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. When you find out what Facebook is doing, your jaw will drop!
“To reduce the number of Facebook posts linking to articles whose headlines promise information that goes undelivered, sometime ‘in the coming weeks’ the social network’s news feed algorithm will scan those posts’ headlines for phrases that often appear in clickbait headlines. Facebook announced this move in a blog post soberly titled, ‘News Feed FYI: Further Reducing Clickbait in Feed.’” That’s Tim Peterson, from MarketingLand, with breaking news that has smarmy marketers everywhere rethinking their Facebook strategy: The Book of Faces is about to bring the thunder upon the clickbait headlines in your news feed. I’m going to miss those headlines. I’ll never know the thrilling conclusions to great stories like “All She did Was Drag Her Plate Across the Pool. What Happened Next Blew My Mind.”
2. I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
“My prediction: Artificial Intelligence isn’t going to replace marketers and marketing teams, it’s going to make them more efficient. It isn’t going to replace human intelligence, it’s going to add to it through uncovering new insights. And it isn’t going to turn us into mindless marketing robots. Instead, AI promises to free us from “repetitive drudgery” (e.g. anything that involves an Excel spreadsheet) so we can spend more of our time on tasks that require a human touch.” That’s Erik Devaney, from the Drift blog, on Drift’s more benevolent view of artificial intelligence in the marketing arena. Let’s hope the AI bots don’t discover how to write clickbait headlines. They’d use them to distract half the world on the web while they hack the internet of things and take control of the planet. (The other half of the world’s population will be playing Pokemón Go, so they’ve already got them covered and distracted.)
3. Starts and crafts.
“If you are a coach teaching people how to be a coach then the business is too much about you. If you can remove yourself from the business and people still understand what it is, then it’s a business. Then it’s about the craft.“ James Altucher, with some poignant advice on how to become a real entrepreneur. First step: don’t call yourself an entrepreneur. The word “entrepreneur” comes from two latin words: “entre,” which means “to swim out,” and “prendes,” which means to grasp, or understand. I don’t call myself an entrepreneur, but “swimming way out from shore and grasping at understanding” pretty much describes me on a bad day.
4. A zero-scum game.
“When it comes right down to it, email marketing is all about getting the basics right. Yes, you need to segment your lists and yes, you should upgrade your transactional emails, but every email marketer also needs to invest time in big picture strategies like positioning, voice, value and conversion optimization.” Up your email marketing game with Jimmy Daly, from Vero. Here’s his highly actionable post with 40 tips for writing dramatically better emails (with a boat load of great examples.) Block out some time and read this one. I know, I know. The Olympics are fun to watch. But your business is getting jealous. That’s why it keeps putting your laptop between you and the TV.
5. The lull before the brainstorm.
“It turns out that brainstorming is actually a terrible technique—in fact, people generate fewer good ideas when they brainstorm together than when they work alone.” That’s Fast Company’s Annie Sneed, on why brainstorming is dumb. The solution? Something called “brainwriting,” which is like brainstorming without all the caffeinated people talking over each other while one of them frantically scribbles business gibberish on a whiteboard. I’m brainwriting right now, actually. My brain says you need more traffic and a stellar free offer at the top of your funnel.
6. Jumpsmart your business.
When you’re starting a new business, it’s tempting to focus 100% on building the part of it that you think will scale the fastest and require the least amount of your time and effort to run. That’s not usually the best approach for small online businesses, though, particularly if you’re heading towards selling online programs, training, or other digital knowledge products. Often, it’s smarter to start with things that don’t scale, like selling knowledge and skills that you can deliver quickly, one person at a time.
As Cat LeBlanc says in this post with some sound advice for new entrepreneurs, “It’s much better to “Choose a business model that can bring in cash flow quickly. I recommend finding a consulting, coaching, or done-for-you service that you can provide using the skills you already have. The reason for this is simple: It allows you to start earning money right away and requires a very small number of clients to replace your salary.”
When I have consulting clients who are just starting down the path of building their business, consulting or done-for-you services are almost always what I recommend they sell first. Unless their business plan involves selling cupcakes. Then I tell them to sell those first.
