Posts tagged ‘Business’
Don’t write a business plan. Business plans are designed to force you to think through every obstacle and potential event. But, if you write a business plan, the only thing you’ll learn is you can convince yourself of anything.
We need to avoid the business plan.
They take too long
You will waste more time fussing with Excel’s chart formatting on a financial break-even analysis than answering real questions about your business. You will make wild predictions about revenue, which may not be grounded in any type of reality.
Take a look at any business plan, and you’ll see revenue predicted to grow exponentially. For most startups, revenue growth is not exponential or even consistent.
You’ll quickly realize business plans are fiction.
Your business will need to change the moment you launch
Within weeks of launching your business, you’ll will find yourself needing to change something about your business. It may be your overzealous revenue prediction, or something else. Either way, whatever you wrote in your business plan will need to adjust significantly.
Unplanned events cause every business to evaluate how they operate, produce or market. Every business will experience them. A 30-page business plan will not necessarily make you any more prepared for those situations.
Investors invest in people, not business plans
Business plans are not for investors. If you’re seeking support from a venture capitalist, you’re not going to spend a meeting reviewing your business plan. Instead, you will give a brief pitch, share your revenue and margins to date, and then answer their questions.
They wouldn’t believe your revenue estimates anyway.
What to do instead
There’s a clear distinction between writing a business plan and the process of business planning. A business plan is a Microsoft Word document with charts and pages of your ideas. Business planning, however, can happen anywhere. Open up TextEdit on your Mac, or grab the back of a bill, and jot down answers to these five questions:
- What will you sell and for how much?
- How will you attract your first customers?
- How much will it cost to acquire each customer?
- What will your expenses be?
- How many customers do you need to be profitable?
If you narrow your business planning down to those few questions, you’ll be able to focus on launching, adjusting and becoming profitable — no executive summary needed.
Then, share your idea. Tell your friends about your idea. Sure, they could try to steal it, but trust me, they won’t be your most serious competition once you launch. You need support from friends, and you need their opinion about your business.
Are your prices too high? Are you pitching your product to the wrong audience? Have you underestimated your expenses? You may arrive at a few of these realizations after spending a lot of time writing a business plan, or your friends may be able to tell you upfront and directly.
It’s your choice.
Marketing your startup happens before you write a single line of code. A successful launch is more than just building and submitting to blogs. You need to recruit an audience of advocates before opening to the public.
This guide takes you through each step of launching and marketing your startup.
Let’s get started by building your marketing strategy. Most startup will drive both awareness and sales, and rely on both paid efforts or non-paid efforts. You’ll want to attract users who are most likely to become customers. If web visitors are unlikely become customers, you’re wasting efforts and need to think about how to become more efficient.
It’s possible to launch a startup without investing a dollar into marketing. Ultimately, things like your business model, your connections to the community, and the industry’s saturation will determine how much you need to spend on marketing.
Choose Your Audience
Let’s answer a few key questions about your business:
- Who will use our site?
- How will we reach them?
- How will we cater to their needs?
Focus on what your target does and some of their relevant problems/concerns. Are they established in their careers, just starting out, or are they students? Are you going after parents, freelancers or businesses? You want a specific image of who these people are and what they value in life. In many cases, a part of yourself could represent your target.
Once you figure out who will use your site, it becomes easier to brainstorm how you can reach them.
Web app developers have the benefit of knowing their users will be online. They can refine their marketing tactics to the web and skip other media with high out-of-pocket costs until after they launch.
Think about the different types of websites your users visit online:
- News & Community Sites: Make a list of them and what your target uses them for.
- Social Media: Make a list of them and how they use them.
- Blogs: Make a list of them and why your target reads them.
If you develop strong answers to these questions, you’re on your way to a strong media plan.
We’ll come back and talk more about awareness and driving sign-ups later in this post. But first, let’s talk about your beta campaign. In order to have a polished web app for a successful launch day, you need people to test the app and drive initial word-of-mouth awareness.
A few months before your launch, let people know you’re working on a new app. Upload a logo on the site, and write a little post on your blog. Tweet about it across your Twitter account. Stay vague in exactly what you’re launching, but let your readers know something is coming. Collect emails on your homepage for people who are interested. You want to woo the insiders; folks on the cutting edge. Let them know they’ll be getting an exclusive sneak peak.
