A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how you shouldn’t go all-in on your new internet project unless you believed you were expert enough, the project niche enough and the opportunity new enough . I should have added one more condition… unless you have an absolute and passionate dedication to marketing that new business, you’re also stuffed.
If you’re on our email list (and hey, why wouldn’t you be; sign up at the end of this article or fill out the annoying pop up, yeh!) you’d notice that occasionally we run a promotion on a third-party service that we use or really like.
We don’t do any affiliate links and we never get paid for anything like that, but we do sometimes get a promotion in return.
But sometimes we just promote things because we think they are awesome and we know and like the people who have made them. Like the offer we sorted out for Influx the other day and sent out over email.
So, let’s imagine we’re in a
cafe bar [Ed: Let’s be honest], talking about your new startup and you’ve just released a beta version… and I say “hey, how about we promote this to the ~250k members on the WPMU DEV email list?”
What do you say?
If, in any way, your answer involves not taking me up on this as soon as humanly possible, then you should probably consider whether you’re cut out for this business.
Rubbish Reason: The product isn’t ready yet, we’ve got to add x, do y and improve z.
Because: The product will never be “ready” it can always be ‘improved’
Rubbish Reason: We can’t handle the demand.
Because: This is the best problem in the world to have, take it!
Rubbish Reason: We just need to finish off our new design / opt-in / marketing / AB test.
Because: You can finish that now if you really want to, seriously, get stuck in and just do it over the next two days so you can run with it.
I know all about the above because I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and also because I’ve known people take both sides and seen the results.
Fundamentally you should take any and every marketing opportunity that comes your way, and you should seek out opportunities at every turn and work at them relentlessly, every day, and probably your primary focus far above product.
In this post and its accompanying webinar I hope to illustrate through some practical advice and anecdotal experience the different outcomes that different approaches to marketing can bring and give you some good practical advice as to how you can actively and successfully market your expert, niche and new online business without spending very much money on it at all.
Always Be Building
One of my least favourite adages in business development is that crappy axiom “Always be Closing.”
I don’t like it because, frankly, I don’t want to do it. Do you? Imagine being constantly looking to do that deal? We’ve all met someone like that, and they’re a, super annoying and b, never that persuasive.
But it doesn’t mean that you can’t be developing your channels or opportunities all the time.
Building your list, of emails, of contacts, of organisations, of memberships (that you can use to promote from), of chances to get your stuff in front of people, before you get into somewhat more traditional marketing.
And by “stuff,” I mean your expert/relevant/interesting/newsworthy stuff, free stuff.
By “people” I mean influencers and email addresses.
And by “somewhat more traditional marketing” I mean cross promotions and unique advertising.
Quality, Expert, Relevant, Interesting, Newsworthy Stuff
I remember the halcyon days of Digg , Hacker News and all that jazz… where all you needed to do was crank out a post claiming “1 Simple Tweak Boosted My Conversion Rate by 260%!” or a solid listicle like “7 Growth Hacking Methods Your Haven’t Heard Of” and it was game on.
Not only would you get vast amounts of traffic, you’d almost certainly go up in Google’s estimation and you might even get the odd “impressed” comment from a fellow startup sort.
And it got even better, all you needed was an article collating some Linus Torvalds smackdowns and you were literally featured in the WSJ.
But, little did we know that in fact it was pretty much only our vanity that was benefitting.
Because, guess what, clicks to your WordPress plugin service regarding Britney or your event management site, or about Linus, are going to give you precisely no business. And a more intelligent Google is, if anything, gonna take a look at that kind of irrelevant content and actually mark you down.*
Here’s what you should be doing, first of all and above all else, when producing content you hope will get you attention:
- Make it as high quality as possible, download and read the leaked Google quality guidelines if you wanna know what quality is – these will be valid for YEARS, too
- Make it as relevant to your business area as is humanly possible, the more expert experience the better (in fact, it’s an *awesome* idea to interview some experts in your area as they might well then link or tweet to your article)
- The first two are easy – you have no excuse not to do them – making it interesting and newsworthy is something else entirely, but let’s give it a go anyway. Here are some good places to start:
- Reddit [Your area] – I know this is simple, but seriously go through the articles on there, work out why articles are getting upvotes and comments, then copy that.
