Author Archives: Luke

Jumping into SaaS Marketing? Focus on Tactics, not Strategy

It’s not easy to prove your worth as a marketer at a startup, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. From my own personal experience, I’ve seen low hanging fruit that must be talked about. It’s the tactical stuff. You know, the nitty gritty…

First, let me tell a quick story…

In college, I had a professor who was amazing. He ran marketing at Verizon (before it  became Verizon), and for fun, organized a massive sponsorship for the 2002 World Cup. He was one of the best professors I ever had, but I never managed to ace his exams. I would visit him during his office hours, and try to fully understand what I was doing wrong. Time after time, it boiled down to the fact that he was looking at the big picture (strategy), while I was diving deep into tactics. 

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Growth Hacking is B.S. Follow these Marketers instead

For those of you who didn’t read this earlier post on hacker news,  Joel Andren wrote an awesome post on how “growth hacking” is being used a vehicle to promote oneself. As someone who’s been talking about this for a while,  I was so happy to read this.

That got me thinking – if all the hype is centered around growth hacking, where are the SaaS marketers who provide evergreen content on startup marketing? I’ve been on the hunt for these people, so I figured I’d put together a list of  people you should follow. These are some of my favorites, and they focus on solid marketing principles, not fads and tactics. I split them up into groups depending on what stage your company is at (although some may bridge between different categories).

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Website Visitors are People Too

I visit quite a few websites over the course of the day, and I’m amazed at how bad most of them are. I’m not very picky about design (although I appreciate good design), but instead, I’m dumbfounded at how pushy they are from the very beginning.

Buy this! Sign up for my ebook! Don’t think about leaving this window, or I’ll put another pop-up to convince you to stay.

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How I used technology to find (and close) an apartment rental in Boston

I just graduated and moved from Maine to Boston in June. I’m currently living in a sublease with my wife until the end of the Summer….and there’s been a nagging pressure to find an apartment. It’s annoying, and I’ve spent countless hours searching for a place that we could inhabit for the next couple years.

The Boston rental market is insane. It’s expensive, and there’s sky-high demand. My wife and I are relatively picky people (especially considering we don’t plan on moving from apartment to apartment), and quickly realized that the nice apartments won’t last.

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Marketing Skills that Matter

The tech community is in love with “growth hacking.” I’m not.

Marketing has never been more important for early stage tech companies – with enormous competition online from every angle there’s a massive need for talented marketers to use online channels to build businesses and make money, but instead marketers are focused on growth.

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Minimum Viable Marketing

In high school, I hated science. I despised memorizing terms, labeling body parts, and dissecting frogs. Over the past few years, I’m realizing that there’s one aspect of science that I find myself using on a daily basis. It’s the scientific method. The simple process of identifying a problem, developing a hypothesis, testing, and coming to a conclusion is a major part of marketing on the web.

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A College Student’s Guide on how to Start Blogging

Looking back at my four years of college, there’s one thing I wished I had started earlier. Blogging.

Not the Tumblr style blogging, full of memes and animated gifs, but writing interesting articles that challenged me to become a better writer and thinker.

I remember the first time I setup a blog – I had no idea what I was doing (even though I was into web design at that point) – there were many things I had to learn. If you are interested in blogging in topics related to your major/career, I’m giving away everything I know about getting started. This includes setting up a WordPress blog, and creating your own web presence.

There’s many pitfalls, but in this post, I want to get you setup with minimal time and effort. Why? Because many of you don’t want to learn the technical stuff, but instead want to start writing. Let’s go.

Use WordPress.org

WordPress is a content management system – it’s something that allows you to write pages and blog posts with ease. There’s a little learning curve, but you can do it, after all, you’re the generation that puts up with Facebook changing every few months.

Don’t use WordPress.com

There’s a massive difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. With WordPress.com, you can get started for free, but you have to setup your blog and it looks like this (yourname.wordpress.com). That is not cool – you really don’t own your content. We don’t want that.

