Weekly Snip Report, April 11th, 2014

I didn’t put out a report last week. Sorry.

In the last three weeks I’ve worked on Snip almost not at all. As you might know, Snip’s revenue is only about $200/mo and so I support myself and my family by doing freelancing/consulting work. About three weeks ago I wrapped up a client project and, due to undercharging and undermarketing, the end of this particular project put me in kind of a tight spot. No work and no money. So my #1 priority for the last three weeks was getting more work.

As of yesterday I do have work, so the emergency period is over. I think now I will benefit from thinking of how to prevent this situation from arising again.

Automated Marketing

I don’t remember when I first became aware of the idea of an automated marketing system, but the earliest I recall hearing it described is a few months ago in the I Love Marketing podcast. At this point it seems obvious. The idea is that instead of “doing marketing,” you build marketing assets that you can deploy and reuse over and over without much additional effort.

An example would be an email autoresponder sequence. You build the autoresponder sequence once, set up a funnel to pull people into it, and it continues to work for you in the background while you move onto other things. Dan Kennedy also talks about automated marketing in his books and GKIC materials.

Applying Automated Marketing to BFL and Snip

(If you don’t know, BFL = Ben Franklin Labs, my consulting business.)

I think now is the time when I’m going to start to get serious about building an automated marketing system for BFL. I’m choosing to prioritize BFL over Snip because when my income dries up the world stops and I can’t work on Snip. One thing I’m super grateful for, by the way, is that Snip can pay its own bills and therefore is not a financial liability.

I don’t really know yet what I need to do to build an effective marketing system, but I tend to believe that not knowing what to do is not a good reason for not getting started. One thing I think I’ll try is a multi-step direct mail campaign that drives prospects to an opt-in page on the BFL site where prospects can download my (not-yet existent) “5 things you absolutely must know before hiring a programmer” white paper in exchange for their name and email address, which I’ll plug into my newsletter and/or an autoresponder sequence.

I guess that’s all I feel like talking about right now. I expect to have something interesting to report by next Friday, although it very well may be mostly BFL-related.

Oh, one more thing, actually. Snip’s search rankings had been going in the fucking toilet for a few weeks and I didn’t really understand why, and for some stupid reason I didn’t bother to try to figure it out. There was a certain date after which my impressions and clicks just went off a cliff. I figured out sometime in the last few days that it very well may be because either a) sniphq.com (my old domain, the one with all the link juice) was no longer redirecting to snipsalonsoftware.com and therefore not passing along its link juice, probably because I moved snipsalonsoftware from DreamHost to DNSimple or b) Google Webmaster Tools, inside my jason@sniphq.com Google account, for some reason no longer considered sniphq.com verified (which I guess I can understand). So I moved sniphq.com from DreamHost to DNSimple and got the 301 redirect working, then I added sniphq.com to my jason@snipsalonsoftware.com Google Webmaster Tools account and verified it. I expect in a few days to see sniphq.com populated with search data, and hopefully with its links showing up under snipsalonsoftware.com as well. Then I can stop not getting any search traffic. :)

Weekly Snip Report, March 28th, 2014

This week’s report is a little late. Today is actually April 1st.

The New Website

The new website is finally up! It’s not very impressive looking but you can see it here. Now that I have a WordPress-based marketing site the path is paved for exploding my content as well as adding opt-in pages to which I can send visitors from AdWords campaigns and/or direct mail campaigns. I’m pretty excited for the possibilities.

The Product

I’ve been continuing to chip away at the product. Nothing terribly fascinating to report here.

Future Plans

I still have a few loose ends to tie up with the website. The website has been such a huge prerequisite to so many other of my plans for so long that I realized just now I’m not even sure what I want to do first once the website switch is 100% done.

That’s all for now. I’m having a hard time concentrating because I’m at a coffee shop and a couple whiny whiners at a table next to me are complaining about their boss.

Weekly Snip Report, March 21st, 2014

Last week was a particularly good one.

Goal Progress

I’m happy to announce that, as planned, I brought a new customer onboard last Monday the 17th. This makes 6 customers, and I’m now 2 for 3 on my goal of getting one new Snip customer onboarded for each month of 2014. (January was the month I didn’t make it.)

