How NOT To Be An Email Spammer

email-spamPeople often ask Greg Kraios, Founder of 250ok: Why is there spam? He knows that the answer is simply “because it’s profitable…If it didn’t make money, people wouldn’t do it.”

Kraios spoke at the August Smartups event about the ins and outs of email marketing. He told of his days at ExactTarget and how spam filtering has evolved since. Back then, emails were content filtered, with words like “free,” “viagra,” and exclamation marks creating the basis for screening. Spammers were quickly able to game the system and be one step ahead of it.

So, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) changed the game. It didn’t matter what the message is, but rather who the message is from. This created a structure based on reputation tied to an IP address. Now, companies (like Pfizer) that want to promote products (such as Viagra) legitimately finally can.

Once again, spammers figured out how to beat this system too. This brings us to how spam filters work today: reputation + engagement. ISPs look at engagement data from an IP address to find out how many people are opening an email, clicking a link, forwarding the message, replying to the sender. We all interact with emails from friends and family. But, this becomes a problem when it’s a marketing email.

How does a business get through the spam filters and get the user to open that email?

avoiding-spam-filters-email-marketing

Young companies are anxious to broadcast their message to large audience. And email has become an important tool for startup marketers for doing just that. But, they often think the best way to do that is to buy a list. To that, Kraios asks “would you share your customer list with anybody ever? I’ll take it if you guys are.”

Not only does buying an email list not work, but often times the addresses provided are invalid by the time you get to them (which counts against your reputation) – or they could be filled with “spam traps.” A spam trap is when an ISP creates an address that has never been used by a human being. The only way to get that email on your list is if it’s scraped off the internet. When that happens, ISPs flag you as a spammer because they caught you capturing addresses without permission.

For startups, Kraios recommends finding a partner company that has a subscriber base that might benefit from your product or service. Some businesses may ask for a fee for this. Others will do it because they want to help other companies. The key here is to get that company to promote you in their newsletter, to push people to a landing page, and get the permission yourself to have them on your mailing list.

Google has become really good at determining spam emails. More times than not, people go into their spam folder, find an email from a friend or family member with a link inside and think, Google messed up. Once the email is back in the inbox, they click on the link and are redirected to a malware site. It looks harmless – like their bank. So, they enter all their personal information. And, they’re phished!

To counter this, email providers have started deleting spam emails before the user can view them.

Another tactic bigger companies use is sending emails with a “no reply” for the sender. Email is about communication, having a conversation. Using “no reply” alienates the target audience – “just tells me you don’t care about me.” Realizing that replies can help get your email delivered changes the entire playing field – especially for startups. You’re the most accessible business owner the user will come in contact with. Why not use that to your advantage and include your own email as the sender?

Set Clear Expectations

You’re already familiar with implicit email permission. You’re about to buy your items at a store when you’re asked for your email address. You give it willingly – not realizing that you’ve been added to their email list. Kraios stresses the importance of obtaining explicit permission for someone’s email. This not only serves to let the potential customer know that they’re signing up for a newsletter or promotion, but also creates an expectancy phenomenon in their minds. They will look for your email in their inbox. They won’t ignore it. They won’t delete it. They won’t mark it as spam.

Be clear about what your subscribers are going to get. Like Kraios, you may have been surprised when you think you’ve signed up for one company’s emails, and then you start getting promotions from other companies. You click the unsubscribe button and are sent to their preference center only to find out you’ve got five different content items checked.

In order to prevent the user from associating this nightmare with your startup, it’s best to outline exactly what they’ve signed up for and stick to it. You’ll see better engagement rates from potential customers and get rewarded from ISPs (by not getting marked as a spammer).

Kraios believes there’s no right or wrong when it comes to frequency. If you tell people they’re going to receive a weekly newsletter, you should send the a weekly newsletter. Your email readers want to consume things differently. As long as you set an expectation and deliver on it, you’ll be in good shape. He evens offers Doug Karr’s newsletter as an example. Kraios likes the monthly digest because while he wants to stay on top of what’s new in marketing, he’s too busy to read the weekly newsletter. He loves that Karr gives him the option to do that.

