Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

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Woman typing with coffee

Why You Shouldn’t Ask Friends or Family for Startup Feedback [& Better Ways]

You’ve come up with a startup idea, and you’re excited. This is going to be The Next Big Thing, you’re absolutely positive. You catch up with friends and family and bounce your idea off them. They agree you are onto The Next Big Thing. Yay!

Have you just done yourself and your friends a disservice? Often, sadly yes.

I have seen way too many crazy startup ideas get too far down the track, thanks to well meaning people supporting ideas, that frankly, have significant problems. What you need is customer validation; not platitudes from loved ones.

I’ve been guilty of doing this. I’ve also been on the receiving end.

Enter the topic of confirmation bias.

Your friend Sally wants you to remain positive and wants to see you succeed. She listens to your startup idea, you brimming with smiles and talking enthusiastically. Sally nods and agrees with your idea. However, deep down, Sally remains unconvinced. In some situations, she is actually thinking that this is the Next Big Dumb Thing.

You see, Sally doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. She doesn’t want to be the person who brings bad news. So it’s easier for Sally in a social setting to just agree, to keep you happy.

Problem is, Sally isn’t helping you at all, and you’re putting stress on Sally because now she feels guilty that she told you it was great, when she actually feels it isn’t.

Now, obviously not everyone is the same, however what you want to do is avoid the group-think mentality of people just agreeing with your thought processes.

Better ways to ask colleagues

One way to do this is before you explain your startup idea to someone, make sure to mention that there are no good or bad answers – you’re after as much feedback as possible, positive or negative. It all helps you as an entrepreneur.

It is also very wise to frame your questions differently.

For example, start by saying ‘I have an idea to improve shiny rockets. I’d love to hear your thoughts, but I want as much negative feedback as positive feedback’

Once you’ve given them a quick pitch on the idea, ask exploring (and not leading!) questions, such as ‘What do you like the most about this idea?’ and then follow up ‘What don’t you like about this idea?’

Make sure not to answer defensively either; a good way to shoot down someone’s freely given advice is to start saying ‘No, you’re wrong’, which is effectively what I hear when someone starts acting defensively.

Instead, say things such as ‘Oh, hey great point I hadn’t thought of that’ or if you had, say ‘Yes, that had crossed my mind. One way to tackle that is use shinier shiny things’. The shiny things bit may not work in your case.

It is fine to ask family and friends for thoughts, but ensure you balance that with feedback from further afield; and by further, I mean from people who aren’t emotionally connected to you.

How to validate with real customers

The startup world is full of talk about customer validation, and this often can feel like a huge step, but it doesn’t need to be.

First off, determine who you think is the ideal customer. This is the person who frequently suffers the problem you are out to solve. Say your shiny rocket idea.

The first step is to discover who is actually affected with this problem; what role do they play? Is it the engineers, the astronauts or the administration staff?

Asking for feedback using social media

Asking for feedback using social media

Find these customers in social connections

Then, make a list of people who you know that fit this customer persona. If you don’t know anyone in these roles, look for people you may know that could introduce you.

Using LinkedIn or Facebook, you can trawl through your contacts and try to find the right person, even someone who works in the rocketry field.

Run a very short survey

Another way to approach this, is to use a survey tool such as Google Forms or Typeform, and invite people by email or social to answer it. I’ve used this technique a few times to collect data, and it’s very handy. The good thing about this technique is that the recipient doesn’t feel pressure completing it, the con however is you aren’t able to change questions, based on the interviewees previous answers.

Side projects survey I recently ran

Side projects survey I recently ran

The above survey was great. I created it for free using Google Forms, and then using social, collected around 35 responses over a 24 hour period. It gave me great insight into how people feel, and I can now dig down using the next step.

The cold call technique

If not, try calling your nearest rocket manufacturer, and ask to be put through to someone in that role. It may feel daunting to pick up a phone and just call a stranger, however you’ll quickly find that most people are very happy to spend a few minutes to give advice.

Before you ask though, you need to contextualise it correctly.

Begin the conversation by saying something like “I’m not selling anything, I promise. I am thinking of creating something to help alleviate a specific problem that rocket manufacturers face. Can I ask a couple of questions? I promise it will be only five minutes of your time.”

