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Sales and Marketing Standard Operating Procedures Technology

SaaS Email Marketing Tactics: How 281 Companies Automatically Nurture Leads

The following is a guest post from Adam Henshall, content writer at Process Street.

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Email automation has become the standard approach for marketers all over the world. This summer we decided to ask how it is done best.

There’s only so much you can learn from one person self-reporting their own successes, or only examining the cycles of one or two companies.

We decided to go one step further.

We began a research project where we examined the sales cycles of 281 top SaaS companies from AngelList to Zenefits.

We published an overview of this study at the end of August and launched a micro-site (Inside SaaS Sales) along with PersistIQ where users can browse all our data and access all emails and voicemails which we received.

We learned loads about how these companies structure their sales cadences; when they automate, how persistent they are, who is presented as point of contact, etc etc.

In this article, I’m going to pull apart their use of automation in email marketing and dig down into the data to give a few examples of how companies do it in practice.

How many emails do top companies send?

Our analysis was of 1183 emails, so the volume was pretty high to begin with!

But what do we find each company doing?

Companies very rarely send one email before backing off. This kind of soft touch approach negates the purpose of running an email campaign of any sort. Yet, throughout our research, we found that some companies still take this approach.

In fact, 25% of companies we studied only sent one email before backing away and leaving the customer alone. The majority clearly favor a more persistent method, but those readers who aren’t employing email automation can at least take solace in not being alone in that approach.

This article is going to focus more on the 75% – the ones who make an effort to run a marketing campaign, and particularly those which choose to automate segments of that.

The average company attempts to follow up for 9 days. Given a focus on midweek rather than weekend, this accounts for essentially 2 business weeks.

Within this period, we’re looking at an average of one email a day. Companies typically send one email a day until the end of their cycle – which varies depending on the company.

A business like Slack choose to hit a short sharp campaign with 3 outreach emails in quick succession. This is in keeping with the general trends across marketing drip campaigns which we found typically consists of three emails – a radically different approach to the more sales-oriented measures, particularly those utilizing a high touch sales method.

We’ll look a little closer at Slack’s approach later on in the article.

Should I be automating my email marketing?

Automation has quickly become the hot game in town, but not every company is joining in just yet.

We found that 65% of companies hand you over to an automated marketing campaign.

This still leaves a number of companies without an automated approach, but it is clear that the movement is toward greater use of automation potential.

It is important to note, however, that automation and non-automation are not mutually exclusive. In fact, we found that 53% of the emails we received were from automated campaigns rather than sales people, but often these would both come from the same company.

If we take the example of Salesforce, we find that the automated emails are sent out and then followed up on by a real salesperson.

If you look at this automated email below, you will see a clear attempt to provide generic value:

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Whereas, if you contrast that with this email afterwards, you’ll see a much more personal attempt at outreach from a dedicated sales person:

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This demonstrates the importance of remembering to keep a human touch where it is appropriate to your business.

It isn’t necessary to automate every step. For a service like Salesforce which can charge its customers reasonably high amounts of money, it is clearly of value to them to build automated emails while also leveraging the personal attention given by a salesperson.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Use automation wisely.

What email marketing providers are companies using?

When companies did use marketing automation, they weren’t building it all from scratch themselves.

Like you would, they searched the market to find existing tools they could use to improve their automated workflows to deliver value to their customers.

What I found marginally surprising was that these companies tended to use the same tools that we all use, rather than some gold plated premium service.

In order, the marketing automation services used by the companies studied were:

  1. MailChimp – 48.82%
  2. Marketo – 21.16%
  3. HubSpot – 18.74%
  4. Other – 5.33%
  5. Eloqua – 3.77%
  6. Tout – 3.26%
  7. Sidekick – 3.26%
  8. Pardot – 3.26%
  9. Marketing Clout – 3.23%
  10. Sable and Sendgrid – 2.17%

As we can see, MailChimp dominate the list by some distance, seeing off both Marketo and HubSpot despite the two putting up a good fight.

This is a resounding success for MailChimp and suggests that they’re a good option for small businesses who want to get started with marketing automation. I know from experience that the system is intuitive, so maybe it’s a good place to start.

What tone of communication is most common?

Running an email campaign is so much more than just lining up a workflow and clicking send.

Like any other aspect of your product, you need to consider how it is structured, who it is aimed at, and what its purpose is.

If we look again at the Salesforce example given above, we can learn a few small things from a tonal perspective.

The automated email is personal and opens with a clear statement of Salesforce’s value, followed by a straight question directed at the reader. This keeps the email feeling personal despite the automation, and the statements are general enough to apply to anyone with as much as a passing interest in Salesforce and their service.

Salesforce focuses on using clear and easy to understand language with a gentle sprinkling of statistics to help drive the value home. Across the board there was a trend toward clarity and an avoidance of overly technical jargon or typical sales-speak.

One interesting thing we discovered in our study came from looking at whose name was attached to the emails. The Salesforce example has a generic team for the marketing email and “Strategic Accounts” for the more personal sales email. But that isn’t always the trend.

We found, first and foremost, that sales campaigns through email tended to have two potential points of contact. One of those contacts often had “Sales” in their title, and these were likely the first to reach out.

The use of higher positions was interesting, with CEO or Co-Founder being used to give the email more gravitas. I’m personally not sure how well this tactic works as it strikes me as possibly dishonest, but I’m sure some CEOs are hands on with their approach to certain emails – just I’m not sure why the CEO is taking the time out to email me personally…

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What is the purpose behind each email?

