Ultimate Badass List of Productized Consulting Services

If you are looking to outsource specific parts of your business, you’ve come to the right place.

Productized consulting services allow you to outsource parts of your business without getting caught up in the hiring process.

I’m trying to provide you (and me) with a good overview of what is available online. If you find something missing here, please tell me: christoph@christophengelhardt.com

The User is Drunk

Ever heard that your website should be so simple that a drunk user can use it? Richard Littauer, an UX designer, offers to be that drunk user for your website – complete with video.

Website Teardowns

Let’s face it: We are woefully blind to the deficiencies of our own websites. We think we’ve got a clever headline, when in fact we have a non-descript headline. Dave Collins gives you straight talk on how visitors do see your website with a fresh pair of eyes. You can even get an SEO audit to go with your website teardown. Topped of with a sprinkle of British sarcasm.

The User is my Mom

Think a drunk UX expert is the worst challenge you can put your website through? You’re wrong. There’s one thing worse than that: Your mom. Here you can hire someone else’s Mom to torture your website.

WebmasterOnSite

Managed website hosting starting at $299/mo

Contentation

Complete management of your blog – from setup to content creation to content promotion – starting from $99 for the blog setup to $109/mo for the complete management package.

Podcast Motor

PodcastMotor offers three tiers:

  • the concierge service (editing, publication, social media, show notes, etc) for $495/mo
  • setup of your podcast (hosting, feed, cover art, etc) for $150
  • episode editing for $50/episode

I’ve personally tried the episode editing and the results were good.

CastingWords

CastingWords is a transcription service for your audio/video files. Prices start at $1 per minute of recording. They send you the transcription in HTML, MS Word and plain text and also offer different ways of integration with Dropbox, Zapier and more.

Scribie

Scribie offers the same services as CastingWords at a slightly lower price point.

PostPolished

PostPolished offers editing services for your content. Prices start at $39 for a one-time editing task or $139/mo for 1 blog.

GhostBlogWriters

Ghost writing for your blog. Prices start at $40 per post. Good quality and they come up with their own topics to write about. They also publish the post to your WordPress blog (if given access) – very easy to use

OptimizedPrime

The folks at OptimizedPrime create lead magnets for you. Lead magnets help you convert more visitors into email subscribers. Prices start at $49/mo for 1 lead magnet

WPCurve

Productized WordPress support (backups, security updates and small jobs) makes it much easier to host your own blog.

WPNexus.io

WPNexus is offering a productized service similar to WPCurve but at a lower price point

CodeMyViews WordPress Concierge

This concierge service for WordPress offers you complete peace of mind for your WordPress website. Starting at $599/mo they offer preventive maintenance, development, and marketing tasks.

WPSaaS

WPSaaS offers support as a service for your WordPress plugins so you can focus your time on developing new features. Prices start at $399/mo

ThemeValet

ThemeValet sets up your WordPress website for you – starting from $99

DrupalAid

Want a WPCurve-like service but don’t run WordPress? Well if you’re using Drupal there’s help for you: DrupalAid is productized Drupal Support – starting from $99/mo

WooGuru.net

WooGuru.net is a productized support service for WooCommerce.

SEOak

Productized SEO services for resellers. You pay them to do the SEO work for your clients. Ideal for digital marketing agencies. Starts at $125/mo

UX Reviews by GobySavvy

Have a professional test the UX of your product – starting at $325

AppAftercare

AppAftercare manages and maintains your existing apps.

OutreachSignals

OK. This whole Productized Consulting thing is getting a bit meta. 🙂

OutreachSignals is a concierge prospecting & outreach service specifically designed for B2B productized consulting services. So it’s marketing for your B2B productized consulting service – starting at $495/mo

Rocking Book Covers

A productized design service for book covers; both eBook and print.

FunnelEngine

This great productized consulting service delivers funnels Done-For-You. Starting at $999 for a popup marketing funnel this is one of the greatest additions to the list. I love it.

Draft Revise & Draft Coaching

Nick Disabato is an UX / split testing expert and offers a monthly ongoing A/B testing service. Additionally you can hire him to help you grow your freelancing business.

My Content Sherpa

Philip Morgan’s “My Content Sherpa” not only creates a content strategy for you, but also executes it.

CreativeBoris

CreativeBoris helps you generate blog post ideas – including three different headlines per post and tweets. Starts at $99/mo

Bench

Productized book-keeping service that starts at $135/mo

Kudu

Kudu is a productized AdWords account management service – starting at $399/mo

BirdLeap

BirdLeap is productized Twitter Ads management. Starting at $299/mo (+$199 setup) for ad budgets up to $1,500 monthly this service makes it super easy to run successful ad campaigns on Twitter.

DoubleYourECommerce

Kai Davis is an outreach marketer who specializes in helping eCommerce websites get more traffic to their website. Prices start at $749 for the “digital outreach plan”

Undullify

Undullify offers unlimited design jobs (small jobs taking less than 30 minutes) for $149/mo.

