Things fall into place when you take focussed action

You’ve probably seen about a thousand posts on “taking action”.

If you’re anything like me you probably has thoughts along the line of “well… duh”, and brushed it off as new agey rubbish. Personally I’ve taken all kinds of action. But, instead of moving in a specific direction towards a specific goal, my actions have been more like a shotgun blast – hoping something hits the target.

Add in a little bit of focus and it’s crazy how quickly things can fall into place.

The whole “foundation” approach to creating a SaaS from scratch provided that direction. After absorbing an insane amount of freely available information on their model, I condensed it into a cheat sheet of what needs to be done to build a SaaS (which will come out in a future post).

Having a clear-cut list like this is unbelievably effective at getting you to take action, and get shit done. And more importantly, get the right stuff done that will take you directly towards the end goal.

The first goal was to actively find business owners who had shitty processes or who could benefit from a software solution.

Through Facebook groups and MeetUp.com, I went to three events in the first week and one the second. These weren’t necessarily networking events, but if you get there early and hang around after, there’s always people willing to have a chat.

Actual Event I've been to

Actual Event I’ve been to

A few key points about networking for SaaS creation:

  1. Go in with an open mind. You never know how much awesome someone will bring to your life, even if they look silly
  2. Remember their name and get them to talk about themselves. Don’t lead with your own sales pitch. If you do, people will tell stories about you later as “that annoying dude”
  3. Inevitably, they’ll eventually ask what you do. My normal response is along the lines of “build software to help businesses to cut their paperwork or fix their crappy manual processes”. Technically I haven’t actually done this yet, but I’ve convinced myself this is what I do
  4. Depending on their response, you can casually probe them about their own business and see if “there is anything that seems to take you forever to do or that you hate doing”

And a bonus point is don’t dress like a dag. Not caring what other people think about you isn’t a bad thing, but why give them the opportunity to judge you poorly before they’ve even met you.

In two weeks, the results are 5 great contacts who either have something they want resolved, have a client who wants something resolved or have identified problems in industries they work in. On top of that are loads of people I’ve met who will be at future events, and active business owners, and who now know someone who builds software for businesses (the point here being they will refer people, and already have).

This is by doing nothing more than the four points above.

On top of this, in week two I had a coffee or burger date with two people I’d met at an event on week one. Both guys who are super keen to have some kind of software tool built in their industry.

Moral of the story: Things just call into place when you take focussed action.

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Con Yourself – Convince yourself you’re awesome

Just finished watching American Hustle (which by the way is a pretty awesome move). Somewhere in the middle, Irving (the main character) says “Everyone is conning themselves”. While he says this from a negative angle, there’s also a positive spin. I kind of see it the same as the old adage “fake it till you make it”.

It just so happens I have a list of things on my whiteboard that I’m conning myself to believe.

con-list

Before I started sticking to this, when someone asked me the well overused “what do you do” question, they’d usually get some shitty boring spiel about how I used to be a control systems engineer and now sell SEO software to webmasters, and am trying to come up with a new software product to launch.

Yuck.

These days, the same question receives a response like “I work with businesses to save them time and money by building software to solve problems”. A bit more direct, wouldn’t you say? If they ask to elaborate I’ll go into eliminating paperwork, making things easier & faster, saving money and so on.

Have I actually done these things yet? You could probably say I have with Chimp Rewriter, but that’s not the point. I know for sure that I have the knowledge, capability and drive to make this happen and there is no reason to not start telling people that this is what I do.

Telling people regularly has two effects.

  1. I’ve actually started to believe it, and I really feel this is what I do. Partly because I’ve built up so many solutions for things in my head already during conversations with business owners. These are solutions to real problems, not hopeful startup ideas.
  2. Every so often someone will say something along the lines of “Oh really, well where I work has this awful system….” or “Oh really, we have SO much paperwork to do and I HATE IT”

Seems like a win-win.

