New Entrepreneur Checklist
& Reality-Check

16 April 2018

Updated: 4 August 2018

When starting a new business with an on-line presence, these are things to consider even if your website offers little more than being a shingle or sign in front of the front door.

Consider this the least you need to know and do– as part of doing business today. Each section could be expanded into an entire book.

From this starting point, you will be better informed for hiring the right person to suit your particular needs, should you delegate each and every piece.

This is an iterative process. You will probably go through this checklist multiple times, as one piece feeds into the next yet becomes informed by steps much later in the process.

After reading through to the end of this, you should discover the interconnectedness of all things mentioned here.

Contents:

Background

Having worked at small businesses of Main Street in a small city, having worked for a variety of large and small tech startups in New York City and Silicon Valley, and having founded companies in Seattle (US) and Vancouver (Canada), hopefully this spares you years of learning all this the hard way.

Naturally, some details or applicable regulations or procedures may have changed.

Be sure to confirm all details before committing or executing on any plan, and consult professionals in your local jurisdiction for financial planning, tax compliance and legal opinions.

(n.b., There is no affiliation with any of the linked businesses other than possibly having used their services in the past. The one exception is my own company, snagz.net; see Full Disclosure below.)

Before You Begin

There are many steps prior to incorporating.

Spend little money when beginning beyond the cost of a few coffees or lunches in exchange for someone sharing specific knowledge.

This can become a great adventure, so consider starting with a calm, clear mind. Perhaps get a book on healthful breathing exercises as a way to dispel stress.

A quote attributed to Gandhi, sentiment that is likely thousands of years old:

I have much to do today, so I should meditate for an extra hour first.

As this document pertains to executing, do so from the stable foundation from which that quote indicates– as a humble suggestion.

Read this document. Create your plan. Execute from that plan, yet when new information arrives, evaluate whether it merits changing the plan.

Begin. Then continue.

Intentions

Be clear on what you intend for this new endeavour, new venture, new business.

This applies even if you understand the notion of intent purely on the mundane level.

For instance, is your aim for local, regional, national or global in scale?

How big are you thinking? What does big mean to you?

Are you building something to address a social cause?

If so, there are unique legal structures well suited for this in some jurisdictions such as the “B” benefit corp different than traditional “C” commercial corp or not-for-profit (501(c)3 in US). In the US, the State of Washington and California offer a “Social Purpose Corporation” since 2012 and 2015, respectively. Since 2013, the Canadian province of British Columbia offers “Community Contribution Company” (CCC or C3), and the preceding year, Nova Scotia introduced “Community Interest Companies”.

Are you aware that in many cases, the effort required to close a deal for $200 is approximately the same as one with 10x or 100x in revenue?

Look into the concept of unit economics, because you may be able to further your intentions of improving a social cause by beginning with sales to large enterprise customers and having your corporate charter requiring your business satisfy needs of a cause from that revenue. You could then do so at much greater scale than taking the direct route, and get there faster!

Networking

Build your professional network before you need it.

Go for depth within your field and breadth across disciplines.

Networking is quite different than merely socializing.

A daily task used by motivated people is to send a personal note to a few people with whom they have previously exchanged contact information.

Rather than asking for anything, offering what you might do to benefit them and asking for nothing in exchange beyond a cup of coffee or tea.

Being Entrepreneurial

Being entrepreneurial is a mindset appropriate for all staff within an early-stage business, venture, organization, etc.

It’s about balancing multiple factors such as financial costs versus opportunity costs.

For instance, rather than saying “No”, state your response in terms of cost comparisons so that the interested parties may make an informed decision.

Acting from such a principled position establishes a robust environment where rules or policies become less significant. This is true even when reaching consensus or an authoritative decision becomes impractical or logistically impossible, and a junior staff member takes action in this way.

See Posits for more on this topic.

Validate Your Business Model

Confirming that you have a sound business model is very different than assuming.

While the best proof might be funding your business from revenue, perhaps the next best thing is validating your business model.

There are a few options for this process:

  1. Conduct interviews with potential customers:
  2. Purchase Ads on Google Search or Facebook, and measure how many people click-through, thus indicating interest:
  3. Making actual sales provides the best validation of course, and some very successful business accomplished this:

If collecting e-mail address, you may need to comply with:

Articulate Your Business Model

There are probably as many opinions about business models and plans as there are people with MBA degrees.

Communicate the basic points below, and as you talk with potential investors, let their feedback guide you further.

Worthwhile at this stage– express your business model on a single sheet of paper.

