I recently attended a marketing conference. The conference was geared towards entrepreneurs and small business owners, rather than marketing professionals at large corporations.
As a result, I met lots of successful entrepreneurs.
Why does this matter?
It matters because having relationships with other successful entrepreneurs will dramatically improve your success.
These other entrepreneurs can provide funding to you as "angel investors." They can introduce you to other angel investors they know. They can partner with you or introduce you to other partners. They can help answer key business questions. And so on.
Importantly, I'm not a great networker. I mean, I'm not all that comfortable going up to people I don't know and introducing myself. Yet, I was successful in meeting a lot of great folks at the event.
How? I attended all the breakout sessions and the evening get-togethers they held. In these closer-knit spaces/events, it was much easier to meet people, speak with them and form relationships. I suggest you do the same.
One of the key points I want to stress here is the answer to the question I get all the time: where do I go to find angel investors?
On one hand, it's unfortunate that no one has a comprehensive "magic" list of angel investors. On the other hand, this is good. Since if such a list did exist, those angels would be bombarded with investment opportunities, making it too competitive for most entrepreneurs to use to raise funding.
So, one of the best answers to "where do I go to find angel investors" is to go hang out with these angel investors. And one of the key places they hang out is at events.
There are several types of events you should attend to meet these entrepreneurs/potential angel investors. The first are local events such as those put on by local Chambers of Commerce. Such events feature a variety of local entrepreneurs and business owners running all types of businesses.
The second type is industry events such as events in the software business or real estate business. These feature lots of great people who know your business inside-out and can provide great strategic and financial value to you.
The third type are functional events that focus on a specific function or discipline like marketing. The marketing event I attended falls into this category, and featured entrepreneurs in a variety of businesses.
Finding these events is also pretty easy. Simply sign up for industry newsletters and you'll hear about industry events. Find local chambers of commerce or networking group, and they'll tell you about local events. Or simply subscribe to your local business newspaper and you'll hear about them. And functional/discipline events are well publicized in relevant magazines and e-zines.
Websites such as meetup.com also make it simple to find the right events to attend.
Here's a killer tip: host your own event.
A colleague of mine created his own listing on Meetup.com. He set up an event and invited "entrepreneurs generating $1 million or more in revenue" to attend. Over 20 entrepreneurs showed up, and as you might imagine, HE was the center of attention. How's that for a great way to gain awareness among other successful entrepreneurs who could fund or otherwise help your business!
Simply present your event as a local networking event for entrepreneurs; successful entrepreneurs love meeting other successful entrepreneurs. And the cost can be very little; if you don't have your own office space, you can simple find a local bar or restaurant willing to host it in return for the customers.
Angel investors and entrepreneurs who can help you are all over the place. But they're not going to knock on your door unprovoked. So, take action by attending events or putting on your own event so you can meet them right away.
Suggested Resource: In Angel Funding Formula, you'll learn exactly how to find and contact angel investors, exactly what information to convey to them and how, and how to secure your financing check. This video explains more.
One of the challenges of running an organization is that you aren't directly accountable to anyone.
Of course, you're accountable to many people -- your clients and customers, your employees and stakeholders.
But you don't have one person to whom you report. With whom you set goals. And who forces you to make commitments and attain those goals.
Unless you have a Board of Directors or Advisors, of course, but even then, those encounters are often only quarterly or monthly at most.
Rather, as a business owner, you are most accountable to numbers; specifically the business numbers, metrics, or goals you want your business to achieve.
So, let me ask you a question:
Do you know what specific numbers, results and/or goals you absolutely must achieve in the next 12 months?
Clarifying these goals is a key part of the strategic planning process. And I'd be lying if I said this was always comfortable and fun. Because to do it right, you need to break down all of your big goals into parts (more on this below).
Accordingly, as business owners, we tend to put off developing our strategic plans since our employees and customers rarely if ever ask to see them.
It's one of those "Geez, I should probably get around to this" items that no one else knows about, so it's easy to keep on the perpetual back burner.
But what my students and I have found is that once you have a formal strategic plan in place, even if it's not perfect, the path in front of you becomes much clearer.
