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Congratulation you’ve failed again (SaaS)

28 Nov 2013

If I hadn’t lost all my 2007-2011 blog posts the “again” in the title would probably be more easy to confirm. Here’s what I’ve done in the last years in terms of SaaS.

congrats-you-failed-again

Looking at this table it’s almost easy to say: “Well, maybe if you had continued one product more than 1.5 year you would have been more successful”.

Maybe, but it’s excruciably hard to pursue a venture when there’s not much revenue and low number of customers thrilled to use your software. I have no regrets though, I’ve learned a lot and took paths that I will never revisit again. I’m not that attracted to SaaS anymore, maybe I’m not fit to have that kind of software business, maybe the niches and markets were too crowded. No matter what, I’m now returning to what I always loved and were excited to do – more on that later.

What worked

This is some marketing tasks I’ve done that worked for me and if you did not tried them you might want to give them a shot.

**30 minutes 1-on-1 consulting for new customers. **It’s part of having a great onboarding experiences for your new customers. Having an easy to follow product tour or some training are good and you should put efforts to polish those. But offering a 1-on-1 30 minutes Skype call to your new customers **WILL **most certainly boost your conversion rates instantly.

From August 2013 to October 2013 I’ve been able to double the revenue of my SaaS using that technique. It’s ultra time consuming I’ll give you that, but the information you get showing your app to a new customers is gold. Getting their feedback live and seeing where they are blocking and unsure about what to do next or how to do things is the key to enhance your UX. Try this out and let me know the results.

**Third party integration. **I’m a huge fan of the Open Web. With Bunker App and Osmosis I created an API and put efforts to connect the app with other software that would bring more values to my customers if they were to use the other apps. Exchanging data is a great way to save time for your customers. Doing the hard work for them can be a valid selling point.

With Osmosis I went one step further and I’ve integrated the app with almost any third-party software that existing customers were requesting. I’ve contacted those software companies to let them know about the integration and they sometimes add your app on their add-ons or externals apps page. The traffic coming from those links is really good since those visitors are already using the other app and should see the benefits of connecting your app with their current account.

You can also connect to Zapier and get instant access to nearly 200 other apps that are ready to exchange data with your app. I really enjoyed doing the Zapier integration and literally fall in love with the way they handle all the connection between apps and all the interactions.

**Guest post, but high value legit content. **I’m not even sure it can be called a guest post. Writing high value content on a popular blog that fit your targeted audience but without necessarily trying to sell your product on the article. Plan on writing at least 3-4 posts on the same blog to get the best result possible. Have a signature that point to your product’s website.

There’s no magic here, people are tired of always be presented with articles that are clearly written to sales a product. You’re better trying to get trust from the reader and they will check the product via your signature if they find your articles interesting.

You can have some links referencing content on your own product’s blog, but keeping the article focused on giving the highest possible value for the reader is, in my opinion, the best way to approach writing for another popular blog. With Osmosis I did this and the traffic that came from those articles were pretty good leads.

Manually contacting potential customers. Now I’m not saying creating a one or two template email and sending it to everyone on your market. For three weeks I’ve tried this and it worked surprisingly well although it took a huge amount of hours from my busy schedule. I couldn’t have done this for much longer without lowering the number of prospects I was contacting per day.

The idea is to search for potential customers, real businesses that would be interested and would benefits from using your product. Take some times on their website, Twitter stream and maybe Facebook to see if you could connect with them regarding something they’ve posted recently. Yeah, I know it’s sound crazy, you often search for 15-25 minutes and you craft a super personalized email starting with the topic that you’ve found.

As everyone is telling these days, make sure you focus on the **YOU **of course and keep it short. You can ask them to try your product because you thought it would solve X problems for them. You give a direct link to you sign-up page.

It’s working and often the business will reply with valuable feedback or just to get in touch. I was contacting nearly 10 new businesses/consultant per day, hence I did not continued after three weeks. It is the most time consuming approach and I’m not even sure I would try it again, but it’s an alternative to Ad words and other ads services. You get the customers directly instead of them finding you. A long and tough process, but it can work.

**Extreme support. **I have this mindset since I’ve started Twollow. Giving the best support and customer services I can so no one will ever say: “Well, it’s a one man operation, support must be slow and product would not move fast enough.”

