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Tech Thursday: Online Ordering

This week, we’re looking at some different things (whether goods or services) that you can order online!

  • Local Restaurants: can place orders with substitutions and pay online, for delivery or pickup.
  • Online-Only Sale Offers (that expire in mere minutes!)
  • People to assemble Ikea furniture or pick up your groceries (via TaskRabbit or Amazon Services)
  • And more!

What is it about online ordering that’s so appealing? You’ll have to watch the video to find out!

Give us your ideas for our next Tech Thursday in the comments or shoot us an email!



Masterminds, Forums, and One-Man Wolfpacks

When in doubt, many people turn to Google for answers (most recently because we couldn’t remember the name of the town in The Iron Giant). But what about bigger questions or ongoing issues? These require a discussion that can’t be encapsulated in a Wikipedia/IMDB article. For those who seek improvement, personally and/or professionally, having some sort of support group can make all the difference. I’ve been known to strike out on my own, and as a result, under- or over-shoot my goals, and flounder when I inevitably encounter an obstacle.

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Support comes in all shapes and sizes, so I thought I’d share a couple that I’ve encountered recently, and the elements of each that seem unique (and actually helpful).

Forums & Discussions. I started the Whole30 (finally committing after reading the book 3 years ago and a couple half-hearted attempts this summer) with a group of friends. There is an immense amount of online support that comes with this diet, but, being me, I only consulted the shopping list convinced I could wing the rest. By Day 3, I felt miserable. I hadn’t considered the effect this diet may have in other areas of my life. The next 30 days also happens to be my heaviest training for the MDI Marathon. My protein sources are down to eggs, fish, and a limited amount of nuts. One of my friends suggested I consult the Forum, and it was like a light switch flicked on in my head. I probably wasn’t the first person to have this issue. And, after looking at the forum, my issues are really common. If I hadn’t read through the forum, I’m not sure I would have made it through (even just 30 days).



Mastermind Groups: defined as “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.” This type of group has been around for awhile, one popular example being Walt Disney’s early team of animators. Napoleon Hill gave it the formal title of “Mastermind group” in the 60s. Basically, you can make a Mastermind Group for any topic, personal or professional. The goal is what’s important.

These groups don’t have a coach or facilitator and there’s no monetary or networking component. Members of the group are seeking improvement with the help of likeminded individuals. The idea is to discuss current obstacles, set up short term and long term goals, and participate in brainstorming exercises to assist others.

Why do these sorts of support groups work? While everyone is coming from a different background or set of experiences, they have a common purpose, and are looking for a challenge. They also have structure and format (yes, even the more casual ones). It may mean a weekly, hour long meeting, daily check-ins, whatever works for the group. Checkins could even be via Facebook chat, Skype, or Google Hangouts if that’s what the group decides.

Personally, I’m a fan of the open-minded groups that understand a cookie-cutter method doesn’t always cut it. There’s no one fitness regimen or diet or business model that reigns supreme. Some people flourish in a cardio setting, others prefer weight lifting. Whatever works. So, I seek out groups that have a common idea about an issue but are tolerant and inviting of other opinions. Although the Whole30 appears strict in many ways, it encourages people to experiment and find what works for them (i.e. all fruits are Whole30 compliant, but maybe you find that your body is happier sans fruit).

Remember, whatever “it” is, you don’t have to go it alone. There’s power in having a support group, and it’s actually kind of fun to share ideas with other people.



Welcoming The Tire Kickers

herestothetirekickers(I can now publish this blog post because we’ve had more paying customers in 3 weeks than the entire 3 month period before it… but I’ll be honest, the last three months were a dark place that had me questioning my whole freaking life. More below.)

April 1, I opened our new coworking space (which will also be where Breaking Even works from). I bulk bought coffee, rush ordered the rack cards, and cleaned the whole place top to bottom. We had built up the excitement, we began targeting our customers months earlier. We were ready.

And no one came.

Well, that’s not true. A few friends stopped in to drop off goodies and well wishes. But no paying customers came through that day.

We had one paying customer in April.

One.



In classic Nicole fashion, I internally (and slightly outwardly) began panicking. It seemed like everyone had wanted to come by while I was covered in paint or when there was no heat on… and over 125 people came through our open house (nothing like free booze on an otherwise boring April evening!) But where is everyone now that the place actually is looking and functioning like a coworking space? Where were the paying customers?

I had a glass of wine and called my mom. You know, what any adult would do.

Give it time, my Mom said. Others have said.

Despite the fact that 300ish people have come through the space, we have had about 30 total customers. Most people are not customers but they’ve come by to see. I see their eyes go up to the security cameras, down to the fancy desks, around the conference room. They ask me questions, they smile, they leave.

Part of me wants to be the needy girl with the crush. Do you like me? Why not? How can I make you like me more? Don’t you get how cool I am?



I have decided that, starting now, and looking back at the last three months, I need to take a deep breath and appreciate the tire kickers* who have come through Anchorspace. (Please read the very bottom of this post before you decide to be offended.) The people who have stopped in and, while they seem very interested, have not bought a damn thing. And here’s why:

Tire kickers aren’t customers… yet. 

Most people can take a bit of time to be your customers (see our post about sales funnels for further justification). People change jobs, neighborhoods, service providers all the time. So that person who has NEVER bought from you? Let them look at your menu. Let them talk to your staff. Let them get familiar because they may become your customer later. If you are in it for the long game, this tire kicking process won’t frustrate you. I was looking at Anchorspace in a very shortsighted way most of this spring. Not good. “Not yet” is different than “no”, in the way it behaves and the way it feels.

Tire kickers need time. 