Kapa99.com

Unlimited graphics and small design jobs for a flat fee – starting at $399/mo.
Or you can pay $49 for one-off jobs. 
Now let me tell you: I’ve vetted those guys after Ka, their founder, contacted me. And let me tell you: They are worth every penny they charge. 
Because here’s is the email I sent Ka with the job description: 

 

And here’s the final result and it was spot on: 

 

I can only recommend the folks at Kapa99.com

Correlation

My friend Jane Portman is an amazing designer and you can hire her to give monthly creative directions to your designers.

Snap by Copyhackers

The folks over at Copyhackers offer a productized copy-writing service – either one-off or monthly recurring. A bit pricey, but they are regarded as world-class copywriters.

LittleAds

LittleAds helps you by crafting the copy for your Facebook ads ($65/mo) or even setting up and managing your Facebook ad campaigns ($495/mo)

Calibrate Rapid

Calibrate Rapid by Nathan Powell is a one-off report with actionable design improvements to increase your website’s conversion rate. Priced at $920.

AudienceOps

AudienceOps offers the creation and execution of your content marketing strategy. Starts at $950/mo

RecapMail

RecapMail keeps your existing mailing list warm and engaged. Starts at $79/mo

WebsiteRescues

This productized service helps you generate more revenue with your Shopify store. They do walkthroughs of your store and dissect the user experience of your shop.
Additionally, they also offer Shopify SEO packages starting at $894

WholeDesignStudios

This agency offers a wide range of services for Shopify: SEO, Facebook Ad Management, Conversion Rate Optimization, etc.
Rather pricey, but you’ll get a bunch of services from the same people. 

Rails as a Service

Rails as a Service provides maintenance (e.g. installing security updates) and even upgrades it from Rails 2.3 or 3.2 to Rails 4.2. Prices start at $495/mo

WorkNice

WorkNice provides a virtual workplace happiness consultant that helps you improve the culture in your company. Costs $100/mo per team member

Black Light

Conversion Optimization services for membership websites. Prices start at $750

WPTheory

WordPress website setup and launch done in just one day. Priced at $999

Reactive Ops

DevOps-as-a-Service starting at $6,000/mo.

Here comes the Airplane

OK… I’m not going to say anything about the name. If you live in the Bay Area this offer takes care of your meals. You sign up for a year and they deliver a fixed amount of meals per month to you. I just hope it’s not as bad as most airlines’ food.

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LinksSpy – Monthly Income Report March 2015

LinksSpy has been rather stable in March with only a slight upwards trajectory of about 4% in terms of realized MRR while at the same time losing 5% of the users.

But before I dive deep into this, first let me get some boilerplate out of the way.

Preface

You can find all my income reports here: http://www.christophengelhardt.com/income-reports/.

These are the ground rules for my income reports:

  1. I publish income reports for two reasons: a) Accountability helps me push forward. b) I know that most of us compare ourselves to internet-famous people like Patrick McKenzie, Brennan Dunn, Nathan Barry and others. I am no stranger to that and it is hard to feel good comparing yourself to them. Well, compare yourself to me and you’ll feel better instantly 😉
  2. I will only cover what I make from LinksSpy – no consulting, no day job
  3. I am terrible at accounting – so most numbers (especially expenses) are not 100% accurate.
  4. I have an agreement with Nathan Powell of nusii.com that I will stop income reports by the time I hit $1,000,000 annual run rate. According to Nathan that should happen sometime in June 2015 – we’ll have to see about that.

The Numbers

CAVEAT: I’m changing the way I retrieve MRR data. I’m using FirstOfficer.io going forward to get data. This will change some numbers, but nothing major

Last Month’s Revenue

In February monthly recurring revenue (MRR) for LinksSpy was $1,285 from 39 customers.

This Month’s Revenue

March ended with $1,296 MRR coming from 38 customers. This is more or less the same it was in February.

LinksSpy MRR graph

LinksSpy MRR graph by FirstOfficer.io

Expenses

Due to the way LinksSpy is set up my costs are relatively low. It was one of my design goals to keep most things running on Heroku‘s free tier. This is partly because I’m really cheap and – more importantly – because I didn’t know how well LinksSpy would do and I was afraid of catastrophic failure.

Total expenses:

  • $36 to Heroku for database, SSL and Papertrail
  • $75 in Stripe fees
  • $49 for Drip
  • $12 for HireFire.io
  • $10 for Google Apps/GMail
  • $40 to oDesk for research
  • $195 for blogging services
  • $7 for Github
  • $8 for Calendly
  • $8 for Dropbox
  • $20 for Churnbuster.io
  • $25 to oDesk for five articles of my next content push
  • $960 for three guest articles

If I didn’t miss anything (which I probably did), the total costs were $1,484.90.

