Author Archives: Ivo Oltmans

Bootstrap or Raise Money?

Many entrepreneurs think that the only route to startup success is raising funds. But there is a another way of building a company. Financing it with your own savings and cash flow from the business: bootstrapping.

Bootstrapping is not as glamorous though. Raising money, especially if you do it from well-known VCs, gives you instant status among fellow entrepreneurs. You will probably also be asked to give talks on conferences, get coverage on tech blogs and receive other ego-enhancing benefits. Although bootstrapping does not look spectacular to the outside world and has it´s own set of challenges, it also has a number of advantages.

I set up the partner network in EMEA for a software company that raised tens of millions Euros and have bootstrapped my own company to profitability. The experience has given me a basic understanding of the benefits and challenges with both methods. This post is an overview.

Advantages of bootstrapping

The upside is yours. When you start to make lots of money, or your company is bought, the proceeds are yours to keep. Outside investors, even when they only own a limited part of the shares, can potentially take a disproportionately large part of any upside because of liquidation preferences and similar clauses.

Focus on your business. Raising money takes time and lots of effort. Every minute you spend raising money is time that you are not building the business. Ask anyone who has been through the process, raising money will take a lot of your time. Pitching investors, creating reports, answering questions and negotiating an agreement will keep you very busy.

Test and try anything you want. The business is yours. You can rebrand, pivot, add features, hire, change prices, or become a digital nomad. You make the rules. There is no need to ask for approval or give explanations to anyone. Having investors is not the same as having a boss, but it does place more constraints on what you can and cannot do.

No time-consuming reporting obligations. You did not start a business to start reporting to someone again. When the business is yours, you do not have to give explanations to anyone or create any reports that you feel are unnecessary.

Spending discipline. You have to earn each Euro before you can spend it, or it is coming from your own savings. Both help ensure that you think a lot before you spend. You will also bargain when you do spend to make sure you have a good deal.

Creative problem solving. When you have a bag of money it is tempting to solve problems by spending money and hire, for instance, consultants for things you don´t know how to do. When it is your own hard-earned cash you are spending, you think about it more carefully. Perhaps you do not have the money required to solve a problem in the most obvious way, and you will have to come up with something more creative or elegant.

Potential conflict of interests. Most investors want an exit in less than ten years. This can create a conflict of interest when your focus is on doing what is best for the company in the long-term, whereas investors could be willing to trade-off potential future problems for a direct increase in revenue or profit.

Can it be better to raise capital instead?

It might be. Venture capital has a number of advantages over bootstrapping:

Scale fast. You can use the additional capital to accelerate growth by investing in engineers, marketing, sales, or whatever you think will make your company grow faster.

Spread the risk. Not all money on the line will be yours. “Don´t put all your eggs in one basket” is the first lesson when you learn about investing. Diversification can be a good thing to ensure you will still have some savings if your startup fails.

Discipline. Your investors will want to be kept up to date about results, KPIs and other relevant information. Having to do outside reporting does ensure that you stay on top of all metrics and analyse them so you can explain each detail to investors. When you do not have to report to someone external, you might prioritize other things.

Capital requirements. Some businesses, such as biotech, are impossible to start without significant funding.

Salary from day one. Even if your firm does not generate revenue, yo will get a salary. This can be important, even critical, when you have a family to feed.

Stability. Many startups die prematurely because of founder conflicts. VCs will insist on having contracts and agreements between founders in place that will allow a clean breakup. This can ensure that a conflict between founders will not blow up the company.

Exposure. A significant finance round will put you on the radar really fast and get you media exposure. Moreover, many well-known tech blogs cover almost only VC backed startups.

Network. VCs are usually well-connected and can introduce you to potential customers, partners, employees and other entrepreneurs for advice.

Credibility. Being backed by well-known VCs and having significant funding will increase your credibility towards potential employees and clients. Depending on the industry you are in, significant backing might even be a requirement for clients to start working with you.

Expertise. VCs tend to have a lot of experience in growing businesses successfully. Having them onboard means that  you will be benefit from this experience. You can sort of replicate this when bootstrapping by getting advisors in exchange for equity, but it is not as good a solution as advisors will likely be far less involved than a VC.

To raise, or not to raise.

Both financing methods have different advantages. It might also be possible to combine both. Start your business bootstrapping and raise money later on. This is not a bad way to do it, because having a track record will make it easier to convince investors and will also get you a better valuation resulting in less dilution.

