Case study: Revamping a sales funnel incrementally

When your business is struggling with making profitable sales, sometimes what you need to do is revamp the sales funnel — basically take everything apart and rebuild your business from the sales funnel, up.

The benefit of doing this is that (if you plan correctly) you can do it fairly quickly, without a lot of disruption. However, it can be costly and it can be potentially disruptive… especially if you rely on the income you generate week-to-week. So the other option is to rebuild your sales funnel incrementally: To identify all the areas of your business that need to change and then to develop a plan to slowly switch over to a new sales funnel in a way that doesn’t diminish your ability to market and sell to the people in your existing sales funnel. It’s more time consuming and potentially more costly, and sometimes it can feel like you’re juggling A LOT of balls at once, but the benefit is that you don’t cut out a week or month of sales.

One of my clients, a real estate investor, was facing this very dilemma. His business was suffering because of a change in the economy and he needed to make some dramatic changes in his sales funnel. However, he didn’t want to be too disruptive to the people who were in his existing sales funnel. So we put together a plan to switch him over slowly. (Actually, he came to me with part of a plan in place already, as well as a website redesign already underway).

We laid out the plan step-by-step:

  1. First we would create content for his new website.
  2. Then we would create an autoresponder series.
  3. Then we would offer a free report to entice subscribers.
  4. Then we would start creating passive income products to extend his income-earning opportunities.
  5. After that, we would look at additional marketing plans to boost his marketing, once he had a more automated marketing/selling system in place.

As I write this, we haven’t finished yet. We’ve implemented someone of these things and the rollout is going smoothly. However, we haven’t finished creating and implementing everything just yet. As I said, it’s a long-term plan so it takes some commitment but building your sales funnel incrementally can keep your business running while you transition.

The liberation of limitations

I recently came across an article in Copyblogger that really resonated with me. (If you’re a regular reader of Copyblogger, you’ll probably say: “Don’t all their posts do that?).

This particular post was about how email design limitations may see problematic at first but are actually liberating. In the post, the writer talks about learning guitar and how his guitar teacher forced him to practice using only two fingers. At first he found it to be frustrating but then it became freeing. The limitation ultimately liberated him.

This article was great for two reasons:

First, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to increase readership, click-throughs, and sales in some of the email newsletters I work on and I came away with a couple of really actionable ideas I will be implementing immediately. If you do email marketing, check the article out for yourself and let it inspire you to re-think how limiting email really is.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it got me thinking about the value of limitations. Limitations are good. No limits are actually very difficult to work with. I’ll use the example of my own business. Here on AaronHoos.com, I can write about anything I want because this site is really just my brain online. It’s the stuff I think about and am paying attention to right now. I don’t really focus on a particular category (well, I write about business, finance, and real estate but also about other things so it’s pretty wide open). Compare that to a couple of other brands I run (like Real Estate Investing Copywriter, for example). On my “anything goes” site, my readership is okay (consistent but not stellar) and I have a huge list of potential topics to write about but frequently think “what should I write about today?”; meanwhile, the real estate investing copywriter site, my readership is skyrocketing in a very short time and I’m frequently thinking trying to narrow the topic that I am writing on because there is so much to talk about in that category. That’s the power of limitation.

I also see this same thing happening with a client for whom I do a bit of technical writing. They have fairly rigorously defined restrictions on the type of technical documents and how the information is communicated. And sometimes it seems to be very difficult to make some of their topics fit within the confines of the style guide. And yet, once we have the limits set, we can get creative and the information fits in… perfectly! I’m constantly amazed at how often that happens (even though I shouldn’t be amazed by it at this point).

You see it when you practice something over and over: Your practice of a particular action or technique or system actually creates limitations (perhaps unconsciously) that allow you to flourish. To draw from a totally non-business example, you see it among martial artists, too: Their very controlled katas are just self-imposed limitations they use. Or in my daily workout regime: My workouts became better (more consistent, more effective, with better form… and even more fun) when I stopped trying to do ANYTHING and just picked one workout circuit that I do over and over.