A further consideration when looking at the content of the emails is the purpose of an email. Ignoring “verify your email” and other miscellaneous items, the purpose of an email was typically split into one of these three categories:

  • Encouraging you to use it more.
  • Upselling you to a premium service.
  • Describing technical capabilities.

We’ve already seen examples of the last two from Salesforce. Describing technical capabilities was left to automation, while upselling was given to a real salesperson.

My favorite example of the first approach comes from Slack:

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And a second, but this time with pizzazz:

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The emails are both short and sweet with a clear purpose.

Slack have enough faith in their product that they know the most important first step of their customer journey is to get teams onboarded and using it. As such, this is their focus. Their sole focus.

If you contrast this with a company like Epicor, who provide niche industrial services at high rates, you find Slack can stick to a few small emails rather than the high touch email and voicemail sales approach.

Use an email marketing approach suited to your business

So, there you have it.

We’ve looked at how many emails you should send, when you should automate them, what provider you can use, what tone to employ, and what purpose you should put behind your email.

But the key point is this: choose an email marketing strategy suited to your business’ needs.

If you have a small number of very high value clients, don’t operate like Slack.

Tailor your emails to your audience and your business objectives. With a little iteration and effort, you’ll have a campaign flourishing in no time!

Categories
Support

How Your Marketers Can Improve Customer Service

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The following is a guest post by Ben Mulholland, a content marketer at Process Street.

I used to hate being put on customer support duty. I’m a marketer, not a support technician, and that Intercom notification noise has practically given me PTSD by now.

Then I realized the benefits being on support had given me. Other than mixing up my daily tasks (which I’ve found can help me be more productive) it:

  • Forced me to learn our product inside-out
  • Brought me closer to my audience
  • Showed me what my audience wanted/needed to know
  • Kept me up-to-date with our product releases (features, bug fixes, etc)
  • Taught me more about our SaaS stack

Rather than waffle on about every little thing support has taught me, let’s stick to those four points and expand them. Here we go.

Support duty makes them learn your product inside-out

Before being assigned to support duty, I had a basic understanding of what our product was, how you could use it, and what problems it could solve. After one week on Intercom chatting with customers, there was practically nothing I didn’t know about the product.

This is a vital advantage of marketers who have taken support duties – they’re ultimately more aware of the benefits and limitations of your product, and so they know better how to position their marketing efforts.

For example, without support duties I wouldn’t have known about the various use cases for our API, and by answering questions on the topic I inherently drilled the solutions into my own head.

So, when I switched back to marketing I knew more of what our product could do, and therefore how to more easily tie it into topics such as integrating SaaS apps.

Not only that, but I also knew what you can’t do with our API, meaning that nothing in our marketing made false promises as a result of incorrect assumptions.

It brings them closer to their audience

There’s nothing like support duty to let you know what your customers really want. From the questions asked, along with Intercom stats such as the company size, what platform they’re using, and what product plan they’re on, I was able to better flesh out the personas of our target audience.

This, in turn, led to us being able to better target a similar audience with relevant topics. For example, in manufacturing the most valuable feature of your product could be the ability to track the success rate of your processes. Knowing that means that we can benefit from making a point of that feature in any material which relates back to manufacturing.

There’s also the element of direct communication between your marketing team and their audience. Having some of your most visible employees (eg, your blog’s authors) answer direct questions from customers is a great way to enhance the connection they have to both your content and product.

Think about it – if you saw an article you liked, and then after reaching out to the support team manage to strike up a conversation with the author of that very article, there’s going to be an instant affinity to that team and author.

Common misunderstandings become apparent

Speaking of bringing your marketers and audience closer together, this also makes your team aware of the most common misunderstandings and points of confusion with your product.

In turn, this means that your marketers will have a much better idea of what they should be writing about to cater to their audience.

For example, let’s say that you’re an SEO SaaS startup, and your churn rate is in dire need to fixing. In your support box, ¾ of all free plan customers that leave are asking how to analyze the keywords their site currently ranks for, and what keywords they could branch off into.

That’s an opportunity.

If your marketers are on support duty they will automatically know that your audience needs to be told how to use your product to do this. Whether they create a single hefty blog post, a series of posts, a video, or an entire ebook on the topic, the content they create from knowing those questions will target key friction points your audience encounters, and help to ease them through their troubles.

This knowledge of common/key friction points can even help to reduce churn through your marketing material, as you’ll both attract a wider audience and educate your existing customers in the same piece of content.

They will know exactly what’s going on with the product

First, a declaration – I’m not in any way saying that marketers who haven’t been on customer support duty won’t have a clue what’s going on with the product. An organized team (no matter the shared responsibilities) will keep itself in the know with little trouble.

However, we still come back to the fact that the support team is closer to the product than marketing. For example, while you both may be told of updates that are coming to your platform, support will likely know of them first (through answering customer feature requests). Marketing (in my experience) is also far less likely to be notified of bug fixes when they’re pushed.

Once again, this knowledge can be vital when organizing your marketing processes and content. If there’s a big upcoming update then there’s every chance you’ll have been told to produce some sort of promotional material to go along with it, but minor updates can slip under the radar instead of being tied into fresh material for the blog.

For example, let’s say that your product is going to be updated to allow you to assign a group of people where previously only individuals could be placed. Knowing this, your marketing team could tie in some content which will allow them to mention how that’s possible using your app as an example.

Honestly, the list goes on, but even with these four key elements, it’s easy to see why your marketing team should be taking part of your support duty roster. Yes, it takes up their time, but the knowledge gained and relationships built from doing so far outweigh the negatives.

