Author Archive | jacob

Good Business Books for Startups?

The below first appeared on Quora as an answer to the question, “What are some awesome books to read for business startups?”

Naturally there are going to be some books that I would recommend for companies in certain industries and not others… but since your question is more generic… here is a generic list of books you should consider: (links will direct you to Amazon)

*NOTE: All of these are available in Audio from Amazon/Audible. Follow links to Amazon for all available versions.

The E-Myth Revisited: Explains the difference between entrepreneurs, mechanics, and managers and helps you understand how to find the right people to grow an organization by beginning with the end in mind.

The Lean Startup: The book that revolutioned the idea of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Explains the method for getting a product to market and developing a fast feedback loop so the product can evolve and you can win the market lighting fast.

The Personal MBA: The book is meant to be a crash course in everything you need to know about running a business from accounting to marketing. Its a great rough overview.

Start With Why: Helps you understand how to find purpose as an individual, organization, and product so as to allow one to find the right customers, develop the right products, and maximize profits.

If you want to clarify the type of business you are starting or specific concerns you have I could make more specific recommendations.

Here are a list of Business Books that I may not directly recommend for a “startup” but I would say anyone in any business who wants to succeed and grow the company should read regardless:

I could continue but the list would get long very quickly 🙂

SEO or Paid Traffic? A Conversation About Priorites

I was talking to a business owner this morning who is in this dilemma. The business is starting to become stable enough that they want to invest in advertising (we should talk later about why they should have been advertising since the beginning). Today, businesses hear all about how valuable and important SEO is but they are also being sold paid advertising by a variety of vendors. Trying to sort out where online to allocate a small budget is really challenging. Vendors are calling and talking about directories, SEO, social, search ads, social ads, banner ads, text messaging, and much much more. I get it… I spent years being one of those vendors.

For the purpose of today’s article I’m going to simply lump all the PAID advertising into the category of Paid Traffic and compare that to SEO with an emphasis on where a new business should begin to invest.

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of TRYING to get one’s website or web content to appear or rank high in organic search results. If I’m an attorney in Phoenix and people type “Phoenix Attorney” into Google I want my site to organically (not in the paid ads) be high in the search results. This is SEO.

Paid Traffic is any online advertising vehicle into which you insert a paid ad budget and expect to get some amount of qualified traffic to click through to your website.

Today’s advertising community loves to talk about the benefits of SEO… and here is why:

  1. When done properly, work can pay off for years in the form of “free” traffic because you did the work to rank well
  2. Vendors who sell SEO services aren’t held to a high standard because they are being paid to do something that is often unmeasurable and generally won’t show any results for weeks, months, or years to come.

It is easy to see why some small business would be lured in by the idea of spending minimum amounts of money in advertising but getting super high on Google so that the leads and customers come in forever without any significant work. The pitch is however, a big fat lie. Here is how, as a vendor of SEO services, I would have to pitch you if I was being fully honest:

Mr Customer, being at the top of Google’s organic search for your top search phrases will pay off endless future benefits but frankly, it often takes years to get into the top five results for competitive search terms unless your website already has a lot of traffic and domain authority from Google. Domain authority is built over time by showing Google and the other search engines that you can and do produce content that is relevant and valuable to an audience which brings me to my next point. The number one core activity in SEO work is content generation. Not junk content for the sake of having content… that stopped working in 2010. I mean legitimately valuable content that is better for the reader/consumer than your competitors content. Now, regardless of the work you are in; I suspect that in order to generate that type of content you will have to be involved. There is nobody at my agency/firm/office that produce content about your company and industry as well as you can so even though you are going to pay me to help you format it and train you to write it in the best way possible YOU are still going to have to write it. Lastly, you should know that because SEO benefits come so long after the work is done; if at all, we won’t have enough traffic coming to the site in order to generate enough data to know if the lead/sales funnel is actually working. Meaning; the reason you want traffic to your site at all is because you have a service or product to sell. If we bring 100,000 new visitors to your website and zero of them contact your or buy your product then the work was for nothing. We need to optimize the marketing process and lead/sales funnel on your site in order to increase the CONVERSION RATE of that traffic to buyers/leads and in order to do that effectively we need a steady inflow of predicatable traffic… and SEO won’t bring us that for a long time. So not only do you need to wait for any results at all but you also will waste a lot of eyeballs on your site because we won’t have enough data in order to optimize the marketing funnel. You should also be aware that we do not own Google, Bing, or Yahoo and despite having some sense for what they are looking for in web content; we don’t actually know for sure exactly how they choose to rank sites and they tend to change that criteria and methodology from time to time so its possible that our efforts even if successful could become worthless if the algorithm changes in a way that is negative to the work we’ve been performing at your cost. Lastly, please know that while we will do “stuff” for the money you pay us each month we won’t be able to guarantee ANYTHING and may not have great answers about the impact that our work is having for at least 6 months until after we get started. Ok?

