The groundwork has been laid. Thus, it is time to launch our business. A simple definition of a “launch” is the point in time where the virtual doors open to the public. The online store and means of revenue creation are up and running. The tools to bring in customers (ads, content, etc.) are in place and turned on.
We have spent this whole course with your business as a steady consideration. You came up with an idea, created marketing tools, and have a brand identified. Thus, our pieces are in place. It is time to look at them from a “live” perspective rather than only building them.
What are the problems we want to solve by taking this class?:
- Do I have a product or a service?
- How do I notify my target market?
- What options do I have for revenue?
- How do I test my launch?
- What are Beta users?
- How long should a Beta period be?
- What do I do after launch?
What we will cover:
- The pros and cons of product vs. service.
- Pre-launch test
- Beta users
- Hitting your target market
- Adjust as you go
Class Goal: Student will have a plan and tools in place to launch their business.
Launch: Product vs. Service
The launch process is different for a product than it is for a service. For our purposes here, content-based businesses (ad driven) provide a service. The steps to launch each business type are nearly the same. However, the response from customers and resulting revenue make it worth our while to look at the different approaches.
Launching a Product
Let’s tackle the easier to understand example first. When you launch a product, you have placed it on a virtual shelf. Customers enter your virtual store, browse the shelves, and make a purchase. A virtual launch very similar to that of a traditional product and store. The first thing to do is to let people know the store is open. In a virtual store we have several options:
- Send out an email
- Turn on ads on the web or traditional outlets
- Announce in social networks
- Post on blogs and related sites
We built a small list of contacts when we built our personal brand. This list is the starting point for announcement emails. You have already created a relation with the list members. Thus, they are the most likely to pay your site a visit and tell their friends. Make the pitch in your email as direct as possible. Play to the problems the product solves and how it will bring them happiness (or at least a reduction in pain).
We are trying to keep costs down for our launch so we will skip ads unless we get them free. Google and other sites provide great coupons at times so you might be able to run a short burst of ads and still keep your launch budget down. When this option is available, focus on pay per click ads and not impressions. Verify that the ad links to a page that provides your best details and sales pitch for your product. Web ads rarely convert if you don’t draw in the customer right away.
We will not be able to fully evaluate our conversion rate with a short ad blitz. Thus we will be limited in the improvements we can make. However, we may have a budget in the future. At that point, we want to track data and be able to improve on the conversion rate the next time.
When you announce a product in a social network, keep the announcement short and direct. Provide a link with more details. Then send them to your page that is most likely to convert a sale. The best announcements tease a solution and require a click to the site to get access to that solution.
A launch is a perfect time to run a sale. Provide a discount to the first number of purchases or for a limited time. The special offer will create urgency to take advantage of the offer. A big announcement about the discount can be a way to draw in customers. Watch how television and print ads emphasize deals and discounts. The tactics used in those ads are not there by accident. Those tactics come from a long history of measuring what advertising works.
Blogs and Other Sites
Some social websites welcome advertisements. However, most blogs and content sites have a user base that prefers to avoid advertising. Some sites and groups even prohibit ads altogether. Thus, verify the rules (stated and unstated) within any community you target with an announcement. It is not worth it to find yourself banned due to an improperly placed ad.
In all cases, when you post an announcement, make it as much like a standard post as possible. Stay within the bounds of conversations on the site. Look at comments on the site. Some of these will be an advertisement placed in the context of the discussion. Unfortunately many will be easily spotted as well as various levels of annoying. Use the example of the well-placed ads to find a way to work yours into the conversation.
Launching a Service
The launch of a service is different from a product. There is still an announcement of availability that is similar to placing a product on a shelf to be sold. However, there is more to the sale of a service. The sale of a product begins when a customer picks the product up off the shelf. In an online business, this is when the visitor looks at the product detail. Selling a service begins when the first introduction occurs. Thus, although the steps are the same for a service, we will approach them differently.
- Send out an email
- Turn on ads on the web or traditional outlets
- Announce in social networks
- Post on blogs and related sites
Email is a great way to build an online relationship. Thus, we will take advantage of it wherever we can. Part of the launch will be to send an introduction email out to your short list of friends, relatives, interested people. Mention your service and that you would love to discuss how it can help list members and those they know.
Email is like the game of tennis. You have a conversation that gets passed back and forth between the involved parties. A key to using email to build relationships is to respond on a timely basis. When you receive a communication, follow it up with an email. Try to add a reason to further the conversation, but don’t get pushy. When they respond, read their message, consider a response, and then send the conversation back to their “court.” A response is a situation where a signature line with additional contact information and a web address will help. You will always leave it open for them to click on that link to learn more about your service.