When it is impossible to start a business without outside funding the decision is easy. Most founders, however, have a choice. And there is only one right answer to the question: whatever works best for you.

A Pricing Strategy for B2B SaaS

I answered this question about pricing strategy on Quora and figured I´d turn it into a post as well.

Pricing strategy is the source of endless discussions in many companies because it is impossible to know for sure if you got it right.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. A pricing strategy that works for one company can be disastrous for another that operates in the same business. The right strategy is dependent on many company specific factors such as your product, customers, cost structure, sales strategy and a number of others.

It is impossible to propose a pricing strategy that makes sense without more background information about your company, but here are some guidelines that you can use.

Make sure your costs, alternatives your customers have and the value you deliver are correctly reflected in the pricing plan.

Costs

You have to know all your costs. How much it costs to develop your product, sell, market, deliver, provide support etc.

Go in-depth here, list all your fixed and variable costs. Know how variable costs are impacted by different scenarios. For example, will your cost increase if the customer uses your product more intensely (e.g. server cost)? Are there setup cost that you pay for? How much will it cost to market and sell your product?

A complex sales process means you need to hire sales people. Your pricing strategy has to allow you to recoup their salaries. The same for partner commissions if you´re opting for a channel sales strategy.

This post illustrates how not considering cost structure in a pricing plan could sink your company.

Alternatives

Know what other options you potential clients have to meet the need that is addressed by your product. Analyze your competitors their offer and don´t just focus on functionality & pricing, but also look at how their sales and marketing strategy differs from yours because this has an effect on their pricing.

Don´t focus too much on what they “big guys” are doing because you assume that their pricing is the result of in-depth studies and very sophisticated models. That is almost never the case. They are in the dark, just as you are and whatever pricing they came up with is usually whatever occurred to the highest paid person who happened to be in the pricing strategy meeting.

Realise that competition does not only come from other companies in your space. Another alternative clients have is developing a solution in-house. Your product should obviously not be more expensive than a DIY solution.

Your product´s value

This is the most important factor. Customers will determine if it is worth paying the pricing you come-up with based on the value they get. The more value you can deliver, the higher you can price your product.

To determine the value consider how your product enables customers to increase revenue, efficiency or decrease costs. It is helpful if you can quantify this. An exact number will make it easier to sell your solution and you can price your product to capture a reasonable percentage of the value you provide.

Pricing structure is also influenced by value. When a product´s value is tied to features & functionality most companies adopt user based pricing. An example of this is ERP software.

When value is delivered by consumption, for instance, a SaaS that connects with your favorite payment gateway and automatically generates an invoice each time you get paid, a subscription model with different tiers based on usage is usually the best option.

When in doubt, charge more!

But how much should I charge exactly? As much as possible.

Low prices attract the type of customers you don´t want. If you doubt that, ask anyone who is running a business. Customers who pay more are, almost without exception, the most professional and pleasant ones to deal with.

Also, if you want to adjust your prices in the future, decreasing is much easier than increasing.

Hope this will help you come up with a pricing plan that works! After that, the next step is thinking about regional pricing, multi-currency pricing, bundle pricing, discount management etc… It never ends 🙂

 

 

Where did the spam come from?

You probably receive emails from companies that you don´t remember giving your email address. Here is a small trick to find out how they got hold of your email. I have used it to catch a few companies who have sold my address. As far as I know it only works with Gmail.

The next time you register on a website use a + tag in your email address. You can use an unlimited number of tags. So if your email address is john.doe@gmail.com and you want to register for, say, Decathlon´s newsletter, use john.doe+decathlon@gmail.com.

Poor John Doe, he must receive a lot of spam.

If you receive a promotional email from a brand a few months later, and you don´t remember signing up for their list, just checking the to field could reveal how they got your address.

 

Launching the PR Platform

So, what happened with the idea I described in this post?

We launched PRDuck a couple of months later. Here´s a long overdue update on how things have worked out so far.

PRDuck Logo

The idea behind PRDuck

The platform was designed to be useful for two types of users: bloggers and companies. Bloggers can use PRDuck to get new ideas for posts, interesting information about brands they love and free products. Companies can use the platform to speed up outreach and easily coordinate getting product reviews on blogs they select.

