This Week In Business

Goats and Ikea Furniture Assembly: How Services Are Coming Online

It was natural in web 1.0 to sell goods: snarky t-shirts, craft supplies, a laptop. Providing photos, a description and pricing options to create a shopping area is now something we are all familiar with. If I asked you to draw a picture of an online shopping cart, you could probably do it pretty easily.

It is also natural that as we’ve maximized what we can do with shopping carts for goods (Coupon codes! Discount for sharing on social media after purchase! Voting and funding products that will be produced in the future!), as a society, we’ve turned our attention to services. How can we use the same shopping cart idea that we know and understand to buy services?

Everything from online therapy to putting together Ikea furniture to renting goats to ‘mow’ your yard. While we are still figuring out standards (How does this work? What information do we collect? How do we control quality?), there are marketplaces that are open now… and no doubt more to follow.

24 Sessions: Online Advice On Demand

businessdivorcelawyer

Knowledge professions, like lawyers, therapists, coaches, and others, can increase their reach online by not only offering bookable services you can pay for online but can also participate in marketplaces like 24 Sessions. The most famous of these was Google Helpouts, which has since disbanded. There are more services like this here: http://www.diygenius.com/online-coaching-platforms/ It seems like different websites specialize in different kind of knowledge to serving from different locations. Ex: the guy above is the only American doing legal advice on this site while there are tons of people from The Netherlands and Belgium.

TaskRabbit: Having People Do A Set Task For You

taskrabbit

If you’re not looking for knowledge so much as getting something done (like assembling furniture, running errands), websites like TaskRabbit allow you to contract with someone to get them done. I took the screenshot of paying someone to stand in line for you at a no reservations restaurant because I thought it was an interesting idea.

Amazon Services: Using Global Marketplace To Find Local Providers

This first came on my radar when I saw a news story about being able to ‘hire’ goats to come and graze in your yard. I love goats, especially mini-goats, but the idea of full time goat ownership intimidates me. That’s why I loved this idea.

hireagoatgrazer

 

This is not available in my area (actually no services seem to be) but as big companies like Amazon seek to partner with local service providers (that agree with their standards of course), I think what we’ll all have access to online will become more interesting. Sure, if you know a guy who has goats you can rent, it’s one thing to be able to search for them online but it’s another thing to offer something like this in a very searchable platform right where people can book and pay.

We all trust the internet more than ever before and with things like identity verification (AirBnB, Uber, etc.) of customers and providers as well as third party protection a book and pay interface provides, services are only going to become more popular online. Shopping carts may not have the same interface that we all understand now but we’ll be able to pay for things online we only dreamed of even a few years ago. In five years, we’ll all know what an online shopping cart for services looks like and be able to draw that too.

But sooner than that, I’ll have goats grazing in my yard while someone delivers my groceries and I have an online therapy session…in the same afternoon. I won’t lie, I am excited about this day. Mainly because of the goats.

If you’re a service provider, how do you plan on integrating any of these type of services into your business plan? 
If you’re a customer, how has using these services been of value to you?

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

The Amy Schumer Moment (Or Era)

The world has been watching a lot of Amy Schumer lately.

I watched a video someone on Facebook shared, of her on the couch at Ellen and Ellen laughing so hard she was practically crying. It was when I read her speech at the Gloria Awards that I was hooked. Here is that speech.

I then proceeded to watch two seasons of Inside Amy Schumer practically back to back.

Yes, we’ve had shocking reality shows for awhile.

Yes, we’ve had female comedians pushing boundaries before.

I actually struggled to find a video clip for this blog. (The best ones are not so appropriate, but the one I have above gives you an idea of the style of the show.)

So why are we blogging about Amy Schumer besides the fact that she’s pretty, funny, smart, and someone who you’d clearly want to hang out with?

Amy Schumer has a clear brand. 
Her comedy, if I could summarize it, is intelligent and slightly shocking feminism. From women’s role on late night comedy shows to actresses celebrating someone’s last #$%^able day, Amy has given herself enough room to be creative but enough of a clear message that it can come through in all her material.

Amy Schumer is honest.
In 2015, we are of the era that people should be real. We love untouched Instagram pictures, knowing someone’s tweets are actually coming from them. Amy Schumer feels authentic. You can tell that, while she probably has some savvy PR people helping out, she is true to what she wants to say and her fans love her for it.

