Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

NY Ground Zero 10th Anniversary

Top 25 Articles That Resonated Most with Readers

Since 2006, I’ve been penning my thoughts here on this blog. A whopping 280 articles over the last decade. I like to look back each year, and see what articles resonated most with my audience, and this can help my understand the direction I need to take with future posts.

Usually, I just keep it to myself, however on reflecting 2016, I thought it worth posting a list of the top 25 articles determined by traffic, which is a good indicator of interest, and provides new readers with a good ‘go to’ list to start with exploring my writing.

The following articles cover everything from startups to business, travel to humour. I trust you enjoy them.

Top 25 Articles for 2016 (by Visits)

Life of a Startup Founder, Explained in GIFs
This is a tongue in cheek look at the life of an early stage startup founder, told in animated GIF format.

It’s Never Too Early to Think Startup Growth
This is possibly the most shared article on social media in the last week, and is a quick guide to things to consider when putting together a startup, prior to launch.

Perth Web Design a trademark?
Written back in 2011, this article covers a move by a local business to trademark the term ‘Perth web design’ which, at the time, was a highly competitive keyword in SEO circles.

Some Unsolicited Dreaming on That WA Innovation Fund
My quick thoughts on how the Western Australian state government could spend their recently announced innovation fund.

50 Australian Startup Twitter Accounts Worth Following
I’m a big user of Twitter (I just recently hit the 10 year milestone), and as a salute to fellow innovators on the platform, I collated a list of 50 accounts worth following.

The TOC hack to finding topics for content marketing
We all get stuck for topic ideas from time to time. This article explains my Table of Contents method of finding new topics to write about.

Promoting Perth Startups
The announcement of the curated Twitter account, @StartupPerth, which I launched in late 2015 (and is still running!).

The Web2.0 colours of 2007
This was meant to be a very tongue in cheek look at the rise of ‘Web2.0’ as it was called back in 2007, when I wrote this post.

Public Speaking Tips and Templates
I enjoy public speaking, having delivered over 100 talks now, however it isn’t as easy for most people. I cover some tips and ideas on how to take the stage.

Seven Tips to Make Debtors Pay
My take on methods many businesses can take, to ensure that they get paid on time. Originally written for Sitepoint.

The Web 2.0 Secret Weapon
This was the fun post I wrote which kicked off a flurry of writing on Web2.0 by me. All in jest, of course.

Do You Have Five Minutes?
This article covers how, as a service business, we were able to recoup many hours per month which were previously unbillable. Originally written for Sitepoint.

70 Graffiti Colours of 2006
A side creative pursuit of mine back in 2006 was collecting interesting colour palettes. I made this with graffiti art I photographed in Western Australia.

Book promotion on the web
My book, The Principles of Successful Freelancing, came out back in 2009. This post in 2008 are my thoughts on book promotion using digital marketing.

Marketing your book online
This article is a follow up to the one above, promoting your book using digital marketing.

We’re back from Ubud, Bali (again!)
My favourite travel destination is Ubud, Bali which I have visited more than two dozen times now. This is a quick post about the trip from 2010.

Manage Your Money
This article covers various online accounting packages, useful for small business. Originally written for Sitepoint in 2011.

The Two Faces of Bali
Another Bali travel post, this time about the differences in tourism to the Island. Written back in 2012, I feel the difference is even wider now in 2017.

18 ways to being a better employee
As an employer for 15 years, and manager of people for a further 5 or so years prior to that, I have a few pet peeves and loves when it comes to employees. I share them in this article from 2006.

Secrets to a Great Sales Proposal
I cover some of the tricks I have learned in writing sales proposals. Originally written for Sitepoint in 2009.

Setting SMART Goals
An article on how to set goals that work, using the SMART acronym. Originally written for Sitepoint in 2010.

19 Tips for Public Speaking
As per the previous articles on public speaking, this covers 19 tips to consider when speaking to an audience.

Interview with Dave Greiner of Freshview
A great founder I’ve known for quite some time, I interview Dave Greiner from Campaign Monitor. Originally written for Sitepoint.