How it works for bloggers

After logging in bloggers see an overview of all PR requests, with a subsection of recommended ones. Recommendations are based on what the blogger usually writes about.

Screenshot bloggers

Bloggers receive an email notification whenever a request that is relevant to them is published. They respond with a pitch, explaining why their blog is a good fit.

How it works for companies

After signing up companies can create a review request in which they specify what they want bloggers to write about, the countries bloggers should be located in and the offered compensation.

 

Bloggers that meet the companies criteria are automatically notified of new requests and can respond by pitching their blog. All pitches are accessible via a single screen. Workrooms to coordinate work with individual bloggers and track progress are available.

Pitches received.

Out of all the responses companies are free to select any number of bloggers. There is no minimum or maximum.

Results

After recruiting more than 500 bloggers, we started hunting for clients to test it with. And we found some great ones: a beer company that wanted publicity for a gluten-free beer, handmade designer candles, apps, and we obviously tested the platform with TypeKids.

Blogger response to requests varied. Some products received more than 40 pitches from interested bloggers in the first hour they were live, others just a few in a month. As you´d expect consumer goods did very well and more niche products, such as this awesome app for instructors, received less pitches. But I was happy to see that every request got at least a few responses.

The quality of blogs varied. There were a bunch of blogs that had a horrible design and would clearly publish anything they could get compensation for. We manually reviewed all blogs before approving them, and disabled email notifications for blogs that we thought no brand would want to appear on. This was around 20% of the first 500 blogs. Very popular bloggers did not register for the platform. Apparently the last thing they are looking for is getting pitched even more frequently.

One of the problems we encountered in the beginning was that some bloggers received a product, but never published a post. This percentage significantly dropped after recommending brands to get the bloggers to commit to publishing in writing. No elaborate contract, just a simple “Yes, I will publish a post by date x.” Approximately 30 reviews have been published to date.

The Future

The platform works, but customer acquisition costs are high right now. SEM is expensive, and SEO as well as traditional sales require a significant time commitment. We could increase the price we charge brands for using the platform to finance this, but doing so would mean not delivering a price / quality ratio I feel happy with.

Then there is another cost that stops me from spending more time on PRDuck: opportunity cost. Other things take up a lot of my time and are far more important. I am working as responsible for business development at Quaderno. Moreover, the most important project of my life will launch any day now. A project that will want my attention 24/7, cries (hopefully not too much) and needs clean diapers 🙂 These are two factors that have made me decide to put PRDuck on the back burner for now.

Overall, I am happy with having spent the time pursuing this idea. I have learnt new things and quite some reviews have been published so far. Only the reviews we managed to get for TypeKids made it worth building the product.

Testing a new idea

When I think of something that could become a new business I sometimes get an “idea high”. I can already see it working and envision turning it into something huge. I got into the habit of adding these ideas to a list (more than 100 now) and forgetting about them for a while. Upon later inspection most ideas turn out not to be as brilliant as they first seemed, or not feasible for different reasons.

The most interesting ideas stay on my mind long after I have added them to the list. When this happens it means that it is a good candidate to put in practice. I always share things I think of with my business partner David. It turned out that one year later he was still thinking about the same idea as well. A good sign!

Scratch your own itch

The best ideas are solutions to things you are struggling with, and this is one of those. I have spent a lot of time on getting the word out about our typing course for kids. There are many ways to acquire new users. A method that has been really successful for us is PR.

When a blogger writes about our product it usually drives a lot of traffic and sales. The problem is that getting blogs to publish a post is a time-consuming process. First you need to find blogs that have an audience interested in your product. The next step is pitching the owner of the blog. Pitches are most effective when they are personalized and this takes up a lot of time. Sometimes you send a pitch and it bounces directly, but usually the wait for a response starts. Only a limited number of bloggers respond and only a small percentage of those end-up publishing a post.

If you want to get featured on the top blogs, there is no way around this. However, during the past year I have been wondering how this process can be made easier and faster for the other 99% of blogs.

The idea

The idea is to turn the pitch process around. We will create a marketplace where product owners can publish review requests. Product owners can offer a free product for review and specify what type of blogs they want to get coverage from. Bloggers can then pitch their blog.

Some of the benefits for product owners are:

  • Bring your product to the attention of potential customers.
  • Limited time investment. Bloggers will approach you, instead of having to spend a lot of time finding and pitching suitable blogs.
  • SEO. Bloggers will link to your site, moving it up in the search results.
  • Credibility. Reviewers are target users of your product. Many people search for reviews before purchasing a product. Reading about the experience of the blogger with your product can help move a purchasing decision.