One such technique is the Lean Canvas, as illustrated by Ash Maurya in Capture Your Business Model In 20 Minutes.

Explaining various facets of your business within a 1-page template indicates that you understand it enough to proceed.

Some people advocate a 1-page Business Plan, others favour the Lean Canvas (download template from strategyzer). Review both, and pick one that suits you or more likely is requested by a potential investor.

For guidance on a 1-page plan, one template used successfully uses most of the same categories from a 12-15 page/slide plan for potential investors.

But remember, a plan is not a pitch. (More on the pitch below.)

Key categories are:

  1. Value Proposition
  2. Products & Services
  3. Market Size
  4. Competition
  5. ROI (Return on Investment)
  6. Status (Where are you now?)
  7. Milestones (prototype, MVP, v1.0, public launch, growth, profit, etc.)
  8. Burn Rate (how much will you spend via Plan A vs Plan B?)
  9. Exit Strategy (To be acquired? IPO? Remain privately held?)
  10. Principal Staff

Again, those are to fit on one sheet of ordinary printer paper using a readable font. (Many investors being slightly older may need eyeglasses, so please use 10 Point font or larger.)

Consider those to be headings for bullet lists or numbered lists.

Obviously, a 1-pager only accommodates so much detail and granularity.

Similarly to what’s explained in the Pitch section (below), this is to state enough facts here so that they ask for more.

Always put your contact information on top, and bottom footer should explicitly state:
CONFIDENTIAL AND PROPRIETARY.

That list above is slightly different than a full business plan.

For a full plan, other sections will be necessary such as:

Some people advocate having the first few slides of your deck tell a story or at least the pretext of one– in 2-3 slides max.

Those first few slides would be:

  1. Problem statement that impacts your immediate audience
  2. Depth or extent of this problem as insurmountable as-is
  3. Name or briefly describe the super-power your offering will convey to your customers for resolving that problem

Effective sales presentations do that, for instance; however, a pitch deck isn’t a sales deck.

Business Cards & Minimal Website

Even in the age of smart phones being ubiquitous, old fashioned business cards can be quite useful.

It’s for chance encounters– literally passing someone on the street or quick introduction– where there isn’t time to “get digits” or ensure that you’ve identified the correct Chris Brown on social media.

Handing someone a card with relevant contact information in half a second… priceless!

At the stage where you are still refining your concept, considering the ideal customers and yet to work on a pitch, just get a small batch of cards. e.g., $25 for 100 cards at VanPrint.

Details initially should include:

Note that physical or postal address may be omitted. People will likely recognize your telephone area code as sufficient indication of locale.

Only when you’ve settled upon a business name and tag line should you include those. Each takes some consideration and effort to ensure being sufficiently distinct and valid within your municipality.

More on each of these points come later.

Identify Your Audience, Customers or Clients

Especially in the very beginning, don’t try to be all things to all people.

Instead, identify a very narrow population where its members have self-selected or opted-in. They should willingly identify themselves to be part of that group.

Learn who the early adopters are for your industry or niche!

Examples of initial customers:

Also understand that few early-adopters would ever wish to be considered ordinary or average.

They often see themselves as leaders, as mavericks, as those who think differently.

Review the 1997 Apple Computer (before name changed to just Apple) campaign, Think Different, especially The Crazy Ones video with Steve Job’s own voice for narration; the broadcast television version used Richard Dreyfus for voice-over with slightly less impact.

(Because you are likely without millions of dollars for a feel-good campaign that omits any description or depiction of the actual product, understand its inclusion here is for your education on positioning– not promotion.)

If however you believe your ideal candidate is the proverbial “average Joe”, consider a label that empowers or instills confidence for someone in that category.

Avoid mentioning the group by name, using only “You”. Consider the credit card slogan, “It’s everywhere you want to be”, or Apple’s iPod slogan, “10,000 songs in your pocket”.

One step further, attribute some other characteristic such as, “Get ahead of the crowd”, with an implied you.

Those statements segue to our next topic: crafting your message.

Adding Value

You’ve identified your audience, customer, clients, etc., so you understand their pain and have something to resolve or ease that pain.

But that’s not enough.

How can you add value for them?

Some people may find it hard to believe that there are beneficial marketers and sales staff.

One such person with integrity is Matt, former CEO of a tech startup that had recently been acquired.

Matt’s words: (paraphrased from memory)

I’m not trying to sell you anything.

I want to help you attain your goals– not mine.

This was his answer to a common question several years ago, “How are you adding value to the customer today?” Or at least, that’s where he would begin his explanation.