- Copyhackers have some great headline resources and Kissmetrics does a cracking round up as well .
- Now you’ve got your well written, relevant, expert and interesting article, don’t be shy, go and promote it like hell (your email list, we’re about to build, through influencers we’re about to tell you about cultivating and, obviously, through all social channels and by submitting to everywhere (amazing how many people don’t do the last one).
*Pure speculation, but not that unreasonable… obviously starting your online business tie right into WP plugins yeh 🙂
You Get Out What You Put In, Especially if It’s For Free
If I was being all sorts of clever here, I’d have come up with a “sh*t doesn’t come for free” headline, or something like that, but I can’t, ’cause it does.
Seriously, the best possible way you can grow your business from scratch is to give stuff away, as much as you can possibly manage, for as long as you can manage.
There are great examples of this. For example, if you are looking at articles, Peep Laja just started writing articles, like we discussed above, and offering conversion advice on the side, at Conversion XL – and is now running a company travelling the World helping people out with just that (we couldn’t use them quickly enough back in the day).
It doesn’t just have to be posts. Andrew Warner of Mixergy is now a bona fide internet superstar. Guess how? By doing awesome interviews (he works haaaaard at them too, I know, I was on one) and then releasing them for free (they later become paid).
Or, how about WordPress? Look at how the “free” model worked for WooCommerce , look at the enormous market build on top of free WP plugins , think about how important free WP themes used to be (until Google nixed those links) and look at how much money and resources sites like us, Elegant Themes or Torque are putting into posts… like this one you’re reading now!
Or conferences, from organizing WordCamps to speaking at any conference in your particular field, just as long as you are able to collect emails, to give away product for free to attendees or grab those few influential attendees as new twitter followers.
The more you give away, the better, it all comes back.
There is one caveat, though: You need to aggressively give this stuff away, for example, through relationships and an unhealthy fascination and passion for email.
Relationships, Influencers, Opportunities
Never be afraid to ask.
From the very start of your business, till the very end, taking advantage of the relationships you build with people in your space – be they influencers or just people working in your area – is absolutely critical.
It’s not cynical, it doesn’t make you a scumbag and it is OK to do.
For example, when we launched Upfront earlier this year, I literally had a list of “influential” people I had to ping after we’d done it. The same way as I did pretty much every time we released a new feature for Edublogs back in the day or a new WPMU DEV release.
In fact, this is something that I probably don’t do enough of these days 🙁 But it’s something you should be doing *all of the time*.
Yeh, you might annoy a few people, and there are definitely people who basically just ignore me now because, I assume, of that (Hi Darren 😉 but if they actually are someone who values what you do, and who knows that you’d do the same for them, then it’s all good.
And you have to break the odd egg.
Google, Yes, but Email, Hell Yes
And it’s not just the emails to influencers that matter.
Every email address you can (legitimately) collect is only going to help. If you don’t have a MailChimp account that’s being filled by your users and optins, and that you are adding to manually and treating like a shining, beautiful piece of awesomeness… then get started right away.
Because email won’t only be a great channel for you, it’ll also be your savior.
Now, of course, you have to actually have something to email people about, that they’ll care about, before or while pitching them your awesome business. And, of course, that quality content we discussed earlier is a great way to do that, but you have to also be careful in terms of frequency.
Few daily emails can succeed – the only way you’ll have a successful daily email is through a, serving a purpose (like meta collection of info) and b, doing it really, really well, which takes hours every day. I think/hope we do that well with The WhiP (6,000 opens a day would indicate we’re not doing too badly).
So let’s assume, instead, that you sparingly share juicy tidbits with your readers… I’m gonna say Mixergy do this beautifully too:
Check out how many he sent, how many I opened and the sheer awesomeness and simplicity of the headlines. And the body copy is great too, so simple, so effective.