Profit

For the first time in five months I spent more on LinksSpy than I earned from it – fantastic news.
The bulk was spent on hiring an author with an existing audience for three articles. It’s going to be interesting

Traffic

blog.linksspy.com: 919 sessions
www.linksspy.com: 1,113 sessions

Progress

Firstly, I finished the new integration in early March and beta testing is now well underway. This is great news for my users as they will be able to get more up-to-date link opportunities, which will make it even easier to get new links.

Secondly, LinksSpy now automatically checks each entered URL for a redirect. LinksSpy uses an exact match algorithm, meaning that when you enter “doubleyourltv.com” LinksSpy will only look at links to “doubleyourltv.com”. This allows users to laser-focus their campaigns – John Turner has written a detailed article on how to leverage that.
The problem here is when “doubleyourltv.com” redirects to “www.doubleyourltv.com”: Browsers follow that redirection and people end up linking to “www.doubleyourltv.com” most of the time.

In essence, this leads to campaigns showing very few link opportunities, when – with the right URL – there would be 100’s of link opportunities. Anyways, this is now “fixed” and users get alerted to the redirect while still having the flexibility to use the URL they entered. This has improved onboarding quite a bit.

Thirdly, I redesigned the incentive landing page where people can opt-in to my email course while getting a competitive link analysis report as a lead magnet. I also put a bit of work into the homepage, which now has CTAs for the link competitive link analysis report.

01_start 02_background-copy 03_white-box-blue-border 04_subheading-margin-smaller-textarea-alignment 06_different-headline-sub-button-text

 

 

Lastly, I did my taxes and hired a new writer for the blog. Taxes were tremendously fun… NOT.

What to Focus on Next Month

In April I’m going to focus on the onboarding process. The feedback I get from users points me to them often not seeing enough value right after start.
I have some ideas on how to improve onboarding and that is what I will be focusing my time on.

My Takeaways

I definitely improved my email marketing, which will be a great asset moving forward. I’m super stoked about the new feature I am developing and hope it will deliver great results. If my predictions are true (they probably aren’t), this feature will help reduce churn.

At the moment updates to the underlying data are few and far between (>1 month between updates on average), which leaves a lot of room for my customers to forget about LinksSpy. Not a happy place to be in ™.
With the new feature at least customers on the highest plans will get weekly updates, which should help quite a bit.

Conclusion

Baby steps to victory. That’s all I’m going to say for this month.

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Lars Lofgren – Unlocking the 4 Gateways of Growth – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Website: LarsLofgren.com
Twitter: @larslofgren
Slides: here

  • When picking metrics, always ask:
    • What is biggest constraint right now?
    • Which metric help me measure, if I am making progress?
  • Main metric: Get someone to pay AND/OR use your product regularly
  • Bad metrics for this gateway:
    • Asking people if they will pay
    • AdWords clicks
    • Beta or waiting list signups
    • Traffic

Gateway #2: Is your product good enough?

  • main metric: Ask 500 users the Product/Market Fit Question
    • “How would you feel when you could no longer use [PRODUCT] ?”
    • At least 40% of users should say “Very disappointed”
  • P/M Fit Question isn’t perfect, verify with a retention metric

Gateway #3: Can you grow?

  • Pick just one channel
  • Work on it for 3 months. Assume it will work & get ressources needed to execute
  • main metrics:
    • main business metric
      • SaaS: Monthly Recurring Revenue
      • Ecommerce: Monthly Revenue
      • Consumer Tech: Monthly Active Users
    • acquisition funnel (e.g. visitors, signups, used product, converted to paid)

Gateway #4: Do you have a stable model?

  • main metric: Depending on business model
  • SaaS:
    • LTV >= 3x CAC
    • Recover acquisition cost within 12 months
    • Get monthly churn below 2%
  • Consumer Tech:
    • Virality > 1
    • Usage 3 out of 7 days
    • 30% of users active day after signup
    • Organic growth of 100s signups/day
    • Clear path to 100,000+ users
  • Find someone in your industry that knows the key benchmarks
  • Start with constraints, hack together what you need to measure them

Big Win Hunting

  • Get qualitative insights for hypothesis
    • Use words that your leads/customers use when talking about the problem
  • Launch, do it LIVE
  • Use the eyeball test

Finding Ideas to Test

  • Whenever you’re not sure what to test, get qualitative data
  • Your customers want to help you, go talk to 20 of them
  • How to structure your interviews:
    • Brief overview of who they are
    • Deep dive into their problems
    • Present solution for feedback
    • Tell them that this is NOT a sales call
  • Start running surveys:
    • Expect 10% response rate
    • Only ask questions that you need
    • Don’t exceed 10 questions
    • Start with open response
    • Categorize responses to see trends
  • Use Qualaroo surveys to target steps in funnel (“What is preventing you from wanting to start a free trial?”)
  • Pull user activity logs on two groups
  • Find 20 of each:
    • Ideal customers
    • Customers that started but left
    • How are these two groups different?
  • Start doing usability testing – e.g. through Amazon Mechanical Turk
    • great for general UX
    • no good for market-specific insights

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Thomas Smale – How to Build an App You Can Sell – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Website: FEInternational.com
Twitter: @thomassmale
Slides: here

