on other platforms. Instead, cultivate your following and tailor your content for the one platform you can best excel in.

Then, move those followers onto your website, capture their email addresses, and start the real conversation — the one that goes beyond Likes and Shares.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing

Why You Should Start Building Your Email List Right This Very Second

Yes, this second. Well, not this second exactly, but very shortly after reading this! Email addresses may be the most valuable form of personal information you can obtain from customers. They’re more valuable than social media follows (yes, you read that correctly), even more valuable than phone numbers. When it comes to marketing, chasing emails might be the single best use of your time.

The reason for this is simple. Email is the most effective form of direct marketing. Statistically, every credible analysis shows that email campaigns convert better than other kinds of marketing, including the consistently-overrated social media kind. Customers can ignore tweets and Facebook updates; they’re only voices in a crowd. But emails have to be engaged with. They have to be addressed, even if it’s only to delete them!

The psychology behind it is fairly straightforward. The overwhelming amount of content online conditions us to scan, skim, and mostly ignore what we see (even fantastic small business blogs). However, because our email inboxes are more personal spaces, we’re more likely to give that extra fraction of a second’s attention to whatever’s in it. Whatever it is— even advertising— it was sent directly to us, as individuals. Because we have to at least delete it (even if it’s from Google’s convenient “promotions” tab), we are forced to engage with it just long enough for it to have a chance of getting through!

As the online business world moves forward, I predict that email addresses will be worth their weight in gold. They’ll be something people are less willing to give out, as even the average consumer realizes their value. Companies, then, will be willing to pay more and more. Consider how your browsing habits are already being sold to the highest bidder, with more of that likely to come. Imagine what businesses who pay to know what you’ve Googled would pay for your email address! As an entrepreneur, you can take a page from this playbook.

How To Use The List

Putting the targeted ad schemes of big businesses aside, how can you as an entrepreneur use email addresses to your advantage? It comes down to relationship-building. By having regular email interactions with your audience, offering them valuable content (not just ads), and otherwise engaging with them directly, you can create “true fans.” You can foster the kind of relationship with your audience that sustains independent business.

In fact, building your email list should be one of the first stages of building a business— even before you build a product! Using your expertise to become a trusted voice in your industry is step one. Then, turning the people who listen to you into the people who buy from you requires two things: valuable content, and bringing those listeners to your website. Note that I say your website, not your Facebook page, not your Twitter account, not your Etsy account. Your. Website. Wherever you find followers, you’ve got to take them away from the 3rd party platforms and migrate them to your own corner of the ‘net.

Email is crucial to this. If you can get email addresses, you can have more intimate conversations. It’s the difference between talking to someone at a table in a quiet restaurant and yelling to them in a crowded club. By creating useful content and offering it in exchange for an email address, you can start the relationship. By creating useful content and emailing it along with links to your own website (and the occasional sales offer), you can convert!

Creating Customers Through Email

Start with your website. If you have a business of any kind, physical or online, you need a website. Then, fill that website with useful, genuinely valuable content. Have videos. Have infographics. Have pdfs or e-books. But above all, have text. Blogs and other written content are the key. Not only is it often more convenient to consume than other media, it’s also crucial to SEO.

Next, add opt-ins. Your website, chock full of goodness as it is, should be asking for one thing from every visitor: their email address. In fact, it’s a good idea to offer some extra content in exchange for an email address. Access to a free course or webinar, a bonus goodie like an infographic or short e-book; whatever it is, make it well worth the simple act of typing an email address. Use an email marketing service like Sumo for your opt-ins; it’s perfect for independent businesses (including ours).

Then, go out into the great wide Internet and find your audience. Engage on social media (but don’t worry too much about collecting follows). Go to conferences. Speak at live events if you can. Guest-blog on websites in your industry. Podcast, host webinars. Do it all! But whatever you do, remember the goal: to get those sweet, delicious email addresses and bring everyone to your website.