Then, start by asking them if it really is a problem. “Do you have problems with dull rockets?” or “Is the shiny parts of a rocket important to manufacturers?”.

Make sure to follow my leading question advice from above too. A leading question is when you ask something in a way that encourages people to agree or disagree. Such as “Shiny rockets are a big problem, aren’t they?”. This question would be far better if phrased “Are shiny rockets an issue for you?”

Finally! Confidence in the feedback you’ve received

In no time at all, you’ll collect valuable thoughts around your startup idea, and you may discover that there is no problem there to fix, that the decision makers don’t value your proposed solution, or that you really have stumbled on to The Next Big Thing.

In any case, get feedback about your startup idea from further afar. Don’t spend lots of time or money building a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, or is undervalued by your target customers. Good luck!

@StartupPerth on Twitter

Update on Micro News Service Startup Perth [20 Months]

Since way back in August 2015, I’ve been running what I call a ‘micro news service’ on Twitter, called Startup Perth. Whilst it has a single page website, all the activity happens on the Twitter account.

It was started to raise further awareness of Perth’s innovative companies. Startup Perth uses a combination of both automation, and manual checking once or twice a day, to share news and information about the Perth startup ecosystem. I wrote about it before, back on Promoting Perth Startups.

Over the last 19 months since it began, I’ve attracted 18,545 followers to the account, making it by far the most followed for Western Australian startup and innovation news. In fact, the nearest three Twitter accounts, added up, make up less than a third of the Startup Perth followers, so something about this account is doing well.

Similar twitter accounts
Startup News 3,034
Techboard 1,990
Startup WA 1,564

Some statistics
Followers 18,545
Tweets 3,879
Automated 1,951 tweets
Manual 1,928 tweets

So, what did it share? Well, it shared mostly news and announcements from Western Australian startups, including links to over 1,900 blog posts, 1,426 photos and videos, inspirational quotes and more.

Manual retweet example

Manual re-tweet example

The 1,928 manual tweets were me, typically re-tweeting something a local startup tagged the account in, or found on one of their feeds, such as the example above. At one minute per tweet, that’s taken me roughly 32.5 hours to do.

The tweet automation checks against 50+ startups that have blogs with RSS feeds, and then posts their latest blog post, with a link and hashtags, such as this example, below.

Automated tweet example

Automated tweet example

There were 50 RSS feeds being monitored, and out of those, five didn’t post anything in the last 20 months. There were another 38 feeds that were only tweeted between 1 and 84 times. That totals 883 tweets in total.

The top four feeds were posted 1,068 times alone, more than the rest of the list, combined. They were for the four biggest content producers in Perth (it seems), being;

Techboard
Startup News
Prezentt
6Q

The entire list of feeds that Startup Perth has been watching is at the footer of this post, for your perusal.

Time spent
As well as the 32.5 hours of manual re-tweeting and sharing, there was around 1-2 hours per month, checking feeds, answering questions, and other administration.

Outgoings
There were costs involved in doing this, mainly;

Domain name ($20 per year)
Hosting (sponsored by Bam Creative)
Automation ($20 per month)

All up, this side project has cost me in hard money, $440.00 in total.

Income
Absoutely nothing.

To be fair, I’ve never gone hunting for any sponsorship or support. In fact, it is a little perplexing for me how I should approach any sponsorship; what do they sponsor? I guess I could have a paid to be included feed, as long as the content was on topic, or a weekly/month ‘This feed supported by SPONSOR NAME’ type arrangement.

Future of Startup Perth
Having done all the above sums, spending 50 hours and $440 every 20 months for a side project that doesn’t give me any financial gain does seem a little daunting to continue. I do love helping fellow startups out, and never started with the plan of making this some profitable activity, though I would be keen to get something to cover costs.

At this stage, I rate the financial success of this side project a big fail, however I’m continuing for the meantime, whilst I ponder any future it may have. If you have any keen thoughts, or want to berate me for wasting my time, please comment below.

Companies being promoted
Here is the list of the 45 Perth startups who did get some content out, via their RSS feeds I am automatically monitoring. Well done for this lot getting some promotion out there.

Startups being promoted

Startups being promoted

Perth city from Kings Park

Lessons and Data on Growing My Side Project

The three month deadline which I initially set for this $99 side project experiment is nearly here; in this article, I share my latest learnings from growing my side project with experiments, discuss financials and make decisions on where to go from here.

