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. Dead email list? Jon Snow it isn’t.
Have you noticed that more and more people are starting to curate content on the web for their audience and using this content curation service as a way to grow their email list (and thus their business revenue)? This newsletter you’re reading right now is a curated newsletter. I spend two weeks reading and sifting through over 200 blog posts (and some podcasts and videos) to find the best of the best content for small online business owners, and then I share what I find with you.
Sean Bestor, from the Sumo Me crew, wrote an in-depth guide on how to go about curating content for your audience. I agree with his approach to curating, except that I’d add one piece that I don’t think he highlighted enough: One of the biggest benefits of curation is setting the best content you find in a larger, more meaningful, useful, or entertaining context.
If you just find a bunch of links to interesting articles for your audience and share them in a newsletter, you’re not delivering as much extra value to the curation offer as you could. But if you set things in context, teach a bit around them, agree or disagree with things in each piece, make useful commentary, or entertain folks a bit while you’re curating, THEN you’ll be cooking with gas. So, bottom line: if you have an email list of people and you’ve let it die, like…Jon Snow kind of die…try curating content in newsletters. You’ll be the Melisandre to your list, bringing it back from the dead.
2. Feedback whoop.
One of the most powerful things you can do to build a successful online business is to talk with your prospects and customers. To get feedback about what they want, or to hear what they’re struggling with, or how things are going for them with the learning experience in your online program.
Using the phone or Skype or Zoom for that is possible, but takes a lot of time. (Though, if you’re validating a new business or product idea, you should definitely talk live with people.) Email is okay for getting feedback, but can be a tangled mess to manage if you’re getting hundreds of responses to questions you’re asking people. My favorite way to get feedback from potential and current customers? Simple, easy to use online surveys. And my #1 favorite online survey app is Typeform.
It’s incredibly easy to use for both you and the people who will answer the questions in your surveys (and the surveys also look gorgeous.) Oh, and if you click this link here, you can give it a whirl yourself. If you upgrade to one of their paid plans, you’ll automatically get 10% off of your monthly payment FOR LIFE. I was able to work out a special deal with them for you. They said they’d give Signals in the Noise readers 10% off for life if I promise never to send them a photo of me in my spandex cycling outfit again.
3. To infinity, and beyond!
Popular file backup and sharing platform, Dropbox, is getting all infinite on us (or at least they will be soon.) They recently announced Project Infinite, which, as Blair Frank, of PC World, explains, is “a push to create a new Dropbox interface that allows users to see all of the files they’ve stored in the cloud in their computer’s file explorer without requiring them to keep local copies of each document, image, spreadsheet or other file.”
If you use Dropbox, this is like the selective sync feature, where you can leave files on their servers without taking up space on your local hard drive, except that you’d be able to access, view, and edit the files that are only on the Dropbox servers. Non-geek translation: you can store a crap ton of files on your computer without those files taking up any space on your computer. And if they plan on offering an infinite amount of file storage space, they may want to rethink their business model, because they haven’t seen how many photos my wife takes with her iPhone.
4. Size matters.
So, you decide to start an online business. You’ve got a problem picked out in the world that you really want to solve, and there are millions of people in your market, hungry for your solution. You get a site built and, just before it goes live, you have this “SHIT!!!” moment, where you realize that you haven’t setup any of your social media outposts on the web. So you rush around for a few days setting up Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts. Then you’re like “CRAP!!!” I need big banner photos for my profile page for all these accounts. And then it’s “What dimension does my Facebook banner image need to be?”
Seems like a simple question and that it should be easy to google around and find the answers, but often, it’s not. The same goes for Pinstagramitter. (Sorry. That’s a weird word. All the social networks get mushed together in my brain.)
If you haven’t had the above moments yet, or if you have and you just want a handy resource on hand, here’s a great infographic with the proper sizes for all images (profile pics and banner images) for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube.
There’s also a few other useful bits of information on this infographic, like the best day of the week to post on social media. (That’s always easy for me to figure out because it’s the one day a week I force myself to get on social media.)
5. Sell unto others as you would have them sell unto you.
“I carried out an experiment on Twitter over the last week. I started mass following a bunch of digital marketers, to see what would happen. I wanted to gauge the way the supposed experts in marketing reacted to their new audience members. It was a fucking depressing experience. I followed 150 digital marketers, and I received 100 automated tweets and direct messages back. Some of these were multiple messages from the same people. One idiot automatically sent me three separate messages within 5 minutes of following him.” That’s Jon Westenberg, with a pointed jab of a post on why treating people like business leads instead of humans will always backfire.
In an age where everyone is in a rush to automate as much as possible in their online businesses so they can make more money with less work, I think we’re about to reach peak automation: The point beyond which further attempts at automation will end up causing drops in revenue. Businesses and brands will struggle to make more simply because they’re trying to automate (and fake), human connection and care.
Three big trends to watch here: this kind of marketing automation, artificial intelligence, and virtual/augmented reality. When all three of those things collide (and, yes, they will collide), we’ll have things like 3D chat bot avatars powered by artificial intelligence thanking us for following someone on Twitter. And when that happens, it’ll be my cue to start mailing handwritten thank you cards to people who buy things from me. Writing with a pen on paper and snail-mailing it to someone’s house will be a disruptive innovation.