The best way to advertise a service is to tie it to a search. When a potential customer is searching for a service you provide, you want them to think about your service. Internet users either browse for sites or use a search engine to find something they need. Thus, you want to appear on those search engines. We want to keep costs low for now, but a little advertising can go a long way for a service. A niche service can even get high ad conversion rates at a low price.
Think of a few keywords you would use to search for your service. Open up Google ad words and look at the average cost for a search on those words. It is time to do some research. Start working with variations of those words and related phrases. Try to get specific to your service but not too specific. For example, “web development” is too vague. However, “custom web development for dog groomers that like the color red” will be cheap, but not compelling enough. When in doubt, turn on the add for a day or two and look at the results.
The Google admin screens will guide you to useful keywords. They will also let you know when your keywords seem ineffective. An advertising campaign might even get moved to a paused state if none of the search terms is getting a click. Adjust and try again. Mastering Ad Words takes time, but it can be a way to find the ideal customers for your service.
Service-based businesses tend to use social networks for the long game. These sites are great for building relationships and trust. Thus, they provide a return on investment over time. Use social networks during the launch of a service to setup service and company pages. Pick a group or page to be the focus of your voice on that social network. There is no need to flood everyone with an announcement. Instead, position some pages and posts that aim at people searching for a service like yours. You can try to go to your customers, but social networks make it easier to let your customers come to you.
Blogs and Other Sites
A blog is a common way to build credibility for a service based business. These will be used much like social networking sites. The launch is a post or article about the service and some background information about the company. It helps to build some pre-launch “hype” with posts on topics related to the service or services offered.
Use the pre-launch posts and articles to start your sales cycle. The articles can be a way to have customers ready to go at launch time. Discussions about contracts and agreements can start before an official launch. Take advantage of customer interest as soon as possible. You never know when an interest can become a sale.
Consistency is a vital part of a successful blog. A product blog may be sporadic and based on releases. A service blog, however, should be updated on a regular basis. The launch is the line in the sand where regular posts should begin. The frequency is not as important as reliability. Set a schedule that can be hit consistently to help build readership and confidence in your ability to deliver.
The rise of Youtube and other video platforms makes a video introduction easy to do. Both a service and product based business can generate buzz through a launch video. A good video matches the tone of the site and the target market. Whether your video is serious, silly, or something in between, is determined by your approach and your goals. You might have a face for radio. In that case, use slides or images with your voice over to provide a low-cost high-impact launch platform. Video still has a little bit of a going above and beyond feel for a launch, but it is quickly shifting to a conventional approach to marketing.
Google Ad Words
ThisNow let’s spend a little time on marketing. There are some options for advertising a site, but Google AdWords is simple to use and understand. Let’s use that for our example.
Getting Started with Google AdWords
The ad dashboard is available to all AdWord users. Ads and campaigns are created and monitored from the dashboard. The best way to improve your ads is through careful monitoring of how the words do. To assist with this, I have provided a screenshot of a brand new sample campaign. Now let’s look at the keywords grid.
The green dots show that the ads are enabled. However, we can pause a campaign or keyword at any time. Now move to the next two columns. Keyword and ad group show the words to bid on and the ads that will show for winning bids. These are critical to our conversion rate. However, let’s examine the other columns first.
Scoring an Ad
A launch is when a business makes a real first impression to the world. The launch is a time where everything should “just work.” The worst thing that can happen during a launch is a system failure or other significant and noticeable defect. The only way to sleep well at night is to test, test, and test some more. However, we are not talking about product testing at this point. That is another topic for another time. We are looking at how to test your launch.
In the prior section, we looked at several avenues for launching your business. These all share the common trait of being a method of communication. Thus, they all have a similar series of steps required as part of testing. Let’s examine a checklist for your launch.
Verify your lists
Double and triple-check the members of your list and ensure the contact information is correct. All of the traditional email sending services and tools provide feedback on messages sent. Use a tool like MailChimp with your list to send out a pre-launch announcement. The message should be sent at least a week before launch to provide time for the system to gather results. Correct any errors in your list.
Verify your dates
Projects slip and target dates change. Slippage is just a fact of life. Go back over any times or dates in your communication to verify all of them. Do this when you get to the last few days before launch and you know it is a “go.” Waiting until you are sure the website is ready reduces the number of times you need to get this task done.
Verify Your Content
Good content comes from reviews and revisions. The launch content is critical to your business so treat it as such. Review your materials. Have a friend or family member read them and comment. Use tools like grammarly.com and other grammar checkers. These tools exist all over the Internet and in all modern word processing applications. Thus, there is no excuse for not taking advantage of them.
Verify Your Site(s)
Murphy’s Law says that when anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Embrace this sad fact of life and check your sites multiple times before launch. Once you are convinced your site is up, try out a free monitoring service. Even if you just sign up for one on a trial basis, this is the time to do so. Monitoring your site with a system that can send an email or a text alert is a good idea in any case. However, it is critical during launch. Your website will often get a peak of traffic and usage during this time, so it is also going to more likely to break.