Have any experiences of your own with mixing up your support roster? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Categories
Legal Document Management System Productivity

What to Do if Your Remote Team’s Feedback Loop Sucks

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You’re working on a vital project. Jon’s just completed the edits on the ebook you’re supposed to publish tomorrow, but Mary has no idea. She’s working on an entirely different task no one knows exists.

So, there you are, waiting all afternoon for Mary to give you the final approval on the ebook layout, wasting time on reddit.

Her Slack’s set to away, and you can’t remember whose responsibility it is anyway, so you assume everything’s probably going to be alright. There are enough memes to keep you busy while you wait.

The morning comes. Your boss is fuming. You can feel his anger through Slack. “We’re supposed to be sending this book to our email lists right now — why isn’t it ready?”.

Jon thinks Mary was supposed to do it. You think it’s Jon’s fault. Mary’s gone silent. You all hate each other a little bit right now.

The reason this whole mess was allowed to happen is because of a poor feedback loop.

A feedback loop is the process of communication that happens around a shared task or project. If one person’s responsible for finalizing edits, they need to let the next person know their progress because the work all depends on a sequence of tasks completed in order.

If you’ve ever been part of a situation like that (I know I have), then it’s because your team’s feedback loop is broken. That’s ok. It’s easily done in remote teams. In this article, I’m going to go through a few measures we take at Process Street to stop this kind of thing happening.

The cure for no feedback loop: set expectations right now

In an office, you might mention to someone on your way to the keyboard vending machine that you’ve just got done with whatever they were waiting on you for. Remotely, there aren’t too many opportunities for natural conversation. That means you should make sure your team is keeping records updated. Whether that’s commenting in Trello or another project management app, the team needs to know that task updates go in one concrete place that everyone can see.

If you’re using Trello, comment on the card then drop a link to the card in Slack — your team’s group channel, not direct — and then whoever’s up next on the task can get the information they need and know where they should update you. This is the sort of information that should go in your employee onboarding process so there’s no chance for confusion.

The cure for a slow feedback loop: daily standup meetings

They’re not just a developer thing. A daily standup meeting gets everybody in the habit of communicating properly. It works like this; you get on a group call in the morning, and the team leader addresses each member one-by-one. They ask:

  • What did you get done yesterday?
  • What are you working on today?
  • What do you need help with?

Standup meetings are a key part of Agile methodology, a set of project management guidelines that aims to abolish radio silence, long sessions of unchecked work and slow feedback loops. Usually, it’s used by developers but we adapt it into our marketing process because developers always get all the fun.

A tool like appear.in or Google Hangouts is ideal for standup meetings because you get a fixed link for the team, and you can pop in or out at any time. Get everyone to add the link as a calendar event timed for 9am, so when the notification goes off, your team can hop onto the call and get going as quickly as possible.

By putting what everyone has accomplished into context, the team knows what their next task will be and the gap between iterations will be 1 day at most. This isn’t a substitute for centralizing your updates in Trello or another project management app, but it does make damn well certain that everyone is one the same page because notifications are easy to ignore.

The systems you need to put into place

You can’t expect your whole team to become master communicators overnight. You’ll need to lay the foundations, first.

At a bare minimum, you need all to be using the same shared task list that allows for comments and @mentions. On top of this, agree on a fixed chat app and a fixed video chat room for notifications and standup meetings. The chat app should have a group for your team where all team project work is discussed, so members are passively updated as work happens. Your choice of team tools will have a big impact on whether anything gets done.

A fluffier, harder to grasp system you need in place is teamwork and rapport. It’s hard to grasp because there’s a difference between professional communication and being friends at work. It really helps to try and make friends, and usually contributes to a more relaxed and productive environment. The content creation team at Process Street gets on nicely. We have custom emojis. We sometimes Photoshop each other’s faces onto inanimate objects. This sort of thing helps free communication.

Another thing you could try to get everybody talking is recognizing achievements in company channels. When the group chat is filled with positive messages, people want to contribute to the conversation and it feels natural to keep your team in the loop and look out for each other.

Celebrating achievements also inadvertently announces progress on a project, even though its main purpose is to give a great employee the recognition they deserve.

Final thoughts on solving feedback loop problems

Not all remote teams are created equal. You’ll have members with all kinds of different experience, personalities and habits.

Understanding this is important when solving communication problems, but it’s key to remember that it’s all about encouraging the development of productive habits in your team.

Implement these guidelines, and you’ll never have to deal with awkward ‘I thought you were supposed to do it’ moments again.

Categories
Blogging

SEO for Freelancers: 4 Key Tips to Attract Clients on Autopilot

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When you’re looking for freelancing opportunities online, you’re entering a massive competitive marketplace.

Whether you’re a designer, a writer, or a developer, you already have the skills — now you just need the customers.

There are a lot of mistakes freelancers make, but in this post we’ll run you through a series of marketing techniques and processes to help customers find your expertise.

In short, you need to understand what your customers are looking for, optimize your site, and drive people toward your product.

Let’s look at how this can be done through 4 particular sections:

  • How to optimize keywords
  • How to structure pages
  • How to generate backlinks
  • How to exploit long tail keywords

 

How do keywords help me?

The first step you as a freelancer might take is understanding that your website is not going to be the focal point of a network the size of the New York Times.

According to SimilarWeb, the New York Times had 346m visits in December 2016 and just over half a billion the month prior.

I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to beat that.