6. A beautiful mind.
“After emerging from the 1990s dotcom party with $180 million, instead of sitting back in his investor chair listening to pitches from groveling young entrepreneurs, he decided to start a brawl with a group of 900-pound sumo wrestlers—the auto industry, the oil industry, the aerospace industry, the military-industrial complex, the energy utilities—and he might actually be winning. And all of this, it really seems, for the purpose of giving our species a better future.” Tim Urban, from Wait But Why, with part 4 of the world’s most epic blog post series (all four of the posts total more than 90,000 words, which is like a 275 page book), on Elon Musk’s secret sauce.
This final post in the series gets at the heart of why Elon can create the things he creates. Tim dives into a metaphorical, detailed look at the difference between chefs and cooks, and exactly what type of reasoning Musk uses when he designs something new, like, say…an electric car, or reusable rockets, or, a way for humans to colonize Mars.
The kicker is that Tim explains this type of reasoning so well that it’s something you can use in your own life and business. It’s called “reasoning from first principles,” which comes from the world of physics. It’s more than slightly mind-blowing. I’m actually using this type of thinking to design a new kind of tupperware that makes it impossible for you to ever lose the lid to a given container. Elon might save humanity by colonizing Mars, but at least the people on Mars will never misplace their tupperware lids.
+ So I started to do some further research on this whole “reasoning from first principles” thing, because it’s not the easiest type of thinking to wrap your mind around. This post helped explain it a bit further, as did this one, oh, and this conversation on Quora too. Reason on with yo bad self.
7. Captian eHook.
Finally. Someone made this app. For years, I’ve watched the rise in popularity of using ebooks to grow online businesses. They work great not only for building your email list (which you do by offering them for free in exchange for someone’s email address), but you can also make a lot of passive income by creating useful, entertaining, and inspiring ebooks that you sell on your site.
So, yeah, they work, and they work well. But until I came across this app last week, ebooks were either super expensive to have designed and formatted for you, or incredibly difficult to make yourself. Well, they are neither of those things anymore. Take a look at Beacon. Beautiful ebooks created by you, the easy peezy lemon squeezy way.
8. Oh my, do they give good email.
The more your businesses products, services, or programs are sold and delivered online, the more you’ll need to communicate with your customers via email at every step along their customer journey. I came across this useful site last week, called Good Email Copy, which collects great emails from some of the biggest, most successful online businesses out there.
It seems like most of the emails are from software companies, but it’s still a great place to get some inspiration for your own customer emails. (Someday, software companies will no longer be the favorite child of the online business world, and then we’ll start seeing more of this kind of resource designed for lifestyle businesses. And if that doesn’t happen, I’m going to throw a temper tantrum in the grocery store where all the venture capital
investors parental figures buy their food.)
9. 100% vitamin-free.
“Never, ever build a startup that solves a “nice-to-have-fixed” problem — that’s what we call a vitamin. It’s nice to have, but not absolutely necessary for your customers to pay for a solution. If you build a vitamin or don’t solve a tier 1 problem, people will use your product but never pay for it. And that will rip you apart.” That’s Mitchell Harper, serial startup guy, advisor, and investor, on eight rules for making great products (or services, or online programs.) Is your business selling candy, vitamins, or pain killers? You can make a good living selling any of those, but you’ll find more meaning, inspiration, and money (with a lot less effort and struggle) if you’re selling pain killers.
10. All your websites are belong to us.
“Having an all-native interface that’s overlaid on top of the world-wide-web is the ultimate ambition for an internet company. It’s an ambition that nobody thought was going to be possible after AOL lost its foothold in the last decade. Facebook is dangerously close to being able to pull it off. If Zucks was able to acquire Snapchat 18 months ago like he wanted to, and if they were to develop an OTT (over-the-top) network that competed with Netflix, Facebook would basically be the anointed winner of the entire Internet.” That’s Gary Vaynerchuk, pointing out that with the recent release of Facebook’s Instant Articles, you might be getting close to being pwned by Facebook. Step-by-little-step, they are getting you to experience more and more of the web without leaving their site.
There’s a silver lining with the Instant Articles feature, though. As Gary explains, you can use them to grow your business. If you’re going to try them, though, start now, because within nine months, everyone and their brother will be using them, Facebook users will start to ignore them, and then it’ll be time to look for the next social media tactic for growing your business.
For the near future, though, Instant Articles could be a big win for small businesses. So, by all means, go experiment on Facebook. It’s helped our Art of Money business in a huge way. But, be careful…don’t look Mark Zuckerberg in the eyes. That’s how he hypnotizes you into wasting 3 hours a day scrolling down your Facebook feed.
Here we are at the bottom of this week’s issue…aaaaand…you’re still with me… Thank you for spending a little time out of your day with me while reading this newsletter. I don’t make any revenue off of this newsletter (at least not directly,) so one of my biggest rewards is knowing that some of you get something useful for your business out of these. (That, and I love making people laugh.)
I hope you enjoyed this week’s issue, and if you did, I’d get warm feelz if you shared it with your friends. Here are a couple of links to make sharing two-click easy:
Thank you in advance if you share something about this newsletter with your friends. It helps more than you can imagine.
Now, go kick some to-do list ass.
Until next time, keep growing (slow and steady…calm and balanced.)
Signals in the Noise
Founder at Clarity Lab
p.s. You can find the archive of past Signals in the Noise issues right here.