Amy Schumer is talking about topics that are important to people.
Plenty of comedians, male and female, are funny, smart, and seem pretty honest but their messages don’t necessarily get as far because they aren’t trying to effect change. Amy Schumer’s messages are not only funny but a cultural commentary that has gotten people talking more about feminist topics like body image and discrimination in our culture.

Amy Schumer is leveraging video.
Video is increasingly popular as more people view the internet on their mobile devices. (Let’s face it, you may not watch a 10 minute comedy video at work but you will watch it lying on your couch with your phone.) Amy Schumer isn’t blogging but instead thoughtfully producing videos and using sites like Facebook and Twitter to get them to her followers. Pretty big change in peoples’ video watching habits in the last couple years, huh:

Anyway, whether you love or just like Amy Schumer, watch her online. She is owning in the internet in a way I think we all could learn a little something from, whether we would talk about our sex lives on stage or not.

 

 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Selling Stuff Online: E-Products

In looking at our series the past few weeks, I bet at one point it occurred to you: “Golly, if you didn’t have to get people together for events or ship physical products, it could be a lot easier to make money.”

And so we have entered the world of e-products. From buying apps to having a member subscription to a favorite website, digital products are something not only everyone is increasingly comfortable with but also satisfied with. A few things to think about if you are selling digital products:

Limited Time Or All The Time

bschoolregistrationclosed

 

One way to get people interested in what you’re selling is to have it for a limited time only. This ‘B School’ is only open for enrollment for a few weeks each year. The rest of the time, the above screen captures leads.

If you want your product available all the time, that’s fine. But sometimes the ‘get it before it’s gone’ philosophy works as well for programs as it does for kitchen gadgets on infomercials.

One Time Payments or Recurring Payments

There’s something to be said of offering a product, taking payment, and that being it. Some products (a digital edition of a book for example) can and should be paid for at once.

Letting someone do recurring payments (typically monthly) can help support an ongoing service (though like Google Apps, you can give a discount when people pay a bulk of it up for the year):

googleappspricing

Freemium Model

Honestly, if you have nothing I can look at for free to give me an idea of what I’m spending my $10/month (or whatever amount) on, I’m not very interested.

In terms of a mainstream website that gives away some stuff but has the rest behind a paywall, Consumer Reports comes to mind. Here’s the screen you get to after you click ‘Sign up’:

consumerreportssignuppage

Different Tiers

If you want to appeal to different kinds of people (or maybe more accurately people at different levels in your sales funnel) is to have offerings at different tiers. You’ll see most every digital product you see has a sort of ‘lite’ version as well as versions for those more ‘heavy’ users:

netflixpricing

 

What online products can you sell digitally?

Some ideas I found online were not limited to: blueprints, special reports, videos, educational programs, recipes, patterns/clip art/design templates, databases, turn key websites, photography, apps, software, and email programs.

Point is, you can get creative, set up some kind of online way to take payment (and automated product delivery), and theoretically you could be making money.

Yeah, I make that sound easy, don’t I? Honestly, the most work you do is creating the thing you want to sell. While you may be the mastermind behind the idea, it may be worth hiring a videographer, ebook designer, etc. to help you make a polished product. OK I’ll just say it, it IS worth it. 🙂

In planning, you’ll want to keep in mind the ideas above and decide how long your offer will last; how people will pay; and how/if it can be divided into a few different price points.

 

If you have less of a ‘product’ and more of ongoing information you want to pay for, a subscription website may be your jam. To get more ideas, check out 9 Most Profitable Subscription Websites (Mequoda).

Just because you didn’t put it in a box or meet the person you’re selling to in real life, doesn’t mean they aren’t a potential customer. Digital products help you reach exactly those people.

Other posts in this series:

Selling Stuff Online: Products
Selling Stuff Online: Events

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

The Temptation To Automation

I was having a conversation the other day with another business person. “You know, I’m trying to get better with systems.” I told her. “Ugh, systems, that’s such a 2015 obsession!” she lamented. And she’s right.

We’re all obsessed with doing things better, more efficiently. I have heard more systems consultants on podcasts and read more blog posts on systems in the past six months than I have for my entire life before that.

