Marketers are always searching for new ways to achieve better campaign results and deliver better ROI for their efforts. The business evolves on a near daily basis, which can make it difficult for marketing teams to reach these goals. Luckily there is something that marketers can use to help their programs run a little smoother while at the same time collecting valuable customer intelligence.
Marketing automation is strategy and software that allows marketers to find and nurture contacts with personalized content streams. This customized content helps to convert visitors into leads and leads into paying customers.
A company can use marketing automation software for all parts of the marketing funnel, not just at the purchasing stage. Leads should be nurtured at every stage, including post-purchase as customer retention and loyalty is crucial in growing a business.
Without marketing automation the process of following up with individual customers and offering an exceptional experience can seem almost impossible, especially for large businesses with vast customer bases. Research from The Annuitas Group found that there is a 451% growth in qualified leads for companies that take advantage of marketing automation software.
With numbers like those, it can be very tempting to make the switch to automation. Here are a few ways to achieve a successful and efficient strategy through marketing automation.
Are you looking for inspiration and specific tactics and strategies to grow your business? Want to know how to raise money for your business?
Trent interviews Wade Foster, the CEO and one of the co-founders of a rapidly growing company called Zapier. Zapier integrates SaaS tools from different vendors using triggers and actions. It currently works with 300+ SaaS apps and is growing by about 10 apps per month.
Zapier has about 250,000 users and has raised $1.2 million. Among the investors are 2 of the most prominent venture capitalists in the Silicon Valley.
Listen now and you’ll hear Wade and I talk about:
- (03:00) Introductions
- (06:45) What did you do at the very start to test the idea?
- (14:10) What did you do after you signed up the first few users?
- (15:30) How long did it take to get to 1000 users?
- (13:00) What did you do after reaching 1000 users?
- (17:30) What was it like to be a part of Y-Combinator?
- (19:00) What had you accomplished by the end of the 3 months?
- (22:00) Tell us about the process of raising money.
- (26:00) What did you do with the money you raised?
- (27:00) What kinds of marketing activities worked for you?
- (29:00) What are some of the impacts of more integrations?
- (30:00) Tell me about the biggest mistake you’d made by this point.
- (32:00) How did you go about getting more integrations and users?
- (34:30) Why did you decide to be a virtual company instead of having an office?
- (38:00) What are the pros & cons of having a VC on board?
More About This Episode
The Bright Ideas podcast is the podcast for business owners and marketers who want to discover how to use online marketing and sales automation tactics to massively grow their business.
It’s designed to help marketing agencies and small business owners discover which online marketing strategies are working most effectively today – all from the mouths of expert entrepreneurs who are already making it big.
Hey there bright idea hunters. Welcome to episode 151 of the Bright Ideas Podcast, I am your host Trent Dyrsmid and this is the podcast where we help entrepreneurs to discover ways to use digital marketing and marketing automation, to dramatically increase the growth of their businesses.
If you are an entrepreneur and you are looking for proven tactics and strategies to help you increase traffic, conversions and profits, well my friends you are in the right place. How do I make good on that promise? What I do is I bring proven experts onto the show and I get them to explain to me exactly the tactics and strategies that they use to achieve the results that they’ve achieved. In other words I find someone for you, who have been super successful and you get to look over their shoulders, with hindsight to their benefit and see exactly how they got where they arrived.
In this episode I’m very pleased to announce that my guest is a fellow by the name of Wade Foster, who is the CEO and one of the co-founders of a very rapidly growing company called Zapier. They have about 250 000 users, they have raised 1.2 million dollars and among the investors are two of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture capitalists.
In this interview Wade is going to share with me the story of how they got started, how they found the idea, how they tested the idea, how they got their first 1000 users, how they got into Y-Combinator, what it was like to be in Y-Combinator, it’s a pretty exciting thing to be part of to say the least and so much more. So if you’re looking for some inspiration, or you are looking for specific tactics and strategies to grow your own business you are going to absolutely love this interview. Get your pen and paper ready because there’s going to be lots of notes that you’re going to want to take.
Before we do that: quick announcement: I’m constantly emailed by people asking me what tools and resources I use to run my businesses. I have made a list of all them and on that page some of them are affiliate links so if you to GrabTrentsBonus.com and you choose to use any of those affiliate links to buy whatever software that it is, my way of expressing my thanks to you for doing so and there’s instructions at GrabTrentsbonus.com for this.
Just send me the email receipt for the purchase you made will verify that our affiliate link was in fact credited
and you’ll have the opportunity to choose from of some of my paid products and I’ll just give one of those to you as a free bonus as a thank you for using that link. With that said please join me in welcoming Wade to the show. Hey Wade, welcome to the show.
Hey Trent, thanks for having me.
No problem at all, thanks for making some time to come on. We’re going to talk about the story of how you’ve grown Zapier and you can tell me if I pronounce that properly enough.
Zapier makes you happier, is the trick.
Being from Canada, I’ve got the French-Canadian thing in the back whenever I see ‘ier”.
Yeah, you’re not the only one.
Probably not. There is probably some folks listening to this who don’t know what Zapier is yet. We’re going to get into that and it’s an app that I use I think is really, really cool but before we get into that stuff and the story of how you build it, let’s first introduce you, who are you and for the folks in my audience who don’t know you are, who are you and what do you do?
Sure, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Zapier, I was born and raised in Missouri, live in California now and I spend all my days trying to help businesses make their tools work a little bit better for them and that all happened through Zapier which is a tool to connect other tools.
Ok, give us the simplest definition I guess, you want to call your elevator pitch, or whatever you want to describe it, what exactly is Zapier?
It’s a tool that connects other tools, I kind of use this metaphor of triggers and actions, so you can do things like; when I get an email it automatically create a trailer card, or someone fills out my unbalanced page and automatically saves them to Infusionsoft. It works with 300+ SaaS apps, so pretty much any tool that you might be using under the sun, you can hook up and do these cool little automations between the two of them.
Ok, so folks in my case, how Zapier came onto my radar screen, is as some of you probably know, I use HubSpot and I use Infusionsoft and I wanted to be able to connect the two so when certain things happened in terms of triggers in HubSpot, I wanted the record automatically copied over to Infusionsoft and I wanted additional triggers to happen and I wanted it all to happen automatically. For example when someone completes the middle of the final web form in HubSpot I wanted a record created in Infusionsoft and I want my cellphone to go off without writing any code at all, because I don’t know how to write any code at all.
I was able to make that happen and I to use one other tool called PlusThis.com but I was able to make that happen in five minutes. Zapier does make you happier and in my case it does. Alright, where are you at now, what can you talk about, can you talk about revenue, number of users and traction, what kind of traction?
Yeah, the latest numbers we published is that we are at 250 000 registered users. Quite a lot grown, 10% plus month over month, adding probably ten apps or so to the platform every month; good growth and trying to go faster.
Absolutely, which is the name of the game. You have also raised some professional capital from angels and a couple EC’s and of course that puts a lot of pressure on as well. We’re going to talk about how you did that, but before we’re get to that, now that people understand that this is a company that is going places, let’s go back to the beginning because so many entrepreneurs, they’re always wondering how I get started, how I take this idea, how do I find an idea or how I take this idea that I got and actually test it out without blowing a bunch of time and a bunch of cash. So way early on what did that look like for you guys?
The idea was originally my co-founder Bryan Helmig’s and I know Bryan playing music and we’d gone to the same to the same school together and we were always working together on projects and things like that, he is the developer, I’m marketing. We just kind of tagged team on various things, one of the things that tended came up a lot was we’d get clients that asked things like: “Hey can you make my Woofoo contacts go into MailChimp for me?” Or “can you get my CRM contacts to go into Google contacts for me?” Just like these little import export sort of deals between two different services.
We would write the code to do that and it was more hassle than what it was worth, it was small enough and easy enough thing to do but it’s not particularly fun or enjoyable but was clearly valuable to the customers. We start to think about what would it look like if we tried to do this, is there really that big of a problem.
I remember going to 37 Signals’ high-rises, the CRM that they have and I remember going to their Hope Forum and there was a thread about Google contacts integration that was probably about four years old and it had, I think somewhere around 300 to 400 comments of people saying: “Plus one, I really need this, most important thing in my business” that sort of stuff. 37 signals’ replied saying: “Hey, we would look into this, if resources came along we might take a look at it,“ that sort of thing.