The way you can break into a position of prominence and make more money is to find a relatively untapped part of the network and target that spot. You can think about what services you are offering and what your competitors are offering. Can you make yourself a little different? Can you describe yourself in different ways? Simply ranking high on Google helps your prospective clients trust you more.

We at Process Street use Ahrefs as our keyword research tool, however you can also check out this video to see how you can select and optimize your keywords with Google’s Keyword Planner, or read a comparison of Moz vs. Ahrefs.

The key to great keyword research is in ABC: Always Be Comparing…

As part of your workflow, you want to gather as many potential keywords relevant to your business as possible. Hundreds. Then you want to use one of the above tools to provide you with as much data as possible on all these different terms.

If you need some assistance in coming up with all these keywords, you can use Google’s search suggestions, synonyms from Thesaurus.com, or other keyword finders like keywordtool.io or KeywordShitter.

When you have all your keywords and their data, you need to know how to analyze them. Our rule of thumb is to filter by volume and then pull out all the keywords which seem to have low keyword difficulty scores.

This data shows you where the weak points in the existing networks are. Your keywords are the tools you will use to exploit them.

  • Find keywords with high volume and low keyword difficulty to target.
  • Use Ahrefs or Google Keyword Explorer to gather this data.
  • Follow a clear keyword research process to get best results every time.

 

What’s involved in optimizing my website?

According to the Freelancing in America 2016 study from the Freelancer Union, there are 55 million freelancers operating in the United States alone. And these freelancers are doing well; according to the same study, freelancers contributed $1 trillion to the US economy in 2016.

What does this tell us?

Well, lots of things. But one of them is that there are lots of competitors’ websites out there, so you better have a really good one!

However, it’s not all about having the prettiest website on the internet. You want to build that strong point in your network, but your best tool for that isn’t HTML5 – and it’s not just keywords either…

A 2016 report from Ahrefs showed that the power of keywords alone has been reduced by Google’s algorithm changes. Using optimized keywords is still a vitally important part of improving your on-page SEO, but other factors in how you structure your content and site play a large part.

According to Ahrefs, you should:

  • Ensure that the load time of your pages is minimal,
  • That you have entered meta tags for your title and description within your <head> tags,
  • That your content is broken up clearly into sections with <h1> and <h2> tags,
  • That these subtitles target your keyword or its related keywords,
  • That you’re updating your pages and adding new content,
  • and, that you’re using https on your domain to provide visitors with security.

 
However, most of all, the #1 factor, the decider of who ranks on Google… the mighty backlink.

How can I generate backlinks?

The holistic answer to tackling not just backlinks, but the other factors mentioned above, is to introduce a content marketing strategy.

If you’re regularly putting out blog posts which are relevant to the niche in the market you’re angling for, then you’ll start to build your reputation. You’ll be creating new web pages regularly and structuring those pages so that Google can read them easily and see your value.

Moreover, if you’re producing quality content then you’re able to easily generate backlinks. The first step is to properly promote your content. This way, you’ll already have links back to your domain from social networks and content aggregators. In doing so, you’ll drive traffic and those visitors may even pass the link on.

At this point, you’ve built your reputation in two ways: in the eyes of Google and in the eyes of your audience.

To build on this, you can start guest posting and have others guest post on your blog. If you have a reputable blog, others will want to take advantage of that and publish their work on your site. This gives you more content and also results in the original author promoting content attached to your domain.

Win win!

Before you know it, you’ll be guest posting on other blogs and driving even more backlinks your way.

  • Begin a content marketing campaign.
  • Write content for your blog and promote it across the internet.
  • Write content for other people’s blogs and link back to yours.
  • Have others write content for your blog and promote it.
  • Link to your previous work in future blog posts on your site and on others.

 

How can I target specific customer searches?

Now that you’ve got a comprehensive list of the different keywords you want to be able to target, you can begin to structure your website to better address those needs.

The first thing to remember is that your favored keywords only enter you into a particular category. If you know exactly what your target customers are googling, you can construct “long tail keywords”.

These are different long phrases which you will want to use across all of your content.

However, a great way to begin to exploit them is to construct specialized landing pages specifically targeted at reaching those terms. This gives you a specific representation of your product or service which you might want to send someone to from an article or email campaign. Practically, for SEO purposes, this gives a specific facade to your company which is engineered for certain oft-googled phrases.

You can use a service like LeadPages.net to create multiple landing pages and optimize the pages through A/B testing. With the ability to make a large number of landing pages comes the ability to target your company in different ways all at the same time.

These landing pages can focus on specific long tail keywords, specific geographical areas, and different segments of the market – budget, mid-range, premium. Each of these sites is more likely to show up in Google for their specific niche than an all purpose home page.

  • Use a tool like LeadPages.net to make multiple landing pages.
  • Focus each landing page on a different niche service by targeting long tail keywords.

 

Implement these SEO techniques today!

Through these tips and following a content marketing strategy, you’ll drive up your traffic and rocket your SEO in the process. You’ll be a freelance superstar in no time.

A single website on the internet is often described as being a needle in a haystack. But that’s not the case. This needle can choose where in the haystack they want to be located.

Put yourself on the outside of the haystack at head height and your odds of being found are significantly higher.

Particularly, when you realize how many people are staring at that haystack looking for you!

Categories
Blogging

How to Generate an Infinite Supply of Ideas for Your Blog

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Writer’s block is a terrible thing. You know that you need new content to fill up your calendar and keep your audience engaged, but you can sit at your desk for hours, resulting in nothing but tearing your own hair out in frustration.

