Should you worry about your IP (Intellectual Property) and other silly questions

Once you decide to run an online business, you will most likely end up provide some sort of software or product to your customers. Eventually, you will ask the dreaded question,

How do I protect my IP? What if one of my customers steal our work and start re-selling or upload it somewhere for free?!?

As a startup founder, if you are spending a lot of time worrying about this, then I suggest you to slap yourself and get real.

Because, you are not supposed to worry about this as you have even bigger problems to worry. For eg.,

Worrying about IP should be least of your concerns. Right below sudden apocalypse of world, hacking of your bank account and forgetting your spouse’s birthday.

My answer to all IP problems for small startups

So what should you do about IP protection?

Simple. Just don’t over protect your IP. Read on for specific solutions for your situation.

If you have unlimited budget (VC funding etc.) and enjoy the sight of your lawyer buying a new BMW:

Then you should go all out and find the best possible solution to prevent your IP. You may spend a million dollars finding securest hashes for your code, setup tracking beacons in your software copies and create a fool proof (almost) installation setup with registration keys and what not.

While at it, you can also draft 98 pages long EULA and sue anyone and their cat when they violate your copy right.

Cost: prohibitive.

If your software requires installation

Then you are in luck. Create registration key upon successful purchase and tie to user’s email address. Upon installation, prompt for this and be done with it.

Cost: very low, can be completely automated.

If you offer a web service

You too are in luck. Just set up a login mechanism so that only paid users can get in.

Cost: very low.

If you offer ebooks, videos or music files

You have 2 options.

Option 1:

Use a platform like Amazon Kindle, Apple iTunes or Google Play to deliver your files. These platforms take care of content protection for you and ensure that piracy is minimal.

Cost: % share of revenues. Usually 30%.

Option 2:

While platforms can be very useful, they are often restrictive (for example, certain plans in Kindle Direct Publisher program require that you do not offer your ebook anywhere else etc.) and require quite some background work. The other alternative is to deliver the files yourself. You can verify a purchase and automatically delivery files using digital shopping cart applications like e-junkie. These are very good and cheap.

Cost: Fixed cost per month (usually $5-$25).

If you offer membership programs:

Use a good membership software like Wishlist member to protect your content & files. Let users access content as long as their membership is valid.

Cost: One time cost for software ($100-$300) and monthly web hosting costs.

If you offer consulting services:

Then you can almost forget about IP issues. This is because, consulting is personalized by nature. So any work you do for one client is not transferable to another easily. Also, just to be safe, mention your copyright terms to your clients before starting the assignment.

Cost: Nothing.

What to do when someone steals my IP

As a small web-based business that sells software, ebooks, videos & templates, I have faced my fair share of IP theft. I suggest the following approaches.

  • Make your copy right & licensing terms very clear: Tell your customers what their rights are. Whether they are allowed to keep copies of files on multiple computers, what to do in case they loose the files and how to order more copies. Also tell them clearly that it is illegal to share the files with others (although it is ok to share short snippets, extracts).
  • Give them option to buy bulk: Offer bulk discounts so that teams of people can all enjoy your product.
  • Track usage and warn: For membership programs & online training courses, you can easily track usage patterns and see if anyone is using multiple ip addresses to log in to your course. If so, you can warn them or automatically block them for 24 hours etc.
  • Warn the offending site: If a site is found to be hosting your files for free, then you can warn them and complain to Google, web hosting providers using DMCA route. Usually, when you mention that you are the rightful owner, the file hosting sites comply and take down.
  • Ignore: Just ignore the offenders. It is highly unlikely that people downloading pirated files would actually pay you if you take down the pirated versions. They will likely find pirated versions of some other similar software and use it. So just ignore as these are not your target customers.

And most importantly:

TRUST your customers: As a small business owner, you have more to gain by trusting your customers and genuinely helping them. Rather than subjecting them to un-necessary checks and constantly making them feel like intruders, just trust them and let them use your files as they see fit. Majority of human beings are honest, caring & straight forward. So just be normal and simple. (more discussion on why you should trust your customers)

Should you offer free version too?

Ideally no. Unless you have plans to become next Facebook, Twitter, Firefox or Google, giving away free will not work in your favor. Instead create a robust, useful & valuable product and charge reasonable amount for it. If you want, you can offer multiple variants with different prices. But stay away from free.