A variation on the above point, some industries don’t have much of a lag time between research and purchase. It’s not like you are going to walk around and price 16 ounce beers at all the local establishments before ordering one, for example. But if you’re asking someone to make any decision that is a bit more involved, people are going to need to think on it. They’re going to need to talk to their wife/husband. They’re going to need to run some numbers. Let them. If you have done your research and know your product and market, you can be confident while you wait.

Tire kickers have friends… and talk to other people.

If you run a steak house and the tire kicker is vegetarian, you may not ever get this person as a customer. And that’s ok. That person has carnivore friends who want a big steak on Friday night… and guess where the tire kicker will send them if they had a good interaction with you? Paying customers don’t have to be your only brand ambassadors. I’ll take a paying customer whether they are from the $1000 monthly retainer client or a guy I went to high school with telling his brother to call me.



Ticker kickers are online too. 

I have a friend who designed her website tenish years ago. “I don’t want to get leads through my site.” she always tells me when we see each other. That’s fine but what I want to tell her (and everyone who thinks this way) even if you don’t want a gazillion dollar website with all the bells and whistles, your customer feels a lot more comfortable silently kicking tires online than doing it right in front of you. That’s why we take care to put a lot of helpful information on this website. So you can kick our tires until your heart is content without us creepily watching you. The virtual tire kickers can be easier to ignore, since we aren’t shaking their hand but instead seeing them recorded as a visit in Google Analytics. The good with the bad.

Running an online business has shielded me from the tire kickers (since they just lurk on my site). A physical business has made me know them by name.

Anchorspace has given me more anxiety about tire kickers but also it has been more rewarding. I have had things pointed out to me by the slightly skeptical I would have NEVER noticed, and I am thankful for it. I do hope people keep pointing things out and asking questions, even if they aren’t buying because tire kicker feedback is going to make me better.

Here’s to the tire kickers. The mullers. The ‘I’ll be in touch’ smiles. The lookie-loos. Here’s to the individuals I hadn’t gotten to meet in real life until owning a business with a physical location. After some thought, revenue, Mom wisdom, and a glass of wine, I’m here to say I’m sorry I panicked over you. I’m grateful you’re here. Keep kicking, my tires and I are ready.

*I sometimes get in trouble for using words that other people seem to think have a negative connotation. Urban Dictionary tells me ‘tire kicker’ is much more negative a word than I mean for example. For tire kicker, I mean someone who needs to really understand something before the purchase, who needs to ask questions, test things out, waits before buying and may never buy, etc. Here’s hoping this covers my bases from hate mail but if you have a better term for what I am trying to say, please comment below!



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

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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

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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?



Tech Thursday: Prove You’re Not A Robot

How do we prove we are who we say we are?

In this week’s Tech Thursday, we explore verification, security, and identity issues in the online world. 2 Factor Authentication, Captcha, and security questions are common types of verification, and are tending towards the “norm” when logging into, well, anywhere.



Marketing Monday: Casper Mattress

Casper-Mattress-boxtoscaleYou know what I appreciate? Someone who looks at something that works well enough, then changes the way it’s done.

Like haven’t all of us did the awkward 5 minute (ok 2 minute) mattress test in a furniture store then spent several hundred dollars (or more) on a bed, hoping it was going to work out?

Casper is an interesting company, for many reasons. Let’s look at it from the product, service, and marketing points of view.

Product

A high quality product packaged in such a way that it’s an experience to get.

So these beds come in a box. They warn you to open the box in whatever room your bed will live in. If you go on Youtube and look up ‘Casper mattress’ there are literally hundreds of videos of people opening the box and unpackaging the mattress, you know like this one:

The reviews to back up the claim.

While it is one thing to let people leave reviews, it’s another thing to collect ages, how they sleep, how long they sleep, and who they sleep with as part of the experience.

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It makes the reviews left on this site seem more real and believable than they otherwise would be.

Not a ton of offerings.

Do they have 9 different mattresses? Nope, you just pick your size (twin, double, queen, or king). Too many choices is paralyzing and Casper has chosen to carry one good kind of bed and sell it.  They also eliminate a lot of the reasons why people don’t chose to buy online (yes this is one chart but if you look at others, you’ll see they are all pretty similar):

LivePerson-Top-Reasons-Abandoning-Online-Purchase-Jan2013

 

Offering free shipping, clear offerings, a simple but responsively designed website, and one step checkout means customers are less likely to navigate away… plus it helps that they are pretty much the only online mattress game in town.

Service

The trial period is 100 nights.

It’s one thing to try on a pair of jeans and send them back and it’s another thing to take back a PITA item like a bed back. But these guys do it. Pretty cool. (It seems like a courier from the company picks it up and either donates it to charity or recycles it, just FYI.)

They include a hand written note and tools to help you open the bed.

It’s kind of like when you send in your Mac to get repaired and they send you three pieces of precut tape to close your box. Do they need to? Of course not. Is it a classy touch? Sure is.

It looks like getting a Casper bed is a pretty custom experience.

Marketing

They are using email.

No one thinks email marketing is sexy anymore. Trust me, I actually try to sell it to people.



But Casper gets it. The only way you can follow up with someone after they come to your website is via email (social media posts can get lost in the shuffle or even sometimes not even appear for the person who ‘likes’ your page in the case of Facebook). They ever have a fun way of asking.

casperemailmarketing

 

They are still a little corporate though.

Do they have an Instagram account with user generated photos. Do they have a Pinterest board of bedroom decorating ideas? Nope, these guys are sticking to Facebook and Twitter, which is fine. They still seem a bit corporate though (using the same well taken photos regularly). I kind of want them to bust out a little!

So if you are in the market for a Made In The USA bed with good reviews that doesn’t involve an awkward exchange with a salesman, this may be for you. Here’s hoping you like us were inspired by Casper today.

 

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