Instead, use WordPress.org – it has a similar interface, but there’s some key benefits. The biggest benefit is that you are driving traffic to your site, not WordPress.com.

 

Purchase Hosting & Domain Name

There are two pieces to get WordPress.org setup. You must purchase a domain name (yourname.com) – try to use .com if available, but .net .org and .me are decent options.

You must also purchase hosting space. This is where the website files are stored. This sounds scary, but it’s not.

Here’s a few options that I recommend:

  1. Namecheap ($4/mo)
  2. Hostgator ($4/mo)
  3. MediaTemple ($20/mo – a perfect price for trust-fund babies)

The key is to purchase your domain name AND hosting from the same provider, this will save time, and you won’t have to figure out a lot of crazy technical stuff.

I like Namecheap – they even give you an article to get WordPress setup after you purchase your domain and hosting.

 

My blog is setup, but why does it look so ugly?

That’s because you are probably using a starter theme. A theme is some files that control how the website looks, and you can change the look and feel of your blog a couple ways.

The Free Way

Free is the perfect price for broke college kids, and you can check out a ton of WordPress themes here. The only problem is that many of them are not very beautiful looking, so you’re not getting very far ahead.

The Paid Way (Yes it’s better)

Use Themeforest to purchase a theme. They typically cost about $50 dollars, but the quality is much better. Especially this author – his themes are top-notch, easy to implement, and there’s even instructions on how to get setup.

If you don’t have the money, stop partying for a couple weeks. Problem solved.

 

Insanely Important Step

Hopefully at this point, you’ve installed a nice theme, and you’re ready to create your first blog post. WAIT. When logged in, go to settings -> permalinks. Check ‘post name’ in the screenshot below and save.

wordpress-permalinks

 

This may not make much sense, but this makes your blog posts easier to find in search engines. It lets Google know what your article is about. That’s pretty important, because when writing blog posts, you aim to gain new readers (some of them might be your future employers).

Must-Have Plugins (Optional Steps)

If you are looking to rank REALLY well in search engine results, you need to use the WordPress SEO plugin. This plugin is like adding rocket fuel to your moped. It adds extra performance to your blog, and I highly suggest experimenting with other plugins as well.

To learn how to add a plugin, learn here.

Google Analytics

Last but not least, you should be tracking your traffic in Google analytics. I use this plugin, and it has a super-simple setup process.

 

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How to use Amazon to Buy and Sell Books on the Cheap

I grew up reading books all the time – I love the feeling when learning something new. For the past few years I’ve been in college, and have done the majority of my book shopping on Amazon. Whether it’s a textbook, or a book on business, Amazon is a great way to find any book on earth.

I’ve also been broke – and buying $15-25 books all the time can eat into my budget very quickly. I want new books, but don’t want to wait months for the library to get it. There’s an alternative, and it’s based on these assumptions:

  • After reading the book, I don’t want to keep it (books take up a lot of room)
  • I need to recoup most of my investment (to purchase more books)

Why Amazon?

I’m going to use an example on how I save a ton of cash when purchasing books on Amazon. In short, you can purchase new books, read them, and turn around and sell them for a small loss (typically a few dollars). There’s a few advantages to selling specifically on Amazon (as opposed to Ebay, or another book seller). These advantages are:

  1. Amazon is extremely popular
  2. If you search for a book, it will display all individuals selling them new/used, and display the lowest price.
  3. It’s simple to setup an Amazon “Seller” account (this is how you recoup your money!)

The Process

Here’s an example – I purchased Practical Oriented Design in Ruby a couple months ago for $33.83. I typically don’t purchase programming books unless I know the subject material won’t change in the new few months. It’s not a cheap book, but if I turn around and buy another copy, the lowest price would be $24.25. This makes my total cost around $1o dollars.

Obviously this changes as books are bought and sold, but I could lowball the price when selling the book, and offer it for $24 dollars. The key is to sell the book yourself as an Amazon Seller.