By giving your valuable work for free, you will only encourage people with out any real need to come and waste their time on your product. Chances are, these people will not become your paying customers.

But there is an exception:

Instead of having a free version of your product, have a separate category of product that is completely free.

For example, at Chandoo.org we sell several products (all paid with no free options). But we also have a free product. Our Excel blog. It is free for anyone to tune in and learn. We post new articles every week. These are juicy, useful, detailed and contain full length workbooks. This works very well. People join the blog (newsletter or RSS) and learn more about our business. And then when they have a pressing need (project management, financial modeling, dashboards etc.), they buy one of our products.

[Related: Read A Smar Bear’s discussion on so called freemium business models]

What should I do if a customer says she lost her files?

Simple. Offer her a link where she can re-download your software / ebook / videos. Do not subject them to additional scrutiny. If they are part of a membership program, give them good discount to re-enroll or offer them few weeks of free extension.

Again, the basic rule is – trust your customers.

So that all… Go ahead and unchain your mind from un-necessary IP issues. Instead focus on your customers and how you can serve them better. You will be rewarded better than you can imagine.

And in comments, tell me how you handle your IP, what measures are you taking.

Why you should not build an Instagram

By now, anyone and their grand-mother in Startup circles has heard it,

Facebook acquires Instagram for $1 Billion (on TechCrunch)

Instawhat?!?

Instagram is an iPhone (and Andriod) application and is primarily used to apply cool, retro style filters to your photos and share it with your followers everywhere. Here is a recent pic my daughter after instagramming it.

Nakshatra - instagram

Isn’t $1 Bn cool, why should we not build an Instagram?

There have been some very good articles on why instagram is worth it. But to me the purchase seemed like a rare exception than a rule for start-up founders. It is almost as if Facebook wanted to find someway to spend $1 Bn of cash & equity.

Let me explain 2 reasons why I think so.

  1. Instagram does not make any money. Nor we know of any plans to do so.
  2. No 2nd reason.

Further inspection – why you should not build an Instagram?

No matter what business you do, the basic rules do not change.

  • Cash is king.
  • If you are earning $100, you should spend less than that.
  • A paying customer is better than 100 free users.
  • Chase value, not valuation

Let us examine each of these.

1. Cash is king

Well, nobody would dispute this. If a business is like a person, cash is like blood. If blood does not circulate, the person is dead. Scary, but true. I am not sure about Instagram finances, but as far as I know they relied on venture capital funding (with latest valuation at $500 Mn) to get cash flowing in to their business.

As mentioned earlier, they had no visible plans to make revenues. If that sounds normal (because many services like Twitter, Groupon etc. bleed), it is because we are seeing one too many such services. But imagine running a physical shop where you sell socks. And all day long customers would walk in and pick up their favorite pair of socks and simply walk away. No paying, no chit-chat or no worries. Would you run such a business? If not, why build a service where your plan is to offer everything for free?

2. If you earn $100, you should spend less than that

In case of Instagram they had no revenues. But in your case, are you building a business where revenues < expenses? It is ok to have expenses > revenues for a while, especially when you are starting out. This is normal in businesses with lot of capital expenditure like a factory, hotel, shop. In such cases, even before you make a single sale, you must construct the factory, set up the restaurant, purchase inventory. But what is your excuse to spend more for a web based business? The start-up costs for website are very low. So any half-decent web business can recoup the costs and move in to green zone with in an year.

3. A paying customer is better than 100 free users

I think Hotmail started it all. They gave away a free web based email account to all. The model worked well for them and Microsoft acquired the company for lots of $s ($400 Mn I think). Very soon, everybody was building a hotmail. I am sure further examples of YouTube (free service, sold for more than a Billion), Twitter and now Instagram add fuel to this fire.

Remember, all these services had companies (or VCs) with really deep pockets and extra-ordinary vision behind them. They have ways to monetize the attention of millions of users.

But, you & I – small business folks, have no chance in hell to make money by giving away everything for free. This is because,

  • To make free model viable, you need to have billions of page views, lots of user attention (then probably someone would advertise on your site and give you $s)
    • Example – Facebook, Twitter
  • To make free model viable, you need to collect user data, profiles & offer it to people who pay for it. This works only if you billions of people using you every month
    • Example – Gmail, Google
  • To make free model viable, you need to ask your users for money
    • Example – Wikipedia collects donations from its users every year to fund the company

I am sure you are not ready or geared for any of these options. So why give away everything for free? Go ahead and serve a dozen paying customers than chasing a million free users.