So, take your cue from these marketing giants and go beyond setting an expectation for the frequency of your emails: give your subscribers options for frequency.

Tips For Successful Email Marketing

Track sources

Startups that don’t track where they’ve acquired an email address from – even if it’s from a tradeshow prize bowl – cannot tell what their highest performing source is in order to reinvest energy and effort into that. They also can’t tell where negative experiences are coming from. When people mark an email as spam, did you know they came from that tradeshow? from your website? from a partner?

Tracking the different sources allows you more control over the messaging and provides you clear direction on which channels are working best.

Collect actionable data

Turn your email campaign from broad to actionable by asking a few telling questions at the point of acquiring an email. By adding a zip code field to the email signup form, Kraios and then-ExactTarget team gave one large lawn care service provider the advantage in targeting customers by serving relevant emails based on location and grass type.

Don’t obsess over the subject line

When he sees marketers still focusing on things like putting “free” in the subject line, Kraios wishes they’d spend their energy on what their target audience are actually looking for. People aren’t looking for the word “free.” They’re not counting how many exclamation points you’ve typed. Knowing what your goals are and delivering personal, relevant, targeted content trumps a formulaic subject line any day.

Test Deliverability

“It’s never too early to be concerned about delivery….if you’re not getting (the email) to the inbox, all that work you’ve done doesn’t mean anything.” Some companies will provide you with a sender score based on your IP address. According to Kraios, that number is meaningless if you cannot drill down to the deliverability issue itself. That’s why he recommends a tool like 250ok where a test email is sent to a pre-defined set of email addresses. Then, you can exactly track where the email winds up. Combined with data on opens, clicks, conversions, bounces, and unsubscribes, you can start to understand why people are unsubscribing. “The story’s in your own data if you know what to look for and what you’re trying to figure out.”

Following these tips will get your emails in your customers inboxes – and get them loving your emails!

How to Win at Google’s Game

1“Play their game. You need to embrace that they have a business model. Embrace it and the rules are there. Play the game.” – Ryan Mull, Partner and Director at Imavex

In the game of business, the premise is simple: make more money than you spend. When you take your business online, the game gets more complicated. Cheats and shortcuts that were once overlooked can be taken away, and even the rules you were playing by can change and essentially leave you starting over.

Google is famous for switching the rules of the game, especially when it comes to SEO. Why can this one company have such a big impact? It’s simple. Google controls 65% of the search results on the Internet and 80% of ads online.

So if you’re relying solely on Google’s benevolence to reward you with information or page rankings for free, be prepared to be disappointed. After all, Google’s shareholders demand that it make a profit, and it makes 95% of its profits through its ad network, AdWords.

Not only has Google gotten stingier with free information, but the portion of Internet real estate given to ads in comparison to organic search rankings has grown. Ryan Mull at July’s Smartups said,“I wouldn’t be surprised if the first page or two within the next four or five years is all ads.” Here are a couple of screenshots that show the difference between search results in 2007 and search results now, provided by Ryan Mull. You can clearly see the how much more space Google is giving to ads. Those, images on the right in 2014 are ads as well.

Google search in 2007

2

Google search in 2014

3

Google isn’t the only brand to restrict access to free marketing. In January, Facebook followed in Google’s footsteps and announced that it was changing the news feed algorithm for businesses so that their page updates would only show to a very small percentage of their followers. Now if companies want to share content with a large percentage of their customers, they need to buy ads. And if Google and Facebook have changed the game, chances are LinkedIn, Twitter, and others aren’t far behind.

So how can startups with small budgets make PPC work for them while they still work on their SEO?

Utilize best practices to make sure you’re getting the most from your spend

Google makes money when people click on your ads. If you’re not careful when you set up your campaign then Google can run ads that burn up your cash without reaching your target audience.