But after four years it’s clear that they do not have the resources to really make it happen and on the priorities
I couldn’t really tell you why it hasn’t happened. So I started looking at other forums for SaaS companies to see if the same thing was occurring and it absolutely is and people were asking for integration in their forums and it was just too much work for a lot of SaaS companies really.
So what we did we started by building a couple of integrations in trigger action style thing, so we started with PayPal, High-rise and sms. The three very first things that you could do on Zapier was when someone pays you, you could get a text message about it via PayPal, or you could save them to High-rise. So that’s how we started, it was only that, but it was small enough that we could start. If people had that specific problem then they had a tool that would work for them.
Ok, so this is really good stuff. How long did it take to code that?
We actually did it at a start-up weekend which is these 54 hour hack-a-thon deals; we have the very first prototype up in less than 54 hours.
So you got this prototype, you tested it, you know how it works now you need to get users and when you got no users, getting users is really hard to do, so what did you guys do? Did you go back to that discussion forum and started answering these people’s questions?
Exactly, we would jump on the comments and I wouldn’t just forum spam them and tell them you should sign up for Zapier today, I would actually try and be helpful and say to them here is the API doc’s for this service and here is the API doc’s for that service, here’s how you might go about solving this problem with existing tools that was out there.
Here is Odesk or Freelance.com or places where you can hire people that who know how to do this. Then I would also though mention Zapier would say on the very end I’m working on a project that can solve this problem, here is a link if you are interested in talking to me about it at all, you can give me your email and we can chat.
That was all we needed to do, when we would put those comments in forums, we wouldn’t get a ton of traffic from that, we might get ten visitors or so a day from a single comment, maybe even less, but about 50% of them would reply and give us an email and start a conversation with us, which was fantastic. When we just started we didn’t need 10 000 people on day one, we just needed ten people to talk to and get feedback to know if this was working.
Yes, classic program to do things in the beginning that don’t scale, you can talk to people.
There’s no better feedback than being able to talk to people. You had some of that conversations, you get people using the stuff, what then?
Once we had people using it, there was many months, probably six, seven months of just polish that had to go into it, the product; the initial prototype that we build out quite frankly was not very good at all. People would sign up and would be barely be able to use it, I’d have to handhold them on Skype and get them on calls like this and walk them through setting it up, which was of course is not scalable at all, but people was still eager enough to use the product and we kept refining it and refining it and making it better and fixing things that they would bring up to us.
We kept driving traffic to the site, trying to get more people to get more interested in it and after six or seven months we were able to have, I guess what we would call a V1 and it wasn’t a NVP any more, it was like something that was good, it wasn’t great but we were proud enough that we could ship it and open it up to the public and let anyone sign up.
Got to love those early adopters, huh?
So this six or seven month window of time, is it just you and your co-founder, are you guys full-time and if you are, because there is no money coming in, where you on angel backing that point, we’re you on credit cards saving accounts, how’d you pay the bills?
It was myself, Brian and Mike and we were living back in Missouri at the time and it was a part-time project, we had day-jobs. Mike was actually in school still, we would work after work for another probably eight hours honestly and we’d work on the weekends. We would try putting just as much if not more time into Zapier as into our day-jobs at point in time, trying to get stuff going and get the wheels turning, get a machine going that we could actually start making money.
Were you guys all first time entrepreneurs at this point?
Effectively yes, we’d done some freelance work, we had some mini projects but nothing substantial ever came out of that.
OK, those 2 were writing code, what were you doing?
I was spending a lot of time trying to drive traffic to the site and get people to talk to us and use the product, get feedback about how it’s working.
This is a real labor of love at this point, probably three guys sitting in one room pounding back Coke’s and pizza’s on the weekend and that kind of thing.
That’s not too far from the truth.
Alright, you get to your V1 and you realize that there’s something here, any idea how many users you had at that point in time, after the six or seven months.
We had about a 1000 people who had signed up and paid an amount of money to use it that was actually interesting, our Beta was paid for as well so you had to pay to get onto our Beta.
Ah, brilliant, so you really knew that you had a product that people really needed, how much would you charge them?
It varied, the very first one’s all paid, yeah I think the first dozen or so paid a hundred bucks, but then we moved it around after that just testing the waters and feeling where people’s paying points were, I think it got as low as five dollars at some point in time and maybe as high as $200-$300. It was a onetime fee, you paid that amount of money and we told people you get in for the lifetime of the Beta, we don’t know how long it’s going to be, but for long as it lasts, you’re in.
Ok, so those people aren’t getting a free ride anymore now they have to pay like everybody else?
Correct, but when we actually launched, we gave them a year free and try to be very generous with them.
Absolutely, give the love to the early adopters as a big old thank you; they played a pivotal role on helping you figure out what to do.
Ok, then what? You had a 1000 users, seven months deep, you get a little bit of…..was the amount of money coming in, was that enough to cover the expenses like hosting and all that kind of thing?
I don’t think so, but we didn’t have many expenses in terms of hosting or anything either at that point in time. It was relatively small.
So it paid for the pizzas and the beer?
It did, it paid for very little, but it paid for something, a few hundred bucks a month at the time.
What did you do at this point, you got a 1000 people that have given you money, you’ve validated your product, then what happened next?
We started to think about we’re still part-time at this point in time, we really want to make this go, we got this thousand people who paid to get into this Beta, we also got an email mailing list that has about ten thousand people on it and we’ve got about twenty integrations with popular SaaS services and a lot more people that want to integrate with Zapier or that we want to integrate with them. We really wanted to go faster and so we started to think about how might we do this, we ended up applying to Y-Combinator and went through their interview process and getting in for the summer 2012 batch.
Once we got in, we moved everyone out to California and that happened to coincide right with the public launch of Zapier, the V1 launch was almost at the exact time we got into Y- Combinator.
For those people who do not know what Y- Combinator is, you want to tell them?
Sure, it’s a startup incubator. Companies that you might have recognize that have gone through there included Dropbox, Air BNB, Reddit, Stripe, some really big internet brands have gone through Y-Combinator. It’s a bit of university for start-up if you will, but condensed into three months, but that doesn’t do it entirely justice, but that’s probably the best.
What was that experience like because you are going to be around a whole bunch of really smart, well connected, driven people, it got to have some impact?
Yeah, absolutely, we’re in with about 80 start-ups in our batch, they have a dozen partners or so, who has all been involved with start-ups, some really big name start-ups, big acquisitions and worked with some really smart people, you kind of just inundated with people who really know what they doing, which is a fantastic learning environment.
Give us an example of what it’s like once you moved to California, day to day basis, how did your lives change?
Probably the biggest thing was we rented a small two bedroom apartment and we hold up honestly for three months we’re mostly spent the time with each other, just coding and trying to get customers, just doing that pretty much twelve hours a day or something.
Six days a week, seven days a week?
Six, seven days a week, we pretty much took breaks when we wanted them, we’d go and see a movie here and there, but most part Zapier was the only thing we cared about for three months.
At the end of the three months what was the outcome?
By the end of the three months we launched publically, we had over 30 000 registered users at that point in time, we’d gone from 20 integrations to 60 integrations, we’d launched our developer platform which allowed other people to do integrations with us and then we went out and raised our seed ground of money.
During these three months you’re in Y-Combinator, what did they give you in the way of resources?
There’s a hand full of things, for one they had network that has hundreds of founders that are, either still running companies or have exited and are now working in place like Google or Facebook or SalesForce, so you have access to that network. You have their expertise as well, so you do office hours with the partners probably once a week, where you get to talk about the biggest problems that you’re struggling with at the time. It could be customer acquisition, it could be some tech problem, it could be whatever, some partner on the staff that has gone through that and knows that and you get to borrow from their expertise.
You get a small amount of money, but it’s honestly trivial compared to the other stuff. The biggest thing is the focus that you get out of it, the fact that we moved away from all our friends and family, for three months we we’re hold up in the apartment and weren’t doing anything other than Zapier, was probably the most important thing that we’d done. We we’re able to achieve far ship, far more code and we achieved far more in that three month period than probably any other time because of that focus.
No kidding. And was burn out ever a problem during those three months?
