Goals and plans and some rambling

Some time ago I changed my lead form from asking for just name and email to asking for name, email and phone number. Conversions fell off a cliff. After about a week and a half of getting almost no leads, I changed it back to just asking for name and email. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my ad budget often runs out near the end of the month and I stop getting leads no matter what.

For most of September I’ve been getting a reasonably steady stream of email addresses coming in, but almost no phone calls or chats for some reason. I’m actually kind of glad that this lull has happened because it made me realize that the email-only leads aren’t very valuable. I had been automatically emailing each lead, but almost no one would respond. (I realize should be sending more than just one email to each person.) But it’s just so much easier to follow up via phone, at least for me.

So about a week ago I changed my lead form back to requiring phone number. Actually, I require a lot more stuff now. The form is now a questionnaire designed to filter out bad leads.

So far I’ve gotten 5 leads over the course of 10 days. I get about 222 visits a month or 222/30 = 7.4 a day, so 10 days is 74 visits. That makes my conversion rate 5/74 ~= 6.8%. That’s a small sample size, of course, but it gives me a rough idea.

I had been thinking earlier that it feels lame to only get one lead every 2 or 3 days, but when I put it in terms of conversion rate it doesn’t sound so bad.

I had also had some ideas around target conversion rates before I even did any number crunching. Here’s what I was thinking.

Step Target conversion Rate Predicted volume/month
PPC Click N/A 222 ($500/$2.25 bid)
Fill out lead form 5% 11
Do a screenshare demo 50% 5
Start 30-day trial 50% 2
Become a paying customer 50% 1

I’d be pretty happy with these percentages, and I don’t know that I can hope for much better. I’m not terribly thrilled with the idea of paying $500 for just one customer each month. In the first two or three months of my PPC campaign (I forget), I got 7 free trials going at once. That means 7/3 = 2.3 trials per month, which is actually pretty close to my prediction here, especially because the real un-rounded percentage would be 2.5. And out of my complete months of PPC so far (June, July, August), 3 of those 7 trials converted to paid. So funnily enough, I’m realizing that the numbers I’ve already seen pretty closely match my targets above. The earliest input ($500/mo for 222 clicks) and latest output (3 paying customers) are easy to measure. I haven’t kept very good track so far of number of demos that I’ve done, although I guess I’ve kept good enough track of how many trials I had started, since I know the exact number (7).

Even though $500/mo for 1 customer isn’t the most desirable ROI in the world, it’s not so out of whack that I wouldn’t be willing to pay it. If somebody asked me if I’d pay $5000 to instantly have 10 more customers right now, I’d probably say okay. At this stage I think I just need better revenue, even if it takes an unscalable initial cash outlay.

Let’s see, if I do spend $5K for an additional 10 customers (over time), that would be roughly $300/mo more in revenue, bringing me to about $720/mo. If I spent $10K that would get me to just over $1000/mo, which is a milestone I’ve been shooting for for a long time.

I’ll be really curious to see how October goes. I’ve gotten roughly jack shit in September so far. I think I’ve done one demo. For this I blame the fact that I haven’t been collecting phone number in my lead form (even though I hadn’t been before), plus the apparent fact that September is a slow salon month. And maybe just a little plain old bad luck. If October goes well then by that time I’ll have a sufficiently large sample size that I think I’ll be comfortable in November spending a little more than the previous $500/mo.

“Weekly” Snip Report, Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Wow! I’ve missed over a month’s worth of posts. Sorry about that.

Kind of a lot has happened in my life since last time I posted, although not a ton with Snip.

I had a situation with a client where they wanted to hire me full-time and I didn’t want to, so I gave them two conditions that I expected them not to go for: 1) I could only commit to a year at most, and 2) I wanted a certain crazily high salary. For better or worse, they called my bluff and met those two conditions. So for the next year, I’m a full-time employee as opposed to purely a freelancer. It’s not a substantially different arrangement from most of the contracting gigs I’ve had over the last couple years, a number of which have been 40 hours a week, some off-site work and some off-site work. It’s a good gig with good people, so I’m not complaining. I just really didn’t expect them to say yes to my two conditions which for most prospective employers would probably be deal-breakers.

For some reason September has been a quiet month as far as sales activity goes. For the first couple weeks I got almost no opt-ins to view my demo video. I suspect Labor Day weekend as a possible culprit. I normally have gotten kind of a lot of phone calls, too, but lately I haven’t. I’ve only gotten a couple, and so far I’ve only done one screenshare demo, although the demo video opt-ins have certainly picked back up to normal levels.

Previously my view-demo-video opt-in asked for name and email, and then I would send an automatic email to the prospect asking what features they were looking for. Almost no one would respond, and those who would respond would usually go dark immediately. (I know, I should be sending each person a million emails to follow up. But I FUCKING SUCK at that and it’s probably never going to happen while I’m the person actually doing it.) So I changed my form to a long dis-qualification form asking for their phone number, what features they’re looking for, and a few other things. I expect this form to have a lower conversion rate, but since every conversion will include a phone number, it may well be better than getting about one email address every day that I can’t effectively do anything with.

I decided I’ll leave this form this way for a solid month to see how it performs. I had tried asking for phone number before, but I got scared after just a week or so and switch back to no-phone. I don’t think I tried it for long enough. Happily, someone actually filled out my form within the first couple hours of its existence, so that’s good encouragement to keep it up.

I went to Double Your Freelancing Conference last week, which was totally fucking awesome. I met a lot of really cool people. One of the people I met was Brian Casel, who mentioned that when he had his longer lead form for Restaurant Engine, it was helpful if he could catch the submissions right away and call them back within a few minutes. When he said it, I was like, “Oh, DUH!” because my form doesn’t notify me when I get a new submission. (Something in my server’s email configuration is fucked up or something.) So I should fix that, ASAP. I also talked to Allan Branch who suggested that I could maybe do “fake” online booking where clients fill out a form, then an actual person handles booking the appointment for them. That would be (as far as I can think) so simple and easy to implement, and I could conceivably double my whole revenue based on that. Those two things alone basically made the whole cost of attending DYFC worth it.

So I guess I’ll have some interesting news to report after a month or so after I let my lead form go for a while. Or sooner, I guess. I just asked my support person to call all my customers and ask them if they would use online booking if we offered it, and if so, how much they would pay for it.

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.