4. Chase value, not valuation

Value: Something desirable and of worth, created through exchange or effort.

By chasing value and by creating it, you become worthy.

By chasing valuation, you are trying to find someone to believe that you are worth certain $s.

Take the case of Instagram again. As fellow entrepreneur & inspiration Alok Kejriwal points out in this article,

$1 Bn is roughly 5,200 crores of rupees. If you have $1Bn, you could buy Oberoi hotel group or Taj hotels.

If you are in USA, you could pick up roughly 10% stake in Hasbro, Mattel, XEROX or Garmin. Assuming you pick up 10% stake in Garmin for $1 Bn, which made $2.7 Bn revenues & $ 590Mn in profits last year, you would get $59 as your share of profit. (source: Google Finance)

Compare this with purchasing a company for $1bn that has no revenues and increasing costs (hosting, salaries, development etc.)

So when you are building a business, chase value. Create value instead of chasing valuation. Once you accumulate value (cash, assets, good people) someone will always give you fair valuation.

Are you building an Instagram?

So go ahead and tell me. Are you building an instagram like company or are you providing something of value & finding customers for it.

Please share using comments.

Note: I have no dis-respect for Instagram or their founders. I think they are wonderful individuals who put in a lot of hardwork & got fortunate. I wish them more success in future.

Are you being Penny Wise & Pound Foolish with your startup?

Many startup owners fall in to this trap. Recently I too have been penny wise & pound foolish and lost more than $1000. Today I want to share the story with you.

Being Penny wise and Pound foolish - Startups

[source: XKCD]

Background:

Recently, our main business website (chandoo.org) had to be migrated to a new web server, to cope-up with all the traffic we were getting. Being a geek turned in to startup owner, I thought, “whats the big deal, I can learn how to migrate the site and then do it myself”.

So I set out to migrate the site myself.

Big mistake!

What happened next?

Since I was migrating the site from a shared hosting plan to a VPS, there was quite a bit of work to do. Thankfully, I chose Knownhost, one of the best in the industry when it comes to VPS and dedicated server hosting.

I did all the steps required for migrating the site. It took me more than 4 hours to learn all the nitty-gritties of site migration and then another 4 hours to actually move it.

Once everything is done, I pointed my site to the new address. And Bam, our site promptly went down.

Since down-time is to be expected during site moves, I waited for 12 hours hoping to see the site alive again.

But it never came back up. Then I contacted the KnownHost support team. They were very helpful, but since it is pretty common for websites to go offline for about 24-72 hours during site-moves, they suggested that I wait.

I waited 12 more hours.

Since the move happened during weekdays, we were loosing a lot of sales, ad-sense revenue, affiliate commissions during this down-time.

But even after 36 hours, my site was still down. It was down from many locations around the world. This suggested that something may have gone wrong. Because, even though site migrations (DNS changes) can take up to 24-72 hours to propagate around the world, usually, the site loads in some places but not other. But in my case, it was down everywhere. (Note: I used the Internet Supervision to check this.)

The strange thing is I could access our site by going to its IP address, but if I use the name – chandoo.org, it would not load. It suggested that there is something wrong with the way I set up my site’s DNS.

After some more panicking and learning, I signed up for an alternative DNS provider and used their servers to point my site to the IP address. And with in hours my site started loading.

Then, I contacted the folks at KnownHost and explained the problem to them. They were kind enough to fix it for me by modifying the DNS settings. Finally, now, our site loads fine from everywhere.

The Damage

Direct Losses:

Total downtime- 40hours

Loss of Sales: Based on the run-rate of sales on weekdays in Jan, I estimate the loss at $1000.

(Note: not all of this is lost as some people who wanted to purchase returned to it a day later and bought)

Loss of Ad-sense Revenues: At least $300

Loss of other Revenues: $50

Total revenue lost (direct): $1350

In-direct Losses:

Not all the loss is direct. Due to the down-time, we may have turned down few dozens of prospects (new visitors who would join our news-letter or get hooked to our site).