Quick background
A quick summary; I started a weekly curated growth marketing email as a side project at the start of this year, with a 3 month deadline and a budget of $99.

I have written a few times about what I have taken away from the project and some growth experiments, which are here;

Introducing My $99 Side Project for 2017
Growth Hacking Newsletter Side Project Update
My Weekly Curated Growth Marketing Email [Update 3]

Recent experiments
A combination of being busy with other work and wanting to see natural growth when I am not pushing it, has meant that I’ve not exerted myself too far with growth experiments over the last few weeks. I’ve had two experiments worth sharing though, posting on Medium and promoting using Quuu.

Publishing article with lead magnet on Medium
One activity I had imagined would work really well for me, was posting an article, 100 growth marketing articles you really should read, on Medium.

Article on Medium

Article on Medium

I spent a few hours and collated all the content I have sent so far, and put it in a Google sheet for new subscribers to download or use. Then I added a form at the footer of the article, using Upscribe to collect subscribers from within Medium.

Google Sheet

Google Sheet

So far, the article has had 430 views (which is okay), and 24 recommends (awesome!) however had only 8 new subscribers. That’s a lot of work for just 8 new subscribers.

The main reason for the lack of reads and new subscribers would definitely be that the growth.email Medium account has only 148 followers. In hindsight, I should have posted it on my own personal Medium account, which has 3,300 followers. A rookie mistake which I now regret.

Trying out Quuu
Quuu is an interesting service. They provide a cheap service to fill your social queue with related content, and also offer Quuu Promote, a service that you can pay to share your content (if it is approved).

I paid $30 to share my previous article on this side project, as a way to encourage people to this blog, and hopefully flow on to subscribing to growth.email. The campaign resulted in 467 shares and 108 clicks.

Quuu Promote results

Quuu Promote results

These results reaffirm something I’ve known for a while, which is many people share content without actually looking at it themselves.

As a cost per click exercise, the campaign cost me $0.28 per click ($0.06 per share), which is cheaper than the $0.38 per click on reddit, and way cheaper than the $20 per click on Facebook. The most affordable result so far with paid experiments growing my side project.

Tweeting more content
The growth.email Twitter account @thegrowthemail has been steadily building up an audience since it started 3 months ago. It now has 1,325 followers, and a large reason for that is the increase in the amount of content I have it sharing per day, using my favourite social media scheduling tool, Buffer.

It now tweets six times per day (up from 2-3 daily tweets a month ago), with many of the tweets being the articles I have curated within growth.email so far. The combination of specific content (growth marketing) and relevant hashtags has meant it is organically growing nicely.

Content curation workflow
As well as growing my side project, I have achieved more in curation workflow, now sorting my Feedly account into categorising content feeds better, so I am able to choose a spread of topics to review for inclusion. I have had a few people contact me asking if their articles can be included. I’ve reviewed their blogs and where appropriate I have added to my Feedly.

Categories in Feedly

Categories in Feedly

Chasing revenue
Because I took a sponsorship booking until the end of June, it has meant that I can’t sell any new sponsorships. I’ve had four enquiries come in, however I’ve shared the sponsorship calendar (a Google sheet) and asked them to wait for availability.

Big lesson here is to not take advertising bookings so far in advance. They were charged at sub 1,000 subscriber rates, and I now have over 1,500 great people on the list. I’m not taking sponsorship bookings more than six weeks ahead now.

The future
The side project has been great for me, building more connections in the growth marketing industry across the globe, and encouraging more readers to my blog here, and extra subscribers to my own email list.

The experiments have been enjoyable and interesting, and has reaffirmed my interest in sharing results of experiments, something I can’t normally do with client work.

Future financials
The financials moving forward are tricky to balance. The costs of email delivery means that a weekly frequency is difficult to maintain in the longer term, which explains why so many established newsletter businesses are daily or multiple sends per week.

Potential income
Say I send once a week, versus twice a week (assumption here is that I have every email sponsored at $25 per thousand subscribers).