Reply to Your Emails!
A short rant about businesses not responding to their email enquiries. Originally written for Sitepoint.

I hope you find the above 25 articles useful for your business, travels, content marketing or startup. Please subscribe to my alerts when new articles get published – see the form in the right hand column.

Coney Island, 2012

13 Thoughts for Early Stage Startup Founders

I have been hustling in the startup space for a while now, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts that could help early stage founders get some direction. It can be tough working in a startup for the first year,

Here’s 13 tips for early stage founders, in no particular order…

Test many things in small batches
I’ve lost count of the countless little things we’ve tried, with small budgets, to see which works and which doesn’t. We tipped more budget into the ones with traction, and dumped the others before the costs started to hurt.

Pay per click on all the platforms, link building, article writing, press distribution, content networks, email sponsorship, social media, social media advertising, manual reach outs to followers, etc.

Fun things, like exporting my LinkedIn contacts (8,276 of them), and using them as a custom advertising audience in Facebook, with a personal note asking for their attention. Researching keywords and running lots of small PPC campaigns on them. Testing button colours out, to see which converts best.

Less fun things, like writing 50 variations of blog post headlines, to see which ones get the best results. Submitting 6Q to a zillion startup announcement sites. Writing lovely email intros to journalists, who never replied.

Focus on content marketing
You can pay $2-20 per click to have someone visit your website, or you can write some long form content, which is well written, optimised for search engines, and invest the time in waiting for it to slowly creep up the results. A handful of our posts on the 6Q blog now bring us a decent amount of traffic.

Build what customers want, not what you think they want
Yes, seems that you have to ask customers, not just make assumptions. Funny thing is, most customers are quiet, so it’s something you have to proactively chase. Send them an email asking for feedback, then pick up the phone. Most people ignore emails.

Don’t take money for money’s sake
I’ve met with a few angel investors now, and I have been amused at the range of responses. Some have been quite positive, an others less so. Some want to see this be a full time gig first, and others want to look at it, however for a large slice of the pie. I’ve had as many people say ‘Take all the money the second you can’ as people who have said ‘Bootstrapping is the only way for medium to long term growth’.

I’m still undecided, however I am lucky I am in no huge rush (the money would be great to throw at growth, but giving up equity seems less exciting).

Keep an eye on, but don’t obsess about, your competitors
Competitors are important, yes. They are probably doing 100 things better than you. You should figure these out. They are probably also doing 100 things less effectively as you. You should know these too.

When a seemingly cashed up startup appears out of the blue, and starts getting lots of attention, don’t freak out. When they suddenly disappear after only a few months, once again, don’t freak out. See this article if you’re intrigued. I’m still perplexed.

Even $100 a month is a lot like enterprise sales
I had this vision that if we priced our product low enough, that sales would take care of themselves. Wow, I was wrong. I’m happy to now admit defeat, and that we moved to include an ‘Arrange a demo’ form and be in the outreach process more than I had originally had anticipated (and hoped!).

Never stop testing
I wrote an article a while back on the 6Q blog, The Simple Secret to Improving your Startup, about user testing constantly. I truly believe in this approach.

I do my best to try and test everything I can. I wish I had more time to do more. Another post I penned on Medium a while back, How a few small landing page tweaks created five times the conversions, outlines why A/B testing of landing pages is also super important.

Listen to everyone around you
The fantastic thing about the startup ecosystem is everyone is willing to give advice. I’ve helped dozens of founders with their burning questions, and I’ve leant on just as many for their thoughts in return. Don’t try to operate in a silo – many of us have been through your winding road as well.

Stick to your morals
Not long after we launched, we changed the first screen of our polls, to show whether the survey was anonymous or being individually tracked. I had a complaint from a potential customer that they wanted to tell their employees that it was anonymous, however they wanted to track them.

I said no. It’s hard to say no when you need the income, and that customer would help with our income, however I also want to ensure that we’re doing the right thing for everyone; including this persons employees.

Some days you’ll want to close it all down; next minute it’s different
It’s true. You have a few rejections in a row, you see how well some other startups are doing, and then you’ve got your mind racing towards ‘life after the failed startup’. Lo and behold next minute, in comes some good news, and your smile returns.