Would you Buy From Me????

Is this starting to make it clear why you need to prioritize Paid Traffic over SEO efforts?

Your #1 Goal in any online advertising is to optimize your marketing funnel. It doesn’t matter how much traffic you can drive if none of that traffic opts in, buys, or contacts you with interest in your service or product. In order for any marketer to optimize the sales/lead funnel they need to drive traffic into it. SEO just can’t do that in the beginning. In addition having to pay for advertising will force you or your marketing agency to make the funnel as good as it can be… something you will be grateful for when your SEO work starts to pay off in the future.

In addition, while paid traffic sources are sometimes finicky or can shut you down for misuse; they are still FAR more consistent and reliable a source of traffic than is SEO.

Now don’t misunderstand me… I’m a big advocate for SEO. We take content creation and SEO ranking very seriously in our business. We set goals, and we work to achieve them… but SEO is our long game… Paid Traffic is our short game and it should be yours too.

Resource: Entrepreneurs You Are Machine Builders

Resource: Our Content Creation Formula for SEO

How We Approach Our Social Content Strategy

social-media-management

This article is meant to review our own company appraoch to dealing with social media and leveraging it as a platform. Not to suggest we have it all figured out but I think this may be helpful to a really small business who is feeling overwhelmed by the consumer expectation.

Objective

Our customers and members of our tribe/audience want to consume relevant content and engage us in a digital relationship. Our primary social objective is to facilitate that relationship and deepen the connection between brand and consumer while also providing quality service.

Primary Challenge

Time and Resources about sums it up. Big brands like Cabelas, Geico, and Pizza Hut have the resources to hire entire teams to manage a social strategy and conversation. This has raised the expectation in the mind of today’s consumer.

If our brand doesn’t come at least close to that Geico level of engagement consumers get angry and won’t engage with the brand. It isn’t entirely fair as most small businesses don’t have the resources to hire dedicated staff to manage social profiles and content… but alas nobody ever said Capitalism was easy.

So, to the best of one’s brand-ability, we have to take the resources we have and do the best we can to arrive at or beyond the consumer expectation… even though we know we will fall short of perfect until the business can scale big enough for us to dedicate the resources.

Approach

Given those constraints our company dedicates itself to three primary goals:

1: Publish relevant / valuable content on our social networks consistently even when it isn’t our content or doesn’t directly lead to a sales funnel

We schedule daily posts to publish to our social pages/profiles with content we think our audience would care about. While we certainly don’t miss the opportunity to publish our own content and announcements we also fill the gaps with other industry relevant and quality content. For some of the social sites like Facebook and Twitter we can share the same content to both… but for other sites like Pinterest and Instagram we have to be more image than headline focused and it takes incremental effort to find the best content.

While there are some tools out there that one may be able to setup to automatically publish blog content to your social profiles my experience has been that these tools don’t work really well or reliably. At the same token the burden that would come with manually publishing every content piece the same hour it is published on our site is very high and not something we are currently willing to deal with. So instead we publish our content to social about 3-5 days behind the publish date on our site.

So essentially about once or twice a week we go into Hootsuite (more details below) and we schedule the next 3-5 days worth of content to schedule. We currate this content from our own site and from other sites in our industry (using feedly also discussed below). This does mean there will be a delay between the publish date and the share date but that hasn’t bugged me or our followers in the slightest and in fact I believe it has been good for our SEO rankings.

2: Listen to the social audience, reading and responding to messages and posts

It isn’t easy but it is important that we listen to our tribe and respond. We leverage a few tools (mentioned below) to monitor the conversation and chime in as appropriate. We don’t feel the need to have something to say about everything but people do need to know the brand is there and is available when a question is asked.

3: Optimize social channels as a monetizable property. This means finding ways to track the traffic from social and learn the best and appropriate ways to leverage that asset to sell products

We use the right tools to encode links we publish to social and we leverage Google Analytics to track the traffic that comes from different social platforms and this makes it much easier to assign a dollar figure to that traffic. We also carefully optimize content that we know can lead to sales. We write better headlines, carefully consider the image being shared and when necessary ask our audience very directly to take action.

