From “The ESCAPE Plan – 6 Steps to Leaving the Job You Hate by Creating a Business You Love“, by Meredith Eisenberg & Jasper Blake
ahhh….. the good old days.
Opening a business was as simple as setting up a folding table in your local park. You had a shoebox to collect money and sold the lemonade that your Mom helped you make. If you were particularly on the ball (or had parents who worked in local government) you might have spent $10 for a permit to sell lemonade in the park. Otherwise, the mechanics of running a lemonade stand are pretty basic.
Fast forward to 2020, you now run (or are starting) a virtual business with clients from all over the world. Just like a lemonade stand, you need basic infrastructure—but the mechanics are slightly different when your business is primarily online.
Of course, you can do anything more easily if you have the right tools for the job. Unfortunately, a lot of entrepreneurs get stuck in a sort of analysis paralysis when it comes to choosing the right tools for their business. Don’t let that happen to you. Read this post and get the answers you need to choose a system that will work for you.
What Do I Really Need?
Of course, it is really impossible to answer this question without knowing specifics about your business. But, generally, you need:
- A way to communicate with your customers (usually this is an email/autoresponder service). Autoresponders let you pre-schedule emails to be sent at a certain time. If you try to send an email from your personal email address using Outlook etc to a list of more than a few dozen, your email will likely be relegated to the spam folder.
- A way to keep track of your prospects and customers and track their engagement and interaction with you. This tracking system also tracks your prospects progress through your sales funnel as they become customers.
- A way to collect money (because if you are not collecting money, you do not have a business). Of course, there are many more nice-to-have systems including social media, a website, a referral (or affiliate tracking system), etc. In this book, we are focusing on the big two: email marketing and e-commerce.
How Do I Communicate With Clients Through Email?
It has never been easier to communicate with large groups of people. Social media makes it simple to spread your message to thousands with a click of the button. Your permission-based email list is the biggest asset you have as an online business owner. Your subscribers are the people who WANT to hear from you. They are the people who are more likely to buy your product. Most importantly, you can continue to communicate with them even if you change mailing list providers (you are not at the mercy of a social media site that can lose popularity in a heartbeat… remember MySpace?).
Great, Why Can’t I Just Use Outlook?
In the U.S. (and this applies to anyone who markets to people in the U.S.), the CAN-SPAM Act has specific requirements for emails that include not sending to anyone who has not specially asked to receive emails from you; including a physical mailing address in the footer of each email; and a way for people to unsubscribe. This is one of the main reasons that you cannot run your list from Outlook—email service providers make sure that you are complying with CAN-SPAM so you don’t need to worry.
The other reason you need an email service is that the email services have agreements with the major Internet Service Providers to let their emails into your inbox. If you try to send emails directly from your email box, not only are you going to have to manage the unsubscribe process manually, there is a big chance that your message will end up in your client’s (or potential client’s) spam folder.
What Do I Look for in an Email or Autoresponder Service?
There are two types of email services—stand-alone or connected to a shopping cart or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) program. I’ll talk about the pros and cons of an all-in-one system v.s. a standalone system later.
First, let’s focus on the features you want to make sure you have in any email service you choose.
- The ability to segment contacts into different lists based on what they opted in to. When someone opts in they should automatically receive initial and follow up emails based on what they requested, not on all subjects you are emailing about.
- The ability to segment contacts based on purchasing history. You should be able to remove people from your prospect list once they have purchased so you are not sending prospect sales emails for a specific product or service to people who have already purchased that product or service.
- An email editing/creation service that is easy to use. Templates are a plus—but if the basic editor is working well, you shouldn’t need them.
- An easy way to create an opt-in form (a way for people to sign up for your list) and put the form code on your website.
- Easy to understand tracking—so you can track what is working well and tweak what is not working as well.
- BONUS FEATURES In addition to functional email sending and tracking, having automation (the ability to segment people into lists based on their clicks and other actions) is highly desirable. With a little bit of practice and guidance, it is pretty easy to create work flows, sometimes called sequences or campaigns, to automatically take care of basic customer service tasks. A new feature that is just rolling out is demographic research. For pennies per contact, you can have your ‘electronic minion’ add publicly available information about a contact to your database. Because the computer does the work for you, you don’t have to pay a virtual assistant to do this time-consuming research. You can find out where a contact lives, how much money they make, and if they have children. All very useful information if you want to target a specific segment of your demographic online.