There’s an image floating around social media of a sine wave like chart, showing the ups and downs of being a founder. It’s absolutely true. See my animated gif post for a laugh. It’s actually quite accurate.

Read as much as you can
I have tried to read the entire Internet. It feels like that at least. I make a point of at least reading 1-2 articles per day, and I’ve spent entire evenings on reading others thoughts on growth, culture, etc.

I’ve started sharing my favourite articles in a weekly email – subscribe to this one, and the countless others out there as well.

Be upfront with prospects
I had a call a while back, a huge potential customer; I’m talking tens of thousands of employees. They asked me if I had any similar sized organisations to compare them with. I was upfront and said no. I went on to say we’ve got nobody even close to their size, however I’d be keen to give it a go down the track, but I had concerns of our ability right at that moment.

That’s not the ‘fake it until you make it’ mantra you may read about elsewhere, but boy was the stress less when they opted for another product instead.

Lean on your networks
Admittedly, I haven’t done this as much as I would like. It’s important to use your networks of contacts, to get the word out, and look for prospective new customers. I’ve amassed a significant network across most social media, and have the contact details of just as many I have met with offline – it’s just a job of hitting the pavement, so to speak.

Hope that there is a nugget of information in the above list that may help you in your quest. Stay positive and keep hustling! Good luck.

Abandoned farm

Introducing My $99 Side Project for 2017

I am making a commitment to myself to try and launch a few side projects in 2017, and see what (if any) of them gets some interest during this year. I am constantly coming up with new ideas for products or services, and rather than shake them all off, I’ll dedicate a little time and money to a few of them, and see if I get any form of traction.

Before I commit to working on any of these, I’ll measure each against three criteria, being;

1. Can’t take too much time every week
2. Needs a reasonable chance of financial gain
3. Should be cheap to get started

To kick 2017 off, I’ve started a little early, and just over a fortnight ago I launched growth.email – a weekly curated email that uncovers great content on growth hacking and marketing.

I’ve set aside $99 for the first 3 months. At the end of this period, I’ll either deem it a failure or a success. For simplicity, let’s say the deadline is 31 March 2017.

Now, $99 is less than taking the family out for a meal, so I need to be very mindful how I spend this small budget. The cost includes any setup as well, so I’ll be relying heavily on cheap or free tools to help me.

How I will measure success
I’ve set a ‘minimum’ and ‘stretch’ goal for both subscriber list and income. These will be measured on 31 March and this will determine where I go with growth.email from here.

Build that subscriber list
For this idea, subscribers are what I need to see any form of financial success down the track. Whilst the newsletter is free, it needs to generate some income, and so I’ll be looking to sell advertising. To do that, I need subscribers.

Minimum target: 500 subscribers
Stretch target: 1,500 subscribers

I feel I should be able to rustle up 500 subscribers within 3 months, and ideally, 500 subscribers per month. This is, however, a side project so I am trying to purposefully not dedicate every awake hour to it; in fact I hope to spend under five hours a week. Heck, I have two other businesses to run as well.

Create some income
My end goal with growth.email is to eventually operate it as a side business, or at least generate more income than expenses.

Minimum target: $1
Stretch target: $100

I feel if I get at least one dollar in income, that helps validate that advertising in this may work as a model. My stretch target is to cover the hard costs of this experiment. I may try using relevant affiliate links to start with, until I have a sizeable subscriber list.

Set up and launch
I managed to get the domain name for $7.11 from GoDaddy, and host it on a server I am paying $5 a month for another project I am planning. I’ll allocate $2.50 a month for the hosting.

Next up, I signed up for a Goodbits account (to curate and send the weekly emails) at $8 a month.

Status (2 January)
I’ve now got the newsletter running, and have sent two issues out so far. It’s a quiet start, given the time of year, yet I am putting things into place to grow this in the first month of the new year.

The website is up and running, now with a new theme and info, thanks to some feedback. I have added a testimonial (social proof) sharing buttons and link to the archives. Thanks Ben for the suggestions!