Specifically, when you set your goals, identify the Key Performance Indicators to monitor and improve and help you get there, and break down the big, ugly projects into smaller pieces, the future becomes much clearer and much more attainable.
In fact, the process of reaching your business goals can become a fun game to play--when you do this and truly know how to win!
Consider this...when you play tennis, or Scrabble, or some favorite game of yours, aren't your objectives usually the same (score the most, win the game), but the rules by which you score points and succeed along the way is different?
Tennis has its own unique scoring system (my wife was a competitive tennis player, so unfortunately I'm used to saying "Love-40" when I serve). And Scrabble has points and Triple Word Scores to shoot for along the way. Which leads to this key question: what are your business' key metrics that you must focus on in order to win?
Understanding and improving these key metrics, which we refer to as Key Performance Indicators or KPIs is the key to winning in business. So, what are some of the KPIs you should be monitoring?
First, there are some common KPIs that most businesses watch-the Revenues you generate from your products & services, your core expense groups, like Marketing Expenses, Operating/Fixed expenses, etc.
There's also your general Marketing indicators to watch, like the total number of new leads your ads generate within the time period you've chosen. You'll want to pay attention to what each new lead costs you, what percentage of them buy something, and what the average sale price per transaction is.
Some marketing indicators will be different for each kind of advertising you do. For example, if you're sending out direct mail, you'd want to know how many people you're sending mailers to and how many responded by phone (or online) to know your response % as well as your Cost per Lead for direct mail.
Or, if you're using Search Engines to help people find your business online, at the least you'll want to know which keywords you are trying to rank for, what your current rank is for each, and how much traffic and leads your website generates.
Improve Your KPIs to Win the Game
By improving your KPIs, for example, by increasing the number of leads, sales, and order amounts, or the return on investment of an advertising campaign, you will increase your revenues and profits, and move closer to victory in your market. Conversely, the market losers are the ones who only focus on "topline" metrics like total revenues and profits. By focusing on these, you never fully focus on and improve all the drivers of those figures (the specific KPIs).
In summary, identifying and improving your KPIs is THE WAY to reach your business goals and win the "game" you've created. Identify them with a fine tooth comb. Pay attention to them. Find ways to improve them. Work hard until you see results. And don't forget to have fun and enjoy the game!
Suggested Resource: You just learned the importance of watching and improving your Key Performance Indicators...part of a good strategic plan to guide you in growing your business. What else should you include in your current growth plan? To have a great strategic plan, there are 13 crucial sections. For your reference, they're listed in this video I put together. Watch it now.
If you're like most people, you put some things off until the last minute. Picture a wife needing to take the kids to a ballgame, and the husband is in the middle of changing the oil on the car. Not very good planning on their part, and the result is less than desirable.
With a little planning, the husband could have accomplished the oil change earlier and everyone would be happy.
All too often in business, we fail to plan effectively for ourselves and our companies.
The first step to effective planning is to set the right goals. This is a two-step process as it is necessary to 1) set goals for the business in general, and 2) set goals for ourselves in order to reach the business goals.
Here are some key tips to setting exciting business goals that yield results:
Setting goals gives you and your team a target. This ensures all of your efforts are focused in the same direction enabling you to have a better chance at success. And, by developing specific goals, your team will have a sense of direction. They no longer just show up at work.
With this newfound direction, your team will begin to assume more responsibility and ownership of the projects that need to be completed. The goals you all commit to will give you measurable milestones to ensure projects stay on track and within time frames established. And make sure to celebrate along the way!
By implementing proper procedures for creating goals, you will have set the basis for creating a successful plan. After all, if something is worth doing, isn't it worth doing well? Considering the quality of your goals is the first step to getting what you want from your business and your life. So make sure you take goal-setting seriously and follow these steps.
Create your goals in the usual way, and they often get forgotten and fall to the wayside. Make them clear, specific, attainable, and involve your team, and you've got a powerful motivating force for positive change on your hands!
Suggested Resource: Goal setting is one key to improving your productivity and results. But there are many other keys. Keys that can double or even triple your results. Click here to learn how to triple your productivity.
Two weeks ago, I kept a simple journal to track how I was using every minute of my time throughout the space of one workweek, and I was able to identify over five hours of time spent doing something I could be easily delegating to someone else!
