Weekly Snip Report, Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Things keep getting better.

In a previous post I described a conception of a sales process which I’ll abbreviate here:

  1. Initial phone call with prospect
  2. Screenshare demo with prospect
  3. Collect prospect’s credit card info and begin 30-day trial
  4. Follow up with prospect via phone throughout trial

At the time I wrote about this process it was pretty much untested. Since that time I’ve had the chance to try it out on live subjects and, perhaps somewhat shockingly, it has worked quite well exactly the way I first conceived it. In fact, I used steps 2 and 3 with a prospect today and collected a new credit card number.

Right now I have 7 prospects in a free trial, 5 of whom have CC info on file with me. These are definitely unprecedented numbers. Six of those trials end in the next 30 days.

So I’ll continue to let the machine run, and keep up with sales work, support work, and some product development. I had consciously decided to pause active product development some months (maybe years!) ago, but new sales activity has required me to pick back up.

I’ve changed my pricing structure and reduced some existing customers’ prices as a result. Revenue in July was about $250, lower than the best-ever month of $430. If all 7 of these trials convert (which I’m not holding my breath for), it will be at least an additional $210/month, putting me at $460/mo. I think I can reasonably expect $500/mo to be just around the corner, which would be a new high. The next milestone in my sights after that is $1000/mo, which will be cause for celebration. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I also reached another milestone: my server could no longer handle the growing load and I had to up my Heroku dynos from 2 workers to 3. Like a number of other things I’m dealing with, good problem to have.

Weekly Snip Report, Thursday, August 13th, 2014

I had another good prospect get onboarded late last week, I believe it was. The leads continue to come in at a pretty steady rate.

Consulting is very busy. I work all day almost every day. That part sucks.

I have no mental energy left to write this.

Weekly Snip Report, Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Things are still going well with the PPC campaign. I don’t really have a whole lot to say besides that. Just gotta let the system do its thing for a couple months to make sure it’s actually working the way I believe it’s working, then crank it up from $500/mo to $1000/mo and see if the results get doubled.

I decided that if things look good for June, July, August and September, I’ll set it to $1000/mo in November. There’s a 30-day delay between the end of a month and when I know how that month really did, so that’s why I say November as opposed to October.

Weekly Snip Report, Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

The last seven days have been pretty good, I guess. I got some new leads. Two of them seem good, and one of them seems so good that I’m about 95% sure they’ll become a customer.

I’ve come up with a potential solution to a major problem in my sales funnel.

The problem I have, which I’ve had forever, is that people will sign up for a free trial but then never use it. There seems to be a mismatch between the kind of effort that’s required to get the trial going and the effort the prospect is willing to put in at that point.

Here’s the idea I came up with:

  1. The first step has to be a phone conversation. Sometimes prospects call me via the 800 number. For people who view the demo, I get their email address. I think either way the first real interaction has to be a phone call. During this phone call I can try to uncover any reason they would NOT make a good prospect. (For example, if they need online booking, that’s just not something I offer, and there’s no point in us talking.) When I say the first step has to be a phone call, I’m saying this in contrast to starting a trial. During this first phone call, I’ll invite the prospect to the next step.
  2. The next step has to be a live demo. It could either be a GoToMeeting type thing or a phone call where we just both look at the product. The point is that it has to be synchronous, real-time. This is where I’d want to get ALL the objections out of the way. The outcome here should be either that we determine Snip is clearly not a good fit, or we move to the next step.
  3. The next step is the 30-day trial with credit card required up front. I’ve had enough people sign up for free trials by now without ever doing anything that I don’t care if requiring a credit card hurts the conversion rate of the trial step. It would probably actually boost the overall conversion rate.
  4. Once the prospect has started the trial, I need to take much more advantage of the phone than I have so far. I should be calling the prospect the next day, a few days later, and then once a week or so after that. I need to not let them go cold.

So what work does that translate into for me?

  1. The only thing necessary here is for me to say different stuff in the call. “Do you think there’s any chance Snip might be a good fit for you? Yes? Okay, the next step is to do a 15-minute demo together on the computer so you can actually see how it works. Can we schedule that now?”
  2. I don’t know if this will require any extra work. So far what I’ve done for the demo step is to start a free trial for the prospect and then walk them through that. But I don’t want to do that anymore. From now on I just want to do a GoToMeeting for some fake account. It might be a good idea for me to populate that account with realistic-looking appointments, but that would definitely not be necessary, just potentially helpful.
  3. It would be a good idea, although again not necessary, for me to build a really nice-looking (trust-inspiring) trial sign-up page that includes credit card information. But I can also just take the info over the phone.
  4. For this step I just need to make more calls. No building of anything necessary.

