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
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
E-commerce Process? 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
integration with several leading membership sites
integration with several autoresponders (including Active Campaign)
the ability to easily offer different payment plans, etc.
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.
What does email have to do with website traffic anyway?
They seem like two separate parts of the funnel. You blog on your website to get people to your email list - from there you use email to get them back to your site to push the buy button on your sales page. Once you have people on the list - they don't need to go back to the blog... or do they?
Email is a Powerful Driver of Web Traffic
Actually, email can be a powerful driver of traffic to your website. Email is second only to organic search in driving traffic to your website. In fact, according to this research, 51% of people discover new websites through email marketing. But, beyond helping your community discover new resources, there are some definite advantages to having your community visit your website regularly.
Adding Value, Building Trust...
A typical sales funnel starts with content and ends with a sale. A good funnel is not that linear - customers are moving back and forth between your offers and content. Customers buy from people they know, like and trust. Providing consistent value to your community through your blog is an excellent way to build that trust. You can also use your content to help segment your audience. Finally, sending your audience to content is training them to click your links and take action (even if that action is not always buying something new from you.
Other than just sending traffic to your site, encouraging your list to visit your content also helps your SEO in two important ways:
Social Sharing There is astrong link between social media shares and Google rankings. The more a page or post is shared, the more traffic the page will get, and the more the page will appear in search results. The people who are most likely to share your posts? Your loyal subscribers. Be sure to let your list know when you've published something new.
Reduce Your Bounce Rate One of the criteria the Google algorithm uses to rank your site is its bounce rate (ie how long do people stay on the page). Sending your loyal subscribers to read a long blog post (vs sending them to a quick decision lead page) will only help increase the amount of time people spend on your site and decrease your bounce rate.
Creating Your Boomerang
The easiest way to create your email - website traffic boomerang is to start sending messages with content links to your audience. I've included some sample sequences for you to download in the box below.
Here are three times to use these sequences to send content:
New Subscribers One of the first messages my new list members receive is a simple message offering articles and resources on different topics. I use Active Campaign to segment the list member into a group based on what they chose.
Disengaged Members Every six months or so, I delete non-active subscribers from my main list. Before, I do that, I send a few emails with content links to see if I can re-engage them. I also segment them into a new interest group based on what they chose.
Adding Value All the Time - You should always be adding value and helping subscribers, regularly sending them to information (as opposed to just offers) helps you to do that.
Email Sequences for Driving Traffic Back to Your Site
01 Free Content
Do you let your subscribers know when you’ve posted something new? Use simple two-email sequence to use to send traffic to your most important new blog posts and other content.
An easy way to get traffic to a website is to offer a free download for your current subscribers. You can do that as part of a blog post - or also just by using an existing opt-in and giving the download page link in the email (your people don’t need to resubscribe - they are already on your list. If you use Active Campaign or another autoresponder that supports tagging, you can add a tag when your subscriber clicks the link to the resource to further segment them.
03 Use Your Content to Survey and Segment
Using emails with links to posts or resources about different topics is a great way to both get a feel for what your list is interested in while at the same time segmenting your list so that you can send your subscribers offers that are targeted straight to them. Here are templates to use with current members, new subscribers and people who haven’t opened one of your emails in a while.
In this video Meredith shows you how to use the conditional waiting time settings in your automated sequences to encourage readers to click a link or reply to the email. Essentially it means offering some kind of reward for doing so.
A useful way to segment an audience is by creating conditional content – ie. content specific to a particular group on your email list – often associated with particular tags. eg. People with TAG 1 see content A; people with TAG 2 see content B etc. Meredith Eisenberg of https://SoloBizHacker.com shows you how to create conditional content in Active Campaign.
Meredith shows you how to use goals in Active Campaign to take people out of an email sales sequence once they have purchased the product. There’s nothing more annoying to a customer than keep getting emails trying to sell them the product they have just purchased – it makes it really feel that you are not paying them any attention!
Recently, I asked a few of my mentors what would be their first step if their business dried up and they had to start again from scratch.
They ALL said that step one would be to start building their email list. That’s because no matter how the rules change in social media – your email list belongs to you. Even though there are many new ways to get in touch with customers including text messages, Facebook chat bots, etc. Email is still going to bring your sales over time.
It is never too soon to start building your list. Any work you put in now will be paid back many fold in the future.
That’s why I’ve developed this checklist so you can be sure you have all the right pieces in place.
Here’s what you need to get started:
An Enticing Lead Magnet
This could be an ebook, video, app, e-course or anything else that has the following characteristics:
It’s easy to deliver. (Typically, a digital download that you deliver automatically through your autoresponder.)
It’s something your prospects really want. (Hint: do your market research to find out what it is that people really want.)
It has a high perceived value.
It solves a specific problem.
It sells something else on the backend (such as your tripwire product).
A Compelling Opt In or Lead Page
Even though your lead magnet is free, people aren’t going to knock down your door to claim it unless you build its value. That’s why you need to create a lead page that persuades people to fill in your opt-in form.
Keep these tips in mind:
Be sure your lead page looks polished and professional.
Lead with your product’s main benefits.
Arouse curiosity about the lead magnet if possible. (With the
idea being that the only way to satisfy that curiosity is by opting in.)
Nowdays, it is fairly easy to find an autoresponder that will work for you without spending much money at first. Our two recommendations are Mailerlite (which is has everything you need to get started and is free up to 1,000 subscribers) and Active Campaign (which has more features than Mailerlite and is a good next step).
An Initial Autoresponder Sequence
Generally, this multipart sequence should promote your tripwire product. A tripwire is a very valuable yet inexpensive product. Keep these tips in mind:
Offer an informational sequence that’s useful (to build good relationships and keep people reading), yet incomplete (which helps you steer people towards paid products).
Provide a three to seven-part sequence that’s informative and engaging. Each email should build anticipation for upcoming emails. E.G., “Next time you’ll discover a little-known trick for getting rid of cellulite!”
Craft benefit-driven, curiosity arousing subject lines to get the open. E.G., “Start a six-figure business for just $47?”
Use responsive templates/HTML in your emails, as a large number of your subscribers will be reading your message from their mobile phones.
Track and test your emails. It’s the only way to know what’s really working in terms of email subject lines, sales copy, calls to action, and even the offers themselves.
A Commitment to Maintaining Your List
It does you no good to go through all these steps if you don’t intend to email
your list regularly. So, commit to emailing them on at least a weekly basis, and you’ll see your list profits grow!