Steve Hill, Digital Marketing Director at Imavex, also spoke at July’s Smartups and laid out five key things that startups can do to enhance their PPC campaigns so that they’re not wasting money.

 

  1. Abandon broad match typeIf you set up your campaign with broad match keywords, you’ll find yourself paying for clicks that aren’t relevant to your company. So make sure that you’re using modified broad match. When you change your keywords to modified broad match you’re telling Google that you need all of those words in a search before your ad will show up.
  2. Consider landing pagesCreate your campaigns so that ads take your customers to landing pages that are optimized for mobile, tablet, and desktop. Strip out the navigation in these pages so that customers aren’t distracted. Include call to actions in the landing pages so that customers know where they can take the next step.
  3. Utilize remarketingRemarketing is when you attach a cookie to customers who have visited your site so that you can serve them ads on other places on the Internet. Customers often need many interactions with a brand before they purchase or convert, and so remarketing is a cost-effective way to gain brand exposure.
  4. Use enhanced ad extensionsGoogle has created ad extensions as a way to display more information and increase clickthrough rates.  Hill recommends that businesses use site links, review extensions, and Google My Business (also known as location extensions).
  5. Bid strategically on location settingsYou can target your ads to geographic areas and even adjust your bids on things like zip codes, radius from a location, or city names. This is helpful if you want to reach out to customers in a 30-mile radius, but bid less on customers that are farther than ten miles as those customers don’t convert as well as closer customers.

Consider PPC as a Testing Ground for SEO

When you work on SEO and content marketing it can take months to attract visitors. But when you set up a PPC campaign your ads will start bringing customers to your site away. You’ll get advanced data on your visitors in days instead of waiting around to see if your SEO worked. You can use this data to guide both your PPC and SEO efforts.

Continue Efforts in Both Search and Paid

Another reason to keep PPC in your marketing arsenal is as a hedge against another big change in the search environment that could decimate your SEO efforts and leave you scrambling to catch up with your competitors.

So while it can be frustrating as a startup to play the Google game, just realize that while SEO can be effective, the online world is moving more towards paid advertising. So you need to be playing that game as well. If you start investing in PPC and balance it with SEO, you’ll be on top of the game before you know it.

How to Tell When Your Lead is Just Not that Into You

June Smartups

“So one trigger to understand is this person worth my time? Are they sharing information or am I giving it all?” –Aaron Prickel, Vice-president/Owner at Lushin

It’s happened to all of us. You pitched a deal to a prospective customer and they seemed so excited about the project. “Yes, Mr. Jones. I just need to run this project by my boss, and then we’re good to go.”

Before you know it, three weeks have passed and not only have they not gotten permission, but they are avoiding your phone calls.

Chasing after customers who won’t commit is not only demoralizing, but it can hurt your bottom line. For every lead you keep chasing and chasing, there are other leads that you could be pursuing. So how do you recognize the signs that a customer is not yet ready to commit?

Aaron Prickel addressed Smartups on June 17th about how you can tell if a potential buyer is going to progress or not. It came down to two simple concepts:

1. Are they sharing information?
2. Will they commit to an action?

Sharing information

Selling is a two-way street. Every day you give your prospects information on your products, industry, methods, and more. The key is to make sure you’re not the only one sharing information.

Start by asking your clients simple questions like what is your problem? What type of solution are you looking for? Who are the key decision-makers? Is our solution in your budget? Are you under contract with another vendor and if so, when is that contract up?

These questions are only the beginning. Sales trainer John Barrows recommended eight questions to ask potential buyers. One of them was, “Are you ok with telling me no?” He said, “No one likes telling anyone no which is why many times clients don’t even call us back towards the end of the process. If you get it out of the way upfront and let them know you are cool with them telling you ‘no’ then they are more likely to stop the process sooner with you if you really aren’t the right fit.”

