[Varo Money in The Penny Hoarder] How to Save Money: 6 Step-by-Step Ways to Save Big Every Month

Take a moment. Think about being your best self — living your best life. What do you really want to do with your life? Raise a happy family? Travel the world? Buy a nice house? Start your own business?

Read more here.

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A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing a Killer Business Plan

A business plan is as important to a new business as a map is to a ship, or blueprints are to an architect. A written business plan will guide your actions and keep you focused on your short- and long-term goals.

Your business plan puts your aspirations into words (and charts), demonstrating to partners, investors and lenders why your venture can and will be a success. It details the path from your business today to your business three to five years down the road.


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Whether it’s a traditional plan or a lean startup document, your business plan should cover everything someone would want to know about your business. What is your value proposition? Why is now a good time for a business like yours? And how much will you and your potential investors or lenders stand to gain if everything goes to plan?

Now that we’ve established how important a business plan is, how do you write one? The idea of writing a blueprint that carries your business five years down the road can sound intimidating to some, but a business plan is only as complicated as you make it.

Let’s discuss what information your plan needs, what format it should have, and what additional steps you need to take to write an expert-level business plan.


Related: Why It’s Important to Keep Your Business Plan Flexible

What’s in a business plan?

There isn’t an exact formula for what a business plan should look like. You can and should give the concept your personal spin.

That said, there are areas that most business plans cover, in varying amounts of detail. According to the Small Business Administration, they are as follows:

1. Executive summary

This general overview tells readers what your company is and why they should expect it to succeed. This piece of the puzzle is arguably the most important part of the plan—if someone reads this and doesn’t want to keep going, you’ve lost them.

Typically, an executive summary is about a page and contains these six things:

  • Mission statement: What is your company and what are your goals?
  • General company information: Include the state your company was incorporated in, the names of its founders and employees, and any physical locations.
  • Highlights: Even if your business is brand new, you should have some highlights to discuss. What kind of early traction do you see? What opportunities are on the horizon?
  • Products and services: What do you actually sell or do?
  • Financial goals: Do you have aspirations of obtaining a business loan, a grant or other additional funding? Include those goals here.
  • Future plans: You’ll get into this more later, but give a synopsis of where you see the business headed.

Though your executive is the first page of the business plan, you may find it easier to write after you finish everything else.

2. Company description

Now that you’ve set the scene, go in-depth into the details of your company. Answer questions like:

  • What does your company do, and how does it do that differently than its competitors?
  • What market or kind of customer will you cater to?
  • What is your strength as a business?

Be specific in this elevator pitch of your business.

3. Market analysis

Your business doesn’t exist in a bubble—it needs to thrive within its industry, alongside (and in spite of) its competitors. Your market analysis will be an examination of the market you’re entering, demonstrating your mastery of the details, emerging trends and themes.

A good market analysis includes:

  • Industry description: The history, size and largest players of your industry.
  • Target market overview and characteristics: Who are you specifically targeting, and what do you know about them as customers?
  • Target market size and growth potential: Is this target market big enough for sustained business? Is there potential for further growth?
  • Your market share potential: How much of this market do you think you can corner?
  • Market pricing and promotional strategies: Research should tell you how much you can reasonably expect to charge for your goods or services.
  • Potential barriers to entry: Discuss potential issues such as changing technology or lack of available talent in certain areas. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns—it will make them easier to address.
  • Research on competitors: What strengths and weaknesses does your competition possess, and how can you join them at the top of your field?

4. Business organization

In this section, describe how your company will be structured from a logistical and legal standpoint.

Logistics-wise, you should have an organizational chart that describes who is in charge of what in your company. Even if it’s just you or you and a few employees, lay out each person’s responsibilities as well as backgrounds and experience. You can also describe any pressing hiring needs.

In addition, include information about your company’s legal structure here. Are you a sole proprietorship, LLC, or S Corp? This helps investors or lenders understand what legal protections you may or may not have in place.

5. Product development plan

Describe your products or services here. What need do they fulfill and why will customers want to buy or obtain them, particularly over the products or services of competitors?

Of course, your product isn’t just an item on a shelf. This section is also for detailing sourcing and fulfillment, intellectual property rights, the current status of your products (are they still in development or ready to ship?), and your future plans for growth and improvement.

6. Marketing and sales plan

The best business idea in the world won’t succeed if no one knows about it or can’t get their hands on it. That’s where marketing and sales come into play.

When discussing marketing, you need to focus on two key points: positioning and promotion. Positioning includes your branding, which is more than just your logo and name; it also includes your company culture and reputation. Promotion is your plan for making people aware of your business, from where you’ll advertise to potential content marketing practices.

For sales, describe how a sale will actually happen. Who will make sales, what tools will they use, and what is the overarching strategy for obtaining, converting and maintaining leads?

7. Financial plan and projections

Here, you’ll discuss both your current and future financial situation. For brand new businesses, you won’t have data or income statements to demonstrate, but you will be expected to make projections and forecasts of your future success.

Make projections for your business for a minimum of 12 months into the future, but preferably for three to five years down the line, as well. Don’t worry: You can (and should!) make adjustments to this document as variables change; the goal is to create a baseline that you can then exceed—or, conversely, fail to exceed, and understand why.

8. Funding request

Financing is a common need for new businesses, as the startup costs for new ventures can be much higher than inexperienced entrepreneurs understand. Even small, home-based businesses can often require thousands in startup capital. If you need funding, say so in your plan.

Now that you’ve shown your financial expectations, explain how an infusion of funds (whether via investment or a loan) will help put you on the path to success. How much funding will you need over the next five years, and why? Where in the business will you invest these funds? This way, investors and lenders will know what you expect from them.

9. Appendix

A good business plan will include an appendix that provides supporting documents, materials, contracts, permits, licenses, resumes, credit histories and any other important information. This is also a good place for charts, graphs and other points of reference.

How should you format your business plan?

There are two ways that businesses choose to format their business plan. You may choose to have two versions, or just one.

Traditional business plans have a standard structure and typically span a dozen or more pages due to their detailed analyses, as described above. Though they require more work upfront, you can rest assured once the plan is completed that you’ve got a thorough outline.

Lean startup business plans are usually one or two-pages that summarize the most important elements of your business plan. They may have many of the same sections that a traditional plan has, but they’re truncated to give readers a brief overview rather than a deep dive into your business. Other topics that a lean startup plan might cover include key business partnerships, key resources and customer relationships.

Lenders and investors typically ask for a traditional business plan, but a lean startup plan may be a good place to begin if you expect major aspects of your business to change, or just want to create a quick document that explains the fundamentals.


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How do you write the best possible plan?

Let’s say you’ve written what you consider to be a strong business plan for your new business. You’ve covered all the topics above, formatted everything nicely, and want to present it to potential investors. What else can you do to make sure it makes an impact?

Here are a few additional tips on writing an excellent business plan:

Research exhaustively

You should know everything you possibly can about your business and the industry you want to impact. As much time as you spend actually writing, you should spend even more on research, planning and interviewing.

Make it adaptable

A good business plan will be accessible to anyone, from investors to family members. But that doesn’t mean it needs to stay the same for every audience: If you’re presenting your business plan to a lender, give more emphasis to your financial projections; for investors, play up the value of your team.

A business plan isn’t carved in stone: It can be altered at any time. Just don’t present alternate financial projections—you should have solid math and theory behind your numbers.

Make it personal

Business plan writing doesn’t have to be staid and boring. Use your business plan as a vehicle for expressing your passion for your new business. If you are able to explain why you care, others will care as well.

Whether your business plan is traditional or lean, whether it’s for your own reference or to woo investors, and whether it’s one page or 50 pages, just know that you need one. Your new venture likely won’t survive without a plan in place for its present and future, so get writing before you get down to business.

The post A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing a Killer Business Plan appeared first on StartupNation.

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Generating Local Leads with Google My Business

Why is Google My Business (GMB) important for startups and small businesses?

In today’s COVID-19 world, getting visibility online as a small business is more important than ever. Though there are a wide variety of SEO tools out there that can help you, I’ve found that setting up a Google My Business (GMB) is one of the best free ways of growing your online presence.

This is especially true if you are a local business. The good news is that 88 percent of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours.

When you look up the best Thai eateries, for example, Google automatically includes a selection of the top local results. The results link directly to the Google My Business profiles of the respective businesses.

Not nearly as many businesses take advantage of the potential that these business listings possess. Properly optimized GMB listings enable clients to find, interact and engage with business owners right in the search engine results page (SERP).

According to Google, about 49 percent of people who conduct a Google search don’t even click on anything, as they’re probably getting all the information they need directly from the SERP. This means that instead of visiting the website, they just interact via the GMB.

The question is, should you invest in a robust website or a GMB listing?


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Google Maps versus Google Search

With so many website builders on the market, it’s no surprise that most companies spend more time optimizing their website to rank organically on Google Search versus building their Google My Business (GMB) to rank on Google Maps. However, ranking on search is much more difficult than ranking on maps.