What is it about limitations that make us better? I’m not exactly sure but I think it has to do with our brains: I think they’re agoraphobic. They need to know boundaries. Without boundaries, they become overwhelmed with choice. With boundaries, our brains narrow and focus and we can become more creative within the confines of those boundaries.

If you’re an email marketer, or someone who is wondering if a bit of limiting boundaries can help your business or life, check out this excellent article:

How email design limitations can actually be liberating

Case study: Increasing profitability with passive income

Businesses survive (and thrive!) by continually generating income. But as a business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of performing a service, getting paid for it, performing another service, getting paid for it, etc.

That turns into a treadmill because you become dependent on that income and if you are not able to do the work, the income dries up. Additionally, you can’t grow beyond the time you have available to perform the service.

Therefore, if you are a business owner who wants to grow your business, you need to do it with passive income. Passive income is sometimes misunderstood. Some people think of it as “do-nothing-and-make-money”, which is basically impossible.

Rather, you should think of passive income as “work-once-and-get-paid-on-an-ongoing-basis”. That’s a big difference and successful passive income generation does require some initial investment of time, money, and effort.

Building passive-income-generating assets for your business is a great way to transition your business from a active (service-dependent) income to passive income. (If you’re looking for some ideas about passive income, check out this blog posts 5 levels of content monetization).

One of my clients came to me with that very problem. She is a well-known expert on the topic of finances but she was on a “treadmill” of services — consulting and speaking — that prevented her from growing her business a lot more. She had published one book, which helped her gain that expert status, but it was time to do more.

I brainstormed a few different options to help her generate some passive income and the one we decided to build first was an e-course that people pay to take.

First, we built a free e-course that provided great content. Second, we created a paid e-course that provided an advanced version of the free e-course. With so many people attracted to the free e-course, we were able to promote the paid e-course to a targeted, highly-interested audience, and people started paying my client for the course.

Just that one course wasn’t enough to completely replace and exceed the income my client was generating as a consultant and speaker, but that wasn’t her goal. Rather, she wanted to create a steady stream of income that continually trickled in, which is what is happening right now as people subscribe to her e-course.

And the best part is: Now that this e-course has been built once, it runs automatically and requires very little effort on her part to ensure that it continues. So the investment she made once will pay for itself and continue to pay her over and over again for years to come.

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘List building, content marketing, and objection handling’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

Here’s what I’m reading this week:

  • 41 tips that put over 10,000 people on my email subscription list. If you’re looking to build a list of email subscribers (and you should be trying to do that!!!) then this is a good, comprehensive blog post of tips that you need. I heartily agree with almost all of them (although I confess that I’m not a huge fan of pop-ups. I know they work but I just don’t like them that much). Check out this post and use it as your own personal checklist to grow your subscriber base.
  • Agile content marketing. This blog post starts by talking about how a comedian develops funny jokes. Basically, they write stuff they think is funny and then they test it out at a comedy club. Based on audience feedback, they go back to the drawing board and scrap or revise the jokes and test again. This method, as the blog post explains, also works for content. You create content, deploy it, test the feedback, and then try again. It’s a simple testing method (no new concept there!) but applied to content marketing.
  • Why nothing great happens with content marketing at less than 10 hours per week. In this blog post, Marcus Sheridan lays out his position that good content marketing needs at least 10 hours per week of focus. He lays out how long he spends on content marketing (good stuff there!) and as an added bonus, he does a great job of explaining why he’ll only work with clients who are willing to go “all-in”. (I love the disclaimer he makes his clients sign!)
  • Skyrocket your sales and destroy your competitors with the risk reversal strategy. In sales, some people will buy from you and some won’t. Those who don’t buy from do so because of stated and unstated objections. This article from SuccessWise does a great job of explaining how to counter some of the objections people will have when they are thinking about buying from you. (And you should also read my blog post Objections are awesome, which is kind of related.)

9 surprising lessons from running email marketing campaigns

I’ve run several email marketing campaigns for my own brands and for my clients. I’ve run them for entrepreneurs, consumers, equity investors, and real estate investors. I’ve run free and paid campaigns, educational/positioning campaigns and affiliate/ad-funded campaigns. I’ve run regular broadcast and autoresponder campaigns.

