Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

Category: Startups (Page 1 of 6)

Brick wall

A Simple Semi-Automated Sales Process for Small Teams

If you are an established small business or startup, and have a need for some simple sales or outreach process, here’s a semi-automated method for genuine engagement.

We get new trial customers signing up to 6Q most days of the week, and although we have a very nice on-boarding email flow, there is nothing like an old fashioned, manually written email from the founder, to say hello.

The first step in this (the semi automation I refer to) is to take the details of every new trial sign up, and place it in our simple CRM.

To do this, we use the fantastic Zapier tool.

semi automated sales using zapier

Zapier recipe

I’m a huge fan of Trello, and given we don’t have thousands of leads at any one time, or want yet another CRM tool, we use a simple Trello board for the sales process.

There are five columns on this board, which follow our sales workflow. This is Signups > Emailed > Replied > Engaged > Decision. I’ll explain the steps further on.

What I do, is have each of our sign ups (which are stored in Customer.io) create a new Trello card, which is then placed at the bottom of the Signups list.

However, rather than just send over a name and email, I’ve got it sending a description, along with a few other key elements.

sales automation with Trello

Typical Trello card

Using Zapier, I have the card set to be due in 48 hours from when they sign up. If I don’t get to them within 2 days, it alerts me that it is overdue.

The card is also labeled in green, which means ‘new lead’ with our labels.

Zapier magically imports their full name, company name and email address to the description field of a Trello card.

It also creates a clickable link, which is a search query for the person and company name on LinkedIn. An example format would be “Miles Burke” +6Q site:linkedin.com as shown below.

Checking them out on LinkedIn

For every new sign up, I click that link and take a look at their LinkedIn profile, if I can find it (90% of the time, it’s the first result).

Google search results

Google search results

I do this for a number of reasons; mostly to ensure there’s a result. If there’s no result, I may save my effort researching and emailing, especially if the person’s email address is a free email provider.

Secondly, many LinkedIn users look at who is visiting their profile. If they see I have gone to the effort of finding them on LinkedIn (also known as light stalking), then there’s a greater chance of me getting some form of conversation started.

Thirdly, I can find out a little about the person for the email I’ll send. I see what they do, if we have mutual connections, and read their summary.

Sending an email

Instead of just sending an automated email, which is very easy for me to do with customer.io, I like to send a genuinely manual email to say hello.

Manual welcome email

Manual welcome email

You’ll notice a few things about this email. I start with their first name, properly capitalised (around 10% of our sign ups use all upper or all lower case, so it becomes obvious when it’s an automated email).

Then, I tend to sign off with the day of the week. This shows that my email is likely to be manual, and can be a risk if I was in a different timezone. However, given my timezone is +8 hours, most of the recipients are behind my time, so will still be waking up, if not still sleeping.

Finally, I use a BCC email address tied to Trello, so it automatically imports the email into Trello, like below.

Automatic email import using Trello

Automatic email import using Trello

Doing this saves me time, and also allows me to see what I wrote. I often will add a personal note to the email, such as ‘Hope Singapore is doing well today?’ or ‘Hey, I’ve visited Brooklyn and I loved it’ based on my research above.

I find by being manually written (to be honest, it’s a few minutes of effort), I get a far better response rate than any automated email (at least double if not higher in replies), and I tend to engage better as well.

Sorting cards into lists

Once I send the email, I move the card from Signups to Emailed list in Trello. That way, I have an instant to do list, being any cards that remain in signups list.

The lists are literally a reflection of my workflow from here, which goes like this;

Emailed
This is the list of people I’ve sent an email to, and am waiting a reply. The cards here may get a follow up or two from me, if there’s silence.

Replied
This is when the person replies, if at all. It is a good reminder for me to reply and follow up if needed.

Engaged
This is when we’re discussing on-boarding, or answering any questions. It could be that I need to run a screen sharing session, I am writing a customised proposal or we are going through due diligence for the enterprise sized customers.

Decision
The final list – this is where each card ends up, either labelled as a Yes, No or Undecided (that is, a stale contact where we’re not engaging after a few attempts).

In Summary

So here’s how I approach sales for my little SaaS product. I believe the more effort you put in to any direct marketing, the better the response rates. We’ve all seen those Hello %FIRSTNAME% emails before.

By having Zapier do some of the automation, it saves me time cutting and pasting, and ensures I spend my efforts where they are most needed; in manual relationship building mode.

If you’re looking for a sales process for small teams, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.

Join a Startup Community

Why Every Entrepreneur Should Join a Startup Community

Many people engage with their local startup community, and plenty more don’t. There’s many reasons these people may not engage. In this article, I explain why they should.