Think about it: on Google Maps, you are only competing with local businesses around you, whereas on search, you could be competing with anyone in the world. This post will take you through the step-by-step process of setting up, verifying and optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) listing.

What does a well-optimized Google Business Profile look like?

Before we start creating a GMB listing, let’s first see what we want our listing to resemble.

In this example, we’ll be looking for a dine-in Italian restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As most people would, I’ll type in “Italian restaurant Charlotte NC.”

Upon receiving the results, I’ll click on the first business that catches my eye.

Google My Business

Based on these results, Portofino’s has already captured my interest for these reasons:

  1. High number of reviews (780)
  2. High quality of review (4.5 stars)
  3. Dine in and takeout available
  4. Appetizing picture

GMB

As any potential diner would, I proceed to click on Portofino’s, and I get all the information I might need on one page, including website, location and phone number.

On top of that, I can also see the hours of operation, peak times and answered questions. At this point, all that’s left is going through some of the reviews and photos. If that satisfies me, I can make a reservation.

This should give us some inspiration of what a good GMB listing looks like.


Related: This Jewelry Store Boosts its Holiday Traffic with Google My Business

How to set up Google My Business

Now that we know what a good profile looks like, let’s set one up!

Follow these steps to create your own Google My Business profile:

Step 1: Sign in to Google My Business

Open google.com/business to sign in. You can either use an existing Google account or create a new one solely for your business. Preferably, sign up with your business email domain.

After signing up, click “next” to go to the next step.

Step 2: Add your business

Type your business name in the search box. Should it not appear on the drop-down, go ahead and click “Add your business to Google.”

GMB

You’ll then be prompted to select an appropriate category for your business.

GMB

Step 3: Add your location

If you have a brick-and-mortar location where customers can visit, select “yes,” then key in your address.

GMB

If you don’t have a physical location, but you offer a service or delivery to a particular area, you can list the service area here.

GMB

Step 4: Share your contact information

Fill in your company’s phone number and website address to make it possible for clients to reach you. If you don’t have a website, you can choose to link to your Facebook page.

Step 5: Finish and manage your listing

Select “yes” if you’d like to receive updates and notifications from Google, then click “finish.” You’ll then be asked to verify your business.

Verifying your business on Google

If creating a Google My Business was as simple as that, Google would be full of untrustworthy businesses. That’s why you have to verify your business.

There are several ways to verify your Google My Business listing, the most common one being postcard by mail.

If your business is also eligible for phone or email verification options, select the one you prefer. Just fill in the required details, certify that everything is correct, then submit.

GMBIt can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks to receive your postcard. Once it arrives, sign in to your Google My Business account menu and select “Verify location.”

You’ll then key in the five-digit verification code from your postcard.

Keep in mind that it may take a few weeks for your business to appear on Google after this step.

It’s now time to polish up your listing.

Optimizing your Google My Business listing

Optimizing your business on Google is simple, provided you know what you’re doing. Here is a list of things you should do.

Complete every section

You want to give Google as much information as possible about your business. This will make it easier for clients to find you when searching on Google.

Google determines local ranking based on three things:

  • Relevance
  • Distance
  • Prominence

Filling out everything improves your relevance. In turn, this improves your search ranking.

Add photos

Adding photos adds legitimacy to your listing and increases engagement. You can add your own photos to your GMB listing, but Google will also prompt your customers or guests to upload their own photos.

GMB

Encourage customers to leave reviews

People often trust others more than they trust businesses. The functions and features of a product may attract you to it initially, but ultimately, it’s the reviews that will tip you over the edge of buying.

This is especially true online, and as a matter of fact, 93 percent of people say online reviews impact their buying decisions. This is true not just of products, but also services. Hence, it is important to encourage your customers to leave reviews, especially when they have had a good experience.

Build links to your GMB

Link building is one of the best strategies to build traffic and authority for your local business. Just be careful to not do it the wrong way. Link building on your GMB is similar to link building on your website. A nice place to start would be NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) citations. All you need is to submit your NAP to reputable online sites. Google will match it to your website and display your business location to searchers.

You can also write to other local organizations asking to trade links or reach out to local bloggers and influencers. Some may ask for a token to review your business, while others may ask for a free service in exchange for an honest review.

Write the perfect description

One thing to note is that Google comes up with the brief description that appears just below your business name in your Business Profile.

The “from the business” section, which appears under the reviews section, is what you have control over.

GMB

Be sure to use all the available 750 characters, allocating the first 250 characters for vital information. Ensure that you select the right keywords related to your business and sprinkle them in the description.


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Common pitfalls in the GMB creation process

Duplicate business name

Some GMB listings don’t become visible since they share the same name. Before publishing, be sure that your business doesn’t share a name with another brand.

Incorrect contact number

It’s a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who make this mistake. Be sure to use a local number on your GMB listing.

Not adding photos to your listing

A photo without a listing just won’t stand out from the pack. In fact, having zero photos can make the business appear untrustworthy. Always invest in a few good photos.

No reviews

Google doesn’t care if you have no reviews, but remember, reviews are one of the most important ranking factors for local search. Nobody will visit a restaurant with no reviews. Be sure to avoid fake and solicited reviews.

Incorrect information

Incorrect information is worse than no information. Make sure your map pin is accurate and that your business hours are correct. Imagine the frustration of showing up in a place only to realize that it’s closed.

Conclusion

So, do you need a Google My Business listing?

If you are an international business or a software company, a GMB is less important. But if you are a small local business serving your community, then it is essential.

Running a local roofing business in the U.K. myself, I’ve seen the benefits firsthand of the amount of quality traffic that an optimized GMB can bring, and I’ve brought in an additional 10 leads per month just from my GMB. Setting up a GMB isn’t difficult and it gives you a leg up on your competition. Don’t neglect this valuable source of traffic.

The post A Step-by-Step Guide to Generating Local Leads with Google My Business appeared first on StartupNation.

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Step-by-step process to find your next business idea!

Hey there!

I started the entrepreneurship game a few years ago with my business partner Vladwulf.

My main fear was to not find a good business idea at the beginning of that journey.

I say "good" because we all thought that our first business idea would be the one that would make us successful. And it's not.

Actually, it's not that much the business idea that matters. But the execution.

And we had a lot of ideas [spoiler alert: shitty for most of them].

Our process was:

  1. Have an idea of a cool SaaS;
  2. Make a [very] few research about the problem we’re trying to solve
  3. Avoid making research on your competitors [helps to think that you're the first one that taught about the idea]
  4. Convince yourself that your cool idea answers that problem [even if it does not]
  5. Don't talk to anyone about your idea. Never. They could steal it.
  6. Spend hours on the name of your "venture", and its logo.
  7. Believe that your product will sell itself.
  8. Spend hundreds of hours of work on development [especially on minors details]
  9. Give up after hundreds of hours of work because the idea is finally not "so great"
  10. Go back to step 1

But I was supposed to know that.
We all read Lean Startup, Zero to One, and other "top 10 books to read to be an entrepreneur". However, it is hard to extract a clear process from business books. The value is always distilled over 300 pages. As such, it is extremely time-consuming.

I've done a checklist [500 checks] of everything that needs to be done to find a "good" [profitable] bootstrapped business. It is not the recipe for success. Take it as a way to derisk your next project.

Here are the key takeaways:

General principles

  • Manage your expectations vs reality. Try to not jump the gun and necessarily aim at being the next billion-dollar company. Chances are high you will be disappointed.
  • Embrace the Pareto principle. 80% of the results will come out of 20% of your efforts. Don't focus on details. Kill perfectionism.
  • At this stage, you're having an idea. At best a project. Not a company.
  • Everything starts with a hypothesis. Hypotheses must be confirmed by the market [potential clients]. Success comes from the confirmation by the market that your hypotheses are good.
  • Spend 5x more time thinking than rushing and developing
  • Sell before building.
  • From inception, build your mailing list (they will be your first customers)

5 Steps process:

1. Find your business Idea

Formulate hypotheses that will be confirmed in steps 2, 3, and 4.

If at some point you realize that the idea is not that good, cut the loss.

Come back to step one.

A. Start with the problem – How to find it? Identify flaws in your workflow at work, inefficiencies in a market, or simply get inspired by other businesses. Are people talking a lot about the problem? Is the problem expensive to solve? Are people really annoyed by the problem? Is it something that prevents them from sleeping?

B. What do you aim at? A solution that helps you to be better in social, security, physical, economic, recognition, achievement (i.e: be more productive), growth.

C. How sizable is the problem? Is it a problem encountered by many people, or are you focussing on a niche? If you're focussing on a niche, is the niche "accessible" and open to innovation?

D. KISS [keep it simple, stupid]: Is your idea explainable in 15 seconds? Can you explain it without describing the features?

E. Avoid: businesses that require high capital, volumes (in terms of users), and legal challenges. (i.e.: fintech, social networks, gambling companies].

Avoid the "I created this because I would personally use it" approach. You're not your customer. As such, nobody cares about your opinion. What counts is the feedback of the market on your idea.

