Signals in the Noise – Issue 28

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. Hello from the other side.

“If anything, I began to appreciate even more intently that flow and tranquility were the true sources of happiness for me all along. It was like I had pulled back the curtain on that millionaire’s dream and found, to my surprise, that most of the things on the other side were things I already had. Equal parts shock and awe, but ultimately deeply reassuring.” That’s David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of Basecamp, on life after he and his co-founder Jason Fried sold part of their company to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. The sale of some shares of Basecamp thrust David into millionaire status instantly. He shares an honest, transparent view of life before and after that event, and how when he eventually decided to spend a chunk of his money and buy a yellow Lamborghini, his deep satisfaction needle didn’t actually move at all. (I bet it would have moved if he had bought a Tesla Model S instead.)


2. Just keep swimming.

“But your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit. But the thing I want to say to you is that most of the interesting people I know that do creative work went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn’t have the special thing that they wanted it to have. The thing is, everybody goes through that.” This American Life podcast host and Executive Producer, Ira Glass, on persevering through the initial challenging phase in creating something new.  His advice on how to get through this phase is both simple and powerful: keep going, and do a large body of work. The context of this video is storytelling in journalism, but the truths within it hold for any creative endeavor…even creating an online business.

So, just keep going. Power through the hard years until your work matches the vision you hold for it in your heart. When I look back at my first software tutorial videos or product launch marketing videos, or some of the early marketing copy I wrote when I began eight years ago, I am flat out embarrassed. But eight years in, and I’m finally starting to get the hang of some of this stuff. Though, if future me eight years from now reads what I’m writing in this newsletter, I’m sure he will cringe a bit.

+ You can catch the slightly longer video version (it’s about 5 min long), where you can see Ira play an example of his own less-than-stellar work from his early career as a reporter for NPR, right here.


3. The well-oiled content machine.

I talk a lot about content marketing in this newsletter because it’s my favorite non-icky, non-aggressive, non-used-car-salesman-in-the-form-of-an-information-marketer kind of marketing that I know of. If you’re new to content marketing, in a nutshell, it’s just this: publishing remarkable content that is so good and useful that people want to tell their friends about it. If you reach that level of quality, the Google bot will notice, and you’ll not only get organic word-of-mouth traffic from social networking sites, but also from people Googling around for information and answers on topics that you’re creating content about.

Want to know more about how exactly to do content marketing right? Well, the brilliant folks over at Moz just created the best beginner’s guide to content marketing that I’ve seen in a long, long time. Now, if only someone would come up with a better term for this style of marketing than “content marketing,” which always reminds me of those old school, generic, black and white beer cans that had nothing more than “beer” printed on the side of them.


4. Typecast.

If you’ve ever spent endless hours hunting for the perfect font for a logo you’re working on (or for heading and body fonts for a pdf ebook), and you came up empty handed, you should have a look at this new web app, Prototypo.

With easy-to-use sliders, you can adjust one of their base fonts to make your own, totally custom, unique typeface. Once you create your masterpiece of a typeface, you can download it and use it in your designs (in apps like Photoshop or Illustrator.) I hope this slider based type of design tool keeps spreading. More and more website design apps are starting to use it, which is great to see, but we sure could use an app like this for ebook layout and design. (Have you ever noticed how hard it is to create a beautiful ebook without spending $1,500 {or more}, to have a graphic designer create one for you?)


5. Cats below the fold.

If you follow modern web design trends, you’re likely familiar with a current popular trend: horizontal section layouts, like this. Personally, I love that style of design, and I’ve been preparing to build a new site using a similar horizontal approach. Until, that is, I read this blog post which did a brilliant science on the horizontal design trend. Liraz Margalit, on the Neuromarketing site, explains that the big, sexy horizontal designs that many people use these days actually decrease the engagement level of site visitors substantially.

Apparently, web using humans lean heavily on pattern recognition. If we see something that indicates to us that there’s more content lower down on the page (like vertical content columns do), we exert finger effort and scroll down. But those big ass horizontal sections on the sexy websites? All look like the bottom of a web page to web using humans. They will see your first big horizontal section at the top of your homepage, have a pattern recognition moment, and think that’s the bottom of your page. Which means, yup, no finger effort exertion, and no scrolling. And that means you might as well just post a bunch of cat photos down below where most people stop looking on a website with big, horizontal sections because almost no one will see whatever you put down there.

+ From the ever awesome guys at Help Scout: Three Stages to Better Home Pages.


6. Safety Audience first.

“You need to think differently and think of customers not in the context of marketing spend but relationships. People buy from people they know, like and trust. So how can you get known, liked and trusted by people who are your potential customers, even before launching your product? You guessed it — you build an audience.” That’s Mitchell Harper, co-founder of BigCommerce, on how to make your life a lot easier (and your business grow faster) when the time comes to launch your product or service or online program.