Social Properties

Each brand has to prioritize social channels based on where your audience spends the greatest amount of time. For our primary brand we use the following channels in this order of priority:

  1. Facebook – still the behemoth and very relevant to our primary and secondary audiences.
  2. YouTube – Too big for us to ignore for our industry and audience… debatably more important than Facebook for us.
  3. Twitter – huge traffic and still relevant to most of our audiences although fairly static
  4. Instagram – The next upcoming massive giant and already critical for our secondary audience
  5. Pinterest – We can’t neglect it and over time it is growing in importance for our audiences

You may also want to focus energy on LinkedIn or Tumblr or some other website where your tribe spends time.

Tools

Feedly

If we intend to have at our fingertips quality content that isn’t our own that we can share with our followers we need to have a system in place by which we can currate and sift through that content. Setting bookmarks for 50 different industry websites and going through them once a week sounds painful enough to make me want to die… so we don’t do that. Instead use a RSS reader like Feedly to subscribe to the feeds of those industry websites. The RSS Reader will pull in all the headlines from all the collective content. Then based on your own workflow you can login and very quickly scan for the best content for your tribe.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite performs several functions for us. The tool is advertised as a social media client. It allows you to manage, publish to, monitor, and respond to all your various feeds and profiles in one place. It doesn’t connect to every social media site but it does help us manage Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

We use it to publish. When we identify a piece of content to publish now or later we use Hootsuite to schedule that content to publish to our profiles.

We use it to listen. When we get direct messages, mentions, or replies to our content we use Hootsuite to see all of that content in one place and quickly respond.

Zendesk

Our customer service team uses Zendesk and one of our favorite tools is the ability to import Facebook messages right into Zendesk and respond from within the Zendesk interface. It is a life saver.

CapitalOne is the Best Credit Card Company Ever

This Picture is Fitting For My Below Rave About CapitalOne because the only thing better than being this happy on Splash Mountain is knowing that your credit card cash back rewards just paid for the trip to Disneyland

This Picture is Fitting For My Below Rave About CapitalOne because the only thing better than being this happy on Splash Mountain is knowing that your credit card cash back rewards just paid for the trip to Disneyland

I have a biz crush on CapitalOne. There are very few companies that I 100%, without any hesitation, endorse like I own them. CapitalOne is toward the top of that list.

My experience with CapitalOne has been flawless and awesome from day 1.

My first interaction with CapitalOne was many years ago when I was a broke college student who couldn’t get qualified to buy a car with any lending institution… not even the credit unions who will take anyone with a pulse.

Capital One sent me a blank check and gave me a… decent… interest rate.

I’ve had various credit card accounts with them over the years and here are a few things I will share with anyone with is bored enough to listen to me rave about CapitalOne:

  • At one point I filed bankruptcy and I had a balance on a CapitalOne card that went into the bankruptcy. A lot of creditors hold a grudge and are hard to deal with in a bankruptcy. CapitalOne was as smooth as butter and welcomed me back with open arms.
  • CapitalOne has an awesome online interface and an even better mobile app. Love how easy it is to navigate and make payments.
  • CapitalOne lets me download all transactions from any date range I choose to a spreadsheet for various accounting purposes. *Awesome
  • CapitalOne has the very BEST cash back reward card I can find or get approved for. Their Quicksilver card is 1.5% cash back on EVERYTHING all the time. You can’t beat that. My wife and I both have a Quicksilver card and we try to put everything on it. We feel like we are getting a 1.5% discount on everything we buy. (Of course that only works because we always pay it off in full and don’t pay any interest fees ever).
  • CapitalOne’s Spark card for businesses is equally awesome offering a flat 2% cash back on EVERYTHING. To get the 2% cash back you do have to pay a $59 annual fee but that is an absolute no brainer. If you don’t want to pay $59 a year you can still get 1.5% cash back. (The math works out that if you charge more than $12,000 a year it is worth it to pay the $59 annual fee.)
  • CapitalOne is amazing at fraud prevention and fraud restoration. Its very common for me to get a text message and/or email from CapitalOne asking me to quickly verify purchases. I don’t find this annoying… rather satisfying.
  • All the same, likely due to my own behavior and not the fault of CapitalOne, I have on more than a few occasions had card info stolen and unapproved charges appear on my card. I make a call that lasts no more than 4 minutes… identifying the charges that I didn’t approve and then they… take care of it. All of it… with speed and awesomeness. Every charge is immediately credited back and the replacement card is in the mail.
  • The other day I called to request a new business card for an employee. Phone call lasted about 4 minutes. New card was at my front door the next day… FedEx Overnight at no expense to me.
  • When you call customer support, you get someone in the USA… or at least if they are off seas they must find English speakers that are really good!

Seriously get rid of any existing crappy card you have and go with CapitalOne.

And if any CapitalOne employees are reading this and want to thank me for this endorsement… how about 2.5% on the Spark Card???