How Do I Actually Get People On The List?
The rules are simple. Everyone who is on your list must ‘opt in’ or accept being on the list. Most of the time, people will come to your website and opt-in in exchange for a small free sample of your work (a great checklist, an audio, a coupon…). You CAN collect business cards and add people to your list manually—but be very sure that the people actually want to be added to the list before you add them. (I tear off the corner of the card if the person has asked me to add them to my list.)
Now, that we know a little about the email communication side of things; let’s look at the e-commerce or shopping cart side.
How Do I Collect Money Online?
(What does a shopping cart actually do?)
From a customer perspective, buying online is a pretty straight forward venture. You go to a site, fill out a form, give your credit card number, once your credit card is accepted, you get a receipt and you can download your order (or your order is mailed to your home). The buying process actually is a three part process involving your shopping cart program (i.e. Infusionsoft or ThriveCart), a payment gateway (i.e. authorize.net), and your merchant account.
How Do You Choose Which Services to Use For Your
This depends on what you are selling and where you are in your business. There are four different types of e-commerce solutions. In this book, we’ll cover three of them. The fourth is a shopping cart for a company that has hundreds of products.
A complete back-end system includes an email component, an e-commerce component and a customer relationship manager component.
Here’s how this looks in the different stages of your business:
1. The Virtual Lemonade Stand
When you are first starting out, it is likely that you’ll start with an email service that is free for the first few hundred (or even few thousand) subscribers, and paired with a simple payment app like PayPal or Stripe.
Using PayPal on your website is very easy. You create a ‘buy now’ button in PayPal. After filling in information on the name of the product, the price, whether or not taxes are included, PayPal gives you the code to paste into the html section of your website.
PayPal also talks to a number of autoresponder services (including AWeber, MailChimp, Active Campaign). Go to the help menu of your autoresponder service and look up ‘PayPal integration’ to see if yours is one of them. If it is, your buyers will automatically be added to your email list when they purchase.
OK, you are probably saying, that sounds dead easy, why would I want to use anything BUT PayPal? Here are the disadvantages:
- PayPal does not work well for recurring subscription payments because users can cancel their subscription and you are never notified. This is why many shopping carts that integrate with PayPal don’t support recurring payments or subscriptions.
- You are at the mercy of PayPal. PayPal has an aggressive fraud prevention program. They can freeze your account at any time without warning— effectively shutting you out of business if you don’t have an alternative way to collect payments. This does not happen often—but is DOES happen (usually to people who process large amounts of money through their PayPal account.
- PayPal charges more than your average merchant account to process payments. They can do this because they offer a very complete payment solution. Unless you sign up for Website Payments Pro (an additional monthly fee), visitors will be taken from your site to complete their payments with PayPal.
AWeber and MailChimp both have integrations with PayPal so that buyers end up in your email database. If your email doesn’t integrate with PayPal you can create an opt-in form for your thank you page so customers can add themselves to the list of purchasers.
Also, LeadPages (which I’ll talk about later) has paypal and email integration and could be a nice option if you are just starting out.
2. Moving Up to a Co-working Space
Eventually, if your lemonade stand is successful, you’ll want to move into a space with more amenities. Maybe you’ll go join a co-working space or rent a cubicle in a shared office space.
It is time for your own shopping cart. Our favorite shopping cart is ThriveCart. For a small lifetime fee (and no ongoing fees) ThriveCart provides a good balance of cost vs. features.
- customizable sales pages
- an affiliate program
- sales tracking
- integration with several leading membership sites
- integration with several autoresponders (including Active Campaign)
- the ability to easily offer different payment plans, etc.
- and more.
(If you buy ThriveCart through our affiliate link, we will gift you with a free “get unstuck” session to help you get your first product set up.
3. It’s Time For Your Own Office Building
Congratulations! Your business has grown and now you are on your way. You have more work than you can handle and you need a system that can help you take care of your customers so that nothing (or no-one) falls through the cracks.
At the top of the scale, are all-in-one programs that include a CRM (customer relationship management) function as well as email and e-commerce.