The good news is that even the best writers get writer’s block. The bad news is that you’ll never solve it by forcing the issue – it’s the equivalent to repeatedly slamming your head against a brick wall instead of just using the door.

After hitting that wall many times, I decided to do something about it, resulting in the following system that I (and the rest of my team) now use to generate great ideas for content month-in-month-out.

First, understand your enemy

Writer’s block is caused by one (or both) of the following:

  • Lack of inspiration (your mental cup is empty)
  • Outside sources (stress from physical illness, bereavement, the end of a relationship, etc)

Outside sources are largely beyond your control, and so shouldn’t be worried about too much. Not only that, but it’s also the lesser of our two factors – even a calm mind will struggle to generate ideas if there’s nothing to draw from.

So the problem we’re left with is one of resources. Think of your mind as a furnace, with knowledge as coal and ideas as your flame. With nothing to fuel your fire it will (at best) produce mediocre results, but with a stockpile of knowledge you can fan the flames and produce something truly spectacular.

Still, if lack of knowledge is the issue then how the hell do you go about it? There’s almost so many ways that it’s difficult to start, and all seemingly use up valuable time which you just don’t have in your 9-5 life.

Don’t worry – I was in the same situation, and I’ll tell you exactly what worked (and still works) for me.

Listen to podcasts

By far the easiest way to top up your mind while keeping your current schedule is to listen to business podcasts when you’re otherwise stuck with naught but dead air.

For example, all of the following are great opportunities to fit in an episode or two of a podcast without spending any extra time to do so:

  • While exercising (daily workouts are also brilliant for productivity in general)
  • During the daily commute (be careful if driving while listening)
  • Toilet breaks
  • While cooking
  • When traveling (airport queues? That’s a good 3 podcast episodes right there)

Essentially, any time where you’re not listening to anything or require a lot of focus on other tasks (such as researching/writing a blog post) you can make more productive by listening to podcasts. I honestly can’t count the number of ideas I’ve gained from just listening to an episode while walking around the shops every couple of days!

As for recommendations of which podcasts to listen to, that would depend on your purpose, type of content, and niche. However, these are a good place to start:

Use an RSS feed

So, you’re taking in information through podcasts – that’s great, but it’s not enough. You need to be keeping up to date in your niche in order to know which ideas are best to follow up on sooner rather than later.

This is where your RSS feed comes in.

If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably subscribed to a next-to-uncountable number of blogs’ email list in an attempt to keep up to date. The problem with this is that people (myself included) are sooner or later going to slip up, especially if a distraction is available.

A distraction such as, I don’t know, the rest of your inbox?

RSS feeds, meanwhile, collect all of the posts published by the blogs you subscribe to and put them all in one place, ready for you to blast through whenever you have the time. My team, for example, tends to check their feeds in the mornings and evenings, noting down their ideas as they go.

There are obviously many ways of setting up / tracking your RSS feed, but as Drew Hendricks recently pointed out, Feedly is an incredible app for doing just that.

By attaching your RSS feed to a mobile app, showing stats such as the number of upvotes / shares, highlighting the most popular posts, and generally making it easy to read several posts in rapid succession, Feedly is our app of choice.

Record ideas ASAP

The amount of ideas you generate is completely irrelevant if you have no way of recording them when inspiration strike. I can tell you from experience that unless you record your ideas as soon as possible you’ll forget them, and if you forget them they will very rarely surface again.

So, how do you make it easy for yourself to jot down ideas the moment that magic lightning hits? Well, there are a couple of ways:

For note-taking apps you can use pretty much anything, but I’d recommend either Evernote or Do Note (by IFTTT). Evernote is a strong contender from how easy it is to create a note, and the flexibility in terms of integrating with other apps, but Do Note is the ultimate in simplicity.

Integrating your apps essentially means that any notes you make will be detected, categorized, then pushed automatically into another program. This pairs up nicely with recording your ideas in an app like Trello or Airtable.

For example, you could use Zapier to integrate Evernote with Trello. Then, when a new note is created in Evernote with the tag “idea”, Zapier could be told to push a link to that note into a new Trello card in your “Ideas” column.

It may sound like a massive undertaking, but everything I’ve talked about in this post can be achieved in your “dead time” – I’ve even found that having a podcast episode at the beginning and end of work is a great way to firmly stamp out your work/life balance, and ease into each side as needed.

How do you generate your own ideas? Have you tried anything I’ve talked about? I’d love to hear from your in the comments below!

Categories
Business Business Systematization Featured

How we Rebranded our Company in 3 Months

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This post was written by Benjamin Brandall and originally appeared on the Process Street blog and is the story of how Cameron and I rebranded our startup Process Street.

In the lifecycle of every startup, there comes a tipping point.

For companies focused on aesthetics and creating something beautiful, there’s a time where the founders need to shift towards their product — look inward and think deeply about the problems it solves, who’s it for and how to refine user experience.

For product-focused startups like Process Street, a necessary early shift is towards design.

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Featured Technology

A Look at The SaaS Stack in Our Tech Startup

What keeps an innovative startup ticking over? At Process Street, we’re a huge fan of using the software other SaaS startups put out there in conjunction with the ever-dependable big names.

Here are the 18 SaaS products we use at Process Street, and why we think they’re the best options out there.

Analytics: Mixpanel, Google Analytics & Jetpack

For analytics, we use 3 different products for slightly different purposes.

Mixpanel is for in-app analytics. We use it to track trends, user engagement and sign-ups, getting an overall picture and week-by-week comparisons and helping us reduce churn by noticing patterns.