And it doesn’t even take long to hit this point. I’ve been to 3 networking events since adopting the attitude and had good conversations with probably 12 new people. I’m now in regular emails with 5 of them. All of them people with some seriously cool problems to solve or people who have clients who would benefit from what I can do.

Without even developing any software around any of the problems, I already feel like this now what I do. To tell you the truth, it feels awesome.

In that picture above, you can see two other things on my con list -> that I eat well and work lots…. Given my current achievements in these areas, for the moment I guess we’ll have to work on one thing at a time….

And here’s a picture of the only other thing on my whiteboard.

whiteboard-smiley

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Cold calling doesn’t suck! (Pursuing the first idea)

Who would have thunk it?

Initially, I assumed cold calling would be the worst thing ever. With this in mind, where better to start searching for the first idea than your own friends? Facebook friend culling is a pretty common practice. I knew that not partaking in this would lead to something good eventually. With contacts from school to uni to business, it could potentially be a goldmine for business ideas.

Going through 624 Facebook contacts, I ended up with a total of 31 contacts who were either

  • A business owner
  • Are a manager
  • In a position where they are involved in some kind of management

Not bad.

Sending out Facebook messages or emails to the 10 that seemed most in a position to benefit, there were a mixed bag of responses. Everything from having no awful activities through to doing through to wanting to start a business with me.

The most notable response looked a little like this:

Read a little about —– systems brother. F**king Bane of my existence. So much paperwork and so many checks. If someone could make a decent and standard system for dealing with —– they would be a rich motherf**ker indeed

Wow. Sounds painful right?

After a bit of research, I learned a little about the systems he spoke of. Basically, it came down to almost any business in the food industry. The most prevalent small business in this industry is of course restaurants.

Now there’s an obvious downside here. Restaurants are almost always on a super fine margin, meaning they aren’t going to be as willing to shell out $100/month unless you can really prove you’re going to save them a lot. Still, there’s nothing lost to call a few of them and gauge interest.

HappyPhone

Yay, cold calling time…

I didn’t want a script, because I know I’d just end up reading it, and sounding like a robot. Still, I felt there should be something I could glance at in case of getting lost or running out of stuff to say. A fair middle ground was a cheat sheet I could glance at if required.

It looked like this. I’ve replaced specifics with XXXX and YYYY so you can see how these same lines could be used in any industry.

Can I please speak to the person in charge of XXXX

Have a bit of a strange question for you. I’m from Aktura Technology and am reaching out to find some ways to improve XXXX

Do you have a minute for a really quick question on XXXX and YYYY

Basically we’ve identified a bit of a pain point. From what we’ve been told, people hate the reporting and paperwork involved

Just wondering how you manage your XXXX and YYYY

It sounds like it’s something we could seriously improve with a software solution. Something involving tablets or PCs to record data, create schedule, generate reports etc

Is that something you would be interested in?

How much time do you think it would save you a week?

How much would you be willing to pay for something that removed this pain

Ten calls was the goal. So, I found 10 restaurants in the middle to high priced range on Urbanspoon in my area. Then, just started calling.

Call results

  • 1 sounded very interested
  • 1 sounded a little interested but were mostly streamlined already
  • 4 requested more info via email
  • 4 not interested as they didn’t spend much time on it thus didn’t have any associated pain

The biggest takeaway was that clearly the smaller restaurants had no need for the angle I was coming from.

At the end of the day, the best part of all of this was the realisation that cold calling is nowhere near as bad as I expected.

