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. Standing on the shoulders of clients.
“Getting more clients is what you want. And you probably want easy tactics that let you generate more leads and book more business. You want to quickly and easily fill your business or practice with a never-ending stream of ideal clients, clients that energize and inspire you and, most importantly, allow you to do your best work.” Michael Port, from Book Yourself Solid, with a long list of his articles on how, exactly, to get more clients for your business. If you sell a service of some kind to clients of some kind, Michael’s one to pay attention to. Plus, he does live webinars from his boat. On the freaking ocean. I could probably manage to do a webinar from my bath tub.
2. Lock, stock, and peril.
It was a warm, summer Sunday. I woke up, checked my email, and clicked over to my website to make a small edit on a page. What I saw caused my heart to race immediately: instead of my beautiful website, a site I had labored over for two months of full-time work to create, there was a bright red page with a flashing white banner, giant words in a foreign language, and a dancing sparkle unicorn. My site was hacked and in peril.
I checked my server and yup, my worst fears came true: the hacker had deleted all of my website files. Gone. All of them. I had a few security guards in place on my WordPress site, but not enough. Thankfully, I had a recent backup of my site, and in less than 10 minutes, I had my site back up.
If you have a WordPress site, it’s not a matter of “if” you’ll get hacked, it’s a matter of “when.” After seeing dozens of friends and colleagues sites get hacked and taken down, my recommendation is this: Spend a little time learning how to lock your site down against most of the basic kiddie hacker attacks. Here’s five essential, basic WordPress security measures you should take asap. Because, trust me, dancing unicorns on your site? Wreak havoc on one’s conversion rates.
3. A question of time.
“We pay more attention to time spent reading than number of visitors at Medium because, in a world of infinite content — where there are a million shiny attention-grabbing objects a touch away and notifications coming in constantly — it’s meaningful when someone is actually spending time.” That’s Ev Williams, CEO of Medium, on why it’s important to pay attention to metrics that matter. For Startups, there’s a set of “vanity metrics” that can hypnotize a company into thinking it’s growing rapidly. The same can happen for us small business entrepreneurs (I don’t know if I can call us “micro-entrepreneurs” anymore. It makes me feel like I’m about the size of a Lego guy, with the tech startup entrepreneurs standing at 8 feet tall above me. Um, no.)
For small biz entrepreneurs, we can fall into our own vanity metrics trap: “OMG. That selfie of me and my cat I put up on Facebook got 432 likes!” or “My email open rates are soaring at 35%, and my click through rates are like 8%,” or “I’ve had over 10,000 people come to my site in the last 30 days!”
Maybe some of those stats mean that things are going well for your bottom line, but they don’t always mean that you’re heading for a six-figure year. I love Ev’s post above because it makes me think again about what metrics I should be focusing on…like time people spend reading content we publish…or, perhaps the best business metric of all: The number of times per week my son says “You’re the best Papa in the whole world.”
4. I regret to inform you.
When Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, was trying to make the very difficult decision of whether or not to leave his comfortable, well-paying job to go and start a website that would sell books online, he used a beautiful mental exercise: “The framework I found, which made the decision incredibly easy, was, what only a nerd would call, ‘a regret minimization framework.’ So, I wanted to project myself forward to age 80, and say ‘okay, now I’m looking back on my life.’ I want to minimize the number of regrets that I have. And I knew that when I was 80, I was not going to regret having tried this.”
I’ve used a similar decision-making method for years. I call it the “impermanence reality check.”
Step 1: Give yourself a big dose of the “holy shit I’m going to die one day” kind of awareness. Hitting bad turbulence in a plane while landing at the Denver airport in the fog works really well (if you don’t like flying), or, you can get to the same place on a meditation cushion (which is much safer than flying.)
Step 2: With that very real, felt-in-the-body knowledge that your life will come to an end one day (and that you have no idea when it will happen), ask yourself “What matters most to me in life?” Keep asking that until you get to the level of important things that have to do with your business or career or your big decision, and see what comes up in that space for you. I just had a particularly harrowing landing and the Denver International airport an hour ago, and guess what? Giving you useful things for your business (and maybe a giggle or two) in this newsletter every two weeks matters to me.
+ Secret Regrets of the Day (a site where people post regrets anonymously.)
