How to Generate Business Ideas

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An entrepreneur’s job is to serve it’s customers by solving a problem or delivering value. In a free market, entrepreneurs who don’t serve customers fail. To execute, an entrepreneur must identify customer demands and how to meet them. Many of the best startup ideas come from solving problems or inefficient processes that customers have an urgent need to solve. This post covers four strategies for gaining customer insights about problems and demands.

 

1. Scratch Your Own Itch

“Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.” – Paul Graham, Y-Combinator

 

What unmet needs do you have?, What challenges do you face throughout the day?, What product do you wish you had that doesn’t exist yet?, etc.

Make sure you’re not the only one that has that problem or wants that product. Do some customer development to see if they also have that problem or want that product.

 

2. Interview Customers

“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems…” – Paul Graham

 

a. Pick a customer segment

Based on your relationships, access, propensity to buy, passion, etc.

 

b. Ask them what their problems are

What’s the hardest part of your day?, What unmet needs do you have?, What product do you wish you had that doesn’t exist yet?, etc.

 

3. Meet Known Needs

“Great companies do 1+ of 3 things: Get you laid, get you paid, get you made” – Dave McClure, 500 Startups

Paid = Salesforce, banks, Airbnb

Made = Twitter, college

Laid = Cars, clothes, Tinder

Transportation = Uber

Surviving = Food

Save Time = Buffer, oDesk

Entertainment = Movies, video games

4. Do What’s Working

“At a time when so many internet entrepreneurs are running around Silicon Valley trying to do something no one else has ever done, [Evan] Williams believes that the real trick is to find something that’s tried and true” – Twitter co-founder via Wired

a. Second Mover Advantages

i. Validate customer demand – seeing that your competitor is selling products shows that there are people who want to buy it

ii. Learn about your competitor’s customer acquisition strategy – skip the experiments, know what channels work

iii. Observe product management and marketing – copywriting, conversion funnels, UX, etc.

 

b. Examples of Second Movers

Facebook, Simple (bank), 5 Hour Energy knockoffs, countless ecommerce companies, Social media consultants

 

What’s Next?

Next you will want to conduct some customer development interviews to validate that the startup idea is something that people actually want. You may also want to put up a landing page to start building an audience before you launch, to pre-sell your product, and/or to test whether you can acquire traffic effectively. Here’s the list of 9 startup ideas that I shared via the Startup College Newsletter if you want to steal one of those 😉

 

 

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Content Marketing 101: What, Why and How

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Traditional marketing and advertising is broken. Traditional advertising methods like billboards, tv and radio advertising, paper mail advertising, and cold calling, are expensive, hard to measure, and are inefficiently targeted. In addition, people usually find them really annoying, which is not good for branding. People don’t get sold anymore, they buy. Enter content marketing, a more efficient and effective way to attract, engage, and acquire customers.

What is Content Marketing?

I’m going to give you a rather “dense” definition of content marketing and then I’ll break down each component of it. Content marketing is a strategy for attracting, engaging and acquiring customers. It entails creating and/or curating relevant and valuable content.

2 Forms of Value

Per the above definition, content must be valuable to the target audience. What does it mean to be valuable? Value, as it pertains to content marketing, comes in two primary forms:

a. Entertainment value 

The audience finds the content funny, interesting, or otherwise entertaining. The best example of content marketing that has entertainment value is Dollar Shave Club’s video that now has over 13 million views. People watched it, even multiple times, and shared it, because they enjoyed watching it. The fact that it’s an advertisement is an afterthought. In addition, it improves Dollar Shave Club’s brand by making them look “cool.”

b. Educational value

The audience finds the content helpful. It answers their questions or gives them information that they can use to solve their problems or in some way improve themselves. The best example of content marketing that I can think of that has educational value is Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO. It’s become like the bible on beginning SEO. It is the go to source for anyone that wants to learn SEO. The fact that Moz did it to attract it’s target audience, marketers, is not even recognized at first glance. In addition, it improves Moz’s brand by displaying their expertise, and building a perception of being helpful.