So next time somebody calls the Snip 800 number (which I hope is really soon!), I won’t offer them a free trial. The goal of the call will be to get them to agree to a screenshare demo.

Thoughts on overtime

In general I think overtime is usually pretty dumb.

How much can the productivity of two people differ? Can one person be 100 times more productive than another person? An easier question to say yes to (although it’s the same question) might be: could someone be just 1/100th as productive as you? Yes, of course they could.

There’s a false belief shared by many that says you get twice as much done in 80 hours as in 40 hours. That might be true for one particular week. I don’t think it’s true stretched across a career. For those people who are 100 times as productive as others, it’s of course not because they work 100 times as much. High achievers increase their leverage by becoming more knowledgeable and finding more effective ways of working.

I do think that overtime is sometimes necessary and a good idea. I happen to be in the middle of a stretch right now where I’m working a lot of hours. I committed to 40 billable hours per week with a client, and then I have other responsibilities on top of that, like email, various administrative tasks, and my product business.

I think the tragedy is when people confuse an investment with a donation. I used to work with a guy at an agency who would regularly put in 70-hour weeks even though he was salary. He was working on client projects for clients he would never meet. As far as I could gather, no one appreciated his extra time. He might have thought he was making an investment in his career by working all this overtime, but really, since no one was noticing his overtime, he was just making a donation. It’s dumb to make donations to for-profit companies. My current overtime situation is justifiable to me because it’s totally mercenary. The more I work, the more I get paid. Money is what I want right now so I’m working as much as I can. I’ll be using some of this money to help situate myself so I don’t have to work as hard in the future.

Another bad reason for overtime is bad planning. Just because a manager committed to an unrealistic timeline doesn’t mean you’re all the sudden on the hook for a bunch of overtime. “Bad planning on your part doesn’t translate to an emergency on my part.” You might think you’re a hero for trying to meet the unrealistic deadline. It’s possible that you’ll be seen that way. It’s also possible that your overtime will go unnoticed or unappreciated. It’s also possible that you’ll send a signal to management that you’re okay with this “bad planning = overtime” arrangement and make yourself a candidate to receive more such jobs in the future.

Then there are genuine emergencies. If there’s a genuine emergency and refuse to work overtime, then you’re of course just a dick.

Overtime is also pointless if you dilute yourself, through lack of sleep or whatever, to the point of being, say, 50% as productive as normal. What good is it to work 80 hours if you’re only being half as productive? What’s worse yet, and probably not that uncommon, is when you drive yourself to be 0% as productive as normal. You’re just a zombie, sitting there, pretending to work. I’ve done that before. Pure stupidity.

Here’s what my advice would be to someone considering some overtime. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this an emergency or just bad planning?
  • By working this overtime, and I diluting my own productivity such that the overtime is actually a net loss?
  • Will my extra effort be appreciated or even noticed?
  • Am I making an investment or a donation?

Weekly Snip Report, Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Since last week (I think it was) I’ve been able to talk on the phone a couple times with a certain prospect. Two days ago he didn’t answer the phone when we had a scheduled appointment to talk, but then later that day he entered a good amount of info into his free trial. I called him again yesterday and my plan is to call him roughly daily until we reconnect. I’ve been learning from Steli to have more “follow-up hustle”.

I’ve been reading Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. It has really knocked my dick in the dirt, in a good way. Today I went through and totally re-did the copy on my landing page to reflect what I’ve learned from the book. I also added a lot more copy. I don’t have a good way of knowing whether the changes will have a positive effect on conversions, but I figure the quality of my copy should match my current level of copywriting knowledge/skill. I would link to the page but I don’t like to do that because it results in bogus leads.

I just have a couple minutes before a meeting…on the consulting side, the startup I was working for ran out of money and I got a new gig subcontracting for a local agency. (My job search only lasted 24 hours!) I also quit Andela because it was too little income as a part-time gig, but too much of a time commitment on top of something else. Sad but necessary.

Weekly Snip Report, Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Exactly two weeks ago I changed my landing page lead form from name/email to name/email/phone. The reason was that I was getting a good conversion rate (about 20%) but not a lot of engagement. I would see people give me their email address and then I wouldn’t necessarily ever get to talk to them.

I expected that this would affect my conversion rate and it did. It went from about 20% to about 10%. (As of today it’s actually 8.33%, although it’s been higher and might go back up.) So adding the phone number seems to have roughly cut the conversion rate in half. This seems worth it to me, though, because in my mind a lead with both phone number and email is more than twice as valuable as a lead with just email. Now I can call their asses over and over until they finally either move to the next step or tell me to fuck off.

Last time I blogged I had mentioned two strong prospects. They both became customers since then.