A part from Bunker App, I always use my own in-app support and ticket system. Before you say anything, no it’s not that long to write those things, and yes I had fun doing this. It’s true that you need to focus on important things, but if you do not do what you are thrilled to do you might not be able to continue.

My response time was in average less than 12 hours (mostly less than 4 horus) which is good for a one main operation. heck you get 24-48 hours from larger companies. While giving solid support your customers should put more trust in you. It’s also the best time to request for a testimonial. As soon as a situation was fixed and the customer replied with email like this: “Thank you very much for your quick support you’ve made my day…”, you reply back and ask if they would accept to give you a short Twitter style testimonial. You should get it 75 % of the time.

AB testing. You should do this, now. Even if your traffic is not that high do it. If Patrick says you should, you should.

Try to get reviewed on popular site. It’s not easy, but it is worth to try. Getting a review on Life Hacker for Bunker App bring a huge amount of traffic and a nice percentage of them open an account. It’s usually not the greatest conversion traffic, but the words is spreading.

Don’t be afraid to contact the site editor if they’ve already made a review of your product and you product did change a lots since then. They might be interested in doing a follow-up review.

Fix and iterate quickly and send newsletters. The last thing that seems to have work for me is the speed at which I was fixing bugs and iterate the software to get incremental small additions. I was normally pushing new version in production each week or two week. Sometimes it was very small changes barely noticeable. For major update I was always teasing the customers and free trial users that did not convert with a newsletter.

User that did not convert were interested in the product, they might not have converted because it was missing something or the timing was not good. By sending newsletters to your entire user base you make sure that a) everyone is aware of what’s going on and b) you notify the trial users that new feature are coming. It might just be the feature that they were looking for.

Every time I’ve sent a newsletter for each product I always got a nice boost in traffic and some users were re-opening their account to check the new feature and how the app is now more complete than when they’ve previously tried it.

What did not worked

Again, I’m just listing things that did not worked for _my situation, _I’m not saying that it will not work for you.

Press release. Now before you mention something about my poor English writing style, note that I’ve hire someone to write the PR. In case your are curious, here’s the article. The action of submitting a press release and getting other sources to re-publish the article do work. But the small burst of traffic that it sent me and the quality was the aspect that did not work. I’m not remembering the exact price for the writer but it was near $1K plus the fees from PRWeb.

The first 24 hours it brings some nice traffic, but from day 2 and until day 5 the traffic was just degrading rapidly. After 5 days I never got anything from this. So I nearly puts $1.5k in this with not much results.

**Hiring a mentor to help you. **Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that there’s mentors that will help you reach another level. I’ve hire three persons which are known in our community to look at my products. Two for Bunker App and one for Osmosis.

In all three consultation I’ve invested around $4.5k. Now this is a truck load of money for me since my product’s revenue was not even covering for hosting and other 3rd parties services. Still I needed to try that and see if I were doing something really wrong. Why my conversion rates was that low? How to increase the quality of my traffic and get targeted visitors?

I’ve got some nice hints here and there, but nothing actually made any difference. After a consultation you normally have a series of tasks to complete from which the mentors gave you from their experiences and they should work. It didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s not something that can occurs in one session, but I was certainly not rich enough to afford having them for another session.

The lessons I’ve learn is, trust yourself. You own the product, you know what is your best targeted potential customers, just go and keep trying. I could have put that money somewhere else and would have had better result, who knows.

And note that I’m not talking about outsourcing part of your process to help get things done fast. This is recommended. I’m talking about paying a known person ~$1.5k so they can look at your product and give you recommendations and direction to take. I don’t want to name anyone here, it was my decisions to take these route, but I would never do this again.

**No enthusiast after 8-9 months for poor revenue product. **For all of my products the first two months are so intense, so fun. And I’m not necessarily talking about development. After some months without noticeable results you start to be frustrated and despaired. Why me? Why everyone else is succeeding? I only had a $1k per month revenue goal, how come I’m not there yet and only have $80/month?