2. Embrace the competition

A. Find your competitors – Limit yourself to 5-10 competitors. Research of G2, Capterra, Alternativeto, etc. Talk to industry experts and hear their opinion about the problem you're solving and understand how they solve it without your solution (they most probably use a manual approach or a competitor).

If you don't have any direct or indirect competitor, go back to step 1.

B. What are the killer features of your competitors? – List the top 10 features of each of your competitors. Keep the top 3 features. Focus on how to achieve them in a better way.

C. How do they communicate their Value-Proposition? One of the most difficult tasks is conveying the right message to the customer. They must understand directly what your product is about and how you can help them to solve their problem. Get inspired by the competition, and aggregate everything in word clusters.

D. Identify the flaws of your competitors – Try their product. Check customer reviews (g2, capterra, etc). Talk with their sales team and customer support. Understand why their customers are choosing them over other competitors. Discover inefficiencies in their product.

3. Innovate – Talk with customers

A. Contact the right people – Experts in the industry, key stakeholders at companies. Pretend you're making a press article or a blog contribution about them. They will be more likely to talk with you.

B. Ask them the right questions – Try to be as neutral as possible. Don't talk too much while interviewing them (you must talk at most during 20% of the conversation). Don't ask questions for the sole goal of having the confirmation you're right about a topic. Show them a path, and let them talk about their frustrations.

C. Understand how they currently solve the problem – How do they deal with the problem that would potentially be solved by your solution? Do they use one of your future competitors? Why did they choose that solution over another? What they like about the solution they're currently using, and what they don’t like?

4. Your buyer persona

Who will, in the end, use your product? Who is the key stakeholder that will validate the purchase of your solution and who will actually use it? (i.e: a CFO is not the buyer persona of a marketing solution). What is their budget allocated to solve the problem they are encountering? What kind of companies are you targeting (Startups, SMEs, Corporate)?
Who would not buy your product?

5. Put your idea into words

This one is a difficult one. Fill this famous sentence:

We help {target audience} to {problem you're solving} by {your solution}.

Don't hesitate to share your experience and we can talk about it!

Good luck to all of you,

Franz.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

I’ve raised $20m+ from VCs. I made this step-by-step infographic to help founders determine if they should raise capital for their business or not

The question I’m most often asked recently is “should I raise (equity) capital?” So I created an infographic to answer this question.

If you’re wondering whether or not you should raise capital, please refer to this infographic for my perspective, after 10 years and $ 21m experience, on your answer.

Link: http://ryanhvaughn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Raising-equity-capital-flowchart.pdf

Also, if you've raised VC before I'd love your thoughts on how this tracks to your experience. If this is useful, I may also try to answer the logical follow up question next: “How do I raise capital.” Let me know if you’d be interested in seeing that.

NOTE: This post got removed due to a link on the image, so I removed that and am reposting.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

I’ve raised $20m+ from VCs. I made this step-by-step infographic to help founders determine if they should raise capital for their business or not

The question I’m most often asked recently is “should I raise (equity) capital?” Probably due to the frothy capital market right now.

I figured I’d write the answer down in case it might be useful to folks on here. Only, when I wrote it it came out as an infographic.

So, if you’re asking yourself whether or not you should raise capital, please refer to this infographic for my perspective, after 10 years and $ 21m experience, on your answer.

http://ryanhvaughn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Should-I-Raise-Equity-Capital1-1.pdf

——-

Also, if this is useful, I may try to answer the logical follow up question next: “How do I raise capital.” Let me know if you’d be interested in seeing that.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

A step-by-step guide of how I would build a SaaS company right now – part 5

Part 1 Part 2 Part 2.5 Part 3 Part 4

This is it, the last post in the series. Definitely didn’t hit one a week, life came up regularly. During this process of writing these articles it has helped to better inform my current project.

Even if you've done something a hundred times, writing out your thoughts on the subject really helps narrow down your focus and can be extremely helpful.

I'm a huge proponent of using pen and paper and creating outlines and lists and this series of articles is all about that.

We've been applying all these steps in the background and things are going well being only 4 months in. I'll throw that up as another post down the road when we've got something more tangible.

What started as a project that was going to be SaaS changed to be managed service realizing that what we offered people wanted but didn't want to manage. People are looking for turnkey these days with services that they can just track results on while paying for value and understanding that perceived value. That's not to say that we won't go SaaS down the road, but we'd rather allow the knowledge gained from running it as a managed service to help inform the best on-boarding and upkeep.

We've also seen how competitors really just stop short of actually providing something of real value in terms of how their products are implemented. We love lazy companies, even if they don't know they are being lazy.

This is part 5 of 5.

  1. Start with your revenue and monetization plan (are you targeting a sector that has money and can/will pay – Part 1)
  2. Align yourself with others in your space (cheapest way to get traction/credibility – Part 2)

2.5 – Process, process, process – Start one, refine it, continually improve it – Part 2.5

  1. Work on road mapping your product to align with what complements your partnerships (cheapest distribution) – Part 3

  2. Work on building a marketing strategy that can help expose and align your brand while strengthening its recognition with your partners (will this make us both look good) Part 4

5. Build customer advocates along the way, tell their stories (lead with examples)

The following applies to all businesses, but specifically is relevant when referring to SaaS companies as anything below an enterprise level platform has changed dramatically.

The way people purchase in combination with greater access to materials online has led to a continued decrease in trust with sales people and or teams. Most people would prefer to transact without having to deal with salespeople today. I count myself among them.

What customers want to see –

What the product looks like

Established workflows that it solves for

People like us that are currently using it

The process for getting started and on-boarded

A good story is more powerful than stats most of the time.

So let’s build customer advocates and tell their stories.

Establish the different personas that use your products, find companies/people that are using your product that would make for a good story. We’re all about helping other people relate to how to use your product for a specific industry sector.

So now let’s figure out how a well produced piece of content can check all these boxes and more.

There are a few key features here:

  • Be relatable
  • Be raw, not polished
  • Focus on the customer’s company
  • Use the customer’s social media

This is all about building a community of stories that people will come back to to reference down the line. This series of posts is a good example. The advice is provided from a standpoint of having done and worked with these groups of companies in different roles over the years.

This is marketing for today’s world, actionable, relatable, content that is built to be a seamless transition into taking action.

The majority of these stories will come from the contact you have with customers.

Be relatable

As a customer I need to be able to see myself in the person or company you are highlighting. I need to feel like I am just like your current customers, looking to solve for the same things. I need to understand that your product is for someone like me, almost tailored with me in mind.

Be raw, not polished

The BS meter is high, when high production value comes into play, there is always a hint of something not being authentic. Go for raw, not polished, this brings down the walls a bit, and relates to the point above where you need to genuinely see yourself as a customer.

Focus on the customer’s company

It’s not about your product, it’s about how your customer uses your product. Focus on their company, their internal processes, and how your product enables them to unlock losts time or revenue.

Use the customer’s social media

I don’t see this one done often enough. If you’re producing a piece of content, provide the contact information for the customer’s social media. If I’m a similar potential customer, it’s not uncommon for me to reach out to the person featured to ask for their candid feedback on using your product. I’ve personally done this more than a few times when assessing what platforms to work with or try out.

So assuming you’ve been able to do this correctly, you’ve now driven traffic back to your website which means we need to make sure that it’s clear, supportive, and enough to spark the conversation towards conversion.

You have to create a great experience.

Where does a great experience come from?

It starts from the moment someone reaches your website.

Most B2B websites fall into one of two categories:

Freemium OR Demo required

And nearly all of them are light on providing clear descriptions of HOW people are using their product. This is my all time biggest pet peeve. I don’t want to hear from your clients via a scripted video, I want to see them on YouTube using your product in a raw manner.

I know I’ve signed up for trials and upon seeing the platform never come back.

I don’t want to read buzzworthy feature sets, I want to see working examples.

We’ve made this massive transition to as someone put it in another post “REAL MARKETING”.

When you’re doing sales, your goal should be to genuinely help someone, this includes making sure everything is crystal clear, expectations are laid out, and there is a good understanding of all steps involved. People don’t like sales people though so…marketing it’s actually on you –

Make your websites better. Seriously, make them a lot better.

Know where you can ask for more information, couch it as wanting to put you in touch with someone with specific industry experience. Personalize the prospective customer’s experience.

Industry knowledge goes a long way during a sales process.

One of the best things you can do for your websites is to read all the copy outloud and match your website to a customer journey, bring someone through the buying process all one one page, then allow people to dig a bit deeper.

I’m waiting for someone to do something more creative with a pricing page as well. From a buyer perspective it’s one of the first pages I click likely before I looked at all your features, if you know it’s got a high click through rate, use that as marketing space, build something interactive so you understand who you’re pricing for, it’s like an email after you buy something, that sucker has an extremely high open rate and it’s the most misused space ever when it comes to marketing.

There are too many websites out there that have too many buzzwords, are long on fun graphics but short on actual product photos and videos, and make things a bit complicated.