The Keys to Selling

Since you are selling a book (and not an unique product), customers are conscious about two things – price and quality.

You can win on price every time, simply beat the lowest listing price by approximately 50 cents. This will display your listing as the cheapest option, giving you a better chance to sell the book! Other sellers display a single listing – this is why Amazon is your best option…it’s all the listings in aggregate.

What about Shipping?

If a customer purchases your book, you will receive an email, and further instructions. With an Amazon Seller account you can purchase shipping directly from Amazon, which is simple. I usually select basic shipping when listing the book – and the cost is passed onto the buyer.

Spend a little extra time, Save cash

At the end of the day, this method is a great way to learn on the cheap. If you don’t have oodles of cash, don’t worry. Spend a little extra time, and sell the book back, and use the recouped $$ to invest in more learning.

P.S. – I’ve found this method works on other products as well, but be smart, and don’t always expect the sale.

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Increase Sales by understanding the Funnel (and why building trust is so important)

Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing research on how to convert more website visitors into customers.  I’ve received leads for my consulting work largely because I write blog posts, and somehow people read them (and apparently enjoy them). Most of the people that email me are not a good fit, but I’ve been trying to dive into how to get more higher quality leads.

I’ve come to the realization that building trust is the key – a random website visitor has no clue who I am, or if I do great work. That’s where understanding the sales funnel comes in handy. Let me explain why understanding the funnel is so important to building trust, and in the end making high-quality sales.

 

Step 1: Teach with Free Content

There is a time and a place for content marketing. It’s very tough for someone to find you online if you don’t create something, so it’s important to start by writing blog posts, creating videos, and fleshing out your website.

It’s crucial for you to realize that this is the first step, and that there’s many more steps in the sales funnel. Most will visit your site, but will never come back. That’s okay, but other readers will value what you have to say and may be interested in reading more.

In this first step, the majority of readers do not trust you, or the things you have to say. Blog posts and other materials exist to build this first layer of trust, so make it count.

Lastly it’s important to have additional (higher quality) content for the next steps in the funnel.

 

Step 2: Supplement Free Materials with “Unlockable” content

The next step in the process is to create even more valuable material – but it’s important to require an “opt-in” process. This is the best way to measure how valuable your content marketing is.

If no one wants to sign up for your email newsletter, it’s probably because your content marketing is subpar. I prefer email over Facebook fans or Twitter followers. People say email is dead – it’s not. In fact, it’s the most powerful form of marketing.

It’s important to convince people that your email list is worth subscribing to – take a look at how Sacha Greif offers a free ebook!

In this second step, people who opt-in to receive your content value what you have to say, and you’ve successfully built the first level of trust!

Notice how moving down the sales funnel is incrementally increasing your level of credibility?

 

Step 3: Drip Marketing

Now you have someone who values your content, and has subscribed to your newsletter. What’s the next step?

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Keep providing quality content – I personally struggle with this next step. I have many different interests, and I fear that my content is stuff subscribers don’t really care about.

Make sure to work in ratios – don’t try to convince the girl that you should be married on the first date. Likewise, don’t ask for the sale constantly – provide value on six emails, and on the seventh, mention that you have an ebook or online course. More on this in step 4…

Based on this next step, your credibility can grow or decline, once again, it’s the quality of your content that matters.

 

Step 4: Ask for the “Soft” Sale

The quality of your content has got you this far, and now it’s time to ask for the sale. But wait! If you have a SaaS product or consulting business, it might not be the best time to sell that – there’s a layer in-between that should be accomplished first.

Sell your content. Test the waters in this next step. This is where you can filter out the “freeriders” from the people who are willing to pay. This is similar to the step 2, where they sign up for your newsletter, but instead of providing an email, it’s time to fork over the $.

Of course conversion rates will drop, but the people that pay for your content are also the individuals who are more likely to pay more money for your SaaS product or consulting service (assuming your product/service is related to the content you write).