9 Benefits of Content Marketing

Content marketing can help companies with several aspects of the customer acquisition funnel. I’ve grouped them into three buckets:

attract – customers see you, find you and/or become aware that you exist

engage – customers get to know you and start to like you

acquire – customers pay for your product or service

Here are 9 ways content marketing can help companies attract people, engage with them, and convert them into customers.

1. Establish authority

Producing content that displays expertise instantly improves people’s perception of the author’s authority on the topic. A book is probably the form of content that improves authority the most, but several other forms, including a blog, can help. Improving your image of authority should improve conversion rates.

2. Increase engagement, rapport, and trust

When a customer sees your billboard, they see it for a few seconds and then probably forget about it. When someone reads your blog, they’re on your website, listening to what you’re saying, potentially for extended periods of time. This enables them to get to know you. I’ve met people who had been following my blog and as a result know a lot about me and feel like they know me. People like to do business with people they know, like, and trust.

The most extreme example of content that builds rapport that I can think of is James Altucher’s blog. He shares his deepest emotions and personal stories. You don’t have to go that far to build rapport with your audience though. Simply sharing your opinions on industry topics or adding some character to your writing can help. Don’t be afraid to take a controversial stance if appropriate or use less than perfect grammar if it adds character.

3. Reach a wider audience 

People don’t always search for a specific product or service, they often look for information or solutions to problems. For example, “productivity consultant” gets just 70 average monthly research, while “how to be more productive” gets 1,300. Keyword research is a proxy for people’s actual interests and buying behaviors.

Content marketing can enable you to reach an audience that might not have had you been relying on cold calling or advertising. They could also find you if one of their Facebook friends shares a piece of your content. People post about specific products far less than they share content that’s entertaining or educational. After building rapport, establishing yourself as an expert, and adding value, a customer may be more interested in your product or service.

4. Improve search engine ranking 

A company’s search ranking is driven by two primary categories: onsite and offsite. Content marketing helps with both. Content marketing helps with onsite in two ways. First, Google prefers sites with recently updated content. If you are actively creating new content, Google will better index you. Content marketing helps with offsite SEO by improving your chances of being linked to. Google interprets someone else linking to you as a sign that your site is of value. People are far more likely to link to a valuable blog post you wrote than simply your sales page. Better search ranking means more traffic.

5. Boost sales

At the end of the day sales are what everyone really wants right? After all, it’s a business not a charity. Content marketing can directly help with that. As discussed above, someone is more likely to want to click on something of value to them, than a sales page. However, viewing the content that is of value to them increases their chances of viewing your “sales page.”

This could play itself on in many different ways, but let me give you two quick examples. First example: viewer searches for a topic you’ve been blogging about…finds your blog post…signs up for your email newsletter…reads your emails each week, gets value from them, and thinks you’re awesome…two months later when you send out an email about your new product launch they buy because they’ve “known” you for two months and know that you’re “legit.” Second example: someone searches itunes for a podcast related to their interest…finds you and listens to one…you mention one of your products and tell listeners where they can find it…listener finds it and becomes a customer.

6. Social shares

When people share your content, you get more exposure. Exposure leads to traffic. This is the “attract” bucket per above. It also improves your brand in that if people see their friends talking about you they may think more highly of you. This is the “engage” bucket per above. How do you get most of your restaurant, movie, product, etc. recommendations? A lot of people rely on their friends.

People are more likely to share content they find valuable than your sales page.

7. It’s free or cheap 

Blogging, for example, costs basically nothing. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection, which you probably already have. It does however take time. If you get into more advanced content production, such as research reports, or even podcasts, you may need some special equipment that costs money.

However, many forms of content marketing have almost no up-front costs, which make it great for startups, self-published authors, or anyone on a budget.

8. More targeted 

With content marketing, you can be more sure you’re reaching your target audience then, for example, billboards or tv ads. Yes, you can get demographic data who drives on the road, who watches the show, etc. But with content you can be even more precise. For example, you can use Google’s keyword planner to get data on the number of times a given search term is being made and who is actually making the searches. You can write blog posts to to match those terms. Or you can write a post like “marketing for startups” to be sure your audience knows it’s for them.