Cold Emails and Email Follow Ups

So there were 4 above that asked for more info. On top of this, I pulled 40 email addresses and contact form URLs for higher priced restaurants using Urbanspoon. I used the “strange question” template popularised by the Foundation. It looked like this:

Hey
My name is James, and I am currently doing research on making restaurant management more fun, productive and profitable.
During the management of XXXX, what are the biggest problems you face on a day-to-day basis?
As an example, at least one pain point I have identified is XXX YYY.
This is not spam and I am not going to try to sell you anything. I’d just like to learn about the pain points you experience.
I’d love to hear back from you, even if it is only one sentence!
Regards
Real Name, Real Email
I personalised each of these with the name of the restaurant, and used this method to do a mail merge with gmail. For the contact form ones, I manually personalised and set each one.
The results were nothing short of shite.
Two weeks later and I’ve received a single response from a lady who said that the biggest problem she had was paying wages.

Takeaways

Simply put, I’ve decided to stop pursuing this idea for now, for a few reasons – low response rate, I’m already losing excitement for the product idea, and low margins in restaurants.

Forty emails is not huge, but I definitely expected a better response rate. The calls seemed far better, but took a lot longer. This is probably due to the nature of the hospitality industry with people trying to spend as little time on computers as possible (a common theme during the phone calls I made).

I also don’t like the email template. It doesn’t feel like ‘me’. Apparently this template has achieved some great response rates, but next time I’ll modify it a bit.

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The quest to build a SaaS business from scratch

Here’s the way a lot of startups work:

  1. Come up with an idea that sounds awesome
  2. Get really excited about how everyone will want to use it
  3. Ask all your friends and family if they think is a good idea, to which they will of course say it is a great idea
  4. Spend 6 months and $50k+ building the product
  5. Start selling it

Then one of two things happen

  1. It turns out to be an awesome idea and people really want it, or
  2. No one actually wants it and you make no money

Of course there are some in betweens. Maybe it didn’t cost 50k (or maybe it cost more!) or maybe you made a little bit of your money back from a limited audience.

Plane-FAIL

Whatever the reason, a huge amount of startups never get off the ground. The exact percentage varies by industry, what source you read and what you classify as failure. Still, the fact remains that almost all of them fail.

That’s a lot of dreams and aspirations that have been squashed.

Not fun.

Truth be told I’ve nearly gone down this road a few times. I learned about idea validation from AppSumo, Noah Kagan and Neville Medhora. For a good starting point, see this course.

Product Idea Validation

The big mindshift change that is important from this is that you need to know that people really are interested in your stuff BEFORE you waste a ton of money creating a product, buying business cards, registering a business name and other silly stuff.

For a while, I set up some reasonably decent landing pages using a one pager theme with a privacy policy and a basic email submit with a MadMimi form (these are one of my favourite email providers). The landing page had a heading, sub heading and four benefits of the software. Then I threw Facebook ads at them, optimised for “action” in the Facebook ads interface.

For the ones that showed a reasonable conversion rate, I added an email follow up saying thanks for signing up, and a link to a Google Forms survey. For example, for a video related product the survey asked a couple of things about how they used video in their sales, if they would be interested in a product that did what we were proposing, and if they would be prepared to upfront 3 months of payment for a 10% discount for life, once the product launched.

Feedback was OK but I still wasn’t convinced enough to hire a developer.

Enter Idea Extraction

Then I discovered the Foundation and Dane Maxwell.

While I didn’t end up joining the Foundation, there was a lot of value in Mixergy interviews of Dane Maxwell and former students, Foundation podcasts and blog posts from former students (I have a big list of resources on this if you want it). In the end, I thought I’d built up enough info to work the concept of “Idea Extraction” by myself.

At the most basic level this means contacting real businesses and finding something that they do that sucks. Something people in the business HATES doing, something that takes up stupid amounts of time & resources, or something that needlessly costs them money.

After that, the idea is to confirm the problem exists in a few businesses, mockup the app, get some businesses to front up the cost of the first 3 months (at a discount) then find a developer to build a minimum viable product (MVP). After that begins the growth.

What happens now

Right here you’re going to be able to read the entire process of finding my next business. I have no doubt I’ll get there eventually. Maybe (definitely) I’ll screw up a few times, have some crappy ideas and methods but in the end we’ll have something.