The New Website

There is one and only one significant step in the way of getting the new website released, and that’s getting SSL to work for the new home of the Snip application, app.snipsalonsoftware.com. I put in support tickets with both Heroku and DreamHost as a last resort, and DreamHost basically told me their SSL certificates are meant to work with DreamHost-hosted sites, and if I’m applying the cert to anything outside of DH I’m basically on my own. That’s not the answer I was hoping for but I’ve burned so much time on the thing that at this point I’m willing to cut the Gordian Knot and just buy a new SSL certificate. Heroku recommends DNSimple so I figure I’ll remove as many possible failure points as I can and just do exactly what Heroku says. And if I have to pay for a DNSimple account, I might as well just transfer all my domains there from DreamHost so I’m not paying two hosts. I think I might try to do that stuff this weekend so that in the not-terribly-unlikely event that something goes wrong, the effect of customers will be minimal.

The Product

I also made a somewhat significant improvement to the product since last week. In addition to the ability for clients to click on a “Yes, I can make it” link in their appointment reminder emails, there now exists a “No, I can’t make it” link. If the client declines the appointment by clicking that link, the stylist sees that appointment show up red on the schedule. I think my next priority will be to start monitoring more closely the delivery rate on these emails because I’ve had reports of clients not getting their reminder emails, and right now I have no idea if that represents 1% or 50% of clients. That would be a good thing for me to know.

The Sales Funnel

My sales funnel still has a ton of room for improvement. I haven’t really done anything in this area since last week because I’ve had bigger fish to fry. I think what I’ll do first when I get to this point is put together an autoresponder that gets triggered when someone first signs up for an account.

See You Next Week

So between now and next week hopefully I’ll FOR REAL release my new website, and then after that I think I’ll get to work on the autoresponder and continue to chip away at the product improvements I need to make.

Weekly Snip Report, March 14th, 2014

This week I’m going to attempt to present my report in some sort of organized and comprehensible fashion.

You may have noticed that last week’s update didn’t happen. Sorry.

Before we get into it I want to tell you that I have a JUICY tidbit buried somewhere in this post. Read carefully to learn of my exciting piece of news.

The New Website

I’ve been continuing to work on the new marketing website, which is WordPress-based as opposed to the current hard-to-maintain Rails site. The website itself is mahfuckin’ done. I just have to take care of some administrative stuff. Mainly, I’m moving the application from snipsalonsoftware.com to app.snipsalonsoftware.com since I don’t feel like trying to figure out how to get Rails and WordPress to cohabit the same domain (and I don’t even know what that would really accomplish). The time-consuming part is that I had to buy a separate SSL certificate for app.snipsalonsoftware.com since DreamHost doesn’t support wildcard subdomains…oh shit, you fell asleep. Sorry. Long story short, I’m shooting for releasing the new Snip site this Sunday, and after that point life is going to be awesome. The new site in its current form will be thoroughly unimpressive but the platform switch is the important thing since it will allow me to create and manage content so much more quickly.

Direct Mail

I mentioned in my last post that I was reading a direct mail book. My current plan with direct mail is to drive traffic to my website with mail, specifically to an opt-in page where prospects can, in exchange for providing name and email address, access my not-yet-existent free consumer guide, “5 Costly Mistakes Salon Owners Make When Choosing Salons Software and How to Avoid Them.” I would just go ahead and pull the trigger now, but sending salon owners to my free consumer guide opt-in page requires my opt-in page to exist, which requires my website platform switch to be done, which is not done yet. I’ll of course also have to create the guide itself, probably in the form of an email mini course. So I have some work to do before I can do the mailing.

Goal Progress

I announced at one point a goal to get one new Snip customer onboarded in each month of 2014. I whiffed in January but nailed it in February, so 1 for 2 so far.

Well, don’t look now but I’m scheduled to onboard a certain local customer on Monday. (This is the juicy tidbit I was referring to earlier.) I don’t even want to say anything more about it on the off chance the deal goes south, but hopefully next week you’ll find me basking in this victory.