Until recently, powerful CRMs were only available to large companies. Now, more and more e-commerce/email systems are including a CRM component in their systems.
The advantage is that you can track, manage and automate because *everything* is in one place. Historically, the big disadvantage of the complete all-in-one system has been the price. Although, if you add the cost of all the components of a ‘cobbled together’ system, you may find that it is less expensive to move to something that includes everything you need.
We live in an age of customization. Providing highly personalized service and communication helps your clients know, like and trust you. They read your emails and feel like you are reading their mind.
This magic is possible through constantly collecting data about your customers and using it to tailor every communication your customer gets from you based on their needs. You can use your CRM to determine which customers are engaging with you so that you can offer them special deals.
Infusionsoft, Ontrapor. Kajabi, Clickfunnels and Kartra are true all-in-one systems that track your customer’s purchase clicks, social media engagement, web page visits and more — and then automatically tailor your marketing to match their actions.
Now That I Know the Basics, How Do I Choose?
We’ve covered the basics of email, shopping carts, and customer relationship management systems … now on to the good part— how do you choose the right system for you?
One of the reasons people get stuck is that they think that they are ‘marrying’ their choice of systems, rather than choosing a system to use for now (while it makes the most sense for their business). In fact, you’ll likely migrate through two or three different systems if your business is successful.
Just like moving to a new office space, there are costs involved, (lost time, lost customers, set up time). Moving when you need more features or more automation is always the right thing to do.
You should choose the system that will work for where you want to be in six months to a year. You should have some room to grow into the system, but it doesn’t make sense to invest hundreds of dollars a month on an ‘all-in-one’ system when you don’t have your first client yet. There will be plenty of time to do that later. One thing to remember though, you will lose customers in the move. Many list providers require everyone to confirm that they still want to be on your list. It can be disheartening to lose a third of your list when you change, but this is completely normal.
Plus, it has the added bonus of helping you get rid of people who no longer really still want to be on your mailing list. Think of it as pre-moving house cleaning.
Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way… here are five steps to choosing your ideal back end system.
Five Steps to Choosing Your Back End System
Know your current business systems. By spending time thinking about what your current processes are you’ll get a better idea of what you need the system to do. I guarantee you DO have processes and systems (even if they’re not written down).
- Make a list of all the things you want your new system to do, who is doing that now, how much it costs to have those tasks done (take into account both team costs and software costs). Your current costs (including staff time) are a good baseline for your monthly budget for your new system. Note, different systems have different strengths—i.e. one might be good for affiliate programs while another rocks at membership sites. The least expensive option might not be the best for your situation.
- Take into account your business growth. Are you adding a new affiliate program? Will you be using more social media? Adding a text message campaign?
- Armed with a list of what you need the system to do, start asking for recommendations. Be sure to ask people who have businesses similar to yours. What works for your favorite guru might be the entirely wrong system for you.
- Pick a system or two and get demos, ask for trials, etc. See which system is easiest to use for you and for your team. Decide whether to pay for expert help getting your system set up. This is often worth it because setting a system up right in the beginning pays huge dividends later because you don’t have to re-work your system.
And… that’s it! Now, that you have your shiny new system in place—go out there and make some money.
Tips and Inspiration:
Andrew Gunn – Keep It Simple
“The internet can be very overwhelming at first—and I have gone through this myself several times over the last 12 months. You can get a day here or a day there where you can get completely overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the thing that the internet is. It can be quite scary, because for a lot of people it can be quite technical, especially if you don’t know how to use a computer—how do I set up an opt-in page—how do you set up an autoresponder? When I was reading about all these things I did panic.
I thought that there is so much that you think that you need to know. But essentially, when it gets right down to it, there is a really really simple basic model—and if you keep reminding yourself of that simple basic model of:
- Finding a hungry crowd of people that want to listen to you and buy your stuff, because you are offering something that they need and they want, and then;
- Present it to them—so that they can;
- Purchase from you, and then you just;
- Repeat the process.”
Sound too daunting to do this alone? Join our Solo Biz Hacker Collective or similar type mastermind group and get some good beginning support at a reasonable price. Lean on the club to get the basics and spend the money later on for coaching when you are ready for the more advanced strategies and tactics of your business.