Oftentimes, systems are automation. Like automating putting money in a retirement account for example versus someone having to think about making the funds transfer once a week or month.

One place to go with automation is social media marketing. I will say I think it’s one thing to schedule some updates while you travel or are going to be in meetings. It’s another thing to never log in and do a live update. Or to never log in and respond to comments. Or to never repost someone else’s great idea or otherwise engage with them.

Someone once asked me in a seminar if they could bulk schedule tweets… for a year. Talk about missing the point of being on a social network.

But in this age of systems, we’re all getting access to tools that basically suggest we do something like this, something I call automation. What I mean by ‘automation’ is ‘set it and forget it’ marketing. It can look like scheduling tweets for a year. Or writing all your blog entries for six months and scheduling them to publish ahead of time.

Automation does take some work (clearly) but it suggests a one sidedness: you say the things… and you either aren’t ready or willing to respond to what other people are saying.

We may schedule some ‘pushes’ for our clients but was also make sure to log in and interact with people. And here is why this seemingly tedious and definitely time consuming process is worth it to me.

Nautomation

Different networks, different purposes, different content.

Every time someone asks me to make it so everything they say on Facebook goes to Twitter and LinkedIn automatically, I try to talk them out of it. But if they insist, I do it. But I will say here I think this is a terrible idea.

If you follow us on our social networks, you may see 5% of what we post being repeated. Maybe.

But for the most part, we treat different networks differently. I post different kinds of content on Google+ (where I mainly follow tech nerds and journalists) than I do on LinkedIn, where people are more concerned about business and marketing best practices.

I’ll just say what everyone is thinking: people can tell when you’re automating stuff (ie phoning it in). And if you think people on a social network you treat as mediocre at best are open to your message and excited to hear from you when you have something actually important to say, I’m here to say they are not.

Being flexible.

You know when something amazing happens and you are right in the middle of it? Well, if every Facebook status we write has to go through a committee for Company A before we post, it means we can’t be participating in real time on behalf of Company A.

It’s one thing to have something ‘in the can’ as an idea… and it’s another thing to have a better idea and be able to go with it. Automation would keep us from these moments of creativity and community.

Avoiding awfulness.

The best part of checking in regularly for the networks we update? Avoiding disasters.

The one that comes to mind (and one John gets full credit for) is a tweet we had planned about Robin Williams for a substance abuse counselor client. The tweets get composed ahead of time (it’s always easier to write blocks of content) and had we just a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality, this tweet would have gone online two days after he died… and it would have made our client look pretty insensitive.

John not only remembered (because he was checking in and retweeting for them regularly) but stopped the issue before it even happened.

Can we measure avoided awkwardness or awfulness? Not really but there is certainly more than one time when a human brain looking at something in a timely way not only made a client look good… but kept them (and us) from looking bad.

If you don’t systematize your friendships offline, why would you do it online?

Do you accept only every third party invitation you get? Do you only email your friend the third Friday of every month? It’s one thing to make sure you are regularly updating people about next week’s important event but it’s another thing to not be genuinely interested in who is sharing those social networks with you: your family, friends, and customers.

So let me just go on record. I am anti-automation. And let me clarify:

Repeating social media updates is fine, since not everyone sees a particular update… especially on ‘noisier’ networks like Twitter.

Scheduling is a tool that allows us to not be chained to our computers. Definitely do that to save your sanity and make sure important information gets out.

Automating means you aren’t willing to put the time in to develop real friendships with your customers. It’ll look like you’re phoning it in because you are. And your customers won’t care because you clearly don’t.

So, if you’re tempted to make an automated social media system, I hope I’ve talked you out of it. By all means make a plan and feel free to structure 70% of what you want. But let that other 30% give your company the humanity it needs online to be truly successful.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

What Toggl Has Taught Me About Life

They say what you can measure, you can manage… and as someone who has at least has a passing interest in productivity, I know this means I need to measure how I’m spending my time.

I know to some of my self employed friends, tracking time can feel an awful lot like working for ‘the man’. Honestly, I felt that way for a long time. I’d try to keep, then eventually get overwhelmed by spreadsheets. I then tried tracking only billable hours, not a complete picture but better than nothing.

