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!
Oh hai! It’s Wednesday, which is a weird day for me to send out my every-other-Monday newsletter. You can thank the long Memorial Day weekend, and our little family road trip to an Afro-Haitian dance camp, for that. If you’re in the States, I hope you had a lovely long weekend. If you’re not in the States, I’m jealous, because that means you likely get six weeks of vacation a year.
1. The exception that proves the mule.
“Before building Basecamp, Jason was doing millions of dollars in client work with his design agency called 37signals. 37signals was known for breaking all the rules. The way they got clients and presented themselves was unique.” That’s Robert Williams, on how Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp, went about getting clients for his hugely successful website design freelance business. Jason has always taken the slow, mule-like path to growing his businesses by bootstrapping, and I’ve always admired the solid business structure and brands he creates as a result of doing things that way.
The bend of these “rules” is towards freelance businesses, but there’s much that you can apply to any business. Much of them follow what could be called The Golden Rule of Marketing: Market unto others as you would have them market unto you. (It’s a shame that usage of “unto” in everyday speech has gone out of style because it sounds sexy to say “I want to market unto you.”)
2. The gateless marketing gate.
“No more gated content. No more content upgrades. No more hoops. No more hurdles. All of the content we create and share from here on out will be free. We want to build a billion-dollar business by creating things that people actually want — not by tricking people into filling out forms just so we can email them to tears until they either buy something or unsubscribe forever.” That’s Dave Gerhardt, from the live chat software company Drift, on the new “free your marketing” movement and experiment they’re starting. It’s an approach to marketing that resonates strongly with me, and one I’ve seen a few other companies take as well (like Slack, Mailchimp, and Help Scout.)
It’s worth noting that all of these companies are software companies, but the reasoning behind this approach is reliable, and I think it can work for other online businesses as well. His post is well worth three minutes to read, and, more importantly, to think about how this approach could work in your business.
3. American hustle.
“The next thing I remind first-time entrepreneurs is that by starting a business, you have made a decision that does not allow you any time, in your first year, to do anything but build your business. No more binge watching Game of Thrones.” That’s the king of the hustle, Gary Vaynerchuck, with his best advice for first-time entrepreneurs. I respectfully disagree with Gary on one point though: one can build a successful business while watching Game of Thrones. In fact, it turns out there’s a good bit you can learn about growing a successful business from the story. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself when I take a break to watch an episode.
4. Round the clock puppies.
“Live mobile video is evolving beyond selfie-stream rants and citizen journalism. Facebook will now allow non-stop, long-form broadcasting as long as the creators don’t mind that they won’t be able to permanently save and share the video. The new Continuous Live Video API enables persistent streams like nature feeds, 24-hour windows into major landmarks or cameras trained on a pit full of puppies.” Josh Constantine, from TechCrunch, on Facebook’s new Continuous Live Video feature, which will apparently open up an unknown content marketing opportunity: 24/7 video streams of puppy pits (which are obviously indicative of a massive evolution beyond selfie video stream rants.)
5. The 80/20 tool.
“I hate to break it to you… but most people won’t finish reading your articles. And you probably won’t read this whole article either. We collected a bunch of data from my personal blog, and our SumoMe Stories to understand how many people will actually read the whole article (no one else has access to this information). What did we learn? That only 20% of their readers finished reading most articles on the web, “says Wilson Hung at Sumo Me. They analyzed data from 650,000 website visits, and the big take away from the data? Most people read about 32% of blog posts and articles on the web, including the ones you publish on your site.
What does this mean for your business? If you only put your calls to action at the end of your blog posts (like a newsletter sign up, free ebook offer, free webinar, or a content upgrade that requires only an email address to get,) 80% of the people who read your content won’t see your call to action, which means you won’t build up your email list very fast. And that means that when you offer something for sale to your email list, your internal audience/market will be much smaller.
This data would be a bit disturbing if there weren’t ways to communicate with your readers before they stop reading the content that you work so hard to create. See Hung’s post here for a ton of techniques you can use to build your list before people bail from your site. Also, consider adding a live 24/7 Facebook video stream of puppies before the 32% point in your posts. That’s the leading edge of innovation in content marketing. (And if things continue to head in that direction, I’m going to quit the internet.)