*For some truly great advice on the best “lead magnets” to offer customers in exchange for their email address, check out this episode of our podcast featuring Leadpages founder Tim Paige.*

The process of building your email list is a long one. There are strategies, but there are no “hacks” or tricks to getting the volume of qualified email addresses you’ll need to really sustain your business. It takes a consistent, long-term effort. You’ve got to make yourself valuable, credible, and worth corresponding with. My only regret regarding my email list is that I didn’t start building it far, far sooner.

The good news is that the longer you do it for, the easier it gets. Your first 100 emails will be harder to get than your first 500 or your first 1,000. It’s worth the time, and it’s worth the effort. Your product can change. Your advertising and marketing can change. Your team can change. But a purposefully built, long-standing base of true followers is irreplaceable. That’s the heart of your business.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing

The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Approaching Product Hunt

Product Hunt isn’t a household name, but its growing influence is impossible to ignore. Its impact on a certain segment of the market makes it especially crucial for entrepreneurs. This segment is one that most of us should lust after: early adopters. It’s a community of savvy, open-minded consumers constantly looking for the next great solution. If they believe in your product, you’ve got an inestimable leg up.

The site is usually compared to Reddit, appropriately. Users discuss various products in a linear format, up-voting the products they like and down-voting the ones they don’t. The more upvotes your product gets, the higher it (literally) rises. If it rises high enough, the multiplier effect kicks in and your product takes off. The community values feisty startups and creative thinkers, and prides itself as being a true meritocracy. If you’ve got the goods, Product Hunt users will reward you.

A Little History

Product Hunt was founded in 2013 by Ryan Hoover, an infectiously enthusiastic millennial entrepreneur who decided to parlay his love for innovative tech into something marketable. His Reddit-style approach to tech review was backed by the powerful and influential startup incubator Y Combinator, and quickly took off. By 2014, Mashable described Hoover as “The 27-Year-Old Who Tells Investors and Reporters What’s New in Tech.”

Since then, PH has been acquired by AngelList. Its community continues to grow in its influence on the market, but the beauty is that it hasn’t been hijacked by powerful corporate interests. Anyone can submit a product, and only the judgment of the community— not advertising or marketing— determines how high it rises.

The site divides submitted products into four categories: tech (including software, apps, and hardware), games (on various platforms, including mobile), books, and podcasts. The best become “Top Hunts” for the day (each day’s “Top Hunts” are archived), and the best of the best become “featured” products.

Getting Your Product on Product Hunt

All you have to do to submit something is sign up and provide the name of the product, a tagline, and a URL. It’s that simple. Whether or not a product actually gets reviewed by the community, however,  is up to Product Hunt’s team. They sift through the submissions and approve or reject each, usually within 48 hours.

This brings us to the tough part: most submitted products never make it to the discussion. Product Hunt gets hundreds of submissions daily, and they only post what the team considers to be the cream of the crop. That generally adds up to about 1% (yes, one single percent) of what hits their inbox. Literally almost everyone gets rejected.

Don’t let that discourage you. If you believe you’ve got something good, there are a few strategies and resources to increase your odds of being in that 1%:

 

  • Be scrappy. Product Hunt isn’t about helping big companies advertise. They’re about rewarding pluck and merit in entrepreneurs who need (and deserve) a helping hand. If you’re the “little guy,” you’re not at a disadvantage.
  • Only submit finished products. No prototypes, no beta versions. Only submit completed products that are on the market and available to the public. If the product is worthy, the team and community will want to help. But you’ve got to have been selling it yourself first.
  • Have your own presence. If the only place you sell your product is on third party platforms like Etsy, you’re not likely to make an impression. Make sure your website is eye-catching and has creative, original copy.
  • Be original. When 99% of submissions are headed for the scrap heap, the only way to be noticed is to be different. Whatever you’re selling needs to be cutting edge. The best way to approach Product Hunt is from well outside the box.

Once Your Product Is Up

With your product up and eligible for review by the community, you’ve got to get in on the conversation. What’s most important to remember is that you cannot— cannot— advertise. This is a community, not an ad space. If you want to convince anyone on Product Hunt to give you upvotes, you’ve got to do it as a genuinely respected member of that community.