Google Analytics is our go-to source for tracking conversions and referral traffic. This means we can measure the effectiveness of the content and the promotion separately.

Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that simply tracks the views on pages. The only time we use it is to get a current view of page traffic since Google Analytics can take 24 hours to update, but Jetpack does it instantly.

Project Management: Trello & Basecamp

Trello is used by marketing, development, growth and support teams as the main home for tasks, attachments and status updates. During the employee onboarding process, we add new hires to the team boards and make a personal board for them which contains their first round of tasks and helps them get into the habit of using Trello.

Basecamp is the tool of choice when collaborating with designers. When we had our site redesigned by Koombea, Basecamp was the ideal tool to neatly store resources and collaborate over designs until the iterations were moved into InVision to be prototyped.

Personal Productivity: WorkFlowy & Evernote

WorkFlowy — a tool for taking quick notes — is the best way we’ve found to make both simple notes and complex plans. Project proposals and plans go into WorkFlowy, where it’s easy to structure complex ideas because of the way the app’s designed:

Workflowy 3

Evernote is where we keep everything from rough notes and screenshots to entire blog posts. With its Zapier integration, it also turns into a way to add text to any other app just by tagging the note.

TaskPaper is a fancy text editor disguised as a to-do list app. Anyone who has kept their to-do items in a TextEdit file will like the added functionality, including tags, smart search syntax and projects. Other popular choices include Any.Do, Wunderlist and Todoist.

1Password is a password manager that keeps every password you use safely encrypted in a vault protected by a master password. It lives up to its name because one password is all you have to remember. While Chrome’s ‘remember this password’ feature is good enough, 1Password is usable cross-browser, OS and device.

External Communication: Intercom & Close.io

Intercom is our favorite customer support tool. All of our support conversations and in-app messages to users goes through Intercom. It’s easy to keep up with the tickets, loop in other departments and get notified when high-ticket customers reach out.

Close.io is an awesome CRM. It’s built around search, meaning that you can create complex search queries and narrow down lists of hundreds of thousands to exactly what you’re looking for. We use it for sales and marketing outreach, as well as managing all content communications.

Internal Communication: Slack & Appear.in

While Trello is great for storing and organizing tasks, Slack is our main tool for internal communication. Its IRC-like interface makes it easy to chat with groups and individuals. Plus, the integrations with Slack, Intercom and the other tools we use.

Appear.in is a permanent video chat room, which means you sign up and get a fixed URL your team can pop in and out of at any time. It’s much better for us than Skype, because you don’t need accounts or to initiate/end video calls at all.

Workflow Management: Process Street

Process Street is, of course, the tool we use for workflow automation, business process management, employee onboarding and content promotion.

We break projects down into processes and assign these processes to teams and individuals. As they progress with the project and automate their workflows, we can easily get an overview by just looking at the Process Street dashboard.

Email Marketing: MailChimp

MailChimp is the home for all of our automated and one-off email campaigns. Every blog post email and product update goes through MailChimp, where we can track opens, clicks and trends. For me as a content creator, opens and clicks are a great signal that a topic has resonated with our readership.

Since these readers came into our product and read our content, there are parallels across a few topics, like productivity and processes.

Content Promotion: Mention & Buffer

Mention scours the internet for brand mentions and backlinks, which means that when we’re linked to we get a notification and can then promote the post, both as a ‘thank you’ to the author and to maximize the exposure of a piece we’re being featured in.

When we’re linked or mentioned, we then add the post to Buffer. Buffer lets you tweet the same link across multiple accounts (we have 12 linked up in there) in one click, and queues the posts up so they go out at the best time for your audience to see them.

Content Writing: Google Docs & WordPress

The Process Street blog is built on the perfect blog builder, WordPress. WordPress is ideal for drafting in a visual editor with a preview — much better than working with pure HTML.

For guest posts, or collaborative work, we use Google Docs. In-line comments and suggestions make it great for working with writers as an editor. When you’re done you can copy a sharable link and forward it to the target publication for review. I haven’t found an easier way to collaborate and share articles.

Alternote is an Evernote plugin that makes it bearable for content writing. Since I like to have all of my resources nearby, I can create a unique tag for each blog post, then use the Web Clipper to save sources with that tag. Here’s an example:

Alternote Shot

Data Management: Airtable

There’s probably over 100,000 records in our Airtable database.

Everything from keywords to contacts lives there, and that makes it easy for us to reference and link together everything related to Process Street.

We moved to Airtable after the frustration of managing data with Google Sheets set in. Spreadsheets littered between accounts, with random titles and dodgy permissions were making for a terrible data management experience. With Airtable — especially when you link it up to Zapier — you’ve got a far more efficient user experience.

SEO: Ahrefs, Moz & SEO Spider

Ahrefs an SEO powerhouse. You can use it to research keywords, monitor backlinks, and, what we love most about it — track every keyword a URL is ranking for. When we’re running campaigns to rank specific keywords, like we did with employee onboarding, Ahrefs provides the single best status update on that project within a few seconds of checking.

Moz is a tool we only use for bulk keyword difficulty checks because Ahrefs is the better tool for us. In addition to keyword difficulty, I personally have Mozbar installed for Chrome which lets me quickly check Domain Authority (a rough guide as to how much weight a backlink holds from that domain).

SEO Spider crawls URLs and looks for broken domains. Even with a free account, you can get 500 results from just pasting a domain in. You get to see how many 4xx errors are on that domain, and which links are broken. Then, you can start doing broken link building (as detailed in our marketing processes guide).