Also, I spent 12 hours or so learning and doing the migration myself.

If I use my hourly consulting rate ($100), that is $1200 loss of time.

But, I know that my time is worth so much more. If go with Jason’s logic in Valuing your time, those 12 hours are worth more than $10,000.

So there you go.

The Gains

Not all was lost in this exercise. To begin with, I have learned some valuable tricks on how to migrate the site.

But the most important thing is, I have saved about $300 by not hiring someone to do this migration for me. Thus I became penny wise & pound foolish.

Reasoning behind $300 savings:

I can see that many web administrators & wordpress experts charge about $15 per hour on Odesk. So assuming, I hire someone and they spend 20 hours to migrate my site, I would have paid them $300.

Lesson Learned.

Are you being penny wise & pound foolish with your startup?

Many times, running a startup involves making decisions without thinking about the big-picture. Often we think, “why hire someone to do it, lets just do it ourselves.” This argument holds good if you have nothing else to do and there is no down-side to it. But, in many cases, there will be an impact on your revenues, reputation, profits or personal mood.

Do you have any examples of being penny wise and pound foolish with your startup? Please share them using comments.

Related: My thoughts on hiring thru ODesk

What I learned about Google Adwords by spending $103.9

During February, I have set myself a goal of understanding how Google Adwords work by testing them for a few products I sell. I have allocated a budget of $100 for this purpose and set out to create my first ever campaign in Google Adwords. This article tells you the story of how my experiment turned out.

Specifics about the Ads I ran:

I ran ads for 2 of my products – Excel School & Project Management Templates. Both of these sell quite well. The sales pages convert about 3% of visitors (about 1.2% if you calculate conversion ratio based on page views).

  • The ads ran between February 9th and 27th.
  • The expenses were – $61.2 for Excel School & $42.7 for PM Template ads

Experience with Google Adwords:

Ad Creation & Setup:

It took me a while to figure out Google’s Adwords website. It looked cluttered and confusing to say the least. May be I am not qualified enough to use the site. After spending a couple of hours, I could figure-out quickest way to setup ads, adjust budgets and start the campaign. The details of particular ads I have ran are below:

Ad creatives:

  • I have designed 4 ads in total, 2 for Excel School and 2 for PM Templates. The ads are shown below:
  • I have specified that ads should be shown uniformly over time (ie, each ad get same number of impressions).

Targeting & Budget of the ads:

  • Keywords: I have used a dozen highly targeted keywords that are relevant for each product. I am omitting specifics as they are not relevant here.
  • Geographical Targeting: I have analyzed my sales and based on that data, I have targeted most of Western countries.
  • Search vs. Display Network: This is Google’s way of asking whether you want your ad to be shown only in search results or even on sites that have adsense blocks. I initially set this to everything, later (I guess after 4 days) changed it to Search only.
  • Device Targeting: I have specified that ads should be shown only computers (ie not on mobile phones etc.)
  • Budget: I set the budget to $10 per day for Excel School & $4 per day for PM Templates
  • Bidding: This is Google’s way of asking how much would you pay for each click. I set the maximum CPC (Cost per Click) to $1.00 for Excel School and $0.75 for PM Templates.

Sidebar: How much budget is appropriate?

Since I was running a one-off experiment with the ads, I just set my total budget to $100. But in general, it is prudent to decide budget based on your daily sales & conversion ratios.

For example, if your sales page conversion ratio is 3% (ie for every 100 visitors, you sell 3 units), and your profit (sale price – cost) per sale is $25, then, for every 100 visitors you make $75.
That means, you cannot spend more than $0.75 per visitor to acquire traffic.
So this should be your maximum budget.

In fact, your budget should be much lower than that as you will have other expenses (for eg. taxes, shipping, customer service, returns, website hosting etc.)

How did the ads perform?

My Adwords results were mixed.

  • Google Adwords sent me 63 clicks for Excel School & 64 for PM Templates. (Note: These numbers are too small to conclude anything statistically)

Since I use a 3rd party shopping cart system, measuring exact conversion ratios was not possible (at least, I did not know how to). So I just used a crude approach.

ie. How many sales did we make?

  • Between 9th and 27th Feb, I sold 76 units of Excel School & 95 units of PM Templates.
  • There were 4650 and 7880 page views to these products respectively.
  • So the conversion ratio was – 1% and 1.2%.

