The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner

If you’re thinking of launching a new project, here’s how I got started with Mypodnotes.


The Idea

A few months ago a friend suggested I write summaries for podcasts. The idea sounded interesting since podcasting is on the rise, and there’s no way anyone could keep up with the constant stream of new episodes. The best part was that I could test the idea without dropping anything. I started Myponotes as a side project, but after deciding to think like an entrepreneur I realized that it had the potential to become a business.

How to find ideas

Side projects, businesses, and high growth startups all start with an idea and don’t go far without commitment to pursue them. Even though you need both to succeed, it doesn’t seem to matter which comes first. The idea for Mypodnotes found me, but if you’re itching to build something of your own stop thinking up solutions to problems that don’t exist, and answer the following questions:

  1. What’s a problem that many people have?
  2. What’s the solution?
  3. How can I help these people solve their problem?

Think of as many problems as you can from your own life, and then ask your friends about anything that bothers them or wait for them to complain about it on Twitter. In the beginning it might be difficult to come up with ideas, but after you train your mind to think in this framework you’ll spot new opportunities everywhere.

When to commit

The bar for side projects is much lower, since resources can be restricted and failure doesn’t dramatically impact your life. So if you find an idea that intrigues you, go for it. This is an opportunity to get those creative juices flowing and learn some new skills.

Starting with a side project is also a good way to validate an idea if you have grander plans. If you’re unhappy at your full-time job, you don’t have to quit to find out if you’d be happier having your customers be your boss. I’m not a lawyer, but you should probably check your contract first to make sure there’s no conflicts so that you’ll have full ownership if you decide to leave.

After chatting about Mypodnotes with friends to gauge demand and the work involved, I found many people who were interested in Cliff’s Notes for podcasts. There just isn’t enough time to listen to every single episode, and no one likes to miss out. I also relate to people who remember key insights better by reading text over listening to audio. This was enough to take the side project seriously, but I only decided to fully commit to Mypodnotes once I saw actual traction on the blog.

It will take much longer for me to figure out a business model that works, but I’m in it for the long haul. All you need for building a company is time and determination, because you only fail when you give up on your idea.

How to name your business

The name Mypodnotes came to me randomly, and is pretty straightforward because that’s what appeals to me. Ignore the pressure to spend time searching for the perfect name, because you can always change it later on. Finding a name that’s unique and playful isn’t as crucial as making sure people can pronounce properly so that it catches on. Once you come up with a name, don’t get too attached to the spelling before you secure a domain and a Twitter handle. Try adding words like “The” and “App”, switching up vowels, or experimenting with new top level domains.

The Website

If you’ve ever heard of Lean Startup Machine workshops, then you know a business can start with a single piece of paper. Remember that when it’s time to create a website for your new idea. Instead of spending the next few months learning how to code, or figuring out again, I decided to go with Tumblr so I could focus on growing an audience for Mypodnotes. Your site is just a means to end, and the functionality you need to test an idea is usually offered by a third party platform. You can always build a custom site later on, when it’s time to scale. As you probably figured out, this section isn’t about how to magically create something out of thin air or how to hire a web developer. I’m a bootstrapped non-technical founder, so it’s all about distribution.

How to select a platform

My personal site is a WordPress blog, and I’ve had it since 2008. I love my WordPress theme, and I’d recommend the blogging platform for any long-form writers. But the free version doesn’t cut it if you plan on using Google Analytics or anything that requires modifying code, and you’ve also got to pay if you want to remove the ads.

When I’m testing out new ideas, I use Tumblr. It’s not as robust as WordPress and has less functionality, but being lightweight makes it easy to quickly get started. There are themes just like WordPress, but you can edit the front end code to easily customize the design. Tumblr also works as a landing page, or you can go with Launchrock if you need to easily collect emails.

Your best bet for an ecommerce platform is Shopify, which offers integrations to help you easily sell physical or digital goods. I’ve used it a few times, and it’s incredibly easy to launch an online store. As an added bonus, Shopify also has a built-in blogging platform.

How to optimize sharing

Before visitors start sharing your content, you should make sure it looks great outside of your site. Moz shared the must-have social meta tags you’ll need to optimize sharing, and if you’re still having trouble you can figure out what’s missing with Twitter’s Card Validator and Facebook’s Debugger. I used code from Quora to setup Twitter Cards for Mypodnotes so I could customize the cards for each type of Tumblr post.

I wish all of my readers used Buffer’s chrome extension to share on social media, but they don’t yet so I installed SumoMe on Mypodnotes. All it takes is 37 seconds to paste a snippet of code on your site. SumoMe’s sharing buttons are very easy to customize for both web and mobile, and I like the ability to hide them from the Mypodnotes home page. You’ll also be able to access their other tools, like Heat Maps and Smart Bar, to improve the effectiveness of your site.

Don’t forget to frequently search for your site’s URL on Twitter, and thank anyone that took the time to share your content. It takes under a minute to show your appreciation, and it will encourage them to continue sharing.