From those campaigns I’ve learned several lessons — like the importance of building that relationship and credibility with an audience.

But I’ve also learned several surprising lessons that I never expected:

1. The calendar is cruel and relentless

If you’re writing autoresponders, you’ll burn through your list of pre-written autoresponders faster than you think you will. If you’re writing broadcast emails, you’ll be amazed at how soon it will be to send out the next message (“has it been a week already?!?”). So as much as possible, prewrite as many as possible. For autoresponders, you can prewrite and schedule them weeks in advance. For broadcast messages, you can still prewrite some of them (even the time-specific ones can be prewritten to some degree). And even beyond the ones you prewrite, plan for another quarter (or two quarters) of topics beyond what you’ve already written. Trust me, the time will FLY by.

2. You take the unsubscribes personally

Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe that’s a bad thing. I think it’s good because it forces you to treat your subscribers well but it’s bad because you end up wondering why they unsubscribed (if they didn’t tell you).

3. Geography matters

In most of the email campaigns I’ve run, I’ve been surprised by the location of my subscribers. In two financial campaigns, I received far more subscribers from Australia than I was expecting or had initially prepared for. After that, I revamped some of my work to recognize them a little more. And in another email marketing campaign that was initially (but loosely) targeting Canadians, I was surprised to discover the number of subscribers from the midwest US. When you see this happen, think about how you can adjust your information to connect with them.

4. Be prepared for interactive subscribers

When you blast out an email, you may get some responses, especially if you invite them. Be prepared for that level of interactivity. I’m always surprised by how interactive my subscribers are. For the most part I like it.

5. The day of the week matters

There are different days of the week that people open email. Not every day is the same. I sometimes don’t like sending stuff out on Mondays or Fridays because public holidays might keep people from opening your emails. Depending on the type of information, it might be better sent in the morning or in the afternoon or in the evening. In some cases, I like to send emails at night so that they are waiting in the inbox first thing in the morning. I can’t give you an exact day or time to send because I’ve found that the topic really influences this decision. But be prepared to learn for yourself.

6. Some of your subscribers will be more proficient in the topic than you

Although this isn’t always the case, there have been many email marketing campaigns when a subscriber replies with questions or thoughts about a particular email and it becomes apparent that they are more proficient in the topic (or some aspect of the topic) than you are. it happens. Even experts can’t be an expert in absolutely everything. Being aware of this reality is important but how you deal with it is essential. Some of these people might unsubscribe because they just don’t find your information to be at the level they need. Others might be made “partners” who can feed you information and help you level up. I prefer the latter but I have also suggested to some subscribers that they might want to unsubscribe because the material is targeted to a different audience.

7. Watch the numbers and test them. It’s hard but do it anyway

Watch your open rates and click through rates. Pay attention to the numbers. As much as possible, test various ways to increase open and click-through rates. It’s hard to do because it’s impossible to create a perfect scenario where you can get a nice, clean split. For example, testing two separate subject lines on subsequent days is not only measuring subject lines but also the days of the week. Do your best. Be prepared to make changes based on your discoveries — such as the types of subject lines people open, the length of content in an email, and the days of the week that people open emails.

8. Listen to each person but don’t necessarily act

As your subscriber list grows, and as your subscribers become more interactive, you might get people giving you specific requests — “can you talk about this?” or “can you send out information on that?”. If their requests fit your plan then go ahead. If their requests don’t fit your plan then thank them for the request and put it to the side. Pay attention to other requests. If you get a lot of people asking for the same topics to be covered then fit it into your plan. If you get these little “one-off” requests, you can ignore them. Don’t be forced to bend to the will of just one subscriber… but be willing to act when several subscribers want the same thing.

9. The rewards you get from email marketing are surprising and not always financial

From each of the email marketing campaigns I’ve done, I’ve been richly rewarded but it hasn’t always been a financial reward generated from affiliate promotions or product sales. I’ve developed good connections with subscribers; some subscribers have become clients or referrers; I’ve built my brand and credibility; I’ve become a better writer; I’ve become a better investor.

What lessons have you learned from running your email campaigns?