Bloggers get the following:

  • Ideas for things to write about. If you own a blog, you probably find it difficult sometimes to come up with a subject to write about. This is where the marketplace can help.
  • Free products. Bloggers will receive interesting products that they get to keep.

Hypotheses

The success of this idea depends on whether the following hypotheses are true:

  1. Bloggers are interested in publishing reviews of products that have a good fit with their audience in exchange for free products.
  2. Product owners will list their products for review.
  3. Bloggers will send pitches to product owners.

The most important KPI will be the number of pitches sent. Pitches being sent means that bloggers have signed-up and are using the platform, and product owners are posting interesting products.

Next steps

We are now developing the platform to test our hypotheses and expect to launch in January. We already discussed the idea with bloggers we know and they all signed-up! A number of companies we spoke with also saw the value, so some awesome products will be listed for review.

Many minds are better than one, or two in this case, which is why I am making our idea public. Please let me know your feedback. Also please reach out if you have a product or blog and would like to learn more!

User Acquisition

In this post I will describe the user acquisition process we used to get thousands of people to sign-up for TypeKids.com. Quite a success, but  it was preceded by a launch that taught me the importance of having a strategy to acquire users.

I vividly remember the first time a friend and I launched a product. It was called MailToVoice, an application that enabled users to dial a phone number and listen to their email (this was before smartphones became ubiquitous). We figured that the product was so good, all we needed to do was putting it out there and wait for users to sign-up. By the thousands. “Build it and they will come.” Right?

Overnight successes rarely happen. As an entrepreneur you need to hope for the best and plan for the worst. That is why it is important to have a solid strategy for user acquisition. Chances are, that if you do not actively pursue new users a few months after launching only your girlfriend, some friends and mother will be using the product.

User acquisition is about getting interested prospects. It is the part art, part quantifiable process of attracting visitors to your website and getting them to use your product.

Who are your target users?

All user acquisition starts with knowing your audience. Start with defining your ideal customer. The person you had in mind when you developed your product or service. Describe your ideal customers in as much detail as you possibly can. What do they do in their spare time? How old are they? Do they have children? Are they single female executives who like to travel? Male, overweight football fans over 40? You get the idea. The more detailed you can describe them the better: gender, age group, social status, profession, kids, hobbies, favorite brands etc. etc.

Defining the target market

This first step should be easy. If it does not directly come to mind right away who the target users of your product are, you do not know the market and/or you do not have a clear value proposition.

When your product already has active users find out as much as possible about them as well. Then compare this to your definition of your “ideal customer”. Are there any differences? What explains the variation? Are these not the type of users you should be targeting (as well)? Don´t forget that the best users are customers who pay for your product.

The better you can describe your audience, the easier the next step will be.

Getting your target users to notice you

Now that you know the ideal user you want to use your product, the next step is to get them to notice you. Think about all the places your users hang-out, both online and in the real world.

You can use this information to brainstorm as many ideas as possible that will get you in front of your potential users. Anything goes, even ideas that do not scale.  Any idea that drives new users to your product is good at this stage. Even when it is just a single user per action. Find out what works and only then figure out how you can start doing more of it.  Anything that is profitable can be done on a bigger scale.

Reach out to the websites potential customers read (if you have something of interest for their audience they will be happy to feature you). Do search engine marketing and advertise on certain keywords. Use social media or content marketing. Find customers one by one and invite them to use your product. You have designed your product or service for the target user described above, so they will be very interested in testing it.

Stand out and invite customers one by one.

Some other suggestions:

  • Reach out to the Twitter followers of your competitors.
  • (Guest)blog.
  • Hand out flyers.
  • Cold call.
  • Post on Reddit, Hackernews etc.
  • PR: get interviews in podcasts, tv-shows or any other media has the interest of your target audience.
  • Personally invite users.
  • Launch targeted campaigns through Facebook, Linkedin or Adwords.
  • Partner with companies who serve similar users.

Eliminate friction

Once the potential user has noticed your company, and lands on your website,  the next step of the acquisition process starts: the activation phase. The objective of this phase is to convert visitors of your website to active users of your product.

