Projections aren’t goals

Every project needs a clearly defined goal to have any chance of succeeding. Once the goal is set you may know which way to go, but projections will determine how you get there.

Start by setting ambitious goals

Goals are meant to be ambitious. Instead of reminding yourself that ‘low expectations lead to no disappointment’, go with the ‘aim for the moon and land among the stars’ saying. Also, it may be time to surround yourself with more high-achievers.

My latest goal was to publish my first book. I thought that setting a goal around sales would take away from the accomplishment of creating the book. Then the marketer in me reminded the hippie in me that it’s about your intentions. More book sales mean more people enjoying the book. It means covering printing costs and funding future projects. It even means increasing donations and awareness to important causes.

When setting a goal for your project you want to be ambitious yet realistic. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone sold over 107 million copies. That’s a great long-term goal for an author, but not a realistic one for my three month timeline. Especially for a book of illustrations. Researching similar illustration books, and focusing on their early sales, is a better route.

projections-arent-goals-danielle-geva-art

Estimate projections based on data

Projections are estimates of how many book sales you expect to generate with various sales and marketing strategies. Best case scenario, you have you own historical data to improve the accuracy of your projections. I don’t. Even though I have nearly decade of marketing consulting to inform my calculations, my experience with self-published books is limited. Along with online research, it’s a good idea to chat with others and learn from their success (and mistakes). This will also help you to breakdown a channel like press into the relevant publications for your audience.

If you’ve heard of quant based marketing, you’re already familiar with working your way backwards. However, this method won’t work unless you understand that projections aren’t goals. Unlike goals, projections aren’t aspirations. You can’t fudge the numbers when the total is lower than your goal. If the numbers don’t add up, you need to keep on researching new strategies to find better ways to reach your goal.

How to use projections to achieve goals

Goals are successfully achieved when you pick strategies based on projections rather than bias. A common trap is picking your favourite strategies despite their low projections. Whether you’re prioritizing your enjoyment or skill, you can’t hope to magically stumble on a tactic that outperforms the projection. The projections are all based on proper execution. Finding the right tactics for each strategy is a given, and your expertise will only ensure there’s less of a difference between the estimate and actual outcome.

You can’t ignore high projections either. It doesn’t matter that podcast ads have a greater reach, or that Instagram ads have a higher conversion rate. The only important metric is the total number of book sales each platform drives. As long as you’re within your budget and timeline, the cost shouldn’t deter you. An expensive strategy that delivers quick results is better slogging away for months with lower returns. This way your time can be better spent on planning a future project to maintain momentum.

to-do-list

 

Projections can only try to reduce failure

As much data as you may have, projections are still only estimates. A projection doesn’t know that your content marketing strategy will fail because your domain will be down. This reinforces how crucial it is to select the best strategies to mitigate risk. You may miss your target, but you’re still much closer than if you had started with low performing strategies.

Taking the time to make projections can also minimize your losses by making it easy to adapt. If your original content marketing strategy fails, you can repurpose your content. Projections will help you decide if switching to guest blogging is an easy out, or if it will actually be worth it.

Experience fuels future success

Measuring your success if important, even if there is none. Reflecting on how effective you were will help you avoid mistakes and improve the odds of your future success. Once the project is done, you’ll also be able to compare your initial projections with real results. Understanding the cause of the variance, is the key to becoming better at making increasingly accurate projections in the future. You may discover that you can aim even higher, and feel confident about setting bigger goals.

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An expected twist

The story behind my decanter artwork

Whenever I see decanters, I’m tempted to buy them. They are essentially useless to me, but it’s difficult to resist their beauty and elegance. I try to justify the purchase by imagining other uses for them. Perhaps one could be used to serve water, another to store cotton balls, and a third as a vase. Then I think that flowers belong in the garden, and so I walk away.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned that decanters weren’t simply vessels meant to hold alcohol. One of their functions is to aerate wine. Allowing wine to breathe after being bottled up for years, seems like a fitting metaphor for my journey.

Over the past decade I spent the majority of my time as a marketing consultant. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that my creativity had been bottled up, especially while working with startups, but it has been too long since I’ve created art for the sole purpose of self-expression.

It’s been even longer since I’ve experimented with making something in the physical world.

Art isn’t a new passion. I’ve studied art for over 13 years, and those who are close to me always wondered why I ever stopped. Instead of getting into that, here’s how I got started again.

Whenever I used to have down time, I would log in to Codecademy, read a startup book, or clear my Pocket full of tech and marketing articles. My interests became too narrow. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t great professionally. The most innovative ideas are the result of exposure to different topics and industries. I asked around for new sources of information, and ended up reading a few long form articles on random topics. This wasn’t enough. The articles opened my eyes to new ideas, but I needed to be more immersed.

I came across a chemical engineering course, and thought about diving in. Chemical engineering is vastly different from anything I’ve studied before. What are the odds that I would have studied engineering had I known about it earlier? Or, would I have known about it earlier had I was better suited to study engineering?

This lead me to wonder about the subjects I already knew about and somehow forgot.

Whenever a friend turns out to be a secretly talented artist, I encourage them to create even more and sell their art online. I tell them how they shouldn’t doubt themselves, and how I wish I could spend my days making art.