A few weeks before launch, start previewing features in a blog. Let people access the site (to a select few from your email list). Describe the theme of the product. Post screenshots. Post your principles/manifesto for the app to get people talking. Still continue to collect emails so you have a foundation for when you launch.
Qualify Your Beta Users
Not all beta users will bring the same benefit as others. Look at potential users as more than just n visitors, because they actually are the first candidates to try your product and become paying customers.
I cannot tell you how many times I add my email address to a web app’s beta user recruitment form. A few weeks later, a beta invite will pop up in my inbox, prompting me to register. What’s unfortunate about this scenario is that a young site has extended an invitation for me to play with their tool, without actually knowing anything about me. I could register, but the probability of me returning is low, much less the probability of me upgrading to a paid account. After all, I may not even be in their target audience. They’re playing a numbers game: extend invitations to enough people, and you will eventually find a user willing to pay. That’s not the smartest way to market your app.
Case Study: Chargify Qualified Their First Beta Users
Billing support company Chargify didn’t hand out invites to just anyone for their beta. Before users were invited, they needed to answer questions, such as, “How much do you intend to bill per month?” Users were evaluated first, ensuring high-value prospects received invitations. You can follow Chargify’s smart example with a bit of planning.
Web app developers should try to recruit users with the best opportunity to become profitable. That process begins by recognizing that some potential beta users are more profitable than others. It’s nothing more than efficiency; increase the percentage of people likely to purchase your service.
Qualifying potential beta users is incredibly easy. Many popular web survey options, like SurveyMonkey or Google Docs, already offer this feature. For example, suppose you launched a web app to aid small businesses. You could randomly or sequentially extend beta invitations to people from your beta email list. Or, you could go another route; qualify them.
When you are considering your next batch of beta users, send out a mass mail survey with a few questions. Just mention in the email that you are distributing a brief questionnaire and would love their feedback. The questions could be, “Roughly how many customers do you have at the moment?” and “How much does the average customer pay per month/transaction?”
These questions help weed out the tire-kickers, people who may not own a business, or those who may never upgrade to a paid account. Now, you have answers tied to email addresses. You see the applicants who may pay for the service, so extend them invitations first. As for the other people on your list, you always have the opportunity to reach out to them later.
Use Personalized Invite Codes
A lot of web apps still launch in beta, and they distribute invite codes to larger websites. Web app developers use these codes to track which websites are best at converting pageviews into sign-ups, which may help choose which websites you want to include in an advertising campaign.
Case Study: Web Apps Give Mini Sprout Invite Codes
Sometimes you come across an app review, and we offer an invite code for you to get started. In these instances, the web app owners reached out to us directly and provided a unique code for us to share with our readers. The code could be as simple as “minisprout.” This way, the site knows, out of all the sites that they’ve given invite codes to, which sources have the best conversions.
It’s best to give one invite code to each website, otherwise people will begin sharing invite codes across sites, which will make it difficult to verify the best performing websites.
Answers from “Choose Your Audience” will help you craft your launch campaign. Once you identify tactics to target potential customers, you need to start asking some nitty-gritty questions.
Driving Awareness: Non-Paid Media
Non-paid media is a favorite of a web app developer, mostly because any budget can support it. We’ll cover the basics below:
- Press Releases: Distribute press releases regarding your launch to major web app and social media websites (don’t forget Mini Sprout). Also focus on websites that feature your industry. For example, if you launch a bookkeeping app, you could promote your new service to web app directories and accounting websites. Make a list of which websites will be included when you send press releases.
- Blog Posts: Update both your personal account and your company’s blog.
- Social Media: Create a Facebook fan page and Twitter account. Encourage people to register and keep the conversation alive.
- Email Marketing: Encourage email sign-ups via your homepage and new user registrations. In many countries, users must first opt-in before they can receive your newsletter. Also, in the United States, users must be given the option to unsubscribe with one-click at the bottom of each email.