Not too much, I think because you knew that there was an end in sight, at the end of the three months its going be a little bit back to normal. You never really felt too burned out about it.
So you get out, get your 30 000 users, you’ve got a ton of street credit because you’ve been in Y-Combinator, did they prove pivotal in raising the money that you raised next or how did that happen?
I think that YC has best said, is it gets you a meeting, somebody will at least take a meeting with you, doesn’t guarantee that you will raise money. Interestingly enough of the people that we raised money, I think only one of them did we meet after we went through demo day, almost all of them we talked to before demo day or even before we got into Y-Combinator so they’d express interest and they’d been following along with us for quite some time.
Were these friends and family or were they private equity guys? What kind of money?
We had a few friends that we’ve made in the business world, so to speak, some angels that we’ve met through working on Zapier who’d been early customers or early adopters of Zapier and then we had two institutional VC’s involved.
Give me some details, because there are a lot of people who have not been through the process of raising money and is quite amazed the first time you go through it, so give us some insight having gone through that.
Yeah, the interesting thing is, now as a first timer you think the best thing that you can do is pitch VC’s or pitch investors or whatever, but I think that actually it is a bit of the wrong way to go about it. The best way to go about it is build a good company, build a company that gets traction, build a company that people want to pay attention to even if it’s not a ton of people at first, especially in tech, especially if you’re doing B2B tech, consumer tech that sort of stuff.
Investors are paying attention, they’re watching products trends, they’re watching hacker news, they’re listening to what their portfolio companies are using. So what was happening to us was we started hearing from investors who wanted to take meetings with us saying: “Hey, I heard about you from so and so, I really think your company has potential, I’d like to chat and see how we can partner.” Which was cool and is actually pretty flattering at first, but then you realize afterwards it’s their job to take meetings, they can invest, they have the option to invest in 100% of start-ups that they talk to and they can’t invest in the stuff that they don’t talk to. Their job is to try and get to talk to you as much as possible, but the fact that they reach out is a good sign.
Then from there a lot of what YC helped out with too is perfecting your pitch, understanding what it is that they care about and hoping you tell a story that is interesting to them when you are ready to raise money. What we ended up doing, the process that we took which may or may not be applicable to others, was that through YC while we’re going through we actually turned down all the meetings, we said, “Hey we are not looking to raise money right now, but we’ll reach out later when we are and let you know if that’s all right with you.” And most people were totally fine with that. Once we were ready to raise money we reached out to them and say: “We would like to chat, we would like to have a meeting now if you’re interested. “
We tried to line up as many of those meetings back to back to back as possible, I think I took 40 meetings in a span of two weeks with various angel investors or venture capitalists that I could, pretty much anyone. The approach that we took was breadth first, depth second so as many, many meetings as possible to just get a sense of who’s the most interested, who might commit quick and is really interested vs. who is more just surface level interested. So by doing those 40 meetings at once, we narrowed it down to a handful of folks that we thought could really be good. Those were the ones we worked on closing and we were able to get that done in about three weeks or so.
You raised a total of how much?
Are you able to disclose what the valuation was for the money raised?
No, we actually raised on convertible notes, which is another thing you people will probably want to read up on, if you search for convertible notes, you can find out about it from Quora and I think there is pricing stuff on YC site about convertible notes as well, which is not equity, you raise at an evaluation cap that says like; the next time you raise are the amount that we invest and will convert as this amount or less, depending on what the evaluation is that you raised at that time is. It was actually raised on a convertible note and not an equity run.
Was there any debt service on the notes in the meantime or is it just the fact that they’re locking in their conversion rates.
Basically locking in their conversion rates is the thing that they’re trying to do.
After you raised that money, what happen then? Did you go the status quo and started hiring people like crazy; did you spend on marketing, where did it go?
The biggest thing that we wanted to get right away was someone to help out with customer support, at the time I was spending probably: I would wake up at about 8 o’clock in the morning and I would work from about 8:30 till 3pm just doing customer support and answering customer queries.
We wanted to get someone to help share that load that was the first person, we hired that person and then from there that actually bought us a lot of time to figure out how exactly we wanted to go tackle things. We knew we wanted to get more integration on board and we knew we wanted to do a lot more in terms of on the marketing frame, customer acquisition front and I was able to spend a lot more time on that.
What was some of the marketing activities that you started and worked well for you?
The biggest thing that we started doing was we got a lot more serious about how we worked with our partners, so when we launched an integration we made sure to follow a bit of a checklist, we would do a couple of things. We would write about it on our blog, we would make sure it was in our newsletter.
We would make sure that there is an in-app announcement; we’d make sure it was shared on social and things like that. In return we would ask that of partners to do these things because these things will work well, some of them would do some of them, some of them would do all of them, that was really helpful for us because our best customers are their customers.
It’s really targeted so when they send an email out to their customer base and say you can integrate with all these other things through Zapier, it is a really good messaging, really good touch point for us. We made sure that we were doing that sort of thing on an ongoing basis and doing guest posts on their site, getting listed in their market places and things like that, which would help drive more targeted traffic.
Did you have enough traction at his point that these people were coming to you and saying, “We would like you to integrate with us” or are you still reaching out to people saying “We want to build an integration for you?”
At this in point in time it’s probably 80% of people reaching out to us and 20% of us reaching out to them. We launched a Zapier developer platform that actually does allow them to integrate with us.
That’s where we were pointing most of those people to, if they were interested its’ like go there, that’s the official way to hook into Zapier. And because we had so many integrations by then, in August of 2012 when we launched that platform, we had about 60 integrations, each month it was growing ten to fifteen integrations a month. It became work impelling for a service to hook into Zapier because of that.
The more integrations that you have, does that mean you also have more integration to maintain, I would imagine that it does and that’s going to drive up you costs?
Yeah, the more integrations we have, there is more of a lot of things, that’s more customers we can talk to, that’s more ways that you can hook up tools in interesting ways, there is also more support, it’s more ways that people can get confused when they sign up for the site, it causes a lot of other interesting things as well that we have to work through from a product standpoint and from trying to figure out the best ways to introduce people to the integrations that they really care about.
So up to this point in the story, with hindsight to your benefit, what would you say is the biggest mistake that you made, because being an entrepreneur is really just a series of mistakes and hopefully not anyone of them kills you and get smarter as you keep going? We all know you made lots of mistakes. For the benefit of the audience to try and help them to avoid making mistakes, what would you say is the biggest one that you made so far, at this point in the story?
I think probably the biggest one is we had 10 000 people on our sign-up email list, who would express interest in Zapier, which is a fantastic number for a launch list, it’s a nice beefy list to market to and potentially get to use your services once you are ready, however we made the mistake of never emailing them until we launched. Some of those email addresses were six months, nine months old before they ever heard from us.
As a result it was pretty stale, we got pretty poor open rates, pretty poor click-through rates, we got some people there, we got some conversions, simply because of the size of the list, but it was not nearly as effective as it could have been, had we been nurturing that list on an ongoing basis and staying in touch of them. If I could rewind the clock, I would have made sure that we would have at least written an email to those folks once a month at minimum.
Yeah man, “Hey, this is what we accomplished in the last month, thanks for being interested in Zapier.”
Yeah,I think the reason we didn’t do that, I think we just kind of got scared, someone in tech and I’m not a huge fan of getting a lot of marketing and promotional emails and things like that, so we just kind of talked ourselves out of doing it, when in reality the worst thing could have happened is someone said: “Hey I am just not interested in this anymore”. At least the ones that were, would have remembered who we are.
Exactly, I think the mistake you made, you made their decision for them instead of letting them make it.
Because there’s and unsubscribe button and they can click it any time they want. This phase in the story, this is middle 2012?
Late 2012, what was the next big thing that happened?
From here the path is kind of laid out for us, at least in the short term. We know that we need to get integrations, we know that we need more users, so a lot of the things that we spent our time on doing was: how can we get more integrations on board and how could we get more people to sign up.
There’s nothing really special or fantastic about this, we didn’t have a crazy press event, some epic milestone that send lots and lots of people our way, it’s just a bunch of daily commitments to do, work on new integrations and work with our partners to continually get education and resources out there. Over time our traffic grew from smaller amounts to much, much larger amounts and our conversion rates increased and just kind of spent a lot of this stuff that you have to do on a daily basis to run a web business, just optimizing those bets.