9. Build an audience

People are very attentive to their inboxes. As a marketer, you want to be where their attention is. You don’t need to pay for a list if you’re doing content marketing. Offer something of value in exchange for signing up for your email newsletter, to increase your email signups. It could be as simple as receiving your blog posts by email. Offering an ebook or white paper is even better.

10 Types of Content to Produce

Content can come in many shapes and sizes. Most people think of blogs when they think of content marketing. Blogging is a good one, however there are many, many formats in which you can produce content marketing. Below are several formats/platforms to produce content on. Each of these platforms has slightly different users bases, enabling you to reach wider audiences.

  • Video courses on Udemy
  • Answers on Quora
  • Blog posts
  • Curated content as an email newsletter
  • Podcasts
  • Presentations on SlideShare 
  • Videos on YouTube
  • Self-published books on Amazon
  • Microcontent on social networks – tweets, status updated, instagram photos, etc.
  • Public speaking, webinars, workshops, etc.

Our Growth Hacking with Content Marketing course details how to use each of these networks effectively, which are best for different kinds of businesses, pros and cons of each, and more.

My #1 Piece of Content Marketing Advice 

Create content that’s valuable to your audience! If you do that, people will find you, share you, engage with you, return to you, etc.

6 Reasons Entrepreneurs Should Learn to Code

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The decision of whether or not to learn how to code is a tough one for many non-technical entrepreneurs to make. It may seem like a major time commitment on top of non-technical responsibilities. However, learning even some very basics can be extremely beneficial. You don’t need to be an expert in coding to get value from it. Below are six ways learning to code can help your business.

Save Time and Money Recruiting a Technical Co-Founder or Hire

You don’t find co-founders in one day. It takes a long time. In that same amount of time, or less, you could easily be learning how to code. A month is enough to learn the basics. It can be challenging for many non-technical founders to find a committed technical co-founder that shares their vision. Learning to code will make you less dependent on outside forces and help you get your company off the ground. There’s also a risk that your technical co-founder could leave the company after joining, which could leave you in a tough position if you don’t know anything about coding.

Evaluate Technical Hires or Co-founders More Effectively

If you don’t know much about programming, it will be hard to tell whether someone can effectively program. Therefore hiring will be a major challenge. You will need to rely on others to help you evaluate technical hires. This could be a burden of time and/or money. Learning even basic coding skills will help you to more effectively evaluate potential hires or partners.

Build a Prototype to Test your Idea

Being able to at least build a prototype or “minimum viable product” of your idea will help you to test the demand for your product and business viability before you spend a lot of time and money finding and hiring developers. A prototype will enable you to see how users interact with your product and if it’s even providing them with something they perceive as being valuable in the first place. Interacting and testing with mock ups or just verbal descriptions is much different then a product.

Sometimes customers don’t know if they want something until you put it in front of them and let them use it. A prototype doesn’t have to be perfect, or even scalable, for you to learn, and save time and money. And you don’t need to be an expert to build a prototype. You could even build a landing page to test whether people will buy your product, that you can drive traffic to it, and to build an audience pre-launch.

Communicate With Your Development Team More Effectively

For business people who manage or work with coders, understand ingcoding can be extremely beneficial. Business people will need to know what sorts of things are easy or hard to code, what sorts of problems arise, how long a certain task should take, how hard it is to maintain code, etc.

Programming languages are called languages because they are a mode of communication. If you’re in Spain, you need to learn Spain in order to communicate effectively with people around you. If you’re in a technology startup, learning basics of coding and computer science will enable you to communicate effectively with your technical team members.

You don’t necessarily need to be an expert at coding to be able to communicate effectively with coders. Basic understanding can be helpful in determining what is a reasonable or unreasonable request, or how much effort a particular piece of code would take to produce.

Contribute More to Developing your Product and Company

One of the biggest time commitments in starting a new technology company is product development. While business activities such as customer acquisition and fundraising to take considerable amount of time, being able to contribute to building product can be tremendously beneficial to your company. Different products and companies will have different proportions of business and product development time needed, however in most situations, being able to build product will at least be helpful.

