Asking for feedback isn’t a sign of weakness

asking for feedback isn't a sign of weakness

The CEO of a multi-million dollar public company asked a new entrepreneur for feedback on their software. The entrepreneur was excited to share their honest thoughts and suggested a fix to one of the features. The fix was implemented that same week.

Meanwhile, a smaller competitor was hiring employees in an attempt to expand. They reached out to candidates with the promise of a job, only to redirect them to an impersonal screening call. The recruiter recorded answers to questions without actually listening to any of the responses. The candidate ended the call by asking for feedback to better prepare for the next interview. The recruiter then shamed the candidate for demonstrating weakness, and disappeared without replying to any of the follow ups. The company struggled and ended up laying off 50% of its employees before being acquired for parts.

After experiencing the culture of each of these companies first hand, their fate doesn’t surprise me. The CEO is a reflection of a company that is successful because it values feedback and continuous improvement. On the other hand, a company that considers asking for feedback to be a weakness is bound to end up failing. True weakness is being afraid of rejection and constructive criticism that might lead to you having to change.

Ask for, and listen to, feedback.


Do you have any feedback about Hōjicha Co.? Please share your thoughts with me here.

First 100

danielle geva toronto

Hey Danielle,

Could you help me out? I’m writing an article about starting blogging.

Let’s say you were to go back to when you first started blogging. How would you get your first 100 Facebook fans?

1. Write an article

2. Post a link to the article on your Facebook page

3. ???

What’s the next step? 

Go back to when I first started blogging? Well, that was around May of 2010. How would I get my first 100 Facebook fans? I’d have to create an account first.

After disagreeing with Zuck’s views on privacy, I deleted my personal account. But then in late 2010, I had to create another account for managing clients’ pages (which I also ended up deleting).

There are hundreds of reports, which are saved somewhere in the cloud, with details of my recommendations, methods, and results for growing an audience on social networks. Thing is, most of the specific advice is outdated.

Best practices are meant to be broken, and the people who push boundaries get the furthest.

You can google the latest tactics for inspiration, but successful marketers are the ones that devise their own experiments. If you’re starting a blog today, treat it like a business. Start with a marketing plan, and then use trial and error to figure out what work best for attracting your target audience. Oh and remember to avoid making the pinball machine mistake. Getting 100 fans might be a strategy you consider to increase readership, but it shouldn’t be your high level objective.

Warning Signs

Warning Signs

In this post, I look back on all the clients I said no to and those I should’ve said no to. The thing about bad clients is that sometimes things only take a turn for the worst once you start working together. Whether you notice the warning signs from the get go, or they reveal their true colours later on, all that matter is that as soon as you do it’s time to get out.

Bad Reputation

My favourite way to acquire new clients is through referrals. There’s an instant layer of added trust on both sides. Unless of course that introduction has a hidden message when you read between the lines. Even though they don’t mention anything negative outright, you can tell this potential client is bad. Maybe it’s an introduction from another client that thinks work is work, or maybe it’s from a friend that doesn’t recognize the warning signs. Whether they have have no standards or clue, you do. Explain to them who you’re interested in working with, or stop taking referrals from these people.

Then there’s the client that seems fine, but is complained about by others. Shared contacts start mentioning how the client doesn’t deliver on promises, and that they tend to disappear for weeks. They are hoping to bond over venting, but you just politely nod as you slowly realize how blinded you were. In hindsight, things weren’t going great and it was just a matter of time before you would have a horror story of your own. Now that you see the whole picture, it’s time to leave. Don’t endure a bad client just because others choose to.

The easiest way to avoid this type of client is with proper vetting. You’ll discover if the client has a bad reputation and confirm that it’s based on fact.

Back and Forth Scheduling

When you have trouble scheduling a meeting with a potential client, it’s an indicator of future problems. Does this sound familiar?

Monday – 10am

Client: Let’s meet to chat over the details.

You: How’s Tuesday at 9am over Google Hangouts? I’m also available Tuesday between 2pm – 4pm, Thursday between 9am-11am, and all day Friday.

Client: Let’s do Wednesday at 3pm.

You: Ok, see you then.

Client: Sounds good.  

 

Wednesday – 3:15pm

You: Hey, are we still meeting?

You: Hello?

 

These people are the reason there’s a new scheduling app every six months.

This seems insignificant, but if they can’t schedule a simple meeting, how can you expect them to communicate properly when you work together? It’s unbelievable how common this is. These clients also always seem to have tech problems. If the stars align, and somehow you finally meet, their mic will suddenly be broken. Or you’ll wish it was after 5 minutes of listening to: “Can you hear me now?”