This may not sound like a big deal, but consider this:
The things I caught myself doing were repetitive business items that have to be done every week-but those types of tasks don't move my business forward.
I kind of rationalized for a while, but then I realized I had a few projects on the shelf that I could knock out myself in about 10-20 hours that could start generating more income immediately.
Remember: Your time is best spent starting and managing new projects that will generate more cash. Hire people to help you carry those out and get there faster. And by all means hire an assistant or someone to carry out the Operations and repetitive tasks that must go on every week and month.
Let someone else hold down the fort while you're out pioneering. Your job is to discover and create new ways to advertise, make sales, and add products and services to your lineup.
So let's say you set out to find a virtual assistant abroad that you could outsource these tasks to every week and thereby free up 5 more hours of precious time.
Total cost: $20/week
Time Savings: $250 (saving you 5 hours of your time, valued at $50/hour)
This ROI would be several times what you invested, as long as you spend the new time you save doing something that generates $50 per hour or more, like your new projects (new sales team, creating a new product, testing new advertising methods-anything to create or increase revenue).
So take me up on this...Find out how you could "trim the fat" next week by cutting off 5 more hours of your work week and assigning it to someone else.
Then ask yourself what new project you could start, using your newly-saved time, and do the math. See for yourself how much more you could make by investing a little in others!
Suggested Resource: Now that you've freed up an extra MONTH of working time per year, you need to leverage this time. How? By doing exactly what the top 1% of entrepreneurs do (those who now have a net worth of $5,000,000 or more). Learn more by watching this Growthink's Insider Circle video.
I just finished reading through the 2011 M&A reports (the reports usually come out a month or two after the end of the year). It's something I do each year. To see exactly which companies were acquired during the past year. To understand trends. And to understand precisely the kinds of smaller companies that bigger companies are buying.
Fortunately, with regards to the last factor, the characteristics of a sell-able company don't change much. I'll get back to that in a minute.
But for now, I'd like to hand out the award to the company that acquired the most companies in 2011 - Google.
Google made 25 acquisitions in 2011; buying companies including Clever Sense, RightsFlow, Apture, Katango, SocialGrapple and more. In doing so, Google made the 25 founders of those companies VERY wealthy.
And rightfully so; any entrepreneur who starts, builds and sells a successful company SHOULD be paid handsomely.
But Google's acquisitions weren't even a blip on the entire radar screen of acquisitions. According to research firm Berkery Noyes, in the "information industry" alone, there were 3,098 acquisitions last year (up 17% vs. 2010).
And in the Online & Mobile market, there were 161 acquisitions (up 39%). In the Software Industry there were 1,450 acquisitions (up 10%).
In the Media & Marketing Industry there were 1,435 acquisitions (up 17%). In the Financial Technology and Information Industry there were 1,450 acquisitions (up 10%). In the Education Industry there were 229 acquisitions (up 10%).
And transaction volumes were up in the healthcare and many other industries too.
I tell you this, because even though you may be years away from selling your company to a larger company, you need to start thinking and planning for your exit NOW.
Why? As Yogi Berra once said, "if you don't know where you're going, you're probably not going to get there."
Building a sellable business takes time. You need the right systems. The right products. The right customers. Etc. And building these things doesn't happen overnight.
And it's not just the result of having a good product or service that customers want.
Rather, you need to plan for it. You need to identify the skill sets to acquire and get them. You need to build a complete business from the ground up.
While it's impossible for me to tell you how to do all this in just one essay, or even 100 essays, I can give you an exercise that will really help you. And get you started on the right foot.
This exercise is for you to imagine what your business will look like on the day you sell your company to a larger entity.
1. What will be the date of that acquisition?
2. What will your revenues be on that date?
3. How many and what type of customers will you be serving?
4. Who will your key employees be and what roles will they perform?
5. Who will your key partners/joint ventures be with?
6. How many locations will your business have?
After you answer these questions, you need to start reverse engineering this vision. For example, how will you acquire the customers you will eventually have when you exit?
You need to start figuring this out, and planning this now. Since all great things take time and planning to achieve. Don't wait. At a minimum complete the exercise and write down your answers right now. And then tomorrow you can start building your action plan.