  • Having an exit plan is an insurance – in case you NEED to move on
  • You should always be prepared to sell your business
  • Looks can be deceiving – a lot of work is hidden beneath the surface
    • Support
    • Complexity
    • Diversity
    • Owner Responsibility
  • Be proactive instead of reactive
  • unsellable business: old business with a lot of support and few sales
  • Rational investors won’t pay for “known” potential
  • Recurring beats one-time sales
  • lessons from successful sales: 
    • know your metrics
    • stable or growing MRR
    • evergreen niche
    • Track record
    • Helpful owner
  • What does the average buyer want? 
    • Month-on-month increasing MRR
    • Upwardly trending niche
    • Outsourced support
    • Documented production roadmaps/codebase
    • Transferability
      • separate PayPal/Stripe/Mailchimp/etc accounts

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Dave Collins – Google and the Leatherman Model: It’s All in Your Hands – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Webseite: SoftwarePromotions.com
Twitter: @thedavecollins

  • You are looking for hacks that save you time
    • Don’t get a leatherman and then only use one function – Google Analytics is a leatherman
  • Best partnerships are when both parties gain equal value from the relationship

Google Analytics

  • Most data is useless, because it does not tell you what to do in your business
  • Data is not insight – Data is not knowledge
  • “Don’t fill up on cheaper meats…”
  • You are limited by time & ability to absorb

Tip #1: Actionable Data

  • Focus on landing pages with high bounce rates

Tip #2: Tap into Google’s intelligence

  • Intelligence Events
    • You are getting more conversions from country X
    • You are getting dramatically less traffic from SEO
  • “Hidden” above the usual items in the navigation

Tip #3:

  • Audience –> Behaviour –> Engagement has useful analytics

Tip #4: Trends

  • Sometimes you need to accumulate data (week/month instead of day views) to see stuff

Tip #5: Segment

  • “Top 10 countries by visitors” is useless
  • “Top 10 countries by visitors with a page depth > 3” is way more interesting
  • “Acquisition by referrer” is not interesting, “Acquisition by referrer with more than 30 seconds on site” is

Google AdWords

Tip #1: Let your competition guide you

  • Target mentions of your competition (e.g. forums where your competition gets mentioned)

Tip #2: Remarketing the way it should be

  • Because your prospects get distracted by other stuff
  • Just do it – it is easy to setup
  • Do it better –> Brennan’s talk
    • Exclude users who already converted

Tip #3: Use your competition with auction insight

  • Shows you
    • how often you compete with your competition
    • How often you rank above/below them

Google Webmaster Tools

Tip #1: Data Highlighter

  • Tell them what elements on the website are the author, the title, blog post image
  • Improves the accuracy of information displayed in the SERPs

Tip #2: HTML Improvements

  • fix the issues Google tells you about
  • potentially increases traffic to your website

Tip #3: Search Queries

  • sort by impressions
  • average position on page 38? You should create better content for that

Tip #4: Links to your site

  • Who is linking to you? to which page? with which anchor texts?

Tip #5: What Google thinks you are about

  • Content keywords
    • don’t just look at what is there – look at what is missing
  • download the data, because you get more data in downloads

Tip #6: Show Google what you just did

  • “Fetch as Google” to see how it renders and then submit the URL to the index
    • e.g. really good blog posts
    • don’t use unless you have to/it is valuable (e.g. complete redesign)

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Jane Portman – Design for Founders: 4 Shortcuts for Getting Great Design in Record Time – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Website: UIBreakfast.com / ClientOnboard.com
Twitter: @uibreakfast
Slides: here

  • worked for a year on oDesk – increasd rate to $50/h
  • Marketing hack for non-english people: get yourself an easy “english” name. “Jane Portman” isn’t her real name

What is great design?

  • What is great design?
    • It looks pleasant
    • It’s easy to use
    • It communicates quality
  • There is no silver bullet – it takes time
  • You will need a good designer
    • focus on quality over quantity to keep costs low
    • good designers do not take much bandwidth
  • design & copywriting go hand in hand
  • Where to find good designers
  • Once you have a designer:
    • I need a landing page
    • Better: I need a design solution for my business
    • Elements:
      • logo
      • Branding elements (illustrations & )
    • Turnaround time: 1 week – ride the wave of excitement

Shortcut #2: Templates

  • Design is always crafted by hand – Templates are only way to cheat hours
  • Warning: “Non-designer with a template is like a baby with a box of matches”
  • Store & re-use things, keep an asset library

Shortcut #3: Start with yourself

Shortcut #4: Keep it simple

  • Look for simple solutions (easy to build, easy to use, etc)
  • Do NOT re-invent the wheel (Thunderbird title bar on Windows, I’m looking at you…)
  • Do not worry, you can always iterate – just start with something
  • You are the founder: Abuse Enjoy your power
    • have fun
    • business is lifestyle decision