You know the types I’m talking about they also usually have a video with cartoons instead of actual product shots. Off to YouTube I go!

Examples of easy places to make improvements –

  1. FAQs based on company roles – could be cool to see
  2. Normal real person copy, no buzzwords – be real not corporate, tell it like it is
  3. Actual embedded videos from your YouTube Channel on your site – don’t make me leave your website, I’ll get stuck in a youtube hole about golf or cars or food or whatever I’m not coming back
  4. A gated demo is fine, but use a service so you can provide someone with some value – for the love of god if you get my email and you need to schedule 3 phone calls for your product to allow me to see it, possibly touch it etc, you’re going to lose me.

I’ve had terrible experiences where it comes to B2B websites. It feels like a lot of brands make it all about them rather than how a customer would look at a website.

With the amount of free tools that are now available, I really don’t want to have to figure things out if I’m paying. If I’m buying software for my business, I want someone to get it configured and set up and provide best practices for making sure I get the most out of it. You have a million competitors, if you’re willing to get it setup for me and provide support so that I benefit, you’re headed to the top of the list.

If you go to an agency’s website it usually (the good ones) has a page dedicated to the process. The same should be true of any SaaS website, take the time to explain to someone they process whether buying or implementation so both parties have clear expectations.

So how does this change my opinion about how to fix this problem?

Start with the story, always.

People don’t buy products, they buy experiences involving products from people like them or people they aspire to be.

Highlight the value propositions that people want in an experience. We’re going to channel Part 1 again here and the reasons someone buys:

  1. It saves them time (reduces friction or replaces a time consuming task)
  2. Makes/saves them money (creates revenue/ adds value that lets them win business)
  3. Adoption is simple for their workforce (is easy to incorporate into an existing workflow and anyone can use it/cost of switching in relearning)
  4. Adds transparency and allows for bigger insights (provides data)

So all these things are really cool, but what if a business literally stepped in and handled all the process and flows of getting this setup, so when they turned over an instance, it was pretty much turnkey?

This is where I think we’re headed and this is where you customer advocates come in. I think this because with an abundance of platforms on the market that do similar things splitting hairs over a specific functionality isn’t something people really care about, in other words, it’s all about the results that a platform can provide and for most people you have about 2 months to prove results.

I’ve noticed this a lot with companies I’ve worked with, people get stuck into using what they know and really don’t want to spend the time learning something new or switching over.

Even the best on-boarding isn’t entirely seamless because unless you’re already a product expert it’s tough to get the most out of a new product right away.

This brings us to the big conundrum and requires a mental shift.

You’re not looking for more customers, you should be looking for more of the ideal customers.

Let me explain – when you’re building out your SaaS company when you’re a step above MVP and working towards v1 you’re going to have to do a lot of hand holding because things aren’t going to be perfect, features will be lacking, bugs will exist, etc.

Even as you start to mature, you’re battling with shorter and shorter attention spans. So we’re looking to find more ideal customers. These are the ones you can build for quickly. They are a subset of your market that you can apply work done for one with workflows and easily setup others using the same workflows/templates etc.

One of the things not readily discussed is how to measure the perceived value of your solution.

For some people the value of your solution will be astronomical, for others, maybe just a slight improvement and for those that stop using it well no improvement.

So we’re really looking for clients that realize astronomical value. This won’t be everyone, but for those that you are blowing away their expectations, understand why and how so you can replicate this for others.

This is why a really good, personal on-boarding and setup is so powerful, the keys to the castle are literally there, if you take advantage. Spend time to understand the workflows that your customers are creating, setting up, and which ones are the most impactful for them.

This is your story to tell.

I’ve noticed this time and time again with clients, some companies think that products are cheap, while others think of them as being expensive, the price, the exact same.

So we’re looking for customers that think the product is “cheap” as it has a higher perceived value.

Your SaaS business is also a services business in the beginning, you’re providing a service to solve a problem, it’s your job to get it configured and immediately providing value for the price that you are charging.

Example

Two people walk into a barber shop – the first person sees an open barber chair then gets to work on their own hair. The second person is brought to the barber chair, asks a bunch of questions about what the person is looking for style wise, lays out the services they are going to offer, hot shave, how they’ll start and finishes with product recommendations for maintenance.

Who’s going to get the better review?

The same goes for selling your software.

Because people don’t like sales people but love implementation people. Your website should be doing all of the heavy lifting and you should be implementing really intelligent ways to collect data about interested parties so that you can customize your follow up with them. It’s never about getting them on the phone to talk about their business, it’s always about what you can already know about their business and showing that you can provide value towards improving it.

There is a gap in the above paragraph that a lot of people overlook. Data collection and personalization at scale. You’re looking for intent data points during someone’s time spent on your website. Hotjar and recording screens are great, but you’re looking to build a profile of someone before they reach out or take an action to sign up etc. This is a huge space for disruptive businesses to come in. (we spend entirely too much time just guessing)

The same is true during implementation, many companies don’t have the best processes in place no matter how well they think they have things managed.

B2B really needs to learn from B2C when it comes to storytelling.

When I see a Nike commercial, I’m invested in the story behind the person trying to accomplish something, the fact that Nike is featured isn’t the focus, never has been, it’s all about what people that wear Nike are accomplishing. This is marketing, they back this up with a solid product.

When you’re building a company, you’re asking someone to trust in you, when you are newer, you’re asking people to really trust in you. Build trust through creating micro relationships with potential clients. Make it about them.

When you’re getting started and beyond, your product doesn’t do things for people, your product enables people to accomplish amazing things.

When you shift the focus to this mindset great things happen.

So the main theme of all this is –

People don’t buy products, they buy experiences involving products from people like them or people they aspire to be.

Yes every purchase is based on an experience, an influence, a need, a want, a desire, to be like someone else. Someone is always first.

Focus on them, learn from them, then tell their story.

Sidenote and closing thought on this – if done correctly, you should be looking for bite size quotes, images etc that work well for social media. Most people today discuss long form content broken down into shorter bits to drive traffic and stretch out content. Keep this in the back of your mind.

These posts have been good to write, a constant reminder of how to stay focused and create something in a responsible way.

During the process of writing these they also reflect my current journey of not just advising companies but working on building our own company.

As always let me know if you have any questions.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

A step-by-step guide of how I would build a SaaS company right now – part 4

Part 1 Part 2 Part 2.5 Part 3

Things get busy when you’re executing on everything you’re writing about.

This is part 4 of 5.

1.Start with your revenue and monetization plan (are you targeting a sector that has money and can/will pay – Part 1)

2.Align yourself with others in your space (cheapest way to get traction/credibility – Part 2)

2.5 – Process, process, process – Start one, refine it, continually improve it – Part 2.5

  1. Work on road mapping your product to align with what complements your partnerships (cheapest distribution) – Part 3

4. Work on building a marketing strategy that can help expose and align your brand while strengthening its recognition with your partners (will this make us both look good)

5.Build customer advocates along the way, tell their stories (lead with examples)

In other words, don’t piss off your partners.

Before we dive into this head first it’s come up in past posts.

Your clients are your partners, your platforms that you integrate with are your partners, anyone who shares something about your platform, product, whatever are your partners.

Imagine if you have a reputation to keep up, because you do.

If one of your partners has plans to do something that is similar to what you’re doing, don’t go through with that partnership. If you play in the same space and you complement each other, go for it. This is what NDAs are for with clauses against copying one another.

If you find yourself at the point where your product has expanded past it’s initial borders and now starts to creep into what your partner does, don’t expect massive support.

So what’s the strategy play?

Work a connection and ask. Yeah I know, not much of a strategy, but it seriously works. If you learn to approach people in a certain way they almost always share too much information. People by and large are really excited about what their companies do. You just have to put them at ease in order to get that information out of them. This is much easier once you have an NDA in place, people are pretty forthcoming with what they are working on and what their goals are.

When you are working on something that integrates, look to connect to someone inside the company that sets up clients, work with them to understand best practices etc. This saves you a lot of time when you are building and working on features.

Hint on this they will also tell you what people need the most help setting up – this is a gold mine for industry information.

Platform Partners

A platform partner is someone that you integrate with anything from a sign in with google to pushing an email address to a list in Facebook. If you built the integration, praise the holy hell out of why the integration is so great.

Every platform partner is a “product launch” treat it as one. When you decide to integrate with a partner, use the vision of your reason for integration as the blueprint for sharing awesomeness with people.

What makes them look good?

I know this is hard for people, repeat after me, “It’s not about my company, it’s about what I can do to make your company look good or accomplish something.” Sales isn’t sales anymore, it’s marketing, and marketing is all about storytelling which is actually customer experience, so you need to tell the “story” about how working with your platform partner has enabled you to do awesome things for your Client Partners. Bonus the client probably is their customer too in most cases which actually allows you to create a mini case study/story for them.

Imagine if your company basically wrote a case study for a platform partner as a result of how you integrate, what company in their right mind wouldn’t help share that on social media and social channels, maybe even their blog or a link to their newsletter.