Money Over Product

As startups became mainstream, I’ve noticed new grads are turning down jobs to build their own company. As an entrepreneurship major and career-long freelancer, I loved the trend. That is of course until I met with a few of these clients. It seems they didn’t have a burning passion to change the world, they just wanted a slice of the pie. They turned down valuable learning opportunities at other startups because they thought they could make a boat load of money being the boss.

When your client is motivated by money over product, they won’t invest the resources needed to build a sustainable business. They might disguise it as optimizing for profits, but their selfish desires keep them from creating a product that actually solves a problem or adds value. There’s no future working with them, so get out before they start making excuses why your payment is late.

Late Payments

Sometimes you realize payment is going to be an issue before you even start working with the client. Because I blog about consulting, potential clients often reach out with more specific questions. I love learning about their companies and chatting about possible solutions, but some clients take advantage. These clients are typically the ones that go out of their way to reassure you that they are definitely interested in hiring you. They make it seem like they are qualifying you, but in reality they are only interested in getting free advice. If you suspect this is the case, then it’s up to you to move the conversation forward. Let them know you’d be happy to work with them to address their latest batch of questions, and then clearly state the next steps.

Then there are clients that manipulate you into starting work without any intention to pay. In the beginning of the project, both sides agree to the terms. Once you’re done the work you send over the invoice. The payment is late, but you think it’s an honest mistake. After you send a reminder, the client proudly declares that they aren’t going to pay. Whichever loophole they use to justify their awful behaviour proves that they never intended to pay. They’ll try and convince you that it’s your fault, and even suggest you continue working together. If you believe that most people are good, know that this client isn’t. Walk away, and warn others.

Despite these experiences, I try not to be hard on clients that are late with invoices. It can happen unintentionally, and I plan accordingly. The trouble isn’t with consistently late payment, it’s with increasingly late payment. The first time a bad client is late, they may profusely apologize. The more it happens, the more outlandish the excuses become. If you don’t want to wake up one day and realize you haven’t been paid for 6 months, you need to address the situation as soon as it happens. When a client stops paying, you need to stop working. It sounds logical, but it can difficult to do when you care too much about a project. However, all of your hard work won’t be appreciated because when a client doesn’t pay you it means they don’t value you.

Poor Data Quality

When a client doesn’t share the data with you, they are setting you up for failure. Remember when they bragged about their 1 million app downloads? Well, the reality is that the number is irrelevant because they only have a handful of daily active users left. It’s impossible to develop an effective strategy when it’s based on incomplete or poor data. Avoid confusion by first finding out if they are being intentionally dishonest or have trust issues. This way you’ll know if it’s worth moving forward with the client.  

Some clients are legitimately unaware of the importance of key performance indicators. They can’t figure out how to set up Google Analytics, and instead rely on their gut instinct. Try to explain to them the value of accurately measuring your progress. If the client refuses to prioritize proper tracking, then don’t be surprised when they don’t appreciate your hard work. Not only will they dismiss your success, they might also hold you accountable for any of the company’s failures.

Lack of Dedication

There’s no shame in working a day job to support your own business, but beware of clients who struggle to balance the two. If the client is constantly distracted by their demanding day job, they will end up being too burnt out to manage their company. At first they’ll take longer to respond to you, but soon you’ll have to work overtime to correct their mistakes. If the overworked client then accepts a promotion, it’s a clue that they are just happier working for someone else. They might not admit it, but you’ll know it’s time to move on.

Then there’s clients that appear to care about work-life balance, but the truth is they don’t understand the hard work needed to run a business. After you’ve spent months planning and working towards a relaunch, the client casually mentions they won’t be around. No, this isn’t because of a family emergency, or a once in a lifetime opportunity. Instead of responding to customers, fixing bugs, and celebrating milestones together, the client made plans to hang out with friends. Either they don’t have strong work ethic or they don’t care. Don’t stick around to find out which one.

Downright Abusive

The abusive client is reminiscent of a bad ex boyfriend or relative, and once again you can’t help but focus on the good and make excuses for the bad. They only humiliated you in front of their friends because you made a mistake. They only lost their temper because they have been working overtime. This is obviously a deal breaker, yet it’s hard to recognize when it happens to you. Even if you’re convinced they have good intentions, you don’t deserve to be treated this way. If you’re unsure if you’re being abused, imagine how you would react if this happened to your friend. Better yet, share the incidents with a friend to get an objective opinion. Their support will help you banish this recurring character from your life.