6. Elon Brusque
I just finished reading the excellent book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance. If you can get over the fact that pretty much all of your ideas for a business that can make a positive impact on the world will feel small and inconsequential when compared to what Musk is doing, there are a great deal of lessons and things to inspire you in this book.
My two big takeaways from reading it:
1) I’m not an exceptionally gifted person, like Musk, nor will I start and run a rocket company, an electric car company, and a solar energy company…all at the same time. I won’t likely ever help save our planet with electric car technology, new forms of human transportation, and saving the whole of humanity by creating a backup copy of human life on Mars. However, watching what he’s doing raises my own bar of possibilities. I’m asking bigger questions. Considering bigger problems I could solve. I don’t have what it takes to start a colony of humans on Mars, but after reading this book I’m like “Well shit, if Elon is doing that, what could I do that could have a bigger positive impact on the world than what I’ve been working on?”
2) Like Steve Jobs, Musk is known to be a bit…harsh on his employees. I get that the man is driven to the point of not wanting anything to stand in his way of achieving his rather large goals (including employees who he feels will slow him down on the quest to achieve his large goals), but I have a big open question floating around in my mind: can you build a large, successful, innovative business that can change the world in some positive way without being a jerk?
7. Twitter legroom.
“The social media company will soon stop counting photos and links as part of its 140-character limit for messages, according to a person familiar with the matter. The change could happen in the next two weeks, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public.” That’s Sarah Frier, from Bloomberg, apparently speaking to a source that sounds suspiciously similar to Voldemort (a.k.a., “he who shall not be named”) about an impending update to the Twitter character limit. Soon, you’ll be able to tweet without having @mentions, links, and photos counting against the 140 character limit, which seems a lot like American Airlines adding a quarter inch more legroom for their coach seats.
8. As right as reign.
“Luckily, that same gender wage gap doesn’t apply to the Internet. There are no pre-set prejudices or institutional biases to hold women back. One of the women featured in this article makes 19x more than that in a single month. Another earns $36,000 per month, from selling an eBook she wrote in her spare time. All from blogs they started only a couple years ago and built in their spare time.” The Huffpost, with profiles of women who are making a crap ton more money each year with their blogs than average college educated men are making in corporate jobs. This is why I freaking LOVE the internet. It levels the playing field, and on that field, these powerhouse women are showing the boys how it’s done. Long may they reign.
9. Rocket test site.
Gone are the days when you can build a new website for your business, check it in a few browsers, fix a few browser-related bugs, and then set it live. More than half of the people who visit your site will do so on a mobile device, and all those mobile visitors? Will have different sized screens. Unless you have one of every type of mobile device, you’re going to need a way to test your site across multiple browsers and devices and screen sizes. (And, in case you’re wondering, I’d recommend testing your site even if it’s not new, because you might be surprised what people are seeing when they visit your site on their phones.)
Lucky for you, there’s a new, free browser called Blisk that comes with all kinds of cross browser and cross device testing tools. If you’re on a computer running Windows, you can download it and use it now. It’ll be ready for Mac and Linux operating systems soon. It’s a great looking tool, but you should know that whenever a company makes Apple product owners wait for a Mac version of their app, an elf dies at the North Pole.
10. Sad songs say so much.
“Stories that tap into emotions help us connect more effectively with an audience’s goals, perceptions, and frustrations. Researchers found that synthesis of Oxytocin (the chemical that’s part of our ability to empathize) happens when we’re told emotional, character-driven stories.” That’s Kaleigh Moore, on Copyhackers, on the importance of employing empathy (and other emotions) in our copywriting. And if you can’t come up with the right words, you can always use photos of cute animals that make people feel empathy and sadness. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) raises $142 million dollars a year by using photos of animals that elicit strong emotional responses (like empathy) in their ads (which have very few words.) My son caught wind of this research last week, and now he texts me selfies of him with a sad face when he wants more iPad time.
Thank you, as always, for spending some time reading this issue of Signals in the Noise today. I hope there are a few nuggets in here that will help your business in some way.
If you enjoyed it, I’d love it if you share something about it with your friends, because word of mouth makes the world go round. And if you don’t share something, I’m going to email you a photo of me with a sad face.
Now, go kick some ass with your business this week. ROAR!!!
Until next time,
Founder @ Clarity Lab
Editor-in-chief for Signals in the Noise
p.s. You can find the archives of past issues of Signals in the Noise right here.