Suggested Resource: Building a sellable business is hard. And it's not something that happens overnight. That's why we've built a program that holds your hand month-after-month...so that with our support you can and will build a thriving business. That you can keep running or sell for millions. Check out Growthink's Insider Circle to learn more.
Many of my newsletters and blog posts are on the topic of raising capital. I talk about how to raise angel funding. And venture capital, etc.
And don't get me wrong, I think, actually I know, that raising funding is critical. Because the #1 reason (by far) why entrepreneurs fail, is that they don't have or run out of cash.
But one thing I'd like to clarify is that you CAN start and grow a business without funding. Or with little funding.
In fact, many great businesses have been started this way. A survey of Inc 500 companies found that 48% started with $20K in financing or less, and 73% started with less than $100K in financing.
And, if you are looking for BIG funding sources, like venture capital, they will often want to see that you have bootstrapped or already raised other, smaller funding sources before they fund you.
So, if I misspoke or implied that you absolutely must raise lots of funding from the get-go forgive me. Rather, you must start by bootstrapping or raising enough funding to get you going, and then later on, many more funding sources will become available to you to help you grow your company.
Let me give you some examples of entrepreneurs who have done this. In fact, most of these entrepreneurs have started with these small amounts and then raised huge amounts of funding when they were ready for rapid growth:
And, in addition to these and other entrepreneurs who launched their companies with little funding, there are tons of entrepreneurs who have launched their companies with non-traditional sources of funding.
Such as Kenneth Cole, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from a shoe manufacturer (vendor funding). Or Blowfly Beer, who raised tens of thousands of dollars in funding from customers (customer financing).
The key point I want to stress here is that the vast majority of entrepreneurs have the mindset that if they can't raise money from banks, angels or VCs, that they can't launch or grow their companies. This is simply NOT true. So don't fall into this thinking. As there are 38 other sources of funding, or bootstrapping, to turn to.
Suggested Resource: As you just learned, most entrepreneurs fail to get funded because they chase after the WRONG sources of funding. Do you want avoid this failure? And successfully raise funding to grow your business? Then check out our Truth About Funding program to learn how you can access the 41 sources of funding available to entrepreneurs like you. Click here to learn more.
I hate to admit it, but I'm a bit of a dork.
You see, I did really well in school, so I guess I could have been considered a dork back then. But I was also a really good athlete, so that made me "cooler" and so I never got a dork label.
But I did something many years ago that clearly classifies me as a dork. What did I do? I had one of my articles published in Quirk's Market Research Review. Quirk's is a trade journal for market research professionals that mostly talks about new market research techniques and ways to tabulate data. Pretty exciting stuff, I know :-)
I think many of the other authors at Quirk's are like the guys from Revenge of the Nerds, complete with pocket protectors. But, when I submitted my article, I didn't care, because I had something important to share.
What I shared with Quirk's readers (this was way back in 1994 so they don't even have an archive of the article on their website), was what I call "The Improvement Matrix." I originally created these matrices for bigger businesses who paid big bucks for them.
But over the years, I realized they could be created much less expensively, and have HUGE value to entrepreneurs like you.
So what is the "The Improvement Matrix?"
It's simply a way of looking at your products and services and figuring out what you should improve and in what order.
Let me walk you through it. As an example, let's assume that I'm Sal. Sal's my landscaper. He frustrates me to no end since he's such a bad marketer [in fact he makes me think about getting into the landscaping business since I know I'd clean up....but I'll stop digressing].
OK. The first step is to identify what it is that your customers find most important.
So, as a landscaping customer, Sal should survey me and his other customers on the 8-12 attributes of his business that I find most important.
Maybe Sal would have chosen these attributes to survey:
1. Quality of lawn mowing
2. Quality of plant trimming
3. Offers to do additional work (e.g., clean leaves from gutters)
5. Value (fairness of price based on quality of service)
6. Ease of billing
7. Ease of communications with company
8. Professionalism of workers
For each attribute, he should ask customers, "How important are these attributes to you in your landscaping company?"
He could have used a 4 point scale as follows:
1 - Not important
2 - Somewhat Important
3 - Very Important
4 - Extremely important
The results may have looked as follows:
As you can see, Sal's customers considered "quality of lawn mowing" and "ease of billing" to be the most important attributes. Conversely, the least important attributes were "professionalism of workers" and "offers to do additional work."