Questions & Answers

  • Cost difference between “landing page” and “business package”?
    • good if designer charges in days
    • being invited into “shaping business strategy” is exciting for designer –> more buy-in
    • good designers prefer to do a package, landing pages are “boring”
  • Start with templates. Where to get templates?
  • “Good design client never argues about button shape/size” – great tip. How to be a better design client?
    • Ask for early prototype, iterations. Don’t allow for 2 weeks on first iteration
  • Give examples of paid test projects:
    • landing pages
  • a list of websites the client likes is a prerequisite before starting the work
  • What prices ranges for a medium-range / top-range designer?
    • There is no top designer
    • fixed price tends to produce scope creep

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Mike Taber – Business Hacks & Epic Wins – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Webseite: AuditShark.com / SingleFounder.com
Twitter: @singlefounder
Slides: here

Social Media

  • Why is a Twitter strategy important?
    • It expands your footprint
    • you make bigger waves when you publish content
  • The #1 secret to increasing your audience: Follow more people
  • Tools used:
  • Follow people using TweetAdder
    • 100-200 follows per day maximum (Maximum of 2,000 followers total)
    • Follow people following influencers in your niche
    • 7 days later: Unfollow people who don’t follow you
    • Thank people for following you
      • They will favorite it
      • They will retweet it (additional reach)
      • They will reply to you

Finance Automation

  • Success causes problems – e.g. having 3 different business entities
  • “You know, I’ve never really liked paying bills” – so I stopped doing it
    • Outsourced paying for bills
    • Work ON your business, not IN your business
  • Plan
    • Identify & document everything that needs to be handled
    • Build a process for it
  • Execute
    • Execute the process at least once to find flaws in the process
  • Review
    • Constantly review the process
    • Early iterations require more oversight
  • Give Authority
    • Empower your employees/VAs/contractors
    • Give power to change the process
  • Give Guidance
    • provide general guidelines for how the business works
    • Have a strategic operating document
    • Document the whole process thoroughly, so others can pick up
  • Give Praise
    • They are doing you a favor, thank them for it
  • Start with an MVP – Minimum Viable Process
    • e.g. put all your invoices in a post box and hand the box to your VA

Content/SEO Automation

Personal Development

  • Increase productivity: “What if you only had 4 hours to do all your work?
  • Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
  • Limiting your time for tasks, increases your productivity
  • Personal Fulfillment: “What makes you get up every day?
    • Play to your strength
    • structure your business accordingly
  • People prefer a known bad outcome to an unknown outcome
    • Step out of your comfort zone
    • Benefits of trying new things:
      • Build self-confidence
      • Boosts courage
      • Cures boredom
      • Satisfies urge to grow
      • stimulates brain
      • increases productivity

Overall Health

  • Three Pillars of Health
    • Sleep: 7-8 hours / night
    • Exercise: (150 minutes moderate OR 75 minutes vigorous) AND 2 days muscle training
    • Eating: 1600-2500 calories/day
  • If you fail at one, the others will be influenced by that –> downwards spiral
  • Specific strategies
    • Stop evening & weekend work
    • Scheduling: go to bed at specific time, schedule exercise
    • No late night snacking; try to eat healthy
  • These strategies work, because
    • they give your brain what it needs to function properly
    • they reduce stress
  • Hormonal imbalances might cause you all sorts of trouble – with no easy way out of it
  • You can’t help other people if you can’t help yourself

Questions & Answer

  • Have you done any research of value of having more Twitter followers?
    • I am driving them to my email list – that is valuable to me
    • Provide valuable content in Tweets; intersperse with promotions
  • What workflow have you for content to tweet out?
    • Take from other websites
  • What test did you go through to get diagnosed with your hormonal imbalance?
    • Simple blood test from your doctor

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MicroConf Europe 2014 – Hub

This page is the central ressource for (almost) everything that happened and came out of MicroConf Europe 2014. You will find all the notes I took during the conference as well as blog posts, videos, slides or podcasts from attendees covering MicroConf Europe 2014. I sincerely hope that this is of some value to you – enjoy & execute!

Notes on the Talks

 

Blog Posts Relating To MicroConf Europe 2014

Products that were handed-in for teardowns

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LinksSpy.com – Monthly Income Report September 2014

Welcome to the second installment of my monthly income report. I nearly quit this after I realized what a horrible mistake I had made with the first income report. I triumphantly announced having doubled my monthly recurring revenue (MRR) – when in fact I had committed an embarrassing blunder.

Before I get into the details here are a few things I want you to know about my income reports:

  1. I publish income reports for two reasons:
    1. Accountability helps me push forward.
    2. I know that most of us compare ourselves to “famous” people like Patrick McKenzie, Brennan Dunn, Nathan Barry and others. I am no stranger to that and it is hard to feel good comparing yourself to them. Well, compare yourself to me and you’ll feel better instantly 😉
  2. I will only cover what I make from LinksSpy – no consulting, no day job
  3. I am terrible at accounting – so most numbers (especially expenses) are not 100% accurate.