This soft sale (also known as premium marketing), is a great way to filter your leads, so now you can focus on converting for the final step. As a result, this will decrease your cost of acquisition.

 

Step 5: The Hard Sell

At this point, you now have people who have:

  1. Visited your website
  2. Found your content to be valuable (and sign up to receive your emails)
  3. Have received a few drip emails over the past few weeks
  4. Have purchased your premium content

These people are gold! Your credibility is through the roof, you’ve successfully sold your content, and boom, it’s time for the final sale. This is where you can make the big bucks – whether it’s consulting time, or your SaaS product.

I hope you see how every step of the sales process is built on providing high-quality content, but I hope you realize that trust is critical. Don’t spend your time trying to convert website visitors straight into sales – it’s not worth your time. Focus on turning readers into subscribers, then paying customers, then high-paying customers.

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The Problem with Inbound Marketing (and how to fix it)

Over the past few years, Inbound Marketing has become very popular. Companies like Hubspot are building full-scale applications around providing ebooks, blog posts, and white papers on topics in order to drive leads. Compared to cold-calls, inbound marketing is gold, but there’s a better way. It’s called premium marketing. Let me explain.

 

Inbound Marketing is a Tough Sell for a Small Business

Writing blog posts and generating content takes quite a bit of time and research. If you are a small business owner, your time is better spent managing more profitable areas of your business. Inbound Marketing is not an overnight process, and takes dedication, time, and lots of effort. All this up-front work is risky – what happens if people don’t read your content? What happens if your content doesn’t drive qualified leads to your business?

This is problem #1.

 

What is your Time worth?

I remember when I first started building websites when I was 16 – I charged $15/hour and thought I was rich. It was twice as much as a made working at McDonalds, plus I had the opportunity to learn something that interested me. Now imagine a professional who has years of experience in a specific industry spending his/her time writing blog posts, providing immense value, and doing all this with the hope that there will be some form of financial return with qualified leads. This is still better than making cold calls, but is it really that much better?

This is problem #2

 

The Quality of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing isn’t a good fit for many people. I’ve seen small businesses hire “consultants” to write blog posts simply because they don’t have the time or writing skills to produce quality content. On top of this, I’ve seen many blog posts written because “Hubspot says we should blog 3-5 times/week.” While I agree with the notion of constantly pushing out new content, I believe in a simple rule:

“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it at all.” 

(my mom used to say this all the time when my brother and I would get into fights)

Next, the quality of your content directly correlates to the leads that you receive with your inbound marketing efforts. If your blog posts suck, don’t expect to get more qualified leads.

This is problem #3.

My friend Chris Williams (who coined Premium Marketing) puts it best:

You’re marketing material should be so amazing that you can charge money for it.

 

Why Premium Marketing?

Is your funnel focused on more leads, or better leads? Is there a way to filter out the people who are just looking for free stuff, compared to people who value your advice and are willing to pay for it?

There’s an easy way to test this – start charging. This forces you to increase the quality of your marketing material, and also is the next step in the sales funnel. What’s easier? Selling your product or service to someone who downloaded your free white paper? Or selling to someone who has spent $50 dollars on your ebook? Think about it.

Premium Marketing is also good for those individuals who know what their time is worth. If I spent 20 years in an industry, and someone told me I should start blogging and giving away free content, I would think they were crazy.

In contrast, imagine if someone said, “You should offer a paid class/workshop for people in your industry.” That’s a much better use of my time.

Here are some examples of individuals/companies that are using Premium Marketing:

  1. Thoughtbot
  2. Nathan Barry
  3. Brennan Dunn
  4. Fresh Tilled Soil
  5. Noah Kagan

 

The Role of Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing still has a place, but it’s important to focus on what actually grows your business. Is it pageviews or cash?

In short, your time is valuable, and you shouldn’t be scared to charge money for your content.

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