 

You’ve got to surround yourself with good people to thrive, so avoid bad clients by paying attention to these warning signs.


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Why you won’t get paid

Danielle Geva - Why you won’t get paid

Freelancing lessons better learned shaving someone else’s beard.

The oral contract

On legal shows, an oral contract is enough to win a case. In real life, the client knows you’re not going to sue them. A conversation about consulting terms leaves plenty of room for loopholes. The client takes advantage of you, claims it was all a big misunderstanding, and then they do it again. You blame yourself, and plan to get it in writing next time.

The follow up email

As soon as you’re done talking with the client over the phone, you send them a follow up with a recap of the terms discussed. You even get a reply with a confirmation (Exhibit A for your imaginary court case). Only your follow up email didn’t clearly specify the payment schedule. You expect payment at the end of the month. They pretend it’s understood payment is due once they decide the project is done. You blame yourself, and plan to include payment terms next time.

The invoice payment terms

At the end of the month, you send an invoice with a note at the bottom that says “payable within 10 days”. They ignore the note. You wonder if they didn’t scroll all the way down. They didn’t even open the PDF. Net 30 becomes net 60, and soon 6 months pass (eventually the statute of limitations passes). You blame yourself, and plan to send an official contract next time.

The unsigned agreement

The client sends you their standard contract, and you read every paragraph. Twice. You amend the payment terms, and ask them to remove a non-compete clause. They make the changes. You sign the final version. They never do. You read about acceptance by conduct, and wonder if you should keep working. They stop paying. You blame yourself, and plan to get their signature next time.

The profit-sharing plan

You turn the wheel while the crowd cheers: “How won’t they pay?!” The answer: a profit-sharing plan. When it’s time for payment, the client suddenly has zero profit. Or so they claim. Their engineer never built the promised internal dashboards. You don’t understand why it couldn’t be done on a spreadsheet. They never share their financials. You stop blaming yourself.

The shady client

Even when you do everything right (and learn how to better communicate), some clients are from hell. Instead of only preparing for worse case scenario, you need to work on preventing it all together. The next step isn’t charging the client before you waste your time. The next step is weeding out bad clients (which I’ll be writing about next).


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The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner

The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner by Danielle Geva

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 WordPress.org 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.

Continue reading

Think like an entrepreneur

danielle geva think like an entrepreneur

Life is a journey, but I’m impatient so I spend all lots of time reading career blogs trying to figure out what I should be doing next. Recently, I read that INTJs aren’t motivated by compensation which is why freelancing isn’t ideal. I gravitated to consulting because structure is boring to me, and clients in need of startup marketing always seem to find me. But in between clients it feels weird to spend any time thinking of how can I make money over actually helping as many companies grow.

Career advice starts by telling you to find the intersection between what you’re good at, what you like doing, and what people are willing to pay for. So I end up stuck wondering if I should hop on the learn to code train because I can’t seem to check off all three. The problem with this perspective is also that it’s all about the individual, especially talented ones and I already know I’m more of an agent type of person.

Then I look over at jobs, to see which companies actually need me and where can I make the most impact. There’s a huge demand for startup marketers, and even more applicants. Interviews aren’t my forte, and the process ends up being more about the resume and how many connections you have to the hiring manager.

I’m sure I’ll always spend time over-analyzing the meaning of life and my purpose, but I want to make sure that I keep moving forward. I want to spend the next 5 years working towards some crazy awesome idea and feel like I’ve achieved something great instead of being stuck in the same cycle. I’m starting to think the only way to do is this is by thinking like an entrepreneur.

Instead of obsessing over monetizing your skills, you uncover how to add value:

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

Once you have a solution, it becomes all about distribution. Which I love.

This how both mypodnotes.com and whistlenow.co were born. I’ll leave the details for another post, but I’m pretty excited to start working on these and learn from some new mistakes.

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Lessons from sites that rely on user-generated content

Building a product that relies on user-generated content can start with you and your best friend posting everything, but that plan isn’t going to get you far. Since you can’t force anyone to create content, here are some lessons from Pinterest, Quora, and Hacker News since they’ve figured out how to get users to contribute.