5. House of cards.
“From news sites to real estate, cards are everywhere on the web today. Those little rectangles full of inclusive images and text have been so successful in web design that they’ve almost become a default option when it comes to balancing clear aesthetics with simple usability. But don’t mistake trendiness for usefulness — there’s a reason cards are so popular.” Jerry Cao, on The Next Web, explains what the deal is with the current “card” design trend on websites. Web design trends come and go. I hope this one stays a while. And I hope the new “Here’s a video ad that I’ll expand right in between these paragraphs you’re trying to read, because interruption marketing is AWESOME” kind of ads go away. Quickly.
6. Your project or mine?
Seems like everyone has their favorite project management app. Mine? Basecamp. For many others? It’s Trello, which is based on a system of visual cards (see…cards are everywhere) that you can move from left to right, from one list to another, showing the progress of each task within a project. If you’re a fan of the Getting Things Done methodology, Trello is great for implementing that. And here’s an article on how to use Trello to organize and manage your entire life. I just moved my “take a nap” card from the “To Do” list to the “Done” list.
7. Live and earn.
If you have any doubt about the viability of building a hugely successful business around teaching something to people online, you can let it go. Really. This year, lynda.com (a site that teaches professional skills, via hundreds of video tutorials on everything from Photoshop to HTML) was acquired by LinkedIn for $1.5 Billion dollars. That “B” in “Billion” was not a typo.
And just recently, a new online acting class led by Kevin Spacey caught my eye. On that page, scroll down and notice some of the other online classes led by Usher, Serena Williams, and James Patterson. If you have something valuable and useful you can teach people online, a whole new world of possibilities will open up for you. Six, seven, and even eight-figure businesses are possible. Just from teaching. Just from helping people with some problem they have. The time is now. Go. Teach. It’s your turn.
+ There are plenty of online courses out there about how to market your online teaching business, but only one that I know of that will teach you how to be a great teacher for adult learners online: Education U.
8. The calculus of marketing.
“I used it when I launched my course back in May and it did almost a quarter million dollars in sales by using this formula, so nothing from my efforts but just taking a formula that works and installing it for me. So if you don’t get anything else out, get this part out when you’re selling anything. There’s three things you need to do to increase the urgency and increase the confidence. The 3-part formula is problem, agitate, and solve.” That’s Bryan Harris, talking with Pat Flynn (founder of Smart Passive Income), on one of about 12 powerful tools Bryan has used to build his relatively new Videofruit business into a hugely successful online training business. (The “problem, agitate, and solve” approach has been around in the marketing and advertising world for a long time, but it’s a good one.)
This podcast is one of the meatiest I’ve heard on information product creation. Bryan gives a ton of useful advice and strategies he’s used to build his information marketing business. If you’re short on time, download and read the transcript. One of the best parts is when Bryan shares his product idea validation process, which he does before he builds and sells any new product. Solid knowledge.
9. Don’t knock the box.
Have you ever thought of starting a physical product subscription-based company, like Birchbox or Barkbox or my friend’s Paper Works? In this digital age, I often catch myself daydreaming of being able to send customers something they can hold in their hands. If you have similar daydreams and want to make a living at it, here’s some expert advice for anyone starting a subscription business. My subscription business idea of the day: Get a stylish belt mailed to you once a month. Why? Because I want to name the company and be able to say “I’m the founder of Monkey Buckle,” at dinner parties.
+ Everything you need to start your own subscription business (a service called CrateJoy.)
10. The Holy E-grail.
“Email now accounts for more than 7% of all ecommerce user acquisitions making it the second most effective customer acquisition channel (behind search at 15.9%)…so it’s not surprising that the average return on email marketing investment is $44.25 for every dollar spent.” John McIntyre, on the Shopify blog, laying out examples and how to’s galore for creating seven automated email sequences that could give your business a big bump in revenue. This article is in the context of selling physical products, but you can apply almost all of it to businesses that sell information or services.
Hi there. Welcome to the bottom of the email. Very cool that you made it this far :^)
If you got something good or useful out of this issue of Signals in the Noise, would you do me a solid and share it with your peeps? That would be the shizzle. Super big gratefulness, right here in my heart, and it’s aimed right at you.
Until next time, my friend. Keep going. You got this business thing.
Signals in the Noise
p.s. You can find the archive of past issues right here.