He was adding value to the customer by realizing that our product or service might not be the best fit for one in particular, and by helping them get what they actually needed simply benefited everyone.

(Consider the contrast: making a quick sale just for fulfilling a quota might help in the short term for that one employee but hurts the company long-term. The damage might come as a negative review yet without understanding that it was simply due to poor fit. Dissatisfied customers tend to yell louder than happy ones, and negative sentiment is often inarticulate yet more passionately stated. Especially an early stage business might not be able to weather the storm.)

How will you add value?

Craft Your Message

Make your message all about them – your customer, your client, your audience.

Be specific, and indicate how they will gain a super-power through their relationship as your customer, your client.

Say enough so they ask for more.

(Read that last sentence again.)

Understand the meme and the metameme.

Whatever you think you may know about “Internet memes” is a complete distraction, and that’s the purpose for which those serve.

Based upon that starting point, however, a meme is a message and is often repeated.

“But wait– there’s more!”

That statement in itself is an example of a meme, and it’s one of the classic ones.

Use of “limited-time offer” or “expires soon” or “act now while supplies last” are all highly effective marketing memes.

Another group of memes commonly used in marketing and especially politics involve groups seemingly unable to speak for themselves. “It’s for the children” or “save the children” are some of the most powerful motivating messages, apparently due to biology of the brain.

This type of meme works on multiple levels, because its subtext is, “You wouldn’t want harm coming to those who cannot speak for themselves or to those more vulnerable than you, would you?”

For the full rigour of “memetics” and its use in marketing, see Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. (See References section below.)

Related:

“This is the metameme. It’s too late. You’ve already been infected by it!”

While everything you need to understand the metameme is contained in the line above, understand it to be essentially a seed.

(The quote is paraphrased from memory of a print article circa 1990 from the likes of Mondo 2000 magazine or possibly Whole Earth Review quarterly.)

The metameme is a seed that when planted in someone’s mind will grow into a question, but it’s a question that each individual formulates for themselves.

Because of this process, each person eventually seeks an answer to their question which makes for an extremely powerful mechanism.

It’s been used in propaganda, yet by understanding how it works becomes the antidote.

On a mundane level, the metameme is simply saying enough so the person asks a relevant question. However, avoid prompting obvious questions that a child commonly asks such as, “But why?” Be more creative than that.

This is also referred to as the curiosity gap, but when done poorly on the internet becomes “click-bait” rubbish.

You will likely have different messages for different people:

  1. Internal conversations, keeping staff on track
  2. Potential customers
  3. Existing customers
  4. Potential investors
  5. Actual investors
  6. Journalists and reporters of various media

Additional resources:

Learn the three pillars from The Trivium, from ancient Greek education, when Liberal Arts implied liberty and clarity of thought for free thinkers:

  1. Logic - Learn to spot arguments from fallacy, then make only sound propositions and declarations in your own marketing material
  2. Grammar - Learn correct and effective sentence and phrase structures
  3. Rhetoric - Learn how to recognize and compose compelling statements

Sometimes known as “Begin with Why”, watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

The Pitch

One person adept at crafting this type of message advised drawing upon the scientific method. In particular, frame your messaging like an experiment/job hybrid.

State your hypothesis in terms of:

  1. Define what job you are doing
  2. For whom
  3. Identify success metrics
  4. Name existing job solutions
  5. Compare value-add versus friction of leaving existing solutions
  6. Analyze benefits versus costs

Be specific. Be credible. Be relevant.

Don’t be all things to all people. Instead, name precisely what you are doing for a very narrow subset of people as your potential customers.

For instance, rather than “anyone doing research” consider “for marketers” because they often have a budget; whereas, others doing similar research work-flow (e.g., journalists) likely lack budget to become your customer. When successful, you can then give back possibly through a charitable contribution of free licenses, if providing services or software.

Especially for tech startups, it’s often not workers' time that you ought to be saving but the executive officers'.

In a large enough company, throwing a few more junior staff members at some tedious problem suffices for the enterprise.

But sparing a CEO or Director level person from twenty minutes of effort– that renders pure gold through alchemy!

Public Relations

Discover relevant journalists, newscasters, writers, media personalities for your field or niche.

Ideally, find a warm introduction through someone in their professional network that might also be in yours.

(If no one comes to mind, seriously question whether you are actually relevant in your field or niche.)

A good PR firm will already have these contacts, but buying your way in is less sincere and will be recognized as such.

Genuinely get to know each of these people.

Provide each with a list of bullet points about your field in general and your position within that realm specifically.

Offer yourself as subject-matter expert, if ever they need a qualified opinion on related topics.

