2013 has been an amazing year for me. Never before have I learned that much about running a business. I’ve learned most of what I now know from a bunch of amazingly successful micropreneurs who I now consider my friends.
I asked a few of them to write about their most important business lesson of 2013 and they were kind enough to share them with you
Launch Sooner With Concierge Onboarding
Andrew Culver runs churnbuster.io – a SaaS that soothes the pain points when you’re scaling your payments via Stripe
After identifying the opportunity to create a SaaS product to address a major (and costly) pain point being experienced by me, my consulting clients, and my friends running subscription-based businesses, I wanted to get the “MVP” of the product out the door as soon as possible.
First, I wanted to validate that people would actually pay for the solution. Not just verbal commitments and “that’s a cool idea,” but actually collecting my first dollar when they signed up.
Second, I also wanted to make sure I didn’t lose steam developing the product before it was released. Rather than sending invitations to early customers where they could sign-up for the beta, I instead setup concierge appointments where we could chat on Skype and set up their account together via screen sharing. This one choice eliminated so much guesswork from the early development of the product:
- I didn’t have to guess what customers would understand and what they wouldn’t. Instead, I could get that feedback from them in real time as we stepped through the process together. If I found myself needing to explain something to everyone I was onboarding, then some sort of messaging needed to be improved in the product itself. Either way, early customers got through the process regardless, because I was there to help and explain.
- I didn’t have to guess what features my customers would want. Instead, I just prioritized the core functionality that I needed and many other non-essential features were not prioritized until people asked about them during onboarding. There were things that people asked for that I didn’t think of, and there were things I thought people would want that no one has ever mentioned and may never be implemented.
- I didn’t have to guess what sales messaging would connect with customers. Instead, I could hear from customers what was driving them to sign-up and what aspects of my product’s pitch were the most appealing to them.
By doing this sort of “concierge” onboarding, I was able to ship the product to paying customers earlier with the confidence that the “beta-ness” of my MVP wouldn’t scare them away. It didn’t, and the product is improving because of the feedback I get from these customers and the lessons I’m learning as I see how the product works for them.
Improve The Life Of Your Customers
Brennan Dunn runs planscope.io and does workshops to make freelancers even more successful.
The biggest lesson of 2013 for me and my business was just how important it is to make your customers better than they were before they first crossed paths with you. You want your products to be an investment for them, and not an expense. I’ve built into my marketing, my support, and what I deliver to my customers systems that do just this and it’s more than paid off.
Separate Your Ego From Your Business
2013 was a turning point for my time and place independent part of my business. In October, I attended MicroConf in Prague and the friendly people blew my mind. The enormity of the knowledge sharing that took place there is still driving much of what I’m doing.
The change was not only how I am running my business but also how I look at my business. Rob Walling from Drip/Hittail talked in his talk about how he dropped the smallest of his business ventures when a bigger one was running. This made me realize that I had but too much of my ego into the software, the user feedback and the business of selling software online.
So even while still at the conference I sat down one night and moved the free version down the page to a less visible place far below the fold. This instantly doubled my revenue and showed me a new path for 2014.
The only pitfall in this plan is that you stop doing what you think is right and as always I struggle to keep myself and my business aligned, but besides that my confidence and self-esteem is no longer linked to people praising me for my software development skills.
So my biggest business lesson of 2013 was to separate my ego from my business.
Matthew Lehner is the author of the upcoming book “Building Web Applications with Ember.js“
If there’s one thing that I can take from 2013, it’s the idea of focus. Without focus, I’m lost. Every new idea or opportunity that comes my way feels like the first chance to go to Disneyland as a kid. 2013 was a lack of focus, I was like a puppy and the opportunities were everywhere. 2014 is starting out the same way, but I know what I want the end of 2014 to look like. During 2013 I read books and articles, attended workshops, went to conferences, and thought a lot how I wanted a product based income. I failed to make even a single dollar, because I didn’t put enough effort into one thing instead, I divided my efforts out into a lot of things. That’s my lesson. If you want success, define what that means to you and then work backwards setting goals that will bring you there.
Don’t Fly Alone
Tim Cull is a successful consultant and a member of my mastermind group. You can learn more about him on pollen.io
2013 was my year of not flying alone. By that I don’t mean I was a lone-wolf consultant before and now I’ve finally hired employees (I’ve been there already, long ago). What I mean is 2013 was the first year I really leaned on the kindness and opinions of others in a way I hadn’t before. I allowed others in. I let the needs of the market dictate what I did next, even if it didn’t lead me to shiny toys. I put myself out there to meet the Twitter-famous, in person. I asked for help when I needed it. And I sought the counsel of a small group of talented, driven people who kept me flying straight.
And it was awesome. I cannot recommend other people strongly enough and wish I’d reached out to many others, long ago.
Improve Your SEO
Dave Collins is the founder of Software Promotions – the SEO & SEM agency for software startups
There’s a more-than-reasonable chance that “looking into SEO” is on your to-do list. If it is, there’s a far-more-than-likely chance that it’s been there for some time, right?
So how about this: I’ll show you how to get a bird’s eye view of how your website is doing, in terms of both quality and quantity of traffic, from the search engines. And the whole thing will take you less than 90 seconds.
The step by step video will walk you through the whole process in less than three minutes. So four and a half minutes from now, you’ll know a whole lot more about your SEO standing than you do right now. What are you waiting for?
Benedikt Deicke is the best Ruby on Rails freelancer I know. He’s working on a CMS for band websites called StageCMS
The most important business lesson for me this year was to be more confident on pricing. When I started freelancing in April my rate was about 1.5 times what I needed to keep up my life style. I started charging hourly, but quickly learned the downsides of this. I thought having an average rate and billing hourly would help me find clients.
However, because of this, I was more of just a hired developer, than a valuable consultant to my clients. Additionally, I rarely was able to bill for more than six hours a day. More than once I discussed work related things with my clients during lunch break or in the evening, for which I couldn’t really bill for. As a result I’m going to switch to a daily rate and raise it by about 30%.
Connect With Like-Minded People
Christoph Engelhardt writes on this very blog and also works on LinksSpy.com
My most important lesson of 2013 was to get out and meet other like-minded people. Attending MicroConf was a great experience for me and a LOT of good things came out of it (friendships, mastermind groups, podcast interviews, etc)
Go to a conference, go to a meetup group, do something with other [micro|entre]preneurs – and provide some value to the people around you. It will pay back in so many different and unforeseeable ways.