Driving Sales & Sign-Ups: Paid Media
New web apps may receive the majority of their press coverage within the first week of their launch. It’s really up to the developer to keep customers signing up for their services. One option, which is definitely among the most effective, is using paid media.
Paid media is media that you pay to run, like how you may pay to run an ad in a newspaper. That doesn’t mean non-paid media is free; press releases are considered non-paid media because you don’t pay news organizations to run them, even though you may pay a freelancer for writing.
You have plenty of options, but let’s focus on a few digital options:
- Display/Banner Advertising: If you’re planning on advertising on websites, which websites are you selecting? Would your message resonate well with each websites’ visitors? You may also consider a premium ad network that targets web app audiences. Some websites may give you the option to sponsor their content. Keep in mind that sponsorships are usually great for driving awareness of your app, but you may not get many sign-ups from your sponsorship directly. If you use a sponsorship tactic, use it to balance out a heavily sales-focused campaign.
- Search Campaign: If you are using a search campaign to drive sales, determine which keywords and ad messages you will use. Search is best used for driving sales and sign-ups, so they may be able to offset your other initiatives that drive awareness.
- Retargeting Through an Ad Network: Retargeting is related to banner advertising, but we’re calling it out separately because it’s a relatively unused tactic with web app developers. For many websites, people will visit your site and never return. If you’re running an efficient marketing campaign and only driving potential customers to your site, you lost a sale. Retargeting campaigns place a code on your site that assigns a browser cookie to each of your visitors. Then, if a person leaves your site before signing up, he or she could see ads for your service across other websites. Users who leave your site have already demonstrated they’re aware of your service, so you can use a retargeting campaign to focus on driving sales by offering a 30-day trial. Any buys with ad networks usually require a minimum spend level (often between $10,000 and $15,000). For some, it may be best to focus on smaller efforts until you can afford to pay an expert to design your retargeting campaign.
When you launch, send emails out to those who signed up for beta, launch your full marketing site, and spread the word. Get blogs to link to you, post your progress (how many sign ups), what tweaks have you made. Overall, show momentum.
After initial buzz, how do you keep attracting and retaining users? Maintain a blog, and update it at least once a week with tips. A blog will make a company look alive and human. Include things like,
- Tips and tricks
- New features, updates and fixes
Highlight the best blog content in a monthly newsletter to your opt-in customers and fans. For examples of some email marketing campaigns, we profiled a free email newsletter showcase called Emailium during one of our Mini App Round-Ups.
Focus on Your Vertical Markets
Advertising on web-focused blogs is a good first step for your web app, but those traffic sources are really nothing more than spikes. You’ll see a high bounce rate, especially if their audience does not align with your target. Your next step is to delve deeply into the industry that supports your app. If you built an invoicing web app, it’s time to look at the accounting and bookkeeping industry.
Case Study: Bootstrap Networked and Reached Out To Vertical Blogs
Back when Bootstrap, the online bookkeeping web app, launched, its founder identified blogs in the same industry. Then, he emailed each blog directly with a brief, concise summary. He opened his email simply with, “I was reading your blog post today and thought you might be interested in a new web site.” Then, he quickly touched on what made his service standout. That was it; simple and targeted.
Enter into these communities (if you haven’t already), and have a strong, supportive and straight-forward voice. These people are likely to be your best customers, so treat them like clients.
Once you launch, you’re blind because you have no idea what’s going on with your app, like why people upgrade or cancel their accounts. Determine what data will you need to make business decisions, such as how many pageviews convert to signups. Use analytics, how many people actually sign up, how many people actually login (measure by recording how many people login at least twice), how many people are actually paying to use your service. Compare non-paying visitors with paying visitors to determine how much traffic is needed to drive to your site, which will help you determine if how much to spend on marketing. With this info, you can know make business decisions and determine whether to invest more in marketing or improve your product with additional features.
Record users’ last login. For those who have not logged in over a 30 or 45 day period, send them an email to bring them back (not so much that we miss you; more like tips you can use to improve your workflow/business/self). Otherwise, you’ll likely lose a customer.
Telecommunications companies use business intelligence software to identify the few thousand customers, among millions, most likely to switch to another cellphone carrier. They then create marketing messages specifically for them. For your startup, identify characteristics of a customer most likely to leave, such as has not logged in after n days. Make a list. Then track them and follow up with them through an email campaign.