Subscribers Weekly email Twice weekly email
1,500 $37.50 $75
2,500 $62.50 $125
5,000 $125 $250
10,000 $250 $500

Now, let’s look at my possible expenses (my curation software has recently announced a major shift in their pricing plans, so when I go over 2,000 subscribers I won’t be paying $8 a month anymore).

Pricing plans for Goodbits

Pricing plans for Goodbits

This means, that at 2,500 subscribers, I would earn $268.75 a month on weekly sends, or $537.50 on twice weekly sends. I would pay the same outgoings of $49 per month in either scenario. So, the estimated profit of either $219.75 (weekly) or $488.50 (twice weekly) per month.

So whilst we know the costs remain the same, the income can vary greatly depending on frequency and obviously, the amount of subscribers you have on your list. The 10,000 subscribers at twice a week means a monthly profit of $2,101 which would be a great result; a motivator in growing my side project.

Beyond the deadline
I am going to continue with growth.email past my initial deadline of 30 March, for at least another few months, and see what the subscriber growth curve looks like. Depending on how things progress growing my side project, it is possible that spending an hour or so a week curating interesting articles and emailing them out could be a worthwhile endeavour. It is still enjoyable and I like giving back to the community, so for now, it’s still a go from me.

If you haven’t yet, I would appreciate you signing up to growth.email – the content is high quality and it is easy to unsubscribe at any time, should it disappoint.

Old clock

How (& Why) You Should Find Time for Side Projects

I’m a strong believer in side projects. The work I have been doing on my $99 side project, and sharing the lessons with my readers is testament to that. I strongly believe we should all have a side project; designer, developer, writer, photographer, software engineer; just about anyone.

In this article, I cover my reasons why I feel side projects are great and share a few suggestions on where to create the time to do them.

The benefits of side projects
There are many benefits in doing side projects, including;

  • You get to try different workflows, software, try new things – you get to experiment.
  • They don’t have to provide you with a living. You can still eat if they fail.
  • You get to actively avoid skills decay.
  • They don’t have a deadline. And as there is no time pressure, you don’t revert to your usual formula.
  • You get to challenge yourself, trying out new things.
  • You get great satisfaction getting something working.

As an example, instead of just hosting the landing page for my growth.email side project, I purposely chose a different hosting provider, and had to install Apache, set up security, etc on my own. Sure, it turned into hours of work, instead of minutes but was personally gratifying when I completed it.

How to make time for side projects
I started writing this post in a Malaga cafe, whilst I was waiting 90 minutes for my 8 year old who is attending a nearby birthday party on a Sunday afternoon. I got some side project work done, wrote the beginnings of two blog posts and managed to get a mocha in.

I’m now finishing this post, the following night after dinner, on Monday evening. This is the sort of thing I regularly do – look for small opportunities between other responsibilities, such as housework, cooking and driving my kids around.

There are a number of things you can do, to set aside time for side projects.

Schedule time for side projects
I actually schedule my personal side projects in my calendar, so I get an alert. At the moment, I’m only spending about two evenings a week, as well as intermittent time elsewhere.

The way something gets done is by repeatedly allocating time to it. It doesn’t need to be five nights per week; whatever you set aside make sure you stick to it.

Stop watching television
I stopped watching TV a number of years ago, and it has given me so much additional time. I do have a Netflix habit, but at least I can watch what I want, when I have time (typically an evening per week), instead of being at the mercy of terrestrial broadcasters.

I’m amazed how much TV many people watch; the same people who then complain that they don’t have any spare time. These people do have spare time – they have decided to spend it unproductively, sitting on a couch.

Recent research shows that Australians watch on average, 1,095 minutes of television per week. That’s 219 hours, or nearly 10 days a year. That’s an insane waste of time.

Be picky with meetups and other events
I could easily attend 2-3 different startup and digital community events per week, if I accepted most mass invites. I enjoy going to them, there is great benefit in networking, however I also enjoy getting things done; maybe it’s just the introvert in me. I do my best to limit these to 1-2 per month instead.

Have a regular sleep pattern
I’ve suffered insomnia much of my life. I found the way to battle this, is to try and walk a fair amount every day, and go to bed and rise at the very same time. I have my watch remind me when it is 11pm, and I should be going to bed, and I am out of bed no later than 6am, every day of the year.