You’ve just managed to create content that benefits your company, your partner platform’s company, your client via providing them exposure, and you’ve amplified the spread of your content.

Why write another boring case study that only focuses on your product – there’s no incentive for your platform partner to share it – use your noggin to work smarter, not harder.

When you’re small, you are always looking to get on and remain on your partner’s radar. You also want to align as much as possible to leverage their brand and reach.

What’s in it for them?

What every company wants – more exposure that leads to more revenue. If you integrate with a specific platform and you call out results when combining them (assuming your story is great) drive them that traffic, allow people to find out more about them ON YOUR WEBSITE – push that traffic to them.

This does two things – 1. It makes your life easier when you’re dealing with simplified integrations and 2. It makes you look like a revenue source which will bump you up on the priority list when opportunities come up.

If you go to any large website – say shopify etc, you’ll see a list of agencies that they farm out work to, want to hit the top of that agency list – drive the most traffic to shopify. You want to be a top app in their app store, talk great about their platform whenever possible.

It’s that simple, people reward relationships that benefit them. Show a benefit.

Look, I get it, this seems so simple, but really, think about all the conversations you have with sales people telling you what their platform and features enable instead of simply asking what would be on your wishlist of things that would be amazing for blank then explaining how your product solves for them.

If you did your research, you can always walk people into the answer you’re looking for. Always. It’s all about positioning your questions and sprinkling leading questions every so often to direct them back to the answer you want to hear them say.

The same goes for working with partners, always be positioning to be top of mind.

How to make them look amazing without trying

Ok so this is a bit of a lie, people always think their product is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s not.

The key to making people look good, is being overly humble and grateful. Honestly, I watched this terrible display of ass kissing and brown nosing from people around me at large companies, the polished act literally worked every time. Everyone likes a little bit of a suckup. Our partners loved it.

So instead of trying, don’t. Build content meant to benefit you indirectly.

Put your platform partners first and slide the business to them. Then share that out on social media. If an article is shared by you about one of your partners, at the very least it will be reshared by the person in charge of partnerships. Make this person your friend, always promote their content on things like LinkedIn, shoot them the love, people like it when you’re top of mind.

And now the actionable parts.

How to build internal advocates at partner companies

This really isn’t overly hard –

  1. Go to LinkedIn
  2. Follow the company
  3. Follow people active in the company
  4. Follow people on the marketing team
  5. Follow people on the partnership team
  6. Be genuine
  7. Find people that the partnership team comments on
  8. Follow them
  9. Follow their companies
  10. Say nice things
  11. Be genuine

Rinse and repeat.

If you do this correctly, you’ll work your way down to having a good list and rapport with those that are part of the partnership team, those on the marketing team and a few content writers for those companies, when you comment, your company will not be top of mind along with your name, keep this shit up.

Consistency is how to make this happen.

How to ensure you’re top of mind always

Want to be top of mind, do good work. Again, not super complicated, but it does take time and the results aren’t immediate.

As stated above, go out of your way to make people at your partner companies feel good. This could be retweeting the company’s tweet, commenting on an employees posts as relevant, anything you can to ensure that your company is popping up in and around the types of activities that

Client Partners

These are your customers – find ways to make them shine and amplify their messages on your website, on social media, etc.

Some people look at this as a double edge sword where you’re sharing the clients you work with, fear not good companies already know using tools like BuiltWith. It’s all about maintaining the relationship.

What makes them look good?

Back to part 1 for the refresher:

Companies buy things for one of these reasons, hopefully all 4.

  1. It saves them time (reduces friction or replaces a time consuming task)
  2. Makes/saves them money (creates revenue/ adds value that lets them win business)
  3. Adoption is simple for their workforce (is easy to incorporate into an existing workflow and anyone can use it/cost of switching in relearning)
  4. Adds transparency and allows for bigger insights (provides data)

Make sure that whoever your contact is at your customer account that is in charge of running your software looks like a f*cking rockstar.

What does this mean? Build trust, work through implementation fully, support and fill in gaps initially, and be a source of knowledge on best practices for getting the most out of your software.

This isn’t sales, this is customer success and a vested interest in ensuring that 1-4 from above go off without a hitch.

I can’t stress this enough – in most companies, no one has a vested interest in seeing someone succeed in most roles – they don’t care. Often when you get to the top of your domain, you’re making it up as you go along.

Knowing this, be the partner that helps the person making it up as they go along to achieve massive success and empower them to make decisions based on what you’re product can unlock, whether that’s more time, increased budget, better company insights, or something even better, unlocking some external understanding via data in the market.

What’s in it for them?

It’s all about them. Treat them like your only client.

SaaS is a bit of a misnomer in that it treats large swaths of customers the same and bigger customers usually get better prices. Interestingly enough, in the early days of getting customers signed on, pricing per customer could be wildly different because it’s all about perceived value.

If you can learn to ask the right questions – you can strip through all the bullshit and start figuring out what success looks like to the company, what’s accomplishable, and what you can do as a company to ensure that your lead contact looks like a genius.

If you do this right, you start asking questions to determine what will expand their budget – with that comes a bigger piece of the pie for you as the company selling in.

Think about your product as being make or break for them. You really should be in regular contact with the companies using your product, trust it’s easy to tell when a company really doesn’t care.

The truth is, when people like me are talking to clients, we have a good amount of sway in deciding what products people want to work with to accomplish workflow goals. Because we’re a trusted entity when it comes to wanting to align our outcomes.

Be that person, be the expert, stay connected, make yourself available.

How to make them look amazing without trying

This is a talent, but anyone can learn it. Align your goals with the goals of your lead contact.

It’s really that simple. What you want doesn’t matter. What the client wants, needs to be narrowly focused to give yourself the best chance of success. Ask what their boss looks for in a program, what would unlock more resources, staff, budget, etc.

Back from the process post 2.5 when we talked about how important understanding your own internal processes are, the same goes for your clients. When you know what their process looks like and how you can add value through your product to build a better process or free up resources you’ll find a lot of success.

Your success is predicated on your main contact thriving when you know what they are being graded on and you focus on working with them to improve their internal processes to make their lives easier, you win.

How to build internal advocates at partner companies

Be human, relate to their role. In my earlier advice I said you should know your industry down pat. I really do believe this. When you can talk from a place of expertise having played an active role, you can define the role your product will play in an existing workflow.

You want to structure everything around the internal employees goals relative to the company’s goals. What does this mean?

It means that your contact has internal goals for their department and the executive team has goals for the department as a whole, these often are different. Inter department there are goals for process and workflow. Executive level goals are more general revenue and or results.

The workflow and process bits the executive team doesn’t really care about, they only care that it’s working to produce the numbers needed.

How to ensure you’re top of mind always

Be present. Your goal is to make a friend. Connect with them on LinkedIn, support their posts, go above and beyond to help them help their company grow. Take interest in their success. Most people don’t stay at companies for that long anymore, create a great impression and you’ll get repeat business. Create an amazing impression and people will recommend you to other companies.

Most high level people go to conferences with other high level people in the same field. Your product and your reputation will travel with them.

Bonus Group – Partner Partners

Partner marketing is the most cost effective way to grow your user base. When you’re starting out and usually when you’re humming along the one thing that keeps coming up on the regular is lack of resources.

There are tons of smaller complementary companies out there all trying to grow, everyone is in the same position, literally everyone. Find ways to build your network to connect to people that are similarly situated, you gain insights, advice, and a great peer network when you’re rolling out projects. It even allows you to form amazing partnerships.

The Takeaway

The best marketing is word of mouth.

The best way to get word of mouth is to be humble.

The best way to be humble is to put the needs of your partners first.

Business is a marathon not a sprint try your best to be good to those around you.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

A step-by-step guide of how I would build a SaaS company right now – part 3

Part 1 Part 2 Part 2.5

I was shooting for every week, but that proved harder than anticipated, I'll try to wrap this up in the next few weeks though.

This is part 3 of 5.

  1. Start with your revenue and monetization plan (are you targeting a sector that has money and can/will pay – Part 1)
  2. Align yourself with others in your space (cheapest way to get traction/credibility – Part 2)

2.5 – Process, process, process – Start one, refine it, continually improve it – Part 2.5

  1. Work on road mapping your product to align with what complements your partnerships (cheapest distribution)
  2. Work on building a marketing strategy that can help expose and align your brand while strengthening its recognition with your partners (will this make us both look good)
  3. Build customer advocates along the way, tell their stories (lead with examples)

Work on road mapping your product to align with what complements your partnerships (cheapest distribution)

What exactly does this mean?

All platforms that you integrate with usually do one or two things really really well, then there are features they have to have in order to connect the dots, arguably though, these features don’t get a lot of love and well, they are MVPs in the traditional sense. This is what we’re looking for. This is the sweet spot.

Side notes: This was actually just exposed with the latest Microsoft 365 update which is taking the Notion approach to collaboration – I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Google do something similar to this in the very near future.