We covered a lot of details in this post. Just remember to begin thinking about your launch and marketing strategy before you begin working on your app. Building a great product is crucial for your web app’s success, but a great product alone won’t succeed without support.
If you have any suggestions, questions or case studies, leave them in the comments.
Everyone loves a great story. The film and publishing industries are based on stories, friends get together to share stories, and people remember events through stories.
For a lot of smaller businesses, the most frequently visited page after the homepage is the About Us page. So why do those businesses use words like, “largest” or “newest” to establish who they are? Why don’t they just tell their story?
When people ask about your business, don’t give them a description like, “we sell widgets to parents.” Don’t give them an analogy either, like “We’re the Netflix of posters.” Instead, tell them a story. Tell them how you got involved in your business and what you’re trying to accomplish. Show them a vision.
There are reasons why stories resonate so well:
- Stories give context. Information that is not shared in a story is just a data point.
- Stories reveal patterns and causes. Without a story structure, causes for wars throughout history would be lost.
- Stories communicate ideas. Concepts are easier to understand and remember when told as a story.
- Stories are relatable. People love rooting for an underdog.
- Stories are comforting. Why else would we watch movies multiple times, or re-read books?
You will win people over significantly faster if you tell them a story.
Follow these guidelines to craft your story:
- Where were you when it started? Where you getting dinner with an old friend? Or, were you stuck at the office? Establish an environment people can imagine.
- What did you realize? What were you working on when you came across your idea?
- What was the catalyst? People have new ideas every day? What made you decide you could turn your idea into a business?
- How did you get started? Did you take $100 and run with it? Did you launch your idea out of your home?
- What is your vision for your product? What makes you think you’ve come across something big? What’s the potential? If people have followed your story up until this point, they could be mesmerized by the potential.
- What has been your success to this date? Have revenues doubled each year or quarter since launching? Are you hiring or growing a team? Are you getting recognized in the press? Are investors or partners contacting you to partner? Show success to establish credibility.
No matter what you’re selling, people are more interested in the stories behind the business and the people involved. They’ll be more engaged, and they’ll likely ask more questions. That could lead to more publicity, or more sign-ups, or more sales.
Love, refine and share your story. It’s among the easiest ways to market a business.
As a web app developer or designer, you have probably played around with the idea of building a web dashboard. Dashboards on modern websites can be helpful tools allowing anyone to take away insights at a glance. Companies that get the right data, ask the right questions and display data in the right way stand out from other web apps.
But sometimes dashboards are only designed as charts for the sake of charts. Recently, Twitter announced they were planning on introducing an analytics platform to help uncover insights in social media campaigns. The tool’s design looks outstanding; overlapping line graphs showing clicks against bar charts showing tweets, plotted out by hour.
Just don’t let the aesthetics fool you. A social media marketer would not be able to glance at the charts and determine how to improve their campaigns with any amount of certainty. This analytics dashboard leans closer to eye candy.
When building a dashboard, remember one thing: All dashboards should communicate information that users will be able to act upon.
The intent behind this post is not to put a spotlight on Twitter. There’s a lot of potential for a Twitter-owned analytics platform. Instead, put the spotlight on your own web apps.
Take this same perspective we used with Twitter’s dashboard and use it on your own. What kind of implications would users be able to learn from your dashboards? If a chart is strictly showing data points, it’s likely not valuable to a user. Kill those charts. Show your users something they would be able to react to.
For those seeking inspiration, here are a few examples of sites using charts and dashboards well.
Instead of just charting your total assets against your total debt, Mint.com shows how your net worth changes over time.
Adobe Business Catalyst
Business Catalyst gives users a snapshot of their businesses’ health, beyond the latest metrics or sales.
Facebook estimates your campaigns’ reach, which uses marketers own words to indicate campaign performance.
The mother of all web dashboards does not disappoint. Google Analytics works fine when web owners install a tracking code, but the real power is unlocked once businesses begin tracking revenue and conversion data. Suddenly, web design decisions can be motivated by previous sales.