There are some free tools available to load test your server. These simulate some users and traffic patterns to test your site’s ability to handle traffic. These tools take some time to learn, and we will cover them in later classes.
Although we have touched on the idea of using a small group to test your site, it is worth looking at that group closer. A hand-picked group of users that are asked to use product or service before it is “released” are called beta users or testers. A beta test is an excellent way to start getting feedback on your product before releasing it to the general public. However, there are a few points you should consider with your beta testers as well as the length of the beta period.
Always provide an easy way for beta users to comment. The process can be as informal as a regular direct email, or can involve a ticketing system or custom survey. Set the expectations up front so the users know what they should expect. Signed contracts are not required, but you should be comfortable that the testers will provide feedback.
The best approach is regular interaction with the testers that makes it easy for them to provide feedback. User feedback has the side effect of building on the relationship with each tester. Regular feedback throughout a beta period also helps with a head start on issues and bugs found by testing. An end-of-period feedback discussion or form is great for overall feedback but can overlook issues that users had early in the process. Avoid a burdensome approach. Thus beta users will feel more like customers and less like hired hands.
There are long beta periods like Google’s multi-year beta label of their Gmail product. However, a short time is best. The best duration for a Beta period is no more than four to six weeks. Beta users are not going to provide regular updates over an extended period. Great Beta testers use the product, do not feel rushed, and feel like the feedback will lead to action. It keeps the whole process tight and “real” rather than some phantom beta period that may never end.
Break a beta period into phases when longer periods of time are needed. A beta one, beta two, etc. approach tends to have a better response than a single extended beta period. However, the beta testing for a product launch should be kept short, and multiple iterations should not be needed.
Think about what you need to test for a launch. Now you have the content of the beta test. A launch includes sending out emails, bringing customers to your site, starting conversations on social networking sites, and other items mentioned here. Limit your launch beta focus to those items. If you have advertising and marketing to test, then send those directly to the beta testers and get their responses. You will not be able to perform a simulation that is exactly like the launch, but you want to get as close to it as possible.
You Launched Your Site! Now What?
Once your launch is complete, the first step is to pat yourself on the back. There is a lot that goes into a launch. Thus, it’s nice to bask in the glow of that success for a while. I have never seen statistics on ideas that never got launched, but I get the feeling that more ideas die before launch than see the light of day. All that hard work and determination have resulted in the birth of your “baby.” Now the “baby” is crying to be fed, so its back to work…
We have discussed follow through multiple times in this course. Now that we have launched our site we need to live and die with follow through. Sites that show no life after launch die slow and invisible deaths. A site should always give visitors the feeling that it is current and vibrant. Make a plan to give your site that lively feel. We have looked at a few ways to build relationships and keep visitors coming back, but let’s look at what your post-launch plan should contain.
Maintenance (post-launch) Tasks
- Regular site updates – Pick a time frame. Ideally, this will be around two weeks to two months. Make regular updates to your site look-and-feel in this time frame. These can be small like header and footer “tweaks,” or larger changes like new features and sections. I recommend you look over your site after each update and build a list of things to change in the next cycle. The review provides an opportunity to refine content, particularly calls to action and news. Regular visitors will grow to expect regular changes to the site and thus, will return on a regular basis.
- Blog, Blog, Blog – Content is the best way to bring in new customers while giving existing customers a reason to return. We have spent a lot of time on blogging. However, it doesn’t hurt to reemphasize the value of consistency. Steady content will help your site win customers and will raise your scoring with search engines.
- Deliver on your promises – Whether you have a service or a product the first few customers are critical. Go above and beyond to give value to your clients. Great businesses always follow this approach, but if there is ever a time to over-deliver it is early in the life of a business.
- Expand – A site that has traffic and regular feedback is a great source of new product ideas. The new ideas can be enhancements to the existing site and offerings or might allow you to go in a whole new direction. Develpreneur started this way and is just one of many businesses that spawned out of feedback in an established community.
- Create a list of beta testers. Classmates are good targets for beta testers.
- Create a plan for the beta period
- Record a video about your business. Treat it as a sales pitch during business launch.
- Write a launch announcement that will bring customers to your site.
- Create a checklist of areas to cover in your maintenance plan
- Write a “Welcome to beta testing” document that provides beta testers with instructions for the beta period. Include a method for feedback.
Bonus: Launch your site and include the facilitators on your initial list of contacts. Send the announcement to your classmates as well.
When you are ready, it is now time to move on to the next step: Balance Your Time in a Busy World: Tools and Techniques.
We have touched on a lot of concepts in this class. However, this is only the beginning. Experience may be the best teacher, but here are some books that can help you learn from the experience of others.