The Sales Funnel

I realized something kind of interesting this week. I’ve had something in the neighborhood of 40 salons from around the country (and world) find Snip online and sign up for a trial. Out of those 40, the number that are currently customers is ZERO. I’d say that’s indicative of a hole in my funnel.

Right now, when a salon owner signs up for a Snip trial, I just plop them into the interface and basically say “good luck, fucker!” There is room for improvement here. I could start an autoresponder, I could provide videos, I could send literature in the mail, and I could probably do a whole bunch of stuff I haven’t even thought of yet. I realized when I recently read Dan Kennedy’s direct response marketing book that the few sporadic phone calls I’ve been calling follow-up are not really adequate follow-up. So I have some serious holes to plug here.

The Product

Last but not least, I still have some product issues on my radar, although they’re somewhat back-burnered as the worst fires have, I believe, been mostly extinguished. My email reminder feature was disappointing my customers with its oversimplicity and I needed to add some capabilities and make it more sophisticated. I still have a lot of work to do in this area and I’m planning to continue to chip away at it. What I have done so far is I made it so clients can confirm their own appointments, and when they do, those appointments show up green on the stylists’ calendars.

See You Next Week

Hopefully next time you hear from me I will have onboarded my new customer and launched my new website.

Weekly Snip Report, February 28th, 2014

Today is the last day of February and it was an eventful month.

The Two Main Highlights

On February 1st I got a new customer onboarded and they’re still using the product. So I met my goal this month of getting one new customer onboarded. I met with them a couple weeks ago and I think it’s pretty safe to say they’re sold for good.

Like I mentioned in last week’s update, I had some problems with the appointment reminder features. Since then I added the ability for clients to confirm their appointments and stylists/receptionists now see confirmed appointments show up green on the schedule. This means there’s no longer confusion as to whether the client noticed the reminder email. Even though I mostly put out the fire, I’m not out of the woods yet and I still have a lot of work to do in this area.

Direct Mail

One thing I did this month was start researching direct mail as a marketing channel. I bought a book called The Direct Mail Solution (co-authored by Dan Kennedy) and read most of it. I’m really interested in the idea of marketing via direct mail because my target market is mostly non-tech-savvy people, and to me reaching them via offline methods seems like it could make a lot of sense.

The big outstanding question in my mind is what the offer in my sales piece should be. The book had a suggestion for online businesses to use direct mail, somewhat ironically, to drive people to their website. I believe the suggestion was to get people to sign up for your email newsletter or drip campaign, and then sell to them that way. I could see that being effective. The only alternative offer that comes immediately to mind is an in-person demo or something like that. My thinking right now is that driving people to the website is the stronger idea.

New Snip Website

I’ve been working on a new Snip site for a while, one that’s built on WordPress rather than Rails. This will allow me to create content much more quickly and easily, and I can also take advantage of things like Yoast, opt-in plugins, MailChimp-integrated Gravity Forms, etc. Building my marketing site as an extension of my Rails app was a really dumb idea, but fortunately it’s a reversible mistake. So in 2013 my site was on Rails and hosted at sniphq.com. Now with my site on WordPress at snipsalonsoftware.com? Holy shit. SEO city. Watch out, competitors. I’m about to scream past your asses. (And I’m of course doing more with SEO than just having WP and a good domain name. It’s more about what WP allows me to do.)

I’m planning to release an initial version of my site at first that’s actually roughly on par with my existing site or maybe even a little bit worse, just to get SOMETHING done and out there and get the ball rolling. The simple fact that my new site is on a more content-scalable platform is SO huge. After I get the new site up I can worry about fleshing out the content, making it more visually appealing, and all that stuff.

March

In March I plan to get my new website out as well as continue to improve the appointment reminder features. I’ve been planning forever to implement a certain email marketing campaign, and releasing the new site is a prerequisite to that, but I’ll probably get started with the email marketing thing in March. Then I think once the initial email marketing system is in place it might make sense for me to turn my attention to driving traffic to my site via direct mail.

Talk to you next week!

Weekly Snip Report, February 21st, 2014

People Are Pissed at Me

I’m starting to have my first experiences of Snip customers being genuinely pissed at me. It’s an interesting and exciting time.