Software as a Service is a slow process. The slow ramp of death they say. Yeah, I know that, but still, only $200/month revenue after 1-year! How am I supposed to get enthusiast about a product that barely starts to pay for itself. That mean no profit yet. I’m not that strong to do this. This is probably my biggest problem and I know it. What if I had waited another year, maybe the revenue would have quadruple? Maybe, but it’s too much for me.

It’s not easy to keep continuing and especially when you got some external critical situation. Working on your product take lots of your family and consulting time. If something bad happen it’s harder to keep going with this non-revenue product. I had a surgery on September 30th and that’s mainly why I’ve sold Osmosis.

You never know what the future is, and you never know if you would be better quitting a product and starting again, or keep going when the revenue is that low.

Low or no impact tasks

These things did not have a huge impact on my results, but I would still retry them for another product and try to get better at it.

**Content marketing. **How to attack this when you start or do not have that much revenue to completely outsource the writing of great content for your targeted audience? For Osmosis I hired a professional writer that was&nbsp_place_holder; writing once a month a solid post that would give value to the reader without trying to sell Osmosis. I wanted to have a point of entry to the site and once the trust would be established try to make them try the software if they were having the problem it solved.

I would guess that I would have needed 1 article per week to have better results with this. But at 1 per month it was simply not worth the money invested in the short terms. Adding quality content is always important and that’s why I continued. The goal were to provide Google with a solid article made for the reader. It was not targeting any specifics keywords, we were deciding the topic together and the article was not specially written for SEO.

If you have great writing skills you can certainly do this without having to hire someone. Still it is time consuming to write a quality article and even more for an epic post. Once you have an established audience it’s easier to connect with them and let them know about your product or just continue to provide solid content and the words is spreading. This is a long process but is certainly rewarding when done right. Make sure you are getting their email address.

**Social media. **The three mentors from which I was speaking earlier all adviced on not putting any time at all on social media. For me it sounded not right, maybe they are correct in the assumption that it would probably not be your main traffic source and no one might ever convert from this channel. But ask yourself, when you checked at a business’s Twitter account and see that their last tweet was from 1 year ago what do you say? Be honest, we say: “Crap, they are not very active.”

The way I used Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn was mainly to post related articles as often as I could. But it was not that often.

Twitter can be a good place to connect with prospects if you are not too aggressive. You can enter a discussion without ever saying a thing about your product. They will find out one way or another. Either way, if you are planning on outsourcing that aspect. Make sure that the person who speaks for your product / business knows how to properly react under your brand’s mindset.

**Ads. **Depending on your market you might have great results with ads campaign. The product that I’ve tried were in the freelancers / small agencies web design, development market. It was costly to say the least to try and get some keywords and key phrases that would bring traffic. I tried Google Ad words, Facebook ads and BuySellAds.

I’m most certainly a complete newbie regarding Google Ad words. I mean, I never took the time to really put the most beneficial ads groups. Paying $1-2 per click starts to be on the expensive side I must admit. Your product needs to have a good conversion rates to be able to pay that much. I never had a good conversion rates for my paid SaaS. So those kinds of ads were not really effective. I’ve played a bit with Google remarketing ads and those were better that traditional ads.

Facebook ads helped to get likes on the product page, but were simply not good for getting visitors. And even if it were, the landing page that I’ve used was not a good fit for Facebook traffic. You would need a more social ready landing page when you get traffic from Facebook. I never took time to do such thing.

The BuySellAds was OK I guess. Again not much traffic but since my conversion rates always were low, you can bring 10k visitors and you still need to be good at converting them to get money out of this. You have to carefully pick the sites that will show your banner ads though. It’s worth taking sometimes and reading couple of past article from the site and just check the overall business that are advertising there.

Going for my enthusiast this time

As an entrepreneur I cannot stay there without having projects ahead on me. But this time I will try something different. I will listen to my enthusiast.

One thing that I’ve learned with all my failures is that I better love what I’m doing, it’s the only way I will be able to keep continuing when rough time occurs. I will go for something I’m passionate about. I will leave the Freelancer market to others…

If I’m not passionate enough I will simply close the product and sell it after 1 year like I did with all my products so far. I don’t want that. I’m tired of abandoning and I simply want to have fun again doing what I enjoy the most in life, developing and owning a software product.


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