Landing page

Landing page

The landing page is collecting a small trickle of subscribers (as shown below) which now stands at 186 subscribers. I have the Twitter account running, as well as email autoresponder and newsletter template.

As well as these, there are a few free tools that I’m experienced with, and using for this project as well;

I am using a few free tools along the way to automate some things, to save time. I am using IFTTT for some auto fave tests on Twitter, I am using Quuu to help feed my tweets, and Buffer to deliver and schedule my @thegrowthemail Twitter account.

I am collecting links via RSS in Feedly, and using the Goodbits Chrome extension to push them into my moderation pile.

Subscriber growth

Subscriber growth chart

Marketing efforts
Outside of my previous blog post, emailing a few friends and some social media sharing, I haven’t done much to promote this project so far. I’ll start to ramp this up, now that the festive season is behind me.

Tonight I splurged $20 on a promoted post on Facebook, to see what that gets me. We know from experience that posts with a photo of a person tends to get more response, and given I am trying to target my contacts, I made a dodgy image of myself (below).

Facebook promoted post

Facebook promoted post

I’m not super happy with the photo (taken on iPhone in my lounge room) the deep etching or the photoshopped logo on t-shirt, but it’ll do for now.

The finances so far
To recap the expenses I have incurred so far;

$7.11 domain name
$8.00 Goodbits
$2.50 hosting
$20.00 Facebook ad
$37.61

I expect my future expenses over the next two months to be

$16.00 Goodbits
$19.80 Campaign Monitor
$5.00 Hosting
$40.80 ($20.40 per month)

That totals $78.41 in outgoings. I’ll have a spare $20.59 to spend on some other promotion, in order to keep it within my original $99 budget.

I’ll report back in around four weeks time on how I am going, and how the numbers look. In the meantime, please consider adding yourself to my subscriber stats – you can sign up in seconds on the growth.email website.

Early morning Bongkasa, Bali

Weekly growth hacking articles sent to your inbox

The thing with growth people (I am not a fan of the growth hackers term), is that we are always constantly reading.

We have to, in order to just keep up. Articles on customer acquisition, case studies on what our peers have done, how to write better content, grow your social media presence and the like. To be in growth space, you need to be a voracious reader.

I’ve been sharing a number of growth hacking and marketing links on my Twitter account for the last year or more, and easily read a few dozen articles on the topic a week. I subscribe to a bunch of newsletters, follow a bunch more on RSS and then grep many links from people I follow on social media too.

I’ve often thought of starting an email list to share the best growth hacking articles and links, however it’s always just been filed along with the other 1,001 startup ideas I have, in my mental filing cabinet.

So, when I discovered that the domain name growth.email was available a few days ago, I took this as some sort of sign. It was the universe telling me to just get cracking and do something with my idea. I spent a total of $7 buying the domain, and then I got to work creating a simple landing page.

The following evening, I set up an account with Good Bits, which is a newsletter creation tool that makes it easy to craft sweet-looking ‘curated content’ emails.

Finally, I registered the Twitter account @thegrowthemail and got to work queuing up content for the first issue, which goes out tomorrow.

I plan to share the progress of this little venture here on my blog, and hope that you find some value in these stories. As always, feel free to let me know what you think, in the comments below.

That’s the story of my latest side venture – I’d appreciate it if you became one of the first to sign up, and check out a few articles. It’s super easy to unsubscribe if you don’t find it useful; no hard feelings.

The 9 Month Story of My Very First Startup

This is the story of my first tech startup, which was so long ago, there wasn’t a term for tech startups yet. I didn’t really have much of a clue what I was doing back in 1997, however I knew wanted to gamble on something I thought may get traction.

Let me set the scene. In June 1997, the domain name space in Tonga, ending in .to, opened for registrations. There were approximately 500,000 domain names in the world at the time, mostly in the .com and .net space, and at US$100 each, they weren’t such a cheap commodity as they are now.

(There are around 334 million domain names registered now, according to name.com).

The day after their launch, I forked out US$100 to register the domain name, bounce.to.

