For two and a half years, every two weeks I sifted through over 140 blog posts and podcasts that talk about how to build successful online businesses. I found the best content, summarized it, added a bit of my commentary, and delivered it to the inboxes of entrepreneurs around the world…for free. I’m no longer writing Signals in the Noise issues (because my business partners and I are focusing on other parts of Clarity Lab), but please enjoy these archived issues. There’s a ton of useful information in them!
1. Back to the futureproof.
“There’s a theme that runs through all three Back to the Future movies, and that theme is this: What you do now, changes your story for the future.” And with that, Pat Flynn, founder of Smart Passive Income, begins his keynote speech at the 2015 New Media Expo in Las Vegas, just after driving the exact Delorean used in the Back to the Future movies onto the stage.
Pat seems like an authentic, down-to-earth guy. I’ve been following his podcast for a while and have always loved how transparent he’s been with the financial reality of his many businesses. (He posts his profit and loss numbers every month on his blog.)
In this keynote speech, Pat describes three principles that can help future proof you and your business:
Principle 1: Convenience. People have always wanted things that are convenient. In the future, to continue to sell convenience, do these things: 1) Understand who you’re serving. 2) What can save them time and effort? 3) How can you do that before they ask?
Principle 2: People want to be heard. Go overboard with amazing customer support. Respond quickly and do it in unexpected ways.
Principle 3: People want to be loved. Find ways to send personalized thank you’s. Publicly thank a few customers in your community. Other people in your community will see this and feel like they are being thanked as well. You’ll build raving fans.
There’s a ton of great wisdom and stories in Pat’s keynote. It’s well worth watching.
2. Tell me a story.
“Stories are fundamental to how we think about the world…Nelson Mandela told a story about what post-apartheid Africa could look like. That story was persuasive enough to promote change, and it became reality. JFK told a story about putting man on the Moon, and it inspired people and came to pass. These types of huge events were built on stories.” Wolff Olins’ Chief Storytelling Officer, Moshin Hamid on Why Companies Need Novelists.
3. Rituals for living.
Here’s a beautiful, non-digital tool that can help you map out and realize your dreams and goals: The Rituals for Living Dreambook. There’s something so novel and wonderful about physical workbooks like this. I’ve held one of these Dreambooks in my hands, and I can tell you that it’s gorgeous piece of work.
This book, which is in a Kickstarter launch right now, is part mind-mapping, part visioning tool, part calendar, part planner, and even part guide for a weekly boot-camp. It’s all geared to help you map out and reach your life and business goals while keeping work life balance, well, in balance.
+ If you want to see a great example of a Kickstarter video done really, really well, be sure to watch the video at the top of the page for the campaign to get this project launched.
4. Orphan Blackpress.
If you have a site built on the popular content management system WordPress, here’s something that is so incredibly useful to have in your toolbox of skills: being able to clone your website.
Good clones are a wonderful thing. (Just ask Sarah, from Orphan Black.) For example, when you need to do some major upgrades to your site, instead of using a plugin to put up a “site is down for maintenance” message while you work on and test the new changes, you can simply clone your site. You do the upgrades on the clone, test everything out (multiple times in all major browsers), and then apply the changes to your live site.
Or, if you ever need to move your site from one webhost to another, cloning is the best way to do that.
Cloning a WordPress site can be a bit tricky the first time you do it, however. Fear not. Here’s a handy guide to lead you through a few different ways to accomplish it.
5. The fast frying plan.
When you’re starting up a business that you’re going to pitch to someone in order to get funding, or if you just want the peace of mind that comes with having a clear, defined path ahead, you’re going to need a business plan. But oh…how that phrase “business plan” is like dropping a cinder block on asphalt. Thud. Buzz kill. It’s incredibly important, yes, but also rather tedious.
Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter, said this in an interview: “Here’s the formula if you want to build a billion-dollar internet company. Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”
Business owners and investors have had a desire for clear business plans for a long time. Last week, I found a great piece of technology that removes a ton of the steps involved in the creation of business plans. Go Full Steam is a brilliant web app that takes the pain out of creating a tight, beautiful, short business plan (complete with pie charts and graphs that look so good I want to eat them.)
I ran through the guided process that Go Full Steam leads you through and in under an hour I had a value proposition, a two page condensed business plan, and gorgeous financial projections. Talk about removing steps from a process. This app saves you about a week of full-time work.
I spoke with Ben Boudreau, from the Go Full Steam team, and gushed to him about their app. And guess what? Prezzie for you: he gave me a free coupon code for you to get a free week of the Go Full Steam app. Go to their site here, then go through the guided process, and when you’re prompted to enter a payment (which will happen when you try to view the financial projections), enter this code into the payment form and you’ll get a free week of the service, which is plenty to do one round of a business plan: CLARITY2015.