Better Understand your Product and Technology

As a non-technical co-founders some of your biggest responsibilities will be sales and marketing, recruiting and fundraising. You will need sufficient knowledge of your product to be able to effectively communicate with customers, investors, and technical hires. If you’re starting a technology company, you should know enough about technology to be able to run your business.

Conclusion: You don’t need to be the best coder in the world to benefit from learning. It’s not an all or nothing decision. Understanding a little about coding will help you to be better leader. You should still be recruiting technical partners, however learning enough to get your company off the ground and work with those partners will be extremely beneficial to your company. Learning to code will empower you — “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to code and  robotic minions shall fish for him forever.”

Check out How to Build a Landing Page for a beginner step by step tutorial. 

10 Landing Page Design Tips To Boost Conversion Rates

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Landing pages are a great way to build an audience for your product pre-launch and engage your visitors to eventually turn them into customers. Below are 10 design principles for increasing conversion rates. Having a landing page that actually converts is important because you want to make the most of the time and money you spend on driving traffic to your landing page.  If you would like to learn about building and driving traffic to landing pages, check out How to Build a Landing Page. Otherwise, let’s proceed fourth with the advice…

1. Craft A Clear Value Proposition

Clearly and simply state the primary value proposition of using your product. Describe the end benefit to the user.  

 

What will your customer get if they sign up for your offering or use your product? For example, Airbnb gets them “a place to stay.” Our How to Build a Landing Page course gets you “a live landing page within a weekend.” Speaking from the customer’s point of view can help them appreciate the value of your offering.

2. Offer Something People Actually Want

If you have a product or offering that solves a real problem that customers have and truly delivers value, they will want it. Do some customer development to determine what people actually want and what their needs are. Highlight those value propositions in your site’s titles and copy.

3. Display Social Proof or Testimonials

Social proof means an indicator that other, well respected people like your offering. It has been shown to be influential on people’s decision making. For example, if Michael Jordan wears Nikes, many people will assume that Nikes are high quality. You could display social proof by showing logos of publications that have written about you, logos of customers who use your product, or testimonials.

4. Keep it Simple

Limit the amount of stuff on your landing page so that your visitors are focused on the action you want them to perform. Keep it simple. Too much text, links, or different CTAs can distract the user.

5. Highlight The Call to Action

A call to action (CTA) is the action you want to the user to take. For a landing page, the CTA is probably to get them to sign up, enter their email address, or pay for something. Make your CTA visibly stand out from the page. You could use a bright or unique color, make it larger than other items on the page, or use arrow images to direct the viewer’s eyes to it.

6. Make the Copy on the CTA Button Actionable

Some studies have shown that having the text on the button users click describe the value proposition increase click rates. Instead of “sign up” or “submit,” try something more appealing. “Get instant access,” “Get your free ebook,” or something similar may be more appealing to visitors.

7. Describe Your Unique Offering

If you’re offering something that other customers can get elsewhere, explain what makes you unique and/or better. Unique qualities might include your credentials, a unique feature or differentiator that your product offers. For example, Meetingburner offers “webinars and screen sharing,” but with the unique differentiator “no installation required.”

8. Address Your Customer Segment

Describing who your offering is for personalizes the experience and assures that it will provide value for their specific needs. For example, Stripe is “payments for developers.” Balanced is payments for marketplaces.”

9. Enable Sharing

Enabling your visitors and/or converted sign ups to share can lead to more traffic to your page. Add share buttons to your landing page to encourage your website visitors to share your content with their audiences. You could consider providing them with incentive to share, such as a discount or a discount to the people they invite.

10. Test, Iterate, Optimize

There’s no one specific magic formula for designing the perfect landing page. Different types of viewers may react differently to different designs or products. Try running some A/B tests to determine which designs perform best and iterate accordingly to optimize your page.

To learn more about landing pages, including how to build them and how to drive traffic to them, check out How to Build a Landing Page