There’s a kind of confidence to this that is really attractive, as well as a simplicity and, of course, quality that I think is really powerful.
Plus, an email or so a month, that’s easy enough.
As long as your building that list of people who *will* actually be interested in what you’re offering.
Cross Promotions are Good Promotions
This touches a little on the next section because pretty much every time you ask someone about doing a cross-promotion they point you towards their affiliate scheme.
Which, in both my opinion and my experience, just doesn’t work so well.
There’s something about the opportunism of affiliate schemes, and something transparent about them, too. But more on that in the next section.
For now, let’s talk about how good like-for-like cross promotions are.
First, and perhaps most importantly, they are cost (and thus risk) free. This is no small deal – it gives both parties the opportunity to play with a promotion without the chance of losing anything.
And they build proper relationships based on trust, mutual co-operation and all of those good fuzzy feelings that actually do mean something, especially over time.
Especially if this is actually something you really do care about / think is awesome. For example, it wasn’t exactly hard for us to run a promotion for Wistia having been stuffed around by Vimeo in terms of HTTPS for so long.
And last, but not least, you can and should be able to get your readers / viewers / clients a better deal than they would get anywhere else! I know this sounds simple, but we’ve always delivered through cross promotions extra free months and extra product to our members than they could get elsewhere… I think this definitely helps them dislike the offers less.
Oh, and I mentioned all of the above was free yeh? Cool 🙂
Affiliates, But Only in the Right Way
Penultimately (I love that word!), as promised in the webinar, there are also ways that you can use affiliates, but only in a good way.
Sure, we have an awesome affiliate plugin that you can use to set up a cash relationship, but I’m gonna actually advise you to do something quite different – don’t offer cash, offer product (or points for products).
What do I mean? Well, the difference between our old (bad) affiliate campaign where we offered a share of each signup and got royally scammed (more on that in another post soon) – while giving ourselves a really awful spammy profile in Google (affiliate marketers aren’t exactly picky where they put links, after all it’s your issue) and generally attracting the wrong kind of people.
Versus our new, just-round-the-corner super awesome affiliate program where you’ll be able to get free WPMU DEV memberships and extra cool stuff, as well as offering your friends and colleagues deals that they’d not get anywhere else.
Basically, think of Uber: Getting paid = bad.Give your friends a $20 free ride and get one yourself = good. Make money as an affiliate = bad. Share the awesomeness of X with your friends and we’ll give both of you something really cool = good.
I know this because I’ve done both, well, mainly the first, and it sucks.
And as a sidenote, Woot Minions is by far the best advertising for an affiliate program I’ve ever seen – enjoy it!
And to finish us off on a bit more of a controversial note, traditional marketing where you spend a bit of money on ads or pushing your social media isn’t dead, just as long as you…
Advertise, Just Not Like *Anyone* Else
This is one of those areas where it’s hard to explain how to do it, because once a bunch of people start doing it it’s no longer that valuable.
Here’s an example: In a less traditional sense, and as a reward for getting to the end of this article, guess where’s a really targeted, affordable and highly engaged place to get the attention of just the people you are after? Job boards, that’s where.
And guess where’s a great place to be able to pick up new talent – in a highly segmented, targeted and extremely affordable way – that you can’t find on how ever many job boards or services you post on? Facebook (and probably Twitter too, I haven’t tried). Seriously.
There you go.
BOTH of these have worked well for us, one a while back, one more recently… the reason being that pretty much nobody is doing that, so what you offer stands out amongst all the other stuff, while reaching exactly the right people.
I’ve even heard of people using tools like Google Consumer Surveys and User Testing to do the same, sometimes to great effect.
But, like I said, that won’t be that unusual as soon as it catches on, so maybe you’ll have to keep things a little quite about the techniques you do find.
Or share them below in the comments… it’s up to you 🙂
Also happy to take any other questions, fire away!