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. Why idea validation is so crazy important (and how to do it.)
Reality check: it can take a year (or more) before your online business is generating enough money to sustain you fully. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating: If you blindly create a product without doing research to find out if your target market actually wants what you want to sell, you are greatly increasing the risk of failure.
The stats are against us as small business entrepreneurs. I’ve seen it said that anywhere between 75% and 90% of small businesses fail within the first couple of years. There are many variables that go into explaining why a business fails, but one of the biggest causes I see happening is that someone created something that people didn’t want badly enough to pay for.
Here’s Pat Flynn, founder of Smart Passive Income, on how, exactly, to go about validating your product idea before you waste a bunch of time and money on building that product.
+ Ryan Holiday is bit stronger about this point: “You know what the single worst marketing decision you can make is? Starting with a product nobody wants or nobody needs.” The lessons in this post are from the startup world, but they are oh so applicable to small online businesses that sell knowledge and help, like coaching or online training programs.
2. Turn your blog posts into bank deposits.
If you’re reading this newsletter, I’m going to make an assumption that you’re interested in making money from things you do online in your business. Many of you write blog posts as part of your content marketing strategy, and still more of you may have nothing but a blog site where you publish great content for free. Blogs are cool. Blogs that make money are cooler. And blogs that allow you to live the kind of lifestyle you want to live? Are the BOMB.
To that end, here’s Michael Hyatt (author of the New York Times #1 bestseller Platform: Get noticed in a noisy world) on three tried and true ways to monetize your blog.
3. Nothing says, “Thank you” like a message on paper.
With so much of our interactions and relationships happening online, it can be a challenge to deliver an authentic, heartfelt “thank you” to your customers. You can work really hard to write a beautiful thank you email that your customers get after they buy something from you, but 1), most people only skim emails like that because 2), they know that it was an autoresponse email that you didn’t actually send manually to them.
That’s a bummer when you really want to say “thank you” and have it land in their mind and heart. What’s the best alternative to a thank you email? From where I sit, it’s anything that allows you to communicate with your customers outside of traditional online communication. Handwritten letters on actual physical paper mailed to their home. A thank you phone call. A thank you letter typed on an old school typewriter.
Those are all great…and, here’s the rub: they take A LOT more time and effort and money to do. So what happens for most of us who have ideas of saying thank you to our customers in non-traditional ways? We let go of the idea and stick with an automatically sent thank you email. I get it. Believe me. I bought an old typewriter a few months ago for this very purpose, but I have yet to send out a thank you letter with it…because it takes a lot of time.
Here’s a great solution: Use an app and service called Felt. You write a hand-written note on your ipad and they print it on a really nice card, or paper, then mail it to your customers for you. Awesome.
4. Yeah, I’m free…free fallin’.
It’s hard not to love a gigantic list of really good free things that can help you grow your business without you spending a dime. Here’s an insanely great list of 300 free things for you.
5. Your pad or mine?
I’m a fan of using very large arrays of multiple screens while working. My current office setup is two 27 inch screens (a 27 inch iMac with a 27 inch external display right next to it.) I haven’t quite reached the ultimate of three 30 inch displays yet, but one day it’ll happen.
What’s up with all the screen real estate? It’s makes working, on just about anything, much faster. You’re no longer opening and closing windows or apps from your dock all day long, which is what happens on laptops. (There’s a number of studies that show that working with large screens allows you to get work done about 20% to 30% faster than with small laptop screens.)
But I love working in cafe’s a day or two each week (being an entrepreneur can get really lonely), which means I’m working on my 15” laptop. Which means I open and close windows and apps a lot. If this sounds familiar, and if you use a Mac and have an ipad, I just found a great solution: Use Duet to hook your ipad up to your Macbook and use your ipad as a secondary display. I bought the Duet app and tried it out this past week. Works like a charm.
6. Suck it, hackers.
Over the last five months, our businesses bank account has been hacked into four times. I’m sure most of you have felt this kind of pain in the ass before. We use about 16 different online services (mostly web apps) to power our business. When we get hacked, the cards get canceled, and I spend a great deal of time entering new credit card information for payments for all of those services. Only to have to turn around and do it again a few weeks later when we get hacked. Again. It’s infuriating.
Finally, there appears to be a great solution to this problem coming soon: a credit card with a little bit of electronics in it. It generates a unique credit card number for every single purchase you make. If a hacker gets one of your credit card numbers, it won’t do them any good…because it won’t work anywhere.