The Numbers

Last Month’s Revenue

In August I boasted about having doubled my MRR to $480 from 21 customers – only I didn’t. I fucked up royally.

The short version is that I had 2 different ways for users to cancel their LinksSpy subscription. Unfortunately, I only knew about one of them. Worse yet, most people cancelled using the way that I was unaware of. This also happened to delete any traces of their account in my database WITHOUT cancelling their Stripe subscription. In essence, people could cancel their account and I would keep charging them.

After I learned about this blunder, I immediately searched for every (previous) customer who had been affected by this. I cancelled their subscription and refunded the last payment – together with an email explaining my error.

This has cost me 6 customers and $216 MRR. In fact, I only had $273 MRR from 15 customers in August. A modest increase over July, but not exactly great.

This Month’s Revenue

In September I increased MRR to $320 from 16 customers. Small steps… small steps…

Expenses

Due to the way LinksSpy is set up my costs are really low. It was one of my design goals to keep most things running on Heroku‘s free tier. This is partly because I’m really cheap and – more importantly – because I didn’t know how well LinksSpy would do and I was afraid of catastrophic failure.

Thus, I only pay $9/mo for the hobbyist database plan and $20/mo for the SSL endpoint.

Other expenses:

  • $15.80 in Stripe fees
  • $49 for Drip
  • $230 for one blog article per week – written by my content marketing genius
  • $100 for design work for a blog article I wrote

If I didn’t miss anything (which I probably did), the total costs were $423.80.

Profit

For the time being, I don’t plan on making any profit from LinksSpy. I want to focus on growing it as fast and as big as possible, thus I’m re-investing everything back into LinksSpy.

LinksSpy operated at a net loss of about $100 in september and I refunded $295. That leaves me some $400 short for september – nothing to worry about.

My Takeaways

The biggest takeaway for me is that messing up the payments and subsequently apologizing to your customers is painfully humbling. I never want to do this again.

Another “takeaway” this month is that content marketing drives quite a few people to your blog posts, but it does not bring in new customers immediately. If you are doing content marketing, you commit yourself long term.

Progress

The biggest thing I managed to get done this month was publishing an amazing in-depth research article about the prices of paid links.
It managed to briefly climb to the front page of Hacker News and was quite popular on /r/bigseo – accounting for 1,403 visits combined.
It was shared by some “famous” people in the SEO industry and reached an audience of about 300,000 on Twitter – which sent a grand-total of 268 visitors.
It also made it into the Moz Top 10 newsletter, which drove 4,578 people to my blog.

Again this shows me that email marketing is insanely effective.

The outcome of that blog post has been fantastic: I have about 100 new subscribers to my drip email campaign. I also enhanced the drip email campaign by adding another email that is more of a hard sell – something that was previously missing from the drip campaign altogether.

Furthermore, with the influx of new visitors I finally was able to start retargeting via PerfectAudience. I had the banner ad done months ago, but never had enough people tagged. I’m sending them to a dedicated landing page and trying to sign them up for my email list.

Additionally, I finally re-designed parts of the LinksSpy homepage to make it more appealing. I also integrated HireFire into LinksSpy, which will dynamically spin up/tear down Heroku worker instances and help to bring new reports into the hands of my customers faster.

What to Focus on Next Month

Same as the last few months: More marketing. I have ordered more articles (1 per week instead of 3 per month) from Ryan, my content marketing genius.
We are also going to implement a better process (using Trello) for publishing new blog posts. This will include adding pictures to all posts – something we haven’t done in the past – and publishing all new articles to a few places such as reddit, inbound.org and others.

In addition, I am already working on a follow-up post to the last one. This one will be about how buying a link on BuzzFeed can affect your search engine rankings. I hope this post will have a greater reach than the previous.

I will also start sending out newsletters to my mailing list. I will probably use the new content for those newsletters as well.

Conclusion

September was a month of mixed feelings: The bug was horrible, but on the other hand my article was great.

LinksSpy is improving in small, but steady, steps and revenue is also increasing. I’ve got more than enough to get on with in October, not least among them attending MicroConf Europe (If you are coming, don’t be shy – say “Hi”!)

I’m looking forward to seeing you again next month 🙂

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How I launched to $190 in Monthly Recurring Revenue

This is the tale of how I launched LinksSpy.com. I wrote it both to get a few thoughts off my mind and to give a counterpoint to articles like this one from RivalFox. I don’t want to be negative about RivalFox’s achievement: Those guys rock and they deserve every last bit of it! – I just want to add another data point.

tl;dr: I did a few things right, I did quite a few more things wrong, but in the end I shipped and had moderate success so far.

Some Background on LinksSpy

LinksSpy allows you to spy on your competition and learn where they get their links from. This helps you to build more high-quality links to your website – thereby sending you more visitors and helps you get ahead of your competition on Google.
It is targeted mostly at SEO agencies, who use it to optimize their clients’ websites.

I came up with the idea while working with the beautiful people at Moz – who were kind enough to take me on as an intern despite serious legal obstacles (Short story: I could only work unpaid because I already get paid, they wanted to pay me for legal reasons).