Zoom built an entire business on this, video conferencing wasn’t new but the ease of getting started without an account or software to download combined with free time allowances made them a massive success. They also integrated very quickly with partner tools like slack.

This usually comes in a few flavors – something that checks a box and something that just wasn’t thought out workflow wise. Slack did this to both google and microsoft quite successfully.

If at any time microsoft or google wanted to compete they could have during the last 7 years it’s been a known entity, in fact it took a solid 5 before microsoft even hinted at teams. Slack gets to play nice with everyone while microsoft and google have the tough time of wanting to keep everyone in their ecosystem. It’s a tough call for them to allow outside access.

Because these companies don’t focus on these things as much as other parts of their platforms, room for improvements will start to crop up quickly. Remember that list of customers using competitors, it’s time to talk to some of them.

You can only accomplish the above if you have an established approach for your internal workings – aka alignment across the organization.

The road map process will differ based on your individual products, so instead of the products we’re going to focus on a repeatable framework that you can adapt.

Understanding how your product fits into a workflow.

Partners aren’t just tech partners, partners are often your first few clients. Pay attention to their workflows and how you can add value and become integral to their success.

Product development – the internal fight between engineers, product managers, sales, executives, and everyone else. Oh and customers, they’ll always tell you how you can make things better – it would be a modern day miracle if we listened to them more often.

Product, like marketing, is something everyone has an opinion about.

We’re going to go over how you should position your product in the market. Specifically how your solution impacts the workflow of your potential customers. When we change our approach from what features our product has and move the conversation to how our product improves, adds data, or simplifies a clients workflow success follows.

True innovation comes from understanding that all companies are looking for more data, recommendations, and automation. Hint: all these lead to reduced resources and increased revenue.

You want to know how bad this really is? Just look at common things we deal with, phone trees, spam emails, even how people organize their inbox or don’t.

Inefficiency is really all around you, when you put a magnifying glass up to it.

Sidenote here – if you ever find yourself looking for a problem or trying to better understand a workflow, write down every step you take for an entire day while working with a program. You’d be amazed by all the little things that you do and the massive room for improvement.

What is a product?

Let’s take a step back and look at the different kind of products that exist generally –

  1. Add on
  2. Stand alone
  3. Platform
  4. Suite

We’ll take these one at a time with this framework –

What are they?

Why do they exist?

Is it right for me?

What is the workflow play?

Add On

What is an add on?

An add on, plugin, app, etc they go by many names is essentially a piece of software built on top of another piece of software. It relies on the backbone of another service to deliver value. Usually using the platform’s API or existing architecture.

The program or software exists within the ecosystem of another product.

Why do they exist?

The companies that allow add-ons are “Platforms” they have a core that they maintain and spend time developing communities to build on their flexible architecture. If we were doing a timeline of how most companies grow it usually goes:

Addon / Stand Alone → Platform → Suite

We see this more and more as the sheer quantity of software options has increased.

Is it right for me?

I’d say in 2020 it should play a large role in your initial launch and outreach. There are millions of people using existing platforms to create lots of things, for B2B it’s really easy to build targeted lists of clients of those that are using these platforms. Small purpose built apps that solve for very real problems are all around us and a lot of the small ones serve very specific purposes with built in use cases. They require people to be niche by default.

Remember the zoom example from above – remove friction and you can win market share.

Literally, everyone has an add on these days. Usually a small part of their larger product.

They also make for a great marketing play as well, they are relatively simple to build, especially in the case of something like a chrome extension and allow a company to rapidly test new features and release them in small parts to existing customers to gauge interest.

What is the workflow play?

For most B2B software outside of software that is used to run the business daily, getting users to continually find value in it can be difficult. For a lot of it, it’s set it and forget it. Add-ons allow you to better incorporate your product into the customer’s workflow.

If you’re looking to improve a workflow for an existing internal process, at the very least an add on is a great way to embed your product where your customers are spending time.

Big takeaway: When you build on top of an existing platform, you get clout, you can align yourself with that platform to plan development around features that benefit the users of that platform.

It’s much easier to say I build [something specific] for people that use [plugin or CMS framework] built on top of [platform].

To be less abstract…

I build background effects packages for people using Elementor built on top of WordPress.

Broken down – We’re now looking for people using Elementor on wordpress that are looking for background effects to add a little extra to their website.

It’s all about narrowing down who your champion partners will be – those that find the most value in these things.

We’re always looking for our advantage and positioning ourselves to grow – we do this by targeting areas that need a little more attention or things that are currently cumbersome but need a little more love.

Stand Alone

What is a stand alone product?

A stand alone product is one that provides a singular function with limited integrations that allows users to create and manage a workflow or a process from within the application.

Something like a Help Desk is a good example of a stand alone product.

These are purpose built products that don’t require any other integrations to provide value.

Why do they exist?

This is what most people think of when they say they are building a SaaS company. They are building something that solves a specific problem for other companies. Most companies fall under this category, nearly all start in this category.

Most companies also stop at this point, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Build something solid and purpose built that provides value, then expand via add ons to cater to different existing platforms and you’ve got a solid business model.

Is it right for me?

It should be, it’s pretty much required most of the time. Your app should be able to function on it’s own to provide value. Does it have to be, no. There are plenty of businesses that stay just as add ons built on top of large platforms like Salesforce.

This is a call you’re going to have to make for yourself, however these are definitely the predominant leaders.

What is the workflow play?

How does your app work with an existing business workflow? This is really the question. If you’re a stand alone app, do you work for everyone in a business? A team?

Most of the time, a product focuses on an internal team that requires them as part of their workflow. There are different entry points within a team as well.

Are you targeting executives? Directors? Managers? Lower level staff?

How your product works with each of those levels will be different because the expectations and needs of customers at these levels are all different.

Remember, you’re not selling into a company, you’re selling into a role at the company.

When we start thinking about partners as some of your first few clients, really what we’re looking for is a group of true believers that see promise in what we’re creating.

This promise has to work towards providing them more data (less guessing), make decision making easier (more clarity), and lead towards automation (no one likes doing the same things over and over).

Big takeaway –

When you’re a stand alone product you have to nail workflow. The UX/UI has to be intuitive, easy to pickup and easier to get a team behind. It just has to work. Not only that it should have a feature that is 10x better than the competition.

If you don’t have a 10x feature, it’s time to take a closer look at the workflow because it’s obviously you’re missing something.

Remember to start with data collection, move to recommendations based on the data collection, and finish with automating a task over time based on the workflow.

Platform

What is a platform product?

A product that allows people to build on top of it, Shopify, WordPress, Slack, Salesforce (not the other parts of the suite) these are all examples of a platform product.

They started as stand alone products but then opened up their ecosystem to allow people to build on top of them.

If you have a passionate tech forward audience and customer base this is a great position to head towards, typically this moves you from being SaaS to almost a PaaS play where you charge for the ability for people to build on top of you.

These guys are also heavy weights, getting a company to move away from one of them is next to impossible. There’s just a lot of friction that goes into it. I’ve watched this from the front lines numerous times, in most cases, the effort needed to move from one platform to another isn’t worth it in the short term.

It adds complexity to an existing workflow and is immediately met with pushback the farther down the process it goes.

Why do they exist?

They exist to enable people to have a platform to build on top of – they also exist to give new companies a really focused way to find their target market.

The platform is the stepping stone towards a larger land grab towards a full suite of products. You can start to see this happening with some of the larger players as their market share for a specific focus moves them to expand into a full suite of products.

Hubspot, Salesforce, Hubspot, etc. they have all moved towards the suite play. But they all graduated from stand alone to platform to suite – it’s incredibly rare to see someone go after a platform or suite play from the start.

The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Slack going platform very soon after starting to roll out.

Is it right for me?

Depends. Platforms for two sided marketplaces seem to be the only reason that you would want to be a platform or if you built a new product from scratch. It’s ambitious, but let’s face it, there are tons of opportunities that still remain in this sector.

I think we’re just starting the process of enabling marketplaces through technology, I’d love one marketplace to search them all.

Want a good example – second hand marketplaces – no two descriptions are the same. Which makes things a nightmare to search – I’m looking at you ebay.

If I was looking for something used, I might even pay a one time fee to know the trending price, the frequency of the items posted with the preferred specs I’m looking for etc. The used market is ripe for disruption.

Imagine you were looking for a certain color combination for a used vehicle and you wanted to search across all marketplaces to find the color combo and also get data on how often one of those comes up for purchase – I think you can see where data aggregation, recommendations, and an automated process would make things easier.

Sidenote on this example – some credit unions will actually pay someone to search for your car – there’s a built in marketplace for this HUMAN driven activity already.

What is the workflow play?

To the workflow – look at complicated steps that involve multiple pieces of software where no one is doing an amazing job and you might be onto something.

There was a move back in the day to get everything in one place, then APIs happened and now you can connect just about all the tools together. There are companies that specifically focus on niche workflows though, they take longer to get started and don’t always go the platform route – you need a lot of users to make this viable – but they do exist.