How to tell the world

You can optimize for sharing all you want, but it won’t matter if no one discovers your content. Telling everyone about your new venture is a given. What’s crazy to me is how few people actually link to their projects on their online profiles. Don’t you feel like employees are ashamed of where they work when they don’t put it in their Twitter bio? Stop trying to be humble or feeling guilty about self-promoting, it sends the wrong message to people that you don’t value what you do. Instead be proud and link to your project on your own online profiles.

Remember to link to your project on the following sites. You don’t have to be active on all of them, but keep your bio updated for when your audience tries to find you.

Twitter (personal, company), LinkedIn (personal, company), Facebook (personal, company), Google+ (personal, company), Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Quibb, Medium (personal, company publication), WordPress, Gravatar, Pinterest (personal, company), (personal, company), AngelList (personal, company), Contently, Quora, HackerNews, Designer News (personal), PandaWhale, ProductHunt, GrowthHackers,, Reddit (personal), and Instagram (personal, company).

How to measure success

The best entrepreneurs have a strong sense of intuition that helps them deal with uncertainty. In the beginning you won’t have enough traction to identify trends, but it’s never too early to start collecting data.

After you’ve started spreading the word, view the impact on your traffic in Google Analytics. The Source/Medium section under Acquisition displays the channels driving the most traffic, and you can see exactly how many of your sessions are from new or returning visitors in the Overview section under Audience. Since I’m trying to learn which podcasts appeal to my readers, I regularly check the Site Content section under Behavior for a breakdown of page views by post to discover my most popular posts.

These metrics can be encouraging, but to truly measure success you need to track conversion with events and goals. These will let you know what percentage of your growth is coming from what source of traffic, so you can prioritize channels that perform best for sign ups, downloads, or revenue (instead of vanity metrics).

Tracking conversions can get tricky, which is why I decided to try out Google Tag Manager to quickly add and update tags without editing code. It’s isn’t as simple as it looks, so browse the help center to understand the process. The first tag you should create is the Google Analytics tag, and only then experiment with auto-event tracking. I use Google Tag Manager to track two events on Mypodnotes, clicks to request a podcast and clicks to subscribe. This tutorial is the best resource if you’re looking to track clicks with a destination page or even outbound links. Oh, and don’t forget to hit publish when you make any changes!

The Blog

Mypodnotes is essentially a blog, so there’s no need for me to create another blog to complement it (though if I did, it would be resources like how to guides for promoting your podcast). Blog posts give people stories to share, which is much more appealing than asking them to share the link to your site with their friends. It’s worth creating content, but if you find you don’t have the time just drop the dates and don’t dare start posts with “sorry I haven’t written in a while”.

What to write

You need to be clear on the format, reader, and topic for every blog post you write. The easy part is format, and you can pick from: lists, how to guides, case studies, interviews, and visual posts. You’ll need more research to understand your readers, as each post should be tailored to the different types of potential and existing users. Finally, topics can be inspired by internal or external concepts. For example:

  • User Question (Topic) + How To (Format) + New Users (Reader)
  • Local Event (Topic) + List (Format) + Friends of Users (Reader)

How to share

Guess what? You can also use most of the sites in the “how to tell the world” section to distribute your content. As soon as you publish your blog posts, you should share it on each one of those as well as any other niche sites that might find your post useful. Make sure you tag any people or companies you mention in your post, and let them know you wrote about them. If you’re active on Twitter, be sure to share the post more than once to reach as many people as possible. Try using alternate titles or quotes from the post to mix things up, and analyze the version and times of those that generate the most clicks and engagement. You can use Buffer for scheduling and analytics, or IFTTT and Twitter’s built-in analytics.

How to measure success

A blog can be a powerful channel for user acquisition, and you have more control over it than social media. Similarly to your site, the key metric you should measure is conversions. Uncovering viral content can be exciting, but when you monitor if the traffic is actually converting you’ll be able to quickly make design and copy changes that will improve your conversion rates.

Beyond the bottom line, there are thousands of metrics you can measure for individual posts or campaigns. Clarifying your objectives will help make sure you don’t waste time. For example, if you’re trying to increase social shares you’ll use SharedCount to measure the number of shares, but if you’re writing to gain more newsletter subscribers you’ll have to measure form submissions.

The Newsletter

After thinking about increasing awareness and driving traffic from new visitors, I wanted to nurture existing readers with a newsletter. Even if you’re hearing lots of great feedback, you’re competing for people’s mindshare. A newsletter will remind people of the value you offer, and keep you top of mind. There’s also something about email that feels more personal, and a newsletter builds that strong connection with readers to foster loyalty and encourage a dialogue.

I use MailChimp for my subscribe page and email marketing. It’s very simple to implement and customize, and it integrates with Google Analytics. In addition to trying to grow my list of subscribers, I’ll also be trying to optimize open rate and click through rate. An open rate means subscribers are giving your content a chance, but since my newsletter consists of links it can only be considered effective if people are clicking through to read the full podcast notes.

This beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner would not be complete without a marketing plan template, and that’s exactly what I’ll be filling in for the next couple of days.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post! If you’re also a beginner, I’d love to hear what you’re working on so comment or tweet me when you’re ready to share.

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