To achieve this the first page of your site a new visitor sees (your landing page) has to be great. It has to trigger the potential users interest by a clearly visible value proposition that connects with your target audience and call to action. A rule of thumb is that the amount of visitors you convert to users is equal to the desire you create minus friction.

Test everything, because conventional wisdom is not true in all cases. For instance, in elearning common practice is to let users try content without registration. We tested that for our touch typing course and found out that it was not working out for us. While we did get more people to try our content, they stayed shorter and came back less. In addition, because we had not gotten their email address we could not follow-up with them.

What exactly makes a landing page effective depends on your product or service. Read some of the many books and blogs about landing pages and do plenty of A/B testing to figure out what works best.

Build user acquisition in the product

Product development and user acquisition are not separate activities. You can build marketing in the product.

Users will know other people who can also benefit from using your offering and if they get value from the product they will share it. Make it easy to do this.

The most common ways of enabling sharing are via Facebook or email. You can even offer an incentive to further stimulate sharing  by giving freebies, discounts and other types of recognition.

Some examples of companies who do this well are Dropbox and Spotify. Dropbox users who refer another person to the service get 500MB of complementary storage. Spotify integrated their product with the Facebook news feed. This way someone listening to a song on Spotify automatically shared this with their friends attracting many new users to the product.

Dropbox user acquisition.

When each user on average gets you one, or more than one, new user your product will grow organically. This makes it the holy grail of internet marketing because you will have built a self-sustaining marketing machine!

How To Get Great Results From Your Adwords Campaigns

People who are getting started with adwords frequently ask me for advice on how to set up their first campaigns. Listed below are the tips I always give in addition to specific recommendations based on their product, market, goals, competition and timelines.

No matter the specifics of your campaign, doing the following things will get you better results:

Do not mix search, display and mobile networks in the same campaign.

On different networks and devices you will get different click-through rates (CTRs). The cost you have to pay for each click (CPC) and conversions will also differ.  Some websites might be converting well on desktop computers, but do poorly on mobile devices or vice versa. To compare apples with apples when analyzing results create separate campaigns for different networks and devices.

Setting things up the right way matters.

Separate campaigns for each country.

Each country (and region!) has a different dynamic in terms of click-through rate, cost you have to pay for each click and conversions. Just like in case of advertising on different devices and networks, creating a new campaign for each country will allow you to compare apples with apples when analyzing results. It will also allow you to vary your bids among countries.

Logically group keywords in adgroups.

All keywords in the same adgroup are associated with an ad. By placing related keywords in the same adgroup you ensure that the associated ad will be relevant for those keywords.

Test different ads.

Create at least two different ads in each ad group. Once the ads have reached a statistically significant number of impressions replace the least performing ad with a new one. I always enjoy predicting which ad will do better (I am an economist, I have a thing for prediction) and finding out that I am almost always wrong (yes, I really am an economist).

Use Negative Keywords.

Add negative keywords to your campaign to avoid paying for traffic you don´t want. Which negative keywords you should add depends on your situation. You can use them to, for instance, avoid getting people who are searching for “free” stuff or unrelated synonyms. If you sell office furniture and advertise on the keyword “seat” you don´t want to pay for visitors who are searching for the car brand Seat. In this case one of the negative keywords you want to add is “cars”.

Understand the difference between broad, phrase and exact matching.

The type of keyword matching will greatly influence the number of impressions your ads will get.  The default setting is broad match, which might get you a lot of unrelated traffic.

Use conversion tracking.

Set goals and track what traffic converts. Stop paying for traffic that does not convert and get more if you get a positive return on investment!

Pick your destination URLs

You grouped related keywords in the same adgroup. Ensure that you point the ads to a relevant section of your website. If you lead users who click on an ad for product X to a generic page, where they will need to search for the product your conversion rate will drop. To stick with the office furniture example, point all seating ads to the page with the product category chairs.

Analyze results

Use analytics reporting to analyze results and identify areas for improvement. Look at the keywords that triggered your ads, websites that generated traffic, when conversions happened etc.

Start with a small daily budget

In the begining the configuration of your campaigns will be far from optimal. Starting with a low daily spending limit helps you to avoid mistakes from becoming really expensive learning experiences.

#Pro-tip Use the adwords editor. This is a free handy tool developed by Google that allows you to easily create campaigns and make mass updates a lot faster.