By asking your prospects questions, you can determine if your solution is a right fit for them in terms of budget or resources. Or maybe you’ll find they don’t have the budget now or they’re already with a vendor, but that things could change in six months. So now you know to put them on hold, but to check up in a few months.

Once your client has shared information with you, you can test their willingness to do business by committing them to an action.

Committing them to action

Aaron spoke about getting your clients to do an action for you.

They have to do something that’s a behavior…It doesn’t take a lot of effort to say, “Yes, I will do business with you.” But if you go, “Hey, I need you to send me this information about this, this, and this so I can put something together,” if that action doesn’t hold true then that’s also my other trigger to say I may be wasting time with somebody who I shouldn’t be spending time with.

Another term for getting your prospects to do something is called giving them a call to action. Call to actions are all over the internet, in e-mails, and in print advertising. It’s marketers inviting customers to do something whether it’s to purchase something, call the business, or ask for more information.

Salespeople should also give their prospects call to actions to move them along in the sales funnel and give them a decision, to choose yes or no. As they make smaller decisions, it helps them close on the larger decision at the end of the process. If they balk at doing the smaller things, it likely means they’ll struggle with bigger decisions.

Knowing when to keep working with a prospect, put them on pause, or cut them loose is important for your startup. You need to focus your resources on things that will make you money, even if your ego takes a hit as you realize that some of your prospects just aren’t that into you. (And it’s better to know that now instead of later).

The Key To Executing As Promised

lawrence_mcglown“I define ‘execute as promise’ as the ability of an organization to meet or exceed customer expectations in every interaction, every single interaction.” -Lawrence McGlown,  CEO of getSayDo and Managing Director of The McGlown Group

Companies are born and companies die each day. A key attribute to whether a company will thrive or fail is its ability to execute as promised. Why is executing as promised so important? Simply because when a business does what it says it will do, it earns the trust (and repeat business) of its clients.

When Lawrence addressed May’s Smartups group he asked this question, “Do you agree with this statement: Most of the vendors I work with consistently execute as promised?”  Out of the group of 40 people, 1 member raised their hand. So obviously most B2B businesses are falling behind in some way.

Barriers to Executing as Promised

crowd_shot

This first major barrier to executing as promised that Lawrence explained is employee disengagement.  Research found that for companies both large and small, over 70% of employees are disengaged. “When you think about employees that actually touch customers, half of them don’t know what their company stands for, and to make matters worse, they don’t know what it is that makes their business different.”

And if employees don’t understand what their company stands for, it’s challenging for them to see how they individually can help the business.

And it’s not only customer-facing employees that need to know what’s special about your business. If your management and finance teams don’t understand your company’s mission and objectives, they won’t be willing to invest the money or time needed to support your company and your customers in those objectives.

Another barrier to executing as promised is that businesses are losing trust.  In fact, “85% of executives around the world say that trust in business has deteriorated.” How has trust deteriorated? By businesses not doing what they said they would do the first time. They didn’t deliver on their promises.

Perhaps a customer had a great connection with the company when they first set up their account, but then during the third and fourth interactions they met some employees who weren’t passionate about their business and didn’t deliver a superior interaction. Now that customer’s view of the company has declined as well as their trust.  So how does a company gain the client’s trust?

The Solution: Listen

According to Edelman, the number one rebuilder of trust is increasing employees’ ability to listen. When employees can listen to customers then they can become more aligned with the customers’ needs and desire. They can understand when certain processes break down and work on ways to fix it.

Perhaps your company already sends out a customer satisfaction survey every year. You’re listening to your customers. What more could be needed? Lawrence argues that getting customer feedback once a year isn’t enough since many interactions occur during the year and data can become outdated. In addition, many customer surveys can be cumbersome and have a low rate of return.

Lawrence and his partner, Michael Manross, created a listening portal, getSayDo, to make it easy for customers to provide simple, anonymous, real-time feedback to companies.  Users rate companies on six attributes by using a sliding scale of different colored faces, from red to green. The process is quick and easy.