Instead of taking random online courses, I decided to rediscover one of my forgotten passions. It felt incredible to dig up my old sketchbook, and buy new art supplies. My curiosity grew, and being an artist no longer felt like a hobby or a crazy retirement dream.

An old sketch inspired me to play with shapes and lines, and the design of the modern decanter made for the perfect subject. The medium was a given. One of the last pieces I created years ago was in oil pastel. All that was left was to listen to my own advice and share the completed artwork.

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How to Accelerate Community Growth with a Podcast

How to Accelerate Community Growth with a Podcast

Listening to podcasts has quickly become everyone’s favourite new pastime.

Podcasts don’t feel like the result of careful planning by a marketing team. Instead, listeners are the silent participants in a conversation they can’t wait to share with their friends. An emotional connection forms as the host’s voice reaches listeners with unedited discussions and personal stories.

While others compete for eyeballs and are quickly forgotten, you can leverage a podcast to grow an engaged community that will generate positive returns for your business. Here’s how best-in-class marketers are incorporating podcasts into their content mix to accelerate the growth of their community.

Reach podcast fans through existing audio platforms

When deciding on a podcast hosting solution, you should find one that makes it easy to distribute your episodes to podcast listeners. Audio platforms like iTunes, SoundCloud, TuneIn, and Stitcher help podcast fans easily discover and listen to your podcast. These people might have never heard of your company, and now you can reach them every day on their commute.

Plan your distribution strategy before you launch your podcast, as you would for any other piece of content. Understanding how to increase your discoverability on each of these platforms will maximize the reach of each episode. Start by searching for related podcasts to see which ones rank well and learn from best practices.

What keywords are they using in their title and description? How many ratings and reviews do they have? How do they structure their show notes? These are some of the areas you can optimize for better reach.

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Beyond the sign up form: 10 places driving new subscribers to Mypodnotes

danielle geva podcast call to action union square

Finding the right call to action for growing my newsletter took a couple of weeks to refine, but I’ve finally settled on the copy. Here’s what I decided to go with:

“Get weekly notes from the podcasts everyone is talking about”

It starts with “Get” because verbs put people in the mood to act. In this case, it encourages them to type in their email and click the subscribe button. The idea of receiving value is also more enticing than a statement about the newsletter’s content.

Then there’s the frequency to set their expectations. People who don’t have time to listen to podcasts are probably too busy for a daily email, so I wanted to eliminate their concern of being bombarded with emails. This is just an assumption, so let me know if you’d prefer to receive a daily email, an email for every new Mypodnotes post, or an email for specific podcasts. (Update: due to popular demand, daily emails are now available. Enjoy!)

The last part of my call to action appeals to people’s fear of missing out, as the final push to motivate them to subscribe. I bet while you were reading “podcasts everyone is talking about”, it immediately triggered a flashback to a podcast recommendation from your friend or a story your coworker heard in an episode you need to hear.

Your call to action might not follow the same formula, and that’s okay. Find what works for your audience by asking friends or an expert copy writer. After you’ve crafted your own call to action, here’s where to get your first email signups.

1. Website Header (Smart Bar or Welcome Mat)

mypodnotes welcome mat

2. Navigation Bar

mypodnotes subscribe navigation bar

3. Call to Action Button (Button or Widget)

mypodnotes website button

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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.

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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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Marketer Shaming

chicago skyline danielle geva

My cousin is only 10 years old and has already learnt the difference between B2B and B2C marketing. It helps that both of her parents are marketing executives, but she still understands the real world much better than I did at her age. So the other night when she asked me what I actually do for a living, I could’ve either dumbed it down or told her straight up. Instead, I avoided the question. Like I always do with family.

I’ve been doing the same thing for over 7 years now, and still haven’t really talked about the details with my family. At first it was because the concept of a startup marketing consultant was so foreign, that every time I tried to explain the appeal of it I was asked why I don’t just go to a headhunter and get a real job. Then as online community management became more of a thing, no one could get over how I got paid to tweet let alone that there was more to startup marketing than posting social media updates.

The biggest hang up of it all was admitting that I was a marketer. If you’re hiding something from the people who love you and know you best, then you should ask yourself why are you ashamed of it. I could’ve been patient and explained that I helped new companies build communities around a product that makes those people’s lives better. I could’ve chatted about companies that failed even though they were valuable just because no one has ever heard of them. But any way I’d spin it, the word marketing would have to be included. This was difficult because for years I thought marketing would be the last field I’d end up in.

Growing up I wanted to be a designer or an artist of some sort. I was very vocal about how marketing was evil and manipulative. Creating value was much more important to me than making people believe something that may or may not be true. Many people still think marketing and sales are evil, but that’s just a generalization that can be true within any field. Trying to help incredibly talented creators share their ideas with the world can be done ethically, and there are tons of non-spammy marketers out there committed to figuring out how to reach the right people with the right solution to their problem. It took me years to learn this, and even longer to publicly stand up for marketing.

The only way for me to confidently talk about my work is by swallowing my pride and admitting I was wrong. Out loud.

 

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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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