At first, the primary focus will be networking – both leveraging my existing mates and contacts, and making new ones.

This isn’t entirely in line with the Foundation approach of picking a market then using cold emails & calls, but is something I think will be massively effective. That said, I’ll also be cold contacting real businesses, which is going to suck.

Time to kick some ass.

 

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Article Spinning versus Article Rewriting

There were a whole lot of questions being thrown our way about what the hell the difference is between article spinning and article rewriting. See, the new ChimpRewriter was being labelled as article rewriting software instead of article spinning software.

In short, article spinning is generating multiple copies of some content, and article rewriting is rewriting it once.

Spin when you are are doing off site promotional activities on Web 2.0 and directories.

Rewrite when you are writing money/main site content, and do NOT do it automatically. Just like you would write an essay.

Read the complete article here

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Cool free book on building authority and modern SEO

A couple of my friends are doing the digital nomad thing and living it up in Thailand (or to be more correct, a friend and his wife. Pretty sure I’ve only met Jill once?) These guys are the real deal and have been living off money they’ve made on the big bad internet for ages. Very jealous of them.

Their newest business is all about getting out of your 9-5 and living the digital nomad way. While moving to Thailand doesn’t really appeal to me, it appeals to a shit load of people. Even so, they still put up great info very regularly.

Of this info, the best is a free ebook they’ve just released. It covers everything from generating your business idea, finding your angle, building a website from the ground up through to building a real following and of course making money.

Definitely worth a read. It’s free, duh

Check it here.

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Site speed in the cloud

You’ve probably already seen the awesome news that AkturaTech is now 100% cloud. All our servers now exist in a magical fairy land which is as awesome as it sounds.

Seriously, setting up for the cloud is so much fun. All the different little components to play with and set up are like toys for grown ups. We didn’t even want to outsource it because starting up entire servers and setting them up in a few clicks was just too awesome to miss. Yeah, I get that I’m a nerd.

We ended up going with Rackspace. While Amazon has a much bigger feature set, Rackspace support is top notch and for some reason I just get a better feeling about them. I’ve learned to go with my gut feeling. Still, I researched the crap out of both of them and found that many people were getting better speeds, preferential CPU cycles and just all round better performance out of Rackspace. Things might have changed by the time you read this but this is what we went with.

Site Speed

For some silly reason, I thought that moving to the cloud would mean everything would just be faster. In hindsight this is really dumb. The old dedicated server had 8x the memory and 8x the CPU of our original cloud server which meant it served up pages super quick. The problem was that EVERYTHING went through the one server so it could get bogged down easily.

Checking Google Analytics, our site speed didn’t look very pretty. A quick test with the awesome tool at Pingdom verified that ChimpRewriter.com was slow as hell.

speedtest

Fast forward a few hours, and Pingdom is reporting a load time of under a second most of the time. Oh yeah!

Wanna know how a slow site can seriously impact your business? Check out this page from KissMetrics. It should serve as a wake up call.

This is what we did:

  1. Run the speed test at Pingdom and see what was taking the longest to load. They break it down into Javascript, CSS, HTML, Images etc. Everything was pretty bad
  2. Install W3-Total-Cache (already done in this case)
  3. Take the time to go through every single setting and work out whether it should be on or off, and what option to choose. There are tons of people who have already done this, so just search for “w3 total cache setup guide”, “optimal settings” and stuff like that. There are a ton of options so this was one of the most time consuming bits
    1. Make sure HTML compression is enabled
    2. Minify script and CSS automatically using disk enhanced cache. Don’t minify inline script and CSS if you have a responsive site!
    3. Preload page cache by pointing it at your sitemap.xml or sitemap-index.xml
    4. Browser cache is important, set long expirys on all your objects, greater than a week according to Pingdom
    5. As you go through settings, re-run the speed test to see if what you’re doing is working. Clear all caches each time and do the test TWICE. The first time will take a huge amount of time while the cache plugin does its thing. They also give you an analysis with recommendations on what to fix up i.e. browser cache, minify etc
  4. When you’re all done, run the speed test again. By this point you should see “images” and maybe “other” as the big killers in load time. Remember to run speed test twice.