Since companies can’t log in and respond to the feedback in getSayDo, their only option is to listen and act as they try to improve their score. By having customers rate six different parts of the interaction, businesses can learn what they need to focus on in order to determine what their customers need.

Set Up A Listening Program

We have all been there, when it comes to a vendor not fulfilling on their promise. In my own experience I initially worked with a marketing automation vendor. We had a lot of issues in the initial launch of the software that weren’t communicated before hand. As a customer I started providing them a lot of feedback of what I wanted to see. Because of the feedback, they invited me to their innovators program where I could offer them more structured feedback.

As a customer I now felt listened to, and that my recommendations were being heard. They also let me in on all of their early software releases to get my feedback. A year and a half later and my relationship with the vendor is better than ever.

So no matter if you use getSayDo or build your own customer feedback loop, the important thing is to do it. Because if you aren’t listening, you will never be able to execute as promised.

Amplify Your Content Marketing Efforts Through Engagement & Paid Media

“I like to think of content as currency. Here’s why. If you give valuable content, you will earn valuable customers.” -Julie Perry, Director of Social Media at StrataBlue

1

Engaging With Your Customers Through Content

Content marketing has been around for over 100 years. In 1904 an unknown brand named Jell-O gave away free cookbooks on how to use their product. Within two years of distributing the cookbook, Jell-O earned over $1 million in sales.

Not every brand needs to create a recipe book, but you do need to reach your audience where they are and help them solve their problems. Brands that share quality content with their customers are seen as experts in their field and are more likely to gain customer trust. As customers start to trust your brand and benefit from your content they are more likely to purchase from you. So how do you reach your customers on the limited time and budget of a startup?

You need to focus your content marketing efforts on where your customers are.  Sharing your content via social media is a great way for you to amplify your content and reach your customers. For fashion brands this could be Pinterest or Instagram. For B2B businesses this could be Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs. Most businesses’ customers have a natural gathering place based on the types of content that interest them. One area where all businesses should put some content is on their own blog where they own the space and can post valuable content like articles, infographics, videos, and more that their audience can share with others.

Engaging Through Content On Twitter

Twitter is a great place to engage with your audience in a low-cost (or no-cost) way. Before her journey into marketing, Julie Perry spent over two years as a superyacht stewardess and wrote a book titled The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess: Confessions from My Years Afloat with the Rich and Famous chronicling her adventures.  At April Smartups, Julie outlined how she amplified her content to promote her book, drawing on her 13 years of marketing experience for large and small brands in consumer electronics and other industries.

2

When Bravo TV launched a new show Below Deck that follows luxury yacht crews, Julie recognized an opportunity to connect with her audience and market her book. She followed the Twitter discussions on Below Deck in real time and saw some girls saying things like they’d “like to work on a boat”, “this was their favorite show”, etc. So, she favorited some of their tweets about the show, and when they saw that @WorkOnAYacht (her Twitter handle) favorited their tweet, they came over to her site. Books were flying off the shelf during that hour of TV each week thanks in part to her Twitter marketing efforts.

*Tips On Engaging With Twitter:
  • Retweet, favorite and follow your potential customers. By promoting them they will often research you and follow you back.
  • Always put a comment with a retweet, even if it’s small, so that the person feels valued.

Put Some Money Behind It

“No matter how successful your content, it’s going nowhere if you don’t put a little money behind it.” – Julie Perry

It is getting harder every day to get your content seen by customers. Just look at the controversy surrounding Facebook brand pages and how brands’ posts are being seen by a smaller portion of their followers. To get around this amplify your content with paid media.

Paid ads are a great way to overcome the noise that is out there on social media because of the amount of targeting they allow.