6. The long and short of it.
Links have become a form of currency in our world. Some links, though, are horribly long, hard to read, and, well…ugly. And if you’re sharing links in social media posts, space can be at a premium (as is the case with Twitter’s 140 character limit), making long ugly links a big problem.
Many people, me included, have used Bitly to shorten their long, ugly links and turn them into short, pretty links. There’s a downside to using Bitly though: in some email marketing software, like Aweber, when your broadcast emails are scanned and scored to see if they look like spam, when you have a Bitly link in your emails your spam score shoots WAY up. That’s because there are many Bitly links that are on a big spammer blacklist. (A lot of spammers apparently use Bitly as well.)
That means that many people on your email list might not get your emails from your email marketing app if there’s shortened Bitly links in it. Email routers and spam blockers could confuse you with a spammer because you’re using the same root url as spammers use on the blacklist: http://bit.ly/.
Thankfully, there are many other link shorteners out there.
7. On Viking battles and SEO.
“When writing headlines and title tags, we’re often conflicted in what we’re trying to say and (more to the point) how we’re trying to say it. Do we want it to help the page rank in SERPs? Do we want people to be intrigued enough to click through? Or are we trying to best satisfy the searcher’s intent? We’d like all three, but a headline that achieves them all is incredibly difficult to write.” That’s Moz’s Rand Fishkin on headline writing and title tag SEO in a clickbait world. In this short video, Rand dives into the fine art of finding a balance between writing headlines that get humans to click through and writing headlines that search engines will rank better in search results. And he uses Vikings to illustrate his points. Nice touch.
Finding that balance is a difficult area of search engine optimization to get right. I’ve always erred on the side of writing headlines and content for humans first, trusting that I’ll eventually start to rank well for certain keyword phrases if my content is good.
That’s worked well for me, but there’s much more I could be doing to improve. Rand Fishkin is an SEO genius, and if you’re up for an advanced lesson from a master, this Moz Whiteboard Friday video will be worth your time.
+ One of my favorite SEO tools: Scribe for WordPress
8. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?
“There’s the shift toward following the Upworthy/BuzzFeed model of 10-20 posts a day, and others doing slow, longer, deeper posts.” Problogger’s Darren Rowse, on making the decision of how often you should post new blog posts on your site.
The upshot is that there’s no easy cut-and-dry answer for this. The most honest answer is “it depends.” Personally, I can’t imagine being writing daily blog posts, though there are some, like Seth Godin, who do that. I’m on a weekly schedule with this newsletter right now, but in the past, I’ve also experimented with an epic, long, super in-depth post once every month or two.
There’s no right answer. There’s only what works best for you, your work schedule, and your business model.
9. A good reason to go on vacation.
I look at this list of top recommended books for entrepreneurs from Rohit Bhargava and my mouth starts to salivate. I want to book a hotel near a beach right now and spend a week reading ALL of those books. But my 6-year-old boy just said, “Work, business, money. Blah-blah-blah.”
“Ohhhh, just you wait, my dear son,” I replied. “Wait until you come up with an idea for your own business. It’s so fun that it feels like you’re playing!”
That’s not the whole story, of course, but it seems like a good idea to introduce the path of the entrepreneur to children in small steps. So far, he gets the “I could make money to buy bigger Lego sets” part really well.
10. Fashion forward.
Come on, admit it. You’ve had daydreams of seeing someone walk down the sidewalk wearing a t-shirt with your business logo printed on it. Not just any old t-shirt either. A beautiful, soft, comfy shirt with a sharp looking graphic or logo that draws people in and makes them want to be a part of your tribe. Heck, you might even be able to make some money from selling your shirts.
It can be hard to find a good t-shirt printing service though. You can go local, but you’ll likely have to do a big run of prints. And you’ll be the one that needs to handle the online payments, packaging, shipping, and customer support. Ugh.
I’ve tried CafePress multiple times and wasn’t impressed with the quality of their shirts or the results of the printing. They have great customer service, but I ended up using the shirts I had them print as rags to clean my bike.
There are a handful of other online businesses that will print small runs of company swag items, but I just came across Cotton Bureau last week. Their service looks great. You submit a design and if you sell more than 12, they will print the shirts, pack them up, ship them, handle the online payment, and take care of any customer support issues (returns, exchanges, etc.). Sell over 25 and you start to make some bank from the shirts. I just bought a shirt through someone’s campaign on their site last week. If it makes my dad bod look good, I’ll run a campaign of my own t-shirt design.
That’s it for this week’s issue of Signals in the Noise. I sure hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed creating it!
If you’re feeling the love, I’d love it if you share something about this newsletter with your friends. Sharing makes the world go round.
Until next week, keep going! One step and one little milestone at a time. You’re going to get there. Promise.
Signals in the Noise
p.s. You can find the archive of past issues right here.