So after this, load time was already less than halved from 6s to about 2.5s. Given we already had a Rackspace account, it made sense to set up a CDN as well to host all the static content. This includes the minified scripts and CSS which are two big killers.

Note: Highly recommended to do a database backup before this as the plugin modifies your posts!

  1. Set up a container at Rackspace (or bucket at S3)
  2. Make it public and get the link
  3. Get your API details from CDN
  4. In W3 Total Cache General Settings, choose your CDN
  5. On the CDN settings tab, punch in your API details
  6. Export the media library
    1. This is by far the biggest pain in the ass. If you have been uploading images via FTP rather than the built in WordPress Media Gallery you will probably have some issues here
    2. Try using the built in media exporter in W3 total cache. The button will show at the top of your wordpress panel as a notification. Give it some time, it can be a bit slow.
    3. You may have to manually clean up some links if it imports the same image multiple times like it did on ours. We just deleted the dups from the media library then modified the posts where the plugin modified the links
  7. Do NOT tick all the CDN options yet, else your site will break
  8. Add the CDN host URL without the http:// and click test. It may take some time for DNS propagation
  9. Go through the CDN tab and click all of the “export XXX” buttons i.e. attachments, theme files, wp-include. You don’t need to do custom files unless you add some
  10. NOW tick all the CDN options to host attachments, theme files etc
  11. Run the speed test on your site to generate required caches (or hit locally from a browser that is not logged in – if you are logged in to WordPress it will not generate cache depending on your settings)
  12. Run through your site on your logged in browser and check pages look ok. If things are broken, just uncheck the CDN options and empty all caches. You might have to modify some links to images, import stuff to the media library manually or whatever. This process is the most time consuming part of the CDN cutover.
  13. Open a browser that is not logged in (like Chrome in Incognito mode) and run through your site. This will be the CDN hosted version of your site. If all looks good, congrats!
  14. Run the speed test again. It gives a breakdown of all the content loaded. Check that the relevant content is all loaded from your CDN URL, not your original domain.
  15. It will also alert you to missing files in the content list with a little yellow triangle. If there are missing files, again you’re going to have to go through and see why they haven’t been uploaded to the CDN. Make sure they are in the media library or the theme directory and re-link

Now your speed should be like lightning!

We’ll monitor conversions and bounce rate over the next few weeks and see how it goes…

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I quit my job!

Booyah!

It’s been a long time coming. Pretty sure it’s been over a year since I told work I was quitting.

They kept sucking me in with less hours, more money, new contracts, whatever. Everyone knew I was only there until I could live from our business, but eventually they stopped believing that I was leaving. That was the big kick.

Now, I am a full time Chimp. You probably thought we were full time already. Technically 40 hours a week working on AkturaTech is still full time. In combo with working 40 hours a week at a “normal” job, that’s what we call “not having a life, at all”. Albeit required for getting a dream off the ground and finally working for yourself.

For those wondering, the old crutch was that of a Control Systems Engineer. In normal speak this would translate to an industrial programmer. Very logical, very nerdy, very bad at writing. But of course that’s all going to change. I fully understand that my writing sucks and you’re going to have to endure it while I get back into the swing of things.

Things are looking pretty good for AkturaTech. We’ve recently launched ChimpRewriter and the relaunch from SpinChimp went incredibly well by our standards. People seem to be loving it. Can’t complain about that!

Where to next?

With SpinChimp, we built the product before we even tested if it would sell. This is a really dumbass thing to do, but we did it anyway (clueless blokes at the time).

In engineer-think, if the product is better, people will buy it. Us engineers research the CRAP out of stuff before we buy it and are turned off by markety stuff. We honestly believed that by having a better product, that’s all we would need to do.