Pitfalls to Avoid when Launching an Affiliate Program

Did you ever consider launching an affiliate program? Working with affiliates can be a great way to generate leads and/or sales.  Affiliates are companies or individuals who will promote your product. In exchange they receive a payment for each lead or sale.

It is like having a large number of experienced online marketers in your team for free. To get started you can either launch your own program or sign-up as an advertiser with one of the hundreds of affiliate networks.

The amount paid per lead is commonly referred to as Cost per Lead (CPL). Paying only for sales made is known as Cost per Acquisition (CPA). The great thing about working with affiliates is that you don´t have to put any of your own  money at risk and only pay for results. By avoiding the following pitfalls you get the upside without the downside!

Prohibit or Restrict Keyword Bidding

Consider to what extent you will allow keyword bidding . You don´t want an affiliates ad to appear when someone searches for your company in Google. The person doing the search already knows you and will end up on your website anyway. Other keywords to consider for exclusion from your affiliate program are brand names, typos and other keywords that are already driving traffic that converts.

Typosquatting on trademark-related domains

Typosquatting is registering a domain similar to yours with a typo and then redirecting it to your page.  Just like with keyword bidding you want to protect yourself from paying for a client you would have gotten anyway.

Keep a close eye on conversion rates

This is especially important if you are paying for each lead generated. If the average revenue you get from each lead is less than the price you pay you are losing money. The quality of leads received can fluctuate so it is wise to consistently monitor conversion rates. In case of paying for each sale (CPA) ensure that you continue to have a healthy margin, but if you did not realise this already you should not be in business.

Protect your Brand

Affiliates have an incentive to do anything that generates sales or leads. This includes making promises you will not be able to keep, false testimonials and other tricks. Clearly specify what type of creatives and content can be used and on what type of pages your product can be promoted. You might want to prohibit promotions on websites that also promote sexually explicit materials or violence.

Grace Period

The grace period is the time period between the sale and the moment you pay the affiliate. Dodgy affiliates could purchase the product themselves, collect their commission and then return the product for a refund. Ensure that the grace period is longer than the period customers can ask for a refund.

If you are paying for leads you run the risk that affiliates offer customers monetary incentives to fill-out forms etc. In this case a grace period  allows you to check if a percentage of the leads actually converts.

Email marketing

It is all too easy for affiliates to purchase as many mailings lists as they can get their hands on and then start spamming people. The spam will feature your product so people will end-up associating your company with unwanted emails.

Verifying that the affiliate built the list in a way you agree with and approving messages before they are sent can prevent lots of problems.

Set-up an affiliate program with the points mentioned above in mind, screen applicants and actively police to ensure they play by the rules. Your only regret will be not launching an affiliate program a lot sooner!

7 Ideas For Lead Generation

You have everything in place that makes your business attractive for prospective clients: a great product, happy customers and expertise in your niche. But, how do you find new customers?

Lead generation is the generation of inquiry into the products or services that your business offers. You might have already considered cold calling, which is a really effective method, but you probably don´t like phoning people out of the blue. Here is a list of seven other methods you can use to generate leads:

1. Be findable in search engines.

The first stop of almost everyone who wants to find out more about a subject is a search engine. In practice search engine equates to Google because it is the market leader in all English-speaking countries. If you want to generate interest among new potential clients make sure that your website is ranked high in the search results for keywords that are relevant to your business. The process of ensuring a high rank in the search results is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

All SEO starts with determining which keywords you would like to rank for. If you own a widget factory you would want your company’s website to appear in the top results for the keyword “widgets”. It is especially interesting to rank for highly specialized terms such as names of machine parts or technical descriptions. The search volume for these phrases is typically low, but you really want people who do search for these things to come to your website.

After you have determined the keywords you want to rank for two areas are important to get a spot in the top results: on- and off-page optimization. On-page optimization means ensuring you have an optimal website structure and use of your chosen keywords throughout the page. Off-page optimization entails getting links from other websites and mentions in social media such as Twitter.

Not all links have the same value. The significance of a link is determined by the importance of the website linking to you and the relevance to your offering. In case you are a widget manufacturer it would be great to get a link from the leading industry website, getting mentioned on your grandmothers blog will not help a lot even if she known all over the world for her apple pie recipe.

SEO is a complex field that is constantly evolving trying to keep up with changes Google makes in it algorithms. It is a good idea to hire an expert to help your company get started.