People who don’t join a startup community use reasons, such as;

  • There is nothing to gain from the time invested;
  • People in the community will steal their idea;
  • The startup they are working on is unique, and;
  • The startup community are not their ideal customers.

They’re mistaken, and they are missing some great opportunities. Here’s why.

What is a startup community?

A startup community is a group of entrepreneurs or startup folk who focus on innovation. These communities often engage in formal and informal meet ups, such as physical meetings, Slack channels, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups and mailing lists.

These physical and virtual places contain both new and seasoned startup founders, entrepreneurs, investors and others, and can be a powerful network for you to engage with.

Here are five reasons why you should join a startup community in your area (or a virtual community).

Learn from experienced founders

If you’re new to the startup world, joining your local startup community is an essential step towards your success.

People who have been in the trenches before you, often have valuable advice to give. You may feel your situation is unique, yet I disagree.

You could be facing an issue with customer validation, marketing concerns, product development or something else. I can assure you that it is likely you’ll find someone in the ecosystem who has been there before you.

Have a read of my article, Why You Shouldn’t Ask Friends or Family for Startup Feedback [& Better Ways] – you could be using your local community to help with validation, rather than biased friends.

Find potential customers

I have had contacts in the local startup community refer their customers to me, and even result in being customers themselves.

You may assume most people in the startup community are busy building their own products or businesses, and don’t have time to help.

What you will find is that many people are also employed by larger businesses, which may be your ideal customer.

Network for investment opportunities

Whilst I haven’t gone looking for investment myself, I have been approached if I plan to raise any time soon. In exchange I have connected those with investment funds to those who need them.

Even if you are bootstrapping your startup, you never know when your focus may change; these investor or angel contacts are very valuable to have.

Find others to partner with

Getting involved in the startup community can provide fantastic opportunities to partner with other startups which can further advance both businesses success.

It could be partnering through marketing, through to offering opportunities to each others customer bases.

Give more than you receive

The golden rule of networking in the startup community, is to always give more than you receive. That is, you should offer advice and suggestions to others, with zero expectation of return.

You will often find by providing this help with no strings attached, that you end up benefiting as well. I frequently offer advice or assistance where I can, and in exchange I have a network of people who help me with advice, referrals and more.

What about those initial concerns I mentioned?

There is nothing to gain from the time invested

Sure, you may find some events or online communities not useful, yet without engaging, how would you know where to spend your time? It needn’t be the burden of hours or days per week – put in whatever time you feel comfortable with.

People in the community will steal their idea

This is such a false idea. Many people in the startup community are already working on their own ideas, and aren’t interested in taking on more. You’ll find that ideas are plenty – it’s the team and execution which matters.

The startup they are working on is unique

Sure, it may be a unique product or concept, but I can assure you, the general framework won’t be unique. There are only so many different business models out there; it is very likely someone similar is within your reach.

The startup community are not their ideal customers

That can be true, but as I mentioned above, they may currently be employed part or full time with your perfect customer – or can introduce you to someone who is. My business has enjoyed some new customers this way.

How to find your startup community

If you aren’t yet involved with your local community, here are a few ways you can find one.

Local startup communities

If you know any other startup founders in your city, they are often the best people to ask. If not, try searching for accelerators or co-working spaces in your local area, and ask.

Many co-working spaces list regular events on their website – try going along to a few and see what happens.

Searching MeetUp.com is also a very handy way for finding informal groups that meet nearby.

Worst case, try searching for ‘entrepreneur group [your city name]’.

Virtual startup communities

There are a multitude of startup communities online. They often centre around real time tools, such as Slack teams, or use the groups feature on Facebook or LinkedIn.

See this fantastic list of 100+ Slack Communities for a Startup CEO.

Search for Facebook and LinkedIn groups as well, with the former often having better engagement. In my experience, many LinkedIn groups seem to be pretty vacant or full of spam.

Perth Startup community

Perth Startup community

Summary

By joining a virtual or local startup community, you create great opportunities in many ways for both yourself and your startup.

Remember to offer genuine help to others with no expectation of return. Being genuinely helpful often results in a great return.

featuredstartup.com

How I Created My Latest Side Project in 3 Hours for $13.24

I have had this side project idea for a while now, which combines my love for promoting early stage startups and my interest on hearing the stories on how they were inspired.

I spent a few hours last Sunday afternoon, in between household chores and playing computer games with my youngest child, putting together an MVP of it, to see how well received it would be. In this article, I share the tools which I used, and the process I went through.