Start early. Join PH well before you submit a product, and start interacting. Make yourself known as a functioning user with something valuable to say about different products in your industry. Be genuine. If you show up to the forum with nothing to offer but a pitch, you’ll get nowhere. It’s better to already be a known (preferably trusted) quantity.

When your product is up, simply comment to say that you’re available to answer questions. No pitching. Obviously, encourage your own followers to join Product Hunt, but be very clear with them in saying that you’re not asking them to flood the forum with compliments. Even your own loyal fans should be asking questions or commenting on specific features of the product, not flattering you. An army of supporters artificially inflating your rating won’t be appreciated by the community, and you won’t last long.

Lastly, be sure to offer some special incentive to Product Hunt users. Whether it’s a bonus or discount is up to you, but showing the community some love goes a long way.

Whatever you do, don’t approach Product Hunt as something you can simply use (or, goodness forbid, hack) to boost your sales. You can’t. The only “trick” to getting something out of the community is to be a contributing member with a genuinely great product.

For further help with Product Hunt, I strongly recommend listening to Ashish Walia of LawTrade’s interview with Top Hunter Bram Kanstein. I also recommend picking up The Product Hunt Handbook by Justin Jackson. With an original product and a willingness to engage the community, nothing is impossible.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales

Launching With Affiliates: Smart Strategy Or Careless Shortcut?

Affiliate marketing is a tricky subject, one I’ve had a lot to say about over the years. For those new to the game, affiliate marketing is when a business asks another business (the affiliate) to sell their product for them. You find someone with an audience, and utilize that audience’s trust in the affiliate to move your product. In exchange, when anyone buys your product using the affiliate’s special link, the affiliate gets a cut. Everyone wins. Or do they?

I’ve been asked whether this strategy, with all its advantages and drawbacks, is a good idea for new entrepreneurs. It’s certainly a popular one. And while I’ve definitely had my reservations about affiliate marketing, I can’t deny the potential benefits of doing so…when it’s done right.

I’ve launched many a product, both with and without affiliates. Whether it’s right for you will depend on a few variables. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that unlike traditional business, you don’t have to do anything. You get to make the choices that seem best for you and your company. So before you decide, know what can go right— and what can go otherwise.

The Pros

When you work with affiliates, you’re increasing the size of your audience (and potentially the number of sales) exponentially. Someone else has done the work required to earn the trust of a whole pool of potential customers. Now, your product is being recommended to them. It could take months or years to reach the people your affiliates have already reached, and here they are being handed to you on a platter.

The value of this is hard to estimate. Assuming your product is good and it sells well, it’s priceless exposure. The benefits can continue to accrue over years, as strangers become first-time customers, who become longtime customers, and who ultimately recommend your product to others. One good affiliate relationship can snowball into years of profit, especially if it’s not just a one-time thing.

All of this requires relatively little from you, at least compared to the cost and effort required to earn that following on your own. Affiliate marketing can be a fast lane to notoriety and credibility. As long as your product delivers, hitching your wagon to someone else means trust by association. And as market value goes, trust is a priceless commodity.

The Cons

All that said, the downsides can be considerable— especially for new entrepreneurs. When you’re just starting out, it can be tough to get credible affiliates. No one knows or trusts you yet, and affiliates may not want to risk their own credibility on someone’s first or second product. That means the caliber of affiliates available to you might not be…ideal. Businesses who rely too heavily on being affiliates (rather than selling their own products) quickly lose credibility with their own audiences. These kinds of operations are not wagons to which you want to be hitched. Unfortunately, they might be the only ones willing to work with you.

Once you do find an affiliate, you have to be very careful about their effect on your brand. It’s important not to just let anyone market for you, because the way they do so reflects on you! You’re trusting these businesses with your brand. They could be unprofessional or scammy. They could simply have an aesthetic or set of values that’s too different from your own. Being misrepresented by an affiliate is a damaging experience.