We wrote about Crowdbooster last year because of the value their dashboards bring to people on Twitter. Crowdbooster helps marketers understand what’s working with their social media campaigns or, more importantly, what’s not working.
You’ll find plenty of blogs that give examples of CSS and table-based pricing tables. But if the pricing table doesn’t convert, it won’t matter how you built it.
The purpose of a pricing table is to upsell potential customers. It’s set up for customers to pick the most appropriate plan for them, but web app entrepreneurs should design it so it leads to more revenue.
By the time your visitors reach the pricing table, they likely understand the value of your product and are considering making a purchase. From here, you have the opportunity to grow that final transaction cost as high as possible. It’s called “upselling,” and many established web apps do it well. Let’s take a look at some examples.
1: Pricing tables should upsell interested customers
37signals offers five plan options for Basecamp, but it pushes for the second most expensive plan, even if the cheapest paid option will work best for most customers. In this case, they’re upselling a customer that is already interested in purchasing.
2: Encourage customers to upgrade by offering free plans with few features
Wufoo actually calls attention to their free plan because it serves a role in their larger acquisition strategy. There’s quite a range of difference between their free and lowest-level paid plan. In fact, anyone who uses Wufoo on the free plan will quickly run out of fields or entries; they’ll have to upgrade. In this case, Wufoo uses their free plan as a teaser trial.
3: Users should see a value for every level of upgrade
The lowest level paid plan should offer the least value, and the highest level paid plan should offer the best value. Stepping up levels should not be as simple as doubling storage and doubling the price. Instead, users should feel an incentive to upgrade.
PlanHQ offers plans for $9, $24 and $49 per month. But the more expensive options are not offered simply by doubling or tripling costs and features. Users see an incremental value for sliding up to the next tier level, which encourages upsells for existing customers.
4: Less isn’t just more; it’s everything
It’s too common for new web app developers to build a pricing table that compares every feature. Keep it simple. Restrain the features for the Tour pages. And if you have multiple features that change with each level, consider simplifying the price points. You don’t need ten different components to highlight plan levels. Usually, one feature alone (like storage space, number of projects, or number of credits) will do just fine.
5: Once you build it, optimize
Your first attempt at a pricing table is really your personal opinion about what you think will convert a customer. Every hundred sales or so, make a change and see what boosts conversions. For high-performance sites, look into using Google’s free Website Optimizer tool for dynamic page changes that will tell you what combination works best.
The job of building and refining a pricing table really never ends. Customer needs change, as do your web apps’ features. Schedule time to regularly review the pricing table. It could end up being the most significant sales tool for your business.
LocalPinch is a marketplace to help small businesses recruit new customers. Owners will post a deal at a significantly discounted rate and a limited quantity. People purchase coupons, and business owners find themselves with a new buyer. Groupon and LivingSocial thrive on tangibles and food, but LocalPinch seems more focused on service businesses, like a local music teacher or tutors.
The service reaches beyond coupons. Small business owners are able to control the control on their page. LocalPinch’s organic search listings could potentially land higher in search results than a small business’ website on its own. Therefore, listing on LocalPinch would then give an owner an advantage: create a page, and attract more people through search results.
Small business owners never stop looking for efficient ways to drive more revenue. The coupon component offers an instant, measurable impact on a small business’ bottom line. With the mass appeal and overnight celebrity of sites like Groupon or LivingSocial, what kind of service company wouldn’t want to get involved? While it doesn’t yet carry the same allure of a Yelp, LocalPinch is definitely heading in the right direction.
Our Mini App Round-Ups cover smaller apps that rock. If you have a suggestion for an app, send it our way.
Ma.rs gives anyone the ability to launch a sophisticated mobile web app in a matter of minutes. Instead of writing code, users drag-and-drop elements into place. Its simple interface allows anyone to get started. Ma.rs provides the hosting, which means more time building your web app and less time setting up. Basic web tracking analytics are also included. Plans start at $30 per month.
The Daily Startup
For our entrepreneurial readers, The Daily Startup pulls in quotes and case studies from business and startup books. Each day, the website posts a new concept from a book. They take a no-frills approach to each article, as in, “Skip the details, and just tell me why this matters.” Their writeups are concise but still provide enough value with actionable advice for your business. The Daily Startup launched this month.