Begin before you need anything, so that you are only offering to help them.

(If this seems to duplicate the Networking section above, it essentially does yet is highly focused on one specific group!)

Explainer Video

When people land on your website or visit your landing page, it’s often useful have a video explaining what you offer in approximately one minute or less.

It’s called an explainer video and must contain substance.

This is not hype.

This is not a pitch, but it may use a similar template as your pitch. (See above.)

That last item is also referred to as call to action (CTA) in marketing.

Examples of CTA: “sign-up for early access” or “click to buy” (with appropriate in-video links enabled) or “visit our website, Example.com”.

Style Examples:

Beware Tax Filing Requirements

Consider personal tax filing requirements especially for “US persons” living outside the US (and possibly French citizens living abroad in future).

Be sure to get clarity on this from a qualified tax and legal professional, especially if any of the following possibly apply:

Anyone on that list living outside the US must file IRS form 5471 and FBAR on the company’s financials and its bank accounts– to be filed with your personal taxes– should you control more than 9% of the legal entity. (You must also file FBAR for your personal accounts…)

That includes a Corporation, Limited Liability Company, Limited Partnership, Revocable Trust, Irrevocable Trust, etc.

Failure to do so will result in steep financial penalties/fines, and if the violation is deemed “willful” (good luck arguing a negative) also may lead to prison time.

All of that is due to the US taxing its citizens and other “US persons” based upon that status– not residency. The only other nation to do this is Eritrea (borders Ethiopia and Sudan).

However, France in 2017 was actively considering this too!

Consider Personal Tax Liabilities

More on the US in a bit.

Consider personal tax liabilities in certain jurisdictions such as Canada.

If you’ve created intellectual property (IP) of any kind such as artwork or software in advance of incorporating and later assign that IP to the business, you may incur taxes personally. This can occur when “disposing of” the asset by assigning it to the company within a few months of that IP contributing to business income.

Example: you created artwork or wrote software, and then incorporated in time to make a first sale. If that sale occurs within a month or two, it may be argued by your tax authority (e.g., CRA) that a fair market value has been established by that sale through the business, and therefore that represents a taxable event for you personally effective as of 1-2 months earlier.

Rather than attempting to argue with your tax authority, consider other options.

For “US persons” (see Tax Filing section, above) residing outside the US, beware that only “Earned Income” qualifies under most tax treaties to avoid double taxation.

That is, paying yourself a salary from your own company is considered earned income. However, paying yourself through dividends gets taxed twice, once for country of residence and once for being a US citizen or “US person”.

If recently relocated from any other country, beware of part-year residency or part-time residency regulations. That is, in some countries, you still owe taxes if you’ve lived there for part of the year. If moved to or from Canada, for instance, the CRA counts days, and their threshold is approximately half a year.

When To Incorporate

A corporation is only required in many jurisdictions for any of the following conditions:

While there may be many more reasons propelling someone to incorporate such as retaining revenue within the business, those would fall more under tax and financial planning concerns. Those criteria are beyond scope of this checklist.

Rules of thumb in this section apply to US and Canada, plus some countries of Europe.

Other requirements apply in some countries of Europe such as buying a bond for €30k-50k to cover liabilities in the event of company failure. Such bonds ensure severance pay gets covered. Some countries also require a minimum number of employees be hired at livable, professional wages.

Be sure to check your local regulations.

Name

Naming can impact several facets of business identity from branding to website.

Some countries, states or provinces require the business name to have multiple components:

  1. Distinctive component
  2. Specific/category component

For instance, ROBSON STREET YOGA, contains the distinct name of a well-known street in Vancouver yet also indicates the category of Yoga, which specifies that it’s not a restaurant, grocer or book-seller.

For a company in the technology sector, SNAGZ-NET INC satisfies both criteria because “snagz” is distinct and “net” is specific-enough of a category. (On the business name request, noting the fact of already being in possession of the Internet Domain Name, “snagz.net”, for many years may have helped. It was the first choice on the application, and the name was approved in less than one business day.)

A website name, technically, is based upon an Internet domain name such as “example.com” or “example.org”. The hostname might also include prefix of “www.” which represents World Wide Web as conventional usage but is optional. In many cases, the hostname is just the domain name.

Search engines give higher ranking to websites where the domain name includes a key word for the search.

When searching for an Internet domain name even in 2018, the .COM suffix (top-level domain or TLD) still is the preferred choice in North America.

Many tech companies that launch with TLD of .CO or .IO or .LY tend to eventually succumb so that the “-ly” suffix becomes part of the principal name, and then they register that name under the .COM TLD.