7. The full flaunty?
“When I started blogging, I stumbled upon the income reports of a few bloggers, and that helped me to understand the true monetary potential of blogging. I believed in “If They Can Do It, I Can Do It“, and with that mindset, I managed to cross the blogging income milestone of $6000 per month.” That’s Harsh Agrawal, founder of the Shout Me Loud blog, on the topic of whether or not to share one’s monthly income and expense reports openly on your site (a practice that more and more online business owners are doing.) In the first income report that he shared in 2009, the total revenue for his business that month was $434. His latest report, from June 2016, shows an income total of $29,659. Not bad, eh?
Other prominent online entrepreneurs who also share their monthly income and expense reports are Pat Flynn (whose most recent income report shows a monthly total of $116,041), and John Lee Dumas (who made $166,721 last month.)
Once I get over the initial “oh my god, I’m such a loser” feeling when looking at monthly income reports that big, I find that I can learn quite a bit about their business models because of how detailed the reports are. You can see exactly which revenue streams are earning them the most money, and that often sparks ideas for my own business. (Once you feel how useful seeing these income and expense reports are, they don’t make the business owner seem like they’re flaunting their success, at all.)
Chris and I are just starting to monetize Clarity Lab (beginning with the consulting services we’ll launch very soon), and I think it would be helpful for other folks who are building their businesses to see our income and expense reports as we set the first blocks of this building in place. We just need to get past that “oh man…that would be a bit embarrassing” level of income before we go full monty.
“I’ve noticed over the years that with smaller businesses, the most pressing marketing question on their mind is, ‘What should I be prioritizing?’ And what that really translates to is budget limitations. What they are really saying is, ‘I have a tight budget. What should I do first?’” That’s Jacob McMillen, on the Ahrefs blog, with a detailed look at the two growth strategies you should focus on, in his opinion, if you have a tight budget: Skyscraper content and paid advertising. This is one of the best posts on how to prioritize your growth strategies that I’ve read all year. Well worth a read.
9. Conversion experience.
“At their core, landing pages that convert speak directly to real people with real problems in search of real solutions. And people are people. This means that the rock-bottom, non-negotiable, absolutely essential elements to every high-converting landing page are the same. The internet didn’t invent them. And you don’t need to either.” Aaron Orendorff, on the KlientBoost site, with what I think is the most well written guide to writing landing page copy that I’ve ever seen. This is a step-by-step guide with a ton of examples (which are a godsend, because I have a hard time learning copywriting skills without a lot of great examples.)
This guide is designed for writing copy on landing pages, which are pages of your site that people land on from things like your Facebook or Adwords ads. If you’re doing things smartly, your landing page will have one goal that’s usually focused on getting people to opt in for something that’s free. However, you can apply a lot of these same landing page copywriting principles to your sales page copy, where the goal is to get people to pay you money for something you’re selling. And if you’re a really smart copywriter, you can use these techniques in stealth mode to get you a couple of extra hours for a long bike ride in the mountains on a perfect Sunday afternoon, while your significant other watches the kids.
10. Peter, Small, and Mary.
“If you try to launch a massive membership community that’s going to create complete transformation, unless you have an incredibly strong relationship with your audience, it’s too much, too soon. You’re moving too fast. Solve minor annoyances, then bigger headaches, and work your way up. As far as what you actually offer? Literally, if you can re-create it in a digital form and take money for it, you’ve got a product. Some examples are: Cheat sheets, mind maps, process maps, workbooks, ebooks, checklists, video tutorials (these go well with workbooks), audio tutorials.” Great advice from Sonia Simone, in a recent episode of her Confessions of a Pink-haired Marketer podcast, about how to launch your first digital product.
The phrase “passive income” is a misnomer, because you’re always working hard to sell even completely passive products that don’t require your time after they’re created. But there are certainly types of services and products that take A LOT less effort to deliver, which can then bring you a stronger overall revenue for your business. I think a better name for these kinds of products and income streams is “less active,” because there isn’t a truly passive income product. (Last week I tried being truly passive on the couch and didn’t notice any extra money coming in.)
My favorite kind of less active income stream? Is from the kind of digital products Sonia mentions in her podcast, as well as the full-blown online programs that are more in the “very active” income stream category (but at least they scale really well, and you can run them from a beach.)
Best wishes for a crazy productive week for you and your business,
Signals in the Noise
Co-founder at Clarity Lab
p.s. You can find the archives of past issues of Signals in the Noise right here.