It’s called Final. You should check it out. As soon as it comes out, I’m going to start using it for our business expenses. Suck it, hackers.
7. By all means, hire when possible.
Starting an online business alone is sometimes necessary, and always hard. There are about 10 different hats you’ll need to switch between, sometimes all in one day: tech master, copywriter, video producer, video editor, teacher/expert, customer support person, free content creator (blog posts, podcasts, newsletters), marketer, project manager, product launch manager.
If you’re like most entrepreneurs who are building or running a business that sells some kind of knowledge that helps people in their lives, you will probably want to focus on just that: helping people with your knowledge. Messing with the intricate details of 12 different web apps that make up your tech platform? Is probably not on your list of “things that really energize me.”
After building multiple online businesses (a couple of which had me wearing all 10 hats by myself), here’s what I learned the hard way: hire people to help you as soon as you have revenue to do so. And the first person to hire is a good virtual assistant (VA). You’ll get the most benefits from your money and time by starting with a VA because many of them can handle 3 or 4 areas of your business.
“Aha!”, you say, “But where do I find these ‘good VA’s’ you speak of?” That’s a great question. Thanks for asking. If you have a community built around your business or online programs, I’d start there. Look for the shining stars. The people who LOVE your work and what it’s done for them. We’ve found many of our best VA’s by looking right inside our community.
If you don’t have that, or if you just want to look outside your community, check out VA Classroom, which my good friend Craig Cannings runs. It’s not only the top place to go to for learning how to start a career as a VA, but also a fantastic place to go to find solid, trained VA’s. Craig has built up a large community of thousands of VA’s who have been through his trainings on how to make a living as an amazing VA.
+ Another place to look for good VA’s: Use Virtual Staff Finder to find one in the Philippines. We’ve hired and worked with a Filipino VA before and she was amazing.
8. “Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.”
That’s a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I could make that quote more powerful, and use it as part of my content marketing strategy, by making it into a quote card and sharing it on social media, like this:
I made that quote card with PicMonkey in about 2 minutes and 24 seconds. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.
The photo was free on a great site called Unsplash.
A lot of people fill their social media streams with quote cards, and I’m starting to think that the effectiveness of quote cards is starting to wane. But I still think they’re good to add to your social media marketing mix. They work great at the top of blog posts and newsletters too.
The benefit of putting them there is that when you want to share your new blogpost or newsletter on social media, you can share something about it and include the quote card. You’ll get a lot more sharing and engagement happening if you do that instead of just sharing a tweet about your new post with text only.
+ Canva is another great free app to use for creating quote cards.
+ And here’s another one, called Pablo, from Buffer.
9. Poor grammar not good for business.
In the world of online businesses, an incredible amount of interaction with your business happens via written text. Copy on your site, copy on your sales pages, text in support emails, text in welcome emails, or in newsletters, or blog posts.
If you consistently make typos and grammar goofs, it’s going to affect your revenue negatively. Why? Because it’s very hard to establish yourself as an expert in your niche if you’re making many common grammatical errors and typos. Your words are like clothes for your business, and leaving your grammar in a shoddy condition is like wearing shoes that don’t go with your outfit. It’s noticeable and makes it harder for people to believe that you have your shit together. And if you don’t have your shit together, why would they trust you enough to buy things from you?
Here’s a brilliant infographic about 15 grammar goofs that make you look silly.
+ And here’s my new favorite app for helping you avoid embarrassing grammatical errors no matter where you write on the web: Grammarly.
10. Let’s get visual.
“When it comes to visual content, your customers expect something very different compared to just a few years ago. It is now supercharged by mobiles and visual social media networks. It used to be OK to have a static website gallery, post text to your social channels, and use corporate photos and videos online. Now, readers depend on visuals to figure out whether your content is worth their time.” That’s Paul Bingham on why visual elements in our content marketing are so important. He’s got a great list of 10 rules of visual content marketing right here.
And there you have it. The best of the best signals I found in my forays into the great noise of the web over the last week.
I sincerely hope that you find some things in this issue of Signals in the Noise that help you on the path of building the business and life that you want to build.
If you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy from this and want to give something back to me, hugs are great. Since you and I probably don’t live near each other though, hugs are difficult to transmit over the web. Sharing this newsletter with your friends is the next best thing to a real hug. You can do that by clicking on the links below. If you do that, thank you! Wish I could give you a hug for that.
Until next week, keep going. One step at a time and you’ll reach that next level of your business that you’re stretching for now.
All the best,
All the best,
Chief Curation Officer
p.s. You can find the archive of past weekly content roundups right here.