The next question on Sal's survey should have been: "How do you rate my performance on these attributes?"
He could have used a 4 point scale again as follows:
1 - Poor
2 - Fair
3 - Very Good
4 - Excellent
Importantly, Sal should judge responses to this performance question against how important the attributes are. The results may have looked as follows:
As you can see from the chart, on attributes like "value," Sal's performance is in line with importance. But, on the key attribute of "ease of billing," Sal is vastly underperforming. And, on the non- or less-important attribute of "professionalism of workers" (maybe Sal has his workers dress in formal uniforms), he is over-performing.
So, what should Sal do? Well he should clearly focus on improving his "ease of billing" since this will improve customer satisfaction. Also, if he is investing too much money and time in "professionalism of workers," he should consider re-allocating those resources to improving "ease of billing."
As you can see, the beauty of the chart, based on simply 2 sets of questions asked to customers, is that it identifies the most important areas of your product or service to fix to better satisfy customers and gain competitive advantage.
Now, a final way to look at the performance chart is as a matrix, which I call the "Improvement Matrix." You can see the matrix below.
The Improvement Matrix is simply a different way of looking at importance vs. performance data. It plots the data and classifies each attribute into 4 quadrants:
1. Underperforming (but OK): you are underperforming in this area, but customers don't care much about it, so that's ok.
2. Overperforming: you are doing well in this area; but customers don't value it. Keep doing what you're doing, or consider allocating resources away from this area into a more important area.
3. Keep it up: these are areas that your customers care about and that you are doing well in. Keep it up.
4. Improvement Quadrant: this quadrant is the key. It shows those areas that customers find important, but for which your performance is not up to speed. You MUST get better in these areas ASAP.
As you can see, the Improvement Matrix will alert you to the key areas of your product and service that you must improve. All it requires is a simple customer survey and plotting of the data. And the results can revolutionize your business. So do it!
Many years ago I was involved in a business targeting the shoe market. Through some connections I made, I was introduced to a potential investor. This investor was one of the original employees of L.A. Gear, a shoe company that at one point went public and was the third leading athletic shoe retailer behind Nike and Reebok.
Within 5 minutes of my conversation with him, one thing became extremely clear: this guy could give me a ton more value than just the dollars he could bring to the table.
He could tell me exactly how the industry worked. He could tell me what trade shows to attend and which to avoid. He could tell me which manufacturers to work with, and how to negotiate the best rates. He could introduce me to the best distributors to make sure my product reached as many retailers and customers as possible. And so on.
I tell you this because far too many entrepreneurs look at investors, particularly venture capitalists, solely as sources of cash. When it reality, many venture capitalists provide a ton more value than just the cash they offer. In fact, the right venture capitalist or VC is often the difference between your success or failure, or achieving minimal versus maximum success.
The three top areas where VCs often provide value include:
1. Contacts they have in their networks (these contacts can be for partners, employees, customers, distributors, vendors, etc.)
2. Advice in running your business, based on deep experience in your industry and in successfully growing and nurturing ventures
3. Contacts to additional sources of capital
Consider the following five VCs who are consistently ranked among the most respected VCs in the industry. Read their bios, and think about how their experiences and relationships could benefit your company.
Jim Breyer from Accel Partners. Jim Breyer is one of Facebook's earliest investors. He serves on the boards of Dell, Wal-Mart, and smaller ventures such as Etsy, Brightcove, ModelN, and Legendary Pictures. Jim also negotiated the sale of Marvel Entertainment to Disney for $4.3 billion and BBN Technologies to Raytheon for $350 million; and most recently closed two new venture capital funds in China.
Michael Moritz from Sequoia Capital. Michael Moritz was one of the early investors in Google, Yahoo, and PayPal. He invested in video camera maker Pure Digital (Flip Video cameras) which was later sold to Cisco for $590 million. He also invested and served on the board of Zappos. Michael has also invested in and sat on the boards of Earth Networks, Gamefly, Green Dot, Klarna, Kayak.com, LinkedIn, Sugar Inc and The Melt.