How many people were on the team at his point in time?
We had four when we hired the support person and we were pretty meticulous about when we brought new people on, we brought someone in December of 2012, we brought someone on in March of 2013 and we brought someone on in August of 2013. As we felt needs, we’re spending a lot of time spending doing X, we could bring on a person who’s full time job could be X. That’s how we really thought about it, it was just a series of how can I fire myself from this thing that I am doing that is maybe a little more structured than some other task that I need to go figure out next.
Absolutely, so no great landslide events, just steady digging in the dishes every day, coming up with a routine, executing the routine, finding people to fill the void where you need them. Have we pretty much come to the end of the story?
There’s a lot of things that we ended up doing differently, like for instance early on we had to decide are we going to be a co-located team or distributed team, we’re a distributed team, so that was a big decision we made.
Let’s talk about that one for a bit because a lot of people are faced with that decision. Why did you choose to go distributed vs. co-lo?
Mike, my co-founder, when we finished YC, moved back to Missouri because he had a longtime girlfriend that was still in school there and wanted to be close to her. It was a decision made for us, we could have kicked him out of the company but that wasn’t really a decision, which was not an option in our minds truthfully. It was made up for us, he’s going to be distributed why not other people, so when we started hiring folks, we just didn’t pay attention to location.
We learned some lessons along the ways on how we do communication, how we do hiring, how you structure meetings and things like that, for a distributed team. We spent a lot of time just thinking about, not just how we build a product but how we build a company, a team and things like that.
With hindsight to your benefit, do you think there was any downside to going distributed vs. co-lo?
Sure, I think there are downsides; I do think the upsides far outweigh the downsides. The downside of course is when you’re in-person some tasks is a lot easier, like brainstorming tasks can be lot easier, sketching out product features and things like that can be a lot easier in person. Fortunately things like brainstorming are less important when you have a roadmap in front of you, you spend 10% of time brainstorming and 90% of your time just executing on that thing.
One of the things that we do to try and mitigate that downside is every six months or so, twice a year, we fly everyone out to a location somewhere, usually in the United States and get together for a week and brainstorm on some of those things, work on the product together, mostly just enjoying each other’s company because we don’t get to see each other except for those two times during the year.
So it sounds like that there are maybe seven or eight people on the team at this point?
We’re actually at thirteen now.
Thirteen, and are you at a point where the cash coming in pays all the bills?
Yeah, pretty much so. We mostly re-invest all of our profits into the company, so we are at about net zero every month, but revenue pays the bills.
That’s a nice place to be. I’m curious what percentage of the 1.2 million got spent, before you were able to achieve cash flow or break even?
Not much honestly.
Wow, that’s nice.
It is and it isn’t because in hindsight you think why did we take all that money, we could have owned the whole thing; however I’m sure you would attest the benefits of the relationship that probably came along with that money, were they substantial?
Absolutely, we still work with our partners, our investors on a monthly basis. I make contact with them usually more frequent than that with at least with one of them. You know with help of a partner, with help on a situation around this, just to get their advice and their feedback because these are smart people, been there done that before. They may not know our exact situation, but they can at least provide insight on how they have seen it happen elsewhere.
Having a venture capitalist as an investor, I have in my travels read all sorts of good and all sorts of bad. What do you think the best and worst parts of having a VC in the bed is?
There are a lot of good things, one is you get access to their portfolio companies, which can be important for us.
It’s great because you’re integrating with a lot of portfolio companies, you get to learn from their experiences, their access is really pretty, pretty, broad, you get access to a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t get access to, which is fantastic for when you have problems, you trying to learn about something, you’re trying to meet with customers, meet with partners, you can short cut a lot of that stuff.
The downside is that you’ve got someone now that’s not you, that you got to work with, I guess. It’s easier to make decisions when it’s just you, just make a decision and go, but it’s nice at times too to have outside sparring partner as well, it’s kind of good and bad on both sides of the table. Somebody give you a gut check, play devil’s advocate, things like that. The downside of course is you give up equity and some of your company but for the most part it’s worth it if you’re thinking about building a high growth tech company.
And as long as you’re meeting their expectations I’m sure they’re actually quite pleasant to have, it’s when you fail to meet their expectations that it’s not so much fun.
Sure and you know they are used to it, their business model’s is that 1 out of 10 is going to get ahead, most of the time your company’s not meeting the expectations they have, hopefully if you’re working with someone good, especially in the venture community, they’re going to help you work through a lot of those issues.
What do you think your next hire is going to be?
We’re actually hiring right now for a *inaudible* partner marketing, someone to really help work with our 300 plus SaaS companies to get education, help promote the partners, help promote Zapier and just do a lot of content creation to teach people of all the awesome stuff they can do at Zapier.
What would the compensation look like for them because I’m sure there’s a few people listening to this that might think, “Hey I’m interested in that?”
We pay very competitive salaries, depending on your experience, how long you’ve been in part; it will probably be able to meet your needs.
And do they get equity?
Yeah, equity is on the table as well.
Interesting, ok, what have I not asked about that you think that we should cover before we wind up the interview?
You’ve covered a lot of the nooks and crannies of Zapier, I’m sure we could go deeper on specific topics or marketing tactics and things like that but that could be an entire different chat.
All right Wade I want to thank you very much for making some time to be on the show and chat with me. I found it very, very interesting and I hope that you have enjoyed yourself.
Yeah, thanks for having me Trent, this was a blast.
No problem at all, take care.
Alright, to get to the show notes for this episode go to BrightIdeas.co/151 and if you really enjoyed this episode and would like to help me spread the word, you could very easily do that at BrightIdeas.co/love and I thank you in advance for doing that. So that is it for this episode, I am your host Trent Dyrsmid, it’s been my pleasure to have you come back for another episode of this show and I look forward having you back for another one soon.
Take care and have a good day, bye bye.
About Wade Foster
Wade is co-founder and CEO of Zapier. His work has been featured on sites like WSJ, Forbes, Mixergy and TheNextWeb.
James Deer and his wife founded Gather Content, a new startup SaaS company doing just shy of $39K/mo in Revenue.
James started his career as a freelancer and built up a small client base. Eventually, he got so busy as a web designer that he had to hire a number of people. He quickly built up an agency to 13 people before he ended up selling it.
James will reveal the entire process he has taken with Gather Content – from concept to prototyping, getting customers, and getting funding, as well as long-term business goals.
Are you looking to grow a Saas business? Then this is an interview you do not want to miss!
Listen now and you’ll hear James and I talk about:
- (04:00) Introduction
- (07:30) How did you come up with the idea for Gather Content?
- (12:30) What did you do next after developing a prototype for the app?
- (14:48) What did you do after Smashing Magazine tweeted out your app’s landing page?
- (20:00) How did you get from $5k/mo to $15k/mo?
- (23:00) How did marketing automation play a role?
- (28:00) How did you discover who your ideal customer is?
- (30:00) How much monthly revenue are you doing now?
- (33:00) Tell me about how you raised some money.
- (35:00) How much did you raise and what are you using it for?
- (37:00) What does your exit strategy look like?
- (46:00) What does the future hold?
More About This Episode
The Bright Ideas podcast is the podcast for business owners and marketers who want to discover how to use online marketing and sales automation tactics to massively grow their business.
It’s designed to help marketing agencies and small business owners discover which online marketing strategies are working most effectively today – all from the mouths of expert entrepreneurs who are already making it big.
About James Deer
James Deer is the founder of GatherContent– a service that helps agencies gather content from their clients painlessly. It helps replace the chaotic process of sending word documents, and emails back and forth for when you prepare web content. Previously James and his wife built up a small digital agency to 13 full-time staff which they later sold.
“I’m switching from Ontraport to Infusionsoft.”
This is what I heard from one of my subscribers a few weeks ago – three weeks in and he was so frustrated with the functionality constraints, he decided the lower startup costs weren’t worth the hassle, even after he had migrated most of his business into Ontraport (formally Office AutoPilot). The same day I heard from him, another one of our subscribers brought a very similar complaint to us via Facebook. The complaints were pouring in!
So, I decided to write this comparison.