So back to this workflow – look at the number of tools, their age, their representative structure – back to the car example go try doing a search for a used car on Hertz.com – actually do a search on any car site – it sucks.

Imagine combining more natural language search like Algolia to that experience – I’m betting someone could build a better data heavy engine to tackle that beast.

With anything though – clean data in makes it easier to create searches, but making sure that data is clean is tough.

So the workflow is built around two sides for a platform – how the customer – in this case the business can use the software to provide better service to the end customer. What is the internal workflow most often done that requires the most amount of human effort? Focus on simplifying that – does your software streamline this – if yes you’re on the way to becoming a platform that others would be willing to build upon all you have to do is keep the architecture up to date to handle the increased load.

Big Takeaway –

You won’t start this way, or you might not start this way, but if you do, the workflow and ease of creation is going to be the one thing that wins out, focus entirely on UX/UI and create something that is quicker, easier, better than what other people have and you’ll find success.

Platforms however are great places to look for partners. They are usually always open to partners that help expand or can introduce people to their offerings.

Suite

What is a suite product?

The granddaddy of all software plays where you build/acquire/grow individual parts of a business to integrate natively and own the entire experience in your own controlled walled garden.

G Suite, Microsoft, Salesforce, etc.

These guys buy smaller platforms and stand alone products and integrate them. Or they just build their own.

Why do they exist?

With single products like standalone and platforms eventually you run out of rapid market expansion, the quickest way to increase revenue is to sell additional products to your existing customers. It’s also a lot cheaper.

Cross selling and upselling are the leading drivers of increased revenue once you have product market fit. Add on services like advanced reporting, automation, or additional features can often unlock better functionality of existing products.

A suite makes it easy to cross sell and upsell, it goes beyond MVPs in certain areas and actually builds tools that are full fledged and integrate seamlessly and more deeply than someone building an integration from outside the system.

Is it right for me?

Never say never, but not likely. It’s aspirational but financially often doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the startup world of today, where growth is at a premium, I would never suggest any of my clients have this as an immediate goal. You need a bank account that is deeper than deep and you’re competing against incumbents that have warchests to outspend you at every turn.

The only company I can think of that has dented some of this is NextCloud. But their path to doing it was going open source and playing hard on the privacy angle pitting themselves as a google docs alternative.

What is the workflow play?

A place where you can do everything in one space. This is actually the holy grail, but it’s also the reason I’m writing this right now in a google doc before cutting and pasting it over to reddit.

Even though there are lots of options with new ones coming out daily, once you’re in an ecosystem, going outside of it usually leads to reduced efficiency. When tools are built to work together, a magical thing happens, you don’t want to try other things.

Don’t get me wrong, there are tools for literally everything out there.

But as a go to list of tools that I use everyday –

Google docs

Gmail

Trello

Slack

Most everything else is use to setup then just monitor – which is fine for normal business things, but when you strip back and look at your core of active software that you use daily there’s a 99% chance that it falls into an ecosystem and you’d likely move to a system if they offered a competitor – Microsoft Teams comes to mind.

Slack is great, don’t get me wrong, but I already pay for storage for my Google Account and it’s really really cheap on a business plan to upgrade to unlimited storage – I’m also willing to bet Google could do a better job of searching through a Slack like interface to also suggest items from other places. It’s not an if, it’s a when.

Take Away

Suites sometimes are just a combination of tools that people offer, usually parts of a platform that are built on one another – when you’re going after market share you always want to think of a core product then build things that compliment it.

The answer is not to build them all upfront, but to build them over time.

Remember again – data, recommendations, then automation.

If you have a roadmap make sure that it’s headed in this direction – it’s amazing how many companies don’t emphasize data collection and reporting early on.

This is how you build trust with an audience – show them what’s working and what’s not and make it easy to grab insights.

What does all this mean for our topic?

Today, right now in 2020, I’d focus initially on an add-on or standalone product play.

Pick a strong partner or integration in the space – find a way to compliment what they offer that will help them earn more clients or make more money. If your product can do that, a larger company will jump at the opportunity to help you out.

Trust, I know this from partnering with the big ones in consumer – Amazon, Google, Apple etc. if your product plays into or assists in their narrative there is almost always a co-marketing deal to be struck. The only caveat is you have to ensure that there is no direct conflict with the main partner. If something isn’t part of their core business you’ll be ok for a while.

In B2B this becomes even easier – everyone is looking for growth – know how the companies measure growth – hint for certain sectors it’s adding data either quantity or amount. They get paid more the more they manage or the more records.

If you can help their platforms grow you’ll win.

Your product should make your partners look great. Figure out things that can add more value or unlock more data within your partners. Most all of them allow for you to sync and move data in, use this to your advantage.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

A step-by-step guide of how I would build a SaaS company right now – part 2.5

Part 1 Part 2

LET'S DO THIS!

This is part 2.5 of 5 for those keeping track at home.

  1. Start with your revenue and monetization plan (are you targeting a sector that has money and can/will pay – Part 1)
  2. Align yourself with others in your space (cheapest way to get traction/credibility – Part 2)

2.5 – Process, process, process – Start one, refine it, continually improve it

  1. Work on road mapping your product to align with what complements your partnerships (cheapest distribution)
  2. Work on building a marketing strategy that can help expose and align your brand while strengthening its recognition with your partners (will this make us both look good)
  3. Build customer advocates along the way, tell their stories (lead with examples)

Brief recap –

In Part 1 we found our basics on what to look for in terms of monetization. In Part 2 we backed this up by drilling down deeper to understand how to hyperfocus and identify potential partners in the space as well as do some deep competitive analysis.

So at this point you should have –

  • An industry that is narrowly targeted
  • Research that tells you where the gaps exist or at least a rough understanding
  • Information about what people are currently using and paying for
  • Potential partners to work with or integrate with
  • A list of existing clients of other companies to target to learn about workflows

For Part 3 we were going to look at road mapping your product to align with what complements your partnerships. I wanted to jump into this, but I’ve realized more as I write these posts that we need to address a bit of the basics first about internal organization.

We’ve spent a lot of time on processes without actively addressing how important they really are.

This is a good place to stop for a second and get our house in order before we continue with part 3.

Let’s get alignment.

My Personal Approach:

Whenever I am engaged with a client I only focus on three things.

Process, resource allocation, and accountability.

To me nothing else matters. The goal is to build a streamlined repeatable process that is optimized to add transparency and clarity, which informs how an individual can best allocate their resources or source the resources necessary to accomplish the goals, and lastly a process for holding people accountable for deadlines and results.

See how many times “process” was listed there – you have to establish good ones, record everything, and optimize along the way.

Note here, results will not always be positive, but a good post mortem and learning are sometimes more valuable. Be accountable for the outcome and the insights. Don’t sugar coat or blame bad results, take accountability for failure and learn from it.

This is so important and applies to literally all parts of your life.

Ironically, in some of my conversations with newer clients, they are looking for me to provide advice on how I can make an immediate impact. Things don’t work that way.

During the first month, I’m just going to be asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of background research to understand what your business is currently doing, then I’m going to look for a few quick wins followed by building out a process to automate that part of the business to boost your bottom line. But like all good processes, it has to be followed. (more on this later)

Top secret advice – some people do daily standups – I prefer weekly post mortems. Yeah I said weekly. Focus on what went wrong during the week and how you can improve for next week. We like to hop everyone up on morale of all the good and we tend not to talk about the bad, but the bad is where you learn the most. No one has all the right answers and absolutely no one should be ashamed for making a mistake. The best people are always learning.

I’ll provide the exact steps that I take with clients that you can do internally.

Let’s go through these steps one at a time.

Step 1: Process

How do you organize ideas, communications, and create one source of truth that allows people to easily follow along with repeatable processes?

Here’s my framework for going through this –

  1. What is the current process?
  2. What tools are involved?
  3. Is it clear for anyone to jump in and follow the information without needing help?
  4. Is there one source of truth?
  5. Is the goal crystal clear throughout every step of the process?
  6. Does this process allow building on itself?
  7. Is the entire process that is more than 6 months old?

Let’s dig in.

What is the current process?

You don’t know where you’re going unless you can clearly articulate how you do things today. If there is someone on your team that does something in a unique way that isn’t written down. Time for immediate change. Don’t know how your sales team is pitching the product? Don’t know how marketing decides who to target and why? The list goes on.

The quickest way to figure out if the process sucks is to look at a past meeting and the notes (if they exist) along with the agenda. This will tell you how disorganized a company is. Then go team by team and look at their meeting notes. You’ll start to see some interesting things.

I pick meetings, because everyone has them and rarely is there a template used or meeting notes that is able to stay organized. Someone could have an entire career critiquing meetings.

This is also a great place to start – understand how people are spending their time when together and collaborating.

Write down all the current processes that you have, there should be one for Sales, Marketing, Social Media, R&D, Product, Research, you name it there should be a process.

Map them out as best you can so you understand how things flow, if you don’t have an org chart attached to the process add one immediately, I’ve come to find out that not having a clear org chart leads to massive discrepancies in progress. We’ll get to this more with accountability.