Since I had no idea how many of these 63 and 64 clicks converted to sales, I just assumed that “Ads convert 3X better.

Mind you, this is a highly stupid assumption that favors Google. But I went with it anyway.

So, with that logic, I sold 63*1%*3 = 1.89 Excel School units and 2.3 units of PM Templates.

If I take the sale price of these 2 products ($97 average sale for Excel School and $30 for PMT), we get,
$187 and $72 as revenues.
Now, my Adwords expenses were, $61 and $42 for both the products
That means, I had a notional profit of $126 and $30 on these products.
Mind you, I have not included the actual product cost in this calculation. If I did that, my profits would be even less.

Detailed report of Adwords Performance:

Google Adwords Performance Report
Google Adwords Performance Report

What is the real truth?

I was not satisfied with the above calculations. So I explored my Google Analytics to understand how the visitors from Google Adwords behaved.
Wait for the surprise…

Google Adwords Report from Google Analytics
Google Adwords Report from Google Analytics

(Note: For some strange reason, Google did not track the visitors it sent to my site in the first 4 days. I later enabled the setting in my Adwords account. Only then, I could find the adword visitor details in Google Analytics reports. I suggest you double check these settings to avoid shooting in the dark.)

As per Google Analytics, I had 20 visits to Excel School & 35 visits to PM Templates pages.

Now comes the kicker. Out of the 35 visits PM template received, on an average each person spent 4 seconds on that page.
There is no way anyone could have made a purchase decision in such short time. In other words, I am sure, I did not sell even a single unit of PM Templates to adwords visitors.

The results for Excel School were encouraging. On average, each visit laster 2 and half minutes. I am sure there are 3-4 visitors who spent much more than that. And may be, 1 of them would have joined Excel School.

Bottom line: Conclusions on Google Adwords:

  • Unmatched Exposure to your products: Even though, there are only 120 odd clicks, As per Google’s report, my ads got a whopping 290,000 impressions. Even if only 1% of these impressions were noticed by actual prospects, that is 2,900 people. I am impressed.Google Adwords - Ad Statistics
  • Costs not in favor of small businesses: Again, this is not based on any statistical proofs. Based on the amount I spend, time involved in setting up Google Adwords and managing it, I find that Adwords is not that promising. It might work well, if I can figure out the magical combination of right keywords, targeting, CPC bids and sales page layout. But then, often, start-ups and small businesses are too busy doing other important things, like marketing their products, working on product features etc.
  • Do not advertise if you cannot measure: That is right. If you cannot measure your conversion ratios, there is no point advertising. I am in the process of setting up an online store so that I could track conversion ratios, run split tests and simplify purchasing process for customers. Once it is ready, I can re-run the adwords experiments with more confidence.
  • Mysterious Keyword Quality Score from Adwords
    Mysterious Keyword Quality Score from Adwords
  • Do not target 6Bn people: simple, you will never sell by targeting entire population. Instead, focus on a handful of specific keywords that convert very well. As an aside, Google has some strange mechanism called as Quality Score for your keywords. Again, unlocking the mystery behind this is an art and Google Adwords website is like a maze. You could spend 2-3 hours without doing much there.

If Google Adwords is like this, then what is the best way to sell?

Of course, there are cheaper and more effective ways to sell online. Start with these,

More: 7 ways to sell more while keeping expenses low.

What is your Experience with Adwords?

Do you run adwords campaigns frequently? What is your experience with it? Do you find the returns on investment good enough? What tips and ideas can you share with our readers?

Please comment and share with us

PS: I also ran similar experiments with Facebook Ads. More on this in the next post.

PPS: Also read Patrick’s take on Adwords. His blog is a recommended read if you are running web-based startup.

How I am saving 180 minutes per day + Free Download

Many startup owners suffer from one disease called as pretending to work. I am no exception. When I started out, life was very very smooth. I suddenly found lots of free time, which I was using to play with my kids & wife, go on drives, read books and workout.

But with in a span of 6 months (by September 2010), my company was growing beyond my imagination. I was flooded with emails, phone calls and opportunities for work. Since I am very bad at saying no, I kept on replying to emails, answering phone calls, saying yes to work requests.

While all this seemed good (as sales & profits were increasing), the truth is more startling.