Planning

Who needs detailed planning, when it’s just a side project? That’s not exactly true, however I knew this was just an MVP to gauge initial reactions to the idea, so I avoided doing much planning, outside of writing a few rough dot points to give me some direction.

Side project dot points

Side project dot points

Register a domain name

So this is where my big budget of $13.24 ended up being spent. I had noticed the featuredstartup.com domain name was available a while back, and took the plunge and bought it.

I have a terrible habit of buying domain names when I notice them, and I currently have a few dozen domain names already in my name, so I was quite proud I held off purchasing it until I actually needed it.

Featured Startup domain receipt

Featured Startup domain receipt

Set up hosting

I’m using Digital Ocean for these side projects. I have a bunch on there already, and it costs peanuts for a great server. 1Gb of RAM and 30Gb of SSD space costs me a total of $10 a month, and I have around 10 side projects in various stages hosted on it, with 29Gb of disc space spare.

Install WordPress

WordPress is literally the easiest CMS to get up and running; it takes all of five minutes before you are ready to add your first post. The best part is the trillion themes, plug ins and developer communities out there supporting WordPress already. It would be insane to choose anything else for this.

Find an appropriate WordPress theme

This is one of the most time consuming parts, because there are literally hundreds of places to find thousands of free and paid themes.

I wanted to find a theme that would work well with an interview style format in the individual posts, and a simple method to display the latest startups on the homepage. I ended up settling with the free version of Tracks.

Given this is literally the first incarnation of this site, if my previous projects have shown me something, it is likely I’ll change themes a few times until I am really happy.

Add my three favourite WordPress plugins

Every time I install WordPress, the first thing I tend to do is install the same three very useful plugins. They are;

Yoast SEO
This is a very useful plugin that provides you with a quick summary of how your SEO will look for a particular post, and makes suggestions on getting your content ready to rank well.

Insert Post Ads
I use this plugin to drop in a standard call to action (CTA) in the middle of blog posts, such as the subscribe box here on my blog.

Jetpack
This is the official WordPress plugin, created by Automattic, the people behind WordPress. It has a bunch of useful features, and the free plan tends to be enough for most side projects.

Create a form to collect responses

To avoid email ping pong and keep things easy for me, I created a survey form using Google forms.

The two main benefits with Google forms (besides being free) are that you can save the responses in a Google sheet, which is what I needed for the automation I wanted to do, and you can update the form questions at any time.

I have these survey responses being saved per line in a Google Sheet, so I can do some magic to save time, as per my next point.

Create automation magic

As mentioned, I wanted to do some automation magic with the form responses, so I hooked up Zapier to automatically grab the latest responses in my Google sheet and post them as drafts to WordPress, using this Zap.

This was the fun part. I know from previous experience, it can be very time consuming to copy and paste interviews and responses from an email thread, format it all nicely and consistently, and then plonk it into WordPress.

Using this Zapier recipe, means that as a new line appears in the Google Sheet (above), it automatically imports it into WordPress, formats it, and saves it as a draft for my review.

I can then tweak things, add an image and blockquote, etc in no time at all. Awesome!

Set up email marketing

I’ve been using Mailerlite for my own personal blog and a few other side projects, and I’m becoming a bigger fan every time I use it.

I created a simple email template which grabs the latest articles from the RSS feed, and sends them out once a day to subscribers.

Featured Startups email

Featured Startups email

Created a popup email form

The great thing with Mailerlite over similar email tools, is they provide an easy way to create a popup form in literally a few minutes, and then you just take the provided Javascript, and add it to the WordPress template. Voila!

Add an email subscribe form

As I mentioned earlier, I installed the very useful Insert Post Ads plugin, then I whipped up a quick subscribe box, so it appears in every interview.

Set up Twitter

As per usual, I created a Twitter account. I couldn’t get @featuredstartup which was frustrating, so I settled on @featurestartup which was close enough.

I actually cheated here slightly, renaming an existing yet dormant Twitter account I already had, and set up some quick branding.

Featured Startups Twitter account

Featured Startups Twitter account

You will notice there’s a nice image of a laptop showing the Featured Startup site, both in the header of the Twitter account and this blog post. Nope, that isn’t my laptop or coffee table. I created this image using a fantastic resource, called Magic Mockups, which allows you to import an image or URL, and place it on a variety of photographs of different devices and settings.

A little Twitter automation

Another cool Zapier zap is the ability to grab the Twitter username from the Google Sheet which stores my survey submissions, and send out a personalised thank you tweet.

Example automated tweet

Example automated tweet

In the example above, the @bobs username was taken from the sheet, along with the ‘Billys Bargains’ name. Neither of these are real, by the way. This was just a test to show the automation works before I start getting real submissions using the same workflow.