Be aware that any of the two-letter TLDs are actually ISO country codes.

Therefore, CO officially designates the country, Columbia in South America. IO is British Indian Ocean Territory. LY is Libya.

Newer generic top-level domains (gTLD) are listed on Wikipedia.

When writing your web address such as on business cards where people would manually type it into their computer or mobile, the address is not case-sensitive. (Compare: SomeLongWebAddress.com is easier to read than somelongwebaddress.com, and “bad” likely catches the eye before your intended word boundaries.) Creative use of colour (hue or value) can help with readability too.

When searching for an Internet domain name, simply typing the address into a web browser is insufficient.

Instead, you must search the WHOIS database, and the official version is:
whois.icann.org

n.b., Merely typing in an address and landing on a page indicating that the domain is for sale will likely trigger a price increase each time someone visits that page!

Therefore, use WHOIS, and then only visit the parked domain page at the time you are ready to spend an additional thousand or two dollars beyond the ordinary fee of approximately USD $15-50.

(See also Typo Domain Names below.)

Advisors, Mentors & Professionals

Only act upon advice from those who open doors for you.

Anything else should be treated as information for which you give additional consideration.

The reason for this dichotomy:

It’s insufficient that one person has already done something exactly as– or similar to– what they recommend to you.

It’s insufficient that one person in hindsight realizes their own mistake and suggests how you might benefit from what they already learned.

Unless their advice comes attached with introductions for precisely what the business requires in that instant– a customer that actually signs a cheque, an investor that actually transfers funds, a Public Relations professional that actually gets your brand mentioned in a relevant news article– it may be inappropriate for your business at that time.

Mistimed execution of otherwise sound advice might steer you in the wrong direction.

Therefore, choose your advisors carefully.

Only consider an attorney or accountant where a warm introduction is required.

For instance, a contra-indication might be seeing a law firm sponsoring a startup event. They sponsor such events only when looking for new business.

Highly successful firms often do without any advertising whatsoever.

Think about that for a moment.

(One exception to this rule: the firm receives a tax deduction from donating to a not-for-profit organization and gets special recognition as part of that contribution.)

Finding the best professional services, then, comes through recommendations of their existing clients. Second best comes through your direct contacts that happen to be in the know, who can arrange for an introduction.

Without any means of finding a warm introduction, that becomes your next task.

If you absolutely must comply with regulatory matters such as filing taxes on time, of course get that done in a timely manner. If, however, the person or firm hired was selected for anything other than being able to open doors, keep looking for next time.

This may seem like harsh advice, but a good parent does what’s right for the child.

Finding Investors

There’s a game in Silicon Valley. Here are the rules. Once you know the rules you may break the rules in very specific ways, provided you first convey that you understand the rules and are breaking them with intention rather than ignorance.

  1. Most investors prefer a warm introduction– and really, who wouldn’t?
  2. While you might be able to find them in their favourite restaurant and start talking to them– don’t do that!
  3. Research the landscape of current investors thoroughly.
  4. Only attempt connecting with those that are relevant to your niche.
  5. But if you have a legitimate overlap with one even if unrelated to primary subject matter, then and only then follow that thread.
  6. To get a warm introduction, find their social or professional networking circle, and research people there.
  7. Get a warm introduction to people in that larger circle.
  8. To get a warm introduction there, repeat the process.
  9. Few serious investors will invest until they’ve known you for at least a year.
  10. “Not all investment dollars are created equal.”
  11. Only accept investments from those who can open doors for you.
  12. For some investment organizations, you will find a religious war over “business model” versus “business plan” versus “canvas”.

The So-Called “Friends & Family Round” of Funding

This doesn’t mean that your family of origin pays until it hurts.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

It means simply asking your friends and family.

But rather than ask, tell them what you are doing in terms that each individual will understand.

Consider others who may have an associate that has been looking for a new investment opportunity:

Use your social network contacts such as on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter.

Use your social and professional organizations:

When they invest in a startup such as a tech company, they will receive a “Convertible Note” rather than stock initially. (See Kellen Voyer’s blog post, Convertible Note and SAFE Overview.)

Getting funded through Kickstarter-style crowd-funding is perfectly legal in much of Canada and US, but specific rules must be followed.

See FrontFundr, where they accommodate a crowd-funding approach to an F&F round.

Investing Your Own Money

If having an Angel Investor or Venture Capitalist is possibly part of your plan, for investing your own funds follow guidance of using a convertible note from the section on “Friends & Family” (above).

Again, the goal is to not accidentally set a stock price for equity of your corporation.