Keep a checklist for side projects
Just like your own day job, which no doubt has checklists and schedules, do the same with your side projects. Here’s a chance also to try different task management tools, or just keep a text document with your priorities.

Be frugal with your time
Be mindful of taking on too much stuff. Launch a lean MVP of your side project and slowly chip away at extending it. I am a true believer in Horstman’s corollary to Parkinson’s law, which states that work contracts to fit in the time we give it.

Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.

Make this year, the year of side projects – chip away at something until you’re satisfied, and then show the world. I look forward to seeing what you create. Best of luck!

Stars at Night

How to Regularly Promote Your Content in No Time at All

Sharing your content on social media is a surefire way to increase traffic to your blog or website, and help you promote your content. The problem is, most people post once, and then move on with their next article – therefore missing an awesome opportunity to continue to re-promote their still very relevant (evergreen) content.

In this post, I break down the absolutely easiest way to continually share your previous content, in a method that can take as little as five minutes a month, and bring your thousands of new visitors and shares.

Ingredients
You will need a few things before we get started.
A Buffer account
Plenty of non-time sensitive content
Wordpress (optional step)

The super-fast WordPress method
An absolutely quick way of exporting the titles and URL’s of every article you’ve ever written is the free plugin, List URLs, available for WordPress. It takes around 30 seconds to install, and then export a CSV file.

Simple exporting in WordPress

Simple exporting in WordPress

Collect all of your content
To promote your content, you will want to start by having a spreadsheet, with a column for the post title, the full URL, and related hashtags. Go through the sheet, and make sure all the encoding is right, and there are no strange characters.

Make sure this content is your best work, and is not time relevant. There is no point in promoting a blog post from two years ago, if it refers to something specific for that year, or is very out of date advice or knowledge.

For example, below is a sheet with most of the articles we’ve written for employee survey startup, 6Q. We have literally posted hundreds of articles over the last few years and most are great examples of evergreen content.

Your content spreadsheet

Your content spreadsheet

Choose the best hashtags
Hashtags, especially on Twitter, are a great way to encourage people to discover your tweets, and is a perfect method to promote your content. Tens of thousands of Twitter users every day search topics by hashtag, to find tweets and content worth engaging with.

So how do you know the best hashtags to use? I am a huge fan of Hashtagify, which makes finding appropriate hashtags very easy. You literally enter a seed keyword (in the example below, I used #contentmarketing) and then it uncovers other related hashtags that may suit.

Hashtagify

Hashtagify

So, we have now got a sheet with blog title, the full URL and a hashtag or two. Be careful to ensure the title and hashtags aren’t really long, as the old 140 character limit on Twitter may catch you out. Buffer will truncate the URL using your chosen URL shortener, so we can get away with lengthier lines at this point.

Prepare the file for use
Now export this sheet as a CSV (Most programs let you choose ‘Save as CSV’). You will now need to open this file in a text editor, and do two quick search and replace rules. First, remove the comma between the title and URL, and replace with a space. Next, replace the comma between the URL and hashtag, with another character space.

Save the file again, and you should end up looking something similar to the below.

CSV file of content links

CSV file of content links

Adding to Buffer in bulk
Now comes the best bit. Simply go to Bulk Buffer, connect to your Buffer account, and then upload the file. This will add these links to the end of your current schedule, so feel free to hit the Buffer shuffle button afterwards, to mix things up a bit, and promote your content along with your other content sharing.

Uploading using Bulk Buffer

Uploading using Bulk Buffer

Influencer engagement tip
If you have a file of other related articles that you’ve read and like, you can do the steps above, and append by @[username] to share their content. I’ve done this with all of the links I have shared in my growth marketing newsletter, as a second method of uncovering great content.

By sharing other peoples content, you are raising awareness with them that you exist too – before you know it, you may end up engaging with these influencers.

Here is an example tweet, where I’ve shared other content, which appeared in my growth.email newsletter, using my own personal Twitter account.

Example tweet using this method

Example tweet using this method

Regularly promote your content
In a few minutes a month, I have shown you how to promote your content over and over, with little effort and for free. Add to the CSV over time, and keep using Bulk Buffer to re-upload and top up your schedule every month.

Find this article useful? If you want to show appreciation, here’s a CSV file of a handful of my articles (including this one), which I’d appreciate you using the above method to share.

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