Pinterest

Pinterest may have had a rocky start, but there’s no doubt that the platform is now one many aspire to emulate. In the beginning, Pinterest launched pin it forward campaigns to generate content by leveraging power users. Users would create a board, and then encourage their friends to create the same board with their own pins. How do you get your most active users to hand-hold newbies for you? Well, you could ask them nicely and hope for the best. Or you could offer them some incentive. Pinterest did just that by giving users more invites if their campaign worked. If you don’t have an invite-only community, you’ll have to be more creative, just make sure the reward is something users will actually care about. The best incentives reward both existing and new users as well as lead to increased product usage.

Since brands get so much value out of Pinterest they are much more motivated to have their images pinned than individual users. You might not be excited about the thought of having marketers use your site for their own agenda, but it works for Pinterest and many others. Especially if you’re looking to monetize later on. Pinterest built the Pin It button to make it easier for brands to have visitors pin their images, not to mention promote Pinterest. The button also means users don’t even have to be on Pinterest to create content. Building a tool this awesome that actually works starts with segmentation. Don’t just assume your most active users are the ones with the most to gain from your product.

Sometimes there’s just too much friction to creating new content. New users don’t want to look stupid and share the wrong thing, or they might not understand how your site works. I know you’ve spent weeks trying to design a beautiful interface, and are genuinely angry at users for not clicking on that now huge button, just to see what it does, but consider taking a step back. Instead of asking users to create their own original content, start by asking them to reshare someone else’s. Pinterest does this with the baked-in repin button. Users can easily repin images they like and see how well they’ve performed for other users by checking out the public number of likes, repins, and comments. This makes their first time pinning not as scary, and creating new boards becomes less overwhelming. Pinterest isn’t the only site with this type of feature, so if the concept of repinning doesn’t inspire you think about Twitter’s retweet and Tumblr’s reblog.

Quora

Quora has so much potential, so you might hear some rumblings about how it’s not doing that great. Ignore those and hope that people have such high expectations for your own site one day. Instead of listening to the haters, Quora focuses on delivering an incredible experience to its users. There’s a difference between telling users how magical it will be when, or, let’s be honest, if they create content and actually proving it before they ever start posting. When you want an answer to your question, you head to Quora. Chances are someone else has already asked the question and you can check out the answers. It’s less about showing how Quora works through random questions and answers, but more about having a search function that allows users to see how valuable it would be if they had posted the very same question. You bet that the next time that user, or visitor, has a question they won’t think twice about asking it on Quora. Be careful not to spend too much time building cool ways for users to engage with content if these features don’t actually motivate them to create, otherwise there’ll be nothing to interact with. The important lesson here is to gain users’ trust by spending less time making promises and more time improving their lives.

Speaking of broken promises, getting influencers is a classic move to drive customer acquisition. New users join in the hopes of having an opportunity to interact with people they look up to, but usually these influencers are just for show and don’t end up using the product. This isn’t the case with Quora. If someone asks a question about Robert Scoble, anyone can answer it, but often Robert himself will take the time to jot down the obviously most accurate response. Quora recognizes top writers which helps encourage quality answers, but before that you have to get well-known experts to join your site. Make a list of the leaders in your industry, and ask shared connections for an introduction. A cold email can work, but an introduction will increase the odds of them becoming a user. Since these influencers won’t have much time, be prepared to send personalized emails with a clear ask. Occasionally, that will mean creating content for them.

If influencers don’t convince Quora users to create content, then Quora hopes friends will. After new users sign up they usually follow some familiar faces. Existing users are then prompted to suggest topics to their new followers. Quora knows you probably don’t have a clue what your friend wants to ask, but you definitely know what area they’re interested in. Similar to the way Pinterest enlisted the help of power users, Quora knows that a recommendation from a contact is far more effective than an email from their team. Initially, you should manually reach out to highly active users and ask them to become advocates. However, you should observe what users do naturally, and then bake that into the product to make the behaviour easier to repeat.

Finally, Quora allows users to post their questions anonymously without the hassle of creating a new account. Before simply copying this, you should consider if anonymity might negatively affect the experience for other users. Quora’s decision was made long before all the hype around anonymous apps and was likely based on research and feedback from inactive users. Asking a question online can be embarrassing, and users might have a bunch of reasons why they don’t want the question to be associated with their identity. Being able to ask the question anonymously solves the issue for Quora, but might not be the right solution for you. Your users might prefer to instead limit the visibility of their content to their friends. Depending on your product it might be easier to build one of the above features over the other, but make sure it’s the one that actually increases content creation.