This applies for investing your own money or from family– i.e., anyone not designated as both a qualified investor and also considered an Angel or VC.

Upon incorporating, put the minimum of $10 (yes, ten) for 1 million shares for each co-founder.

When putting your initial funding into the company, that investment is made as a loan to the company.

You– as investor– get a convertible note rather than additional shares of stock at this stage. Terms of the note to yourself are commonly: no interest, no expiration, may be called at any time.

That last point is important.

Either side– investor or the company– may call the note at any time.

(Institutional investors or the “F&F” round at a later stage will require different terms of a note, but that’s beyond scope of this document.)

When converting the note– such as when a bona fide Angel invests– the loan may be either repaid or converted to an equivalent amount of equity at the price set by the Angel investor.

This way, you allow the professional investor to set your stock price. You are thus granting them the privilege of doing so and respect of their status. Perhaps most importantly, this deferred pricing indicates that you know enough of the rules such that it instills confidence.

There is much more to this topic, so spend the money and talk to an experienced start-up attorney (on the clock) for 1-3 hours ensuring that you understand.

Landing Pages & Websites

Consider having multiple landing pages on your website, such that those searching from Google will find the right page for their interests.

This is also considered best practices for on-line advertising, so begin now. (With an ad campaign, wording for each distinct ad should have the visitor click-through to a landing page with the same text/copy for reinforcing that message.)

Then your home page at the top-most level can be more general information.

This also leads to cleaner layout of your overall website.

The different layers can be mixed by simply having a menu or lists from the home page for your different specializations, and Google’s crawlers will follow these links.

This leads to organic ranking within a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), and it’s different than paid (i.e., buying ads from the search engine provider such as Google; see Ads section below).

You can have as may of these landing pages as you wish, but content on each must be sufficiently unique, or Google will punish you in SERP ranking.

Ensure your web server is enabled for HTTPS (sometimes labelled SSL or TLS) such as from Let’s Encrypt. This is required because Google as of 2017 began “punishing” websites that lack encrypted versions. You will both see lower SERP ranking and ugly warnings from their Chrome web browser on desktop and mobile.

See Improve SEO Ranking for much more.

If anticipating visitors from Europe, the EU Cookie Consent Law may apply.

Effective 25 May 2018, Europe’s actual and world-wide de facto standard for data privacy is the European Union General Data Protection Regulation. (See also GDPR Requirements in Plain English.)

A/B Testing & Multivariate Testing (MVT)

The proverbial “comparing apples to oranges” can sometimes be an A/B test, with all the problems.

Simply put within the context of websites, some of your visitors see variation A while others see B. Based upon how you define success for that experiment– usually, which path leads more visitors “converting” to customers– determines the winner.

However, reality is rarely that neat and tidy.

This is why we often call-out another person for the logical fallacy of comparing apples and oranges. It’s often bad metaphor, a straw-man argument, possibly reductio ad absurdum, etc. Whatever the philosophers might call it, we know there’s a problem with it!

So beware pitfalls of simple A/B tests and their false sense of determining the “winning” option.

This is where Multivariate Testing (MVT) plays well.

MVT is essentially many layers of A/B tests– synchronized.

That is, if option A was given in the top-level, there is likely a corresponding variation four levels deeper that builds upon and reinforces the visitor having seen A previously.

(For completeness but is excessive detail: some options deep into the path are an attempt to falsify misconceptions of that top-level A. Then if A still wins, you have a higher degree of statistical confidence in this answer.)

A moment’s reflection upon marketing and advertising that you’ve experienced in your life can give insights to how you’ve been an unwitting participant in these experiments since your earliest memories– assuming raised in a Western nation.

For instance, some marketing is simply about reinforcement of their brand. Others try to pound a musical jingle into your psyche through repetition. Many however are just iterating through new ideas, or as another proverb essentially says: throw enough against the wall, and see what sticks.

Therefore, you already know more about A/B Testing and MVT than you may suspect.

Now, be formal and explicit about it.

Use this on your website. Use this in your social media and email campaigns. Use this is your in-person conversations– much like how you are working through variations of your Pitch!

Adopt those rules of thumb from your primary school science class:

  1. Describe behaviour of customers you believe to have observed.
  2. Question those beliefs about perceived facts observed.
  3. State your hypothesis about the observed behaviour– must be testable.
  4. Make predictions about the outcome of possible tests.
  5. Formulate concrete tests for that hypothesis, possibly trying to disprove it.
  6. Analysis: you get either confirmation/rejection, or go back to Step 1.