Brad Feld from Foundry Group and TechStars. You should know Brad's name as he's a frequent contributor to the Growing Your Empire newsletter. Brad's been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for over 20 years. Brad has invested in and/or sat on the boards of tons of companies including Abuzz, Anyday.com, Critical Path, Cyanea, Dante Group, DataPower, FeedBurner, Feld Group, Gist, Harmonix, NetGenesis, ServiceMagic, ServiceMetrics and Zynga. ALL of these companies have either gone public or been acquired.
Marc Andreessen from Andreessen Horowitz. Marc Andreessen co-founded Netscape, Opsware and Ning. He serves on the boards of Facebook, eBay, Skype and Hewlett-Packard. He made seed investments in Twitter and LinkedIn, and later stage investments in Groupon, Skype and Zynga.
John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. John Doerr has made some of the best investments ever, investing early in Amazon, Netscape, Sun Microsystems and Google, where he currently sits on the board. He's also invested in online gaming firms such as Zynga and Ngmoco and clean tech firms such as Bloom Energy and OPower.
These 5 venture capitalists are clearly at the top of their game. But there are hundreds of others that could also provide tons of value to you. Look at the BILLIONS of dollars of value that these VCs created, by investing early in companies and helping them achieve massive success. And consider the vast number of connections these folks have, from investing in now ultra-successful entrepreneurs and sitting on boards along with other highly connected superstars.
Importantly, when seeking venture capital for your venture, find the venture capitalists that have the most relevant experience and contacts in your niche, that can thus add the most value to you.
Suggested Resource: In Venture Capital Pitch Formula, you'll learn exactly how to find and contact venture capitalists, exactly what information to include in your presentation, and how to secure your financing. This video explains more.
The other day I had the opportunity to interview two entrepreneurs I really respect.
The qualities of an entrepreneur I respect?
1. They've achieved significant entrepreneurial success
2. They've done it more than once, or over a prolonged period, so they clearly weren't "lucky" but rather know how to play the game
3. They're "paying it back" or using their entrepreneurial success to help others
The two entrepreneurs I interviewed clearly embody these qualities.
The first is billionaire entrepreneur Clay Mathile. Clay purchased Iams, the pet food company, in 1970. In the years that followed, Clay grew Iams from a mere $100,000 in revenues to $900 million and sold it to Procter & Gamble for $2.3 billion.
The second is serial entrepreneur Joni Fedders. With her husband, Joni owns and operates a successful decorative packaging company. And prior to that, Joni co-founded a technology services company that she grew to 100 employees and nearly $13 million in sales. Joni successfully sold that company.
Clay and Joni are "paying it back" now at Aileron, an organization that helps business owners achieve more success. Clay founded Aileron and Joni serves as President.
Now usually when I conduct an interview, I do it via telephone and have an audio file to show for it. But in this case, I'm glad Clay suggested we conduct the interview via video.
There were two reasons for this. First, video is much more engaging to watch and absorb the information (but if you want to listen to the audio on the go, feel free to download the MP3 version here).
The second reason is little different... Clay is an investor in Oovoo which is the video technology we used. For those of you seeking angel funding, that's what you want. An angel investor that can not only give you cash and know-how, but who is willing to promote your company. I must say that installing and using Oovoo was a cinch, and, as you'll see below, the video quality was great.
Ok...I'll stop blabbing. The interview I did with Clay and Joni is below. They share some incredible information. If you want to grow your business, listen to what they say, take notes, and then implement. I'd suggest you watch it twice; I'm sure you'll catch a few things the second time that'll make a big impact in your business.
Two things I really like about online marketing are that 1) you can do quick and easy things that can make a real impact, and 2) there's a lot of leverage; meaning that once you find something that works, it's pretty easy to scale.
Contrast that for a minute with traditional advertising like a television commercial. Any changes to your strategy here, such as modifying your commercial or testing it on a new television station, are costly from a time and money perspective, and take a long time to see whether it worked or not.
Below are 5 quick online marketing tactics and strategies that you can implement in your business fairly quickly. And each has the ability to double your leads, revenues and profits.
1. Find out where your competitors are getting their leads and replicate them
This one is pretty straightforward. Simply find out where your competitors are getting their leads, and then do the same.