Snip has what’s currently a very rudimentary email reminder system. If a stylist flags a client as wanting email reminders, that client will get two emails prior to his or her appointment. The emails are totally one-way communication; there’s not yet any way for the client to confirm the appointment, so the salon doesn’t know for sure if the client saw the email or even got the email at all.

You can probably see how these one-way reminders might cause confusion. I had an incident recently where, due to a scheduling mixup caused by Snip’s shortcomings, a customer of mine believes to have lost a client. That’s a pretty big deal, and the customer was justifiably upset.

I’ve also gotten at least one report that some clients aren’t getting their reminder emails at all.

It’s a Good Problem to Have, Though

When I originally built Snip’s email reminder system, I wasn’t sure how useful or not it would be to people. I wasn’t totally sure anybody would really care. So I built the simplest thing that would work.

It turns out the email reminder is super useful, at least for certain types of customers. I know how useful it is by how mad people are when it doesn’t work how they want. Since my product can cause big headaches, it can prevent big headaches. So even though it’s not very fun being on the receiving end of an angry phone call, I’m kind of glad in a way these problems are popping up because it shows me my product is valuable, and has the potential to become even more valuable.

Gotta Put Out the Fire

My email reminder feature can be made more dependable in two ways. First, I can provide an indicator to the stylist(s) of whether the client confirmed the appointment. In order to do this I will of course have to have a way for the client to confirm, e.g. a link in the reminder email. Second, I can start keeping a closer eye on my delivery rate (and maybe open rate) since right now I’m not actively tracking that stuff.

Given the “house-on-fire” nature of these problems, I’ve decided to throttle back on sales and marketing work for a time and focus on putting out the fire. I always hate to distract myself from growth activities, but the good news here is that when I’m done the product will be SO much more valuable, and therefore more marketable as well.

It Was Still a Pretty Good Growth Week

On the 17th I got two free trial sign-ups in one day, which is a first for me. I also met with my newest customer for the first time, and they seem to be humming along just fine. For anyone keeping track, I now have 5 customers. I went from 4 to 5, back to 4 and then back to 5 again.

I also made 12 outgoing phone calls early in the week. I found out that the Canadian lash salon that was gonna use Snip is now going to stick with their current product because their vendor gave them a break, and that another prospect also ended up going with a different product because, according to her, her partner required her to use a certain product.

And I almost forgot: my precious book, The Direct Mail Solution, arrived from Amazon yesterday. I’m reading the shit out of that right now and I expect to take the salon world by storm with a direct mail campaign in the coming months. I haven’t talked about that much yet but I’ll definitely be talking about it more.

Talk to You Next Week

Hopefully what I’ll be reporting next week is that the email reminder feature is new and improved, and that I also happened to get 923482359 new customers while I was doing that.

Weekly Snip Report, February 14th, 2014

This past week was a fairly eventful one.

By the way, I’ve noticed that ever since I put my rule in place of making at least three phone calls per weekday, each week has become more eventful and interesting.

On Saturday, 2/8/14, I got a new trial signer-upper. I found the salon’s website and saw an interesting testimonial there: ” ‘Magic hands’ – Jennifer Aniston.” So I guess now I have the claim to fame that one of my prospects is evidently the hairstylist of Jennifer Aniston.

On Sunday, 2/9, I released a new feature: text appointment reminders. I try to work on the product (as opposed to the marketing side of the business) as little as possible these days, but a lot of prospects ask for text reminders and I know this is a valuable feature. Plus, I had (foolishly) promised this feature to existing customers. Don’t ever do that.

Monday, 2/10: I have a prospect who I’ve been doing a dance with since around October or so. I really want them to go ahead and pull the trigger, so I sent a certain special time-bound offer: get onboarded by March 1st and I’ll give you X. I also met with one of my existing customers and got her to upgrade to the higher pricing tier that includes text reminders. So my revenue went up a little this week.

By the way, I don’t make phone calls on Mondays because salons are usually closed on Mondays.