With the great CRM system, the loads of 3rd party support, and the amazing Campaign Builder, Infusionsoft was an easy choice for us, but not everyone has the same needs. Here we’ll take a look at the different features each software provides. Specifically, we’ll analyze the following components:
- Pricing & Setup
- Training & Initiation
- Marketing & Automation
Pricing & Setup
Each program has its own unique approach to software set-up. Infusionsoft is consultant-based and detailed, while Ontraport is more self-servicing and intuitive. Here are the prices and expectations for each:
$199-379/month, ~$2000 Kickstart fee
While the initial startup costs can seem daunting to small business owners, Infusionsoft feels that due to the customizable nature of the software, the startup Kickstart training is necessary. The packages follow a structure which includes:
- One-on-one consulting and implementation help in the first 30 days
- A custom implementation guide to follow for the next 60 days
- Analysis of your business’ needs and challenges
- Help implementing the features that will make the biggest impact
- Data import and dashboard configuration assistance
There are two packages you can choose from once you begin your Kickstart program:
- Marketing Blueprint- Ideal for newer businesses looking to create and implement a marketing strategy for their lead generation and nurturing. This program will help create a framework to utilize in the future.
- Automate and Scale- Focused more on businesses looking to scale their efforts and make the business processes self-sustaining and automated. This program is designed to help businesses create internal processes to help sustain growth and scale their operations with the business.
The benefits of the Kickstart program go beyond the training and support for the actual software. With the right strategy and self-reflection, business owners can use this support to write personalized goals and campaign strategies, which is a powerful step in lead generation.
As opposed to Infusionsoft, you can order Ontraport online and move through the setup process fairly quickly. There is a much shorter lead-to-customer cycle, which is a nice touch and can be less intimidating.
As you can see, the monthly fees are higher but there is no startup fee. There is a free 2 hour implementation session which connects you with a dedicated “Hero” who is in charge of your account. The session includes:
- Immediate Ontraport training with a dedicated Implementation Specialist
- Get started building automated processes tailored to your business
- Gain a deep understanding of Ontraport’s features and functionality
- Get your sales and marketing automated right away
- A unique head start in mastering Ontraport that’s tailored to your business
While the stated deliverables are a little overlapping repetitive, the main point is a service professional will contact you and help set up the program while tailoring the session to your business model.
The difference between Ontraport’s Pro and Team options is pretty negligible as far as I can tell, the main difference being the number of program users and email contacts. The number of emails does not change, which is odd considering the extra $300 a month fees.
Training & Initiation
Approx. Set-up Time: 4-8 Weeks
The length of set-up time is partly due to the Kickstart training regimen provided by the company (which takes place over 30 days), and partly because the software is so dynamic. While it the time period may seem long, remember that you will be building and implementing your software throughout the actual process. You will be in contact with a dedicated consultant and can utilize the program while it is being created.
After the Kickstart, you should be well prepared to operate the software, as well as automate many of the processes to run your business. That being said, this is not a quick fix solution. This is a long term strategy which takes time to develop and understand. For this to work you need to allocate some time for reorganizing your business.
The other training advantage I believe Infusionsoft has is their large user community. There are large forums with people actively searching and posting ideas on how to use the software effectively and other strategies they have seen succeed and fail. This is something Ontraport, being a relatively newer and self-learning software, does not yet possess.
Along with an active community, Infusionsoft also hosts events and seminars for their users to learn more about the program and upcoming changes. These include:
- Infusionsoft University– Based at locations across the country, these classes offer hands-on training, Q&A sessions, mastermind groups, and other events.
- Virtual Academy– Online training course
- Mastermind Webinars– Weekly webinars focused on marketing strategies and automation
- ICON– Annual seminar for users to learn from business experts and thought leaders
Along with live phone support, Infusionsoft also features 24/7 chat support, which is vital because if you’re a small business owner like myself, you know your business is always a 24/7 effort.
Approx. Set-up Time: 1-4 weeks
This is one of the nice features about Ontraport. There set-up is much simpler. Most of the functions are relatively easy to understand after an initial training. As with Infusionsoft, you have one point of contact during the transition to help you customize your set-up.
The actual time frame depends on your level of experience with marketing software and willingness to learn, but is undoubtedly shorter than the time Infusionsoft takes to master because it is a less involved system.
This process can take longer if you are migrating from other platforms to a centralized system, but if you are unsure or time-restrained, you can hire a concierge to migrate the systems and help with other learning hurdles.
Ontraport offers live chat and service calls for customers, but support hours are limited to 6AM-9PM PST on weekdays and 9AM-9PM PST weekends.
The personalization the “Heroes” offer is nice, but it is also a weakness, as only 12 support staff members are available. This is restraining for businesses located outside of the West Coast or in other parts of the world.
I like the friendly feel of the entire interface. If you watch the videos and visit the page it is clean and non-intimidating. If you’re a small business owner looking to make a big money decision, you’ll value that level of approachability.
Let’s break down the different perks and features included in each software.
The CRM is the real backbone of both of these software packages. Here are the rates provided by Infusionsoft:
I normally suggest ignoring the Essentials package and moving straight to the Deluxe(s) and Complete packages. The usefulness of the sales component is reason enough to pick up the larger packages. If you don’t have an inventory or product, you will have less need for Infusionsoft in the first place.
Tagging and Lead Scoring
This is an incredibly easy and powerful tool within Infusionsoft, and with the rising importance of tag management in online marketing, I believe it’s a must for any good CRM software.
You can utilize tags for any number of actions users take on your site and automate what procedures to take when these actions happen.
As you can see, data can be sorted by tagged details applied to each contact. This is information you can gather based on opt-in forms, random surveys, user actions, or during the check out portion of your sales process. This allows you to search for relevant information depending on the needs of your campaign.
Notice the tag section below. We utilize hundreds of tags. No joke. We tag everything from clicking a certain link, to attending a webinar, to watching a certain percentage of a video, and so much more.
These tags allow you to monitor your customer’s behavior throughout their experience with your site and give you the opportunity to make informed decisions on how to respond to their actions.
Infusionsoft also offers a quality lead scoring system which you can automate to update when a contact has completed certain actions or purchased certain items. This can be incredibly useful for sales teams looking to optimize their time as it helps to quickly identify quality leads without doing manual searching and decision-making.
This is the key to automation – a powerful CRM system which integrates with a reliable automation system. The tagging and organizational aspects allows you to make more precise and meaningful automation decisions.
Clean Data and Company Identification
While this may seem trite, the value of these features on Infusionsoft should not be understated. With the amount of data coming in, it is important to capture unique contacts.
Infusionsoft allows you to delete repeat information and keep a concise and accurate customer base. With Ontraport, this can be time-consuming.
Infusionsoft also allows you to categorize companies independently from customer contacts. If you are running a B2B service or even just have elements of B2B work, this feature is critical. This is also missing in Ontraport’s CRM system.
The Deluxe Sales and Complete versions of Infusionsoft allow you to make complex and powerful sales pipeline adjustments. Use this tool to structure task assignment for sales teams, assign leads to users, update product lists for possible customers, and more. This is a feature especially important for companies with devoted sales teams and a list of products the sales team is working with.
This feature is just plain not available in Ontraport.
Ontraport offers a decent quality CRM system that is useful and intuitive. There is the normal functionality and sorting, but it is much more limited in scope than Infusionsoft.
But this does not mean Ontraport is a bad system.
It contains all the necessary components, is clean and efficient, and can handle most CRM needs. There is also a tagging and lead scoring system which can be automated and utilized to act on high involvement actions. The tagging and lead scoring isn’t as advanced as Infusionsoft’s, and doesn’t easily tie into the automation feature (read on for more details about the Marketing Automation differences between the two systems).
These are great features, but they fail to keep up with the sales heavy focus of Infusionsoft. This includes the 150 Custom Fields that Ontraport provides compared to the 100 custom fields per record type that Infusionsoft has. That being said, there are aspects of Ontraport that go above and beyond what Infusionsoft does.
If you have a Facebook site or advertising and move a prospect through this channel, Ontraport has a great integration system to capture those leads. This comes standard and creates the lead profile upon user entry. Infusionsoft has a great plug-in called GroSocial which is very similar, but there is an additional fee per month.
Ontraport offers a free and easy membership site plugin for WordPress users. This is especially useful for information marketing because it allows paying subscribers access to certain content depending on membership level. Infusionsoft offers CustomerHub, but it is also an additional plug-in with an additional fee.