So I felt that I had to give something back and I came up with an idea to lower their churn rate. That idea eventually evolved into LinksSpy.

How I built LinksSpy

I built LinksSpy on the side. My day job doesn’t leave me with a lot of room, but I usually manage to sneak in about 10 hours of work each week.

For the techies: LinksSpy is built with Rails and runs on Heroku.

The Build-Up Prior To The Launch

I started working on the LinksSpy-predecessor around this time last year. It was a clunky shell script written in node.js. It was designed as a one-off project – to be run only once as a test to see whether it would reduce churn or not.

After I was back to Germany from working in Seattle, I didn’t put much work into the script; mainly adapting it to work with the free tier of the Moz API.

However, I put up a basic landing page and started collecting email addresses. I also bought my way into betali.st, which got me 226 addresses for a modest $39 (at a 41.4% conversion rate). The addresses were of pretty good quality, too.Prelaunch Squeeze Page for LinksSpy.com

 

Up to the launch I mainly focused on building a web app to present the data and talking to potential customers from my growing mailing list. I scanned through my list using Rapportive – which allows you to find people in your target niche. At various stages I onboarded two or three users at a time to beta test LinksSpy – making very clear that while usage is free during beta, I would eventually charge them.

All the time I didn’t have an automated process for the competitive link analysis. Every time a user created a new campaign the process would look like this:

  • the web app would send me a file with the data (URL, competitor URLs, campaign ID, etc)
  • I would load that file into the modified shell script and let it run on my computer at home
  • The script would query the API and compute everything in a single run. Often it would crash two or three times before running successfully – I had to restart it every time and hope for the best.
  • After the script finished, I would take the results and copy&paste them into a special form in the web app at which point they became available to my users (they get an email)

I implemented a lot of feedback from my beta testers (Thanks again, guys!) over the following months – along with credit card processing (using Stripe & Koudoku) and a feature to do outreach.

After about eight months of development, I finally got fed up with postponing the launch again and again and again. I pulled the trigger and announced the upcoming launch to my mailing list of 268 subscribers on 24.04.2014.

The Launch

The Launch Email Sequence

I went with a launch email sequence of three emails:

  1. a launch announcement email(4 days prior to launch)
  2. the actual launch email – 20% off for 48 hours (at launch)
  3. a reminder email (8 hours before the discount runs out)

05_launch-email-stats

Here are the stats for those three emails:

 

 

 

That converted 10 out of 268 people to paying customers – a 3.7% conversion rate. This does not seem too bad, considering I had no free trial.

I think that went pretty well – I could have warmed up my email list a bit more, but overall I am pleased with this part.

The Product At Launch

Pricing & Trial

First lets talk about pricing. I launched with a 3-tier pricing of $10/20/40 – which includes the 20% discount mentioned in the emails.
Two days after the launch I increased prices to $10/25/50. Prices have remained at that level for the past two months.

When I launched LinksSpy there wasn’t a free trial – and there isn’t one up to this day. This was a bit of swimming against the stream and I got some negative feedback about this – despite a 60-day money back guarantee.

I was craving the ultimate validation for my product: People were actually willing to pay for LinksSpy.
To that end it worked beautifully and I got 10 paying customers for a total monthly recurring revenue (MRR) of $190.

In hindsight I believe that it would have been wise to offer a free trial. If nothing else, it would allow me to collect email addresses, improve onboarding and learn faster.
I also got the feedback from a few people that I am not charging enough. I’ve probably told a dozen people that they should charge more – and here I am charging too low for my own product. That is a special kind of stupid.

I am going to change both shortcomings in the upcoming weeks. Together with introducing a 7-day trial I will raise prices to $19/$49/$99.
Having the trial be that short is quite unusual, but users get value out of LinksSpy almost immediately after sign up. That’s why I’ll have a real short trial first and maybe test a longer (14 or 21 days) trial later.

Bugs At Launch

About two (2!!!) hours before launch I decided that it would be a really wise idea to make this little (8 characters!) change to the source. What could possibly go wrong?

Well…. a whole lot of things could go wrong. You could corrupt your data model and show your newly-found customers a (not so nice, default Rails) error page. Things like that.

It took me about 2 hours to put that wrong to right – and about a dozen emails to apologize to everyone affected by it. Lesson learned: Don’t be an idiot, keep your hands away from the code and where I can see them 48 hours before the launch.

Missing Features At Launch

The quote that helped me launch LinksSpy was this:

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman, Founder LinkedIn

And indeed, I felt that LinksSpy was months away from being “launch-ready”. Among the missing things were:

  • no automated processing of created campaigns – I still had to run the script manually and it would fail at least every second run. It took 24-48 hours before data was
    available for a newly created campaign
  • While I wanted customers to input their CC data right after sign up, you could bypass that and just create a new campaign. This allowed you to use LinksSpy without being charged a dime. One guy used this and got his report for free (because I didn’t manually check)
  • no custom error pages, just the default ones created by Ruby on Rails (still rocking those)
  • there were quite a few UI bugs in the app (and some still are)
  • No drip email campaign to collect email addresses
  • No lifecycle emails for new users, only minimal onboarding help
  • Even users that had cancelled / were not paying could still log in and use LinksSpy
  • NO consistent design for the marketing website & application. The marketing website / blog is based on WordPress and the Genesis theme – the application and the main landing page are designed using Bootstrap.