While lots of Landing Page hosting platforms offer simple A/B testing, MVT is considered an advanced subject where Which MVT can help you select a vendor.

Final note on this:

Few startups have sufficient traffic for results to be relevant.

In general, you need tens of thousands or millions of visitors to a website for results to be meaningful!

Typo Domain Names

Accommodate people mistyping your internet address.

This is crucial during early days of a company, because people likely won’t find you from a Google search, so they’ll be typing in your company/product name or website address by hand.

If your main website is snagz.net first realize that this differs from the norm of ending with .COM top-level domain (TLD).

Rethinking the brand name, perhaps it should be snagznet.com instead for this case.

Some typo domain names:

Other typos to consider are with/without plural: example.com vs examples.com

While these could be resolved by the Domain Name System (DNS) for simply forwarding to the intended address, that muddies the water with respect to search engine result page (SERP) ranking.

Instead, have a web server listening on those addresses that do exactly one thing: redirect the visitor’s web browser to the correct destination.

Specifically and technically– this is “HTTP 301 Moved Permanently”.

Ask your web hosting provider for this, with that code (HTTP 301) and those exact words.

(Again, see Improve SEO Ranking for more.)

Multiple Conversion Funnels

A Fortune 5 enterprise got this wrong circa 2010, because it’s subtle.

It’s easy to believe that potential customers convert to actual customers through the badly named metaphor, “funnel”.

(Actually, it’s more like a sieve because some “fall out” along the way. But I digress…)

In practice there isn’t merely one, single funnel.

There are several.

Let’s say you are a “full service” real estate broker. These might be your funnels:

  1. Educating first time home buyers
  2. Educating first time home sellers
  3. Reality-check for those wanting to buy but honestly can’t
  4. Assisting potential buyers with applying for a mortgage
  5. Assisting potential sellers with preparing/staging a home for sale
  6. Facilitating a sale through contract to actually closing

Accommodating those who were passively looking who then see something they like and finally commit– this is your primary conversion funnel in action.

Be sure to not discount those other funnels, which are equally valid and quite valuable.

Treating the education component and people attempting self-help as distinct funnels in themselves benefits you and your business.

They’ll see you very differently than someone always pushing to close a sale.

When they are ready for your primary sales funnel, they will come to you and much of your work may have already been done by their self-help efforts.

Another example:

If you offer tech services or are selling software, this might be your set of funnels:

  1. Investors looking for financial reports
  2. Potential customers educating themselves on competitive landscape, yet without any purchase intent:
  3. Potential employees looking for job postings
  4. Existing customers looking for self-help such as tutorials or documentation
  5. Existing customers looking for support or customer service
  6. Potential customer with actual purchase intent

Facilitating quick and easy access to self-support materials has proven to be in a company’s best interests by lowering your operating costs and call volume into customer service.

See that upon getting the right documentation into hands of that person completes the support funnel. That’s a successful conversion: from request, to fulfillment.

So then, apply that same approach to all other facets as distinct funnels.

PR Materials

Write an apology to customers before you need it.

If you offer software-as-a-service (SaaS), account for various disaster scenarios. Write your response ahead of time while your mind is clear, everyone is without stress of such an event having actually occurred, and all are without emotional reactions.

Maybe you never need to use that apology.

But if you ever do, it’s ready and well written.

Account for incidents involving your immediate facilities, your staff, those of your agents, those of your upstream providers, etc.

Ads

Purchase ads only as a last resort!

But when you do, the landscape is roughly comprised of:

Those represent the vast majority of on-line advertisements, because Google owns DoubleClick.net and gives the most coverage across web properties. Beware of differences between AdWords and AdSense which is beyond our scope here, but both are offerings from Google. (In 2015, Google restructured. The new parent holding company is called Alphabet Inc. and may be referenced in some literature going forward.)

Facebook is competitive with respect to world-wide eyeballs. They have historically offered text ads, sponsored content in-line with a person’s stream and ads in their video streams. Expect their offerings to change. However, they give the best demographic targeting due to the non-anonymous nature of their traffic.

YouTube is of course owned by Google/Alphabet Inc., but various types of video ad units are compelling enough to represent a distinct category for purposes here.

Don’t let that final item fool you.

So much of advertising has moved on-line that a tasteful piece of physical postal mail can be very competitive in terms of reach. Although measuring its effectiveness can be challenging, a systematic approach (i.e., scientific method) can address those concerns.

One easy way to be systematic with physical mail (also called “snail mail” or “off-line” in some advertising circles) is using unique Internet domain names or unique website addresses.