Ontraport offers pretty seamless plugins for WordPress users including order forms, landing page creation, and membership sites. Infusionsoft offers the same.
The difference here is the ability to add-on as your business grows.
Ontraport is limited in its capabilities and does not have a strong plug-in marketplace. Infusionsoft allows you to add nearly any business function you need as you grow your business. This allows for a vastly more personal software system throughout the life of your business.
Marketing & Automation
In the Campaign Builder function of Infusionsoft there is a drag-and-drop feature for creating things such as landing pages. There are templates available that can cater to most customers. With a little bit of training, the process is relatively simple and intuitive.
The function does lack in terms of creativity and manipulation. You can completely customize your pages, but it does take a little more time and understanding of the software.
Email templates are one of the nicer aspects of Infusionsoft’s marketing system. The formatting is very simple and extremely clean, but there are additional functions and personalization available.
For instance, you can insert personalized information in an email, include a download link to an online product, or tag a contact based on a specific link they click in your email.
You can easily direct your emails to specific users, and the integrated anti-spam system helps your emails avoid your contact’s spam folder.
Despite this, there is no real split-testing function in Infusionsoft. You can manipulate the emails to send to specific users (as in cloning the email and selecting A-M and N-Z for example) but it is cumbersome.
THE Campaign Builder
Ok, here it is. The best feature of any small company marketing software – the marketing automation component.
In Infusionsoft, it’s called the Campaign Builder.
It’s just so damn beautiful.
This feature allows you to conceptually create a system of actions to take place throughout different campaigns. It can trigger automated responses depending on where your contact came from and what they are searching for.
It’s also very simple to use and makes the process of visualizing the customer buying process on your site much easier.
I really can’t get enough of this piece of software. This is the kind of thing that would normally be reserved for large company software programs worth thousands. This is far and away the best automation tool I’ve seen – not just in comparison to Ontraport, but to any small-to-mid-sized software on the market.
Here are some videos on how the system works and how easy it is to create campaigns.
Webpage Builder and PURLs
Ontraport’s webpage builder is more customizable and looks cleaner. This also applies to Ontraport’s web order forms, post cards, and landing pages. They emphasize the personal touch in their product. These Ontraport-created pages can also be hosted on your own site, which makes it easier to have full control over the sales process.
Ontraport also has a great PURL system. If you are unfamiliar, PURLs are sites that customers land on which has personalized features that can say things like “Hey Brian” or “It’s been 3 days since your last visit, here’s what you missed”. You see this on larger sites like Amazon and it really adds a great marketing angle. These are only available through a 3rd party with Infusionsoft.
Ontraport offers a campaign system which is intuitive and in a language that most users can understand. Select a user action, then a condition (like if the customer is a subscriber), and then a follow up action to be taken.
You can really get down to the specifics with this system and it is a breeze to set-up and utilize. This is a very useful tool in the steps towards profitable automation.
While the system works well and is in the same vein as the Campaign Builder, it can’t even hold a torch to the amount of customization you can achieve with Infusionsoft’s system.
This is possibly the most useful integration feature of the marketing automation tool-set. The Split-Testing option allows you to create up to 4 different emails (A/B/C/D) and send them out based on certain parameters or on random assortment.
This can be integral to your marketing efforts as you measure and report the different response rates you are getting from your campaigns, and is a powerful testing function which isn’t as easy in Infusionsoft.
These emails are also sent from your own IP address and have a time zone identifier for your international customers (Infusionsoft was adjusting that last time I checked).
To be fair, Infusionsoft is really the only one of the two with any real E-Commerce functionality. There is seamless and powerful integration between E-Commerce, CRM, and the Campaign Builder.
If you have a sales team or a product listing, Infusionsoft has a clear advantage because Ontraport just doesn’t have a E-Commerce system in place other than 3rd party plugins.
As you can see, Infusionsoft has a multiple-item shopping cart, and action buttons for the different stages of the buying process. You can tag people who have purchased items and redirect sales efforts based on those new conditions. This can also be used in collaboration with your Campaign Builder, making a seamless buyer process to monitor.
Infusionsoft offers a hosted affiliate center which is much easier to initiate than Ontraport’s self-hosted option. The system is set up and ready for you, so all you have to do is configure it. Ontraport has this feature but you must create your own site through the WordPress plugin, much more time consuming.
3rd Party Plug-Ins
This is one of the defining features of Infusionsoft. There are a fantastic list of developers catering to niches in your business efforts. If you need a new function in your system, you can often simply find someone who provides it.
Despite the additional costs, I’m going to say this is a big plus for Infusionsoft. Ontraport just does not possess the sheer number and functionality of 3rd party developers as Infusionsoft does. You can add so much personalization and utility to your process, whereas Ontraport users are essentially stuck with the options provided.
Postcards and Email
Ontraport allows you to create and send personalized post-cards to customers with at no extra cost (there is a limit on amount sent). This may not be overly important to your business but it is a nice touch which can really add to your customer’s trust in you.
Ontraport also allows a much larger email lists and amounts of emails to send. You can add additional email contacts to your contract with Infusionsoft, but it is an additional fee.
Analtyics and Tracking
Tracking is made pretty simple with Ontraport’s system. It allows you to see with data and charts what things your customers are doing on your site – which pages they visit, which links they click, and more.
This is especially useful with Ontraport’s email split testing and PURL functions, which can give you fast and easy reporting on your campaign reactions.
While Infusionsoft does offer data analysis tools, you will likely want to create your own analytic reports. They do offer some standard functions but for more detailed reporting you have to create your own formulas. This allows for more customization, but to be honest, it can be difficult to know what you want the data to do and, probably more so, what data is worth looking into.
The analytics reporting feature included in Ontraport is a little more easy to read and conceptualize, especially with the graphs and other tools.
I use a 3rd party data analysis tool on Infusionsoft, and regardless, I do recommend you have multiple measuring systems in place, but it is nice to have one already established.
Ontraport vs. Infusionsoft. I know it seems lopsided, but the fact is Infusionsoft is a larger company with more capabilities. Ontraport has some great features as well but for many users the functionality may not be enough.
Ontraport is newer and is continually learning from their progress. It’s great. I love what they’re doing and they have a good program, but they are competing with a better, more established, even cheaper alternative. It just doesn’t stack up right now.
Infusionsoft has more features that focus on more solidified business practices, which is why they’ve been growing so rapidly for years. In fact, they received $54 million in venture capital funding in 2013, and they’re only expected to continue to flourish.
Their focus on CRM, Sales, and Campaign Planning are the reasons Infusionsoft holds such a solid presence in the marketing software marketplace.
I would continue to recommend Infusionsoft for most business structures, especially ones that possess a strong sales angle and a physical product. For information marketing, solo-ventures, and consulting, I can see where Ontraport can provide some great tools. The problem is scalability, where Ontraport is limited to its basic functions, while Infusionsoft grows with the user as their business grows and changes.
But my opinion isn’t the only one worth listening to – what are some of your experiences with these two pieces of software? What are some key selling points? What do you like or dislike? We love to hear your ideas on the analyses we do here.
I’m often asked by people that are unfamiliar with Infusionsoft if they should pick it, or a simpler software like MailChimp for their email marketing. What these people fail to understand is the magnitude of the differences between these two applications.
Are you struggling to attract clients? Have you heard about Content Marketing, but aren’t yet sure what it is, or how to implement it? Would you like to be able to stop spending money chasing prospects and asking them to do business with you?
At a recent business networking event that I attended, I had the opportunity to be a firsthand witness to a “power networker” named Dave. Dave was a networking machine and he worked the room like no one I’ve ever seen, passing out business cards left and right.
Dave was amazing. In fact, he was the talk of the room.
Problem was that none of the “talk” was flattering. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. In just under an hour, Dave had managed to become the most annoying person in the room.
Don’t forget to check out our post on the outlook of content marketing in 2014.
Are You Annoying Your Prospects?
Do you think that anyone who received one of Dave’s cards would ever call him? Do you think that in the short conversations that Dave had with each person that he devoted any time to attempting to understand the problems or challenges faced by the person he was talking to?
Hardly. Dave was only interested in one thing: passing out as many cards as possible. After all, sales is just a numbers game, right?
Today, the way to successfully attract clients is not to interrupt them with your sales messages. The way to attract clients today is to create content that is actually useful.