I could find more things to go on the list, but what’s important is that LinksSpy was far from perfect when I launched it. Still, I got happy paying customers.

Marketing at Launch

None except announcing it to the mailing list. Despite me knowing that this is the worst possible move, I didn’t put any marketing effort into LinksSpy. I wanted to keep quiet about it, get some paying customers and see how well it would work out.

Luckily, it worked out quite well. Some people got the first quality links to their website within hours of signing up for LinksSpy. LinksSpy got some great endorsement on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/TheDaveCollins/status/470913396523937792

I could have done a lot more than tweeting about it and announcing to my mailing list. I haven’t done much for the last two months either, instead focusing on improving the product. I will focus way more on marketing in the weeks & months to come (hopefully I won’t go back to just coding. If you want to help me, remind me of my pledge on Twitter 🙂 )

LinksSpy Today

LinksSpy had $255 MRR – coming from 15 customers – on 01.07.2014 (about two months after launch).
I have seen three people cancel their accounts, which means about 15% churn rate – which is to be expected for a newly launched product.
All those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, because my numbers are still so low.
As my goal is to be able to live off LinksSpy’s revenue in 2022 (no kidding there; that really is my goal) at the current growth rate I will be at about $3500 by then :-D. Not quite enough yet, but not too far off either.

Customer Segmentation

LinksSpy is aimed at SEO agencies, but so far I didn’t convince many agencies to sign up. Most of the customers so far are SMBs and quite a few people who I know personally.

I need to focus more on marketing to SEO professionals.
I will do so by being more active (and buying ads) on /r/seo, /r/linkbuilding and other watering holes for SEOs.

Improvements To The Product

I’d like to think that I have made considerable improvements to LinksSpy, but I still feel like I need to do much more. That’s probably normal, though.

Here are a few things I accomplished in the past two months:

  • completely re-wrote the backend; replaced the node.js script with Ruby and fully automated it. This decreased the turn-around time from 24-48 hours to < 2-4 hours. This is a great win for my customers as they get their data faster.
  • LinksSpy now automatically runs reports for the campaigns every month (whenever Moz provides new data), so that customers can keep a close watch on their competitors
  • The campaigns show a lot more data than at launch (e.g. which websites already have a link back to you)
  • a bunch of minor features like filters for suggestions, better export functionality etc.
  • I added a mandatory “why are you canceling” text box to learn why people are canceling and how to improve my product

Marketing

I have slowly started to ramp up my marketing. I check reddit for topics where I can contribute to the discussion and mention LinksSpy when appropriate.

Most importantly, I started with building content on the LinksSpy blog. I hired a guy through oDesk who writes rather long (1,000 words) articles for the blog (examples here and here. He’s got a bit of an audience, which is a great benefit on top of his well written articles.

Additionally, I started tagging people for remarketing with PerfectAudience and AdRoll about a month ago. My plan is to use remarketing to get people to sign up for a drip email campaign.
I have written 3 out of 5 planned emails so far. I’ve got the banners for it and I’m tagging the people. All that is missing are the last two emails before I can start with remarketing.

Once I have the drip email campaign and remarketing in place, I want to focus more on getting visitors to the page. Before having that it would be like carrying water in a sieve.

Lessons I learned

I have learned quite a bit: Some things went well, others not so well.

  1. First of all: Launch it, ship it, then improve it (based on what you learn)
  2. Have an email list and keep it warm. I partially failed at keeping it warm. I only sent 4 emails over the course of 5 months prior to launch.
  3. Betalist.com works really well for getting a few hundred subscribers to your mailing list
  4. Don’t change code shortly before launch
  5. Do more marketing – something I constantly struggle with doing
  6. All of this is really hard. It’s easy to understand the concepts & broad strokes, but you need to nail the details to succeed. Doing >> Reading

Conclusion

That’s the hardest part here: Do I have enough numbers to come to any meaningful conclusions? Maybe, maybe not.
What I can say so far is this: It is NOT easy. I haven’t even reached product-market fit and the way there is blurry and uncertain to me. There is so much more to learn about my customers and how I can provide value to them.
I am looking forward to that challenge and think that I know enough to succeed. Let’s see if I can execute well enough 🙂

Was it wrong that I launched so early? I don’t think so. 10 minutes after the launch, when I learned of the severe bug, I felt like it was the worst decision ever. With two months distance from that evening, it doesn’t look that bad anymore. I got some amazing feedback, happy customers and the advice (from said customers!) to charge more. That isn’t too bad – eh?

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