Let's start with finding and replicating the keywords on which your competitors are advertising on Google and other search engines.
Simply use a tool like Ispionage (http://www.ispionage.com/) or KeywordSpy (http://www.keywordspy.com/) and enter in the domain name of your competitor. The results will show the top keywords on which your competitors are advertising.
Importantly, you should track these keywords. For example, see what keywords your competitors are advertising on today, and take a screenshot of how their ads appear. Then, look again at each of the keywords in 30 or 60 days. If your competitors are still advertising on those keywords, they are probably profitable keywords. Likewise, see if they've modified their ad copy.
Another way to replicate where your competitors are getting their leads is to find the top websites that link to them. While there are some expensive tools that identify the "top referring websites" to your competitors, one no-cost tool is Open Site Explorer (http://www.opensiteexplorer.org). Simply enter the domain name of your competitor, and you'll see the top sites which link to them and thus give them traffic. Then, contact those sites to see if they'll link to you as well.
2. Understand what customers are doing on your site
It's one thing to drive a lot of traffic to your website. It's an entirely different thing to convert on that traffic.
Importantly, you need to know what customers do once they're on your website. And in many cases, it's not what you'd expect them to do. For example, one entrepreneur I know told me that tons of visitors were clicking on an image on his website, even though nothing happened when you clicked on it. So, he made a slight change; he made it so that when visitors clicked on the image, they were taken to a sales page. The result: his profits soared.
One great tool to see what visitors are doing on your website is ClickTale (http://www.clicktale.com/). ClickTale offers heat maps, usability and web analytics so you know exactly what visitors are doing. And then, you can improve your site based on your findings.
3. Improve your marketing funnel
To improve your results, you need to understand your funnel. For example, your online marketing funnel may look as follows: visitors click on an ad to get to your "landing page" (the first page of your website they visit); then they read the page and ideally click whether they want product A or B; then they go to a page that has more information on either product A or B; then they click a button to get to the order form; then they see the order form and hopefully buy; then they see an upsell offer to purchase an additional item.
As you can see, your online marketing funnel generally has many pieces to it. In order to improve your performance, you must:
1. Map out (on a piece of paper) your marketing funnel
2. Document all of your metrics, that is, currently what percent of people pass through each part of your funnel (e.g., out of 100% of people who get to your landing page, what % click on "product A"; and what percentage of those folks click the "buy button," etc.)
Then, you should start improving each piece of your funnel. With split testing technology, you can test new pages and see which ones improve your funnel's conversion rates.
Two no-cost tools you can use to aid in these efforts are: Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics/) which will give you your conversion metrics, and Google Website Optimizer (https://www.google.com/analytics/siteopt/) which allows you to quickly and easily conduct split tests.
Note: if you want to optimize your website based on phone calls to your company, use a tool like ifbyphone (http://public.ifbyphone.com/). [ifbyphone is a Growthink client who has raised tens of millions of dollars, so I am biased. But I've used their tool myself and it's great.]
4. Determine your winning keywords, and then leverage them
A mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make is to try to rank organically on "root" keywords too early.
What I mean by this is that a desk manufacturer or retailer will often make an effort to rank (i.e., appear at the top of the search results) on the keyword "desk." Such a "root" keyword is often extremely hard to rank on, and typically much harder than "long tail" keywords such as "corner computer desk."
Not only are "root" keywords harder to rank on, but they may not be as profitable.
Rather, what you should do is conduct pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and optimize your marketing funnel as explained above. Then, you will determine the keywords that are most valuable to you.
Then, do search engine optimization (SEO) to try to rank on those keywords organically.
To reiterate: don't blindly do SEO; rather figure out the most valuable keywords first, particularly the long-tail ones, and then optimize on them.
5. Scale geographically
Once you have optimized your PPC advertising campaigns as described above, scale geographically as appropriate.
Google AdWords and Facebook ads both allow for extremely customized geographic expansion and targeting. You can target new customers by zip code, county, state and even country. With regards to countries, consider, as appropriate, expanding to other English speaking countries and territories like England, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, etc. (or expand based on your native language).
Each of these five tactics will enable you to grow your business fairly quickly and easily. So start employing them today.
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