I was wasting more time on trivial, less bang-for-buck (we call this BfB hence) work!!!

How could that be possible?!?

Well, it seems that is quite natural for entrepreneurs. We as a breed have lots of passion. So much that often, we mistake non-work for work and spend hours on it.

How did I realize that I am wasting time?

As you can guess, the whole realization came from reading a book. I bought Tim Ferris’ Four hour workweek book recently. As I started reading it, the concept of 80/20 principle made more sense. So I thought, let me give it a shot. I listed all the activities and how much time I spend on them on a paper. And I was astounded looking at the stupid mistakes I am making.

Here is what I came up with.

As you can see, I spend 3 hours a day on email, another 45 minutes on trivial activities like social networking and checking stats. I had an inclination that I waste a lot of time on Gmail. Heck, I even wrote a post telling people how to use gmail effectively.

But after listing all these activities and adding a BfB rating to each, I knew that most of my time is spent on least BfB activities.

How am I planning to spend time?

I am planning to not visit my Gmail inbox more than thrice a day – 30 mins in the morning, 20 in the evening and 10 more before going to sleep.

I am also hoping to cut short my time on social networks and stats pages by 30 mins a day.

This is how my proposed time allocation looks

As you can see, I could reduce 180 minutes of time from everyday activities (*ed ones) and add 15 more minutes to occasional activities like financial planning.

I am hoping to stick to this schedule and see how it works out. I will report back in a month about the findings.

Some practical tactics to save time

  • Delegate: Many of us think we should do everything ourselves. It is so wrong. Instead practice delegation and you will realize that you have more time for important stuff. I am learning this myself (read my experiences of outsourcing work)
  • Use technology: Use tools like rescuetime and leechblock to monitor how your time is spent and reduce chances for waste.
  • Take a break: Recently I was away from my home office for 9 days to do some workshops in Maldives (more on this later). Initially I worried how the business would run in my absence. But surprisingly, it made no difference. I did not post anything on my blogs, replied to only a handful of emails, did not answer phone calls (my phone was inactive), did not do any customer support work and still everything kept going. So you can see that many times, we just pretend to work. To test this, just take a break from everything for a week and you will agree.
  • Introspect & Write down: knowing thyself is not only a remedy for inner peace, it also works for business. You can spend 30 minutes listing down all the things you do from waking up till you sleep. Then assign priorities to each of them. You will be surprised at what you discover.

Free Excel Template to Understand your Time

Naturally, I made a simple excel template to understand where my time goes and how I plan to spend it. Feel free to download it and modify as you see fit.

Click here to download excel template for understanding your time.

Tell me how you waste time

I used to think “we should spend time, save money – as if you do not do anything in an hour it is lost, where as if you do not spend a dollar, you still have it”. While my philosophy on money did not change, I now view time in a different perspective. Earlier I had lots of free time and very little to do. But now the situation is reverse and it is important to not waste time.

Tell me how you waste time and what you are doing to change the situation? Share your views on the ideas presented here.

How I stopped worrying about page views & started finding customers

Every website owner worries about page views. I am no exception. I used to check my website statistics almost every few hours. I think seeing fresh and constant flow of visitors to my website(s) stoked my ego.

But today I want to tell you why worrying about page views (or visitors) is a waste of time. And why you should instead shift your attention to finding customers.

How I switched my attention from getting more page views to finding customers:

During the initial days of chandoo.org, I used to write controversial topics and post some content purely to get more traffic. While some of these techniques worked to bring in more traffic, the people who landed on my site for this content were transient. They would just move on without joining the conversation.

Very soon I realized this fact. I just had to take a close look at my Google analytics report. Then I made several key changes to the way I produce & market my content,

  1. I sat down to prepare a weekly content plan. I listed the type of articles that I am going to write so that my readers feel empowered and awesome.
  2. I shifted focus away from getting links and hits from irrelevant sites. I stopped submitting my site articles to unrelated websites like reddit and digg.
  3. Instead, I encouraged my readers to sign-up for newsletter and leave comments.
  4. I picked up articles and useful content other sites in my niche are writing and shared them with my readers.
  5. I also picked up interesting articles from other websites and wrote follow-up content on my blog. I presented my readers with alternate views & ideas.  This helped me in establishing valuable friendships with other bloggers in my niche (Jon, Debra, Mike, John and many others).