The Final Result

After around 2.5 to 3 hours of work, my latest side project is now live and ready for you to check out. Currently, Featured Startup will be posting a new startup every weekday. This may grow over time, depending on the volume of submissions and interest from readers.

Worst case, the site doesn’t get much interest and I’ll eventually just leave it stagnant. Best case, the startups I feature get plenty of new interest.

How to get your startup featured

If you take a look at the site, you’ll find out that in order to submit your own startup to be possibly featured on the site, you will need to join the mailing list, and visit some of the other startups that get featured.

Without giving all the fine details away, it is fairly trivial to see which subscribers are actively engaging with the emails, and the corresponding invitation links will only be sent to those subscribers with a certain minimum engagement score.

The purpose of this is to see if I can increase engagement, and make the selection process a little harder to stop the ‘drop a link and run’ types. I’ll report back later how this has worked.

Note: Both the Digital Ocean and Mailerlite links above are affiliate links. I get a small credit in my existing accounts (as do you), if you sign up from that link. This hasn’t influenced my mention of them; they are both awesome services in any case.

South Perth foreshore

Australian Startup Events & Conferences July 2017 to June 2018

I’ve previously written about the value that conferences and major events can have for attendees, and I am a strong believer in regularly attending events (See my article on attending last years RISE conference in Hong Kong).

They can be a great opportunity to network with your peers, build new relationships, learn a few new things, and possibly just enjoy getting away from the desk. See my article, Why You Should Attend Two Conferences a Year.

Although Australia is getting great traction and activity in the startup space, it doesn’t seem to have resulted in plenty of large scale startup events or conferences (yet…). You’ll also notice the list seems to be sadly very Sydney centric.

Here are the major Australian startup events and conferences coming up over the 17/18 financial year, which I am aware of.

The Australian startup events and conferences list

Last updated: 4 July 2017. Sorted by date for financial year, 2017/2018.

Australian startup events, Southstart

Southstart Conference

When: 5/6 July 2017
Where: Adelaide, South Australia

SouthStart is a conference focusing on technological innovation and startups, combining an expo and startup pitching competition which aim to connect, educate, inspire, and showcase South Australia startup businesses.

More info: Southstart website

B2B Rocks

When: 28 September, 2017
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

Back for a second year in Sydney, this single day event has been running in Paris since 2013, and was well received in Sydney last year. Every B2B founder should consider getting to it, if they can. Thanks Alex for the submission!

More info: B2B Rocks website

Tech23

When: 10 October 2017
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

Tech23 may be a single day event, but don’t let stop you. It is getting bigger by the year, and there is always a stellar lineup of people attending.

More info: Tech23 website

Spark Festival

When: 13-22 October 2017
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

From all reports, this has become as big as Sydney, with a calendar full of events over 9 days again scheduled for this October, it is definitely an event to keep an eye on.

More info: Spark Festival website

Startcon

Startcon

When: 1/2 December 2017
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

I attended last years Startcon as an exhibitor in the Startup Alley, which meant I sadly missed many of the talks. A great time was had, however, and this is an Australian startup event I would recommend.

More info: Startcon website

West Tech Fest

When: 4-10 December 2017
Where: Perth, Western Australia

Held as part of the OzApp Awards, the West Tech Fest is a variety of Australian startup events all held at various venues close to the city in Perth, over a week long period. Typically held in the first week of December, dates to be added when they are announced.

More info: OzApp website

CeBIT Startup Conference

When: 15-17 May 2018
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

As part of the very large CeBIT Conference in Sydney, CeBIT is returning with their expo zone and startup conference in 2018. Last year featured speakers from AirTree Ventures, Pollenizer, Sydney School of Entrepreneurship and more.

More info: CeBIT website

The Sunrise Conference

When: May 2018 (TBC)
Where: Sydney, New South Wales

Pitched as ‘founders helping founders’, this event is organised by well known VC firm, Blackbird Ventures. This years speaker list was very impressive, so I’m sure next year will be just as good. (Thanks Stuart!).

More info: Sunrise website

Internet of Things Festival

When: 2-5 June 2018
Where: Melbourne, Victoria

Not exactly a generalist startup conference, however I thought since there’s a thriving IoT community, it was interesting enough to add to this list. It is also the sole Melbourne event on this list (surely there must be more?).

More info: IoT Festival website

Myriad

Myriad

When: Dates TBA
Where: Brisbane, Queensland

The Myriad website doesn’t reveal a lot, and there are no dates yet for Myriad 2018, however checking out their blog over at Medium may give you a sense of what they are all about.