The cost of domain names at the time, such as .com and .net were US$100 per year, and it was a laborious exercise to register one.

Less than three months later, on 1st September 1997, I launched my first tech startup; a free URL redirection service.

Six months later, I earned the infamous 10x, and sold the business to a US company that already had a suite of .to domains they were using for URL redirection, which subsequently sold a few months later to Internet giant, Yahoo!.

This is the story of what happened.

The first week I spent trying to figure out what to do with this newly acquired domain. The simplest model seemed to be set up a redirection service, and sell some ads as interstitial pages, which would redirect after five seconds.

There were a few services out there, banner networks, which I could jus insert the code, and get paid per thousand impressions.

I got together with a friend, who was a master at Perl (yep, it was that long ago), and we got to working out what needed doing. We ended up with a simple flat file database, and a Perl script which found the correct URL from a list and redirected the browser.

Whilst he was working on building this, at a great hourly rate since we were mates (thanks Richard!), I got to designing the screens, writing the copy and researching which banner networks paid well.

On top of this, and my full time freelancing work at the time, I also started finding any relevant journalists email addresses I could find, and putting them in a spreadsheet. This was way before all these great services which make this task much easier nowadays.

I also created a list of usenet groups (a precursor to email mailing lists or discussion forums) that may have participants that would find this service useful.

About six weeks later, over beer and pizza, I quietly launched the service, and then asked a dozen or so friends to try it out.

Ready to see it, in all it’s glory? I cringe sharing this; remember it was 20 years ago, please don’t judge me too hard.

A few days later, when we had ironed out any remaining issues, I sent out a press release to the journalists on my target list, and posted a unique post on various groups (avoiding cross posting, which was frowned upon).

The response was good. I got a number of media mentions across the globe, which helped drive traffic. An old copy of the site I found had these quotes on the media page;

Here are just some of them:

“…a very neat service…” “…Incredibly Useful Site.”
– Yahoo! Internet Life (12/6/97)

“…now almost anyone can have the presence they want.”
– Sydney Morning Herald (12/2/97)

“…a snappy domain name to those needing them.”
– West Australian Newspaper (12/2/97)

“A brand new service on the internet making sure your URL gets shorter and shorter…”
– Online Computing Radio (10/19/97)

“A great way to solve long web address problems…” “… bounce.to is destined to become an extremely popular service.”
– Biz Tips Magazine (October 1997)

“Bounce.to claims ad success…”
– Australian Net Guide (9/22/97)

“…a unique service that guarantees memorable web addresses.”
– West Australian Newspaper (9/2/97)

As well as these positive media articles, my posts on various usenet groups had generated a number of responses, which I replied to, that helped create further interest.

By the end of the first month, I had around 2,000 unique users, not bad for a very small internet population, compared to now.

It took me an hour a day to reply to emails, look for further promotional opportunities and find other growth avenues.

The great thing about this service, was people started using their bounce.to addresses on their email signatures, business cards, etc which drove more traffic, and in turn, found more users.

After about six months of operation, in which time I drew a modest amount of income which covered the domain name, the original development costs, hosting, etc, I was approached by a US company who expressed interest in taking a stake in the business.

After a number of emails back and forth and a few late night phone calls, I sold the domain name, Perl files, database and user base of around 40,000 users, for US$5,000 – around ten times the investment I had put in less than a year earlier.

That was around a years income for the service at that stage, and given my interest in the business was waning, I felt I got a great deal.

Takeaways from my experience

Take risks and create something. My first tech startup didn’t cost me more than $500 to get up and running.

Reach out to the media. If you spend time and find the right people to reach out to, you will find success. No blanket emails to everyone though.

Announce your new business in discussion groups, etc if they allow it. Ensure you are adding value, replying to comments and aren’t coming across spammy though.

Look for a way to include a viral element. This service had the brandname in every users web address, meaning my users were promoting it for me.

Write about it twenty years later – it’ll be interesting what similarities you can find between your first tech startup and where you’ve progressed two decades later.

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Words & Images © 2005-2016, Miles Burke. All rights reserved.