That is, provide unique web addresses or coupon codes to each different demographic. Yes, cost of printing increases slightly or for labour of affixing stickers for these variations. It’s merely the cost of doing business for this reach.

For Google, the ads appearing along side of their search results are called AdWords. You pay for your ad to appear here.

(Confusingly, they also have a product called AdSense. They pay you for having someone else’s ads appear on your website.)

You want AdWords.

Your campaign will include targeting. You supply a list of search keywords to be matched for your ad to appear along with someone’s Google Search results, and you can supply another set of search keywords that when matched, your ad will be excluded.

People who specialize in this will likely mention “keyword optimization” on their c.v. or résumé. Other jargon includes “ad buy” (rarely as “buying ads”).

The person handling AdWords for a company or marketing campaign tends to overlap with other areas, so there is no single perfect title. Job titles include “Digital Marketing” or “Digital Content” followed by “Specialist” or “Manager”.

Top marketers will note that it’s all just marketing now (as of roughly 2010), so some will drop the “digital” qualifier.

Instead of placing ads, see next section: meet-ups as marketing.

Meet-ups As Marketing & Advertising

Several companies have used this technique successfully– spending their marketing budget entirely on community gatherings such as local user groups, rather than conventional marketing tactics.

Consider a certain Seattle-based coffee shop that is now international.

For a very long time, they did not advertise. From their Pike Place Market origins in the 1980’s until firmly established world-wide roughly in 2003, there were virtually no ads from them. (That first major ad campaign at approximately their 20th year introduced canned beverages in other retail outlets, so it was for a new vertical beyond scope here.)

Instead, they relied upon physical location as their marketing method.

That is, rather than purchasing a full page ad in major newspapers or magazines, they’d use that same budget to open a new store.

While there are operating costs associated with each new location, each would also be generating revenue.

However, the lesson here is that they were expanding as a means of marketing.

(In their case, it was also about dominating the channel which was a well-known tactic of a certain software and operating system company elsewhere in the greater Seattle area, but all that is beyond scope here.)

In the tech world, a company would sponsor local events on meetup.com in North America and Europe and eventually world-wide.

This too has operating costs: a few individuals travelling from city to city and staff proactively commenting on a relevant forum across different on-line communities.

However, this too was in lieu of buying ads.

Additionally, it was about owning the life-cycle: discovering, trying, training, deploying, supporting, certifying.

It became a self-fulfilling prophecy of success. Many tech people choose this product because there was local talent, seeing that there was an active group on meetup.com and similar communities.

They also hosted 1-day conferences in key places that are technology hubs: Silicon Valley, New York City, London, etc. Announcements of tech conferences are considered newsworthy, so they effectively received free advertising by relevant media.

Each conference generated revenue from charging for admissions and a token amount for vendor booths. Each conference was small: a few hundred people and would fit within 2-3 ballrooms of a hotel.

So then, marketing and advertising can be greater than what everyone else does!

Conclusion

Starting something new isn’t for the faint of heart.

Yes, you can begin by just doing your thing. “Build it and they will come” and “Your audience will find you” each represent a positive mindset. However, the checklist given here will get you that much further. If for no other reason, consider acting upon these items as a demonstration of your intentions.

Remember that you can delegate, yet now you know enough to tap the right person for each task.

As each item from above gets covered, consider that it will be revisited at a later date and not necessary in the same sequence. Think of it as a spiral– rather than a circle. With each subsequent pass, you are at a higher elevation after having gained experience and wisdom of earlier travels.

Full Disclosure

Examples used in this article include SNAGZ-NET INC and Snagz.net, which are the name and website, respectively, of the author’s business. Typo domain names used as examples are registered accordingly. The explainer video with hand-drawn animatic of storyboard synchronized to voice was the actual version at time of writing.

References

Alphabetical by author:

  1. Altman, Sam; Graham, Paul; Kay, Alan; et al; Startup School, Y-Combinator; established 2016
  2. Gerber, Michael E.; The E Myth, Harper Collins, 1995, reissued 2004
  3. Joseph, Sister Miriam; edited by McGlinn, Marguerite; The Trivium, Paul Dry Books, 1937, 1940, 1948, reissued 2002
  4. Maurya, Ash; Running Lean, O'Reilly, 2012
  5. Moore, Geoffrey A.; Crossing The Chasm, Harper Collins, 1991, 3rd Edition, 2014
  6. Sinek, Simon; How Great Leaders Inspire Action, TEDx Puget Sound, 2011
Copyright © 2018 Daniel Joseph Pezely
May be licensed via Creative Commons Attribution.