File Management: Google Drive

Google Drive is where I keep my Google Docs, graphic assets like SVGs, and upload any large file to share with my team.

Its Trello integration means you can attach any file that’s already inside Drive, saving you from uploading it in multiple places.

To see why we use Google Drive instead of Dropbox, check this comparison.

App Integrations: Zapier

Zapier connects every app I’ve listed here together. Impressive, right? Every app linked together means you can transfer data between them and automate a ton of boring work. For us, it’s a better version of IFTTT because it has more features.

Zapier vs IFTTT infographic

Here are some of my favorite examples, featuring apps like Evernote and OneNote:

Development: JIRA

JIRA is the home of our planned features, user stories, and dastardly bugs. Developers can add, track, prioritize and assign issues to their team, then feed that information to a live Slack channel.

For example, whenever a new feature is pushed to the live server, a Slack channel gets updated with the feature’s new information and we can do a short write-up to announce it and test the feature to hunt bugs.

Categories
Business

Meeting Strangers: How to Prepare for an Effective Cold Meeting

Meeting Strangers

Ever been nervous meeting a stranger? Nerve no more!

Impressing a stranger on first encounter can literally change your life. Interviews are a good example. Others include sales pitches, freelance consultations, partnerships, supplier agreements and even dates.

They’re a necessity in life. So why not get good?

Here are some tips to get you started.

Research:

If you know who you’re meeting, take 10-20 min to Google, Facebook, LinkedIn & Twitter them. Ideally you’re looking for information related to the topic of your meeting. But you’re also looking for personal information such as achievements and common interests.

Look for media interviews & charity support. Do you both rock climb?  Have they recently been promoted? Have they achieved one of your goals?

Also do company searches on the web, Google News, Twitter and in your CRM if you have one.

Agenda

To Agenda or not to agenda?

An agenda is contextual. You wouldn’t do it in an interview, but you’ll never have a consultant from McKinsey or KPMG book a meeting without sending you one. My general method is for every meeting ask these questions:

  • If I set an agenda, what would be in it?
  • Will I remember to do all of the above without writing it down?
  • Will it benefit my prospect if I send them a copy? – If it will, send one. Consider adding a photo so they know who you are.

Basically the agenda should add value to your stranger. Usually, more complex meetings have agendas. This gives your stranger time to prepare.

On Arrival

Once you arrive at the meeting location – 10 minutes early – wait around the corner for 5 min then head to reception or the cafe to be seated. Arriving more than 5 minutes early can look disrespectful as opposed to eager.

But most importantly DON’T BE LATE! If you think there is a 50%+ chance you’ll be late by even a few minutes, call and notify someone. It looks way better to call and say you may be 5 min late, and arrive on time, then if you arrive 5 min late without calling.

The Lobby

After reception calls my stranger, I will stay standing until they arrive. Warning – if you take this road, be prepared for some long stands. But I feel it looks better than kicking your feet up on lobby couches.

Sweaty palms? I hold my folder with my left hand and keep my right hand in my pocket –dodges the slimy handshake. Remember eye contact and a smile on greeting. Stand tall, chest out, firm handshake.

If you’re in a busy lobby and you don’t know your strangers face, finding them can be awkward at times. Try and make the first approach, (it may take you a couple of times to get it right). Your stranger will be thankful for the awkwardness removal. Look for people looking for people.

Exchange some short pleasantries then ask where they would like to go (unless there is already a plan).

The walk

During the walk from the point of meeting to room or cafe, aim to walk side by side, and ask a few standard open ended questions like:

“Thanks for taking the time to see me. How has your day been?”

Don’t worry what they say – you’re just trying to keep them engaged until you arrive at the sitting location.

Try to find an anecdote (maybe something that happened on the way in or earlier that day) or common topic (the offices, building, location, current event or last resort – the weather) to keep them chatting until the sitting location.

Just try and avoid a long walk of silence.

Also, avoid discussing any important topics during the walk, interruptions are common and will kill your flow.

Personal Note: I like to treat all my strangers like a first date. I open doors, hold elevators and offer them the first seat. Don’t take this to the extreme but if the opportunity is there, unleash the chivalry (that goes for you too ladies!). This shows you’re attentive and will put in the extra effort if they partner with you.

Sitting Down

Once you arrive at the meeting table, wait for the person you’re meeting to sit down first (unless they offer you a seat – then just take it). If you’re already in a cafe waiting for them, stand and shake their hand when they arrive. Again, watch the sweaty palms, smile, eye contact etc. I usually like to sit at a 90 degree angle avoiding the formal face to face arrangement. This is not always possible but it makes it easier to look over documents together or to describe while writing on paper or using your laptop.

Once seated, give a business card to each person so they know who you are, how to spell your name (useful if you have a weird name like mine) and how to contact you after.

Then you’re off.

Do you do things differently?

Categories
Business Process Management

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant for Startup Success

In recent years, the idea of small business owners using a virtual assistant to outsource daily business tasks has gained popularity. But many people don’t know how to hire or benefit from one. As someone who has successfully hired a personal assistant for my business as well as several virtual employees, here’s an overview of the issues involved in setting up and managing such relationships:

Related: 10 Things to Outsource to a Virtual Assistant

1. Determine if a virtual assistant will suit your business needs. First, figure out which tasks you would like to assign to an assistant and if it’s cost-effective.

Do an analysis of your business activities over the course of a day if not an entire week, writing down the minor tasks that are taking up time. Don’t rule out anything as a task a virtual assistant could not do.