Amplifying With Facebook

During Below Deck’s season, Julie reached out to fans of Below Deck with Facebook display ads. She targeted the ads to young women between 19 and 31 who watched and liked Below Deck, and were not already connected to her page. She also created promoted posts (like the one below) where she took a quote from the show and connected it to her content about a detailed job description of a Yacht Stewardess.

3

Julie put $21.86 towards the promotion and received 185 website clicks, at about $0.11 a click, and a click through rate of more than 12%. This is a very cost effective way to reach a highly targeted audience. And at these prices you wouldn’t have to sell many books to make good money from the promotion.

4

Amplifying With LinkedIn & YouTube

LinkedIn and YouTube are also places to target potential customers and clients. LinkedIn can be a great option for B2B companies. On LinkedIn you should first create a company page where you can share your content just like Facebook and Twitter. Then, for your paid advertising, you can target individuals by job title, employer, company size, or even their interest and skills. As spends on LinkedIn can be higher than other channels, it’s a good idea to have a very narrow group you’re advertising to and send them to a very specific landing page.

On YouTube you can create pre-roll videos that are shown before viewer-selected movies. The content you use is up to you, but you can start out with helpful content you might already be making.

These videos can be skipped after only five seconds, so make sure you make the beginning compelling and information packed so that viewers don’t skip your ad. You can target people based on their age, gender, viewing history, interests and geography, and even remarket to people who have already visited your site.

You will not be charged for your pre-roll video until somebody has watched at least 30 seconds of your ad. So if you create a 32-second video that sort of cuts out at 28 seconds and your viewer skips the rest, you will not pay for that view. This effectively gets you more great brand impressions that you don’t pay for.

At the end of the day, content marketing is a great way to market your business, but only if you know who you’re sharing your content with. So find the best ways to connect your content with your audience and add some paid media to make sure you get seen.

How Pattern, like Apple, Harley, and Makerbot, Built Community To Foster Growth (And You Can Too)

“Get people in the same room once a month and get them talking to one another. So that’s what we started doing.“ – Polina Osherov

Pattern Magazine Covers

Pattern, the Indianapolis based fashion community and international fashion magazine, started from the failure of the Indianapolis Fashion Collective. The Fashion Collective began with a lot of lofty goals, but unfortunately, that led them to lose focus. “We were just chasing our tails all the time, and the effort kind of started to die down, and people started losing interest.” This is how Polina Osherov, Editor, Pattern Magazine describes her first attempt into building a fashion community.

That is when Osherov was introduced to Janneane Blevins (Senior Editor, Pattern Magazine) and Ben Blevins (Co-founder, Pattern Magazine) and the team at KA+A. They saw through the messiness of the Fashion Collective and thought if they could build a model where they get everyone interested in the local fashion community together monthly, they could just watch as things unfolded. So they did. And it took off. Pattern became a meeting place and a resource for the local fashion community.

As they grew, they started trying to meet the needs of their community. “A lot of the fashion businesses in Indianapolis are very young and hungry and thirsty for, ‘How do I open up my boutique? How do I get a pattern made after I have this designed? How should I photograph? Is there different things I can do on social media? What are the trends? What should I be designing for spring 2015?’ ” – Janneane Blevins

Audience at a local Pattern meetup

Because of the community growth and knowledge sharing, the magazine became a natural extension of the community as its members desired to grow their portfolio and share what they were creating. And then suddenly Pattern wasn’t just a meetup group, but they were a magazine that showed off what the community had to offer. People wanted the magazine in print as well (it started out only as a digital magazine). People paid $30 to on demand print the first issue of Pattern (3 times its current price). Then, the community started asking, “When is the next one coming out?”

Pattern Magazine spreadSo they ran a Kickstarter to raise some of the money towards the printing costs. Because of the quality of the fashion, photography, design, and writing, the magazine caught on and became a way for the city of Indianapolis to share with visitors and companies who are interested in moving to the city what the city is truly about. It became a way for the city to help break stereotypes and show off the diversity of talents and interests of the people of Indy.