Hacker News

Hacker News has a straightforward design that makes it super easy for users to navigate the site and submit links. There’s no surprises after you hit HN’s submit button, and there are only two fields to fill out. No categories, no summaries, no checkboxes. Sure, there are also Show and Ask style posts, but new users don’t have to know what those mean and probably won’t notice them. Users not only understand how to use HN, but they can quickly learn exactly what HN is and what content is most appreciated. This isn’t a fluke, HN has very clear guidelines about the type of content that’s on-topic and quality posts that comply get upvoted to the front page. There’s no confusion that HN was made for hackers by hackers to exchange news that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity. Strong brand positioning is one of the most effective way to increase user-generated content. This also happens to be very difficult to pull off. Whether your site relies on user created content or not, you should drop everything right now if you can’t fill in the blank: “When users need ________ they think about my product.”

This article focuses on how to get new users to create their very first piece of content, so I won’t delve into the promised rewards that follow which include making it to the front page or getting traffic to your own site. However, the articles written about the impressive power of HN are relevant since they are a proof of HN’s amazing ability to make things happen.

Endorsements from users are priceless, and you’re lucky if your users write about their positive experience. Actually, it’s not about luck at all. You don’t have to hope or wait, you just have to ask. Your users want to help but the biggest barrier is figuring out what you actually need from them.

It’s interesting to see that many sites, including Quora and Pinterest, allow users to do something new with the same address book. Perhaps the most unique reason that users create content on HN is because they want to belong to a pretty niche community. Even if most of your friends are part of the tech startup ecosystem, and have heard of HN, they probably don’t all frequent the site. Many users post content because they feel like they finally found a place in the internet where they can share their interests with peers. Building such a loyal community takes time and effort, but if you succeed you’ll find that users are eager to upload and create content they care about.

Key Takeaways

Here’s a summary of the actionable advice to help you get started on building your own product that relies user-generated content:

  • Leverage power users by rewarding them when they encourage new users to create content.
  • Identify the users with the most to gain from your product, and build tools that help support both of your goals.
  • Allow users to reshare content from others to reduce the pressure of creating original content.
  • Don’t just tell, but actually show users how much value they would gain from creating content.
  • Reach out to influencers and make it easy for them to stay active.
  • Build features that empower existing users to repeatedly motivate new users into taking action.
  • Help users overcome feelings of fear or embarrassment by letting them post content anonymously or to a limited group.
  • Design a straightforward product that doesn’t require users to struggle to create content.
  • Clearly communicate the problem your product solves and the content that performs best.
  • Ask users to share stories about their positive experiences on your site.
  • Build a community of users that are eager to share things they care about with each other.

 

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Startup Marketing Plan [Template]

Company Overview

Name
The name you plan to use across all your branding and communications.

For example, deciding to omit accents in Hōjicha Co. or including them since it’s the official company name.

URL
The main url used across all of your branding and communications.

For example, App.net launched at alpha.app.net even though they have many custom landing pages.

Tagline
Typically 3-5 words that succinctly convey the high level concept in an appealing way. This may evolve over time with customer feedback, but you can get started by browsing through AngelList startups for inspiration.

Pitch
[Company Name] is a [Product/Service] that [Benefit] for [Target Customer] who [Problem/Opportunity]

Description
Unlike your pitch, this can be longer and provide more detail into your features and competitive advantage. You should create one description that will consistently appear on of all your branding and communications, but you might also want to be ready with a few personalized versions for different types of audiences.

Positioning
The following questions will determine the why and how of all of your marketing initiatives.

  1. Why do you exist?
  2. What are your values?
  3. What five words do people think about when they think about your company?

Read this post by Thomas for some great advice about positioning.

Customers

Target Audience

Decide on a target audience and include as much detail as possible. You likely have a large market in mind, but you should start by targeting a smaller niche. You’re not prohibiting anyone from accessing your product, you’re just focusing your efforts to better acquire early customers.

Personas
Create 3-5 ideal customer personas that include the following:

  1. Demographics
  2. Interests and habits
  3. Challenges relating to your solution

There’s some more information you might want to include as Uberflip suggests. It’s helpful to start by picking 50 real people that would be your ideal customer. Find out as much as possible about them through online search, record it all in a spreadsheet, and try to find patterns.

Goals

Decide on a couple of a goals you’d like to achieve through marketing.

For example:

  1. Grow userbase by 10% week over week
  2. Increase customer retention to 85% per month
  3. Build a mailing list of 100K subscribers

Strategies
Each goal above should be broken down into one or more strategies.