While a United States-based virtual assistant can earn a salary that can start at about $15 an hour (and those with a specialty might command higher rates). Solid administrative-task virtual assistants from abroad, though, can be secured for as little as $3 to $6 an hour.

Related: 6 Creative Ways to Use Overseas Virtual Assistants

2. Understand the pros and cons of hiring a freelancer from an agency. It might be costlier pound for pound to hire a virtual assistant who’s working for an agency, due to overhead costs, says Rich Pearson, senior vice president of categories and geographies at Elance-oDesk. (His company provides an online marketplace for hiring freelancers through the Elance.com and oDesk.com websites.) But an agency might arrange for an entrepreneur to use multiple assistants to smooth over gaps in availability or in skill sets. 

Listings of available freelancers on the Elance and oDesk platforms include those who are paid by agencies and those who work independently. The entrepreneur can also post a job listing.  

Pearson says using a freelancer who’s not on contract with an agency can result in more personalized attention, given that it’s just that one person on the gig. An agency might rotate in multiple virtual assistants for one assignment or pull one away at a whim. The most dedicated personal assistants almost always are independent freelancers with whom the entrepreneur builds a relationship with (as opposed to those freelancers hired through an agency), Pearson says.

When deciding between choosing a virtual assistant who’s located in the United States versus someone abroad, Pearson says, consider how important is it for the person to be awake while you work and how aware of American culture you need the person to be. 

Related: 4 Ways to Manage Remote Employees

3. Do prep work to create a great job listing. When writing your well-edited, detailed job listing, always put in a call to action that merits a response to see if the applicant has read the description. For example, ask the applicant to provide examples of his or her work.

There will be indications when a candidate seems motivated. I found it particularly telling one Saturday to receive a phone call from Nairobi from Joan, who’s now my personal assistant, asking if she could be interviewed right away (even though I had not yet had a chance to look over all the messages from those who responded to my ad).

Related: How a Manager Can Promote the ‘Future of Work’

4. Hiring the assistant. Go through the bids that come in and create a list of the applicants whose responses you like, read their reviews and then line up interviews. A platform like oDesk’s can show an entrepreneur how a candidate scored on an English proficiency exam and how many jobs he or she has previously done. I like oDesk for its ability to generate a contract, monitor work and set up a payment system.

A video conference interview with an applicant is a must and will serve a few purposes: It can reveal the person’s grasp of English and the setting that he or she will likely be working from — and if it’s an orderly place from which to make a phone call on your behalf and the applicant’s overall demeanor (enthusiasm and ability to think on his or her feet).

Related: Siri’s Founders Are Building Viv — the Personal Assistant Siri Should Have Been

5. Managing the assistant. While the hiring of a virtual personal assistant can free up your day, the burden is on you to allocate tasks smartly and effectively so that happens. Generally speaking, the more specific you are in explaining tasks, the better. You can use an onboarding software to centralize any information or materials they would need during the onboarding and training phase. Ideally, as a result of good management, a virtual assistant will in time learn your work style and you will be able to give that person more responsibility and encourage more initiative taking.

Don’t hesitate to share with the assistant Google Drive documents outlining the who, what, where and when of daily tasks, including relevant rules, permissions and passwords. You can use a Standard Operating Procedure software to familiarize your new virtual assistant with your standardized way of doing things.

A Google search for “virtual assistant tools” reveals an abundance of gadgets that can be used by entrepreneurs who are open to managing assistants on their own.

Online social-media entrepreneur Audrey Melnik of ZootRock in San Francisco explained to me how she hires and manages her virtual assistant. “We use two tools,” she writes in an email. “The first is called Process Street that allows you to set up a repeatable process,” for the virtual assistant to run through each time. The person checks off the steps and add comments where appropriate. “The second is a screen shot tool that takes images of the [assistants’] screen regularly and tracks their productive time so you can be clear on what they are working on when and capture evidence of them working the hours they are charging you for.” 

Encourage your assistant to offer you feedback, lending more warmth to the remote-work arrangement. Assistants might not provide feedback unless you ask, yet their ideas are often spot-on given their proximity to the work.

It will be up to you to decide whether to trust your assistant with information like passwords and other sensitive materials. Start out with small things, such as granting access to social-media accounts. You may want to consider having an assistant sign a nondisclosure agreement.  

“Big things like the virtual assistant’s booking your vacation can come later,” Pearson says. “Training starts with trust, and that means small things at first.”

When possible meet your virtual assistant at least once in person and try to have a video conference at least quarterly. Ultimately, a virtual assistant is not just another cog in your business machine, but an employee and certainly a human. So remember to treat this person as such.

Related: 3 Qualities Every Remote Manager Needs (Infographic)

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated to clarify that a virtual assistant in the United States can earn a salary that starts at $15 an hour. 

Categories
Business Process Management

Going Viral: eight Straightforward Approaches to Get Maximum Traffic for your Weblog Post

Going Viral: 8 Effortless Ways to Get Maximum Site visitors for your Weblog Post

This comprehensive write-up will tell you the best way to go viral in just eight simple stages. The complete nature of this amazing weblog post will guide you by way of every step you may need to maximize your possibilities of going viral, having targeted traffic and, what all of us want, creating dollars.

When going viral depends a whole lot on luck, with study, relationship-building and great planning it is going to all be a lot a lot easier for you personally. Do you realize exactly exactly where you'll want to publish your content material? If not, take a look at the guide I linked earlier to fill in the gaps. Good luck with obtaining additional visitors.