Ledgerble is a full-featured accounting web app. It breaks away from desktop software by providing your books in the cloud. Ledgerble can handles banking and bookkeeping, and it even has the ability to import your banking data from your account. The service just launched, and pricing currently stands at $14 per month for all features.
We have calendar web apps, to-do lists, address books and project management web apps. Apollo is a new web app that crosses borders and pulls these services together. It features a to-do list, calendar, sophisticated project management app and address book all on the same page.
Apollo was crafted as a modern web app. We see a high level of attention to detail both with the design and the development. New windows slide down like sheets or panels, which will make Mac users feel right at home. Double-clicking on a particular spot on your calendar springs open a window to create a meeting beginning at that time. Tasks with approaching deadlines dispatch an email reminder to your inbox, giving peace of mind knowing you’re staying on top of your priorities. As a new app, we were blown away to see the features we demand in a calendar app or to-do list app are available.
Each of the individual modules seem to be aware of one another. Your projects can be assigned to multiple people, which also appear in your Tasks, and your Tasks also appear on your calendar. Apollo helps eliminate a lot of individual web apps you may already use in order to create one, single web app to handle it all.
It’s new, but missing a few features. We didn’t see an Import function to get your data out of your existing programs and into Apollo. That means manual transcription for your contacts and calendar items, which may be too high of a barrier for users at this point. Also, features like data export and an API are in the works but not available to users. Apollo likely scaled back a few features in order to launch. We’re looking forward to seeing them added.
These objections don’t really represent a cause of concern. Apollo is refined and polished, so create a free account to see how a modern web app should behave. The service is in a private beta at the moment. Email them for an invite code, and be sure to mention Mini Sprout.
Business owners have quite the toolbox for managing their businesses. They have their email, but they may also use services that cover CRM, billing, accounting, calendar management and group discussions. New startups are taking a stab at pulling all resources together, giving owners one dashboard and an instant snapshot of their business.
Hardtree is an online business management service. The web app is set up like an online collaboration tool with additional enhancements to make it a true holistic service. Logging in to the service reveals your dashboard, which spotlights new messages or support tickets. Move around Hardtree by clicking on one of its fifteen tabs on your dashboard. Tools are organized by task, which means project management falls under “Projects,” leads are housed in “Sales & Stock,” and your accounting ledger appears under “Finance.”
There’s enough room for everyone on your team too. Add users and create groups for multiple users. You can also specify which users or groups access which tasks pretty simply.
Perhaps what makes Hardtree remarkable is yet to be seen by the public. Business management services like these thrive on creating a singular destination to manage activities. Hardtree will have plenty of data about your organization. Their next step is launching a new module called Intelligence. This feature will be able to make recommendations for your business based on your data. Therefore, it will be able to make data-driven business improvements. We have yet to see how and to what extent this new feature will play a role in Hardtree, but it has the potential to become a business owner’s most trusted advisor.
The service is available in paid tiers starting at £9.99 per month. A free trial is also available.
There’s a lot to explore in Hardtree. Owners may not use each component, but they’ll see a benefit when they tailor the space to their demands. In fact, Hardtree is the type of tool that may make its way into your web browser and remain open all day.
Wave Accounting is a completely free accounting web app targeted toward small business owners, startups and freelancers. The service competes against industry titans, like QuickBooks, but at no charge.
Setting up an account takes a few painless steps. First, fill in your account details, then link your financial data to Wave Accounting. Next, answer a handful of simple questions to help customize your account, like if your company is a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation, or if you collect sales tax from customers. Linking your financial accounts is optional, but it eliminates the need to manually enter transactions and probably improves the accuracy of your books.
What’s great about the service is that you don’t need to understand a term like “double-entry bookkeeping” to keep your books in order. The service handles a ledger, accounts receivable and accounts payable in terms like transactions, income and expenses. Create invoices under the Income tab, and log bills under the Expenses tab. Simple, right?
What’s clear is that business owners do not lose functionality when switching to Wave Accounting. The system doesn’t feel like a downgrade, even if it’s offered for free. And for many, Wave Accounting may feel more intuitive than QuickBooks.