Like in most fields that have developed fast in the past years there are lots of frauds and charlatans in this market so do your research before hiring anyone.

This post from Google is a good starting point if you are planning on getting someone to help you with SEO.

2. Online marketing.

The most common and well-known form of online marketing is pay to have your ad appear next to the search results in Google. Search results are split up in two parts, the organic results where the results deemed most relevant by the search engine are placed and next to that the paid results. Ads are triggered when a user searches for a keyword or phrase that you specified. For instance, if you sell acoustics equipment for concert rooms you would want your ad to appear if a user searches “how to improve acoustics in a venue”.

Apart from search engines other websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook have their own advertising programs. Users of Facebook don’t search for specific equipment, ads are shown to users with characteristics that you can choose. If your typical buyers are male, over 45 years old, live in New York and are interested in acoustics you can pay to have your ad displayed only to them.

Another option is to display your text ad or banner on websites that are visited by your target audience. The biggest advertising network is Google that has a huge inventory of websites covering every theme you can imagine, but thousands of others exist.

3. Build a website that converts.

Users that click on one of your ads or your link in the organic search results are taken to your website. You do not want people who found your website to just have a look and simply leave again because chances are you will never them again. You want the user to perform an action. Actions can be anything: a sale, downloading a brochure, requesting a call with one of your experts etc. etc.

The percentage of visitors that takes the action you want is commonly referred to as the “conversion rate”, the process of making changes to your website to get the highest possible rate is “conversion optimization”.

The important thing is that the taken action will allow you to build a relationship with that visitor. In most cases it is best to define the smallest possible action that will allow you to start a conversation with the user as part of your regular sales process. This usually means getting people interested in what you have to offer and give you their contact details.

Determine what will trigger a visitor of your website to want to be in further contact with you and set a realistic goal. When you want to sell a company car getting people to order one online on their first visit is not realistic, getting their contact details so you discuss their requirements with them is. Make it as easy as possible for visitors to your website to find what they are looking for and give you their contact details.

You can get enormous increases in your conversion rate by making changes to your website. How you formulate calls to action, the amount of information displayed, your website structure and hundreds of other variables influence conversion rate. What you should do is create different versions of the page and test them to find what converts best.

4. Visit trade shows.

Getting your own stand on a show is really expensive, but as a visitor you can usually get in for free. If you have ever participated in a trade show you know how much time is spent just hanging around the booth waiting for visitors to show. Moreover, decision makers tend to be  present at the show, which makes it a great opportunity to generate leads.

Visit trade shows that your customers attend as exhibitors. Companies with a similar profile to your clients will be present as well and you have a good reason to approach them since you are already delivering value to customers in the same industry.

As a bonus you can use the opportunity to visit existing customers to build the relationship and maybe even up- or cross-sell.

5. Do something for a charity.

Charitable organizations are well-connected and can give your company exposure. Doing something for a charity does not necessarily mean giving money. Most non-profits would also appreciate getting access to experts or material for free.

A good starting point is identifying organisations that could benefit from the know-how your company has. Then order them based on the return they can give to your organisation.

Even if it does not generate new business there is a return for society and it will make your employees feel proud about the company they work for.

6. Ask your clients for referrals.

Of the seven methods listed this one is the easiest, fastest to implement and most likely to give good results.

List all customers you have done business with. Mark the ones that are both happy with your product and are well-connected in the industry. Give them a call and simply ask if they know two other business that might benefit from your services. They will probably be happy to refer you because they know the value you deliver.

It is important to not just get contact details, because this would still require you to make a cold call, but an introduction either by email or in-person. Most people never actually contact their customers to request referrals and hope to just get them. But, like most things in love you have to ask for it to get it.

7. PR

When I started my own business I thought that getting coverage in newspapers and on TV was something that required contracting a specialised company with specialised knowledge and many contacts. However, I did not have any money to hire such a company and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

After researching how to get featured in the media it turned out not to be complicated at all. Getting coverage comes down to doing four things correctly: approach the right journalist, at the right time, with the right story on the right way.

Journalists need interesting and fresh content on a daily basis and they are very happy when someone reaches out to them with a story idea. Ultimately, it is all about selling a product and in this case the product is your story. Think about an angle on your product or business that can interest the audience of the journalist and pitch that story.

More about this subject in a future post.

Any lead generation method that works for you and I missed? Would love to know!