After making these changes, with in 1 year, I started seeing results. Slowly, my readers found value in what I write. They liked the regular features and occasional surprises.

Once I regained the confidence of my visitors, I slowly launched products that would benefit them and encouraged them to purchase these. And it worked.

How to find customers:

While this is not a definitive guide to getting customers, here is what you should do instead of manicly stuffing your site links on social media or unrelated sites.

  1. Have awesome content (and products): If you have awesome content and develop killer products, customers will find you. So the first step is to focus your energies on making great content, great products and offering great customer service. [related: make customers heros]
  2. Get links from sites in your niche: What would you prefer? a link on Digg home page or a link on 2nd best blog in your niche? If your answer is Digg, then you are in soup. Most of the people in Digg or any other popular link aggregator, social media or news sites are not really looking for your products. They are just looking for what is happening. So having a link on digg’s front page will not help you in any way (other than may be crashing your server). It is much easier and more valuable to have a link to your site from one of the best blogs in your niche.
  3. Engage casual visitors by enrolling them in to your community: Everyday, thousands of new people land on my website searching for something related to Excel. I encourage them to sign-up for my newsletter or browse more content. A tiny fraction (<5%) of these people join my community everyday. And that is enough for me to scale up my business and make a living out of it. You too should do that. So re-arrange your website layout in such a way that the first thing visitors notice after finishing their business on your site is an invitation to join you.
  4. Convert passive readers to active customers: Getting new visitors to your site is very easy, but converting them to customer is the hard part. The good news is, you can play a vital role in this process. Start by encouraging your prospects / readers to purchase something (either from you or from one of your partners). Do not just give the idea that your site is amazing for getting free stuff. Instead make your site a place where they can get value (both for money and time they invest in you).
  5. Ask: Many times small businesses under-estimate the power of asking. You can have a kickass product, but unless you open your mouth and ask your readers / prospects to purchase it, they will not make their first move. So Ask. Do not be afraid or ashamed to do it. Instead do it with pride and passion. Tell world that your product rocks and your readers are better off getting a copy of it. (this only works if point 1 above is met.)

What do you worry about?

Do you worry about visits or customers? Please share what you use to measure your success in business using comments.

Related: 7 ways to reduce expenses & increase sales & How small businesses can win customers

Working on too many things [Mistakes I Make]

With this post, I am starting a new category on Startup desi, titled Mistakes I make. When I know where I am messing up, the chances of repeating those mistakes will go down.

The mistake I am making now: working on too many things.

Most startup owners work hard. I am no exception to that. But working hard on too many things is not good. Right now, I am working on the following,

  • 3 New excel training programs
  • 1 Video book
  • 1 Product upgrade
  • 1 e-book upgrade
  • 1 New product
  • 2 News letters

That is apart from what I already have:

  • 1 Training program
  • 2 Products
  • 1 E-book
  • 2 blogs
  • 1 News letter
  • Consulting business

The problem is not with working on too many things. But the problem is working on too many things, that go live at the same time. Since the launch is near, I am kind of psyched and worried whether I can do justice to everything.

What I am doing to fix this mistake:

I am doing a couple of things to fix this mistake.

  • Prioritize: Sounds lame, but what I did was, I wrote down all these things on a paper and then asked my self, how important each of them is for my business. Then, I crossed out anything that is not important or not a huge revenue stream for my business. Next I wrote dates next to each of the activities and arranged them in a timeline for next 3 months so that I can give enough time to each of them.
  • Hire someone: Apart from the new business ideas, I have a ton of things to take care of on day to day basis. For eg. I have a pressing issue of modifying my site’s code to enable nested comments. But I do not have time or skills to do it my self. So I have asked my classmate, Kida to help me. [my thoughts on hiring]
  • Freeze: I have a temporary freeze on any new ideas. I know this is probably harmful. But I am not entertaining any new implementations unless they are mandated by my customers.

But I am still neck deep in trouble and just waiting for the busy period to be over. I know I have made a mistake of saying yes to one too many things. But I have learned my lesson.

What mistakes do you make?

We say, “to err is to human”, but only very few understand that making mistakes is one of the great gifts of being human. You can always stand up, dust the sleeves and run again.

What mistakes did you make? and How did you realize? Share using comments.