How to Approach WordPress Updates

wordpress-589121_1280Software developers love to update software. Once an initial set of code has been released the developer either needs a new project and/or sets out to make improvements.

In the online world updates are valuable as they serve two key purposes.

First, updates bring new features. Version 1 of anything is rarely very good and never as good as version 2. Who doesn’t want stuff to be more awesome?

Second, updates are made to close potential security gaps. Developers are in a constant game of chess with hackers in which the hacker attempts to find vulnerabilities in the code and the developer tries to close those vulnerabilities before too much damage can be done.

With that said there is huge danger because updating WordPress plugins occasionally can cause havoc if a combination of plugins has a compatibility issue they didn’t have previously. Version 2 of your theme along with Version 1 of Plugin A and Version 3.2 of Plugin B may live in harmony together but updating any of them might disrupt the harmony. When this happens the site owner seeks to find a 3rd party solution to force harmony or has to replace the offending plugin with a competing piece of software that is more compatible.

To minimize this issues and to make the troubleshooting as painless as possible follow these recommendations when running WordPress updates.

Update 1 plugin at a time… generally 1 per day. If daily sounds extreme you could do it more often or less often but the key is to allow enough time to go by to be able to determine if any issue has arisen. The more traffic your site gets the more likely you are to be alerted by site visitors quickly when an issue arises. If you only update a single plugin at a time solving or at very least identifying the culprit is much easier.

Keep a change log for the site. Every time you update a plugin or install something new put that in your internal change log. This history of changes will also help you identify where to troubleshoot first.

Update plugins later in the evening when traffic volume is lower. After you run an update do some basic testing of the site yourself. Should the update cause an immediate error you have the maximum amount of time to address it before high traffic returns.

If you have high levels of risk or liability if the site does experience issues you should setup a dev version of your site on a different server or host. Run all updates on the dev install first to monitor and test for any issues before making the changes live on your actual website.

Cheers,

Jacob

A Man Without Hobbies?

I just searched online for a definition of “hobby.” It is:

An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.

Based on that definition I am not sure what hobbies, if any, I have.

I have activities I enjoy in which I have in the past engaged or in which I might on rare occasion engage. For example I love playing Paintball or at very least I used to love it and assume I still would enjoy playing. I haven’t played in over a decade and sold my equipment over 6 years ago.

I enjoy, or again at very least used to enjoy, spelunking. I used to keep a spelunking bag of appropriate gear in the trunk of my car in case I got the itch to explore a new cave one day after work. It’s been over 13 years since I was in a cave.

You might begin to feel pity for me. Poor Jacob is too busy to do his favorite things. You shouldn’t. I don’t ever experience any feelings of missing these activities. If I really missed them with any significant amount of emotion I would find a way to engage in them again… but I don’t. I’m not lacking in the resources to do so. Of course i claim to be a busy person but what adult human doesn’t claim to be busy and yet I observe that friends, family members, and other adults around me routinely justify allotting resources to a hobby. Humans do this because we feel passion for something and like to engage in that thing in order to feel happy or balanced.

So then I end with a few potential theories about myself.

Perhaps I enjoy my average day of none leisure activity (ie work and family time) sufficiently so to feel fulfilled, happy, and balanced.

Or perhaps I have a mental imbalance which affords me the ability to feel balanced despite a lack of variety or “fun” activity.

Or perhaps I’m just ultimately boring as a person. I would rather not inconvenience myself beyond any small measure in order to do something I profess to greatly enjoy.

The truth is probably some mixture of the three ideas but wherever the truth is what I do know is that I feel perfectly happy and balanced.

Now back to work…

Bug in the Ear… The Real Thing

Recently while I was on the phone Ami came rushing into the house from the backyard where she had been working screaming something about a bug climbing into her ear.

Yeah it was true. With my head light on… looking into the ear canal I finally caught a glimpse of the bug turning the corner. I tried calling our family… doctor. He is both family and doctor so take that how you wish but he didn’t answer.

bug in earIn case this ever happens to you… we followed the instructions provided by the top Google search results… later confirmed by the doctor. Get a siringe and spray water into the ear canal. Apparently the ear drum is hard to get past if you are a bug and hard to damage or break if you are fast moving water. This worked to wash out the bug.

Moral of this story, next time you hear someone say something about having a bug in their ear you should believe them.

 

I Found Out My Kids Can’t Dial 9-1-1

It occurred to me all of the sudden. I was thinking about my own childhood and how I was taught when I should dial the universal emergency number.