From here, the meetups grew. They even included meetups talking about the future of technology in fashion that led to a partnership with NASA. Then, the magazine got picked up for distribution around the globe. All of this came about because they first had a desire to build a community around what they were passionate about.

Brands Growing Through Community

Pattern isn’t the only startup that has grown by building a community. The largest companies in the world and some of the best known and fastest growing startups use community to grow their business and learn how to create better products. These include communities such as: Apple User Groups, Harley Owner’s Group, and Thingiverse.

Apple User Groups

How apple user groups built community.

In the early days of Apple, computers were new and the first users were hobbyists. These hackers would get together and build computers together. The same thing built up around Apple. Users came together to work on and build their Apple I or Apple II. These groups then flourished over time, so much so that Apple eventually had to create a program called the Apple User Group Connection in the mid ‘80s to connect with them because of the group’s frustrations with the release of the original Macintosh.

Over the years, Apple continued to feed and connect with this community of loyalists who you could say helped Apple survive through their dark years when they struggled against the likes of Microsoft. Now, with practically everyone having an Apple device in their pocket, these groups don’t get as much attention, but they are still around and helped form the basis for the company that we know today.

Harley Owner’s Group (H.O.G.)

how the harley owner's group built community

Harley Davidson has been around for more than a century. But, it wasn’t till 1983 that they formalized their company’s community building efforts. Sure, there were groups of people who rode their Hogs together before then, but the community wanted a way to formalize this relationship and Harley stepped up to the plate creating the H.O.G. which formed rides, created memberships, and most importantly promoted the Harley lifestyle. Through H.O.G., Harley has helped promote the brand as an American icon, grown their business (H.O.G. members spend 30% more than other Harley owners on sponsored merchandise and events), and created a life long connection with their customers. Talk about the power of community.

Thingiverse

How Thingiverse built a 3d printing community

Today, we are seeing the emergence of another group around a product and industry that is growing rapidly. Makerbot, the company leading the way in user-friendly desktop 3D printing, recognized a problem. They knew that when people got their new printers they would need something to print out right away. They also knew that people would need help building their models, and more importantly, they wanted to feed their own need to share and collaborate on 3D products themselves. So they created Thingiverse, an open source design community to share and collaborate on 3D projects.

Suddenly, by sharing these files, Makerbot owners (and other 3D printer owners) have something to print off as soon as they fire up their new 3D printer for the first time. They also have a community to collaborate in and a way to learn how to get the most out of their 3D printers. The ingenious part is that they didn’t limit the group to only those who own a MakerBot. By doing this, they allowed their community to be the premier open source 3D file sharing community. So, now, the entire 3D printing community collaborates inside of a Makerbot owned community. Talk about great marketing.

Building Your Own Community

So, just like Pattern, Apple, Harley, MakerBot, and more, your startup can work to build a community around your product. When building a community around your product, remember a few principles that worked for Pattern and others: get people into the same room, share control with the community, and stay focused.

Get people into the same room (or same virtual room)

The first thing that made Pattern successful was getting all the passionate fashion people in Indy into the same room regularly, and then they went from there. These other groups worked the same as well. In the case of MakerBot, that room happened to be a website.

Share control with the community

how volunteers helped Pattern grow

Pattern has leaders, but they let the community volunteer, submit work, submit ideas, and take charge in different areas of the Pattern community. If the community doesn’t feel some ownership of the community, the passion can wane.

“How do we make a volunteer base that is engaged and excited, and how can we leverage their talents and their networks to continue growing? So we have a group of probably 20 I think that we’ve divided amongst different areas of focus whether it’s working the events, or working on community development, or sponsorships, just really trying to develop (a team) if you will of specialized workers who are just as excited about our mission as we are.” – Janneane Blevins

Stay focused

Remember to have a purpose and a mission for what you are doing in building a community. When the community gets going, many new opportunities will arise, so you need to stay true to the mission that you set out at the beginning.