For the past 6ish months, when it came time to bill clients I would go through my spreadsheet, Kassie’s spreadsheet, John’s spreadsheet, and Leslie’s spreadsheet to tally totals then invoice the client… or make a note to do more next month. It was kind of making me insane. So I asked everyone to switch to Toggl, a time management system that works with Google (or you can also create a free standing account) built on a ‘freemium’ model- meaning x amount is free but after, you pay.

Like any good leader, I tried to do what I was asking those who worked with me to do. And tracking my time for these last two months has taught me some things.

1. Clients that I thought were taking a lot of time were just taking up mental energy. 

I think we all have these things in our life that we perceive as taking a lot of time but then when you actually look back, it was like 15 minutes. Toggl-ing helped me keep track of not who I thought was taking up a lot of time but who actually was.

2. Checking email takes a lot of my time… and I wonder if it could take less.

checkingemailtoggle

Above, according to Toggl, is how much time I’ve spent on email/project management.. this week.

Despite checking my email twice a day (except Wednesdays which is my email cleanout day), I realize I spend a lot of time checking email and putting things from email (or phone call) into our project management system.

3. I spend less on our own marketing stuff than I’ve projected.

What’s nice about all of us sharing a project though is I see just because I’m not spending time on it, doesn’t mean other people aren’t.

4. It’s for now… and later.

This system over time will help me be more fair with clients, and us, about how long things we do really take. So not only is it going to save ME time with billing now but it’ll help us estimate projects, distribute resources, etc. in the future.

mylasttwodaysintoggl

5. I get to see when my Breaking Even coworkers are active. 

Like any group of people, we all have patterns. I can see for example John likes to log in Saturday mornings, which means if I am on chat at that time, I can probably catch him.

Am I stalking people with Toggl? No, but it does help me to know what work patterns people prefer. I can also note when I have been particularly productive… and attempt to copy the variables that day that made it so useful.

6. We need an internal system we all agree on.

Yeah, we’re still figuring it out. Some of us aren’t putting things into projects, some of us have accidentally duplicated projects. Any new software has a learning curve, I just appreciate that everyone is willing to use it.

So I will say, if you decide to track your time, the results will surprise you. And possibly delight you. I know my time with Toggl so far has done both.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Sales Goblet Versus Funnel: Why Hitting Different Price Points Is Key

I think many of us, in business or otherwise, are aware of the sales funnel. The idea is you have most of your customers on a lower pricing level and as people get increasingly invested, they move down the funnel. So there are less people at the ‘point’ than at the ‘base’ and that’s ok. It’s a process. Some people take longer to go through the funnel than others, and some people stay at a particular level. (You can totally tell I spent my college years studying geology and French and not business, right?) Still it’s a getable idea.

So while we were working on our marketing plan in October for the upcoming year, we realized we didn’t have a funnel at all. As Kassie coined “It’s a wine goblet!”

Mainly, we were asking people to make a big financial leap to support them on an ongoing basis, from about $50 to attend a workshop to $3000. Very few people made that leap, again, not a shocking or hard to understand idea. Here is my beautiful diagram to show our problem:

breakingevensalesfunnelold

You probably have noticed in your consumer life that there is more than one way to get more out of the sales funnel.

For example, you could cram more people into it. Every free ebook you’ve ever downloaded, every email newsletter you’ve ever signed up for, was getting you to this base level.

Another example, you could offer more at a certain tier. Ex: For those people happily buying your $10 scarves, you get more and different $10 scarves for them to buy.

Our problem, however, was identified. We needed an offer something between $100 and $3000. An intermediate level, maybe something around $500-$1000.

As a trial of this concept, we offered to make non-profit donation forms a for $599 introductory rate. These forms allowed non-profits to take donations on their domain, issue receipts automatically and other fun things to make the person’s life easier. So for the risk of spending $600ish, there was a definite outcome.

It went way better than I expected… and for this reason, Breaking Even will be releasing a product every quarter in 2015. One for bloggers, one for businesses, one for non-profits, and one for all three.

breakingevennewfunnel

I urge you to look at your funnel and decide:

1) Do you need more people in it?

2) Do you need more movement on one level?

3) Do you need to add something between levels (like we did)?

4) Are you missing a level entirely?

If you go through this exercise and it ends up being helpful, let us know! I’d love to see other applications of it… and I hope this idea rocks your world as much as it did mine.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.