I imagined in my own mind the house where I grew up, grabbing the phone from the wall in the kitchen and dialing three numbers; 9-1-1. That is when it occured to me. My kids don’t have it so simple. My children’s teachers, coaches, and parents (yeah me) have been teaching them the same thing we ourselves were taught… “pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1.”

The challenge is that there is no phone on my kitchen wall and dialing 9-1-1 on my cell phone takes a lot more tapping and dragging than just touching 3 numbers on a keypad.

So I decided to put it to a test…

I tried first with my 8 year old son. It went something like this:

“Simon, what should you do if one day mom falls down the stairs and hits her head and doesn’t wake up?”

Simon: “I should call 9-1-1.”

“How would you do that?”

Simon: “With a phone.”

“What phone?”

Simon: “Mom’s cell phone or your cell phone.”

“Here is my phone. Can you show me how to do it? Don’t worry, I’ll stop you before you actually dial it.”

Simon: Fiddles with the phone. Manages to unlock the screen and find the phone app. Can’t figure out how to make a dial pad display. Gives up and says: “Dad where are the numbers?”

The experiment didn’t go much better with my 5 year old daughter. I suspect they could have both successfully opened Netflix but dialing 9-1-1 was too difficult without me showing them the step by step process. Further, each time I get a new cell phone I’ll have to re-teach it for awhile.

Can your kids dial 9-1-1?

The Online Content Creation Formula For Success

top blogging strategyToday I had a quick conversation with a member of our team that is going to start contributing content to our website. I was explaining our general internal process for producing awesome content on our sites and it occurred to me I’ve never published an article on my own site about how to write awesome articles.

First the Disclaimer: The site you are on right now… jacobspaulsen.com is where I rant and share about my life of marketing and personal development. Don’t hold me accountable to doing all the stuff I preach on this site. The lessons I share here are things I apply on my businesses and the websites where I actually generate revenue… not here on my hobby/journal site.

Here is our process start to finish:

  1. Identify a topic worth producing content around
  2. Use Google and the Google Adwords Keyword tool to determine the top search phrases for that content topic. For example if I want to write an article about how to select the best toilet paper at the grocery store I might find out that the top related search phrase is actually: “Best Rated Toilet Paper.” The top search phrase should be a massive consideration in your articles headline.
  3. Finalize the article’s headline considering both the top search phrase as well as what would actually be enticing to readers. It needs to have shock value or create significant curiosity to the relevant audience.
  4. Find the following three competitors:
    1. The #1 ranked content piece for your target search phrase
    2. The #1 top quality (based on your own opinion) article on the topic
    3. The #1 top quality or most popular YouTube video on the topic
  5. Ask yourself how are you going to improve on the three competitors outlined above. What can you add or better explain to make it better?
  6. Formulate an outline for your own content by first just listing out key points that you want to make. This generally just looks like a list of bullet points at first.
  7. Organize your list of key points into the best chronological order so as to help the reader flow through the content is such a way that is logical, emotional, or brings them to the conclusion you are trying to recommend.
  8. Ask one other person who is also very familiar with the topic to look at your outline and point out anything you have missed.
  9. Turn the key points into section headers and repeat step 3 for each section header to make sure those section titles keep the reader reading.
  10. Fill in the content for each section
  11. Review the content and work on gathering or creating the best supporting images or videos to accompany the content. You probably need more than you think.
  12. Have another person read through your final draft.

There is our full process that we try (try is a keyword here) to follow. When we do, it always leads to a source of strong and ongoing traffic.

Cheers,

Jacob

What You Need to Know About Affiliate Disclosures and Product Endorsements

FTC_logoThe FTC regulates the laws and rules surrounding how one has to disclose your relationship with a business, product, or organization. Advertisers have had to deal with this for decades when they pay celebrities to endorse their product in TV or radio commercials or magazine ads. The internet has changed the game because today anyone can create a blog for free and write about products and organizations. It no longer takes big money and time to become a media outlet. Everyone is a publisher.

Because of this sudden surge in this new form of media the FTC has had to craft rules specifically about how bloggers and other internet publishers have to disclose any relationship with an advertiser or company. A relationship can be defined as about anything. If a company gives or lends you a product to review that is a relationship that must be disclosed. If you stand to gain anything like a commission by reviewing or promoting a company or their product that is also a relationship that must be disclosed.

Optionally you can include a notice next to any product endorsement with your disclaimer. Most bloggers find that the easiest way to disclaim your relationship with an advertiser is to create a separate page on the site called “Affiliate Disclosure.” Disclaim on that page that any links to external pages could be affiliate links and make sure the Affiliate Disclosure is visible on the site without having to scroll down below any given product endorsement.

->Read more about the FTC Endorsement Guidelines

->Read the specific section about online affiliate endorsements