The path of getting to that easier launch isn’t itself very easy, but it will keep you honest, and you’ll learn a great deal of invaluable information along the way. Building an audience usually involves putting out free, useful content. A lot of it. Over a long period. How long? Six months to a year would give you an incredible runway. It’s so worth it, but it’s hard for another reason: you probably won’t make money from your efforts while you’re in this audience building phase.

I’m still in that phase myself with Clarity Lab. This newsletter you’re reading right now? Yuppers. It’s part of my own long audience building project (and currently, it’s not generating revenue.) I’m a few months away from the one-year mark of publishing these free, hand-curated newsletters. So far, it’s going swimmingly. I’m building an amazing audience of fans.

I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that this newsletter is one of the only ones they read regularly. That feels awesome, because I love writing them, and I love delivering something helpful to all the folks like you who read Signals in the Noise. That relationship means a great deal to me, whether or not I ever turn this into a money generating endeavor. And if I do launch a paid program or service through this newsletter and website, I’ll keep you updated on how the “audience first” approach worked.


7. Death to the stock photo.

Does anyone remember the days when you used to have to pay $2 – $10 per image for royalty free stock images to use on websites or in blog posts? They were the only game in town at one point. The stock imagery sites I used to use are still up and running, but there’s a seismic shift happening in this space: a proliferation of totally free, gorgeous, non-stock photo looking stock photo sites.

Here’s a list of 95 of them, many of which I’ve used myself.  Thank you, dear interweb business people with photographer friends. You are riding the internet of cheesy, inauthentic stock photos. One free, artistic, classy photo at a time.


8. Validate your light bulb moment.

Idea validation. It’s a concept that, thanks to The Lean Startup movement, most smart startup companies build into their early game plan. But in the micro-entrepreneur space where folks like you and I are creating businesses around online programs, or coaching, or live workshops, idea validation hasn’t fully caught on yet.

Idea validation is the process of making sure that what you want to build and sell is something that your target market actually wants to buy. And you do this before you start building anything. This process is just as vital for bootstrapping micro-entrepreneurs as it is for startup founders who are playing with millions of other people’s dollars.

Trust me. You do not want to pour your soul into building an in-depth, beautiful online program for six months of full-time work, launch it, and then have no one sign up for it. I’ve seen that happen to people in some mastermind groups I’ve been in, and it’s utterly heart breaking. How can you avoid that? Validate your product/program/service idea BEFORE you start building it.

Validating an idea isn’t super easy, but I just came across this new service, called Proved, and great googly moogly, I’m so going to use it before I start building my next product.

It’s geared towards startups, but you can also use it to validate ideas that are not tech products, like that online training program you’ve been thinking about building, or that consulting service you’ve wanted to start, or that new service for small businesses that installs cat photos on the parts of their website that no one looks at.

+ 5 Steps to Validate Your Business Idea in the Real World
+ 6 Ways to Validate Your Business Idea
+ Create products that people love by validating your idea first


9. She blinded me with (neuro)science.

“One of the most influential forces in marketing is the power of psychology. In recent years, neuroscience has changed the way in which we view marketing, approach customers, and run our businesses. A deeper understanding of the human brain will dramatically impact your marketing success.” That’s the always insightful Neil Patel, on the Inc. site, explaining four of the most powerful cognitive biases to be aware of (and use to your benefit…with integrity, of course) in your marketing materials. Every time I see something like this, my first response is “Wait…all that neuroscience and psychology stuff I studied for fun years ago IS ACTUALLY USEFUL?”


10. The thank you machine.

If you ever wonder why I talk so much about the power of writing emotionally driven copy for your marketing materials, watch this short video made by a Canadian Bank (it’s had over 22 million views over the last year.) They turned an ATM machine into a thanking machine. I dare you to watch it and see if you can NOT have a tear come to your eye. This is powerful, well-done marketing content, yes, but it’s also a beautiful example of how simple kindness and generosity can make a huge difference in the lives of people you come in contact with, customers and friends alike. It’s an inspiring reminder for us all to do something with our business that matters.


What the…? We’re already down here? Past the last item in the newsletter? I seriously lose track of time when I write these. Flow is such an amazing state of mind to be in. See? Just. Can’t. Stop. Linking to cool content.

Okay. I’m stopping now. For reals.

I sure hope you found some useful bits in this issue of Signals in the Noise. If you’re clicking finger isn’t too worn out, I’d love it if you click one of the links below and share this issue with a few thousand of your closest friends.

Every time you share this newsletter, an elf at the North Pole makes an extra present for a child somewhere in the world. (Man, wouldn’t that be awesome?)

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Good luck with whatever it is that you’re working on in your business over the next two weeks!

Until I return to your inbox once again,
Fare thee well, my friend,

~Forest Linden
Signals in the Noise

p.s. You can find the archive of past issues right here.

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