When I started working on the business at the end of 2012, we were having pretty consistent months, from our point of view, at a pretty low revenue number. Over the past 3 months, we’re averaging over 6x that and the company is on pace to double again this year.
In retrospect, it’s clearer to me what the big things we did were that let us grow the company 6x revenue (and more in profit) over the past 18 months.
Some of these won’t apply to everyone’s business and are certainly colored by being in a more old school B2B industries, but I think most are more true than not for anyone running an online-heavy business.
1. Don’t worry about SEO
Focus on generating as much quality, educational content about your products and industry as possible and repurpose it everywhere.
- Send out a Monthly Newsletter and copy it onto your blog
- Get Customer Testimonial Videos and put them on product pages, in auto-responders and on landing pages.
- Set up specific landing pages for the 20 most searched/highest value keywords relating to your product and use it to drive organic and paid traffic.
The Portable Bar Company is the only business I’ve worked on that’s never “done” SEO. It gets more organic traffic than all the others.
2. Start Small and Test
Double Down on What Works and Learn from and Eliminate What Doesn’t.
The majority of our marketing initiatives failed, which is to be expected. We tossed those to focus on the ones that succeed. We allocated 80% of the marketing budget to proven ROI channels and 20% to Experimental. Allocate this as you will, it will be higher in risky stuff when you’re just just getting started.
One valuable heuristic is to ask: Will I learn enough from this initiative even if it fails to justify the investment?
We spent 20k+ on a trade show a few months ago and didn’t even squeak out 10k in sales. But we learned a ton about that industry (which we built out into an industry specific, segmented auto-responder), generated a bunch of content (video testimonials, in context product images), and made connections to do cross promotion.
3. Be Old School, Be Boring and Execute
I had all these great ideas at first about hyper specific long tail SEO strategies and LinkedIn marketing my first six months. None of them worked at any level to be real drivers of growth.
What are our biggest marketing channels?
2. Organic Traffic
3. Trade Shows
They’re not sexy, they just work. Figure out the main drivers (hint: It’s almost certainly not facebook retargeting or the newest, greatest YouTube ad package) and HAMMER on them.
4. Use Tons of Images and Video
A picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth a thousand words a frame. I spent all this time re-writing product descriptions. No one reads our product descriptions. They watch all our videos.
Make a video for your best-selling products with a human (preferably the person picking up the phone if you take phone orders) talking about them, why they like them and who they’d be right for. When someone is looking at your product, they’re trying to envision the story of what their life will look like after the buy it. Record a video that tells that story.
Get video testimonials. We got them by talking to people at Trade shows right after they bought our product or if they had bought it previously. We also got them by hiring videographers off of craigslist (students are cheap, out of work and willing to hustle) and having them go to our customers’ venues and record video.
5. Know your Numbers but Trust Your Gut
Spend time in spreadsheets and understand what success will look like for a given marketing channel.
We manufacture our own products so AdWords is highly profitable for us since we have the margins to support it. That probably won’t be the case if you’re drop-shipping, doing affiliate marketing. or in a hyper-competitive online niche.
When we start a new marketing channel, we’re looking to break even within the first 60-90 days. If we can break even then we’ll scale it out because we know the LTV of those customers will make it worth it. This forces us to prove out a marketing channel, but also invest in long term growth.
That being said, some of our most successful marketing doesn’t have numbers put to it. I could never quantify the ROI on super high quality product images or video testimonials but the more we pushed those forward, the more the revenue graph moved in the right direction.
6. First Sales then Marketing (ie. Go Make a Cold Call)
Marketing is just selling at scale. Until you’ve sold your product in person or over the phone, don’t waste time trying to automate your marketing.
Cold calling probably isn’t sustainable unless you have a very high customer LTV (at least 5k+), but it’s the best way to figure out how to position your product in the market as fast as possible.
Record your successful cold calls and turn it into your sales page and Auto-responder.
Better yet – go try and sell the product in person. We went to a trade show in February and learned more about our products and customers in the first hour of that show than we had learned in the past year of sitting behind a website.
That sounds absurd since it implies the rate of learning was 8765.81 times faster at the trade show, but it’s absolutely true.
You don’t hear feedback from someone that clicks the back button after 2 seconds. You gotta show up in person.
The most powerful technological tools for a new business are your feet and your phone, not your website. See Ready, Fire, Aim.
If you can’t sell the product to someone over the phone, you have no business doing marketing automation. I know because I spent a year doing it the wrong way!
7. Prove –> Optimize –> Automate –> Outsource
I see way too many people jumping to the automate phase first (only because I’ve made this mistake myself). Before you start go looking for the newest, greatest SaaS product, do it by hand and make sure it works. See Paul Graham’s Do Things That Don’t Scale.
However once you do prove and optimize something, write a SOP for it and get it automated or outsourced so you can focus on new growth channels. Constantly ask yourelf, “Am I working on my business or in my business?” See Work the System and the E-Myth Revisited.
8. Leverage the Force Multiplier Effect – FOCUS
One of the mistakes we made on the Portable Bar Company was to try and attack every industry at once. Pick one and hammer on them and you’ll be much more effective. Get someone on Odesk to scrape a directory and call 100 people in the industry or go visit them in person. Put together a landing page specific to that industry’s problems and how your product solves them. Put together an educational auto-responder specific to that industry.
People talk but the word of mouth won’t spread if you’re too distributed. If your initial target market doesn’t feel uncomfortably small and narrow, I would keep niching down. See The Star Principle.
One of the first markets we got a lot of traction with on the Portable Bar Company was “High End Event Rental Companies in the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.”
9. Realize it Takes Time
We tried to spend a ton of money on marketing/advertising early on to accelerate the growth of the Portable Bar Company and ended up blowing a lot of money. Those resources would have been better spent cold calling a bunch of people in our market and learning to sell to them on the phone. This both lets you know how you need to improve the product (if you’re the manufacturer) and how to position it properly.
Another aspect of this is people just have to get comfortable with your product and your company and that takes time. Jim Collin’s flywheel from Good to Great is relevant. You just have to keep pushing the flywheel knowing that you do a LOT of work in the beginning with very little to show for it.
Another analogy I’ve used is riding a bicycle while assembling it. You want to start pedaling as SOON as you get it functional. Over time you can add on better brakes, gears, tires, and oil so that your pedaling is more efficient, but the most important thing is to just start pedaling ASAP and just keep pedaling.
Last Updated on July 30, 2019 by Taylor Pearson