What tools are involved?

I don’t really care what tools you use, as long as you’re using them. And by you, I really mean your whole company or team. We’re looking to prevent information silos.

I usually just survey the different teams and it becomes really clear in a lot of companies that people are using too many tools and information is everywhere and usually not shared across teams. This is a huge red flag – siloed access on purpose is rampant as well. Your employees want to be informed because they want to buy into what is being created and built. They don’t need to see everything, but they should have access to the basics so they feel invested.

Automate everything. Keep all your sheets up to date, spend time to make sure that everything is automated. More on this under resource allocation.

Personally when it comes to products to keep me organized, Trello, Google Docs, a good form program and I’m all set. I like standardizing information.

There are a lot of great tools out there, pick ones that get the job done and that your team is comfortable using.

The upfront time associated with nailing these things down saves days down the road. Take the productivity hit always to refine your processes.

Real life experience – implementing a process that took a solid 4 days to create and lost about 48 hours of “working” time to get done, resulted in a team reduction of 4 hours per person per day within a week of rolling it out. With a small team of 4 that equated to 16 hours per day in optimization. The investment was paid back within 3 days total. This is why processes are so important. The results multiply over time.

Is it clear for anyone to jump in and follow the information without needing help?

Is information easy to find? Is it easy to understand?

Legit, most people don’t need to know everything, but they do need two versions, the summary version and the detailed version that gives them the ability to drill down into things if they need to learn or understand more about things.

I’m a big fan of things that are organized and templated where possible around this.

If you can link everything from a visual dashboard to more details you’re winning. If every team has their own dashboards and not everyone has access, you’ve lost. This has happened to me multiple times working with companies. Different information, not shared and not aggregated. BAD.

Anyone should be able to give you a status update from the dashboard that is live checking all the various stats and data. Along with trend reports over various periods of time correlated with any process changes.

This last bit is a killer, far too often people change processes and don’t actively track not only the changes but the results from making the changes.

If you change processes, you need to timestamp that stuff.

Side note: A lot of clients I work with cannot point to changes in process and directly see a change in performance, most of the time they have to dig through emails and contracts and data sheets to figure out when things happened and what the trends show. Don’t be these people.

Is there one source of truth?

As mentioned in the last section a bit. This is all I’m looking for.

One dashboard or document that someone can share with me that live updates to tell me exactly where your business is – costs, expenses, revenue, the revenue broken down against costs. Current product roadmaps and current partnership progress.

All of these things are a disaster most of the time, almost always without any real process in place. CRMs, shared docs, trello boards, no idea about current status prioritization etc.

Please sit down and make sure that there is one place where you can quickly link out to different products if necessary but that provides a good overview of what all these statuses are.

Always have a process.

Is the goal crystal clear throughout every step of the process?

Goal statements. Do they exist?

If something is part of a process, what is the goal behind that part of the process?

Let’s take a common thing that all companies have – meetings.

All meeting invites should come with a detailed agenda and preferably a goal list from both sides.

When I run an established meeting everything is broken down.

Goal of the meeting

Agenda

Updates, blocked items

Items that need action – decisions made

Takeaway action items assigned with hard deadlines

If you notice this is really just process, resource allocation, and accountability.

Agenda is process, Updates and blocked items along with items that need action is resource allocation and action items assigned becomes accountability.

A meeting without a goal statement isn’t a meeting worth having. Reread that sentence out loud one more time.

Now think of all the meetings you’ve gone to and sat in where there was no goal statement. Hours of your life have been lost. A meeting shouldn’t be reading updates or from slides or a document.

Does this process allow building on itself?

What’s next in the process. If people are happy with how a process is going, this isn’t a process. A process should always be evolving and as stated above there should be an evolution of the process that results in more clarity, better understanding, better information sharing, and a better allocation of resources.

There should be data on the length of meeting, the effectiveness of the meetings or the process being used and I would argue that in the early days there should be post mortems done on all processes every week. What worked well, what didn’t, where are there gaps, what we’re going to try next week. And repeat.

To the last bit that relates for process –

Is the entire process more than 6 months old?

I’m all about if it’s not broke don’t fix it, but we’re in business. Things are constantly changing and if you’re not looking to change with them you’re leaving money on the table.

The processes that you’re using today shouldn’t look exactly the same 6 months from now. It should be better, more refined and it should be constantly being tracked against data points to show improvement. No exceptions.

Step 2: Resource Allocation

Here’s my framework for going through this –

  1. Where are the bulk of your resources allocated?
  2. What is the rationale for allocating the resources?
  3. How do your current processes impact your resource allocation?
  4. What is the org chart for making allocation decisions?
  5. Where are their deficiencies in resourcing? What would you do with additional resources? Why?

Where are the bulk of your resources allocated?

This is always an interesting one.

Most of the answers I get for SaaS are engineering and sales. Always light in product management, light in customer success, and very light in marketing in the beginning.

I would be looking for product, engineering, and customer success. I think that we over hire in some areas because of poor process which leads to poor resource allocation.

In the early days you’re not selling, you’re learning, you’re aligning, you’re partnering. Sales isn’t sales anymore either, it’s conversations to understand workflow and early partnerships to improve the lives of customers. When we change our approach to sales we focus more on relationship building and less on closing deals we set ourselves up for long term success.

This doesn’t mean you don’t have a sales process, it just means that it should feel more like a conversation than a pitch. Which doesn’t require someone in sales, often it’s better that they don’t have a sales background. A different topic for a different day. Value tends to sell itself. You’re just telling the story.

I like to see how all resources are allocated to better see if they match with the goal lists which we’ll get to I promise.

Ideally, you have an engineering team that is also the customer support team in the beginning, allocating the proper amount of time to building and helping to better empathize with the customer’s experience. You’re head of product is really just customer support along with everyone really.

It all starts with understanding problems and having a good process for documenting them.

What is the rationale for allocating the resources?

This is the followup to the first question. We’re trying to understand the why behind the decision making process. Oftentimes priorities are a mess in the beginning stages, as we’ve seen from part 1 and part 2 of these posts, it pays dividends to niche down and hyperfocus on delivering value to that small subset.

The same goes for allocating your limited resources including your time.

Know where it’s going to me most impactful and constantly go through the goals of your actions to ensure that you’re moving the needle in the right way as you allocate and decide where and how to allocate.

Protip – you want your entire team to have customer contact in the beginning. As soon as people lose contact with the customer or refuse to connect with customers you’re in trouble. Watch out for things like “that’s not my job” everyone’s job is support and sales. It’s how your company pays you and can afford to continue doing so.

How do your current processes impact your resource allocation?

This is a key question, are there things you are doing that aren’t the most impactful to your business? If there’s a process that you can train someone or a machine to do for you, will it free up your time aka your resource and allow you to allocate that time towards doing something that is more impactful for the business at its current stage.

This is sort of like delegation but delegation only works if there are established processes in place that are likely to lead to continued success.

Do not delegate too early on. Tim Ferris would disagree, but it’s imperative that you have a very good understanding of the role that you’re delegating before you do it.

What is the org chart for making allocation decisions?

This one gets me every time. Everyone thinks early on that all decisions have to come from the CEO. A good boss would put in a structure to determine how to allow autonomy into situations.

Remember the whole meeting thing about action items.

Yeah so depending on the decision, internal teams should be able to make decisions without the input of the top brass. Decisions should be tiered and categorized (sounds like process right?) so that all the approvals start the same way and are routed to the appropriate people.

So many times a clear org chart doesn’t exist or it looks like a tree with just lots of roots. This isn’t good.

The irony is most of the time leaders hire people to get shit done. Conversation is great and consideration is swell, but at the end of the day, a lot of time can be wasted for things that didn’t need approval. Give people under you a leash to execute and the freedom to not be micromanaged.

It should look more like a family tree and less like blades of grass. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the flow of decision making. Without it we create data silos and people acting completely on their own.

This commonly happens between sales and marketing and marketing and product.

Where are their deficiencies in resourcing? What would you do with additional resources? Why?

Self awareness, where do you need help? What would you do with that help? Oftentimes we get confused and think that we need to do things but we are rushing to make decisions rather than properly thinking through the impact.

I’ve worked with a lot of founders that like shiny things and chase cats.

I call this lack of an established framework or process of decision making.

If there isn’t a clear understanding through process, you can’t actually answer any of these questions with any accuracy.

This also forces you to sit down and organize, prioritize, and hypothesize the impact of what’s to come.

Step 3: Accountability

We’ll keep this short and sweet. Assign a lead actor to every goal, instill a hierarchy for who is responsible to assist with that goal and to what capacity and ensure that everything is tracked so that anyone at any time can see the progress towards that goal.

Bonus points for being able to shift resources accordingly when you recognize you need some more help. All of this comes from the ability to prioritize correctly based on goals.

OK that’s it for Part 2.5 set up this framework or something similar to properly assess your decision making and good things will happen. You have something to lean on moving forward and probably use back with Parts 1 and 2.

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!