And obviously, you’re giving up profits. 50% is standard, but even higher commissions aren’t unheard of (some businesses even forego 100% of the profits if they think the exposure is worth it). You have to ask yourself: with the money you’re giving the affiliate, could you market and advertise just as effectively for yourself? If your affiliate wants to sell your $100 product on a 50% commission, is it possible that you could take that $50 and buy ad space that’d get you the same result (or better)?

Cautious Affiliate Marketing

I’ve always been very wary of affiliate marketing, for all the reasons above. Most of all, I’ve always wondered if outsourcing the marketing of my own brands runs counter to the independence that makes entrepreneurship…entrepreneurship! That said, independence doesn’t mean never working with others or refusing mutually beneficial partnerships. That’s why I do choose to go the affiliate route sometimes— but only on certain conditions.

First, I don’t do “open” affiliate marketing, in which anyone can sell your product. While it’s tempting to sort of crowdsource your marketing this way, you completely lose control over your brand. When any jerk with a Twitter feed can call themselves your business partner, you’re setting yourself up for some bad press.

Instead, I hand pick my affiliates, and only let my business be associated with companies I know and trust, and whose audiences identify with my outlook. This means my reach isn’t quite as wide, but it is deeper. Most importantly, I can rest assured knowing that people I’m proud to associate with are increasing the value of my brand, not detracting from it.

Secondly, I insist on controlling the message. I provide the copy for emails, social media updates, videos, pdf’s; you name it. This makes life much easier for the affiliate, as all they have to do is share my work with their audience. More importantly, it keeps me in control of how my product is presented. I don’t surrender control of the narrative; I simply “borrow” the attention of my affiliate’s audience for a bit. That’s easier for the affiliate, and safer for me.

The Right Call For You

If you’re a brand new entrepreneur selling your first product, I have to recommend that you not choose affiliate marketing. It’s a better idea to go it alone at first, learning how to market and build your own credibility before trying to leverage someone else’s. Both your marketing skills and your product itself are in the early phases. Both should be “matured” a little before you’re ready for the kind of exposure affiliate marketing brings. Otherwise, the partnership could backfire.

If, on the other hand, you’ve been in business a while and you’re ready to launch or relaunch a tried-and-true product, affiliate marketing might be a great boost. Just make sure to take the time you need to find the right affiliates, and give them the materials they’ll need to represent you well. So long as it’s done with restraint, affiliate marketing can be mostly upsides. And it can give your business just the bump it needs to reach the next plateau.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing

How To Plan And Execute The Perfect Promotional Email Campaign

When it comes to direct marketing, you can’t beat good old-fashioned email. Social media is great (and webinars are invaluable, of course), but the stats make it clear that email still produces the most sales. That’s because emails can’t be ignored the way other forms of advertising can. An email can’t just be scrolled past. The recipient has to do something with it, even if that something is deleting it.

So how can you best take advantage of this to boost sales? Since emails automatically have to be engaged with on some level, what you put in them can work wonders. But getting the copy right isn’t the only challenge. You’ve got to send the right kinds of emails, at the right frequency, with the right message. To make an email promotion work, you’ve not only got to create a great offer. You’ve got to “sell” it from your customer’s inbox.

Preparation Is Everything

The number one mistake new business people make is starting with the promotion. Before you send the email that actually asks customers to buy something, you’ve got to put in the prep work.  

First, you’ve got to decide on the promotion itself. What special offer can you make that will attract the most business, and be worth whatever discount or bonus is included? Determine what prices, bundled services, or special packages will represent the best value for you and the customer. Then, make sure you have the purchase process streamlined and ready to go. When the promotion finally lands, you’ll want the sale to be as easy as a few clicks on your website.

Next, you’ll need an email marketing service. Sending a bunch of emails out yourself takes time and resources you can better spend elsewhere. For those new to the game, we recommend using MailChimp. It’s free for the first 2,000 subscribers on your list, and is very easy to use. However, it doesn’t allow for fully automated email marketing. For something on a professional level, go with either ActiveCampaign or ConvertKit. We here at the $100 MBA use ActiveCampaign, but both are excellent options at a reasonable price (ConvertKit is a little cheaper, and specifically designed for bloggers).

With all that in place, it’s time to start working on the emails.