My plans for the near future are to fix some miscellaneous issues with the website that I think are affecting conversion.

So since I got two new customers in June by spending about $500, I’ll be interested to see if spending another $500 gets me another two customers or what.

How to get free help from me

A friend of mine once said, “I’ll help anybody with anything for free except what I do for work.” I generally have the same attitude, although I do sometimes help people with programming for free.

The challenge is that I don’t have any “free” time. All my time almost already has a job assigned to it, and any new activities have to take a bite out of prior obligations. So I’ve come up with kind of a system that I feel like allows me to provide the maximum amount of free help to people without making any promises I can’t keep.

If you’d like free help from me, here’s what to do: post your question on Stack Overflow and send me a link to the question. I’m very happy to try to help if time permits and I’m knowledgeable on the subject. The reason I ask that you use Stack Overflow is that a) if I can’t help, maybe someone else can, and b) if and when the question is answered, not only do you benefit but the whole community does as well.

If you have a question for me that’s not a detailed technical issue but rather a high-level career question, just send me a regular old email or tweet me. Just please don’t be offended if I take forever to respond. I’m terrible at email and getting worse!

My email address is jason@benfranklinlabs.com and I’m @jasonswett on Twitter. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Weekly Snip Report, Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

I missed last week. Sorry.

Interesting stuff has been happening with my Capterra PPC campaign. I had a certain landing page that was capturing about one lead today, quite predictably, and that was nice. If nothing else it was nice for motivation.

I got a call yesterday from an unknown number and it turned out to be a lady from Capterra. She seemed to be really strongly of the opinion that instead of just an email, I should be asking for a phone number in my initial landing page. I’m inclined to believe she has some idea what she’s talking about because she seemed to have had a lot of contact with other businesses using Capterra (naturally) who were asking for a phone number up front. Since the one-lead-a-day thing was nice but wasn’t getting me a whole heck of a lot of engagement, I decided I didn’t have much to lose by giving the phone-number-up-front thing a shot. So I added a “phone” field to the “Get Free Demo” form yesterday. We’ll see how it goes.

I also released a redesign of my website yesterday. It’s more like a first pass at a redesign, but even this rough first pass is a big improvement in my opinion over what I had before. I still need to make sure it looks okay on various browser, devices, etc. (which I’m pretty sure it doesn’t right now).

I’ve been receiving feedback from a couple prospects I’ve talked to that my pricing structure is fucked up. Until recently the only difference between my $49/mo plan and my $99/mo plan was that the $99/mo one offered text reminders. People understandably found that to be a lot of money for such a small difference. So I changed the pricing structure to $29, $49 and $69 depending on how many stylists you have (1-5, 6-10, 11+).

Out of the leads I’ve gotten so far, there are two particular ones that have been the most promising. Both have said they plan to use the software. One of those two just told me so today, so I gave her an incentive to get her credit card on file within the next day. For some stupid reason I didn’t try to create any kind of urgency for the other prospect, but I should probably go do that. If even just one of these two prospects actually becomes a customer, I’ll be happy with the ROI and fairly happy with the rate of acquisition.

Overall I’m feeling pretty good about the state of things right now. The path to success is more illuminated than it has ever been. I have a highly predictable stream of qualified traffic coming in. I had (until I recently changed it) a landing page that was capturing leads at a predictable rate. The challenge now is to get a higher level of engagement with those leads. We’ll see what the presence of the phone number field does. My hope and expectation is that I’ll get fewer leads but more qualified ones that I can engage with more easily.

Weekly Snip Report, Thursday, June 11th, 2015

My landing page was getting a pretty phenomenal conversion rate: roughly 20%. I realized after a while that I didn’t really have anything after that first funnel step that necessarily made a ton of sense as a next step.

I changed the landing page’s CTA from “Get Free Demo” to “Start Your 30-Day Free Trial” after a competitor very generously showed me his Capterra landing page that had free trial as the CTA instead of demo. He claimed to have gotten about 30 new customers over the course of six months from 300 trial sign-ups and $5k in spend.

Rather than trying to be cleverer than other SaaS business owners (which after four and a half years of effort I’ve discovered I’m clearly fucking not), I decided to just copy what my competitor has done in hopes that I might have similar results, or at least even a fraction of the results.

I discovered the other day that about half my Capterra traffic is going not to my landing page but to my homepage, which currently totally sucks. My pricing page is actually completely broken. So I think my next step will be to code up my website’s new design and put it out there.

Consulting is going well. My main client now has enough work for me that it’s basically the equivalent of a full-time job. Perhaps somewhat ironically, this is exactly what I didn’t want when I first started freelancing in October 2013, but now it’s pretty much exactly what I want.