More info: Myraid website

Am I missing an Australian startup event?

Know an Australian startup event, which caters for most founders and startups, which is at least a full day in length (and not a hackathon or barcamp) which I haven’t included? Let me know please by posting in the comments below!

Perth Helicopter

My Latest (Old) Side Project Promoting Perth Startups

At the start of 2017, I promised myself to spend this year launching four different side projects. One every quarter.

I’ve got three other side projects part ready, and growth.email which I am still running, however for this quarter I’ve decided to double down on something I began a while ago as a purely community project.

I’d like to introduce an old side project which has been bubbling away, however now it’s time to put some real effort in. Startup Perth is a Twitter account and associated landing page, which I started back in August 2015, as a way to promote fellow Perth startups and innovators.

Over time, it has grown to become a valuable resource for the local startups which receive extra visibility and promotion as a result, and to the 18,500+ people who follow the account, who get an insight into local innovators.

I wrote an article just recently about the progress so far. This reminded me how much I spent, both financially and the hours I have been putting in over the last 20 months.

I’ve made the decision to dedicate the next three months to either get at least the money and time I am spending promoting Perth startups, covered through some income, or look at either selling it, or shutting down. Whilst I started it purely for the benefit of the community, it is taking time and money that I could be using towards one of my other side projects (or, you know, a life).

The trick is, that it’s typically hard to monetise a Twitter account.

Marketing Benefits of Startup Perth for Startups
Whilst the idea of sharing content on Twitter seems very simple and low value, it’s actually very valuable for brands, as most marketers attest to. In this article on Quuu, they discuss five benefits, being

  • It’s Free Traffic
  • Engage and Cultivate Even More Free Traffic
  • Your Google Rankings Will Rise
  • You’ll Get Indexed Faster
  • You’ll Create a Better Relationship with Customers

One of the big benefits for many of the startups I have been sharing content from, is the search engine rankings, and the exposure of these brands to new markets. A while back, I started sharing one particular startup which had 9 Twitter followers at the time. A week later, they had 24 – all naturally as a result of Startup Perth sharing their tweets.

This is great validation that comes from promoting Perth startups, especially early stage innovators.

Recent statistics show a high correlation between those successful on social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ also have much success in Google visibility.

Recent changes to Startup Perth
In the last 13 days, I have been getting a few tasks lined up and completed, to give this quarter a better chance of success.

I started by overhauling the Startup Perth website (it used to be just a page here on my blog).

Afterwards, I deleted a number of old automated feeds, and added a few new startups. I also changed the timing for many of these, and tweaked the hashtags that are associated with them.

I also compiled a contact list for each startup, and put it in a spreadsheet. I have reached out to all of these businesses by email, and I confirmed their URL, name, etc is all perfect.

New Startup Perth website

New Startup Perth website

The plan for Startup Perth
So this is what I am going to attempt to achieve over the next three months. I’m going to spend the next two months building further engagement on Twitter, as well as trying to attract income to cover the costs.

Depending on how this goes, I’ll spend the final month either negotiating for selling the name, website and Twitter account or shutting the account down.

Building engagement
Startup Perth already attracts a fair amount of engagement. Most tweets are retweeted, replied to or favourited. So here are a few things I’ll be trying over the next month;

Add more visual quotes. I’ve tried these on and off, and they are always well received. Inspirational quotes that relate to startups and innovation.

Daily focus tweets. I am scheduling a daily tweet, where we focus on one of the startups in my automated posting list.

Reaching out and saying hello. I’ll be using the account and say thanks to a few followers, and hello to some new followers.

Promoting Perth startups. I’ll continue doing what I have been, and try to find new startups to start promoting as well.

Generating income
There are a few possible methods of getting income whilst also promoting Perth startups. I believe I could just demand a monthly/annual fee to include the 35 startups I am currently promoting, or I could sell sponsorship for a time period such as a week or month (Like “This week’s tweets are brought to you by 6Q”).

These methods, however, put those early stage startups, who typically are bootstrapped and possibly not making any money at this stage, at a disadvantage.

The model I am going to try first, is literally just ask for donations, using a PayPal link. This way, the startups and others who gain value from the service, and who can afford to spend a little on advertising can send me what they feel is adequate and fair value, and those who don’t have the spare marketing budget, don’t feel pressured to.

How you can help
If you want to help, sharing this post, or retweeting Startup Perth would be a great help.

If you follow the account, and feel you are getting value from it, a small donation towards running it would be nice. If you are from one of the startups that I am currently promoting, I would appreciate you pitching in a small part of your marketing budget towards paying the bills.

See this page for more detail.

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