“Focus is really important for any product development. If you try to scale up and expand too quickly, most likely your original idea is going to suffer and possibly die. So we’ve been pretty diligent about that…” – Polina Osherov.

If you are ready to grow your business through community, take the lessons of these great entrepreneurs.To listen to or read the transcript from Smartups’ whole conversation with the editors of Pattern, go here.

3 Lessons Learned About Getting Press From A PR Expert

“All startups have one thing in common: Great ideas. Small budgets.”

Those where some of the first words of advice spoken by Kelly Hendricks, the CEO of BLASTMedia, at Smartups last month. Startups are often spending every dollar they have on the product; so with their small budgets how far can a bright entrepreneur stretch their budget to get their great ideas and products in front of paying customers? That’s exactly what Kelly answered when he talked about PR as one of the greatest marketing tools for budget conscious entrepreneurs.

PR Is The Greatest Low Cost Marketing Tool For Entrepreneurs

getting PR for startups

photo credit: kenteegardin via photopin cc

The PR that we are talking about is the press coverage that companies get by pitching their message as a part of a solution to a journalist’s story. Of course you can pay a PR company, but that eats into the definition of a tool for the budget conscious. One of the great aspects of PR for the cash strapped is that you can do it for free. Kelly freely admitted as an entrepreneur you have no need to hire a PR company such as BLASTMedia. You can get a lot of the coverage you want and need on your own with a little bit of knowledge and a good story.

If You Want Press, Nurture A Relationship With Journalists

Start by following editors on Twitter who write about your space. By understanding their likes and dislikes, you have a head start on conversation topics.  Building a relationship can begin with a simple email along the lines of “Read your article. Very helpful. Thank you.” Hint: the editor’s email is usually at the bottom of his article.

Not only do you want to keep tabs on the editors, but also on your customers’ interests. By reading the articles they retweet, you have a better feel for topics/angles for your story. Kelly also recommended creating a wish list of target journalists you’d like to have cover your company. Doing your homework before you pitch to the media gives you the advantage when talking to an editor.

Remember, just because you might be a tech startup, doesn’t mean your list of journalists should include the writers of TechCrunch, TheVerge, and other tech blogs. Seek out the journalists who write to your customer base. You might have the greatest bit of technology in the world to help auto dealers, but no auto dealers read tech blogs. Auto dealers read car blogs and other trade publications. There are always new startups that seem to pop up out of nowhere because they were ignored by the tech press (such as Pinterest). The reason Pinterest came out of nowhere is because they knew their core audience didn’t read tech blogs; they read mommy blogs, fashion blogs, and other types of blogs that the tech press had never heard of. Bottom line, target journalists who target your customers.

Put Your Ego Behind You. Be A Storyteller

Digg famously told the story of hiring a developer on Elance for a small amount of money to create their hugely successful product. At the end of the day, every journalist wants a compelling story like this that will make news. So, be sure you know what story to tell. Keep in mind that journalists are on the receiving end of countless pitches from entrepreneurs. And, although it might feel like your product is going to change the world, ditch the ego and focus on giving them a good story. And a good story isn’t: “you covered my competitor so you should cover me.”

If you are having trouble framing your story, paying money to a PR agency might be the better alternative. But, if you can explain your story effectively, you can save money and get press that leads to customers.

Now, it’s your turn to create a million dollar PR campaign on a startup budget.

Bonus PR Pitching Tips:

  • You can start sending the editor information 30 days before your announcement if you have a relationship with them. If you don’t know them, then, it’s never too early to start that relationship.
  • Pick up the phone. Since 90% of pitches are through email, a call makes you stand out – with extra points for personable flair. Remember to be aware of time zones though.
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to pitch your story. And don’t forget, Fridays can be ripe for phone calls. You may even strike gold on a Sunday night (proceed with caution).
  • Use HelpAReporter.com to find journalists who might be writing stories about your industry.