With some research I learned about the differences. Check out <a href=”http://marketingtoday.com/marketing/toengine.htm”>this article</a> about marketing to engineers. The biggest thing that struck me was “Engineers want to know the features and specifications, not just the benefits”. All we would ever do was spruke the features cause that’s what WE wanted. Silly stuff. Benefits are aparrently the bread and butter of normal marketing.

On a related note, this Seth Godin <a href=”http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/11/persuade-vs-convince.html”>post</a> talks about persuasion vs convincing. We did a shitload of “convincing” in our early SpinChimp days and still do to an extent. We’re getting better though.

Two lessons:

  • Validate first
  • Learn how to market for normal non nerdy people

So the next major thing for us is to take some of the 10+ ideas we have and find out if there is

a) a market, and
b) people will buy it

In other words, will it make money?

There is a ton of info out there on this. This is what coming posts will be about, as this will be a fairly lengthy period of building basic ads or landing pages, generating quick traffic and finding the best means to do both of these.

There’ll be some good info coming for those of you in the same boat as us.

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WordPress Hack Protection

So spinchimp.com fell victim to WordPress vulnerabilities lately. If you have a WordPress blog, almost no doubt that you have had or will have these same issues at one point. Unfortunately it is just the way these things work.

They call them 0-day exploits – where the exploit is discovered and shared among hacking communities. These guys then flog the crap out of the vulnerability until it is patched.

That’s what the hoards of Windows updates you get every couple of days are for, and the same applies to WordPress. That’s why they say you should always keep WordPress up to date. This includes all plugins and themes, because they can basically get in anywhere. But no matter what, there is always that window where the exploit hasn’t been patched.

Anyway, something we should have done a long time ago is have some of the much needed WordPress security plugins installed. I’ll link you to a post about the best ones in a sec, but I’ll just quickly go into the best ones.

WordPress File Monitor Plus

Install it and give it an email address. That’s about it. Now, whenever files change in your WordPress directory, you’ll get an email. There will always be nuisance emails when things are changed legitimately, but you’ll just have to put up with it. If you haven’t upgraded a plugin in a few weeks and you get an email, something is probably up.

Once you get the email you jump in and clean up the dodgy code.

BTW, this is a fork from the older WordPress File Monitor, which apparently isn’t maintained any more.

Antivirus

Even after I’d manually gone through every file on the server and cleaned what I thought to be everything, Antivirus (for WordPress) still picked up one more. It scans the theme templates which are a common backdoor, as well as a permalink check. Once again this plugin takes about half a second to set up. Give it an email and tick ‘daily scan’.

Secure WordPress

Another simple plugin that removes a few things that give hackers more info than they should get. Just get it.

 

As I didn’t have these installed, we had to do most things manually. If you are in this position, just do a wildcard search on all the files in the domain and order them by ‘Last Modified’ date. Look for a section where mutiple ‘index.php’ and ‘header.php’ type files are changed all in one hit. That’s most likely when you got stung. Then you’ll have to go through manually and delete all the dodgy code.

Have fun!

Oh, and here is the great resource on WP security plugins: http://www.ghacks.net/2010/05/08/5-wordpress-plugins-to-increase-your-blogs-security/

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We’ve Moved – JimmyRose.Net is no more!

Not only that, there is a new theme as well. Kinda boring at the moment but with a bit of a tweak here and there, eventually it will be pretty.

The move was a lot less painstaking than I thought it would be. Obviously things can go very wrong when changing domain, but in this case the biggest hassle was creating a wildcard redirect on the old domain so that all the old links recirect properly from the .net to the .co equivalent.

The cPanel wildcard rerect simply does not work with WordPress. Probably because of all the URL rewriting etc that Permalinks does – but somewhere buried in the WP forum, I found this golden snippet.

Throw it at the end of the .htaccess on the root of your old domain, and boom…. all done.

redirectPermanent / http://jimmyrose.co/

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