In his book Youtility, Jay Baer completely hit the nail on the head. Smart marketing is about HELP not HYPE.
Your Best Prospects Are Invisible
According to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), almost 60% of the buyer journey is complete before prospects contact potential vendors.
In the “old days” we would begin our buyer’s journey by reaching out and talking to a real person. We did this because we wanted to learn more about the company and create a bond of some kind.
When was the last time you reached out and talked to a live person at the very beginning of your research process? In my case, it’s been a very long time! The days of one-to-one communications early in the buyer’s journey are OVER.
Nowadays, the buyer’s journey starts off with online research and by the time you or I talk to a prospect, 60% of their homework is done. Customers are smart and they are stealthy. They are rigorously evaluating us without our even knowing they exist. IF we pass their sniff test, ONLY THEN do we stand a chance of actually speaking with them.
Content is Mission Critical
Content Marketing is the process of creating content that our prospects actually want or need. If you aren’t publishing high quality, helpful content, your competitors are probably eating your lunch.
To be successful with content, you must think carefully about the customer buying cycle and then create content to meet the needs of people in each phase.
- The first phase has the largest number of potential buyers so you should begin with content that drives interest and awareness. We’ll call this top of the funnel content.
- The next phase is the middle of the funnel. Here you want to focus on increasing engagement as well as answering questions about what you sell and how much it is.
- The final phase is the bottom of the funnel. This is the place where you want to getting into the nitty gritty of all the frequently asked questions that are aligned with the buying process.
Attracting Buyers with Content
Content marketing has one purpose: attracting buyers.
Unlike paid advertising, where you are attempting to interrupt buyers from whatever they are doing (so they will pay attention to you), the goal of content marketing is to attract buyers who are already searching for solutions to the problems they have.
Does’t that seem like a much smarter idea?
To succeed with content marketing, you have to shift your mindset from “how can we sell them” to “how can we help them”. People are tired of being sold and if that is your approach (like Dave), they will avoid you. However, if you focus on providing help, not only will people trust you more, but they will also help you to spread the word on their social networks.
Here at Bright Ideas, we walk our talk and provide a steady stream of the most helpful content that we possibly can. On this site there are hundreds of blog posts and interviews that are jam packed with content that is genuinely helpful.
How do I know it’s helpful? Because I get at least one email or tweet a day (from people I’ve never heard of) thanking me for creating content that is so helpful. My audience also regularly buys our products and services, so I can assure that being “helpful” definitely pays the bills.
Don’t just take my word for it though. According to BtoB Magazine, “Content Marketing” is one of the top priorities for marketing in 2014.
Check out the total number of searches for “content marketing”. From January of 2001 through to today, the trend has been steadily increasing.
Still not convinced? Here’s a bunch more statistics:
• 93% of B2B Marketers are using content marketing (Content Marketing Institute / Marketing Profs Study)
• 42% of B2B marketers rate their content marketing efforts as effective (Content Marketing Institute / Marketing Profs Study)
• Only 44% of B2B Marketers have a documented content strategy (Content Marketing Institute / Marketing Profs Study)
• 73% of B2B Marketers have someone in charge of content marketing strategy. (Content Marketing Institute / Marketing Profs Study)
Here are some relevant interviews you may also want to check out:
- How to Increase Lead Conversion, Work Less, and Automate More: An Interview with Jay Baer
- Lead Generation Secrets from an Agency That Generated 5,500 Leads in 12 Months
- How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy with Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute
Here are some additional articles I’ve written on this topic:
- How Content Marketing and Marketing Automation Led to a $5,000 Retainer Client
- The Bright Ideas Traffic Report: Amazing Results From Effective Content Promotion
- How Content Marketing Has Forever Changed How to Attract Clients and How You Can Take Advantage of This Shift
How to Get Started With Content Marketing
Getting started with content marketing is actually very easy to do.
Step 1: Find out what your customers are interested in learning more about.
To do this, I strongly suggest that you invest some time to actually call your customers and ask them. There is no substitute for first hand research like this.
If you are too lazy to call people, then I’d suggest sending out a survey and using plenty of open ended questions. Multiple choice is OK, but what you really want is to hear the answers in your customer’s own words so that you can use these phrases for keyword research.
Now that you have some idea of key phrases that your customers are using, make a list of them and start to use tools like Google trends and the Google keyword tool to gain insight into the trends and search volume for these key phrases. The data you uncover from doing this will help you to determine which topics you should write about.
If you are just starting out and don’t yet have any customers, use Google to find some discussion forums for the topic you are researching and take note of the questions people are asking. For questions that you see showing up over and over, go write a blog post that answers that question. Now you have a page you can tell people in the forums about and that will drive traffic to your site.
Step 2: Create content to provide helpful advice and answers to the questions your prospects are asking
Now that you have a list of questions, write a blog post that answers each question. It doesn’t have to be a long post and you don’t need to be a world-class writer. You need only be HELPFUL.
If you are brand new to writing, I’d suggest you look at other blogs in your niche and see which posts of theirs have received the most comments and social shares. Use these posts as a guide to helping you to create an effective post.
Generally speaking a good post will go something like this:
- Overview of the problem (this is why you should read this)
- Overview of the solution
- Proof that the solution works (your proof or proof supplied by others)
- Call to action (what your reader should do next)
Want to Learn More?
As you might guess, there are plenty of addition details, tips, tricks, and hacks to becoming a successful content marketer and to help you discover them, I have written a book that will take you from zero to a steady stream of new customers-all from content marketing. Plus, so that you can get an even bigger bang for your content marketing buck, I have devoted two chapters to how you can add something called marketing automation in with your content marketing.
You can learn more about the book and download a free chapter here.
Have questions? Please use the comment form below.
Earlier this morning, I was on the phone with a friend (and former podcast guest) of mine by the name of Casey Graham. Casey and I had scheduled a call to talk about how we might help each other to promote some of our products, and while we did make a plan to do that, the most surprising part of the call was some of the advice that Casey gave me after he asked me how things were going.
The Value of Being Transparent
Rather than give Casey a fluffy answer and tell him that everything was going smashingly well, I decided to be fully transparent and share with Casey some of the frustrations that I have been dealing with in my business. Being the helpful guy that he is, when he heard me express that I was frustrated he immediately asked me to explain to him what some of the challenges were, and why I was so frustrated.
I told Casey that I’ve spent the last year publishing interviews with dozens of successful entrepreneurs as well as creating the very best content that I could. I thought that by doing so I would attract an audience made up of entrepreneurs who were already in business and looking for advice on how to get to the next level.
My plan was to use my automated marketing funnel to nurture these prospects, build trust, and ultimately convert them into customers for my information products and my mastermind group. To me, this seemed like a much better business than consulting, because my revenue wasn’t tied to how many hours I worked.
While I have definitely sold quite a number of my information products and my mastermind group has 10 very happy members, the volume of revenue generated from the sales has fallen well short of my expectations.
Casey asked me if I have reached out and had a conversation with each and every one of the people who bought my information products.
I told him that I had not.
I went on to add that one-on-one conversations didn’t scale very well and weren’t really a part of my business model. That is why I put so much effort into content marketing combined with marketing automation.
The Best Advice I Received in 2013
When he told the next was the very best advice I’ve received in 2013 – and the hilarious part is that just two days ago I had recorded a half hour long video to give this exact advice to my own tribe. Apparently the teacher needs to drink his own Kool-Aid!
Casey told me that when a business is young (like his and mine), by far the best way to grow fast is to reach out and talk to every single customer. He told me that this is exactly what he had been doing over the last couple of months to launch his new business, Business Rocket.
Back in August of last year, he decided to launch this new business and set a goal to do $100,000 in revenue in the first 6 months. At the time of our conversation today, he was 80% the way there.
To kick the business off, he told me that he sold a relatively low-priced product to 54 people via a webinar and then he reached out to every single one of those people got them on the phone and asked him how he could provide additional help.
These conversations, he said, have helped him to really understand the challenges that his customers face – and, on quite a number of occasions these conversations, which he did not charge for, resulted in his customers asking for paid consulting. As a result, in less than six months, he has generated over $80,000 in revenue for his new business.