Tuesday, 2/11: I made my three phone calls, plus I talked on the phone with another existing customer. She had a bunch of feature ideas and she reminded me of one outstanding bug. I also got a positive response to that special offer I had sent out Monday.

Wednesday, 2/12: I got sick and didn’t do anything.

Thursday, 2/13: I visited a salon owner who was referred to me by a mutual acquaintance. I had actually visited this guy’s salon in, I believe, the summer of 2012, but since I sucked at following up back then I never reconnected until now. Anyway, he and I sat down and looked at Snip and he said he was in, he just had to talk with his stylists and take care of some other shit that’s in the works right now (building renovations or something). I know by now that this is far from a done deal, so I’m gonna make sure to keep on top of this guy (LITERALLY) until he either shits (again literally) or gets off the pot (this time not literally). He and I agreed to sync back up in March. Since I have a goal to get one new salon onboarded each month of 2014, I hope this salon can be March’s salon, but I’m of course going to continue pursuing other leads as well.

Friday, 2/14: I made seven phone calls, all to warm leads who I would have called on Wednesday and Thursday. I found out that the Canadian lash bar who was interested in using Snip for multiple locations is no longer interested. They were able to strike a deal with their current scheduling vendor. All the other 6 were some form of unavailable. Natch.

Also, I forget which day it was, but I learned that clients aren’t always receiving their reminder emails, and then the next day I got an upset text from a salon owner about a scheduling mishap. So before I continue to move forward with the website redesign I have in progress, I’m gonna work on making my reminder features more reliable, which I started today.

As of this moment I have 8 decent leads, 4 of which have basically said, “I’m in.” So hopefully I can get one of those 4 onboarded soon, and hopefully the leads keep flowing in the way they have been so far in 2014.

Weekly Snip Report, February 7th, 2014

I have a victory to report!

I had set a goal in late 2013 of getting one new Snip customer per month. More specifically, the goal was to get one new Snip prospect each month fully onboarded (meaning at least 50 appointments scheduled). I did it that way because I can’t tell who’s ultimately going to become a customer until after they go through a 30-day trial. “Getting a customer” takes more than a month, so I can’t get one each month; I can only onboard a likely customer each month.

In January I did not meet my goal. I had a bazillion promising leads but all of them either flew the coop or I’m still trying to wrangle them in. I can’t believe none of them got on board.

But this month, I’m happy to report, I have met my goal. My wonderful and talented wife put in a good word at the hair salon where she works which is opening a second location, something called a lash bar. The hair salon itself is too big to use an MVP like Snip but they don’t like either of the scheduling products they’ve tried so far, so for the lash bar they decided to use Snip.

I also started a Snip journal this week, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I wrote down all my phone calls, visits, etc.

So I’m 1 for 2 on my goals for the year. I’m gonna try to get a second salon on board in February to kind of make up for January.

Weekly Snip Report, January 31st, 2014

This will probably be a pretty short post as I’m writing it from my phone in my parked car.

I did pretty decent this week. If I recall correctly I made my 3 phone calls each day which is usually the hardest part. What I really need to do is start keeping a daily journal but I somehow keep fucking forgetting.

Highlights this week include getting an email and trial sign up from a chain of Canadian eyelash salons. They want to use Snip for their 5 or so salons, or at least that’s what they said. I don’t want to get my hopes up about it.

Ive had some disappointing phone calls. I had a number of prospects that I thought were really good ones but they seem to be dropping off one by one and going with competitors. The strongest one is just plain not returning my calls, which is of course never a good sign.

But I think I have a good thing going with the 3 phone calls a day rule. If I just keep plowing through that way it seems inevitable that I’ll eventually get a bite.

This week I also worked on my website redesign  I originally built my brochure site in Rails but I understand now that was a mistake. WordPress is just so much better for creating and managing content.

I’ve also been reading a conversion optimization book. My site is really not conversion optimized and I think one of the biggest issues is that I’m asking to get married on the first date. My new site, in addition to having more and better content, will have a more gradual sales funnel that starts with getting the prospect’s email address in exchange for a certain valuable thing…and I have a couple ideas for what that valuable thing could be.

I’m not good at endings. See you next week.