For example:

  1. Increase customer retention to 85% per month
    • Onboarding
    • Email Marketing
    • Social Media

April has written a comprehensive post about startup marketing that includes most strategies.

Tactics
These are the detailed actions you will take for each strategy and corresponding goal.

For example:

  1. Increase customer retention to 85% per month
    • Email Marketing
      • New users receive a welcome email
      • All users receive a monthly email with new features
      • Inactive users receive an email

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The four types of users you need to grow a community

Volley.Works The four types of users you need to grow a community

Over the past week, I spent some time trying to segment Volley’s user base. There is quite a bit of overlap between the segments, but I was able to identify the source of each member, and the impact of different types of users on the community’s growth.

I narrowed it down to four types of users: early adopters, wait list, VIPs, and referrals. Even though these were generated from Volley’s user base, I’ve seen the same pattern in most successful communities. Unfortunately, there are also some startups that come to mind that have shut down partially because they were unable to acquire and retain all four categories.

A better understanding of the different segments will help you attract these users to grow your community.

Early Adopters

Who are they?
The early adopters of Volley were people who joined the first iteration back when it wasn’t invite-only. The prototype had some flaws, but these users didn’t care. If anything, it made them more invested in helping us improve the experience as we learned from our mistakes.

Why should you care?
Listening to these users helped us understand what features we needed to build or remove. They also let us know that Volley sucked on mobile, and that making it easy to use the web app on their phone was a priority. Early adopters validate your assumptions, point out major weaknesses, and help shape your community.

How do you get them to join?
Even if you’re an introverted solo founder that spent the last year (mistakenly) thinking that stealth is the way to go, there’s still hope for you. Start by asking friends to join your community, just to see how humans, who haven’t spent hours developing each feature, interact with your site. Then you should invite online contacts from social networks by sending each one a personal message. You can’t growth hack this.

Wait List

Who are they?
Our prototype users loved us and the community, which meant it was time for a reality check. After relaunching as an invite-only community, we wanted to accelerate growth but we weren’t ready to onboard thousands of users all at once. A wait list is a great way to start collecting emails from people who want in.

Why should you care?
Users willing to sign up for a wait list are more likely to be engaged once they finally receive their invite. A wait list also makes it easier to ensure new members remain loyal by providing them with an incredible first impression. You can count on these users to share their honest feedback on your current state, without being biased by your progress.

How do you get them to join?
Our first 650 invite requests came from our feature on Product Hunt and its newsletters. Since Volley is targeting members of the startup community, Product Hunt resulted in high quality users. Sites like Product Hunt, BetaList, and StartupLi.st attract early users and help you quickly grow your wait list. However, you should also invest time on niche sites where your own target audience hangs out.

VIPs

Who are they?
Volley’s VIPs are people that inspired us and have gone above and beyond to support the startup community. We haven’t even met some our VIPs, but we have seen them generously share their expertise and connections with others. Your VIPs might not be the same people we reached out to, but they should have a large network and be able to relate to your core mission.

Why should you care?
The value these influencers bring is increased visibility of your community to all of their contacts and online followers. VIPs massive reach will result in more users, and you’ll see a boost in activity every time they participate.

How do you get them to join?
After finalizing our VIP list, we sent each one a physical invite, which you can read more about on the Volley blog. You’re going to have to go the extra mile and be creative to get the attention of your VIPs. Don’t ask too much of these influencers. Accept that they won’t have time, even if they love your idea, and start by getting them to commit to something small.

Referrals

Who are they?
Our referrals are users that were invited by existing Volley members. Each request created on Volley can either be replied to or volleyed (forwarded) to a friend better suited to help. Contacts that aren’t users yet, will be invited to the community. You referrals will be the friends of your early adopters, wait list, and VIP users.

Why should you care?
The most powerful form of marketing is word of mouth. It doesn’t matter how much of a marketing pro you think you are, users will always be better at promoting your community. The invites users will send to their friends will have a high conversion rate, and overall engagement tends to increase when users see familiar faces.

How do you get them to join?
We’re still working on improving the volleying process to increase our referral rate, but our first step was to create a built-in invite feature. You should at least start by making it ridiculously easy for users to invite their friends. Adding incentives will encourage them to do so more often, especially when the reward is offered to both parties.

Early adopters, wait list, VIPs, and referrals are all necessary to successfully build and grow a sustainable community. It’s never too late to examine your user base, and focus on acquiring the type of user that’s missing from your community.

[Image by fitzsean]


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