The Power of Sequential Emails

Your promotional campaign should release emails in stages, starting a few days before the promotion actually happens. You want to build the hype, get customers excited, and— most importantly— start their decision-making process. By beginning the conversation well in advance, you give the customer the ability to make their own decision to buy. By the time the promotion actually starts, the sales are mostly made!

The idea is to convince the customers of two things. First, to buy the product on its own merits. Secondly, to buy the product when you want them to, i.e., during the promotion. The initial email is an announcement. It’s an anticipatory message that trumpets something special coming down the road. It reminds the customers of what your product can do for them, but also what makes the promotion a unique opportunity. This lays the groundwork. It gets the customers’’ gears turning so that the sale is a decision you reach together, rather than something forced on them.

The day before the promotion starts, send another email. This one should emphasize how temporary the promotion is. It should (without being too high-pressure) create the sense that if the customer doesn’t act, they disadvantage themselves. Create a little “friendly FOMO.” Make it clear that this is truly an “offer” in the literal sense, something worth appreciating. As long as that’s true, the email is an act of good customer service, not just an advertisement.

The day the promotion begins, celebrate! The day-of email should sound like the great news it is. Use humor, use varied media like pictures and gifs, and let your personality shine through. It should *almost* read as if the sale is a done deal— because by this point, it almost is. Over the preceding several days, the customers have had time to seriously consider your offer. They don’t feel ambushed or tempted into an impulse buy. That’s why the day-of email is less of a pitch. You’ve already pitched!

Depending on how long the promotion is, keep sending emails. For promotions lasting a week or more, a new email every other day is enough to keep the momentum going without being spammy. For shorter promotions, a daily email is appropriate. If you’re using a professional email marketing service like the ones mentioned here, they can tag those recipients who’ve already made a purchase so they don’t receive further emails.

On the last day of the promotion, send out a final email. This one should naturally be more urgent, since the clock is ticking. I’ve even sent emails during the last hour of a promotion, to catch the last few stragglers who haven’t pulled the trigger. Again, don’t go for the scammy high-pressure vibe. Simply tell the truth: that something worth having is about to slip away.

Tips For Great Emails

Promotional emails have one goal: to boost sales. But to get there, they need to avoid the trash folder! There are a few basic strategies that can increase your emails’ odds of actually being read, and actually being effective.

  • Brevity: The last thing a customer wants is a chore, so the greater economy of words you can employ, the better. No promotional email should be more than 500 words. This way it’s more succinct, less intrusive, and less work. Just state as simply as possible how your product meets their needs, what’s special about the promotion, and what they’ll miss out on if they do nothing. Make it brief, make it snappy, and make it easy to read.
  • Postscript: I always like to include something at the end of my emails that prompts the recipient to reach out to me with any questions. Use the “P.S.” as a way to turn the promotion into a conversation. If you actually respond to a customer query personally, it goes a long way towards building rapport, and makes sales more likely. It’s one thing to get emails from a business. It’s another to have a conversation with a person.
  • Testimonials: Always include a few words from existing customers who are happy with your product. Don’t just try to convince the reader of its efficacy, prove it! Show them how what you’re selling can solve their problem.
  • Personality: Don’t let your email read like an ad. It should read like it was written by a person. A person makes jokes. A person shows emotion. A person can be professional, but still warm and honest. Make your email stand out by making it more fun and interesting than everything the customer will be deleting from their “promotions” tab that day.
  • Subject lines: Naturally, the subject line could be the difference between “open” and “delete.” But don’t take it too far. Too many less-than-ethical businesses use misleading or downright deceptive subject lines. This will get the email opened. It won’t lead to sales. It will lead to annoyed recipients taking their names off your list. Hint at what you’re offering without spelling it out. Create some mystery. But above all, be honest.

Once you’ve created a good batch of emails for your first promotional campaign, file them away for the next one. With the basic structure in place, you can simply change the details to fit the next big sales push. Over time, you’ll hone them into the perfect promotional package. Keep building that list, keep marketing with honesty, and you’ll see those emails pay dividends.