Had Casey not taken the time to reach out to each of the customers who bought his $297 product, there is no way that the $80,000 in consulting revenue would have happened. Moreover, he would not have been able to gain such a thorough understanding of exactly the problems and challenges that were keeping these people awake at night.
My Big Mistake
When I sold my last company I received quite a lot of money and as a result my sense of urgency to generate new cash flow was quite low.
Ironically, this is a very dangerous place to be.
In my case, because I have this high level of comfort, I did not engage in the one on one conversations that I used to build my last business into a $2 million company. Instead, I simply created content and use marketing automation to sell my products.
By taking this automated approach too early in the life of my business, I have cost myself dearly.
Because I have not been reaching out and having one-on-one conversations with my customers, I have not given them the opportunity to get additional help from me by hiring me to consult with them. If I had, I’m pretty sure that the revenue from this consulting work would have easily produced tens of thousands of dollars in additional revenue – plus, as I spent my time talking one-on-one with all of my customers I would have also learned a great deal more about the problems and challenges that they face – and this is valuable information that I could then use to improve my existing products and/or launch new ones.
Don’t Automate Too Soon
The mistake that I have made is to automate too much, too soon.
Thanks to my conversation with Casey, I intend to immediately correct this problem and starting today, I plan to personally reach out to every single one of my new customers (as well as many of my existing customers) to ask them to hop on the phone with me (for free) so that I can help them to make the most of the product, answer questions, and offer advice.
When I do these calls, I have no doubt that some of the people I talked to will end up wanting to hire me for additional consulting/coaching or to become a part of my mastermind group.
Even if I don’t generate any immediate revenue, I’m confident that the goodwill I create by offering this free advice to my customers will also result in a fair number of positive mentions on social networks, which in turn will very likely drive more traffic to my site, more leads, and more sales.
Can I Help You?
If you have already bought a product of mine and would like to get on the phone with me, please get in touch. If you haven’t yet bought a product and have questions about marketing, blogging, marketing automation, lead generation, etc…, please leave your question in the comments below and you will get an answer directly from yours truly.
To your success!
As I have written about many times before, one of the really terrific things about having a podcast is that it is an extremely powerful tool for networking. Thanks to my podcast, my professional network has never been better – and the best part is that I don’t have to fly to conferences to expand it.
Just a few minutes ago I got off the phone with Michael Gass – a past guest on my show – and we talked about the promotional part of his digital marketing strategy. Since interviewing Michael some months ago, he and I have started to get to know each other a bit and I have quite enjoyed my interactions with him. Had it not been for my podcast, it’s unlikely that Michael and I would ever have crossed paths; much less become the business-friends that we now are.
Michael runs a blog called Fuel Line that is very popular with ad agencies. After reading one of my most recent blog posts, Michael emailed me to offer to help me with some ideas on how I could further increase traffic to my blog.
As I am always looking for ways to increase my traffic, I was very happy to take Michael up on his offer.
Michael Gets 35,000 Monthly Visitors
Michael has been blogging for quite a number of years now and his site receives between 30,000 and 35,000 visitors a month. Currently my site is getting around 10,000 visitors a month, so I was very sure that the advice that Michael was going to give me would be worth listening to.
Rather than keep Michael’s advice to myself, I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and write this quick blog post to share his ideas with my audience as well. I hope you enjoy them!
If you have questions or comments about the ideas that Michael shared with me, please make sure and use the comments down below so that we can start a mini-mastermind on how to promote our blogs and generate more traffic.
Below is a list of all the tools that Michael told me about, along with his advice on how to use each one of them
SocialOomph is a tool that he uses to promote his content across a variety of social networks including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Michael told me that he has around 800 posts on his blog and he uses social to regularly promote about 250 to 300 of his best posts. To do this, he creates a spreadsheet with the blog post titles and URLs and then uploads that spreadsheet to SocialOomph.
He creates a schedule that shares one of his posts every other hour from 3 AM to midnight every single day from Monday to Friday. He told me that this schedule matches the work schedule of his target audience around the world.
To create a spreadsheet he pastes the post title and the URL on one line with just a space between the two of them.
The main thing to understand about how Michael is using social is that he does not use it to promote his latest posts; instead he uses it to continuously promote his best posts. To promote his latest posts he uses HootSuite Pro.
HootSuite is another tool that allows you to promote your content across a wide variety of social networks and is one that I currently use. Unlike Michael I have been using only HootSuite Pro to promote both my new posts and my past posts on an ongoing basis.
In Michael’s case, whenever he publishes a new post he uses HootSuite Pro to promote his new post three times per day for a week. After the week is complete, he then stops using HootSuite to promote that post and adds it to his spreadsheet that gets uploaded to SocialOomph.
Michael told me that he has had very good success using StumbleUpon to promote his new posts. He didn’t say that there was anything particular about how he used it, other than to say that it was a part of his promotion strategy. I am already using StumbleUpon, and in terms of social networks that are sending traffic to my site, StumbleUpon ranks fifth behind Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and mobile Facebook.
Michael is a very big advocate of Twitter and tells me that he gets a lot of traffic from it. In checking his account I see that he has 64,633 followers. He tells me that he used to use a tool called TweetAdder her to build this following however; over time, that tool has lost a great deal of its effectiveness.
He is now using a tool called ManageFlitter. ManagerFlitter has a free version and a paid version. Michael is using the paid version. He recommends following no more than 100 people per day and then he sets the program to wait for about three days and then unfollows anyone that doesn’t follow him back.
He tells me that you can build a very targeted following (which leads to traffic!) by following people who are influential in your niche, and then by following those that follow that person.
I’m sure that some folks think that using automation to build your Twitter following is something of a gray hat tactic, however, as it is a strategy that is working very well well for Michael, I did not want to excluded from this post. Plus, it’s a strategy that I intend to test for myself.
I should also add that as of right now, I have only 2,470 followers and Twitter is my #1 source of social referral traffic, so I can only imagine how much more traffic I’d receive it I had 60,000 followers like Michael does.
Another past guest of mine, Casey Graham, founder of The Rocket Company, told me that Twitter has, by far, been the biggest source of his traffic as well.
Blog Post Syndication
As I have been having very good luck by syndicating my content other blogs, I suggested to Michael that we each pick a post from each other’s blog to publish our own blogs. Seeing the results that I had achieved with syndicating content like this, Michael was very open to the idea and so we are going to trade posts here in the very near future.
Michael has some concerns about potential duplicate content penalties so that he said he’s going to keep a close eye on this, and if there is no noticeable drop in SEO traffic (his largest source), were going to begin syndicating content to each other’s blogs on a more regular basis.
I strongly encourage that you build relationships with other bloggers and begin to do the same.
To do this, you can either get to know someone like I have done and then send each other the raw HTML for publication on each other’s blog, or you can use a service like Repost or Triberr. Both Repost and Triberr make it very easy for other people to publish your content to their blog with only the click of a mouse.
Both services are free and quite easy to use. In fact, if you like this article will notice that there is a repost button up at the top so you can easily repost it to your blog.
- Use SocialOomph to manage promotion for your best posts on an ongoing basis
- Use HootSuite to promote your new posts for the first week after they have been published
- Used StumbleUpon to attract a new audience to your blog
- Use ManageFlitter to rapidly grow your Twitter following
- Syndicate your content to other people’s blogs to expand your audience
Aggressive content promotion is something that I have really only started to do myself in the last 30 days or so, and as I wrote about in a recent traffic report, the results that I have been able to achieve in a very short period of time have been nothing short of amazing.
At the time that I published my traffic report, I reported a 68.57% month-over-month increase in traffic. Since then, my traffic has continued to climb and is now about three times the amount that it was prior to my implementing the strategies that I outlined in my post.
If content marketing is a strategy that you want to make use of in your business and your looking to achieve significant results in the shortest period of time that I would encourage you to get on the VIP list for my new book. When you do, you’re going to receive a free chapter, which (conveniently enough) is the chapter on content promotion. Plus, as a VIP, you will be eligible for a 25% discount on the book on the day that the book is released.
Who is Trent Dyrsmid?
Trent Dyrsmid is a serial entrepreneur, husband, and father. In addition to hosting the Bright Ideas podcast, he is the Founder of Flowster.app; a business process management application that provides customers with proven playbooks for increasing productivity. In 2019, his eCommerce business ranked 254th on the 2019 Inc 5000 of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies. Full bio here